What it takes to work in PR

12 03 2010

A recent interview I did with Craig Pearce on the topic of what it takes to work in PR has been published on his blog – here is the article.

I am sure it will generate some debate. Having spoken to a number of people across the industry in recent months, it seems the jury is still out on the level of experience people think PR people should have in social media. As I said to Craig, I don’t believe it is optional.

Personally, it is a natural fit for social media to belong to PR people and organisations/brands that take a more strategic approach to social media will benefit in the long run. Every expert is telling you that social media leads to more powerful forms of word of mouth. Yet, here in Australia, we still see lots of tactical experimentation which has led to an inconsistent use of social media which, in some cases, may harm a brand’s reputation and the agency behind it. Short term campaign mentality will spawn Facebook pages or Twitter profiles that brands are not prepared to maintain or really engage through. Or abandoned once the campaign is over. They then just hang around on the social web like a bad smell, and for the savvy consumers, show that the organisation is still using social media as ‘push’ channel, and not an engagement channel.


Social media Insights

31 10 2009

On Tuesday this week I presented Twitter For A Crisis at the Frocomm Crisis Management and Social Media conference in Sydney. There were some excellent presentations and the event was covered by friend and once colleague Craig Pearce. For a summary of proceedings, I encourage you to read his blog where all aspects of the conference are covered.

The Twitter sessions were well attended and there were some great questions. With representatives from government, not for profit, local council, private enterprise and PR consultancies, who may all face a very different crisis, it was great to get many different perspectives.

What is good to know, and reassuring, is the appetite for knowledge and the fact that communications teams are seriously considering Twitter as a communications channel, both for ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, and in a crisis. In fact, those that engage through this channel on a regular basis, will find that when they do face a crisis, the followers that they have already attracted, could be a great asset to help communicate the message.

Nichepaper Manifesto’s Nonsense

14 08 2009

My colleague Sam North, former managing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald here in Australia, has responded to Umair Haque’s Nichepaper Manifesto. He doesn’t blog but has given me permission to post this on his behalf. You can also read it at Howorth’s blog.

If the Nichepaper Manifesto is some sort of harbinger of the future then God help us all. Unfortunately its broad sweep of generalities, trite statements and ill-informed comments are typical of the newspapers-are-dead lobby. A few quotes should suffice:
‘’20th century news isn’t fit for 21st century society. Yesterday’s approaches to news are failing to educate, enlighten or inform’’;
‘’Nichepapers . . . [are] built on new rules that are letting radical innovators reinvent what ‘news’ is’’;
‘’Newspapers strive to give people the news . . . Nichepapers strive to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge instead’’;
‘’Newspapers dictate to their reader what news and opinion are. Nichepapers co-create knowledge through ‘commentage’”;
‘’Nichepapers develop topics — instead of telling quickly-forgotten stories’’;
‘’Newspapers strive for circulation, by telling the same stories in the same ways — in slightly different places. Nichepapers strive for scarcity: to develop a perspective, analytical skills, and storytelling capabilities that are inimitable by rivals.’’;
‘’Newspapers give you the news then. Nichepapers give you knowledge now . . . Nichepapers develop topics of conversation, not individual stories, and let them co-evolve with readers’’;
‘’Newspapers seek perfection: perfect grammar, perfect ledes [I presume he means leads], perfect headlines. Nichepapers seek provocation instead. Sometimes, yes, that provocation is mere titillation. But more often than not it’s authentic provcation: nichepapers provoke us to think; they challenge us; they educate us in ways that newspapers stopped doing long ago.’’;
‘’Newspapers long ago sold out to advertisers, PR flaks, powerful “sources,” and lobbyists . . . Nichepapers haven’t sold out — and if their economic promise delivers, they won’t have to.’’

I defy anyone to get their head around such an amalgamation of nonsense. The article was sent to me today (Wednesday, August 5). That day, as usual, I read the AFR (a specialist finance and business newspaper and website which seeks – and many say succeeds in doing – to develop a perspective, analytical skills, and storytelling capabilities that are inimitable by rivals . . Nichepaper, anyone?), The Australian, the SMH and the Daily Telegraph. All three strove to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge by extensively educating, enlightening and informing me about many issues, particularly the Ozcar debacle in Canberra and the terrorism arrests in Melbourne.

Far from radically reinventing what news is, both those issues had the previous day been the subject of astonishing news breaks by The Australian, with the paper exclusively revealing that Godwin Gretch had admitted to writing the fake email and – even more astoundingly – revealing that the massive police terror raids were being carried out even as our papers were being delivered.

The SMH and The Australian had sections on local news, world news, arts, sport and business (Nichepapers?) and separate liftout sections on Money (SMH), Higher Education, Wealth and the Australian Literature Review (all the OZ). Both papers have interactive websites with the last figures I saw showing smh.com.au with more than 4.3 million unique browsers each month and theaustralian.com.au with 1.4 million.

The Nichepaper Manifesto says Nichepapers ‘’are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain – finance, politics, even entertainment – and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.’’

One would have thought that the SMH, The Australian and the AFR – along with their attendant specialist sections – offer all that, plus something more: eyeballs.

The latest circulation figures show that, far from the sky falling, the top three quality broadsheets in Australia – the SMH, The Age and The Australian – slightly increased circulation over the previous 12 months. And, in fact, the three papers have increased circulation over the past five years. And, while I can’t talk for The Australian, I do know the SMH and The Age remain profitable.

News (of the current definition, not the yet to be disclosed reinvented definition) still sells. The Daily Telegraph in London increased daily circulation by around 100,000 during the recent period when it was drip-feeding stories about the spending habits of British parliamentarians.

It is true that advertising has tanked in newspapers. But my theory is that everyone loves a new toy and the lure of the bright, shiny new media was difficult to resist. But in the light of a post-Christmas hangover sometimes those toys are looked at in a more critical light – they might be trendy, but are they better at doing the job?

Nielsen research released in April showed that more than 60 per cent of Twitter users have stopped using the service a month after joining; the two latest ANZ job advertisements surveys have shown an increase in newspaper job ads in June (0.9%) and a decrease (0.4%) in July, while online ads fell 4.8% in June and 3.6% in July.

What it all means, I’m not sure but I’ll finish with a blog in March from Tim Pethick, the young entrepreneur who successfully launched Nudie drinks, among other products. He told of his product Sultry Sally chips, a low fat brand available in Woolworths.

Woolies, which had launched a rival product, told Pethick that he had to engage in mainstream advertising to boost the sales of his chips.

Pethick wrote: ‘’to be forced into a position where I have to take a traditional, main media approach is anathema.’’ His fears were multiplied when a partner suggested advertising on 2GB.

‘’My heart sank. Strategically, I couldn’t think of anything worse. We are talking radio; worse, AM radio; worse still, talk-back radio; even worse, a radio station that everyone knows is only listened to by a few old punters – way, way off target and brand for us.’’

Needless to say the product walked off the shelves, with stores emptied of Sultry Sally chips. ‘’It is working like nothing I have seen before,’’ wrote Pethick. ‘’I love the fact that the old ways still count for something; I love the fact that I can still be surprised, be wrong and learn from it.’’

Actually I won’t finish on that, I’ll finish with the Nichepaper Manifesto which writes that ‘’Nichepapers are the future of news because their economies are superior.’’ ‘’What is different about them is that they are finding new paths to growth, and rediscovering the lost art of profitability by awesomeness’’.

And what is the lost art of profitability by awesomeness?

I quote: ‘’When you can make awesome stuff, you don’t need to find “better” ways to sell it. The fundamental challenge of the 21st century isn’t selling the same old lame, toxic junk in new ways: its detoxifying and dezombifying it, by learning how to make insanely great stuff in the first place.’’

Of course.

Sam North

Why PR is best placed to own social media

8 07 2009

Interesting article from an old colleague, Craig Pearce, on who owns social media, putting forward a solid reason that it is PR – and I agree wholeheartedly. See my earlier post too.

Having studied James Gruning myself, the web has certainly brought to life his fourth model of two-way symmetrical communications. In fact, with social media, you could make a claim now that it is two-way asymmetrical in favour of the audience, not the sender. More reason than ever that PR practitioners around the world need to be stepping more firmly into their shoes as the company’s ‘boundary scanner’, monitoring all aspects of social media to see exactly what is being said about the brand, products or issues, who is saying it, where they are located, and then how you will engage with them. That is absolutely the remit and responsibility of the PR team – not marketing, not the ad guys, not the digital interactive agency. You have to engage this audience, listen to them, and respect them.

Yes, there are creatives that can do competitions, post virals etc in social media channels, but if you have to participate in a conversation with the audience, especially if it is from a negative position, that is the PR function.

It’s about time

20 06 2009

Having eventually found the time, I have created my blog. I’m pleased to cross it off my ‘things to do’ list. I will use this forum to share my thoughts on public relations, covering a wide range of topics. This will include thoughts on social media, which is becoming a major change agent in the communications industry. I will also stay focused somewhat on technology public relations, the section of public relations that has been part of my life for the past 14 years. Occasionally, I may drift off topic, into another passion of my life, football (or soccer to those Australian’s that are still not able to understand that football is a round ball sport).

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and want to hear from the public relations community, both here in Australia and abroad.

I am also a regular contributor to Ogilvy PR’s global technology blog, TechPRnibbles, so do check that out.

Oh, you may be wondering why I have called my blog White Spirit. Well, the White is easy. That’s my surname. Spirit is simply an acronym which means ‘specialist in IT public relations’.

Anywaym, here’s to some happy blogging.