Brace yourself for some pretty broad generalisations.
As an ex-public-relations-consultant turned-magazine-publisher, I have some strong views about the world’s oldest form of marketing.
Love them or hate them, PRs perform an important function – largely helping inept marketing managers and business owners communicate with the media in ways that don’t make the already over-stuffed craniums of news men and women explode in frustration.
There are two services that public relations people are very good at:
1. Guiding their clients away from news people on deadline:
Five PM might be a convenient time for you to put in that media call that’s been haunting you all day and launch into an unstructured waffle about your idea, widget, product, service, political views, etc. But for most media players, the only thing we want to hear at 5pm is the sound of deadlines being met – not the sound they make as they whoosh past our ears due to an ill-considered distraction.
2. Simplifying corporate speak and providing us with information in a hurry:
Your marketing guy/gal or CEO might think that words like ‘synergy’ and ‘leverage’ make your organisation sound polished and professional. But when dealing with the media, call a spade a spade. For example, if you are a garden hose manufacturer, don’t tell us that you provide “end-to-end liquid transfer solutions” (true story). And please, provide us with the information you promised in a timely fashion. Once the deadline has past, so has your chance of media coverage.
There is a third way that many public relations professionals can better meet the needs of their clients and stakeholders. And that’s by limiting their tendency to treat online media as second best.
It’s my contention that most PRs still don’t ‘get’ online media.
For most PRs, good online coverage on a popular website is barely worth a hardy slap on the back. At the same time, a page seven, two-inch mention in the ‘Back-Water Regional Times’ is often treated as an excuse to pop the champagne.
I, too, for a long time, was guilty of this black hole in logic.
In 2007, I recall being asked to participate in an online podcast with digital media maven Cameron Reilly on his TPN website. I was busy and kept putting the interview off.
Fortunately, a colleague had my back, pulled me aside and explained to me the way things were:
“TPN attracts over 120,000 listeners. The Australian newspaper attracts over 110,000 readers. Would you make time for The Australian?”
Of course I would! I’d clear an afternoon.
So why was I so underwhelmed by the prospect of online coverage? Was it because online is transient, while print is seemingly permanent?
On one level my prejudice might have been true (you can put your newspaper or magazine clipping in a scrap-book). But two years on, the TPN website still drives traffic to anthillonline.com and I am still approached by strangers at networking events who downloaded the podcast, liked what they heard, remember what was discussed and want to have a chat.
Talk about great PR!
It’s unlikely that even a picture piece in The Australian would have a similar result. In fact, I appeared in The Australian last month. The result? Zilch. Nothing. Nix (except for a phone call from a distant aunty).
Yet, a day doesn’t go by when the following doesn’t occur: A PR person pitches us a story for our print magazine. We offer to run something online. His/her interest immediately fades.
This is occurring at a time when online media usage is outstripping traditional media. Incidentally, earlier this year, the number of unique users visiting our website in one month doubled our print circulation (when that was a major part of our model).
So, what are we to do about our laggard friends?
Firstly, we should acknowledge that it’s not all their fault. Like anyone operating in a service industry, PRs put a lot of stock in the advice and direction of their clients. But that doesn’t mean that they should become victims of their client’s expectations. (Let’s face it, most PR clients couldn’t tell the difference between an ad and a news story. That’s why they engage agencies in the first place!)
As such, I find it hard to resist saying, ‘PRs. It’s time to take a teaspoon of cement and…’ You know the rest. 😉
If you work in PR and you need some hard data to back up your claims when confronting one-eyed, print obsessed clients, but don’t want to invest in Nielsen Ratings, just log onto compete.com or alexa.com.
These services might not be the most reputable measures of traffic but they’re usually enough to dazzle the most ardent luddite with their many buttons and changeable graphs. Plus, they’re both free (so you need not even pass theme off as another client expense).
Further, the Audit Bureaux of Australia – which covers Australia’s two print auditors: the Audit Bureau of Circulation and the Circulations Audit Board – launched its own web auditing service in June.
According to mumbrella, “the ABA Web Audit Service is being run by Nielsen Online, which places tags from its Market Intelligence system on websites to verify publishers’ traffic claims.”
We all get the internet, piped into our laptops and PCs (particularly a business audience). So, why don’t PRs and their clients ‘get’ it? We’re listening.