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If less is more…

2 Oct

If less is more, then logically least is most of all. This takes us into the debates around Chris Anderson's latest book, Free.

Today we learn that the London Evening Standard is to be given away free, despite the closure of The London Paper.

It's easy to envisage there being a large market for free in the digital world (websites, music, software), but it remains harder to see the commercial case for free in the world of atoms (eg newspapers).

Somewhere in between free and expensive, we can anticipate the emergence of niche markets for 'less'. Here's Mark Simmons introducing his latest venture, USE LESS – a for-profit business in the US that's more about the message than the product (encouraging a more sustainable model of consumption). Simmons is the co-author of Punk Marketing; to make a full disclosure, he's also my brother in law.

Public relations literature barely touches on these concepts, even though a free model has long been built into the publicity and media relations models. Yet, in defending the excellence theory, Grunig and White wrote in 1992: 

‘In short, excellent organizations realize that they can get more of what they want by giving publics some of what they want.' 

The inherent compromises built into public relations (whichever model is practised) suggest PR should be flexible enough to cope with different business models – even free.

Reasons to love advertising

6 Aug

We'll miss it when it's gone. In a week when there's news of ITV's half year results being 'hit by the worst decline in UK television advertising on record' and when losses at News International (owners of The Sun and The Times) are causing a rethink on free access to the newspapers' news websites, now is a good time to consider what's so good about advertising.

  • The strict separation of editorial from advertising is important in defence of press freedom and in helping consumers make choices. (Public relations can tend to blur these boundaries).
  • The advertising-funding model has given us an abundance of free television, free magazines, free commercial radio and nearly-free newspapers as well as free websites and some free products. How much are we willing to pay to keep these?
  • Commercial-free spaces (such as the BBC) are welcome – but a world with no commercials would be a greyer place. Some of us can remember the communist Soviet Union; it was commercial-free, but there was no lack of government propaganda.
  • Advertising can be entertaining and even culturally important. Look at a newspaper of a hundred years ago, and the advertising is more interesting (because more culturally specific) than the news. Look at an old photograph of a street scene in a major city and you can date it from the transport, the fashions – and the advertising and branding.
  • I'll find it much harder to teach public relations to first year undergraduates without reference to advertising (young people are particularly responsive to advertising – and public relations concepts and practices are elusive at first).

Now for The Fall of PR

22 Jun

Humans need narratives to simplify the muddy complexity of life. These narratives (stories) sometimes become so compelling that they appear to be the truth. But a narrative isn't the truth, it's a convenient and sometimes prevalent world view.

Here's a compelling narrative. Ten years ago The Cluetrain Manifesto proclaimed that 'markets are conversations' and that marketers should stop shouting and start listening. The text wasn't comfortable reading for public relations practitioners, but it suggested they were closer to mastery of the conversational style needed in the online age. (The book was written in the early years of Google and before the rise of blogging, social networks and twitter.)

Then, in 2002, brand evangelists Al Ries and Laura Ries narrated 'The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR'. Their thesis turned the normal thinking upside down: 'You can't launch a new brand with advertising because advertising has no credibility. It's the self-serving voice of a company anxious to make a sale. You can launch new brands only with publicity or public relations (PR).'

In The Long Tail (2006), Chris Anderson turned to markets. The whole process of launches and hits was becoming less important than the aggregate sales available in niche markets over time. Publicity was becoming less important than discovery in our Google-mediated world.

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Authentic marketing and PR

10 Mar

It’s easy to get excited about the ‘new new thing’ and forget that principles don’t change that quickly. So when Anna Farmery described her farming ancestor bringing cattle to market, she said that he would be judged on his reputation. You see, reputation and social networks have always existed.

After a century of mass production supported by mass advertising, we’re returning to a more organic approach to marketing and promotion using social media tools like blogs and podcasts. (To keep the analogy going, some farmers are returning to organic principles in order to capture a more lucrative and sustainable niche. Remember that all farming was once organic so this approach is old, not new.)

One of these organic marketing promotional tools might be podcasting, but it is only a tool, not a strategy.

Most engaging of all, Anna spoke for over 90 minutes with little need for technology. Social media is often merely an attempt to replicate the authentic experience of people talking to people.

And the rise of PR (cont)

6 Mar

Fall_of_advertising_2Though I cited such marketing luminaries as Seth Godin, Philip Kitchen, Philip Kotler and Al Ries, my talk on this well-worn theme still seemed to surprise some MSc Marketing students.

So let’s hear from Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of marketing services group WPP, quoted in Media Guardian:

"I can’t recall a time when PR has been as strong," says Sorrell. "Something has changed and the reason for the change is online activity, where personal recommendation and personal communication have become more important. And it’s clearly editorial and it’s clearly not advertising based."

Love it or loathe it

16 Oct

I’ve always liked ‘word of mouth’ as a description. (I once hoped to register for my freelance business only to find that this domain name had already been snapped up.)

Others are suspicous of the phrase, fearing a loss of message control and doubting whether it can ever be practised ethically when used for marketing purposes.

So we have something powerful, rather ill-defined and in need of best practice guidelines. Sounds a bit like public relations… What we need is an industry association to show leadership. So I’m behind the new Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOM UK) which is being launched today at the Marketing Week word of mouth conference. It follows on from the well-established Word of Mouth Marketing Association in the US.

The ubiquitous Stuart Bruce is involved, which bodes well. My only quibble: that this shouldn’t just be about marketing. Its remit should also cover conversations, participation and democracry – the whole of the public sphere (the space in which public relations operates). I find the thought of a marketing sphere depressing, and not just because I’m reading JG Ballard’s bleak new novel, Kingdom Come.

False alt binaries

29 May

There’s something compelling about binary choices: Celtic or Rangers? Labour or Conservative? Montague or Capulet? Yet they’re frequently false alternatives.

What about PR or marketing? The issue interests writers and academics who aim to position and pigeonhole; the issue interests practitioners who are lobbying for influence or budgets; and it interests young people who are deciding whether a marketing or public relations degree will look better on their CV and provide good career prospects.

Prmarketing So as an aid to them (and as a provocation to almost everyone else), the picture shows how I would explain this false binary alternative to those choosing between PR and marketing for a course or a career.

Bare-faced cheek

19 Mar

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Advertising is dead…

30 Jan

…Long Live Advertising! So reads the title of a recent book by Tom Himpe.

It’s mentioned in a good feature on viral, buzz, stealth and guerilla marketing techniques in The Guardian’s G2 section today.

Whenever marketing and advertising’s reinvented, have you noticed how frequently it ends up looking like a version of public relations?

Psst, pass it on

9 Nov

Wom_conference I recommend an interesting conference on Word of Mouth Communications in London on 1 December 2006. Speakers include Mark Borkowski and Andy Green. ‘If you are not managing your word of mouth, you are not managing your communications.’

This approach provides a healthy perspective on blogs… The purpose isn’t blogging, it’s communications. Simon Collister gives the blogger’s perspective at the conference.

You can book through Don’t Panic.