Beat SEO experts with a stick until they go away

March 20, 2008Comments Off on Beat SEO experts with a stick until they go away

SearchenginesWe’ve let the myths of SEO steal away our business long enough, and it’s high time to put an end to it.

Today, SEO is less about the technical (web-language gobbledygook) and more about the mechanical (exciting content). So it’s staggering that the SEO industry is populated by web-developers, when it should be populated by marketers.

So lets dispel a few myths. There is, comparatively, very little technical stuff involved in SEO. First you do a keyword analysis and then you internally optimise the website. Neither is especially difficult, don’t hire an expert; read around and become an expert. What’s left is external search engine optimisation, or as I like to call it, “marketing”.

If you examine the external optimisation strategies of a few top firms, you’ll quickly discover that all the “blog cross pollination strategies”, “semantic search”, and “link-building strategies” are SEO-created technical terms to justify fees, it’s just about creating content (note: be sure to beat down harder on any SEO expert who tries to sell position tracking and any form of website/article submission). Perhaps worst of all, about 70% of the SEO companies that offered this service, don’t do this themselves.

HighPosition.net even offer a “Brand Integrity Plan which identifies and monitors competitors, malicious activity and other risks to your brand to help you devise an anti-competitive action plan” – That’s otherwise known as PR right?

In short, it’s a big fat scam. SEO today is primarily about creating engaging content. It’s about finding that audience, analysing that audience’s problems/needs and then speaking to that audience. And Marketers/PR Professionals are in a far more better position to do that than anyone else. Even better, Marketers/PR professionals are in a far better position to encourage your customers to do this than anyone else.

Search engines were created to rank websites by their usefulness to readers. So just be more useful, create the best content, focus on solving the problem better than your competitors, let Google do what it does best.

Don’t mention that big event in 2012

March 18, 2008Comments Off on Don’t mention that big event in 2012

London2012Did you know you can’t mention the words “London 2012”, “London Olympics” and my personal favourite “London2012.com” in press releases?

To use them for such marketing collateral is to assume a false association with the London Olympics brand which the London Olympic Games Organising Committee (LOCOG) is protecting so diligently for sponsors. I’m not a big fan of this strategy, especially to the extent that LOCOG seem to be taking it. It reduces the benefits of the London Olympics, paid for by UK/Londoners to any multinational company which can stomp up the official sponsorship cash. God forbid someone lists the website. 

I doubt any journalist expects this ban to work. How many World Cup related press releases did you receive back in 2006? That was also a protected event, and one which just featured England, this one is going to be held in England. PRs are trained to spot these spots of opportunity, it might be more difficult to score hits for releases not related to the Olympics.

This also has to be the dumbest strategy I’ve seen in ages. Would letting every company/happy content contributor benefit as much as they possibly can from the Olympics really be so bad? More people will watch it, higher ratings, more for sponsors. Even better, it might really help small businesses to put up signs saying “Watch the London 2012 Olympic games here” or “Discount prices for London 2012 accommodation”. It might better stimulate the economy as a whole, which might not be a terrible thing.

Regardless, the exception to the rule is in news editorial pieces. Journalists are excluded from this law, which puts PRs in an interesting position. You can’t mention it in any press release but you can in accompanying pitch e-mails or feature ideas? Even opinion editorials are ok.

Another question is what about blogs, podcasts and all forms of citizen journalism? What if your customers happen to be talking about the London 2012 Olympic games within your marketing collateral? I really can’t see how this is going to be enforced.

So what about blogs? Podcasts? What about citizen journalism? What about your customers associating your company with the Olympics through their own channels? Take this blog right now, this blog is a part of how I get work – am I associating myself with the London 2012 Olympics?

It’s going to be interesting to see just how far LOCOG will enforce this.

The top 5 films about PR

March 18, 2008Comments Off on The top 5 films about PR

Jerry

I bet you didn’t know I was a film critic? Well I’m not, and here’s why:

The top five films about/featuring/vaguely related to the wonderful industry and mechanisms of public relations:

1) Wag the Dog

The president becomes embroiled in a sex scandal in the run up to the election, spin doctor Robert De Niro and producer Dustin Hoffman fake a war to divert media attention. A brilliant film, so long as you don’t work in PR. It was released suspiciously close to the Lewinsky affair (and subsequent military action in Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia).

Watch: "The American Public have to know at some point" – "Why?"

2) Jerry Maguire

Jerry begins in typical PR film territory (money, press, phones, egos) and then one night has an attack of the conscience and decides that, actually, he has too many clients. He wants to give more attention to fewer clients. He writes a memo saying so, gets fired for it, and ends up with just one client.

Any MDs worry about having too many clients? Feel free to share with the blogosphere, I’m we’re here to help you.

Watch: Show me the money!

3) Absolute Power (TV Series)

Pope Idol, fake diseases, spinning Nazism and working for two clients in direct competition; it’s all great spin-doctor territory in Stephen Fry’s absolute power. It’s hilarious for so many reasons. Yes, we look awful, but we can launch whilst doing it.

Watch: "Or, marry Kylie Minogue" and "Making Terry Pine English"

4) Jersey Girl

Ben Affleck tears into his client, Will Smith, before a pack of journalists. Inspiring stuff, until the film missteps into the sappy ‘real meaning of life’ territory. This film also features a scene of useful PR as Ben explain eases concerns of New Jersey citizens concerning construction work.

Watch: "Fresh Prince is a 2-bit TV actor, wont be around any longer than it takes for the ink to dry on those worthless rags you write for" and "George Michael is all about the ladies" (Trailer).

5) Phone Booth

I’m reaching here. This film has less to do with PR and more to do with Colin Farrell crying to Jack Bauer over the phone. He’s a publicist – if that helps?

Watch: The Trailer

Sympathy of Flacks

March 17, 2008Comments Off on Sympathy of Flacks

I think this is a really tricky one, and I’m worried I might sound a tad heartless when I write this. What if you knew from Facebook/twitter/word on the grapevine that a journalist on your pitch-list is having a bad time? Sally doesn’t think it helps, Heather does..

Personally, I would continue as normal, for the simple reason that if the journalist is at work – I’d imagine they want to be working. Should you mention their situation? ("Sorry to hear about…"). I suggest not, unless the journalist is a close friend, and no, that doesn’t mean one that frequently writes about your clients.

Surely bringing up their troubles would, at best, be intrusive, and at worse, be downright manipulative. I can only recall one occasion of ever using a journalist’s personal information in a pitch. It was a wedding-related product for a journalist bride-to-be. Even then I felt just a tad sketchy about it.

Are there enough content volunteers?

March 16, 2008Comments Off on Are there enough content volunteers?

I’m not convinced there are enough content creators out there. To be honest, I’m rather dubious of any marketing strategy that relies upon people creating content for free. That takes an awful lot of will power. Why should they?

How many people do you know that have posted footage on YouTube? Or contribute to Wikipedia? Or any of the rapidly fragmenting wikis out there? What about Social networks, do many really contribute much, if anything, to their subscribed groups? Entered many UGC contests?

A couple of people perhaps? Out of how many?

We’re on course for a social-media correction. A correction where the potential of social media, our ambitions and needs of social media and the limited number of hobby-loving content creators/contributors take a shot of reality. At the moment, I suspect we’re asking a little too much of these passionate volunteers.

The small Innocent Drinks PR team achieves great things

March 12, 2008Comments Off on The small Innocent Drinks PR team achieves great things

Innocentdrinks

Sarah left an interesting comment; Innocent Drink’s PR team comprises just two lucky people. For a company with such a popular brand, and generates so much positive publicity, that’s impressive.

So clearly then, there is no link between the size of an in-house PR team and positive publicity? Quite possibly, the reverse is true. The larger the in-house PR team, the worse the reputation of the company? Understandable perhaps if the role of in-house PR is to counter negative publicity.

How about this, if a company embraced PR principles throughout their entire company, then the only need for a PR team is to handle the run-of-the-mill media engagements e.g. Responding to queries, setting up interviews, organising press events etc…Which is exactly what I imagine the two members of Innocent Drink’s PR team are doing.

I might be wrong, and they could be contributing corporate level PR thinking on a daily basis, but I just can’t see how in a company with such entrenched values. What can you suggest?

Err…Let’s continue being perky
Yeah!”

Anyone have some good thoughts on this one? If big companies fully embraced the principles of PR, they could cut most of their in-house PR team right? (perhaps their agencies too?).

Be sure to read Stephen’s great post on Innocent Drinks last year.

Any publicity is not good publicity, but it doesn’t have to be bad

March 8, 2008Comments Off on Any publicity is not good publicity, but it doesn’t have to be bad

NorthernrockI love the quote "There’s no such thing as bad publicity", or even better: "any publicity is good publicity". I wonder if people that utter such stupidity are booking a holiday to Kenya anytime soon? Or buying Mattel toys for their children? Or about to open an account with Northern Rock?

Of course there’s bad publicity, why else would crisis media management exist? However, let’s make some distinctions, there’s ‘good’ bad publicity, ‘bad’ bad publicity and, my personal favourite, corporate stupidity.

First let’s tackle corporate stupidity. Corporate stupidity is brilliant, I love corporate stupidity. It makes me feel clever not to work for a cumbersome organisation that sacrifices commons sense for efficiency. It’s certainly the most fun to research. Good examples of corporate stupidity include strictly obeying procedures in the face of common sense, putting a corpse next to a gold-level customer or sending a dossier on a journalist, to the journalist.

Generally, isolated incidents of corporate stupidity wont change your buying habits too much. Instead, it’s when these fissures of corporate stupidity become incremental, that the damage begins. Dissatisfaction with service is a typical one. It begins with one or two customers then snowballs.

Next there is this very slippery slope of ‘good’ bad publicity, the sort of publicity which prompts this post’s opening sentence. Celebrities fall into this category. Jade Goody, Paris Hilton and even Britney Spears would be long forgotten by now if they didn’t cause so many controversies. For these celebrities bad publicity is the raison d’etre , they need it, and cultivate it – or rather, their agents probably do.

In the murkier world of business, ‘good’ bad publicity is remarkable luck. Sales in Turkey Twizzlers rose during the public backlash against the brand. Even more inexplicable is that Turkey Twizzlers are a food, an industry harmed more often by bad publicity than any other. 

Finally, we get to ‘bad’ bad publicity. This is the dark stuff. The stuff that cause businesses to crumble in minutes (god bless 24hour news). This is why crisis media management (CMM) exists. When conflicts threaten tourism, in steps CMM. When customers run to withdraw savings, in steps CMM. When a national epidemic is suspected to have originated from your plant, in steps CMM. God bless it.

I guess it’s just a little too easy to berate someone for claiming any publicity is good publicity. Likewise it’s foolish to assume that every type of bad publicity needs strict CMM principles.

Student PR Blogs, at least give it a try

March 4, 2008Comments Off on Student PR Blogs, at least give it a try

Most of the PR bloggersthat launched blogsas part of theirdegree courseslast year, didn’t keepthem updatedafter themodule ended. I don’t think you can force people to blog. People should want to blog, blogging should be something you get to do. Once you understand the benefits of blogging (Learning, Networking, Fun), it’s more difficult not to blog.

This blog gets me work. A mighty part of my freelance ambitions are dependent upon the drivel I extol here, and you deep-pocketed folk who read it. Every now and then someone will drop me an e-mail, often about something quite innocuous, sometimes those e-mail discussions become person to person meeting, sometimes those meetings turn into work opportunities. It’s an informal discussion based sales funnel.

Really though, blogging is like networking for people hate networking. It can be selling for people that are sick of playing the numbers and believe enough to forget the phone and find the keyboard – maybe even in their spare time. It’s a way of opening impregnable doors (and having some slammed permanently shut). It can be where an Account Executive can discuss a marketing campaign with a CEO or discuss PR angles with journalists.

I’ve always wanted a student out there to launch a blog with the target of getting a job at one company, say, Edelman. Imagine, a student launched a blog about trying to get a job at Edelman. Imagine regular posts the student could suggest PR/Marketing ideas for their clients, demonstrate their knowledge of the Tech/PR business and how he’s getting to know some of the staff who already work at the agency. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Would it work? I’ve no doubt it might get their attention at the very least.

Finding the time, and often ideas for content, can be a struggle. Yet between writing another blog post, and another job-application essay, I’ll pick the blog post every time. It pains me to hear of students who between University assignments, writing job applications and “living the lifestyle” can’t find the time to blog. Why not combine them? Why not blog about something you’ve just been taught at a lecture and get some broader opinions? Why not blog about careers and begin networking with people that might be able to help? Why not blog about the observations from the lifestyle? (Why do so few companies use MSN to speak to student customers?)

This medium isn’t perfect, every young PR blogger still going from a year ago has taken a backlash at some point. Stephen was criticised for creating a top 100 uk blogs list, Alex was attacked by fellow students, Chris Clarke was slated for commenting on Crayon, and I was doused in flames for this gem. It happens, it’s one of the best character-building moments you can experience (I met with TWL in London yesterday). You take the criticism, learn to handle it, and use the experience in the future.

The student blogging situation is pretty dire. It’s a pity that University’s haven’t tried giving blogging advice alongside their standard career advice. But I think it will improve. I suspect student PR bloggers are like snowflakes, the first few flakes might fade away, but in time they will stick.

How to be evil, earn lots of money and make a difference

February 26, 2008Comments Off on How to be evil, earn lots of money and make a difference

MrburnsWhat organisations out there would you downright, outright, refuse to work for? Which companies do you consider ‘too’ evil to ever associate yourself with?

Tobacco companies perhaps? They’re pretty evil aren’t they? Your job is to help people kill themselves. Maybe oil companies too? Your job is to pollute the planet and begin wars. How about McDonalds? Run fat boy run!

Beneath that then, are slightly greyer positions, companies perhaps not evil by industry but by past mistakes. How about PR for Labour? Or working for Microsoft? Maybe a company with an image problem, dying market and the brunt of constant criticism, cue Royal Mail.

So who should you work for? Well the brands everyone loves. Google? Yup! Innocent Drinks? Of course! Who wouldn’t want to work for those fruit-lovin’ (premium charging) critters? Maybe a charity too, Cancer Research UK perhaps? When you do a good job you save lives. Hell yeah!

I think to a great extent this is backwards. Working for a beloved brand is lazy, and possibly quite foolish. Your job is to keep doing a great job. What can you really accomplish at Google or Innocent Drinks? There’s only so much people can love smoothies. As for Cancer Research UK, if you don’t do an absolutely brilliant job, and give 150% every day, people might die. Can you live with that? Perhaps, it might be better to work for an evil empire?

Your friends and families might not approve, but what other job offers the opportunity to make such a difference? Imagine what you might be able to achieve as you progress up the level of the company. Take BP, where else is there such an opportunity to begin doing things right? As you progress up the ladder your opportunities to make a change grow.

Do you have any companies you would refuse to work for?

My Biggest PR Mistake

February 25, 2008Comments Off on My Biggest PR Mistake

Back in my days as a young, wide-eyed, PR Account Executive I once made a pretty bad mistake with a pretty important client.

Our client was facing a lot of pressure from his board to be featured on TV. This pressure was naturally passed on to us, and I saw it as a great opportunity to prove myself with this new client of mine.

So I came up with a really decent, albeit slightly controversial angle, to get on television and pitched it to a few TV stations. I didn’t hear anything back for a few days. So, disappointed, I figured I might as well put it into a press release. I drafted it u p and sent the press release to the client for amends.

The client didn’t like it. They didn’t want to pursue this angle and take this approach. Which would have been fine, except the next day ITV (UK TV channel) decided they did like my pitch and followed it up. Only they didn’t contact me first, they went straight to our rather bewildered client.

All things considered, it didn’t do that much damage, and the relationship wasn’t ruined, but it easily could have been.

As a lesson, I put it down to ego. I wanted to contact the client with a message along the lines of “you wanted TV, I have TV”. Since then I’ve never pursued any angle without first checking with the client. Important lesson to learn I think, client over ego.

Anyone else feel like sharing their biggest PR mistake?

Would you add your name to a crap press release?

February 23, 2008Comments Off on Would you add your name to a crap press release?

Here is a theoretical situation:

You’ve just written a press release. You send it to the client for their approval. They come back with a lot of changes, most of which are awful. The quote has clearly been written by a machine, they’ve inserted lots of acronyms, even more plenty of hyperbole and it just doesn’t read well. In short, it’s been butchered and no journalist in their right mind would touch it.

Naturally you contact your client to advise that in your experience journalists prefer more factual information with a specific angle in their niche, and they want quotes which wouldn’t sound out of place in a normal conversation. However, the client is insistent they want the one their legal department has already approved.

Typically, this isn’t really a major problem. Your client pays the bills and if they want a rubbish press release and disregard your advice, that’s their problem. So you begin distributing it via e-mail, newswires and free distribution sites. Any interested press can contact you on the details listed in the release.

So what happens when you’re applying for a job and your future employer does a quick Google check on you. Perhaps ["Your name" and "agency"] or [Your Name + Press Release] – everyone should try that last one. It’s easy to see where this is going. That press release could haunt you for every single job you apply for, ever. I think this could be a bigger problem than any drunken MySpace/Facebook photos.

Anyone have a good solution to this problem? Do you tell the client you’re not going to put your name on it? What would be the ramifications of that?

I think this could be a bigger problem than it is. I’m still worried by some of my earliest press releases.

A freelance writer once told me it’s common to look back on what you wrote five years ago and cringe, it’s a bigger problem if you don’t. I’m not so sure that’s true in the internet age.

Would you read a cornflakes blog?

February 18, 2008Comments Off on Would you read a cornflakes blog?

CornflakesAs a time-limited internet user, would you spend a moment of your spare time reading a cornflakes blog? Really, what if the cornflakes blog was really, really, good and included lots of great recipes or the latest cornflakes news?

For your sake, I hope the answer is no. Except for the novelty of such a pointless blog existing, you wouldn’t read it. You wouldn’t read it because you don’t really love cornflakes, not like you love BMW, Microsoft or Hilton. However, the decision of which corporate blogs we read is less about love and more about involvement.

Cornflakes is about as boring as a breakfast cereal can get (Shredded Wheat not withstanding). It’s a low involvement, repeat, purchase (about time my Uni education started paying off). Even if they targeted their blog in the “breakfast space” and participated on breakfast blogs across the land (I’m not too sure how that’s possible without showing the obvious motive) – I still can’t see a cornflakes blog being much of a success. Would any consumers/readers really begin spreading the word that cornflakes are a great breakfast cereal?

So is this true for all low involvement purchases? Should low-involvement products not have blogs?

With the exception of short-term or promotional blogs, which I believe will become more popular, I haven’t seen anything that’s convinced me that low-involvement products should have a blog, at least not one for consumers. Which is where I think the biggest gap in the market is.

Cornflakes can certainly have a blog, but perhaps one targeted more at suppliers, partners, staff and other stakeholders to whom the cereal represents a significant concern. Wouldn’t a cornflakes blog consisting of shipping, manufacturing, staffing, marketing news be a better option?

But, we live in the land o’ Long Tail don’t we? If you blog it they will come. I daresay that there are some cornflake devotees out there, 6am in the morning, bowl of cornflakes in one hand, mouse in the other, trying to find the latest news about their favourite processed corn. Prevalent theory suggests that these are the people you need to reach, the ones that will spread the good word and fight your good fight.

Is someone telling you to change your breakfast cereal to a very familiar brand that you’ve already tried really going to change your ways – especially your sacred breakfast routine. It’s just plain unrealistic. Cornflakes is one of many examples. Your local newsagent shouldn’t have a blog, nor should the manufacturers of your water taps, but the plumber who fitted them probably should.

I was originally going to use the Starbucks debate as the example, but I think they dodge the pitfalls of this logic by selling the ‘Third Space’ more than they do coffee, and the ‘Third Space’ is something that consumers are likely to have more of an interest in.

A few concluding thoughts to this ramble then:

  1. Most low-involvement products should focus on blogging for stakeholders other than their consumers, especially those with familiar brands with little new to say.
  2. If companies selling low-involvement products really do want to blog, perhaps they should first consider a short-term promotional blog.
  3. Is a readership really going to make a difference to your company?
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