Insights into Tomorrow’s Marketing Organizations: The Interplay of Brands and Agencies

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As the marketing discipline becomes more fragmented, marketing agencies and internal departments need to take a collaborative approach to achieve success and longevity. Specialists will have a key role working with marketing teams to provide strategic communications counsel for brands who truly understand what they’re all about and who their audiences are, as discussed by three key communications leaders at our recent Sydney meetup.

‘The Marketing Organisation of the Future’ was the hot topic for our senior panel, who addressed the questions: What is changing and is not changing in marketing? What are the characteristics and capabilities of marketing organizations of the future? What can we be doing now to become the successful marketing organization of tomorrow?

Below are the key insights shared by each panellist on shaping the marketing department and agency of the future.

Pru Quinlan, CEO, Einsteinz Communications

  • We will see a more collaborative approach with many agencies coming together.
  • Agencies need to think about how they interact with marketers and employees.
  • The agency of the future will have to be more agile than it is now – navigate 1-to-1 marketing and make quick decisions based on technology and consumer behavior.
  • It’s challenging for brands to invest in long form content … the need is for ‘snackable’ content to be distributed in the right way to reach target audiences.
  • Brands should own the content, not the agency.
  • Agencies need to show and lead by example when it comes to budgets and the value of what we do.
  • Brands need to control themselves but also need to reflect on the workforce of today, including freelancers and contractors; there are many talented individuals who don’t fit in a particular hole but have a role to play within a company, or for a brand.
  • There will be more roles for individuals, on their own or as collectives, to work with brands, work magic, then maybe even leave.
  • Advice: focus on what audiences really want and what your brand means for them … And brands have to open minds to new approaches and play differently to speak to our market.

Ben Shipley, Managing Director, Spectrum Group

  • The market has been product-centric, not audience-centric, but we will move back to being people-centric.
  • Greater focus on useful and quality content designed for niche audiences, but also need to also understand how the content will reach them.
  • Need to aggregate audiences and keep people engaged.
  • Agencies have a role in giving brands an objective viewpoint.
  • Whitepapers are no longer effective and could work better as a series of shorter pieces of content.
  • Building owned homes for content has an important impact on search. There is a split in media: live event content (news) versus distributed evergreen content (broadsheet).
  • Key piece of advice is to be a singular brand – know what you are and why – and consider the different messaging required for different audience segments.

Tony Faure, Chairman, Junkee Media, Stackla, Pollenizer

  • Key piece of advice is to use data to fully understand your customer and be very clear about your point of difference.
  • Brand is going to be even more massive and go back to ‘difficult marketing’.
  • Aggregation of services will be done by technology.
  • We are heading into an era of specialists, not generalists.
  • We will see companies and brands taking back ownership of marketing, which has largely been ceded to agencies.
  • Journalists are not always capable of realizing not everything they write is interesting, so they may not be the best people to produce content.
  • Long-form content can be more difficult to execute … a one-minute video for Facebook is cheaper, measured instantly, and easier to do.
  • Key elements to consider are: Who is the customer? Why is my brand different from everyone else’s?
  • The customer and brand piece needs to be owned by the brand.
  • Less of a believer in big aggregated agencies.
  • The creative agency has more relevance now.
  • There is an increase in big brands wanting specialists.
  • It’s about identifying niche communities within your brand community and understanding the nuances of how to best engage with them.
  • Australian agency versus global marketing agency: main issues are scale; regional Australian clients are less likely to take risks because they’re the brand channel for our market.

Please let us know your thoughts on any of the points raised, or if you have comments to add to the discussion on the marketing organization of the future.

Join our Future of PR – Sydney Meetup Group here and find out when our next meetup will be held.

Thought Leaders on What to Expect in PR in 2016: Scope and Breadth

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We asked global thought leaders in PR and communications what they expect in 2016.

Three powerful themes emerged from their responses:
Scope and Breadth (Insights below)
Science, Data and Analytics (Click link for insights)
Story and Content (Click link for insights)

The theme of increasing breadth and scope of what PR needs to become was particularly important. Lucy Allen of LEWIS points to PR agencies crossing over to encompass paid as well as earned media, Grey Healthcare Group’s Erin Byrne sees PR going beyond its traditional role to be at the center of corporate marketing and communications, Tracey Follows of AnyDayNow expects the growth of internal comms to drive customer experience, and Marian Salzman of Havas PR looks at the breadth of experience that PR professionals need to succeed.

Read the insights on the increasing scope and breadth of PR from these top thought leaders below.


Whether it’s paid social, mobile or display, PR agencies are getting more serious about their media spend. In 2016, I expect we’ll see more agencies growing their paid media departments, especially in digital media. Programmatic has levelled the playing field when it comes to media buying power. It’s no longer about who spends the most, since anyone can bid. That gives PR agencies the opportunity to get into the advertising market. Clients are seeing the value of paid media to amplify and complement PR content. Meanwhile, media owners are recognizing this and welcoming PR firms in their beta programs for new products and tools. We’ll see more PR agencies develop their skills in this area. We’ll likely see some resulting debate in 2016 about how PR agencies account for their revenues (fees vs turnover).

Lucy Allen, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, LEWIS
Follow on Twitter: @lucya


PR is so fundamental to marketing and communications as a whole that I believe this will be the year that PR truly has a seat at the table beyond corporate communications. Reputation is more important than ever, stakeholders are usually part of multiple target groups, and digital becoming ubiquitous has created an environment where messages can no longer be directed to one group. Therefore, PR can and should be at the center of an organization’s marketing and communications strategy. Along with this will come: – Much more robust approaches to content development, management and syndication – Proactive social media engagement, including in highly regulated industries like health – Assisted analytics that truly measure the efforts of PR based on how they impact other disciplines Just like years ago there was a big move to ensure everyone had a baseline level of digital expertise, this will be the year that all marketing and communications professionals are required to have a working knowledge and ability around the principles of public relations and corporate communications.

Erin Byrne, Chief Client Officer, Grey Healthcare Group
Follow on Twitter: @ErinByrne


The one thing I expect in 2016 for the PR industry is an increased focus on internal comms rather than external comms. Of course the latter is still important but it’s getting harder and harder to influence consumers through the efficient deployment of one consistent messaging plan; it’s now all about the experience.

New brands with new business models work to a longer term 10-20 yr vision and execute 2 or 3 initiatives that accelerate them towards that vision every 6-12 months. Nurturing a coherent long and short term plan is key; and creating an attractive internal culture with everyone delivering it to a high standard in a joined up way, is now the name of the game. Only a coherent internal experience can deliver a coherent consumer experience. Look at culture-building at Google, Facebook, Apple and how it shows up in their end users’ service. That’s the blueprint for every company now.

Tracey Follows, Founder and Futurist, Any Day Now
Follow on Twitter: @tracey_lou


For PR pros, a faux intimacy among themselves, influencers and media personalities comes about through tech addiction and its ugly cousin, contact collection (the antithesis of experience collection, because you’re collecting folks whom you oftentimes know by name without ever getting to know them). We’re not only addicted to our techno toys, but we’re also addicted to the rush of adding yet another fan, friend or follower—especially one who sits in the seat of influence.

In another area, experience is the new classroom. Internships have been the new first jobs in PR; now add to that office swaps, which are early career-learning bonanzas. PR pros need to do many things other than taking classes, including immersing themselves in newsrooms, working alongside event planners, being based in client offices and doing everything they do on the job with a student lens. I can imagine a two-year immersion into our biz that replaces graduate study—and puts rolled-up sleeves on the keyboard, ready to collaborate and cooperate in a professional mode.

Marian Salzman, Chairman, Global Collective, Havas PR and CEO, Havas PR North America
Follow on Twitter: @mariansalzman

Does the Agency Model and Leadership Impact the Future of Creativity in Communications?

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The Holmes Report recently released their fourth annual Creativity in PR Global Study and the results present a mixed bag on the status of right brain thinking in the PR profession. While there has evidently been an uptick in key areas – for instance viewing creativity as a key element in agency culture and more resources being devoted to creativity – there is still work to be done.

The study, conducted in association with H+K Strategies, provides both a snapshot and a somewhat longer view of the profession relative to its creative path.  But as with any study, the real insights are when the results of similar questions are considered together.

This year’s study included the question “Do you think the PR industry is set fair to deliver and lead creativity in the next five years, in terms of …?”. Respondents had four categories to respond to: Talent (hiring, training, diversity of workforce), Innovation, Agency Business Model, and Leadership.

Here’s how the responses netted out:

Unfortunately, this question wasn’t included in last year’s study, so there’s no way to know if there’s been a change. But there are both insights and dichotomies when the responses to this question are compared to the response to others.

Take talent for instance. Responses to a separate question about how agencies reward creativity indicated less than half (45.7%) do so as part of an annual performance review and a third don’t reward it at all. Taking that into account, how then could the industry as a whole be well positioned to hire, train and diversify for creativity into the foreseeable future? How many people – regardless of age group – will want to continue to work in an industry that says it values creativity, but your chances of being rewarded for it are less than 50 percent?

Let’s move to innovation. The greatest percentage of respondents to this question believes that the industry is poised to lead in this area. That’s all good, but when compared to the 50% of respondents who rated the current quality of creativity as ordinary in a separate question, there’s clearly a lot of work that needs to be done to get the industry to a leadership position in innovation over the next five years.

The Agency Model received the lowest percentage of yes votes relative to the long-term view and the highest number of no’s. Should we be surprised? The model has been in question for some time now, yet no one seems to know what to do about it. Unfortunately, when these numbers are combined with the fact that Leadership got the second lowest number of yes votes and the second highest number of no’s to this same question, it’s not difficult to see that the industry may be stymied in its efforts to be more creative.

Clients and agency personnel alike are providing some possible solutions. When asked if they could only do three things to improve their own or their company’s creative capabilities here are the top five responses:

      Improve use of insight

      Ability to take more risks

      Educate clients

      More budget

      Clearer client briefs

Three of the above require more direct money and two require more time, which equates to more money. With money involved, change in the agency model and leadership mindset will be necessary to address all or most of these.

In other parts of the report, client input suggests they’re willing to spend the money on innovative ideas, but not if there’s no data to back up the approach. Advertising agencies have never had a problem with this. They create ideas, test them, iterate on the results then present concepts based on data. Brainstorming might have gotten them to the initial idea, but the results of the brainstorm typically don’t go immediately to the client without some kind of data to back it up. That’s a model that PR firms aren’t used to operating within but may need to get comfortable with.

It’s encouraging to see that the industry as a whole is continuing to move toward a greater focus on being more creative. This has been a conundrum that has affected PR for decades. But verbalizing what you want to be and proving it are two different things. Rather than pointing to ad agencies and wondering why they get to wear the creative mantle, PR needs to take a clue from them and mimic what’s allowed them to do so. It’s going to have to start with agency and in-house leadership – their future and the industry’s may depend on it.

Virtual Reality is Here To Stay, Now What to Do With It

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A recent communication trend study released by Hotwire PR, indicates virtual reality (VR) could begin playing a more significant role in the coming year as companies use it to bridge the pervasiveness of increasing amounts of data with the desire by customers to experience a brand before buying. While the study identified several other trends – for instance, how advertising will be forced to change with the popularity of ad blocking and how Millennials can no longer be treated as a single demographic – its point of view on VR was the most interesting.

For the uninitiated, VR didn’t recently come to fruition with Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift or the popularity of role playing games. Jaron Lanier, considered one of the earlier pioneers of VR, gained notoriety in the 80s and 90s by introducing the first VR gloves and goggles. But the company he had co-founded to commercialize VR products eventually went bankrupt. The patents for the products Lanier helped develop were eventually bought by Sun Microsystems, and Sun was eventually bought by Oracle. Lanier now works for Microsoft. Who knows what Oracle has done with his patents today?

Since then, VR has continued to have fits and starts. More recently, 3D TV was supposed to give us a more immersive experience. How many people watch 3D TV. But the Hotwire study points out that the hardware issues that have stood in the way of greater mass adoption of VR seem to be rapidly working themselves out. Entertainment and gaming are what will evidently drive the pervasiveness of the hardware.

But as the study points out, there will be more to VR than play. The travel industry is already experimenting with ways to use it to provide travelers with a virtual look at a destination, a hotel or even a mode of transport. Earlier this year, Marriott experimented with a 4D experience that allowed travelers to be able to see, hear and even feel what it would be like to be in various destinations.

The non-profit industry is another potential VR adopter. With prospective donors suffering from “donation request fatigue,” non-profits are being forced to find more ways to move people to give.  According to the Hotwire report, Amnesty International used VR to give people a more realistic experience of the crisis situation in Syria. The result was not only an increase in donations, but also an uptick in online chatter about the experience and the crisis.

What’s evidently driving all of this is not an increased fascination with VR, but the fact that companies are finally seeing the potential for VR to bridge the daily onslaught of data with the desire to experience a brand before committing to it. In other words, developing emotional connections in the absence of physical presence.

There’s a slippery slope here, though, because just as social media has been targeted as being as much a bane as a boon for society, VR is bound to be at the receiving end of an even greater potential backlash. After all, it is removing the end user even further from the physical present than a text, post or shared photo ever will. Communicators and content creators who contemplate using VR will need to keep this in mind and not treat it as one more communication tool to tick off a list of others that have come before.

For the public relations industry, this also means getting even more comfortable with the idea that emotional connections are driven by providing consumers with immersive experiences. The more immersive the better. Any type of service or product demo is essentially an immersive experience and an opportunity to bond with a prospective customer.

What VR can deliver are experiences that are even more immersive and reveal aspects of a company, service or product in ways that have never before been available. In an age when consumers are also demanding even greater transparency to go with their immersion, this can only be a good thing for everyone involved.

Exploring Big Data: Insights for Agencies

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For several years now, Big Data has been top of mind for a variety of industries, and that includes PR.  An extraordinary amount of content has been generated about how it can benefit everything from customer insight to driving efficiencies in just about every industry imaginable. Yet, attitudes about Big Data within PR are mixed.  There’s skepticism, based on the assumption that too much of the data that’s collected may be inapplicable to PR, and avoidance since the current level of data available to PR may seem to be just the right amount.

Neither attitude, however, is going to help PR professionals now or in the future because the numbers related to Big Data spending are too large to ignore. Consider that according to research conducted in 2013 by CapGemini, global spending on Big Data exceeded $31 billion and is expected to surpass $114 billion by 2018.  Sixty percent of the executives who participated in that survey said they believe that Big Data will disrupt their industry in the next three years. Considering the timing of the survey, that disruption is starting to happen now.  If PR wants to be part of helping companies work through that disruption, Big Data adoption or, at the very least, understanding how to use it is key.

Here’s what that same CapGemini survey identified as overall challenges to Big Data adoption and usefulness:

  • Scattered data due to a lack of fully integrating all of the data sources. This means that sales information isn’t being integrated with marketing budgets or specific programs like influencer outreach.
  • No clear business or use case to justify funding or implementation. There’s data collection, but lack of direction in terms of what the data will be used for.
  • Lack of collaboration between different elements of an organization. IT, marketing and finance may not actually meet to set up the use case or determine how best to integrate once the data begins to be collected.

What’s also missing from the above is what any good researcher will tell you: data is fairly useless without analytics. Without analytics, data is just bits and bites taking up storage space on a server somewhere in the middle of who knows where. Evidently, there’s also a lack of analytics when it comes to all of this data.

Here’s where PR can play a role because making sense of data has been a necessity in the profession for decades with an ever-growing need to show results and prove that the needle has been moved. Since that needle has gotten bigger and now sits over multiple channels, Big Data now provides PR with the information the profession has been clamoring for and that is no longer just in the domain of sales and marketing.

An article published last year by Meltwater as part of multi-part look at trends in PR pointed out a few ways those who have already adopted Big Data are using the plethora of bits and bites. Notice that none of the below fall outside the realm of what most PR professionals do now. The only difference is that Big Data provides a much richer pool of information to work with:

  • Hypertargeting and location-specific real-time marketing: reaching the right customers at the right moment.
  • Data Visualization in the form of infographics and more dynamic and visual charts and graphs.
  • Positioning by using data to test specific messages across different channels to see what resonates and what doesn’t.
  • Competitive Analysis: being able to more specifically track and analyze a competitor’s activities.

While Big Data may be intimidating, PR professionals who don’t make an effort to at least understand it, do so at their own peril. It’s here to stay and is only going to get bigger.

5 Lessons on High-impact Storytelling from General Electric

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A lot has been written over the last couple of years about the preponderance of storytelling and its place in content creation.  A couple of weeks ago, Adweek ran an interview with Linda Boff, CMO of General Electric about this topic and how this 125-year old company was approaching storytelling in this digital era.

The idea of GE being an adopter of digital media may seem a bit out of sync for those who may not realize how pervasive innovation is at this legacy brand. As Boff says in the article, “staying modern, contemporary and relevant is something we think about every single day.”

She goes on to point out that innovation and being first has led them to be an early adopter with both existing and emerging social and digital platforms like Snapchat, Vine and Instagram.

They’re also beginning to look at how to use virtual reality as a storytelling tool. The result is that this multinational conglomerate has become a leading voice in branded content.

Image from General Electric’s Vine page.

Image from General Electric’s Instagram page.

Smaller companies with less resources and far fewer years of legacy brand building under their belts may be tempted to conclude that GE can afford such experimentation because they have the resources to do so. They can afford to try and fail, and try again.

While that may be true, no one forced GE to be an early adopter of anything, but a legacy of innovation left them open to doing so. Consequently, there are some inherent learnings companies of all sizes can glean from GE’s approach to both storytelling and digital media.

  1. Consistently challenge yourself to stay modern and contemporary but without losing sight of who you are.  In other words, don’t change the core elements of your brand story, but bring it up-to-date to appeal to a current audience.
  2. Know who you are and what audiences share your passion, rather than try to appeal to all people. This means that you tell your story consistently over time rather than look for ways to change it to fit the broadest audience possible. It’s about being authentic.
  3. Be willing to embrace the new as soon as it is new. This isn’t about checking off a box, you’ve tried SnapChat now that’s done. It’s about not being afraid to try a new outlet and fully embracing it when it makes sense to do so. There’s a level of immediate commitment necessary because of how quickly adoption can become saturated and how easy it is for users to sniff out companies who are just experimenting.
  4. Be as creative as possible in how you tell your story. Do it in unexpected ways.  If you’re company’s become used to using video, rather than post more videos to YouTube, try doing more life videos with Periscope or Meerkat.
  5. Look at how to take the old and make it new.  What GE is doing with their classic Adventures in Electricity comic books from the ‘40s and ‘50s is a good example. They’ve created a social network for stories called Wattpad and invited the Wattpad community of writers to create science-fiction stories relative to GE’s history. That’s both unexpected but firmly in keeping with GE’s legacy.

Image from General Electric’s Wattpad.

While not all companies may have the available content that a company like GE has, every company has the permission to take their storytelling to a new level in this digital era. It requires both commitment and creativity, but the end result can only be of benefit to the company of any size who chooses to do so.

Images: All images from General Electric

5 Big Ideas about the Future of PR: Employee Amplification, Budget-Neutral News and More

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Diversity is perhaps the hallmark of the future of PR. This realization was evident at the Creating the Future of PR Forum held in Sydney last week, when five speakers, each with very different perspectives, shared insights on how they see the industry developing. The speakers’ big ideas ranged from employee participation in company communications, to the role of branded content, evolving business models, and responses to the shift to consumer power.

Below are five brief snapshots of key ideas the speakers shared at the event.

Localization, personalization, and employee empowerment: Matt Trewin, General Manager – Retail & Media Communications, Telstra

Two thirds of Telstra’s 40,000 employees are interested in advocating for their company on social media, said Matt Trewin from Telstra. He revealed that Telstra and other large corporates are using social media for social engagement and empowerment. Key to this strategy is rethinking, “Who are our spokespeople?”

The move to involve employees and local communities in PR is generating personalized content, Facebook pages with local audiences, and local programs and events. According to Trewin, these trends are emerging because PR is becoming “less centrally controlled and uptight”. Trewin believes that the future will see more organizations pilot and invest in social sharing platforms that can reach clients, prospects and locals directly.

PR professionals need balance: Tiffany Farrington, Founder of Social Diary

Working in PR used to be about “money and titles”. But now it is about “work-life balance”, said Tiffany Farrington, the Founder of the Social Diary online network for PR and media.

Regardless of whether work-life balance revolves around more family time, freedom, or more time to explore personal projects, the trend towards flexible workplaces is making its mark. The United States has seen a growing phenomenon called “Summer Fridays”, where staff can leave work at about 1 or 2 pm in the afternoon. The panel also mentioned LinkedIn’s recent decision to grant its employees flexible, on-demand holidays for extended durations. Similar strategies that resound with workers’ interests may entice young professionals to stay longer than the industry average: only 18 months with one company, for junior and mid-level staff.

Perfecting tailored and branded content: Tory Maguire, Editor-in-chief, Huffington Post Australia

Since becoming Editor-in-chief of the recently-launched HuffPost Australia, Tory Maguire has observed a growing challenge for PR: tailoring content to specific platforms.

Internal PR initiatives at the Huffington Post, in particular Partner Studio, are helping brands to attract more followers through authentic storytelling. The panel debated the newsworthiness of branded content, which for some speakers meant the ability of content to stand alone—and be engaging and shareable—if stripped of its brand message.

Evolving budgets and business models: Allison Lee, Director of Media and PR for Destination NSW

Allison Lee foregrounded the rise of “budget-neutral news solutions” in PR. Once the exclusive domain of PR related to the travel industry, budget-neutral news is becoming widely expected, Lee said. As a result, PR firms are increasing their budgets by partnering with large corporates.

Another shift Lee observed is that more PR firms are viewing their staff as producers. This is a response to an emerging challenge for PR: developing new business models for broadcasted news based on the most engaged audiences—such as computer and tablet users—and the best return on investment.

Keeping up with consumer behavior: Jamie Verco, Lead Partner, N2N and Fuel Communications

We live in “an era of instant everything”, said PR innovator Jamie Verco. Immediacy is making consumers more discerning. Content, therefore, needs to be more relevant and convenient than ever before. PR agencies will need to adopt a range of strategies to keep apace with consumer behavior, including:
– diversifying agencies’ services to solve complex and non-traditional communications problems
– increasing agencies’ scale and networks of relationships
– developing professionals with world-class, specialist skills
– evolving agency structures to have a client-centric focus, and
– being open to new forms of communication and publication.

Audience insights

Audience members at the Creating the Future of PR forum were asked to describe in a few words their vision of the key issues and opportunities shaping the future of PR. Here is the “word cloud” they generated through Twitter-to-screen live interaction:

Across the diversity of ideas expressed at the event, PR professionals proved to be sanguine about the future they are helping to create. The opportunity to reflect upon this future and the quality of the ideas shared made the Creating the Future of PR forum a standout event.

What the Revised Barcelona Principles Mean or the Future of PR Measurement

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Five years ago the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) established the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, an overarching framework for the measurement of PR and communications.

AMEC has just announced a revised set of Barcelona Principles. The changes are shown in the image below, followed by an explanation of why the changes are made, and some reflections on the implications for the future of PR.

David Rockland, a partner at Ketchum and past Chairman of AMEC explained the changes:

If the original set of Principles focused more on “what not to do,” the updated Barcelona Principles of 2015 provide more guidance on “what to do,” in order to unite the ever-expanding media landscape into a transparent, reliable, and consistent measurement and evaluation framework.

Specifically:

  • We’ve widened the scope beyond PR measurement: The Barcelona Principles outline the basic principles of PR and overall communication measurement. We’ve reframed some of the language to emphasize that The Principles provide a basic foundation and are relevant and applicable to all organizations, governments, companies, and brands globally.
  • We’ve reinforced the importance of integration: We recognize that in an integrated communications environment, measurement must be integrated. This means integration across geographies (global and local), across methods (quantitative and qualitative), and across channels (including paid, earned, owned and shared media).
  • We’ve made a distinction between measurement and evaluation: In addition to the role of measurement, we’ve called out the role of evaluation – the actual process of using data to make a judgement on value and effectiveness of communication.
  • We’ve included more focus on qualitative: Qualitative information plays an important part in measurement and evaluation, often adding color and context that helps professionals understand “the why” behind the quantitative outcomes.
  • We’ve reinforced the need for all measurement and evaluation to be transparent, consistent and valid: We’ve provided more specific counsel on accepted methodologies for both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as suggested best practices for ensuring quantitative methods are reliable and replicable and qualitative methods are trustworthy.

In the big picture the changes to the Barcelona Principles are relatively subtle, reflecting that the original framework hit the key issues in PR measurement.

Point 5, that Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) does not measure the value of PR and communications, is perhaps the starting point. While AVEs have never made that much sense, arguably in a past in which almost all communication was through mainstream media, it wasn’t entirely unreasonable.

One of the main reasons that AVEs are even less meaningful today is that advertising is having an ever-diminishing impact, while effective communication through social channels is having a greater impact. Effective PR and communication is about engagement, not message dissemination; these are completely different domains.

It is by now blindingly obvious that social media can and should be measured. The issue now is being able to integrate the measurement of social media with that of other channels. Almost every effective campaign spans multiple channels, and there must be ways to bring these together in assessing value.

The new principles point to “organizational performance”, which is a definite improvement on “business results”. I would argue that the impact could potentially be even beyond that, in shaping the organization itself.

Of course the principles only provide a high-level framework. There are still many challenges in establishing specific, meaningful measurement structures within these principles. Over the next few years the focus should be on building another layer of consensus, or at least constructive debate, about the mechanisms for measurement.

The framework is in place. The opportunity now is to bring this to life in consistent measures that clients recognize and value.

From Key Messages to Keywords: PR needs to get with the program

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Many PR people still begin their strategy design with “what is our key message?” However, any good social media or SEO strategy begins with a consideration of what the common keywords are. Then you build a hierarchy of keywords and wrap the content strategy around that. The former approach fundamentally ignores what drives modern communications. Not only do most senior PR professionals ignore that reality, but many communications courses are taught by those who have not yet grasped this fact. As digital consultants fill the influence vacuum, are PR professionals in danger of obsolescence?

The Origins of Social Media

Before all the hysteria and glamour around Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard to remember that the roots of social media are in blogging, rather than Mark Zuckerberg’s imagination. If you think carefully about it, the very model of modern social media was defined by blogging. The post-comment-thread hierarchy is what has governed the way Facebook posts have been designed. Equally Twitter is basically a glorified, more user-friendly, RSS reader. Many would argue that despite the 2006 launch of Facebook, social media is already 15 to 20 years old.

Yet still the PR industry has struggled to respond to social media, despite the fact that the skill set of the typical PR professional is *perfectly* suited to the medium. Content production, audience analysis, influencer relations: the daily duties of a PR professional transpose perfectly into this new era. However, jealously guarding their network of journalist relationships and gate-keeper role, some PR people have attempted to either deny or subjugate social media.

The Rule of Word

When seeking to build greater influence, the most powerful tool is not even social media. It is SEO. Words have become the cogs that drive the Internet. Everything that happens on the internet begins with a search. How you rank in that search is fundamental to success. You can engineer that to some extent with advertising, and with web design and build. But the best way to do so is to be relevant to the machine. If Google thinks you are a consistent and regular purveyor of quality, well visited (and well shared) content on a given topic, you will rank well. This is today’s raw PR truth. Not which newspaper you are in. The advent of the paywall – and along with it the collapse of advertising budgets – has hammered the last nail into the newspaper’s coffin from the Internet’s point of view. Most successful media sites today owe more to blogs than to the newspaper model – you only have to look at BuzzFeed to understand this.

Despite the success of podcasting and Pinterest and YouTube, the written word is still the most significant publicity button to press. Consistent, unique and appreciated writing – however it is done – is what will drive most profile visits, web site traffic and – ultimately – outcomes (whatever they need to be). A video without tags and a good title is also a wasted effort. Google can’t watch videos!

Is Medium the Medium?

Blogger and WordPress were once powerful platforms. Everyone knows that Google is lazy and tends to tap the “usual suspects” for clues before it digs deeper. But as SEO as a discipline began to evolve, increasingly people began to embed blogging into their own website. Customized blogging templates are great for carefully managing your corporate look and the user experience. But in this departure there’s one aspect we’ve forgotten: Google’s sloth!

For video, the ultimate model established itself from the outset – the common platform. First YouTube and then Vimeo provided a simple upload interface and provides easy-to-use HTML code with which you could host videos on your website. But you still benefit from the “if you liked this, then you’ll like this” community reference engine. SlideShare did this well for slide decks too. But the written word has been missing a common platform for a long time, since WordPress began to decline as a destination.

Is Medium going to be the YouTube of the written word? Already many brands have ported their blogging efforts to Medium as an alternative platform to their own blogging site – take BMW or Burberry for instance. The interface is beautiful, it is incredibly easy to use and now that you can embed the post into your own site, you benefit from the SEO and social engines, as well as Medium’s own reference engine and community dynamic. Now you can use Medium as a hosting platform and benefit from the referential power – but embed the post directly into your site in the same way you do with YouTube.

Word Up!

Cleverly crafted key messages mean nothing anymore, Google only reads the distinct words, with only a passing appreciation of their context. The message itself is irrelevant because the Internet is arranged on topic clusters and communities that are found on single tag searches. Your social profile and web presence provides the extra context for those willing to look.

How you work the medium is what matters, not how carefully you draft your message sheet. Too many PR people are coaching for a dying medium. Consistency of message “in the media” is a microcosm of the wider game. How you play out on the Internet is what counts, and that depends on how many times your content hits the same keyword note. Google rankings, not coverage reports, are today’s PR battleground and scoreboard.

Seven Capabilities for the PR Agency of the (Near) Future

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Back in the day, PR agencies only needed two things to succeed – be a better than average writer and have a rolodex (aka database) of media contacts. (A bottle of scotch in the top desk drawer was optional.) While both of those are still important today, the complexity that’s been created with the popularity of social media and an unquenchable desire for visual content has added multiple new demands on the PR agency of today that will be in play well into the foreseeable future.

Given these trends, here are seven capabilities (including a variation of the two already mentioned) for the PR agency of the near future:

  1. Data capture and analytics – In the past, the only data you had to be able to analyze was the number of hits. Today, with so much data available on campaigns, trends and audience behavior, there’s really no excuse for a PR agency to say they can’t measure ROI. Notice the point here is that it’s data analytics not just data collection. All of that data only becomes actionable once it’s analyzed and that means having someone available who’s skilled at doing so. That means not only having data analysts on board, but making sure they’re trained in PR and having established processes in place.
  2. Social media measurement – Unfortunately, many PR firms and practitioners have resorted to simplifying this the same way two or three generations before them did with counting placements as the sum total of how to measure results. Today, there’s a mistaken comfort level in counting likes and follows (quantity) over engagement and referrals (quality). Since the popularity of social media channels is rapidly shifting with generations, measurement will continue to be difficult. But if agencies don’t get in the habit of doing this now, other entities will be doing it for them – and owning it as a result. Facebook, Twitter and Google offer a variety of free analytical tools to give you at least enough data to understand basic levels of reach and performance.
  3. Community engagement – Reams of paper and terabytes of text have been created about the importance of this. PR agencies have actually gotten quite good at it, but it’s quickly becoming commoditized. It doesn’t have to if you’re truly engaged with online communities. Take this example related to Kellogg’s the cereal company known for Corn Flakes and Froot Loops. After Tim Burgess lead singer for the Charlatans tweeted how the phrase “Totes Amazeballs” sounded like a type of cereal, Kellogg’s created a limited edition Totes Amazeballs cereal and released it via social media. That’s called true engagement and all it took was paying attention.
  4. Crisis communication in the 24/7 age – PR and crisis management have gone together like butter on toast. What has changed is the 24/7 news cycle and the ability of trolls to turn what may seem like a small complaint into a near life-threatening situation. The solution is to be hyper-vigilant about how any element of a campaign could be misconstrued, and by being hyper-responsive when things go south. Gone are the days when there was time to consider a response. While a crisis plan has always been a necessity (though often ignored until a crisis presented itself), it’s even more important today. And every possible contingency and response needs to be included.
  5. SEO and SEM – While most PR agencies are at least familiar with SEO, agencies that specialize in SEO are probably more aware of PR. They see the benefit of securing coverage with a link and are probably more in tune with how to make the most of it. PR agencies must become more adept and aware of how SEO works, but also look at how SEM complements it. Just because there’s marketing in the term, doesn’t mean PR should walk away and leave it to other types of agencies to understand and adopt it.
  6. Writing Varied Content for Different Media – Because content has become so vital and yet there’s so much of it, the need for good content that stands out from the rest is even more important. What’s changed is that PR agencies must learn to write well, write visually, and write about a lot of different topics. That means knowing how to use video and pictures to tell the story in ways that the written word alone cannot. This flies in the face of how PR has been taught and practiced with a reliance on the written word that is almost sacrosanct. But considering the prevalence and desire for more and more video content, that dependence on the written word alone will have to be broken.
  7. Influencer Relations – Having access to key media and influencers is still important to PR. No other element within the entire marketing umbrella can lay claim to this or should. Until every consumer who wants to can influence a reporter, publisher, blogger or editor, PR will still be the primary conduit for conveying information to the media. The conundrum today is the continually blurring line between the media and influencers who require a similar level of attention and relationship building. That line is apt to become even further out-of-focus as reporters are forced to both publish and promote their work and media outlets hire social media icons to create content.

In a couple of years, this list could look different, but any PR agency that embraces these seven capabilities now will be well-positioned for what the near-term future may hold.