Has there ever been a more perfect PR topic than the smartphone?

If you work in PR you get used to seeing the same themes cropping up year after year (cloud, anyone?), and while they are not quite old-hat for us PR bods, we are certainly becoming very well-versed in them indeed. What it means in reality is that a lot of people are talking about the same thing and the same issues, so you have to work extra hard to come up with more creative and proactive ideas for clients.

But smartphones, well, they are just the gift that keeps on giving. Recent news from Ofcom shows they are more popular than ever with internet use on smartphones growing seven times faster than on laptops and desktops. And in a business sense, they are now deemed the most important tool for running a business. Smartphones are also one of those rare B2B technologies that actually cross the business-consumer divide which makes them even more interesting to readers. So, although it sometimes feels like every business in the world is talking about smartphones and mobile devices (they probably are), their ubiquitous nature means there is always plenty of stuff for us PR folk to talk about.

Being so pervasive therefore results in the vast majority of our PR content and campaigns having a strong mobile angle. It also further opens up areas we can talk about because smartphones are so important to the business world. As a result, they give rise to lots of other, linked issues like data security; which is a shape-shifting constant companion of the smartphone. As smartphones continue to get harder, better, faster, stronger, the issues constantly change – which for PR purposes is great, as it gives rise to emerging topics such as second-screening.

Smartphones are one of those technologies that we all here at Spark personally use on an hourly basis so we can get even more excited about them than normal (and we get excited about the weirdest technologies, let me tell you). The beauty of mobile is that it has so many facets we’re never short of something to say about it; like whether consumers prefer mobile apps or mobile websites, the average number of workers using their own smartphones, thesecurity of mobile wallets, or the importance of a mobile first strategy.

So, after my paean to that perfect PR technology, it does beg the question – what’s next? Will Google Glass be the next indispensable business tool, will devices we can swallow become the next omnipresent technology or will driverless cars be the de facto vehicle on driveways around the world? Whatever the answer, it’ll certainly be fun finding out and we’ll no doubt have plenty to say about it too.

Click here to download your latest PR Executive, version 3.6

Former FT journalist, Tom Foremski, recently wrote a piece asking if PR can be automated? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher of an article that compares how the media industry ‘has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and forced to adopt new media technologies (has it, has it really?), with PR’s apparent lack of technological prowess.

The basic premise is that PR doesn’t use technology to further itself and that PR’s use of technology extends only to ‘a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares’. The upshot of which, according to Foremski is that PR can’t grow because it can’t scale; in essence, PR growth means hiring more people. Foremski thinks this is a problem that makes PR companies vulnerable as they can’t ‘automate the technologies of promotion’. Now that’s a phrase – automate the technologies of promotion. I don’t know about you but I’m picturing I-Robot-esque rows of fresh PRobots ready to bash out a press release.

Let’s look at that then, writing a press release. The much maligned and unloved press release that despite its own bad press is still a valuable PR tool that both journalists’ and PRs’ alike make use of. To write a good press release, you need knowledge of your client, the industry, issues affecting the industry, product knowledge, technical and often complex knowledge, and the ability to tell a story, the ability to know what resonates with human beings. You need nuance. Machines and technologies don’t understand nuance, which you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever tried to edit a document in Microsoft Word.

So I have to ask, is it such a bad thing that PR can’t grow unless more people become involved? Lest we forget the P in PR stands for public. It is all about people after all – on both sides of the fence, those communicating and those listening. The PR world is too often accused that it’s a clone-like, drone-like industry that churns out the same out old stories that aren’t either interesting or newsworthy. Would technology do a better job? People tell stories, not machines. Besides, as any PR knows, we already have enough trouble trying to answer the ‘what do you do for a living’ question. I don’t want to have to start throwing automate the technologies of promotion in there as well.

Dear journalism, we still need you. Love from, PR.

I recently read an article by Ian Burrell bemoaning the prospects of the journalism industry, arguing that it’s slowly being killed off by PR itself – he’s by far the first to make this claim. Referring to the ‘churnalism’ of Nick Davies’ infamous Flat Earth News, Burrell argues that the tempestuous love/hate affair between journalism and PR is only getting worse as large corporate organisations are now bypassing journalism altogether, and going direct to their ‘publics’ with a vast array of homemade content delivered straight to the customer themselves. And in doing so, he asks the question, does PR still need traditional press?

In a word, yes.

Burrell uses the examples of large, cash-rich organisations like Mishcon de Reya as prime suspects in this journalism-circumventing trickery, and whilst Mishcon are creating a huge amount of (actually very innovative) content, this kind of activity is far from the norm for the majority of PR campaigns. It’s a cold, hard fact that few clients of PR agencies have hundreds of thousands to spend on creating flashy video and native advertising, what they really want is the most bang for their buck. And that buck, literally stops somewhere; funds are tightly managed and budgets may often be limited. This means that PR must not only be creative, but maximise every possible opportunity for influential editorial (un-paid) coverage – and doing that means you have to know what journalism and journalists want.

Way back when, one of my excellent university tutors advised us all to read Flat Earth Newsbefore any other of the weighty tomes recommended for the course. He was adamant in telling us green, keen PR kids that we should steer as far from this kind of PR as we possibly could if we wanted to be trusted consultants to clients and forge strong relationships with the press. He was of course right and his words have stuck with me. And while I can’t argue away that there’s a lot of bad PR out there, by the same token, there’s a lot of bad journalism too.

When all is said and done, PR and journalism still need each other; even if more content is being created by companies and PR agencies themselves. Content still needs disseminating, and the best way of doing that is through trusted and influential media. Hard-won editorial coverage in a national paper or key trade publication trumps native advertising on Buzzfeed any day of the week. I think Ian Burrell is actually somewhat undervaluing ‘traditional press’. To many people, both clients and consumers, it still has a huge amount of influence and value and remains a key factor in PR activity. Don’t worry too much just yet, Ian. We may not always get on, but we don’t want to see you going anywhere.

Google Pluses and Minuses

Most of us probably can’t imagine a day without Google, but how about the poor cousin of its portfolio, Google+? I’ve always had an interest in G+, even having faithfully signed up back in the early days when it was an invitation-only ghost town. I’ve dutifully updated my profile when required, made myself login every week to look active and shared the odd article. But I confess I forget it is there most of the time – what with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, my social network cup runneth over. So I’ve taken a little time to reacquaint myself with G+ and have a closer look at it.

G+ does seem to be getting more popular, so what’s driving it? Well, Google being Google, its making it virtually impossible for businesses who want an SEO presence (and let’s be honest, what business doesn’t) to not be on G+. Additionally, G+ is now increasingly used for authorship verification, meaning you need to be on it if you want to share content/make comments etc. In fact, just this week Google has announced that it is changing the YouTube comments section to be powered by G+. You will now need a G+ account to comment on YouTube and G+ will even decide the relevancy of your comment – unsurprisingly, if you’ve a strong G+ profile, your comment has more chance of being boosted above others. This is a move sure to drive even more G+ take up.

There is a mix of personal and private on G+ with company pages equally as prominent as personal profiles, which integrates nicely with the search results of course. G+ has a very smooth and clean interface which is easy to use, especially if you’re already a user of other Google products. It’s easy to re-share and to +1 (‘like’ stuff, in Facebook lexicon), which means content has a good chance of being seen by more people. Advertising is less noticeable, which makes a nice change from the other big three social networks increasingly aggressive ad strategies. You don’t even need to leave your hashtags behind on G+ as they are as much a feature of the site as on Twitter.

So all in all, I’d say G+ looks nice, feels nice, is easy to use and has some good features. But the biggest reason for being on G+, particularly if you work in technology PR? Well, with the increasingly integrated nature of digital communications and technology PR, you’re going to miss out by not being on it. G+ is becoming an increasingly important part of good SEO practice and Google’s drive towards independently curated editorial content. You’ll find many publications on there, whatever your sector; from big business to niche verticals – lots of journalists, analysts and commentators too. Finally, as it grows clients are going to be asking about G+ sooner rather than later, so now is the time to get familiar with it. So, I’m giving G+ a +1, what do you think?

 

PR vs. Journalism. World War…not sure, I’ve lost count.

It’s the world’s worst kept secret that PR practitioners and journalists have what can most generously be called a fractious relationship. To any new entrant into the PR industry, it can still come as something of a shock. I have seen people reduced to tears mid sell-in by some particularly rude treatment. In all honesty, the industry probably isn’t for them if that’s the result. You need a thick skin to get by, and you need to acquire it quickly. Having said that, being reduced to tears in your workplace is absolutely not right and no one should feel it’s acceptable to do so.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a few journalist rants and have found the best method for dealing with them can be summed up thus: style it out. It’s going to happen, you’ll learn from it, and next time you allocate a press list you’ll probably give that particular journo a swerve.

Whilst the tear-inducing, apocalyptic journalist rants are thankfully few and far between, they do still happen. And it begs the question, why? I am lucky in my job that, in the main, I deal with journalists who are respectful and rarely give me the rude treatment; and I like to think that I am equally as approachable. I think the problem, like with any relationship, is all about understanding. That is, PRs and journalists seem to rarely understand each other, what each other wants/needs, and what each other can do/deliver.

My biggest tip from a PR point of view to gain that understanding would be research. What interests the journalist you’re about to call? What to they write, what are the angles, what do they tweet about, have you tailored your pitch, are you calling on press day, have you spoken to this journalist before? And the biggest question, is this actually news? This (and more) should be standard protocol before picking up the phone, though anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

And if I could suggest for our journo friends a little understanding too? We all have a job to do, and our jobs involve ringing you sometimes. And you never know, it might be useful/interesting/fruitful. I know you get a lot of phone-calls, and so do I, but let’s refrain from outright shoutiness and nastiness, eh?

Can’t we all just get along?!

How to win at social media with the Clintons

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Spark blog

You may have seen recently that Hillary Clinton became the latest of the Clinton Clan to join Twitter, following in the footsteps of husband Bill and daughter Chelsea. And whichever PR pro helped Hillary launch her first tentative social footsteps was something of a genius, she may have only tweeted four times (to date), but she’s gone down a storm.

Bill and Chelsea are far more active, as are all their associated profiles which encompass their many charitable and action foundations. The Clintons have built a formidable presence on Twitter, perhaps learning from Barack Obama himself, whose social media practices have been near flawless. As a ‘brand’, the Clintons are impressive – managing to do what many businesses fail to do; build a cohesive, united, ‘joined-up’ presence on social media networks to get that all important message out there.

Social media, as we all know, is here to stay (as are the Clintons). Having a social media ‘presence’ is deemed as an almost necessity for businesses these days – and whether it is the right thing for your business or not (it isn’t always!), there are lessons to be learned from the Clintons if you’re making the jump to social.

So, what tips can companies pick up from the Clinton’s foray into the Twittersphere?

  • Make an entrance – Hillary’s inspired first tweet, a play on the #TextsFromHillary meme was a great start. Retweeted 11,042 times so far, that first tweet itself generated a whole lot of headlines and goodwill.
  • Have a sense of humour – Well done Hillary, referencing your own meme and taking‘selfies’ with your child; clever, wry and in the best of humour.
  • Choose your time wisely – Do not, under any circumstances, try to gain capital or make jokes out of tragic events (I can’t believe that even needs to be said, but sadly it does).
  • Don’t forget your profile – The 140 characters under you name is your first chance to draw the user in. Hillary’s is excellent, and that clever ‘TBD…’ ending hasn’t put those 2016 rumours to bed.
  • Be active – Now Hillary is letting the side down here a bit, but Bill and Chelsea are regular tweeters; businesses with inactive streams or infrequent updates are not engaging in the conversation which will deliver them customers.
  • Build your brand – Chelsea Clinton does this very well, her Twitter profile page has the Twitter handles of all her other associated accounts listed down the side – a good tip, make it easy for users to find your other connected networks.

Now, the Clintons were starting out with a good deal of reputation and cache already in place – very, very few businesses will have that type of expectation or welcome if they decide to go social. Building a social media following is a slow and involved process, and can’t be done half-heartedly. But whether you decide to make the social leap, or if you already have, why not strive to be like the best?

The North/South divide: Still a thing.

Disclaimer: I’m a northerner.

Check out this story on ComputerWorldUK, about a new competition launched to find the next £100m tech start-up, with a £1m prize and advice and support given to the winner. Where is it based? London. This is part of the government’s continued effort to create a tech hub in East London. Because of course, absolutely no technical expertise, skill and innovation happens outside of London. The Tech City initiative is just one more example of the government’s inability to focus on anywhere outside of London. It is so hopelessly short-sighted.

We can talk all day about the North/South divide, but the fact remains it is there. As someone whose office is in London but is a home-worker based in Manchester, I make the trip from North to South regularly. I’ve also lived many years in the South East and many years in the North West. I have seen first-hand the disparity between wealth accumulation and job availability in both locations. In short, London and the South East have money to burn; the North West is haemorrhaging jobs and increasing poverty all over the place. And it is not getting any better. This government is so wholly focused on its London bubble, it has all but forgotten that the rest of the country exists, except when it needs some votes and it has to muddy its feet north of the Watford Gap.

Sadly, some very good London based friends and colleagues are stuck in the same bubble. The disdain for anything outside of London is quite astonishing sometimes. I don’t rise to it, mainly because I’m used to it, and it’s something of a losing battle to begin with. But I also recognise the difference between a bit of harmless banter, and, well, some pretty nasty and disparaging views about anyone/anything in the North. The North of course in these situations referred to as some mystical, far away land, populated by people in flat caps, eating pies and claiming benefits they are not entitled to.

Honestly, it’s boring. So very mind-numbingly boring that these types of views still exist. But they do. And until the government looks outside of London and starts to do something for the rest of the UK, you know, like invest some actual money somewhere, the situation will remain the same.

It’s time for a rant. It’s been building for a while.

What has happened to our ability to spell, punctuate and grammatically construct even the simplest of sentences? It never ceases to amaze me the number of written missives I am on the receiving end of that are littered with spelling and grammar errors. I’m not talking about words which might be hard to spell, but simple words, like ‘simple’. I’m talking about incorrect use of their/there or your/you’re. I’m talking about entire paragraphs not threatened with a single punctuation mark. The basic stuff, the really basic stuff.

The saddest bit? I work in an industry where writing skills are considered a prerequisite. It’s genuinely disheartening! Don’t even get me started on CVs which haven’t had even the most rudimentary proof. I remember long afternoons at school filled with spelling tests and grammar lessons, it was important and we were taught that it was important. That emphasis on getting the basics right seems to have disappeared. I’ve heard people boasting of their inability to spell like it is something funny or to be proud of; or chuckling over the fact they don’t know what an apostrophe is.

I’m not saying I’m an expert by any stretch; I make mistakes, I have to check things, I use a dictionary, I check APs style guide and I am somewhat over judicious with my use of the semi colon. That’s the point though, I check. If I ever spot a typo on something I have sent or distributed I am aghast! At my current agency, we have a practice of making sure written documents are proofed before being sent externally, be it to a client or journalist. It is a good practice, often in PR things are written in haste because that’s the nature of the beast; mistakes are easily made and a second pair of eyes can often spot them quickly. It also means you learn and get into the habit of proofing as you go, because let’s be honest, no one likes to be picked up on a silly mistake.

It’s that pride in your work and the desire to get things right the first time that seems to be missing from many people’s writing. You don’t need to be able to write like Oscar Wilde but being able to put together something like a CV which reads well and has good spelling and grammar shouldn’t be out of the bounds of expectation. First impressions count, and if you can’t be bothered to get your CV right, you’re not going to get on the good side of any employer.

Another corporate comms post from elsewhere…

I’m back to being an infrequent blogger, at least, for my own purposes I am. For work however, I’m a lot more on it!

I posted earlier this week on our work blog about Hyundai’s recent ill-advised advertising campaign, featuring possibly the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, a suicide joke.

You can check it out here: When ‘shock advertising’ goes too far http://sparkcomms.co.uk/wp/index.php/2013/04/when-shock-advertising-goes-too-far/

A couple of posts from elsewhere…

Some recent posts I wrote for the work blog (@Sparkcomms), both on corporate comms.

The first takes a look at BlackBerry’s evident lack of media training. There’s really no excuse in this day and age…

Why media training matters: BlackBerry has (another) bad day at the office

And the second examines Tesco’s recent ingenious crisis comms. Sonnets of sorrow, whatever next eh?

Crisis communications and saying sorry: not just when, but how

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