When someone follows through on a bet that he will change his name to ‘Public Relations’ if a friend can get more Twitter followers than him, you know he’s either very passionate about the industry he works in or he’s a little, um, ‘unbalanced’. Or both.
So when Rich Leigh (sorry, I mean Public Relations) announced he was publishing a book about some of the rubbish that is written and spoken about the industry he is named after, it immediately piqued my interest. And I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint.
Myths of PR covers 18 commonly-held beliefs and misconceptions about the industry, from ‘all publicity is good publicity’ to ‘PR is all spin’ to ‘you have to be an extrovert to succeed in PR’. It tackles them head-on and in clear, easy-to-read and understand language.
You know when your auntie/friend/mate’s mum asks what you do and you struggle to put it into words? This book puts it into words by combating the conclusions that people jump to before they jump to them.
My wife coined a phrase a few years ago to describe what I do as a digital communications consultant. She says that I “talk to people about talking to people” [ © Michelle Sutton]. Hmmm…I might get her to read Myths of PR.
Anyway, with this book Rich cuts through a lot of the bullshit that surrounds an industry that seems to be almost protective of its ‘dark art’ status. Because PR is not rocket science, really it isn’t. And Mr Relations goes some way to proving it within these 200 pages.
Each and every chapter in Myths of PR is immaculately researched and referenced. Rich pulls on the words, experience and knowledge of countless people to disprove nuggets such as ‘PR is a silver bullet’ and ‘the media ignores good news’.
With my own focus being on social and digital media communications, there are a few chapters that stand out for me.
Myth 2: PR Results Can’t Be Measured
OK, so it’s a bugbear of mine that I’ve written and spoken about many times. At Digital Download recently I presented an evaluation model for social media that is centred around what really matters – business ROI – and that places content marketing metrics in context with that.
In this chapter, Rich discusses the ‘PR as an awareness driver’ argument, rightly slams AVE and talks about the limitations of the Barcelona Principles, good-intentioned though they are. But where it comes to life is where he looks at measuring Google. “Google Analytics, and specifically Google Goals, is the PR industry’s saviour”, he says.
The rest of the chapter runs through how to set up Google Goals and how to use it to illustrate the real business value of PR activity, and then how to start to measure its SEO benefit. As such, it provides great background reading on why you should be doing this stuff if not quite how.
Myth 6: You Have to Pay to See Social Media Benefits
This is an interesting one. Rich lays out a very valid and compelling case in this chapter for not needing an ad budget (no matter how small) to support a social media campaign. But fundamentally…I disagree with him.
There is nothing wrong with the 15 tips to build an audience contained within this chapter. They’re all sound and, when you’ve been doing this for ten years, all common sense. Likewise, the section on gaming Facebook’s algorithm is not ‘wrong’ as such. In terms of the title of the chapter, you do not have to pay to use social media for marketing.
The approach Rich talks about is too simplistic. It, to some extent, ignores how social networks has and are evolving (particularly Facebook). And while some companies and brands can undoubtedly use this approach to achieve an element of marketing ‘success’, most others will struggle.
To be clear, the approach is not misleading. But can you scale social media without a paid budget? In my experience over ten years and with numerous brands and award-winning campaigns under my belt, not on a consistent basis, no. It’s quite simply too time-consuming and too resource-heavy.
Paid media is not the enemy here. It is a fundamental part of content amplification. And if you’re going to all the effort of creating great content and building relationships and all the other good things that Rich emphasises, why wouldn’t you want to amplify that content to a carefully selected target audience?
Essentially, I guess what I’m saying is that the Myth that this chapter addresses misses the point in the first place.
Myth 9: You Can Make Something Go Viral
This is something I do agree with Rich on. Completely and unequivocally.
“Every time the word viral is uttered and isn’t in relation to disease, there is a PR person somewhere that falls down dead”, he quips. And he’s right. Sort of.
This chapter breaks down exactly why you can’t make something go viral, citing Gangnam Style, the ice bucket challenge and happy Chewbacca in the process. Read it and weep (with joy).
Here’s the news: there is no magic formula. And if there was I wouldn’t be writing this; I’d be sunning myself on the beach of my own, private Caribbean island.
Myth 15: Consumers Want Conversations with Brands
I don’t know about you, but my best friends on Twitter are brands. Said no-one ever.
As Rich eloquently points out in this chapter, due to the ease with which brands can now communicate with customers, they now all want to be friends with them. It’s a marketing approach that has come about as a consequence of the accepted wisdom that push marketing doesn’t work on social media, which it doesn’t, and of people like me saying you need to listen to people on social media, which you do.
The phrase ‘it’s all about the conversation’ was popular a few years ago and it was, at best misleading, at worst just plain wrong. Many marketers interpreted the word ‘conversation’ as inane chat, when all it really meant was a two-way dialogue.
People do want to talk to brands. They do want brands to be human and personable and responsive and empathetic and helpful. But they want to talk to them about things that matter to them. The sooner marketers wake up to the fact that people don’t want to be mates with brands, the better.