Monday, February 28, 2011

What is PR in the Age of Social Media?

One of the challenges facing the public relations industry is that the general public does not seem to have a clear idea of what we do.

They might think PR is just about throwing events or parties -- like The Spin Crowd or Samantha on "Sex and the City."

Or they might think it's about trying to "spin" the facts, as was the case with several major crises last year (such as BP's oil spill).

But based on anecdotal experience from many years in the business, while the general public understands what advertising is all about, they don't have a strong grasp of PR.

That's why, I think, people seem to think they don't need PR in the age of social media.  Interestingly, at a panel I moderated late last year, several journalists thought PR could be on its death throes.  They seemed a bit gleeful about it, too.  As if traditional journalism isn't go through the same challenges.

Dave Folkens at CommUnity Business wrote a blog post last year, "Five Ideas to Repair the Credibility of PR," that contains some good ideas about what the PR industry should do.  (Interestingly, more than 15 years ago, the industry made similar points about its failure to communicate the value of PR; I guess we have not made any progress.)

I think it's more important than ever to make the case for PR because we can help organizations engage with key public via social media channels. 

So, to get back to the headline for this post.  Social media can be used to announce news (instead of press releases) and to engage with reporters and customers.  But PR can help organizations to communicate via social media and a range of other channels.

A lot of companies now use social media as a customer service function -- without eliminating their call centers or email support.  The same should be true for PR.

And then the PR industry needs to do a better job of communicating the value we bring and do a better job of engaging with our key audiences.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Problem with the Comments to New York Times Articles

In "Readers with plenty to say," the New York Times highlights readers' issues with the way the Times opens up (or not) articles for comments, including:
  • Too few articles, editorials and Op-Ed articles are open to comments.
  • Comments are shut off too quickly, especially for West Coast readers.
  • Comments are often not published in the order they were submitted.
The Times uses staffers to moderate the online comments because unsupervised forums devolved into off-topic and abusive comments.

It's interesting to note that the way comments are handled depend on the section in which the article appears. Bloggers monitor their own comments, with some spending as much as 20 percent of their time monitoring comments.

If you ever considered posting a comment to the Times, check out the article, available here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New York Times Validates Another of Our Predictions

In its article, "Netbooks Lose Status as Tablets Like the iPad Rise" (print headline, "From Rising Star to Wallflower, the Netbook Tells a Tale") by Steve Lohr, the New York Times validated another of our predictions, that there were be a lot of stories about the battle of the tablets (the iPad vs. the iPad killers) and one theme would be:
Lots of stories about the impact of tablets on the PC market. (Anyone remember netbooks?)
Check out Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part I from Jan. 10th for the original prediction.

But check out Lohr's article. It provides interesting insights into lessons from the rise and fall of the netbook. Could this happen to the the iPad?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bloomberg BusinessWeek Validates Another of Our Predictions

In its article, "Hewlett-Packard Hopes to End the Soap Opera" (which appeared in the printed edition as "HP Cancels the Board and the Beautiful"), Bloomberg BusinessWeek validated our prediction that the business media would continue to focus on the battle of the tech giants.

Here's the explanation for the continuing battle among a decreasing number of players (that are increasing in size):
In the 1990s, enterprise computing companies including HP, Oracle, EMC (EMC), and Cisco Systems (CSCO) were content to make billions in their distinct niches. Those lines are now blurring. HP is stepping on Cisco's networking turf through its acquisition of 3Com. Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems threatens HP's line of servers and storage systems. Cisco has started selling servers that compete with gear made by HP and Oracle.

These companies sense the approach of an inflection point as business customers make the transition from older technologies to the new era of cloud computing, where software applications run in data centers and connect to PCs over the Internet. To take advantage of the cloud, businesses must upgrade to newer, faster equipment and applications. HP and its competitors are vying to be full-service suppliers that can fulfill all of a customer's cloud computing needs.
That's an excellent explanation for what's happening among tech giants, and why.

Two years ago, we made the prediction that the battle of the tech giants would generate a fair share of business media coverage, and we've reiterated that among this year's predictions. This is a story that's not going away.

But, for what it's worth, I liked the headline of the print edition of the story better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Time Magazine Validates the Year of the App Subscription

We predicted that 2011 would be the year of the app-based subscription -- and in just a few weeks, we're seeing evidence that validates our prediction published in "Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part I."

The New York Times reported "Time Inc. has begun selling subscription bundles that include apps that run on the Android tablet software from Google." Time still wants to sell subscriptions through iTunes, too, but negotiations have been slow.

Meanwhile, the Times reported online today a breakthrough we've said is necessary for magazine publishers and subscription platforms: "Apple Offers Subscriptions for All iPad Publications."

Here are key points about the new service, according to the Times:
  • Revenue from subscriptions sold through the App Store will be shared. Apple will keep 30 percent, and publishers will keep 70 percent. That is the same revenue-sharing split that applies when apps of single-copy publications are sold through the App Store.
  • Apple said it would not restrict publishers to selling their apps solely through Apple. And when publishers do sell apps outside Apple’s store, they will keep 100 percent of the revenue.
Also check out Forbes' coverage, "Apple Introduces Subscriptions — But There’s a Catch."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fast Company & 8 Tips on the Future of Marketing

Ok, so this is not going to be a Valentine's Day post.

The current issue of Fast Company features a compelling article, "The Future of Advertising" by Danielle Sacks that raises some key points for all marketing-related agencies, including PR:
  • Marketing can't just be entertaining. It must be useful.
  • Marketing can no longer be just glossy concepts perfected before going to the client to approve.
  • Digital is incremental, experimental, continually optimized, in perpetual beta.
  • Digital will change how you make money, staff projects, price things.
  • Digital isn't just one channel -- it's a medium that blooms thousands of other mediums, leading to fragmented audiences via fragmented access points (search, geotagging, iPad, mobile apps, and social networks.
  • While there has never been more to reach consumers, it's never been more ways to connect.
  • Creating more work for less money -- which means that agencies of all sorts are paying the know ho of being in an industry that doesn't know to protect its own interests, according to Jean Marie Dru, Chair of TBWA.
  • The rules will keep changing.
Sacks cites an article Dru wrote in Advertising Age, "Endless Pressure on Price Traps Agencies, Clients in Death Spiral," which is also worth reading.

What will the future of marketing be in 2011? It's clear that marketing will continue to evolve, and quickly. We think it's clear that companies can no longer sit on the sidelines of social media as a fad. For more of what we think, check back soon for our annual list of trends.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WSJ Offers Examples of Overly Complicated Corporate Descriptions

One of the challenges for startups is to devise an interesting name, one that's not already taken, one with a URL and a Twitter feed still available.

One they pick a name, the next challenge is to make sure everyone on their management team pronounces it the same way. (We've seen a number of companies recently where that hasn't been the case.)

One they've done that, startups need to develop compelling and understandable branding and descriptions.

This isn't a problem only faced by startups.

In a article, "Dad, What Do You Do at Work? I'm a Leader in Active Safety; Communication Breaks Down as Businesses Craft Grandiloquent Self-Descriptions," the Wall St. Journal points out some examples that may not be 100-percent effective, such as:
  • Parker Hannifin Corp., a diversified industrial company whose products include pumps and valves, styles itself "the global leader in motion and control technologies."
  • TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. wishes to be known as "the global leader in active and passive safety"—or what the rest of us might call brakes and safety belts.
The problem? According to the Journal, "it's getting harder to tell what some companies actually do."

As further evidence, check out the interactive Brand Translation grid, which asks you to mix-and-match the company with the corporate description. It's not easy!

The Journal makes a good point, even if one corporate spokesperson says that its customers know who they are.

Seems like business still needs to focus on making what they do easier to understand.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Three Things That #KennethColeTweets Teaches Us

Clothing designer shot himself in his well-clad foot yesterday with a tweet that was quickly deemed inappropriate:
Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KCless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®
He quickly got condemned for being insensitive. And then, in what appears to be a now-standard response on Twitter, someone establish a mock Twitter ID, KennethColePR, posting some amusing tweets the way BPGlobalPR did after the BP oil spill. Today, KennethColePR has more than six thousand followers.

Kenneth Cole later did apologize -- six hours later.

So here's the first lesson: if you have a crisis
  1. Be prepared: Register account names that can be used as mock accounts. Yeah, they'll still be able to find an account to mock your corporate response, but you might as well make it more difficult for them.
  2. Respond quickly. Companies need to monitor the response any edgy tweets quickly. Fifteen years ago, apologizing just six hours after the fact might have been fast enough to deflate a story. Not anymore. Twitter moves too fast, so that six hours turns out to be a too looong a time. Two hours might be too long to wait and defuse the situation.
  3. Context matters. What works in advertising might not work on Twitter. Kenneth Cole has used edgy ads for years --"Regardless of the right to bear arms, we condemn the right to bare feet" and Women have the right to be pregnant, but not barefoot" or an AIDS-prevention ad featured a condom along with the tagline: "Shoes aren't the only thing we encourage you to wear." So his edgy comment on Twitter was not without precedent. What's interesting, though, is the gap between what's appropriate for an ad and what's appropriate on Twitter.
People expect ads to entertain, intrigue, persuade, annoy or bore them. Even targeted ads are a bit impersonal (which is not to say some ads don't offend -- as some Super Bowl ads demonstrate each year).

Twitter, however, is different. It seems more personal. We're using it for news and commentary. What might have worked in an ad clearly did not work on Twitter.

The question for Kenneth Cole is what affect this tweet will have on his sales. I tend to think it won't have leave much of a long-term impact on his core customers.

What do you think? Are there other lessons?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

4 Lessons from Old Spice's Adman

Fortune's new design offers short profiles with some lessons learned. Not surprisingly, considering that we live in a How-To Age, in which everyone is looking for advice and tips, the best part of these articles are often the lessons learned.

Case in point: the Fortune profile of Iain Tait, the brains behind Old Spice's YouTube strategy.

Here are the bullet points:
  • Be ready for change.
  • Be malleable.
  • Learn to hustle.
  • Consume wildly.
I admit: on their own those bullets are not very enlightening, so check out the article itself. But Tait suggests looking for holes in your organization to fill, that shouting the loudest isn't the path to success and find different sources of information and inspiration from your colleagues.