Where do we start with online communications?

The sadly deceased comedian Dave Allen had a great story about how he got lost driving around rural Ireland and after driving in circles he finally spotted an elderly farmer working at the side of an otherwise deserted road.  He pulled up beside him and asked for directions.  The farmer looked slowly up and down the road, then back into Allen’s eyes and said “well I wouldn’t start from here”.

This came to mind earlier in the week when I was giving a talk and was asked: “Is there any reliable way of knowing what online tools, channels or networks are here for the long term?”

My answer: No not really.

In fact, if I knew the answer I’d probably be at home counting my cash rather than writing this post.

The reality is that we don’t really know. We know what’s “hot” today, we might know what people are using, but is there a guarantee that Facebook will forever more be the pre-eminent social network? Nope.

Did you think we needed a new search engine when we had Yahoo! and Alta Vista? Don’t be silly.

I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Charles H. Duell, a representative from the patent office in 1899:


Everything that can be invented has been invented.


The reality is we can make some educated guesses on how people are and will communicate in the future but we can’t be certain.  Whereas rapid innovation for the newspaper business over hundreds of years was the introduction of the tabloid format and colour printing, the online world is in constant flux by comparison – albeit much of the ‘new new thing’ is transitory.

What we do know from a PR perspective is that significant audiences are finding information online. Similarly people are connecting and communicating online.

Know the audience

The key thing here is your audience. 

Know your audience and develop your programmes to reach them where they are and how they want it.

Because changes to the media were slow and gradual in the past we had the luxury of time.  Now things move a little more quickly – by the way I haven’t changed by stance on the continuing importance of traditional media, that’s a given in this conversation.

For example: If you know your target audience is using Bebo, MySpace or Facebook then you can engage with them (carefully and respectfully) successfully now.  It doesn’t matter if these sites will disappear or morph into something else, strike while the iron is hot. Unlike traditional media we don’t have the luxury of just waiting to see what emerges at the end, we might be waiting for years, but if we know our audience we can start to engage today.

Of course the key word here is ‘if’. I do not advocate rushing into wasting money and resources on a hunch.  You need to be pragmatic. But if you have invested in understanding your audience then you might be in a position to execute a very successful campaign online. If you don’t have that knowledge leave the money in the bank until you do. 

Content is king

Maybe we also need to move away from thinking about channels and tools for a little while and look at how we communicate.

Obviously everyone is aware of the YouTube phenomenon. Indeed many PR campaigns now have a (ahem) “viral” element. But we’re only scratching the surface. Maybe we should be thinking more about (how about this for a early 1990’s phrase) multimedia.

Providing customers with compelling video, podcasts and text.

A hat tip to the folks how have been championing the social media release for years. 

I still believe the humble press release has a useful life mind you, but in the art of storytelling we have a lot of work to do.

We’re on a journey, we might be lost, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to stop off once in a while and get things done. We just need to think about it, prepare properly and measure it – unfortunately we have to start from here. :-)

PS: The McMcClenahan-Bruer blog has a nice example of how well thought out traditional marketing is every bit as effective.  It’s about understanding your audience and making the right investments online and offline.

Another PR blogger from Ireland emerges…

Well we now have six hardy souls from the PR community on the island of Ireland baring their most intimate thoughts through the medium of blogs.

Conall McDevitt, managing director of Weber Shandwick in Northern Ireland is now blogging, the first PR blog in the North (as far as I know).

In the true spirit of blogging I am dedicating my own precious personal time to track to fast growing PR blogging community around our wet, windswept rock on the Westerly reaches of Europe. 

I don’t want any plaudits, no I am happy to dedicate my time.

With the recent growth I am currently considering deploying SQLServer to help me manage the data volume….

The full up-to-date list is:

Man, we are on the cutting edge here :-)

I love the smell of newsprint in the morning

“Nothing will motivate a blogger to link to a particular blog or article, more than content that supports her or his opinion.” – Murphy’s Law’s Law (first in an occasional series)

I, among many others, believe that the changing media landscape will be less revolutionary – certainly in the short-term – than the digerati would have you believe.

There will of course be change, traditional publishers will have to address the growing online audience but newsagents won’t have to find an alternative for those news stands anytime soon.

In support of that view, Andrew Smith quotes a feature from UK trade magazine FullRun which finds that print continues to be the primary medium…

“These days, it’s becoming fashionable for tech PR agencies to quietly criticize clients who display a continuing preference for print-based coverage. But if Thurman and Duncan are correct, it’s hard to criticize
anyone who thinks that print still plays a major role in influencing buyers and significant others.”

This issue is covered in today’s episode of the ever-excellent For Immediate Release. Guest contributor Sallie Goetsch references a survey from Deloitte: The State of the Media Democracy which finds that:

“72 percent enjoy reading magazines over finding the same information online”


And in case you think we’re just talking about “old” people, 71% of the young ‘uns agreed….

John Collins points to a related item , Jack Trout has some advice for traditional publishers in Forbes.

“In my estimation, newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have to pursue a similar “read only at” strategy. They have to work hard at aggressively branding their writers such as The Times‘ Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman. The more powerful these brands become, the more I’ll have to buy the paper or pay to read them on the Internet. Also, the more I’ll be willing to pay for the paper. The sports world understands this. If Tiger Woods isn’t in the tournament, television ratings take a big hit. Why do you think that Los Angeles soccer team paid so much to get Beckham to kick a ball around?”

So there you go.  It appears there’s life in the old dog yet. 

But then I would say that wouldn’t I?

Friday: Interesting approach to audience management…

I have to say I often enjoy reading the fine rants and general insults provided by the UK’s (if not the world’s ahem) best PR curmudgeon: “The World’s Leading…”

Today they have an amusing post on how they’re not happy with their growing readership and in fact they are finding that more readers means less quality comments.

They’re evaluating how to “manage” their readership.

Here’s their graph on reader volume:

Graph courtesy of The World’s Leading… [course I didn’t ask]

Of course I don’t condone this sort of thing at all. That goes without saying….


I read most blogs by RSS, does that mean I’m part of the problem or am I being too literal? :-)

Your online audience is different…

Picture yourself standing in a public space waiting for a friend to arrive. A complete stranger sidles up beside you.  He catches your attention and whispers: “Buy Tom Murphy Inc. stock, they’ve just won a major contract.” Then just as quickly the stranger moves to the next person beside you and does the same thing.

What are the chances of you buying the stock? Pretty low I’d imagine.

Yet spammers do the online equivalent (500 million times in fairness) and Prime Time Group stock goes through the roof.

I think this gives us three insights:

1) People are less sophisticated online than they are in the real world

2) We treat online information differently

3) I’d question Darwin’s theories on evolution…

So, how does this impact PR? Is education and influence easier online?

Search me.

Good Communications: What’s luck got to do with it?*

*This post was originally titled: “Practicing how to get lucky” but the more smutty minded among you have kindly informed me that the title may have suggested content unlikely to be found on a part-time Public Relations blog! :-)

Success takes time, planning and effort. 

Success rarely falls into your lap.  In the oft-quoted words of Gary Player, “the more I practice, the luckier I get”.

Take Todd Andrlik‘s Power 150 list which has now been adopted by Advertising Age. To make the top 150 you need to be relevant, well read and be willing to invest your time in your blog.

That’s what the folks at the top 150 places have done and those who will hold those placings in the future are doing now.

I come in at #172 and I’ve no quibbles with that – in fact I’m secretly impressed – though obviously that’s less of a secret as of about eleven words ago.

Over the past five years, my blog authorship has gone from manic, to dormant, to “managed” – this is what managed looks like.

The same can be said of good communications.

Good, breakthrough, communication demands effort, planning, time and application.

It’s not easy. It typically involves effort, time and yes sometimes some luck.

We all know that information volumes are continuing to grow.  We all know that PR people are struggling to balance traditional communications activities with new online channels. But that can’t be an excuse for shoddy pitching to blogs or journalists

Let’s be honest here, it’s not just about the brave new online world.  This was an issue long before the Internet.

We need to think about our pitching habits.

If, and it’s a big if, the rise of social networking starts to see good professionals being favoured (more than they are already) by bloggers and media, where does it leave you? Is it worth that badly written, badly targeted, irrelevant e-mail to the journalist or blogger?

Which is worse: not pitching or pitching badly?

As we move online, I think the latter is probably more damaging.

Think before you press send.

The poverty of Web 2.0

I think this quote from Herbert Simon, which I have hastily lifted from Mr. Smith’s blog is worth considering today:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Think about it….

PR and HR… the rebel alliance…

MyRagan’s fictional blogger Cassandra has a recent diatribe on her dealings with HR which has generated a lot of discussion on the site.

The post was well timed because the relationship between PR and HR is something I have been thinking about for some time.

However, I think I am coming to it from a different angle! :-)

PR people often have a unique perspective across the depth and breadth of an organization.  Our work with different divisions and departments gives us excellent visibility and one of the only other departments that has that reach is HR.

Whether working in-house or on the agency side I have always found that HR is a fantastic partner.  Often our objectives are aligned and the HR folks can provide additional perspective that is an incredible asset for any PR practitioner.

The reality today is that people are the number one asset for every company on the planet – and people are at the centre of any successful PR campaign.

For me a strong working relationship with HR is an absolutely non-negotiable for PR. Building that relationship is essential for every PR practitioner whether you are in-house or on the agency side. The benefits, from better insight into internal challenges to increased PR opportunities are worth every minute of your time.

My advice is understand HR’s challenges and objectives.  Align yourself with them and you will create a fantastic environment which will have a positive impact on your internal and external communications programmes.

It’s all about building a strong partnership. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.