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.

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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?

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.

Everyone needs to get out more

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So today is Wednesday which means I write about… hang on, let me look it up… tum te tum te tum… ah yes, here it is. Social media!

Right.

Over the past month, in the UK, we’ve been subjected to the constant advances of politicians throughout the election. Thankfully it’s all stopped,  but at the time I did notice a phenomenon that I keep seeing around me and that I think is significant.

Which is: when you’re inside something, when that something is your world, there’s a tendency to think it’s the same for everyone else too. And the reality is, that it isn’t.

To take the political example, I have a strong feeling that Cameron, Clegg and Brown woke up every morning thinking that the world is a world of politics. They would meet their aides, shake people’s hands, look interested when being shown lathes, and generally be in that world till they fell asleep and night and dreamed of kittens.

But for someone like me, it isn’t a world of politics. I’ve never even met a politician, that I’m aware. I’ve never been to a political event. I voted, sure, but I count myself among the people who think that politics is pretty irrelevant to their lives. It all seems so pragmatic, so ineffectual when considered against seemingly overwhelming global forces.

Enough of the politics. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a tendency to believe that what you’re doing is treated with equal significance as everyone else, even when it’s something as (supposedly) important as politics.

And I see this in social media too.

The people I follow on Twitter, tweet about it. The bloggers I read, blog about it. So there’s a real possibility that, working in social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a world of social media.

It isn’t.

I know it isn’t, not just because there are trees, birds and sky out there, but because during the election, despite sky-high ratings for Clegg, he just didn’t cut it in the real world. If it were a world of social media, he’d have won hands down.

Is this post making sense? I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not sure it’s coming across. Basically, as communicators – whether politicians, PR people or social media types – we need, often, to break out of our little world and see it from someone else’s point of view. That way, we start to appreciate what’s really going on, rather than what we think is going on.

I’m lucky. I do something else too – that is, I write. OK, so I write about social media, but I like to think that I can do this from the outside in, as well as the inside, um, in. So should all communicators. It’s not a world of PR, or of advertising, or of social media. We need to get out more.

Online outreach needs to be more touchy-feely, less reachy-outy


There are plenty of posts out there about how bad some email pitches can be. I generally don’t like to accentuate the negative but today I received two pitches that both ably demonstrated one poor aspect of pitching: personalisation.

The first pitch of the day came into my inbox pretty much demanding that I look at something. It was very direct, which I suppose is good for call to action but by the time I’d read it I felt like the greased, naked woman having a glove shoved into her face on the Spinal Tap album cover. I usually do actually respond to these pitches offering advice on how to improve them but on this occasion, because the emailer’s last line was “Go and see it”, I just replied ‘No’. I’m never at my most accommodating early in the morning.

The second just came through. It was nicely set out, reasonably polite but… never mentioned me or my blog, not even my name at the top.

And this is the problem. When I’ve pitched journalists by phone I’ve made sure I know who the journo is, what they’re up to, and why they might be interested in what I have to sell them.

Online outreach should be exactly the same. I’m not implying you need to read the blogger for weeks beforehand – it’s impossible and doesn’t scale – but you could very easily spend five minutes to find ONE thing that they’ve posted, even on their first page, that relates to the subject in hand. Then mention it. Say something like “I really like what you wrote about this” or “Your take on that is very interesting.”

That’s all it takes. Just one thing that tells me you really have looked and that it really would be in my interest to take it up. Otherwise I just feel like I’ve been ‘reached’ and not ‘touched’.

And always, always try and put the blogger’s name at the top. Mine is in big letters at the top of my blog. It’s even in my URL. So use it!

PS Apologies for all those of you who received this post with some weird brackets in them. I’m still getting the hang of Posterous…

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.

Will I ever be able to update the PR Friendly Index again?

The PR Friendly Index has been good to me. I initially compiled it as an ongoing experiment to see how I could ‘measure’ blogs, especially en masse, especially using forms of automation that would make it as easy as possible. The ultimate goal was something along the lines of the Power150, except I had visions of creating a blog ‘index’ akin to the FTSE-100, so we could see who was rising or falling in real-time.

This never came to be, not least because I had neither the time nor the expertise to make it so. But I got a fair way with canny combinations of Google Docs XML and ImportHTML calls, Technorati APIs, and good old-fashioned Word macros to format everything.

Since then, of course, we all know that this isn’t the right way to ‘measure’ a blog. It’s more qualitative than quantitative. But I still thought there was value in compiling it from time to time, provided I could do this regularly using proven processes and techniques. Not least because, as I said, it’s been good to me. My stats shot through the roof when I started it, and it’s helped me professionally in many ways.

However, the last PR Friendly index I compiled, in March 2009, was a right old pain in the arse. It seemed that the Google Docs calls weren’t reliable, even though they were doing things ‘properly’ using my Technorati API key. As a result I had to copy and paste many results manually, or estimate some results much in the same way scientists inserted frog DNA into dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

I’ve recently been toying with the idea of starting the index again, and took a quick look to see whether things were still intact. The bad news is that they most decidedly are not.

Take a look at the image below. It’s the result of the Technorati calls for the authority of the first few blogs in the PR Friendly Index:

Is it cream-crackered?

See that? Most of them don’t work. There’s nothing wrong with the calls. The blogs exist. If I look them up using the same API calls as in the Google Docs, but typed directly into the browser address bar, they work. Do the same through Google Docs, and they don’t. Mostly.

So I can only imagine there’s something going on with Google Docs calls. I get similar results when using ImportHTML to query Google Blog Searches. Hardly any of them work.

If none of them worked, I could start debugging this. But some of them, working some of the time? Nothing worse for debugging.

This leaves me with a problem. If I want to continue with the PR Friendly Index, I need to figure out yet another workaround because I simply cannot spend the best part of a day compiling these figures manually. Something’s gone wrong, and I need a fix, ideally a nice efficient way using API calls.

Can anyone help?

Words that make you go ‘Grrrrr’

Watch out, you might me sesquipedalian. Click image for source.

Watch out, you might be sesquipedalian. Click image for source.

The communications world never ceases to amaze me. The very people who put together amazing programmes for clients seem unable to do this for themselves.

Perhaps this is why they get such a bad rap. The ‘PR is crap’ meme circulates the web every few months, as does the ‘Advertising is dead’ meme. Maybe they should make like the Magicicada and come around according to prime numbers to avoid hitting each other.

But they don’t help themselves by wrapping simplicity up in complexity. So, here is a list that I might start compiling – who knows, maybe even to replace the PR Friendly Index which I just cannot be arsed to maintain any more – of ‘word compression’ techniques. Or, to put it another way, why use three words when one word will do?

Here are three I prepared earlier:

  • In order to – to
  • Be able to – can
  • Multiplicity of – many

So instead of saying “We are able to leverage a multiplicity of skills in our stakeholder platform”, how about saying “We can leverage many skills in our stakeholder platform.”

I know what you’re thinking. Eek! He said leverage! And stakeholder! And platform!

For many PR/general comms people these are ‘the words you should use’. Fresh-faced graduates love using them because it makes them sound cool. Unfortunately they then grow up in PR still using these words which, let’s face it, hardly anyone else uses. When I started, I didn’t know what leverage meant. I wasn’t entirely sure what T. Blair meant when he talked about a stakeholder society (neither was he, I suspect). And I had great difficulty envisaging a message platform. Was it like an oil rig perhaps?

So, for PR/comms specifically, how about this:

  • Leverage – use
  • Platform – programme
  • Stakeholders – people

See what I mean? Now we can say “We can use many skills in our programme.” We don’t even need to use the word stakeholder here, right?

Like I said, this might become a PR/comms jargon-busting list. I’d love to know if anyone else has favourite ‘angry’ words – that is, words that make them angry just by their existence – especially if they have antidotes. If not, maybe I’ll be able to think of one. Let’s see.