The #PRStack Project: Really at the intersection between PR and digital

What are the best tools that help PR practitioners perform to the best of their ability?

This is a thought I had a few years ago. I could see that, with the advent of Web 2.0, it would help PR people to know what consumers were sharing about their clients’ products. So, I put together my first cut of the Friendly Ghost Social Media Resource – ‘Friendly  Ghost’ because that was my moniker at the time (when we all felt like we were part of the matrix and thought we had to have cool names) and ‘Social Media Resource’ because I couldn’t think of anything snappier.

It was fairly clunky and difficult to follow, being a huge Google Doc. So I acquainted myself with Zoho and turned it into a proper database.

Reaction was mainly positive but some people expressed doubts about contributing to something when they didn’t know who was building it. Fair enough, and even though I tried making it truly crowd-sourced, by giving people the tools to share the interface, it didn’t really take off.

But if the latest CIPR report on the state of the profession is to be believed, then such a resource is clearly needed. PRs are apparently overstressed and unfairly paid, lacking in digital skills and resources. This kind of resource could help.

It clearly needed someone with much more credibility, influence and foresight to kick-start such a project. Stephen Waddington seems to have ascended into the firmament recently, popping up all over the place. A recent tweet of his caught my eye: the PR Stack, in which he invited people to contribute with their favourite tools and how they might be used.

I’ve used plenty of tools in the past, so I jumped in and added my take. True to his word, Wadds has posted an update, thanking the contributors, and so I get a bit of free publicity to boot.


This is great. Not only do we have a cool new tool – which is going to be a mobile app imminently (see above) – we have a community to follow. This community is, by definition, at the intersection of PR and digital, representing the core of people who have feet in both worlds but are also proactive enough to get involved. It reminds me of the good old days where Social Media Club would meet up at the ICA, or upstairs at the Coach and Horses.

So what should you do right now? Follow them, of course. And subscribe to their blogs, if they have one. Wadds has also helpfully put together a Twitter list so you could also subscribe to that.

And one thing I notice when I look at the contributors: they’re all individuals. I think there’s a great opportunity here for an agency to become involved, position itself right at the heart of this intersection, and be part of something exciting and new. And let’s face it, we haven’t had anything like that in social media for quite some time…

Is social media a waste of time for marketers?

The answer is ‘Mostly, yes’, according to Mark Ritson, associate professor of marketing and branding expert at Melbourne Business School. See below.

This video has been doing the rounds recently – or, at least, I noticed it tweeted by Brandwatch’s Will McInnes yesterday – and, because of my frighteningly short attention span nowadays (probably down to social media), I noticed it was over 30 minutes long and shelved it.

Then I thought “No Brendan, don’t let social media fry your brain.” And watched it. And it’s brilliant. If you’re in any way involved with marketing, PR, social media or communications generally, I highly recommend you set aside half an hour and watch it.

In some ways it’s heinous. A few years ago I’d have said ridiculous. Almost blasphemous. His premise is that social media is a waste of time for brands. But today, I think he’s right. I kept finding myself nodding my head in agreement. What he says, when looking at social media from an academic and macro perspective, is what I’ve been thinking and seeing at the coal face for the past few years.

Now, he goes to great lengths to say that he doesn’t think all social media is bad. Quite the opposite, he thinks it’s great for individuals and is truly a revolution in communications that is here to stay. But therein lies the problem. Social media is about people, not brands. So an individual’s success does not translate into brand success.

I found this out the hard way. When I started blogging, I got a lot of interest. I had hundreds of subscribers. So naturally my position was “Well if I can do this, and I’m just one guy typing away in a room somewhere, imagine how well an entire company would do.” This didn’t happen, because social media is about people, not brands.

Ritson really holds no punches. He points out the paucity of marketing budgets allocated to social (around 5%). He takes the potential TV and radio audience sizes for top brands – often in the millions – and compares that to the reach on offer from social media – the thousands or even hundreds – to show how, time after time, social media is a fraction of the traditional media. “Get used to that decimal point because you’re going to see it a lot”, he says. And you do. When he’s generous, he rounds up to 1%. There’s a murmur of surprise from the audience when he graphically demonstrates the contrast between social and traditional reach. I’ve done something similar: one character in this post is red, representing social media. Compared to all the other characters in this post, it’s about the same ratio.

Interestingly, only last night I watched BBC news comparing the fortunes of our main political parties in terms of their Facebook Likes and Twitter followers. Again, thousands, versus the millions of voters in our country.

I’ve seen this too. I’ve looked at referral traffic in Google Analytics for websites. The biggest referral is typically organic search, at least 50%. Then you’ll get direct referral, at a few percentage points below organic. Social referrals are around 3% at most. Is this really worth your time as a marketer?

However, as well as critiquing social media for brands he admits that there are still uses for social media. Again, I agree. He points out that social can benefit sales/tech support, and I’ve seen social media used successfully for this: check out the Facebook pages of most consumer tech brands and you’ll see a well-oiled support operation, with quick turnaround of queries. He also admits that research can benefit, and again I’ve built my own systems for pulling down data and figuring out what people are saying about brands, and what sort of message penetration they’re achieving.

I’d still say that there is some value in using social media for brands, despite the limitations. If you can run a slick, tight operation, where you make the most of your content and you genuinely have – I’m going to that word – passion for what you do, then you can start carving out a share of voice against your competitors without breaking your back. And there’s always room for building up a social profile that benefits your company, especially if you’re self-employed like me. Provided you keep social media in perspective (remember that 5% budget), and use it for marketing AND support AND research, then it can justify itself as a tool. Just.

What’s in a name? Everything.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. A couple of days ago, a PR agency was being castigated for calling itself ‘Strange Fruit PR’. I knew the name was familiar but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Was it something to do with ‘Oranges Aren’t The Only Fruit’? In what way was that controversial? Then I realised. Oh dear. Oh dearie dearie me. Oh dearie dearie dearie dearie me.

There was a link to the Twitter account. It didn’t exist. So I looked for the website. That had been taken down. So I took it as one of those strange warps in the fabric of spacetime that you occasionally glimpse, shrug your shoulders, and move on.

But today it turns out not to have been an interdimensional anomaly, but a real thing. It seems the Twitter backlash has caused Strange Fruit to change its name. Hardly surprising really. I mean, what on earth were they thinking?

This is quite a brazen example of really getting branding very badly wrong, but the closer you look, the more difficult branding gets. It’s not just a name or a logo. It has to be something that differentiates you from your competitors, makes you relevant to your audiences, and works internally, now and in the future. It’s a tough nut to crack and I’ve had several goes at it in my time, using the seat-of-the-pants method (ie making it up), going through agencies (ie doing it properly) and bringing it all together for my direct clients.

So branding is deep and wide: deep in that it gets to the heart of what a company is about; and wide because it affects everything that company does. However, the public face of a brand is its name, strapline and logo. So when I was thinking about Strange Fruit – when I’d got over the shock of how completely dumb they must be, that is – I got to thinking about other examples down the ages. Here are some:

  • Consignia. It was called Royal Mail. Then it was called Consignia. Then, after a backlash, it became Royal Mail again. The idea behind the new name was to have a brand that encompassed more than just ‘mail’. This made sense, because the brand has to reflect what the company does. I daresay the word ‘Royal’ also seemed old and out of touch. However, people just didn’t like the new name. It smacked of an awful portmanteau, that is, a word fused from other words, in this case ‘consign’ and ‘insignia’. Whereas Royal Mail had weight and authority, Consignia seemed a bit, well, plasticky.
  • Abbey. This relaunched Abbey National with the promise of ‘turning banking on its head’. This line is nonsense. What does it mean? Credits become debits? The bank gives us money which we invest and then give back to them? It became an object lesson in how to mismanage a rebrand and seriously damaged the business. Mark Ritson gives a great breakdown of this breakdown. Talking of poor straplines as opposed to names, there’s also Mellow Birds, a coffee brand that promised it will ‘make you smile’. What on earth has that got to do with coffee? So does my cat.
  • New Coke. There’s a problem with putting ‘new’ in front of anything. Sooner or later, it’s going to become old. Then, where do you go? So it was with New Labour, so it was with New Coke. Actually they did pretty much everything right, with consumer tests apparently proving that the new taste was better. Then the backlash came, and remember this was well before any social media existed, or even online communications of any significant type. Coke switched back to Classic Coke and continued to outsell its competitor. So perhaps this goes to show, sometimes you can follow the right path but make sure you’re agile enough to switch.

These are all mistakes that, when you examine them more closely, were made honestly. Portmanteau names can work, in the same way nonsense words work, especially in crowded markets where you have little choice (Google, Yahoo). You just build the brand around the name and it becomes synonymous with its values. Straplines aren’t even necessary much of the time, but the management of the rebrand needs to be tight. And New Coke got it right, then got it wrong, then got it right again.

But Strange Fruit? Gah.

Nail your content strategy with the marketing funnel

There are many takes on the marketing funnel. They go from simple – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, the classic AIDA model – to very complicated. Some people swear by them. Others swear at them. Still others think the funnel is actually banana-shaped. Not really, I just couldn’t resist putting that in.

The idea is that people move from not knowing about you, on a journey that gets closer to investing in you. After becoming aware, if they like what they see then they’re interested. If they’re interested enough, they put you on a shortlist. And if you’re still a candidate, they’ll act – whether actually buying, or just getting in touch.

I quite like it because it makes sense to me and I use that as a litmus test. If I understand it, then my clients probably will too. I like the simplest version, the AIDA model, but I like putting something underneath the funnel for digital marketing in particular: retention.

I also like the funnel because it enables me to do two important things: figure out which kinds of content work for each stage of the funnel; and measure effectiveness.

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, Retention. What on earth am I talking about? Read on and, if you disagree, let me know below. No, really, I want to be told I’m wrong because that’s how I learn…

Awareness: I’m looking for X

This is where you need to move from people not knowing about you, to people becoming aware of you. They will be looking for something and will use fairly generic, industry- or sector-wide terms to do this, such as mousetraps, washing machines, digital marketing.

This is mostly the domain of Google. Sure, there are other search engines, but Google is it. So to make sure you’re top of Google, you need to embark on an awareness programme.

My feeling on awareness? Don’t use social media for it. There is no proven link between social and SEO, with the sole exception of Google+ which is plugged into Google’s results. So when people say they want to use social media to raise awareness, they’re using the wrong tool.

Awareness is all about what happens away from your site. You need to spread your tentacles across the web and make sure people are as likely to find you as possible using those generic search terms. So, for awareness, you need to think about getting as much word-of-mouth out there as possible. This is where PR comes in, with placed articles, bylines and advertorials raising awareness offline.

For online awareness, you need to think about establishing a presence on sites other than your own. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Blogs – Comment on influencers who mention you, our your issues, or any of your content. Also consider blog exchange programmes, where you post on influencer blog and they post on yours
  • Twitter: Retweet influencers who mention you
  • LinkedIn: Interact with industry groups
  • Facebook: Like or comment on pages that mention you

Everything here is designed to establish your voice on third-party sites. In other words, to raise awareness.

How do you measure this? Well given that most of this is off-site activity, you’re looking at how much earned conversation you’re stimulating, that is, how much are people talking about you other than yourself. There are ways of doing this, mainly by building dashboards through APIs.

You can also look at your Google Analytics and see how much search engine traffic is coming to your site. This gives you an idea of how successful your content strategy is in grabbing Google’s attention.

Interest: I’ve heard about you and I’d like to know more

So people know about you, because you’ve raised awareness through PR and canny use of third-party sites. Now it’s time to stimulate their interest and this is really where you can start using your social media. Think about how each of your channels can work with each of these types of content:

  • Events – are bread and butter to social media. Blog before, during and after them. Use Twitter, Instagram and Vine during them. Put your video together for more in-depth coverage on YouTube during and after. There’s plenty you can be doing with events that will make people think you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
  • White papers – are something of a dreadnought of communications, but this content can be great for ‘slicing and dicing’, that is, releasing a small amount at a time, linking to a dedicated web page or microsite. Go one step further and ask for people’s email addresses in return for this premium content and you’re right into the retention level.
  • Press releases – should always be on your Twitter feed and LinkedIn company page at the very least. Consider repackaging them for the blog but remember that your blog should on the whole talk about industry issues rather than shouting about yourself.
  • Educational series – are where you show that you know what you’re talking about, so talk about it on your blog. Even if you think something’s obvious, other people won’t.

To measure this, you’re now looking at how engaged people are with your owned channels. How often do people retweet you? How many comments does your YouTube channel have? How many people are talking about your Facebook page? And so on.

Again, Google Analytics is important. If you’re hosting in-depth content with serious amounts of investment behind them such as white papers, then you need to know how many people are visiting those pages, and how many are downloading them.

You can also use the dedicated dashboards for each channel but I’m not a fan of them. I like metrics that I can compare across channels and competitors, such as reach and engagement.

Desire: You’re on my shortlist

Having gone from awareness out there on the wild web, to interest from what you’re saying, the customer journey is now about desire. They know about you and they like you, and you’re on their shorlist. Now it’s your job to validate their decision to opt for you.

There are three kinds of content that work really well for this:

  • Case studies – are absolutely what you need to convince people that you know what you’re talking about. Prove to them that you understood the challenge, employed the right tactics, and got results.
  • Third-party articles – by which I mean all mentions of you whether bylines, features, blog posts or news. People want to know that you’re being talked about.
  • Awards – as with the funnel itself, some people love them and others hate them. I think they’re very compelling. Whatever the politics behind them (ie a stunning correlation between the companies that win and the companies that pay sponsorship), I think most people regard them as strong endorsement from the industry.

There’s a fourth kind here which can be controversial: comparison tables. They might work well for FMCG brands – “Hey look, you can wipe your bum much more quickly with our Bum-away toilet roll” – but sometimes slagging your competitors off can reflect poorly on your shiny brands.

To measure this you’re looking at metrics such as specific engagement from known influencers – retweets, replies, comments, subscribers. On your site you should also look for downloads of content and visits to pages that host it.

Action: Where do I sign?

This is It. There’s very little you can do with social media here. People have gone from the outer space of non-awareness, to the atmosphere of interest, and have landed on your planet because they have desire. But you can’t make them sign the dotted line. The best you can do here is make sure you have plenty of calls to action. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy, or to call you, email you, get in touch in any way. Marketing’s job is to get people as far down the funnel as Action. From now on, it’s about converting, and this is where marketing hands over to sales.

For measurement, this is absolutely the domain of the website. You should monitor specific page accesses to ‘hot’ conversion pages such as Contact Us or registration pages. And, of course, if you’re selling directly via your site, you need to monitor conversion rates: how many people pressed the Buy button?

Retention: Welcome to the club

Now you’ve got people on board, it’s time to keep them there. Sure, you’ve got your social media channels chugging away happily but everyone can read them. For people who have invested in you, give some of that investment back. This is where you embark on a client comms programme, giving them the inside track on product development, special offers, invites to events and so on. And to measure this, look at the metrics your email system supports such as numbers of emails opened or unsubscription rates.

And that’s it. That’s my take on the funnel, how to match content to each stage, and how to measure each stage. Please tell me that you disagree below, because I like finding stuff out from smart people.

Tracking the KPIs of Social Media | SEOmoz

Over the past year or so I’ve become fairly convinced that measurement through solid, universal frameworks of understanding is the key to success. However, often what I find is that clients either don’t really care about it, or that, if they do, they only really care about the ‘good’ metrics such as ‘Friends of friends’ in Facebook, which is akin to the alchemy of AVE.

The Conversion funnel is as good a place as any to start. Believe me, I’ve presented this to entire roomfuls of so-called marketing types who have never heard of it which frankly astonishes me (and did astonish me at the time – I really did have to stop my jaw from dropping). It’s been around for a long time, it’s simple, and, I believe, it works. Just take each segment of the funnel and figure out what you’re trying to achieve with it, and from that figure out how you’re going to measure what you’re trying to achieve, to see if you’re achieving it.

I’ve used AIDA in the past, which may be a bit simplistic because it doesn’t take into account repurchase. I’ve used a much more complicated version of the funnel which left people looking mystified. But this one is the Goldilocks funnel, I think. It’s just right.

And, praise be, the entire blog post is pretty good. I’m not sure it quite manages to bridge the gap between online activity and conversion (ie “Did we manage to sell stuff?”) but that’s something we’re all trying to do, and it probably falls into the space between your website and your ecommerce platform. Right?

Anyway, as I always do when I ‘repurpose’ (ie steal) other people’s content, don’t just sit here reading this, go over to SEOMoz and check out the full piece. I like.


Quite simply, some charts that may be of interest. For example, note how Apple is supplanting Microsoft in search volume; that PR may be peeling upwards away from advertising and even marketing; the relative fortunes of Google+, Facebook and Twitter; social media may be levelling off; and, especially heartwarming for me, Star Wars is much more popular than Star Trek (mostly).

All charts are for all regions and years except the politics chart which is just for the UK over the past 12 months (because a lot can happen in 12 months!) Click each chart to go to the Google Trends page for more information, such as the news items that account some spikes (A, B, C etc).

● microsoft ● apple

● ed miliband ● david cameron ● nick clegg ● politics

● hp ● dell ● ibm ● hardware

● advertising ● marketing ● pr ● social media

● social media

● google+ ● facebook ● twitter

● star wars ● star trek

Advertising, PR, sales, marketing: now you see it, now you don’t

People are visual, so it makes sense that they act on what they can see. But that’s not so hot when you need to deal with, um, concepts.

So, people ‘get’ advertising, because they know what an advert is. I don’t know what the figures are for the average number of adverts people are exposed to throughout their lives, but it’s a shockingly huge amount. We see them on broadcast, print and social media, and whether or not we mentally screen them out, we’re aware of them.

But they don’t, on the whole, understand PR. This is because PR is about placing articles or selling in stories in the media on a client’s behalf. If you don’t ‘get’ that then this might help: before I started in PR, I genuinely believed all those pieces with HP’S CEO’s name against them had been written by HP’s CEO. Then, when I discovered the unalloyed joy of writing bylines, and found myself one day writing one for HP’s CEO, I suddenly realised what was going on.

Advertising is bells and whistles, while PR is a sleek, black plane. Or, advertising is ‘look at me’ while PR is ‘look at them’. Or, advertising is Edwina Currie while PR is Peter Mandelson.

Likewise sales and marketing. Again, people get sales because they buy and sell things. In the same way they can ‘see’ adverts, they ‘see’ sales. But they don’t, I’ve found, understand marketing because they can’t see them. Markets might be big, or small. They might not exist at all. But they’re the environment you need to operate in, to sell effectively.

Increasingly, I’m finding that social media is about marketing. It’s about a lot of other things too – not least research, awareness, engagement, all those great things – but what I tend to find myself thinking about now is the market. Who are the client’s competitors? What are they doing? How can we measure ourselves against them? What does success look like? Generally, it looks like something you’ve done that is better than your competitors, from selling more things to getting more attention.

Sales is little regions of activity, while marketing is the tectonic plates that underpin all of this. Leave it too long and you’ll find the plates have shifted. Or, sales is Mount Etna while marketing is Pangea (not, repeat not, Pandora).

So I’m working in a double-blind area. It’s PR (Mandy in a Nighthawk) and marketing (a theoretical ancient unified landmass with a funny name). Would I prefer to work with my eyes wide open, in ‘real’ things such as advertising and sales?

Well, that depends.

What are the hours?

Podcasts pay

So, I’m falling in love with my HTC Wildfire, not least because it’s re-opened the world of podcasts. My old PC is now downloading them and wirelessly throwing them across to the phone, as well as downloading web intelligence for clients, and helping to cure cancer and find aliens via distributed computing. Fab.

Anyway, what I really meant to say is: I used to listen to For Immediate Release which is a one-hour long weekly podcast run by Shel Holz and Neville Hobson who between them have run comms at the highest levels for major corporations. You’d expect to pay handsomely for their consultancy time but you can download their podcast for free. It’s by quite some distance the best marketing/PR/comms podcast out there with the accent on social media and today I happened to listen to their 600th episode. What an achievement.

Now I’m back in the podcasting habit, I’d forgotten how useful it is. Every time I listen to it I get ideas. For example: you never know, a client might one day want to stay up to date but not have time to read stuff, in which case how about creating a podcast specifically for that client, which quite literally involves reading web pages/articles that might be of interest? It’s just this off-the-wall idea that sometimes clients really value: that is, you’ve shown that you’re soaking up best practice as well as creative ideas and that’s what the client pays for. And you can only get those ideas if you open your eyes and ears, in work and out of it.

So, if you’re a commuter and you like sitting staring into space you could do much, much worse than spend a bit of time listening to it during your commute. Just to go or find it on iTunes.

What do subscribe, like and follow have in common?

They’re all ways of linking, true.

They’re all different words for linking on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Also true.

But they all mean the same thing. And that thing is?

“I find what you have to say interesting, and I’d like to know more.”

This probably strikes you as blindingly obvious, but it does make you realise: what’s the point of starting any social media programme unless you’ve got something to say? Why should people be interested if you don’t have anything unique or interesting to say? And why should they come back if you stop saying it?

And this cuts to the heart of communications in so many ways, whether offline or online.

Imagine you’re setting up a radio station. You’ve erected the mast, bought a cool studio, installed your microphone and unnecessarily huge mixing desk. You smoked 20 Woodbine a day for the past year to give your voice that gravelly texture. Everything’s in place. You flick the switch. You’re on air. Everyone’s waiting. But you suddenly realise you don’t have anything to say or play. It’s just a big empty speech bubble.

Would this ever happen? I’d like to think not. In so-called ‘traditional’ media you think about what content you’re going to produce, whether in print or broadcast, who it’s going to be for, what are their needs and wants, and so on. PR people do the same, just on the other side of the media mirror. And we do the same in ‘new’ media, if you can imagine such a thing as a three-way mirror.

The point I’m making is that so much of what we do in social media relies on exactly the same processes traditional media would go through. We don’t wave a magic wand. It’s not weird science or a black art. Messaging, content, audiences, everything you’d think about in a ‘traditional’ comms programme, you need to think about with social media too. But most of all, it’s about content. Actually having something to say, and saying it in an engaging, interesting, relevant way.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. Subscribe, Like and follow all mean: we’re listening, so talk!