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?
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.
As 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:
- Most low-involvement products should focus on blogging for stakeholders other than their consumers, especially those with familiar brands with little new to say.
- If companies selling low-involvement products really do want to blog, perhaps they should first consider a short-term promotional blog.
- Is a readership really going to make a difference to your company?
I’m sure all my feed-readers enjoyed that misplaced post. Sadly these are the problems you encounter when you mix your pages with posts. The problem is feeds use your first post and, as far as I’m aware, you can’t change a feed once you’ve posted.
Anyhow, Sally sends word that she’s launched a Response Source-ish blog. Basically, her and fellow journo chums will send out requests for relevant cases on a media requests blog.
She’s also keen to let it be known her and five fellow journalists are presenting at the PRNewswire event next Wednesday. Tickets are still available. More importantly, not one of the 300 PRs attending the PR Newswire event next week have invited her and fellow journalists for a beer afterwards. Especially since the beers are on the journalists for once*.
Personally, I’ve always thought that Response Source would work better if journalists each had their own blog asking for requests, which PRs could subscribe to through RSS feeds. Well, not for Daryl Wilcox obviously. Give the Getting Ink Journos blog a read
* might not be true
In short, plucky 19-year-old, Max Gogarty is writing a blog about his travels to India and Thailand. The introduction casually notes that he writes scripts for Skins, which is interesting. As a stand alone blog post, the 450 comments agree it’s rather rubbish and well below the quality of the Guardian’s other travel writers. Naturally then, angry readers did a little digging and discovered that Max is the son of Paul Gogarty, a regular contributor to Guardian Travel.
But they have taken the wrong track. Yes, the "Who’s your daddy?" debate is getting the most attention after the Conway scandal, but what many missed is that the URL ends with Skins_blog.html. But really, his blog post is far too tedious, and Max far too similar to a Skins’ character, to exist (I’m not denying Max himself exists, just his online persona).
I really hate these sorts of marketing ideas. Any idea based upon deceiving people is a bad one. Worse, it makes all marketers look bad. I didn’t like these mysterious stones, nor Lonelygirl15 for this very same reason. No matter how much attention you get, when you lie to a lot of people (or even just 1), they’re going to be peeved. And the Guardian readers are furious.
The other problem with this campaign is that it’s awful. Really, why choose the Guardian instead of setting up a blog? With promotion from the Skins MySpace page this could have easily got a lot of attention. How about "Max goes to discover the India’s Skins"? And what were the Guardian thinking? Did they really let let such a promotion slide as ‘content’?
Surely the best Guerrilla marketing works when a company can deliver a great message, to the right audience in a refreshing way?
Update: A mysterious contributor points to today’s editor’s response.
"No one snuck Max through the backdoor. I called him purely on the strength of his track record. On the back of his writing at his comprehensive school, he was invited on to a young writers’ group at the Royal Court theatre, and since then he has worked as an occasional writer on the TV series Skins. I think that’s pretty impressive for a 19-year-old.
I can also see why you might think this was a promo for Skins. It says skins_blog in the url. This was put in as a working title, and we forgot to change it. My fault. No one from Skins approached me in order to get a bit of free publicity for the show."
I hope, for the Guardian’s sake, that’s the truth. It still hasn’t stopped the angry comments.
I would love to believe that a mass community of people impulsively got together to bring back the Wispa Bar. Then Cadbury’s spotted this demand, hired a PR agency, and relaunched it. But I’m becoming rather cynical in my Autumn years and can’t help suspecting that the whole campaign was a rather magnificent work of PR. Others have had their suspicions, though Borkowski claims it’s 100% genuine.
So, here’s a new Wispa story. A student finds a 4 year old Wispa Bar down the back of the sofa and auctions it on eBay (where she notes she remarkably has 2). Last I checked the auction had reached over £265.
Did Borkowski, or someone else spot this eBay sell through great monitoring of the online scene and then draw attention to it? Or has is both the story and bar purely manufacturer for hungry media?
Anyone got any opinions on this one?
What if over 150,000 people wanted to buy your product on May 15? Better, what if they planned to buy as much of your product on May 15 as shops were able to stock?
Brilliant eh? And the 150,000 figure is likely to double by May 15.
How would you take advantage of it? How would you take advantage of a HUGE online community forming around your product? How would you get involved with the thousands of people asking what to do with your product after they had bought it? How would you take advantage of people sharing photos of your product, and how would you capitalise upon the sudden media attention which came with it?
Well if you run the British Carrot Association, you issue a vaguely interested press snippet and go back to doing what you do best; talking about Beta-Carotene.
It’s one of these new Facebook-led stories. It began with a Facebook group titled "On May 15th 2008, everybody needs to go out and panic buy CARROTS" which had this mission statement:
"Basically, a few nights ago, when I was very very drunk, I came up with the idea that everybody should go out and panic buy a certain product on a specific day.
I’m not quite sure what the reason behind this is is, other than the fact that a global shortage of carrots would be quite a laugh. "
In short, this intriguing Facebook group has become popular with over 150,000 people (in less than a month – this is going to grow much higher) planning to go out and buy as many carrots as possible on May 15. They now even have a website and are generating a fair deal of mainstream media coverage.
It’s stupid, but we’ve all seen worse PR hits. However, as the group grew the attention turned to what to do with all the carrots after you’ve bought them? So the community began trading carrot-recipes and philanthropic ideas.
Now you can’t help noticing the carrot industry is missing a huge opportunity here. Or they’ve shocked everyone by engineering this entire social-media campaign from the beginning (Wispa style).
So New Woman and First, two popular women’s magazines featuring the usual Celebrity gossip and fashion/beauty/sex advice, have gone under. Well, they are “suspended pending a month-long consultation process”.
Now, if your client considered New Woman a key publication. What are you going to tell your client? How are you going to justify your fees now? What if you’ve previously invoiced for “relationship building” with journalists at New Woman? New Woman is just one example (just today’s example) of a magazine going under. And like others, it’s going to affect a fair few PR agencies out there.
This is where the battleground within communications is. When a client sees a key magazine going under, do they wonder what their PR agency can do for them now? Do SEO companies see it as an opportunity to pounce with an alternative? Or Direct marketing agencies? How about advertising agencies?
How are we fighting to keep clients which overrate print media? Is the switch to online PR so easy? How are you tracking where the New Woman readership goes next?
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Short-term blogs are blogs created for a specific function. Such as Seth’s separate, short-lived, blogs for his new books. Or Coca-Cola’s Blog Blast. Most commonly, these blogs help launch products or respond to a key issue. Cheltenham Borough Council established a short-term blog to respond to the 2007 floods.
However, for short-term blogs to work, a combination of the following points are essential.
- The blog must be heavily promoted to its intended audience
- The blog relates to a time-sensitive issue of high importance
- The author(s) has existing credibility
- It is highly optimised for search engines
- It has a measurable purpose
I think in part, it’s easier to sell in short-term blogs to clients. They don’t go on forever, the results can be measured, and all the necessary work/schedule can be planned in advance. A short-term blog can be rather contrary to the typical nature of blogging. Professional bloggers will cite the benefits of blogs as authenticity, long-term relationship building and two-way conversations between authors and customers. So why do short-term blogs seem to be increasingly common?
Lets not confuse the terms here, there is a big difference between short-term, function-orientated, blogs and blogs which are abandoned. The latter being harmful to the company (though realistically the most likely outcome of all blogs.
I can see short-term blogs working in many companies. New film releases perhaps, new product launches, in the run up to a major event, short-lived partnership projects. Anything time-specific might well benefit more from an intense short-lived push of a blog than the longer view presented by many professional bloggers.
Also read Rohit Bhargava’s post on short-term blogs.
I stole this from Stephen’s Twitter Feed a few minutes ago. Northern Rock is the best performing North-East Business last year. Strangely for the North East’s top business, they are keeping their celebrations and PR rather muted.
I don’t know how, and I don’t know why.
After a fair bit of motherly nagging, i’ve finally got around to answering Sarah’s questions for her PR in Perspective column. You can read the full interview here. Here’s a snippet:
Do you think Web 2.0 is having an impact on how PR is practiced?
Yes, but not at the speed most bloggers are predicting. Most bloggers, by nature, are usually tech-savvy and work either in technology or communications sectors. Working in Cheltenham on my placement year I learnt that a lot of companies aren’t ready to begin blogging yet. If your audience never goes online and relies on newspapers, as some of our clients did at apt marketing & PR, a blog isn’t going to be much help.
In other industries however it became more of a case of how best PR and social media fit together. In Autumn 06 I worked briefly with a company called Wiggly Wigglers, founded by Heather Gorringe. Heather’s quite well known in social media circles these days through her brilliant Wiggly Wigglers podcast. Yet whilst Heather really was a perfect client for our new Social Media division, we struggled (as many PR agencies are doing) with figuring out quite how our PR expertise and her existing Social Media success fit together. We’ve learnt a lot since then, but it’s a struggle many agencies are still experiencing.
Agencies outside the biggest cities are still lagging behind with clients who wont grasp the social media concept for a few more years yet.
After reading that interview i’ve decided to delve a little more into my career choices for my next post.