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.

prstack

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…

I really am not one of the most influential PR bloggers in the UK. Honestly, I’m not.

So it was with considerable mirth that I read Gorkana’s latest blockbusting news – that someone has, schlock horror, discovered who the most influential PR bloggers are in the UK! Wow! That was quick of them! The Ad Age Power150 has only been around for, what, at least five years. Apparently it’s news to Gorkana however.

And I’m 7th on the list. Sorry, 8th. Sorry, 9th already. They’re popping out of the woodwork as I type.

A quick backstory to the Ad Age Power150 (as far as my memory serves). It was originally Todd Andrlik‘s Power150, which I came across quite a while ago and thought it was a neat way to ‘measure’ blogs. Take of the publicly available metrics such as Technorati Authority (remember that?), normalise them out of ten, add them up, and you get a list of influencers. So I took that, applied it to the list of 100 PR bloggers that I followed at the time, and created my own list.

Naturally Todd wasn’t too happy that I’d copied his idea, so I put an attribution at the bottom, and in later versions of what became the PR Friendly Index I adapted a more graphical approach (that would appear to be broken on this new template), without normalising, which gave me something of a USP.

Along the way Sally Whittle also asked me for some help with her top secret project, which begat the Tots 100, and Jonny Bentwood also started his list of analysts along similar lines.

The PR Friendly Index got me a lot of attention and in fact I’d say it’s the main reason I appear on lists nowadays. Many people linked to me, not least because I provided little badges for them complete with code that included the links. But it just became too tedious to maintain – which, in a neat circular kind of way, is what Todd found, which is why he gave it, or sold it (I know not which) to Ad Age.

So it’s probably fitting that it all comes back to Ad Age, which is where the Gorkana list comes from (actually it’s a list from 10 Yetis, but Gorkana are shouting and pointing at it, as if it’s news which, just to be clear, it is not).

However, Ad Age really is just bean counting. Which brings me to the title of this post: I’m not influential. Look, Drew Benvie is below me. Drew is UK MD of the group that includes Hotwire, Skywrite and 33 Digital. Steve Waddington co-runs Speed, which I visited the other week. Metrica is an entire company of measurement professionals (whose competition entries I wrote two years back so I know them quite well too). These people are all much more influential than I am. It just happens to be that I got more scores via various metrics once upon a time because I had some good ideas occasionally. Honestly.

So I really wouldn’t go by the figures. I don’t really think Andy Barr, head of 10 Yetis, has had a very inspirational idea in peeling out the UK PR people from the Ad Age Power150 (it’s been done before). I’d find out who these people are first, and then take a punt.

What PR people really think of journalists

David Strom’s December story at RWW about the “Ten Biggest PR Blunders of 2011” mentions things that happen every year for as long as I’ve been in this game. The story isn’t so much about blunders as pressure to please the client being passed onto journos, but boy, did it rark up a PR person in the comments section.

This is great.

There’s a meme that regularly does the rounds, in which journalists (the ‘hacks’) lambast PRs (the ‘flacks’), listing their various shortcomings and idiocies.

However, in this case, a flack decided he/she had taken enough, and decided to bite back.

Whereas I’ve worked in, and for PR agencies for some years now, I’ve not worked directly with journalists that often, so I can’t comment on a lot of this. But I do recognise some of it, and in fact, when I forwarded it to a friend who works for the BBC, she thought it was hilarious. In fact, she thought the original piece that triggered this was grossly unfair to flacks.

Anyway, you decide. It’s amusing and infuriating in equal measure.

Trends

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 http://www.forimmediaterelease.biz/ or find it on iTunes.

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the Sharepages.com website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

Facebook and Google: if you can’t do the time…

So today, on Today on Radio 4, and the front page of the Guardian, and on the BBC, and probably everywhere else, is the story of Facebook, Google, and a PR company that I’m not going to continue to kick (because I don’t like kicking PR agencies). That is, Facebook’s agency allegedly trying place smear stories about Google’s Social Circle network.

I don’t often get time to blog nowadays but this one just stuck in my mind all the way into work, for several reasons.

Now, whether or not the actual core claim is valid that “the American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloguing and broadcasting every minute of every day – without their permission”, the prime issue here is one of trust. Trust and lies – or deliberate, covert smearing – don’t sit well. If you can’t be open and honest, do something different instead.

I remember when I first started in PR, as a copywriter, and I’ll be frank: I wasn’t entirely sure what PR was. That’s one of the reasons I started blogging, to share my ideas, get other people’s take on them, and learn. So, when I met up with some ex-colleagues and told them what I was up to, their immediate response was “What, telling lies?” I stuttered and spluttered and wasn’t sure how to respond.

Years later I’m absolutely confident that PR is not in the business of telling lies. I’ve seen people go to great pains to establish what can, and cannot be claimed. Anyone who’s ever been in a messaging session will know how much importance we place on the solid facts we have at our disposal, which verify and validate anything that a client says, or that we say on the client’s behalf. It’s part of our DNA.

For example, I interviewed a prominent UK political figure earlier this week. I’ve just spent a very, very long time making sure that everything I wrote up subsequently is absolutely accountable.

But, to take the iconoclastic approach, why? Why bother telling the truth? Sometimes lying really can get you what you want. I still remember lying to my parents about what happened to the TV set when in fact it wasn’t the cat that had knocked water down the back of it, it was me.

What about stretching the truth to its elastic limit? I heard about the Chilcott Commission yesterday and had forgotten it was even still running, but that’s come about surely because someone, somewhere, did quite a lot of manipulation to make things go their own way.

Why not lie? Why not conduct a covert smear campaign?

Well, the reason is this: you get caught. It’s all too true that you can’t fool all the people all of the time. We are fortunate in the West to live in a society where the competing agendas of politics, corporations and the media mean that if there is an untruth to be exposed, someone will expose it. Then, all hell breaks loose. Brands get damaged. We waste millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on a phoney war and a toothless commission. You wind up on the front page of the Guardian and lose your job.

So you don’t lie because, if there’s any other way to do what you want to do, then do that instead. From the social media angle, if you find you need to get someone else to write your blog posts for you, or generally pretend to be you, then you may as well try to find a different medium because that’s not what social media is about. It’s about you. If you don’t have time, money or resource to do it, then don’t do it.

I’m not saying anyone in the Facebook/Google/PR case is lying. Facebook may be presenting a perfectly valid viewpoint. But the way they’ve done it? No. If Facebook didn’t have the time, money or resource to face the consequences of their PR agency’s methods, then they shouldn’t have done it. Unfortunately, they probably have ample amounts of all three.

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!