Generating publicity is quite easy.
If the stories you have to share are worthy of space in publications and programmes that have easy access to more content than ever; are up-to-the-second new; are easy to understand for those that have no knowledge of technical background of the story; can make a difference in average people's lives; easily forms part of the news cycle; and is supported by trusted relationships with journalists and editors, then generating publicity is easy.
So let me restate the first line ... generating publicity is quite easy ... if you have the time to spend on it.
Generating publicity, or making sure you take care of the earned media part of your integrated marketing plan, is however still one of the best ways to spread the word about your organisation, its products, services and activities. A steady stream of great editorial content published on platforms read and listened to by your potential customers helps immensely in shortening your sales cycle.
Here are a few tips to help you get started without breaking the bank:
Don't set your expectations sky-high; rather aim for one great piece published in a publication, or one fantastic conversation on a broadcast programme that you know reaches your target audience.
Do your homework
One of the easiest ways to do this is to read the publication or listen to the programme yourself. This sounds quite obvious, but it is the number one oversight.
Listen and learn
Identify the type of stories that are published on the chosen platforms, and figure out which of your stories are the best fit. Another way to go about it is to contact the journalist or presenter and ask them what type of stories they prefer to publish.
Create valuable content
Newsrooms are incredibly busy, and prefer to receive content that conforms to their requirements. This means content submitted for editorial consideration should be written with facts as the focal point, and should not contain your marketing or sales messages.
Remember, journalists are tasked with informing the general public on issues that have an impact on their lives; your content should reflect and understanding of this.
Also keep in mind that photos submitted must be high resolution, and that you should obtain approval from every person quoted in the content before you send it to the media.
Journalists are people, and they like dealing with people, not representatives. They are however very pressured for time, so will not necessarily want to attend a lengthy introduction meeting or event. Communicate with journalists with the aim of helping them, not selling to them.
Know the difference between important and newsworthy
Many people find it difficult to distinguish the difference between news that is important to those already familiar with the organisation, and news that is worthy of editorial publicity. Make sure that the content you send to a journalist is current, relevant, and can make a difference to the lives of readers/listeners.
Don't worry, you can still use your important news to build your reputation by publishing it via your paid, shared or owned platforms.
Keep your ear on the ground
Make sure that you find out whether your content was used. Journalists are usually too pressured to help you with this, so try to use tools like Google Alerts, paid-for media monitoring tools, or even just by reading and listening to the publications you submitted your content to.
If you need more guidance, or simply don't have the time to follow all of these steps on a regular basis, give us a shout to see if we can help.
Dear (or rather, not-so-dear) PR industry, you're doing it wrong!
That was the takeaway from pretty much every conversation I had with journalists and editors at the recent Menell Media Exchange.
What newsrooms hate:
- media releases, especially unsolicited and poorly written media releases
- disrespect for the editorial independence journalists are tasked with
- information that they can only access by jumping through a series of time consuming hoops
What newsrooms need:
- information instead of content
- relationships with trusted sources instead of being on an ill-considered media list
- non-branded broadcast-ready multimedia content instead of text
What brand communicators can do:
- spend time and effort on building relationships, rather than just creating content (journalists are expert content creators, don't try to battle them on their own turf)
- client education to change the expectations they have of results from communication activities (contrary to client perceptions and expectations, the media does not exist to push the products and services of brands)
Can this work? Can the PR industry change its focus and habit without sacrificing profits?
The announcement that the South African Press Association (SAPA) will cease operations on 31 March has been met with widespread dismay. Speculation on the impact of the decision range from decreased quantity and diversity of articles featuring in national publications, to a fear that smaller regional publications might have to merge or close as a steady news stream from SAPA dries up.
The media industry in South Africa is like a phoenix that has now been forced to end one lifecycle. A long-lived era has been put to flames by digital innovation and changes in news consumption, and has made room for a new cycle to emerge from the ashes.
While the rumoured commercial SAPA replacement might be a solution to the very grave fallout of job losses, potential loss of revenue, and threatened existence of smaller publication, an opportunity exists for this new cycle to mend a few fundamental news bridges.
Newsrooms obtain story ideas from a variety of sources including their own database of trusted contacts, news agencies such as SAPA, online searches and from companies that make use of public relations practices. Public relations (PR) is a function that not many news consumers are aware of. When done professionally and ethically, PR can be a crucial link between newsworthy stories from a company and a journalist producing content for a publication.
Over several decades a rivalry between the newsroom and the PR office has started to take shape. Based on both fact and fiction, criticisms have ranged from income, to ethics, to professionalism and plain old misunderstanding of two industries that at the core have the same goal in mind; informed and empowered consumers.
The closure of SAPA is an immense loss to both those who stand to lose their jobs, and consumers who have become used to a steady stream of news. The new status quo will force journalists and PR professionals to take responsibility for providing news that truly cuts through the clutter of both under resourced newsrooms pressed for volumes and deadlines and publicity hungry clients. With the quantity of news stories in jeopardy, both industries must find a way to work together on shifting the focus back to the age-old principle of quality over quantity.
I'd like to emphasise that this is much easier said than done in the face of news consumption habits that have changed with the digital revolution and rise of social media. The increased amounts of brands that want to tell their stories, with the juxtaposed decreased amount of newspaper and programming minutes available, also pose several challenges for media professionals.
Challenges for the PR industry
PR professionals can’t risk falling back on filling media contact list gaps with submitting stories to SAPA. Building a reliable media contact list from the widely dispersed information available takes time and continued effort. Becoming a trusted source of accurate and valuable information takes even more time, and requires a balancing act between what clients see as important, journalists and editors see as newsworthy, and consumers find valuable.
Breaking through the barriers of age-old negative perceptions can however not be aligned with any deadline, and both outsourced and in-house communications departments that have been relying heavily on the SAPA distribution channel should change ways without any further delay.
Challenges for newsrooms
While some practitioners definitely deserve to be called ‘spin doctors’ there are those that truly have the same fundamental drive as journalists. Advances made and thought leadership shared by organisations and brands that can have a positive impact on the economy of South Africa and the lives of its citizens are available in abundance. Communication is however not usually part of the core skills of these brands, which is why PR professionals play a crucial role in closing the gap between the stories available and a journalist who can share it with a greater audience.
The new era brought by the end of SAPA might see journalists having to work more closely with PR professionals to obtain comment and insight on current affairs.
Whether reluctantly or optimistically, South African media professionals will have to make changes in order to continue to provide consumers with the news SAPA has made easy for many to come by.
New Year's resolutions seem to have become the nerdy kid that everyone openly scoffs, but secretly admires.
Whether or not you subscribe to the habit of making and breaking (or keeping) resolutions at the beginning of each year, there is one resolution/change/focus/mantra that will help you to extend the relaxed feeling of the break you had over the holidays.
PR is known as one of the most stressful careers, and PR professionals are known for their type-A personalities and workalism. It is because of this combination that the effects of any holiday or break from work don't last very long.
The only resolution that makes sense for PR professionals is to CREATE HABITS NOW THAT WILL REDUCE FATIGUE LATER.
The habits each one of us need to create obviously depends on our job function and approach; mine need to focus on automisation and smart management of routine tasks, as those tend to steal my energy away from the things I'm good at.
Social media is a necessity for marketers, but usually takes a backseat as it is still viewed as a "nice to have" instead of one of the easiest and cheapest to tools to gain insight from target audiences.
Built-in functionality like Twitter's list feature and Facebook's native post scheduling functionality can go a long way to reduce the time spent managing social media platforms. Third-party apps are also a dime a dozen, and range from simple organising to full-scale intelligent curation and automatic sharing of content.
The lists mentioning these apps and tools are endless, but these are a few of my favourites:
For a few tips on how to still keep in touch with your audience while technology does the hard work for you, read this and this.
I am fortunate to work with a team that I can trust to take care of both our clients and our brand. Working with a team you CAN trust, and actually ACTING on that trust are two completely different things.
I've found the first step towards proper delegation is to ensure that your expectations have been clearly communicated and understood, and that the necessary training and testing has been allowed. And then, it's all a matter of trust, backing off, and guiding (instead of micro-managing, constantly checking and criticising).
Once you've delegated those things that sap your energy, you might not need a holiday in a hurry again.
Expand your horizons everyday through reading, listening, exercising, meeting with like-minded people (or those with opposing views) ... or just taking a break from the one-eyed monster sitting on your desk. Perspective lies outside the office walls, and problems viewed from an objective perspective tend to wither away before causing sleepless nights and stressed-out days.
Success is achieved through focus and consistency. We so easily fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people, that saying no has become one of the most stressful activities of every day.
Once you have made a decision on what to focus on (whether is be in your private or professional life), a consistent effort in making decisions and accepting tasks that support the focus areas will soon lead to achieving success where most needed, leaving time and energy at the end of each day.
For those of us who holds jobs where multitasking is necessity, doing one thing at a time (and finishing it) is a great chellenge. I will however try very hard this year to do only one thing at a time, and finish it before moving on to the next item on the never-ending to-do list.
Are you brave enough to share the habits you need to create to extend the resting value of this past holiday? Leave me a list in the comment section below if you are!
We are very lucky to have clients that are incredibly well-informed and passionate about not only their own products and services, but also about what is happening in their industry and the world around them.
For any company aiming to create fortune through fame it is necessary to appoint as spokesperson someone with a unique set of skills. The Edelman Trust Barometer most recently indicated that the most trusted source of information is becoming "people like me" and it might therefore not be the best idea to appoint the CEO as spokesperson, especially if said CEO is uncomfortable with any of the below requirements.
If you like stability, predictability and control, public relations (PR) might not be the best career choice for you. Why is it then that the PR industry filled to the brim with type-A personalities who are absolutely brilliant at what they do?
In one word: influence.
The well-known Serenity Prayer includes a plea for strength to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can. PR professionals tend to ignore the first bit, and hold on for dear life to the “change what I can” bit ... and as tightly to our smartphones.
Although the PR industry can’t, on behalf of their clients, force people to buy/vote/attend/#selfie (for that is called sales*), and although the PR industry can’t bombard people with messages that eventually make them buy/vote/attend/#selfie out of pure desperation to get rid of the message (for that is called advertising*), what the PR industry can do very effectively is influence.
Now, just to make one thing very clear, by influencing I do not under any circumstances promote/advise/condone/like manipulation. My team and I firmly believe that there is a massive difference between PR and so-called spin.
The stuff that gets the PR industry excited (publicity results, target market behaviours, reputation and perception changes, conversion rates etc) are all based on decisions by people who are soundly unaware of the goals and objectives neatly mapped out in a PR programme or campaign plan.
It hasn’t mattered in quite some time what a company says about itself, but rather what employees and customers who deal with the company say to anyone who is willing to listen. People have become savvy to the marketing game, making it immensely difficult to break through the content cluttering our email inboxes and social media newsfeeds.
Except when people WANT to know.
Usually when people want to know something, they are prepared to spend time on finding and understanding information. And they prefer information in a format they can easily understand, such as stories about brands told by their friends or the media. Which is where influence enters the fray.
PR professionals worth their salt do not influence the truth; that is called lying. They do not influence people, as that could easily, in this context, border on manipulation. PR professionals who understand that content is king work hard at influencing the entire communication process to balance their client’s expectations, goals and requirements with newsroom and other distributor needs in order to deliver the best possible stories in a timely and engaging manner to keep people returning for more.
In short, true PR professionals enable those who would like to spread the word, to do so easily and accurately.
A relentless drive for digging deep to get to the story behind the client brief, and finding a visual and a voice that can tell (not sell) that story to those who are desperate for content that doesn’t play the bait-and-switch game, and providing that information in a neat package to a customer or media practitioner ... THAT is how PR professionals can use their multitude of skills to keep clients happy, build trust with newsrooms, and keep the PR industry alive.
Gone are the days where “lunching the press”, sending cheap gimmicky desk toys (or expensive bottles of imported anything), and press conferences that could’ve been covered with a simple media release. Gone are the days of the celebrity CEO, and even the celebrity brand, where everyone published everything just because.
If you like life easy, don’t get into PR. If you don’t mind a fanatical dedication to learning, developing new skills on the go, and figuring out every single situation on its own merit in order to influence what you can, then this industry is the place to #LoveThisJob
*Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for both the sales and advertising professions, for both are practiced by some of the most hard-working, creative, tough nut people I know. The mentions in the article of the respective professions are therefore merely used as a tongue-in-cheek way of crudely explaining the differences between the verticals of the wonderful world of marketing.
When I was still deciding what to study (leaning heavily towards graphic design at that stage), a friend suggested I phone a friend of theirs who had experience in the PR field. Never having heard of PR (public relations) but curious enough, I phoned, and a long story short am now writing this blog post at the other side of 10 years in the industry.
After 10 years, there is one thing that I still wish that friend of a friend told me (not that it would've made any difference in my choice or career satisfaction). The greatest skill and PR professional can have/learn/build is balance.
Balancing a client's wishes, objectives and preferences with those of the media is something that can not be taught by even the finest schools. Doing it all at a frantic pace with a journalist chasing a deadline just 10 minutes away, the client about to board a plane for a three hour flight, your cellphone battery bleeping for dear life, and simultaneously thinking of three backup plans at the same time isn't stressful, it's natural ... if you're in PR.
Some days in PR are rewarded by having checked all the boxes (loads of quality publicity generated, happy clients, grateful and trusting journalists) and some days you have to let go with a hopeful "maybe next time".
Some days it is as if you know your clients' diaries and movements better than their PAs and spouses, and some days you just keep on missing out on the crucial three minutes a journalist wanted for an all-important interview that would've included your clients' name in the biggest story of the year.
Some days you feel like you've really cracked this hardball industry by knowing and working your stuff, and some days you just end up at home on the couch with a bag of chips and a box of chocolates.
All to get back to the office the next day (for those PR pros who can wait that long to check e-mails) and try once again to achieve the fine balance necessary to succeed in this ever-changing industry.
I worry sometimes that clients will think that I'm only pushing publicity for the sake of submitting a brilliant report at the end of the month, or whether journalists will think that they're talking to the "PR poppie" who doesn't want to help. I worry that by using common sense (leaning in favour of either the client or the newsroom) that I'm damaging the trust relationships we work so hard to build and nurture, or confirming the negative perception of the PR industry held by many.
In the end it all boils down to doing your best each and every single second of each and every single day to achieve a balance that will build towards a greater good for your client, your media network, and the public who are at the receiving end of the stories told by both brand and traditional journalists alike.
Think your marketing department won’t be affected by the launch of the Apple Watch earlier this week? Think again.
The impact of wearable technology will impact far more than just fashion and digital design trends. Even if the adoption rate isn’t as high as is predicted, the trend that will soon cause a flurry of frantic activity in marketing offices around the world is the impending change in information consumption.
Both studies based on formal research and those based on pure observation have proven that information consumption trends have changed significantly in a short period of time.
These days the most popular written pieces tend to be those divided by sub-headings, as it helps readers who have learned the skill of consuming short bytes of information at lightning speeds, to stick to longer form content. Even the decision on whether or not to read the full written piece is sometimes based on the value of information received from reading only the subheadings.
Long form content, although making a comeback this year, will always have a place, as people have an innate need to gather information. It is the format and length of lure that leads to informational long form pieces that has and will continue changing.
Major shakeups in the recent past for content creators (writers, marketers, PR professionals, journalists, videographers etc) include:
- Email, which required a less formal approach than handwritten letters and allowed for more visually striking communication
- SMS, which negated spelling and grammar to force sales messages into 160 characters
- Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram etc which forced everyone to acknowledge the importance of social relationships in communication
- Twitter, which brought the # back to life, made @ buttons on devices wear out quicker than ever, and chopped messages length to a tidy 140 characters.
Wearable technology, whether it is a smart watch or smart set of eyewear, has brought about a new disruption. With tiny screens, room for only a single message, adapted scrolling functionality, wearable technology demands extreme brevity like no tool before it.
For content creators, who spend countless hours producing perfectly poised materials, the looming change in information consumption is a scary business. What many clients don’t realise is that it takes the same amount of time, if not longer, to create a piece of content that is suitable for the brevity demanded by developing mobile technologies, than a longer piece suitable for print or computer.
Content creators need to become skilled in formats suitable for the extreme brevity that is demanded by wearable tech, and will also have to educate their clients on the need for messages in a variety of formats.
Fame and fortune have been used in the same sentence for centuries. And when it comes right down to the bone, the publicity generation component of PR is all about creating fortune through fame.
My textbooks on the subject heartily disagree with such a statement, and if you are a PR professional you might already be climbing on a soapbox. I would usually join you, but for the purposes of this blog post, please allow me the freedom to explain.
PR, although not the most well-known marketing discipline, has also been around for centuries.
Sometimes called propaganda (war), sometimes called spin (politics), sometimes called lobbying (activism), sometimes called stakeholder relations (corporate), PR is a complex discipline that can span a wide variety of industries, tools, and platforms.
It however still (mostly) boils down to making a person/group/product/brand famous in order to create fortune for them. Whether the fortune be measured in finances or influence is a whole different conversation topic.
The thing about fame is that the whole "overnight success" thing is a bit of a myth. Yes, there are flukes, but those "overnight success" stories have most probably been 10 years in the making. It's just overnight and new for those who never knew.
The same (mostly) applies in PR.
One of the expectations we have to manage most often is the one of quick fame.
"We saw the publicity Company X got in Publication Y and we want the same. Can you send me a quote for a once-off press release?"
"Your press release will help me to fill all the seats at my (poorly marketed) event next week, right?"
"How many sales can I expect from this radio interview?"
"My competitor was on TV last night. Can you phone the presenter and tell her I want to be on the show tonight?"
As an SME owner myself, I am very sympathetic to these types of questions, as money and time are both things that are usually in short supply. As a PR professional, I cringe at these questions, as I know it will be money in the water, and water under the publicity bridge in a heartbeat.
The fact of the matter is that PR isn't driven by actions (press releases, events, media interviews etc) alone, but by the knowledge and experience behind the actions.
While a once-off, short-lived PR campaign might create a fair amount of publicity, we find that the results with the most impact come from the clients who have an ongoing commitment to generating relevant content suitable for on of the most demanding target markets ... the newsroom.
Editors and journalists don't care about the shiny features of your latest prototype, or the appointment of a new Assistant Junior Director of the mailroom. They quickly delete articles and invitations that contain puffery, lengthy paragraphs filled with technical jargon, and items that just generally break every rule in the courtesy book.
What newsrooms want are valuable, relevant stories from reliable sources, not sensationalist announcements from those just looking for a spot in the limelight.
PR can most definitely help create quick fame that will end at the quickly forgotten "one-hit-wonder" stage.
To gain the most value from PR, one should rather aim for the Hall of Fame.
UPDATE - 11/09/2014
As luck would have it, the day after this blog post was written, we received a news clipping of an article that was included in the Corporate Governance feature of Business Day. The article was not written based on something we initiated, but rather as a result of a long-standing working relationship we have with the editor, who has on several occasions in the past contacted us to coordinate interviews with the IoDSA, one of our clients.
How's that for the proof being in the pudding?