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PR and the media

7 Jan

[Notes and links for use in class]

Media selection used to be easy – a straight choice between editorial and advertising. It’s a more complex picture now.

The world’s largest public relations firm – the one that remains independent of advertising agencies – is now talking up media partnerships in the form of sponsored content. It (Edelman) has appointed a new ‘head of sponsored content and media partnerships‘.

Ian Burrell, writing in the Independent, thinks that the availability of new channels means that ‘the PR industry and its clients would rather reduce the press to the margins’.

While ‘advertorials’ were always an unlovely (and unloved) hybrid, they’ve been given a boost under their newer name, ‘native advertising’. But Is native advertising really anything new?

This world of sponsored content is widely known as content marketing. Yet read these 7 Tips for Effective Content Marketing and tell me how many are not the domain of (traditional) public relations? Number 6 perhaps – though even then the PR approach seems to me to be trumping blatant SEO.

Content marketing may sound like a new concept to some, but Mark Schaefer argues in Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy that the boom is already over and it will become increasingly ineffective and uneconomic.

And there are still some voices speaking up for these traditional PR approaches. Alex Singleton has a new book out called The PR Masterclass. He argues in a blog post for PR to be done better rather than to be radically rethought.

Stephen Waddington is a moderniser envisaging a future for public relations beyond media relations. Yet his 10 areas of work in progress for public relations opens with an acknowledgment that it’s hard to change traditional workflows.

PR v SEO: it’s a question of source credibility

24 May

What’s the difference between a PR hustler chasing media mentions and a digital executive chasing links? Conceptually, none at all. Hence the rather useful phrase SEO PR that’s increasingly being used.

In practice, though, there is a difference between an SEO pitch and a PR pitch. Google knows this and is tightening the screws on SEO tactics through its latest update (Penguin 2.0).

SEO and PR both seek the same outcome, but use different approaches (as do PR and advertising).

The SEO executive typically sends a message to a site owner (often an amateur blogger) offering to write a ‘guest post’. They never say who they are of who they represent, though they send links to other articles they’ve written on the topic of their pitch. The purpose of the (spurious) post is solely to link back to whichever site needs boosting. It’s like the fraudster keen to be photographed with famous people so they can assume some of their credibility.

The PR executive also approaches a media site (professional or amateur) with some form of content: a news release, a comment,  a potential feature or an interview opportunity. The PR approach does not hide the purpose of the approach (promoting the client) leaving the recipient to judge the content on its merits.

When I receive pitches, I make a snap judgement on whether it’s an SEO pitch or a PR pitch. The initial difference is the credibility of the source. Further down the line, the PR practitioner should also value relationships whereas the SEO industry is ravenous for links and hits and gives little or no thought to the value of longer-term relationships.

Some will think this a classic example of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’. Yet I find it encouraging that PR people are no longer the most egregious examples of internet spam. Google’s pursuit of the genuine over the fake is now playing into the hands of PR people who have a valuable role in exchanging valued content and links and developing relationships.

It’s a while since I’ve read an SEO expert proclaiming that ‘PR is dead’. Memes can die too.

My life in technology

3 Apr

On the eve of a milestone birthday, I've been looking back on the technologies that have inspired or influenced me.

1960s: The space race. I don't remember JFK's commitment at the start of the decade to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, though I've since read this speech. But I do remember the grainy black and white images of the space walk, and the famous fluffed line: 'one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind'.

Perhaps it wasn't such a giant leap, but it was a galvanising moment. Like all primary school children in the sixties, I thought life by the year 2000 was going to be a pill-popping space adventure. Wrong.

1970s: This was the hard one, as it was a decade of inflation and industrial decline. But my paragraphs above give some clues. For me, the seventies was about Concorde and colour television.

I remember the sight of Concorde on its test flights above Bristol in about 1970 and can still recall the name of the test pilot – Brian Trubshaw.* We now know Concorde to have been an expensive failure, but it was a technical and aesthetic triumph and a sign of the international cooperation that continues with Airbus at the same Filton site today.

It's hard to imagine what colour televison meant, but for the only time in my life I was willing to watch golf because of the green, green grass. I could have looked out of the window, of course, but television held my attention.

1980s: Though computers were a rarity at the start of the decade and I had paid someone to type up my hand-written university dissertations, the technology of the eighties that most excited me was the personal computer.

Acorn or BBC Micro? Mac or IBM PC? PC or PS/2? These were compelling quesions and by the middle of the decade I was shuttling between magazine offices in London and New York reporting on business technology. By the end of the decade I was a public relations consultant with some of the best clients in the global technology industry.

1990s: Windows and the World Wide Web. Those early PCs were standalone, with monochrome screens, and running MS-DOS. Windows 3.0 was a revelation when launched in 1990. Thought the importance of the operating system is now diminished because of the World Wide Web, I will group them together in my review of the decade. I wasn't a web early adopter, but I created my first personal web page in 1995.

2000s: Smartphones and the social web. Tim Berners-Lee had the vision, but most of us did not have the technology or the bandwidth to realise the potential until this decade. I'd been talking about internet telephony and internet appliances in the 1990s and it had seemed fanciful. Now Skype is unremarkable and we're talking about the 'internet of things'. The social web is a reminder that technology is not the answer in itself; it's how people use technology that's exciting.

I'd been testing not-very mobile phones in the 1980s; owning smaller ones throughout the 1990s, but it's only in the last decade that the promise of the mobile internet has become a reality (remember WAP?). 

* I now remember much less, relying increasingly on Google to act as my memory bank. 'The cloud' deserves a mention in this review (that talk of PCs and operating systems is an irrelevance now.)

How I read blogs

23 Feb

I know. There's already something quaint about the word, and 'weblogs' looks archaic now.

Besides, it's hard to define something that runs from Twitter updates (microblogs) via Tumbr and WordPress to fully-fledged content management systems. How can you compare a student's blog with the Huffington Post (sold for $315m)?

So how do I read frequently-updated webpages created by PR students and practitioners? Here are some personal tips:

  • First of all, I have to know you're out there. If you want to encourage people to your blog, put the link on your Twitter profile page and comment on other people's blogs (this will embed a hyperlink back to your site). Start networking and start sharing.
  • On your blog or website, make sure you've updated your About entry. It's the first thing I look at when checking out new blogs, and it should be the first thing you fix.
  • I often read blog entries in Google Reader and only click through if I want to comment or check another page. So, for me, blog design is less important than blog content.
  • I might look at how many comments you receive, but it's not a show stopper. Seth Godin's impressive, but he gets no comments at all (he doesn't allow them).
  • How often do you post? There's no simple answer, but less frequently than monthly and your blog looks untended. You need to cut the grass regularly in the summer.
  • Here's my hierarchy. First, I need to find you; then I'll subscribe to your blog; finally, if I want to recommend you I may add you to my 'blogroll'. Gain attention, merit interest, earn trust.

Google in China

23 Mar

Tinananmen square google Google's move into China was justified on business grounds, though the company's idealistic 'don't be evil' motto suffered through the compromise of delivering censored search results.

But at least the censoring was made apparent to Chinese web users, and among the many obligations imposed on business, obeying the laws of the land is an important one.

Now Google has moved its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong, where search results are currently uncensored. Google is winning the PR war at this stage (by publishing information on the extent of any blocking), though the Chinese authorities have shown that they're acutely aware of their international reputation – and they've shown that they're learning lessons in public relations. It will be interesting to see what their next move is.

More openness or more control? And what role do the many thousands of Chinese students studying in the west play: they can be powerful international advocates for their government, or useful intermediaries in a potential clash of cultures.

Search and reputation optimisation

6 Jan

Domainrenewal2 One day on from my rant about Domain Renewal Group, and Google has ranked my post higher than the company's own website (for the admittedly rather odd search string 'pop domain renewal group'). I know this because someone found my blog having typed this search in Belgium.

Other recent visitors to PR Studies came here having entered 'meaning PR', 'dissertation public relations', 'why want to work in PR', 'emergence social media public relations'.

This is a fair overview of this blog's content over several years – and a hint of what I should write more about if I'm to attract more visitors through search.

Domain Renewal Group, it may be legal but it’s not ethical

5 Jan

In a world of email and electronic communication, an official-looking letter carries extra credibility.

Domainrenewalgroup  When what looks to be a bill reminding me of the need to renew the domain arrived, correctly addressed to me, I wondered whether I needed to act. I had only changed the registrar last year so at first sight this letter looked believable.

The only thing is, it's not from my registrar. The information that gave the letter credibility (the domain name, my name and address) are all in the public WHOIS record – exposing the limits of transparency.

This is an attempt to snare business unwittingly. On re-reading the letter it's carefully worded ('as a courtesy to domain name holders…') to avoid untruths – but you can be legal and still unethical.

It's another example of legal advice running counter to public relations advice. This is a reputational issue: Google search results give many warnings of this attempted scam, so I'm posting this to add my voice.

You only spin when you’re winning

12 Jun

It's a potent criticism of public relations. That we shout loud when there's good news to tell, but go very quiet when there's nothing new to say. Kevin Moloney calls it 'hemispheric communications' because the PR sun only shines on one side of the globe.

There are new updates to Behind the Spin, focused around the themes of consultancy and technology (as well as the usual advice for students and graduates).

Consultancyissue Our cover picture illustrates a PR consultancy in Second Life.

That was something worth shouting about in 2006; but what's happening now?

I can't blame the consultants for treating Second Life (and other social spaces) as a playground – nor even for shouting about this – since how else can they attract and advise clients?

But I'm left wondering what happened next.

A guide to Twitter for PR

30 Jan

Much of the current chatter about Twitter lacks persective: it's like a running commentary on a child's first steps. But Drew B's Guide to Twitter is practical and intellectual too – it's started a discussion about whether this is primarily a broadcast or a messaging system. Useful and interesting.

The shock of the new

5 Sep

LeedsmetMy first impression of the new design for our university website was negative. I thought it looked like a sports news channel. (Thanks to Wayback Machine, here’s a snapshot of how the home page looked five years ago.)

My second impression (I’ve been living with it for a week now) is much more positive. I think it’s a brilliant innovation to turn a university in the direction of YouTube. Not just sports, but news and teaching can be delivered by video, and it’s a medium designed to appeal to young people.

I’ve also taken a look at the Quarkbase results to view a dashboard of data on this website. Unfortunately, Quarkbase will only search for top level domains (eg, not subsidiary sites (such as so it’s not best suited for blog monitoring.