The Future of Public Relations

I just read a Global Communications Report published by the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. The findings were very interesting. One of the figures that really caught my attention was that 87% of PR professionals believe the term “Public Relations” will no longer accurately describe the work they will do in 2022 – nor may it even exist as a separate discipline!

As a Public Relations practitioner, these findings caught my attention enough to read the rest of the report. If this big of a change is on the horizon, then it is probably a good idea to understand the best road to take. Advance planning will help to navigate this potentially significant transformation.

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5 Reasons to Build a Social Media Audience

It doesn’t matter if you are a social media expert or novice – we are all impressed when you hear about the amazing number of followers some brands and celebrities achieve on social media channels. Did you know that Selena Gomez had 139 million people following her on Instagram at the end of 2018? How did she do that? You might wonder how it is even possible to achieve this level of engagement. Your next question might be, “Who cares?” Does it even matter?

Yes, it does matter.

Likes and followers are a very quantifiable metric that provides insights into your brand’s popularity. Beyond simply being an emotional boost, having a large following translates into a stronger brand, greater awareness and more revenue opportunities.

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Social Media’s Influential Role

I have already written about the important role “influencers” play in the purchase process – from the choice of what ice cream flavor to eat, to the complex purchase cycle of an enterprise software solution (link to prior post). This article will take a closer look at how social media has taken on an important role in helping influencers connect with buyers along their purchase journey.

It wasn’t long ago when Facebook was an application just used by college students looking to make plans for the weekend, or to catch up with others on recent news or activities. The amazing growth of members quickly validated how popular and how much value its members place with this social community.

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Social Media’s Role in the News Cycle

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Social media plays an important role in the news cycle   (CLICK ON IMAGE TO EXPAND)

It should come as no surprise that the way we get news today is quite different than in the last decade. Daily Newspaper circulation, which stood at 62 million in 1990, fell to 43 million in 2010, a decline of 30% (source: The State of the News Media 2011). There are many reasons behind this decline. One is a drop in advertising revenue, which has resulted in staff reductions, less content and reduced deliveries.

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When the Price of Free is Too Much – The U2 Album Giveaway

Bono, lead singer of U2The band U2 and Apple partnered this month to do a remarkable promotion and awareness activity. Every iTunes user received a copy of U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence. When I heard about this offer, I couldn’t believe it. I saw a television advertisement showing the band playing a song from the album. Then, at the end of the ad, it was explained that the album would be available for free to iTunes subscribers.

I am a big U2 fan, so was thrilled at this act of generosity. And, as a marketer, I couldn’t help but think about what the terms of the agreement might have been. Clearly, both Apple and U2 stood to gain from this promotion – Apple from getting new subscribers, and U2 from having Apple pay millions to promote their album.

A New Promotional Trend for Music?

Of course, this is not the first time music has been given away for free. Many artists offer promotional songs or live recordings as a way to generate interest and awareness.

But, U2 is hardly in need of any new promotional campaigns. They have sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 22 Grammy Awards, and have been designated by Rolling Stone magazine as perhaps the “Biggest Band in the World”. No, this is not a band seeking awareness. Something more is going on.

An Act of Generosity

An interesting story has unfolded as part of this giveaway. It turns out Harriet Madeline Jobson issued a complaint to Bono (the lead singer of the band) stating, “Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to people’s playlists ever again? It’s really rude.” The comment came to light in a Facebook Q&A the band released on their fan page.

To Bono’s credit, he apologized, stating: “Oops, I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing: [a] drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

There was no need for an apology. It was a gift. If you don’t like a gift, don’t use it. Contrary to Harriet’s claim, you had to download the songs to make them active on your iTunes library. If she didn’t want the songs, she simply could have chosen to not download or listen. What is remarkable is the level of conversations that are now going online right now.

As you might expect, folks are taking both sides. What is interesting, though, from a marketing and pricing perspective, the adage on pleasing people holds true: “You can’t please all the people, all the time.” Even at a price of free, not everyone is a “taker.” This is an important point to consider when pricing your product. And, to those economists out there, the laws of a downward sloping demand curve can only be projected so far … there comes a point when that curve flattens out. 🙂

A Final Word on Publicity

The famous PR quote is that there is no such thing as “bad” publicity. Here is another example where that saying is still true. The amount of coverage of U2s short Q&A video on their Facebook page is nothing short of phenomenal – it has gone viral. In two days the video was seen by 1.4M fans. Most marketers would be very happy that type of coverage. And, let’s not forget the comments – the 5-minute video has been shared 12k times, a hashtag of #U2NoFilter was created that is now trending, and there are nearly 4k comments on the page already.

Demonstrating his wisdom, Bono responded brilliantly, reinforcing his “cool” status and spokesperson expertise. As marketers, we can all learn how U2 played out this interesting experiment. They were bold and brave enough to try something new, realizing that some would take offense or not understand their actions. Time will tell if other bands will follow … I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as I really like a musical gift!

Here are two other pricing articles  you might find interesting:

Promoting your Blog with Social Media

social_media_promotion_blogI recently wrote a blog post on the importance of building a blog as part of your public relations program (see article here). As I explained, in today’s digital world, a blog is a critical part of your online profile – as a source of new insights, thought leadership and brand positioning necessary to keep your opinions and perspectives top-of-mind.

Once you have come to the conclusion to invest the time and resources to have a blog, the next step is that of promotion. If you build it, no one will find it unless you provide digital “bread crumbs” to lead the way. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will play an important role, but isn’t enough. Here is where social media comes in. In fact, from a Public Relations professional’s perspective, this might just be the most important use for social media, and the single most important factor in justifying your entire investment in social media marketing.

What Should I Tweet About?

With Twitter being one of the most predominant social media platforms, it is nearly mandatory that you, your company or even your product line has a Twitter account. It is easy to set up the account … what next?

One strategy is to share interesting news that the audience you seek to build might be interested in reading. This is generally a good idea. Providing value to an audience will, over time, generate more followers, which helps in getting a higher profile. But, wouldn’t it be better to instead drive your audience towards an article that you wrote and hosted instead? Or, better yet, what about directing traffic to a promotional partner that is perhaps hosting a future event you are sponsoring? It doesn’t take much to see that driving traffic to a page you control is better than one you don’t.

Here is where the blog strategy can pay a handsome dividend. Once a new post has been written, such as this one, the next step is to promote it through your social media channels. Further, this points to a tangible benefit that can be achieved by building an audience … each time you have a new blog post, you will theoretically attract more potential readers with a larger audience.

Some authors have mastered this technique very well. Seth Godin, author of my favorite book the Purple Cow, has attracted an audience in the millions that religiously follow his words and wisdom every day. And, as he announces to books that he has written, he has an instant “base” of avid fans that will become new buyers.

What Social Media Venues should I Pursue?

Having made the decision to invest in a blog and promote it with social media, the next question to ask is what social media properties should you focus on?

Great question, and one that will be answered in my next post.

Leveraging a Blog in Public Relations

blog_lynchpin_public_relationsIt is no secret that social media has a bigger role in the world of marketing communications and public relations. This transformation occurred due to a couple of trends. Notably, the emergence of a “Web 2.0” world where feedback can be provided (and is expected) directly to an author. There is now an expectation that feedback can be provided easily and immediately. Secondly, in today’s digital world, it is increasingly popular and economically feasible to begin targeting ever-shrinking audiences on a wider scope of topics. The economics of yesterday’s printed media world no longer applies. This has had a profound impact on public relations.

Let me explain.

Magazines and other printed publications are really just businesses that must make money to survive. The traditional business model was to drive a large audience, representing a group of potential customers that advertisers were interested in speaking to – becoming a source of revenue for these publications. The path to growth for this business plan was simple – expand your audience. As a result, the natural evolution was a world dominated by a few, large publications with big audiences.

Then along came the explosion of the Internet and Web 2.0.

Now online “communications hubs” sprang up in all areas, on just about any topic. The online “story telling” world became highly fragmented and dispersed. Getting a story out now requires a bit more work … more publications must be sought and more placements must be achieved in order to reach the same sized audience.

At the same time, the cost structure of media publications changed. Gone is the expense of publishing a magazine on expensive paper with capital intensive printing presses. And, no need to pay for delivery or distribution costs … the digital distribution model is basically free. In this new world costs have dropped significantly. So, it can still be profitable for smaller audience publications to survive with a smaller advertiser, provided they can find one. If a value proposition can be derived that makes sense to both parties, then a business model can still exist. The digitization of our newspapers, magazines and other publications made this evolution necessary and, I would propose, also possible.

The Blog as a Lynchpin of your Social Media Strategy

Given this communications transformation, it has now become critical to have a blog as part of your public relations program. A blog provides you with a platform to support Web 2.0 activities – the ability for your audience to directly converse with you – while at the same time offers a highly focused venue for you to speak on niche or highly focused topics. Given the leveling of the media “playing field” and the need to reach out to a higher number of media venues, each with smaller audiences, it can be a real benefit if you have your own platform to manage these communications. With control, you have direct insight as to what topics are more popular, and what pain points are most “top-of-mind” for your audience, which can then be an excellent source for new articles to pitch to other publications.

From a company’s perspective, today’s digital communications world offers a unique opportunity to build an online presence through a self-managed media platform. Of course, transparency is needed, however, wouldn’t you rather find out immediately if a customer or prospect was upset, had questions or was experiencing some other issue that could be addressed? This type of interaction is much better dealt with through a forum that is actively visible to and managed by a company.

Certainly it is an investment to create and build a blog, especially if you are just starting out. But, this investment will pay off once you begin earning a share of voice in your marketplace. After all, a blog is really the only social media venue where any content can be realistically added. It is pretty tough to explain a company’s philosophy or value statement in 140 characters or less. And, even if you could, how long will that message be visible? Blog posts, on the other hand, last for years, provided each post has its own dedicated page that is searchable on the Internet. Over time, you can gain a considerable collection of published articles that are all in support of your value proposition and reason d’être.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

8 Ways to Leverage Search in Press Releases

search_engine_publis_relationsIt should come as no surprise that with the transition towards a digital distribution model for news delivery, the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has only grown. It simply must play a role in any digital public relations campaign. This is hardly a revolutionary thought. What makes this task a challenge, however, is the fact that the factors behind how search engines work keep changing, and the fact that you just have to think a little differently when writing a press release. It is no longer reasonable to simply try and write the best announcement – you must think about SEO as part of the process.

Take Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm update. Many public relations leverage keyword linking as part of their SEO strategy. Now, keyword relevance has declined in importance, at least according to searches performed in Google. What is more important now are search “phrases” as said in conversation. Google is now placing more relevance on conversation queries, and how they can be best addressed from within a search engine window (ideally from a mobile device). Here are a couple of good articles: FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm and How Google’s Hummingbird Update Impacts a PR Agency.

The take away is that you need to either invest the time to educate yourself on the latest trends impacting search engine optimization, or need to hire someone to do so.

Here are 8 other suggestions on how to best optimize your search engine placement, resulting in better awareness and exposure for your press releases that are issued as part of a public relations campaign:

  1. Be sure to pay the fee and publish your press releases through a news distribution service, such as Business Wire or Marketwire. The ones that offer a “linked” online presence is best. Your story will simply be viewed more times and seen as more relevant via Google, Yahoo and other news search engines.
  2. Use good content in your Press Releases, and publish a copy of the release on your website
  3. Offer a .pdf of your press release, optimized for SEO, on the same page to help maximize your online footprint; .pdf files are indexed just like an .html page
  4. Integrate this release page with other content that someone might want to read after finishing reading the press release, to further engage them on your topic
  5. Offer a registration page at some point during the process to then follow up with these visitors
  6. Write a complementary blog post on a similar topic, to then offer further content and support for those seeking to learn more about the news event you published
  7. Leverage any free PR distribution sites, especially if they offer HTML linked keyword submissions
  8. Broadcast the issuing of your press releases by the social media channels best for your audience so your followers get first notification, which will then also help your search engine rankings

 

As is typically the case with disruptive innovations, the scope of change is often wider than originally conceived at the point of inception. In a paper-based news world, the only distribution options were paid subscriptions and walk-up sales at newsstands. In a digital world, news is found in many different locations in different ways, which includes the searching of relevant topics by keywords. In this world, SEO plays an important, continuing role to ensure messages are heard in a timely manner, by the right audience. In fact, I would argue through a better distribution model that is more efficient than the world has ever seen.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing and public relations professional, and a business plan adviser, that specializes in preparing and executing business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+ or at gbenzie@yahoo.com

Are Paper-based Communications Dead?

paper-based-communicationsPaper-based media has long played a prominent role as a way to communicate. Go back in time, however, and it could be classified as a disruptive invention. Stone tablets, monuments and cave walls used to be the only options for non-verbal communications, and had done so for thousands of years. Then the Egyptians created Papyrus, which became the new medium to tell a story. This invention dramatically expanded an author’s sphere of influence.

Today a similar transformation is underway. The digitization of communications and knowledge is having a similar, dramatic effect on how stories are told. Access and speed to information has been radically changed – news stories now break in minutes – which has greatly changed how public relations and media professionals work. Marketers must now decide if it is worthwhile to pursue paper-based news publications. How should you grapple with leveraging online PR while not impacting your existing paper-based communications’ effectiveness?

In order to address this question, the right “textbook” answer is to talk with your target audience. What do they currently read? How do they get their news?

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult question to answer. The reason is that the process of how we get our news today has also changed. It is more than simply replacing paper with digital. Let me explain.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the way many of us got our news was by listening to Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and other news anchormen. They created a predictable framework for us to stay current with the news. CNN changed everything by offering news 24/7. Twitter and social media took this change to a whole new level. Now we learn about news “nugget by nugget.” If a breaking story occurs, those of us with smart phones get tweets, texts or alerts within minutes of the event. Others get news every time they open a web browser, or have a spare 10 minutes, or by still reading the paper over breakfast in the morning. As a result, the answer to the question of “Where do you get your news?” becomes complex – there is no one answer. It comes from a wide variety of sources, which can change from week to week.

As a marketer, this diversity of sources means that public relations outreach just got more complicated. The way your audience gets news has become highly fragmented. And, they have less time to allocate to any single activity. As a result, your marketing communications strategy now must span multiple sources – paper and online – in an attempt to include each of the publications and venues your audience might come in contact with.

It should also now be apparent that traditional methods have lost at least some of their effectiveness. That is why all the big newspapers have invested in building their online presence. Those that don’t will simply be left behind. New approaches are needed to cut through the clutter to gain attention of your audience, at which point they can then be in a position to actually hear what you have to say. When viewed in this light, it is no wonder why public relations professionals have embraced social media as a way to cut through the noise and get their message to a specific target audience. The type of medium isn’t so much of a problem as getting the attention of your audience.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Giving (and Gaining) Value from a Social Network

The_value_of_a_social_networkRecently I wrote about the concept of identifying “personas” or profiles of your prospective customers, as part of your social media marketing program. Once you have completed this task, considerable value can be obtained by leveraging social media to identify where these Personas “live” or spend their free time. The ultimate goal is to build a relationship from a foundation of trust to gain valuable insights as to how your product or service offers the greatest value to the right audience. Further, if done correctly, this exercise can yield insights as to what future direction you should be taking your product roadmap, or what future markets might be most lucrative to pursue.

The first step is to identify a couple of personas and then figure out what social networks these individuals frequent. Here is where a little market research is needed, as well as a few Google searches. Think like your prospect who wants to learn more about how to buy, use or retire your product – given the wealth of information now readily available on the Internet, this shouldn’t take too much time. Once identified, your next step is alignment – becoming a trusted advisor, an educator or a visionary that offers insights to this group of people that they will value and listen to.

One example of how to accomplish this goal is to reach out to community organizers or owners to see if there is some future event you can sponsor or host. You could even reach out to the community to introduce yourself as a brand ambassador, with the intent of learning how to better improve your product. You could volunteer to offer free trials for new products, or paid focus group opportunities. Public relations can play a role here.

This strategy can help draw out early adopters and others that have a passion for your service or product, which in the end, is the perfect person for you to speak with and draw feedback from. If you gather market intelligence deemed worthwhile and execute upon it, this person will likely become a future advocate.

It is as simple and as complicated as that. I say “simple,” in that if you do these steps and your future product vision is in alignment with the feedback, you have a “win-win.” Things get a bit more complicated if a gap exists between your product direction and the feedback you obtain. At that point, you have to ask yourself, what is the right direction? Either you are going down the wrong path or you are speaking with the wrong prospective customer. After all, if you aren’t designing your products and services for end users to gain value, what is the point?

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+