What Exactly is ‘Always-On’?

ALWAYS ONOver the last few months I’ve noticed a phrase being used in conjunction with social media marketing with increasing regularity. Indeed, in the last couple of weeks I’ve had no less than three clients or prospective clients say to me that they want to adopt an ‘always-on’ approach.

But what exactly does that mean? It’s become a bit of a buzzword that, I feel, is being thrown around with gay abandon without any real understanding of the implications.

So let’s take a look at its origins and what it means to different people. To start with, we need to visit February 3rd 2013.

The History of Real-Time

Shortly before 7.30pm local time during Super Bowl XLVII, the floodlights failed. (It was later blamed on Beyonce’s power-sapping half time show, but that’s another story.) As the stadium went black, social media lit up with people talking about the incident.

Inside of 30 minutes, Oreo published this now infamous tweet:

It was, and still is, a remarkable piece of fast, creative and relevant advertising from a brand that clearly had its finger on the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist. And it was no accident; Oreo had been preparing for such a moment since the previous October.

With those 21 characters and single, simple image, Oreo created a gold rush and the real-time marketing craze was borne.

But this wasn’t the first example of ‘real-time’ in action. Far from it. Technological techniques were first developed in the mid 1990s alongside the deployment of CRM solutions in major banking and telecommunications companies.

And in reality, the concept of leveraging the news agenda to generate publicity had been used by the PR industry for many, many years. Decades, perhaps. The term ‘newsjacking’ was popularised by David Meerman Scott in 2010 to describe the activity of injecting ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage.

But social media, and Oreo in particular, took it to a whole new level.

What followed that pivotal Super Bowl moment was a year of rather disastrous attempts by brands to jump on the latest bandwagon. And most got it very badly wrong. The birth of Prince George in July 2013 was a particular low point, with endless brands trying to be clever and relevant but ending up looking silly.

Within 18 months, most brands had given up on real-time marketing, realising that it was very difficult to get right. To put it bluntly, they sucked at it. And that left the door open for those who do understand the mindset of real-time to step forward; the likes of the Specsavers and the Paddy Powers.

How Did We Get From ‘Real-Time Marketing’ To ‘Always-On’?

To some, ‘always-on’ is just real-time marketing under a different name. It means being responsive and opportunistic to creatively take advantage of what’s happening in the world no matter when it happens. To others it’s more about users; following what they’re doing and, crucially, when they’re doing it. For others still, it’s a behaviour.

A few weeks ago, Mark Schaefer and Tom Webster recorded an episode of their Marketing Companion podcast about the failure of real-time marketing. Tom spoke of Oreo having set a “dangerous precedent” and of his dislike of the practice. Mark on the other hand defended it by explaining it as “awareness to engagement to action” and using popular culture as the start point for the awareness part of this path.

This interesting discussion highlighted for me this issue over how different people believe ‘always-on’ to be very different things.

Definitions of ‘always-on’ are as numerous as the brands experimenting with it. Out of curiosity and, admittedly, to illustrate the point, I asked my networks what they think the term means. And the volume and variety of responses surprised even me.

How is Always-On Defined?

“It’s a blog or a social channel that’s up-to-date and topical with regular posts”, says Rhys Gregory.

“Being alert”, says Gary Day Ellison succinctly.

“The expectation that all channels are fully manned at all times; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”, says Gemma Went.

See what I mean? Diverse.

An interesting take on this came from Louise Lloyd, who says: “For me, always-on is a personality type. It means that your senses are alert and you’re always looking for opportunities. It’s not a choice; I am whether or not I want to be. You can definitely see or feel this in people.”

As someone who believes completely in the principles of real-time marketing done well, I agree with Louise’s view. It’s very much a mindset. And yet, this ‘definition’ is no more or no less accurate than those offered by Rhys, Gary and Gemma.

This is perhaps echoed by Alex Pearmain, who says: “It means at least three things in my experience; a personal attention model for marketers themselves, a media buying/planning model, and a brand strategy where the focus is on being reactive and opportunistic over planned and proactive.”

Linking these three threads, Chris Owen’s view is that always-on shows “how people are always connected and always listening; always plugged in; and always open to marketing”. He think it’s a sign of how “bubble-led” we’ve become. “From a brand perspective, it’s a lot of plates to juggle and a lot of work to filter”, he says. “You can’t choose when to engage and interact as a brand – you need to do it 24/7. If the user is always on, you need to be too, and that creates lots of noise. It’d be impossible to respond to everything for some major brands, and yet everyone will expect to be heard.”

Does Always-On Mean 24/7?

The issue of always-on implying 24/7 cover isn’t even something that people agree on. “I see always-on in digital as 24/7, primed to jump on opportunities, identify influencers and create added value content at short notice”, says Kate Reynolds. “It’s destined for frictions and frustrations though because of client approval processes and the resource v results issue. Another take would be ‘always available’ if we need you.”

And while Danny Brown says he defines it as being constantly available or at the very least always contactable, he says it’s also “unreasonable. It sets expectations of being available at stupid times of the day that can’t be met if you don’t have the budget/resources to scale.”

And yet Lucy Downing goes against this availability definition. She describes it as “day to day communications that bring key brand message or values to life. Campaigns are used on top of that to communicate a certain message at a certain time.” This is something that both Emily Mukalazi and Felix Hemsley agree with, the former explaining it as “always-on content versus hero content (campaign spikes)” while the latter says “it encompasses all the platforms and content feeds within them, populated with relevant ‘hygiene’ content which transcends the primary audiences of a brand and its thematic pillars”.

Always-On As The New World Order?

I’m going to leave the final word (well, not quite, but I say that in recognition of some great input… ) to Lindsay Bell-Wheeler. “I think always-on reflects our entire new world order”, she observes. “People are always-on (smartphones, mobile, smartwatches); devices are always-on; the news stream is always-on (instant Twitter updates); consumers are always-on; even employees are always on.

From a marketing perspective, I think it behooves any brand to attempt to achieve always-on status. But I’m not convinced that means 24/7 operation. I think it’s more about thinking about how they function in terms of how people and consumers function today. Be aware, be alert, always be checking, keep up on trending news stories, stay on top of social accounts, embrace this new, digital mind-frame.

Forget the millennials, Gen Z is here. And statistics are already showing how on and mobile they are. They refuse to be tethered to anything.”

Jonathan Bean adds: “The digital, social and mobile revolution has opened up access across all channels. Always-on is your only option as today’s marketer.”

So there you have it. Always-on.

Is it real-time marketing? Or social listening and engagement? Or exceptionally responsive customer service? Or a mindset?

Is it 24/7? Or is it just day-to-day business as usual?

The answer is ‘yes’. It’s all of those and more. Which makes it, for me, a term that is nonsensical. It’s too open to interpretation.

If you’ve actually read all the way through this post (bravo!), you might need a reminder that my original assertion was that ‘always-on’ is one of those phrases that it’s become fashionable to use. That everyone has their own understanding of, and that is, therefore, confusing and misused.

I’m upgrading that assertion. Always-on is completely and utterly meaningless.

The Value of the PR Agency Long Tail

the PR agency long tailReading the PRCA’s annual digital report you’d be forgiven for thinking that everything is rosy in the public relations garden. 47% of agencies now offer online advertising/PPC; 54% offer SEO services; and a whopping 91% provide content creation.

Brilliant isn’t it? The PR industry is finally adapting to data and digital, and evolving a fully-rounded service offering.

You think?

I mean…really?

The issue with this report, and with every other similar piece of research I’ve seen into the topic, is that it highlights an underlying problem within public relations. Let me explain.

Skewed results

Data from Actimedia says that there are approximately 4200 PR consultancies in the UK. How many do you think were represented in this report? And more to the point, who are those agencies?

I’ll tell you. The sample size for the report was 280 people. And I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of those people work in top 100 agencies or in-house at large companies. Furthermore, the UK PR industry employs a total of 62,000 people, according to the last PRCA Census.  So do you think a sample size of 0.45% is statistically significant?

In a post on Stephen Waddington’s blog responding to the launch of the report, David Sawyer from Zude PR is equally as sceptical about the data as me. Based in Glasgow, David makes the point that the report is “mainly relevant to practitioners in London and less accurate for the vast majority of the public relations industry”.

Of those 4200 consultancies identified by Actimedia, around 75% are based outside of London. And therein lies the problem.

The UK PR industry assumes that the large and medium-sized consultancies, which are pretty much exclusively based in the capital, are representative of everyone else. But they’re not. Far from it, in fact.

At FutureComms in June Sarah Pinch, CIPR President, stated in no uncertain terms that the PR industry “has already got our shit together”.  This is symptomatic of the issue. From the perspective of the Weber Shandwicks, the Hill & Knowltons, the Edelmans and the Ketchums, maybe the statistics in the PRCA report ring true. And maybe Sarah Pinch’s view is absolutely valid.

But what about the rest? It’s the pareto principle in action.

For every Threepipe, with SEO and digital baked into the very core of the agency, there are 50 or 100 small consultancies that don’t ‘do’ digital. Or if they do, they do it poorly due to limited knowledge and expertise.

Is digital the exception?

The fact is that they simply cannot afford to have a specialist digital guy on the payroll. I know this because I’ve worked with some of them over the last nine months. I still teach PR consultants the very basics of how Google works, and many have no inkling about SEO. Enabling them to progress with training or strategic consultancy is hugely rewarding work.

Sawyer says that this embracing of digital – SEO, content marketing, digital strategy – is the exception rather than the norm; that the 54% providing SEO statistic is “so far wide of the mark it’s almost comical” for those outside the M25. And he’s absolutely correct. I know this from experience.

To be clear, this isn’t the fault of the PRCA, by the way. In my agency days I was a member of the PRCA Digital Group and I fully support the work the guys do. The PRCA can only report on the data available to it after all, and you can’t expect poor Danny Whatmough to trawl around 4000 consultancies and 62,000 people encouraging them to fill in a survey!

But the myopic nature of reports such as this and the statistics and opinions that float around from time to time saying how great things are for the future of PR is damaging. They’re not reflective of the silent majority. They conceal. They paper over the cracks. They’re the gloss on the parched lips of an ageing and dated industry.

The big boys may be developing, but the vast majority are most definitely not. I guess it depends how you measure ‘progress’.

So if you’re reading this and you’re scared that you’re being left behind by the ‘54% of agencies that now offer SEO as a core competence’, please be assured that you’re not alone. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to adapting to and evolving with the digital world, you’re one of the many, not one of the few.

Yes, you do need to up your game and get some consultancy help quickly to avoid going out of business within a few short years. But to use SEO parlance, you’re simply part of the long tail, and there’s huge value to be found in the long tail.

On Having Pride

On Having PrideWhen was the last time you felt really proud of something you’ve been working on? This week? Last week? Last month? Last year?

Professional pride goes a very, very long way to doing great work. Do a good job; feel proud; feel more inspired and motivated; do an even better job. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

Pride drives performance, and performance drives pride

This topic came up in a gathering of creative people I attended last week. We all run our own businesses, and while chewing the fat over marketing and sales and clients, we got to talking about what inspires us. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in a room of unsalaried consultants money would be the prime driver. We all have bills to pay and families to support, after all.

But no, we agreed unanimously that pride is a much more powerful motivator for us.

For me personally, I’d genuinely rather work on a project that inspires and excites me than a project that’s more financially lucrative. And so far, nine months into my independent life, I’ve not yet taken on anything purely for the money that I wasn’t interested in. That’s a great feeling after more than a decade of agency life, where you often have to work on projects you don’t have any affinity with, clients you don’t like or products you don’t even believe in.

Pride in your work enables you to exceed expectations and create lasting change. It generates a sense of anticipation about the satisfaction your success will glean. And anticipating that feeling generates energy and commitment to deliver great results. As those results contribute to success, recognition instills further feelings of pride and anticipation of future results. And on and on.

Ticking boxes

On the other hand, ticking boxes is the enemy of pride. If you get that soul-sucking feeling of doing the same thing over and over again with no sense of or belief in why you’re doing it, pride, motivation and results will plummet.

And from a social media perspective, I see this a lot. Twitter accounts run by people who are obviously doing nothing more than ticking that box. Facebook Pages with a dearth of inspiring content and no effort to switch things up. There’s an obvious lack of pride in these properties. And, to be quite honest, they suck.

Pride, though it can’t be quantified, has immense value.

As I’ve already stated, I take great pride in my work as an independent consultant, whether that be strategic advice, training or tactical implementation. I strive to provide the very best advice I can, and I take pride in seeing my clients reaping the rewards of that advice.

What gives you pride?

When I look back over my time in agency life, there are two things I’m really proud of. First, I’m proud of the fact that my work was recognised by my peers in the form of multiple awards. It’s not the awards per-se, it’s the fact that the work I did that I thought was great, other people I respect also thought was great. That’s a nice feeling.

And second, I’m exceptionally proud of the team I built at my former agency and where those people are now. Claire Dunford is now European Social Media Manager at Honda, Emily Mukalazi is now Social Media Marketing Manager at LEGO and Victoria Coppin is now Digital Account Director at PR agency Cirkle. If I had even a small role to play in their development, that’s something very special.

Now over to you. It’s your turn. What role does pride play in your working life? And what achievements are you particularly proud of?

What if Facebook Removed All Page Likes Data?

FACEBOOK FAN NUMBERSFacebook fans, or Page Likes to give them their correct terminology, have become a noose around the neck of many (most?) Facebook marketing efforts. So what if Facebook hid them?

A few years back, measuring the growth in fan numbers was a viable, if somewhat spurious, strategy. This was partly because growing our community size was what Facebook told us we needed to do, partly because the basic Facebook success formula necessitated a decent number of relevant fans, and partly because it was a tangible metric that those not-in-the-know could understand and latch onto to prove value.

Except that it never did prove value. It didn’t matter whether a brand had 1000 or 1,000,000 Facebook fans; if they never interacted with its content, shared its information, recommended its products or actually purchased anything, fan numbers were completely irrelevant.

That’s still the case now. Except that Facebook has moved on.

That formula no longer completely stands up without the addition of paid media. Organic reach on Facebook is down to around 4% for most Pages. And the new ‘See it First’ feature (which I’ve now had access to on my own profile for several  weeks) promises to erode that still further.

The number of Facebook fans is purely a vanity metric and nothing more. It is meaningless.

It’s not even a good vanity metric either. And yet many (most?) senior marketers and management personnel within brands still insist upon measuring fan growth and still seem to be obsessed with increasing the number of Page Likes at all cost. It can be very frustrating going over the same old ground again and again.

A couple of recent discussions about this prompted a thought: what if Facebook removed all data on the number of Page Likes?

  • If you had no idea how many fans you or anyone else had, would you change the way you approached Facebook or your activities on the network?
  • Would you have to change your strategy?
  • Would you struggle to know what to focus on?
  • Would it make a difference to how you measured ‘value’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, your current Facebook activity is probably ineffective (unless, that is, you’ve worked out a magic formula that says for every X new Facebook fans you obtain, you make £Y).

Once again: it makes no difference whatsoever how many Facebook fans you have.

If your Page has 10,000 fans, any given post will probably only reach around 400 people organically. If you want to reach the other 9600 fans, or anyone else for that matter, you have to pay. And when you pay, you can be very targeted according to the demographics, interests and behaviour of users.

96% of Page administrators boost posts to custom audiences, with only 4% boosting just to current fans (source). So even when fans have signed up, they’re being largely ignored in favour of relevant, interest-based reach. And with good reason.

Just in case you haven’t got the message yet: whether or not people Like your Page is completely irrelevant.

I posed the question of hiding Page Likes to social media marketers on Facebook. I asked them if it would change their approach.

“In my experience it’s usually the client that’s obsessed with this number until they are shown/educated what the real value is”, says Jo Porritt, founder of Crowd Media. “In a meeting today I was asked “how many likes can you get us in a month?”, which typifies the start of every conversation I have with clients about social at the beginning. I have to shift the focus to the metrics that count. It’s better to have 50 highly engaged fans than 500 passive.”

“Not all your fans, no matter how many you have, engage with your Page”, adds Madrid-based independent social media consultant Corina Manea. “Brands should focus on quality engagement and content, creating a great experience for their fans. You have to innovate all the time and find new ways to engage your fans.”

On the subject of content Rebecca Maschke, social media advisor at DGUV in Berlin, says: “It wouldn’t change my activity because my content is for my fans, no matter how many of them there are. It could affect my linking, or tagging, to other Pages, as sometimes it helps me reach a larger number of people by tagging other Pages. But there is a reason I’m linking to another Page and it has more to do with my target group and/or relationship with the other Page than the number of fans it has.”

“It’s never really meant much, and it means even less now people are using Facebook differently to get content in front of users (eg targeted paid)”, says Victoria Coppin, digital account director at Cirkle.

And Rich Hikins, owner of IRepairTech, says: “I’d carry on as I am. It’s great seeing my Page numbers increase, but it wouldn’t change how I approach the management of my Page. It’s all about the results: do people message me and do I convert them.”

Personally, I’d love it if Facebook removed all Page Like numbers. But how would it affect you if Facebook suddenly removed access to that data? And would it help you to pretend that it no longer exists?

How SEO is Stealing PR Business : A Case Study

SEO is stealing PR business

“I’m currently trying to save my business model from annihilation by SEO agencies.”

That’s what an experienced communications professional told me in response to my recent posts on how SEO agencies have become a serious threat to PR. While, having written about them, I wasn’t surprised to hear about the issues she’s facing, I was struck by how, as she says, she needs “skill to negotiate survival”.

Intrigued, I asked more about the situation.

She prefers to remain anonymous to protect her business interests. And while she may be an independent practitioner rather than an agency or in-house team, there are lessons here for all communicators.

Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself?

I’ve been working in social media and PR for about 5 years, having come from a background in journalism where I worked at the BBC for ten years. I started out when the whole area was so new that everything was very much up for grabs. I found myself working either solo or alongside existing marketers and PRs who had not yet got a grasp of social media, carving out a niche for myself doing the bits they could not do.

What’s the situation you’re currently facing?

One B2B client that I worked with as a copywriter had social media profiles which I considered to be rather poor. I spoke to them on a number of occasions about how it might be done better but they always said that it was run by their SEO company.

It looked like the agency wasn’t that bothered about the quality of the content. The Twitter feed was particularly poor, publishing stuff that was not relevant to their niche (like moments from history and birthdays) and the blog had relevant keywords in it but the content was dull.

It was evident to anyone who took five minutes to read through the stuff they were producing that the content was being created by junior staff members without any great knowledge of the client’s business.

About six month ago I managed to convince the client that good content was more than just a question of getting new material out on a regular basis. I suggested to them that if I actually engaged their clients, many of whom are well-known and with large Twitter followings of their own, then we might get somewhere. I managed to increase both their following and retweet rate pretty rapidly and added in relevant blog content that was good to read.

The client has now employed a new SEO agency that wants my slice of the pie, and it’s an attractive prospect to them.

Can you tell me a bit more about the agency?

The agency markets itself as the guys who create and manage websites with a complete inbound marketing service that covers SEO, email, marketing, blogs and social media (as well as website management and design).

The person who runs it is from a content marketing background, and they have people in-house as well as using freelance writers to produce content. My impression is that they are good at what they do.

By adding in the content part of their offering they make an excellent case to the client for having an ongoing billable relationship rather than simply overhauling the SEO as a one-off project and then moving on.

But it means an SEO agency is getting work which might otherwise have gone to a communications or marketing company. This is the heart of the issue.

How does their approach differ to that of a communications professional?

I always approach a brief with the idea that I am going to create the best possible content I can. My view is that to make it shareable it must be readable, informative etc. Using keywords within that is obviously important, as is making sure that you add in things like alt tags. An awareness of SEO informs everything I do but it is not my starting point.

But whereas I am looking more at ‘how can I showcase my client and foster a reputation for quality, thought leadership and usefulness’, these guys start from the point of view of ‘how does it help to get the client found online’.

The agency automates a lot of what they do using Google alerts, schedulers and automated tweeting, whereas I tend to trawl manually offering what I believe is a more responsive and bespoke service. I can do this as I only have five or six clients. I know the subject matter really well so I know where to look, and I can respond to breaking news.

Their ideas about how to target influencers are also different to mine. For example, I would never post content just to court an influencer if I didn’t think it was of benefit or interest to my client’s community as a whole.

I’m less about people finding my client and more about people using them.

So where does this leave you as a communications specialist?

It calls into question my whole business model of being a freelance social media content provider.

With this particular client, I have been integrated into the team but have lost some of my autonomy. I think what is saving me at present is my journalistic skills and writing ability.

To accommodate them I have had to change the way I do things. For example, I have to write several blogs in advance and schedule them rather than taking a more reactive approach. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I do agree with their content ideas broadly.

However, it could easily have been different. It was evident that if I was let go then the SEO agency was going to farm out some of the blog writing work to their freelancers…who know nothing about the client’s business. I have developed a detailed knowledge of the client’s niche over the two to three years I have been writing for them so that would have been an obvious nonsense. But it could have happened.

I worry, because even when the whole debate over who gets social media, PR or marketing was going on, there was space for freelancers who could fill in the gaps. Now I feel that this land grab from the SEO agencies is sweeping all before it.

What do you think are the implications for the PR industry as a whole?

It seems that clients really like the SEO agency pitch that puts search first. Some clients are just not that bothered about the content being created on their behalf and, as long as it doesn’t make them look foolish, they don’t have the time to make fine choices between different writers.

SEO is still the thing communications, marketing and social media people don’t do well. We are weak in this area; it’s our achilles heel. Smart agencies who can integrate it all well have got something pretty strong to sell.

I have seen it being done really badly (the first agency in this example) and worryingly well (the second). And I have to question whether clients know enough about the subject as a whole to ask the right questions and make sure they are not signing up to link bait merchants.

In the meantime, people like me who have specific communications skills and who have developed knowledge and good relationships with clients risk being swept away.

What are your thoughts? Is my anonymous guest right to worry about her business? Is this a common scenario? And should the rest of the PR industry be fearful?

When Cakes Go Viral it’s Time to Worry

hurtThe internet can be a cruel place. Hidden behind their computer screens and mobile phones, people are quick to slate anything that doesn’t fit into their idea of the perfect world.

Brands and organisations are big targets. Many are still scared of opening up to a social media-driven internet for fear of doing or saying anything that might attract negativity. Trolling-type behaviour is commonplace, and commenting on or sharing brands’ ‘mistakes’ seems to be a favourite pastime for many.

But there are ordinary people behind those companies, and they aren’t immune either. And the impact of such seemingly ‘innocent’ cruelty can be devastating.

Herd mentality is a big problem on the internet.

People join in with the latest ‘thing to be outraged about’ or ‘hilarious gaffe’ without really thinking things through. It’s just too easy to click ‘share’ or fire off a derogatory tweet and then move onto the next thing.

There have been two examples in the last week of such bandwagon-jumping behaviour.

Football Frenzy

The first surrounds this tweet by the English FA celebrating the arrival home of the successful women’s England football team at the World Cup.


“Sexist!”, they cried. “Patronising!”, they stormed. But is it? I mean, really? Naive, yes. The FA should have been aware there was a possibility of that kind of a response and worded the tweet much better. But offensive? Come on.

The sentiment of that tweet is clearly overwhelmingly positive and full of pride. And the infuriatingly-PC reaction lacks context. England’s players are semi-professional; they WILL now go back to their ‘normal lives’. And furthermore, if it was an England male semi-pro team and you switch the language around to reflect that, would anyone have batted an eyelid? Nope.

So the tweet gets deleted and the sentiment of pride in the ladies’ outstanding achievement is lost among a storm of unnecessary negativity.

Personally I think the nickname ‘Lionesses’ is more patronising than the tweet, but maybe that’s just me.

Cake Calamity

Leaving the FA aside, the second story is about a cake that went viral. This image was posted to Reddit with the text: “The cake that was ordered and the cake that arrived”:

elsa cake

People laughed and people mocked and people shared. Suddenly every man and his dog was aware of the “horrific” Elsa cake. But as ever, there was far more to this than a botched attempt at cake decoration.

As it turns out, the person who made the cake on the right, who is quite obviously an artist of the highest magnitude, knew nothing of the cake on the left. The back story is that the ‘horror cake’ was donated to a charity called Icing Smiles, which delivers cakes to critically ill children. And that the person who made it had only two hours to deliver it after she had spent the day comforting her mother after her grandmother had died. “I didn’t want to let that sick baby down”, she said.

The founder of Icing Smiles commented: “The child is so upset her cake is being made fun of. It’s impacted her as well and we’re dealing with a sick child that now is down in spirits and we’re coming back in and re-serving her with another cake to try and boost her spirits again.”

Not quite so funny now, is it?

Icing Smiles published this on Facebook:

“My heart broke for the baker because I know how much of herself she puts into her donations. My heart broke for the family should they come across the posts because it may take from their joy of receiving the gift. It broke for our team whose extraordinary efforts were used in this way. Our Sugar Angel wasn’t commissioned to copy Shawna’s work, she was asked for a Frozen cake for a sick child and she did just that.

When I finally got past the initial shock, I fearfully reached out to our Sugar Angel, Lisa to offer my sympathy and boy did she change my attitude. Her facebook page was loaded with comments to which she graciously replied with humor and self-deprecation. She even commented that she knew it wasn’t her best work and maybe Elsa was getting back from rehab. The best part was that she didn’t care because she made a child happy.”

McGreevy Cakes, which made the ‘good’ cake, also published this:

“I know, guys, that no one means any harm, here. It’s just that… well… this is what I think- I think someone tried. I think someone had the guts to go for it… even when, I’m sure, they didn’t know if they could pull it off. They took the chance anyway and put themselves out there. And maybe it didn’t come out they way they were hoping, but it’s their WORK.

I look at it this way… what if it was done by one of my kiddos, or someone in my family who I love dearly? What if they really wanted to try this out, and were scared to, but decided to do it anyway, knowing they had to start somewhere? Would I be ashamed? Not in a million years. ‘Cause at the end of the day, they took a risk, and instead of hiding in their safe little comfy box, they stepped out of it for a second and gave it a go. And THAT’S what I think this life is all about.
I’ve had epic fails. LOTS of them. Am I hoping they’re never put in the spotlight for all of the world to laugh at? Yes.

So am I loving that my photo (which clearly has it’s own serious faults) is being used as a comparison to someone’s who decided to step out there and give it a shot?
Naw. Not really. Again, not wanting to be harsh here guys… just wanting to keep it real.”

So what’s the moral of these stories? Actually, while I would love to sum this all up in some definitive, insightful conclusion, I don’t have one and I don’t know.

I guess it’s just to stop and think before we react to something we read or see online. Don’t take things at face value. And consider who we might be hurting if we go ahead and click the share button.

As Jerry Springer once said: “Take care of yourself. And each other.”

How to Adopt the PESO Model and Boost Your Career

peso model benefitsIf it is to kick-start the evolution that is becoming increasingly urgent, the communications industry needs guidance. Agency bosses and senior communications executives both in-agency and in-house are generally aware of the need to adapt to technology and data. They’ve read the articles, they’ve been to the seminars, they’ve had the discussions.

But they don’t know where to start.

This has become more and more apparent to me since I started working with multiple companies after I set up independently at the start of the year. The issues they face are similar in nature and, whether overtly or as a hidden agenda, they’re asking for help. Progression paralysis is very common.

They want someone to give them a starting point. They want something that helps them build out their digital offering and provides a comprehensive, modern communications service. They don’t want theory; they want actionable strategies.

This is where I’ve been focusing the training and consultancy I’ve been doing over the last six months; strategic and tactical initiatives that can be implemented the very next day.

And I believe that adoption of the PESO model could very well be the start point and the guiding force that people are looking for.

At the FutureComms15 conference a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on this topic. The response was fantastic, as evidenced by this blog post by John Brown of Hotwire, and by the delegate (who shall remain nameless) who approached me excitedly afterwards to say: “That was really interesting! Look, I’ve even made loads of notes!” (He’s not the sort of guy to make notes, trust me.)

The PESO Model Explained

PESO stands for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. It describes the four types of media that now exist but, more than that, it illustrates how to use them in an integrated manner to build fully-formed, intelligent communications programmes. This diagram by Gini Dietrich in her book Spin Sucks is the best illustration I’ve yet seen:

the peso model

Used properly, it can significantly increase the reach of a message, provide fantastic audience targeting and generate truly measurable results. All the things that marketing, digital and SEO consultants have been saying for many, many years.

PR has traditionally played in the Earned media sphere. And while most consultants have dabbled in Shared and Owned to one extent or another, many still view PR as ‘earned media’. Which is wrong on so many levels and is holding the industry back.

Charles Arthur, former technology editor of The Guardian, said it himself at FutureComms: “Earned is becoming a smaller and less important part of what people share”.

Paying for Media: Like Paying for Sex?

When it comes to Paid Alex Myers, f0under of Manifest, said at FutureComms: “Paid media is like paying for sex: you only have to do it if you’re not engaging enough to get it for free”. It’s catchy and it’s funny, and it’s true that the PR industry sees Paid as somewhat dirty. Paying for message distribution is cheating, isn’t it?

Well, no. And I couldn’t disagree with Alex more. In the past, this may have been the case. Well, it definitely was. But in 2015, absolutely not.

Paid is, or should be, part and parcel of getting a message in front of relevant people purely due to the nature of the way we all consume content. Whether it’s Facebook advertising, promoted tweets, Google Adwords or Taboola native advertising, Paid should be something that’s considered for every campaign.

There was an interesting point made from the audience at FutureComms when someone from Tower Media stated that: “We’re buying content from SEO agencies, which is where content has moved to in the last couple of years, and from display [advertising] and from marketing…the one place we’re not buying it from is PR”.

This is telling. Other areas of marketing are comfortable with Paid. So why not PR? Do we think we’re above it?

Whatever you think of Paid, if there’s one thing to note it’s that creativity must always come first. In Danny Whatmough’s words: “Paid media is not an excuse to produce shit content”.

Adopting the PESO Model: Where to Start

The PESO model is not an instant solution to all of your woes. As the actress said to the bishop, you get out what you put in. But it does provide true guidance into how to amplify brand messages and, as such, should be used to build campaigns. It should be used as a framework. Trying to retrofit campaign elements into it will not work.

I’d suggest creating your own version of Gini’s diagram above. Create something proprietary that you’re comfortable with and that is as expansive and detailed as you can cope with. Use it at the point you’ve devised a standout creative idea.

Once you’ve settled on your concept, use your PESO framework to plan and build out the different campaign elements. Use it to define how and where you’re going to distribute your message, and set about creating specific content for each specific channel, whether that be media outreach, video, Google search, influencer outreach, social media…

Sell that plan in to whomever it needs to be sold to, whether that be a client in the case of an agency or an internal stakeholder in the case of an in-house team. Demand the budgets you need to make it work as an integrated programme.

And then measure against all of those elements. Be intelligent about the way you plan and set goals for your activity and suddenly you’re be proving ROI like you’ve never been able to do before.

Success will breed success.

To be clear, you don’t need to know the detail of how to activate all of this stuff yourself. Don’t understand Google Ads? No worries. Don’t know how to put together an SEO strategy? Fine. All I’m saying is, learn the basics and get to grips with what specialists in those areas can do, and then work closely with them to deliver.

Don’t be afraid of this. If you’re tentative about it, so are most others. But the PESO model is a real opportunity for the communications industry to kick-start that evolution.

Why shouldn’t you be at the forefront of it?

If you’d like to catch up on more from the PESO discussion at FutureComms, here it is in all its glory:

5 Words That Need to Die in PR

die storytelling dieWho fancies a game of Buzzword Bingo? Here are five words to get you started that I’ve noticed being used with increasing regularity inside communications agencies and at industry conferences…


Content marketing is just about the most overused and overhyped phrase in the public relations industry at the present time. In 2015, PR is all about the content. “We’re no longer a PR agency, we’re a creative content agency.” Pur-lease…

The problem is that PR has latched onto content like a Cambodian leech onto an unsuspecting backpacker. PR is using ‘content’ as a solution to its woes when in actual fact it’s still getting to grips with what content marketing actually means and is.

In this context, the word ‘content’ is largely meaningless. If we’re honest, your content editor or head of content or whatever the hell else you’re calling them is all smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?

Die content, die!



“What’s the key objective of your social media programme?”
“We want people to engage with us.”
“Engage about what?”
“Our brand story.” (see ‘storytelling, below)
“And how are you going to measure the success of that?”
“Engagement rates.”
“What will that mean to the business?”
“It will show that we’re a conversational brand that loves to engage our customers. It’s all about the conversation, don’t you know…”

You see how ridiculous this is, right? Engagement is not an objective, or an outcome. It’s just a method of achieving bigger, more important things. If that, even.

Measure it? Absolutely. Talk about it in any other context than a by-product of a proper strategy? Forget it.

Die engagement, die!



When did millennials become ‘a thing’? Because boy, are they a thing. What they think, what they do in their leisure time, what they eat, how they communicate, when they poo…you name it, someone’s written an article about it. Google ‘millennials’ and you get 13.5 million results.

The thing is, Gen Y covers anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Anyone. To say ‘we need to target millennials’ is bullshit. You can’t label everyone born in a single year, or month or even day, let alone an entire generation, with the same characteristics. But PR pros like to do that because it’s “using data and insight”.

Die millennials, die! (Not literally…)



If you and I were sat in a room with one hundred PR people and we asked everyone to write down a definition of ‘storytelling’, we’d get an amazingly diverse set of responses. And not in a good way.

Storytelling has become to PR what a guide dog is to a blind man. Along with ‘content’, it’s a crutch that PR uses to try and explain why it’s so much more beneficial than other forms of marketing. Except that this crutch is made out of marshmallows. (I’m applauding myself silently for excellent use of mixed metaphors.)

“PR has always been great at telling stories”, is something I see written with alarming regularity. But what does that actually mean? Answers on a postcard please. Or drop a comment below just for shits ‘n’ giggles.

Die storytelling, die!



Ah yes, ‘viral’. The holy grail of all public relations and social media marketing. I’d sell one of my kids to have something ‘go viral’ for a client. Seriously. Because that would solve all of my client’s problems and I could retire a happy man. Right?

Here’s the thing: one man’s viral is another man’s ‘meh’. In the past I’ve had a client email me very excitedly to tell me about a piece of ‘content’ (see above. You’ve no idea what that means, have you?!): “we’ve gone viral!” For them, I guess a few tweets was genuinly exciting. For the rest of the world it was at the most hum-drum, at worst a car crash.

Viral has no context and no link to anything meaningful, and anyone using the word outside of a visit to the doctor should be banned from practising in the communications industry.

Die viral, die!


All this said, if you can engage millennials with content that tells a story, you’ll go viral.

And that would be awesome!

FutureComms 15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!

FutureComms15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!Thursday morning in London was rather joyous. As I arrived at The Crystal, the venue for this year’s FutureComms conference, it was a beautiful, warm day with the sun gleaming off the glass angles of the eye-catching, post-modern building. Everything seemed right with the world.

That was at 9am. By 11am, the atmosphere had dropped significantly into something tetchy, fractious and approaching volatile.

It was kicked off by Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose’s assertion in the keynote that “we [marketers] are not in the business of truth; we deliver what ought to be the truth”.

Say that to a room full of communications professionals and you’re going to get a reaction. It did. Hackles rose and two hundred coffee-fuelled PR types lit up the #fc15 hashtag (which is the PR equivalent of writing a rather strongly worded letter to the editor).

By the time ex-Edelman President Robert Phillips took to the stage to explain/defend (delete as applicable) the assertion in his book that “‘PR is Dead” [for a review, click here] the room was already bristling. Phillips’ somewhat arrogant delivery did little to quell the rising tide of vitriol. This was perhaps illustrated no better than during the Q&A session at the end of a well-conducted interview by MyNewsDesk CMO Jonathon Bean, during which Rachel Miller passionately criticised Phillips for the tone of the book, calling it the most frustrating and irritating book she’d ever read.

Photo via Rachel Miller
Photo via Rachel Miller

There was still time for more, however, and before we even hit the first refreshment break of the day, a panel supposedly put together to discuss the divide (or not) between content and PR was hijacked by panelist and CIPR President Sarah Pinch stating that she was “bored and cross by the conversation” thus far (to that point it had been a tad naval gazing in nature and not really future focused at all) and, in agitated manner, stating how the PR industry has already “got our shit together”. Which was a facepalm moment for me. Really?!

As I say, this was before the first coffee break of the day. It was like being hit around the face repeatedly with a wet tuna before you’ve even settled into your seat.

Breaking the Normal Routine?

So what should we read into this cantankerous opening to the UK’s premiere communications conference? If anything, in fact?

From a personal perspective, I can only say that I’m grateful the panel session  I was asked to take part in (on the subject of the PESO framework) was scheduled for the afternoon! Phew! Side-stepped a firing squad with that one!

Seriously though, two things have stuck with me from those opening three sessions. First, it was fantastic to be at a conference where there was vehement disagreement of opinions, even if it did affect the atmosphere for a while. This tweet summed it up perfectly:

Too many conferences toe the line with safe topics and case study speakers with a corporate agenda. FutureComms is different and, having had an advisory hand in both last and this year’s programmes, I can tell you for a fact that the organisers want this conference to spark conversation and debate with a view to moving the communications industry forward. To my mind, events like this should do exactly that; they should get people thinking and talking.

But second, a couple of hours of debate over whether the industry really is in the ‘truth’ business, whether or not it’s evolving fast enough (or at all) and what we call ourselves (yes, really…) points strongly to the introspective mess that the industry has become.

Despite the best efforts of the likes of former CIPR President Stephen Waddington over the last year, it’s directionless.

Change is happening at snail’s pace and for every progressive, technologically-savvy and data-led PR team or organisation, there are ten who don’t have much of a clue. Hence the arguments.

Essentially, it’s time to step up to the plate. The remainder of the FutureComms agenda pointed to ways in which the industry can embrace a bright new future, and by the time comedian David Schneider had us in stitches with his ‘Is the Internet Making us More Stupider?’, the mood was a lot more positive.

Between you and me though, I can’t help but wonder whether Schneider will have replaced the word ‘us’ with ‘PR’ in his presentation in five years’ time. That’s the ‘truth’ in this.


I will be publishing a more detailed post on the discussion surrounding the PESO framework later this week.

I’ve curated a Twitter list of all of the speakers and participants at FutureComms 15 here if you’d like to subscribe to their thoughts. You can also catch up on all the FutureComms chat through the #fc15 hashtag (note: ignore the odd rogue tweet from a separate conference in the USA!)

Further reading on FutureComms:

7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 – Stephen Waddington
PESO: Please Evolve Soon OK? – John Brown
Paid: A Must not a Maybe for PR – Danny Whatmough
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith
Conclusions from FutureComms – Sarah Pinch
FutureComms15 felt like dipping in to a bag of allsorts – Alissia Knight

On a personal level, it was great to meet and to catch up with so many people in person at FutureComms. Thanks for making the time for a quick chat Neville Hobson, Rachel Miller, Danny Whatmough, Jon Bernstein, Stephen Waddington, Stella Bayles, Gary Preston, Jonathon Bean, Adam Cranfield, Jarrod Williams, Gemma Hume, Sara-Jane Brown, Emily Mukalazi, Carole Scott and Emma Duke (sorry if I’ve missed anyone!).

How to Prove ROI with an Actionable SEO PR Strategy

SEO PR1If you work in PR and you do only one thing away from your to-do list this week, make it this: download and read the new ebook from SEO PR consultant Stella Bayles.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post laying out why I feel that SEO is now the single greatest threat to the public relations industry. On the back of that post, I was contacted by Stella to assert that, in her opinion, the opposite is true: PR is the greatest threat to SEO. So confident is she in this, she’s written ‘Public Relations’ Digital Resolution’.

Stella has spent over a decade split between PR and SEO and, unlike me, she believes that PR is in a great place. This is because, essentially, it already has the skills and the talents that SEO needs; those of relationship building, communications and editorial content expertise.

She counters this by clarifying that, to take advantage of this, PR has to start to realise the wider impact of its work on search rankings, website traffic and sales/leads. “We’ve been underselling ourselves for years!”, she asserts, citing a lack of clarity from inside the industry on the true impact of work and a lack of awareness of what the rest of digital marketing is doing and reporting on.

And I agree wholeheartedly with all of this.

PR_Digital _Resolution

Desire and Ability to Change

Where perhaps we differ is in our belief that the industry is capable of change. At least, in a suitably timely fashion. You see, maybe I’ve become jaded by it, but as I stated in my previous post, the industry’s failure to adapt to data and technology will take a generation to work through, whereas SEO companies are looking at it right now.

“We may need to re-train our brains and unpick the way we were taught through the ranks of our PR agencies in order to take action”, says Stella. And she’s right. But the issue with many, many PR people (not all, but many) is that this is way too much effort. And as a result, SEO companies hold the cards when it comes to online marketing.

Let me take an example from Stella’s book.

She cites the example of Inteflora, which was famously removed from all search results by Google as a result of contravening its policy on paid links in 2013. About a year after this occurred, the company I was working for at the time (a PR agency) was contracted to provide Interflora with ‘conventional’ public relations; raising awareness through media coverage.

Working alongside Interflora’s new SEO agency, which was on a mission to rebuild the Interflora link profile and domain authority, was a complete nightmare. Lists of influential bloggers were written and rewritten and scrapped and rewritten, backlinks from sites were altered or removed altogether so as to appear more ‘natural’; the whole thing turned into a mess.

The ironic thing is that both the PR agency and the SEO agency were trying to do the same thing, and yet coming at it from completely different angles and strategies. I don’t believe this was the fault of either party, specifically. But I do believe that the only evidence I’ve seen in the last six months of one party attempting to properly understand the other is from the SEO side of the fence.

Is All Lost for PR?

So given all this, why do I recommend reading ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ so highly? Because in my heart I haven’t given up hope, and because this is a fantastic call to arms. Let me state right here, right now that I will help any company or individual get ahead when it comes to this. Please just ask.

The book focuses not only on outcomes beyond awareness and on pressing the case for complete digital integration, but it explains why. It provides actionable tips that any SEO PR person can employ immediately. It suggests free tools that will help you do so. Chapter Four goes as far as outlining a framework that you can adopt today to help you to start proving proper value right now.

Consider this example. Ever wondered why the Mail Online’s infamous right hand column is packed full of celebrity gossip that really should not be making news? You’ve probably assumed it’s just poor editorial standards, right? Far from it, as Stella explains:

“Every month there are approximately 2,000,000 global searches for ‘David Beckham’. When the Mail Online publishes content on [David Beckham or other] topics or celebrity figures with enormous search volume quicker than [its] competitors, [it] stands a chance of that huge crowd arriving on [its] site. The Mail Online is giving the public what they want.”

That’s SEO PR in action. So does that imply that you need to start writing content about Rhianna? No. But it does illustrate that you need to take things like search trends into account and be developing a search-centric PR strategy if you truly want to impact your clients’ business results. On the topic of print coverage, Stella says:

The Need for SEO PR Curiosity

Stella talks in the book, quite rightly, about ‘curiosity’ and it’s importance to PR people. You may not think you have time to be curious. You may feel uncomfortable stepping out of your public relations mindset and into SEO territory. But you must develop this curiosity and desire to learn, to fail, to try again and to do things better in future.

Does this book change my mind about the prospects for PR? No. I still feel that SEO is more of a threat than an opportunity to the PR industry.

But does that mean you can’t do anything about it? Not at all. You can start working to combat that threat and to grow your business right now. And you can do far worse than use ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ as a start point.

You can download Public Relations’ Digital Resolution here. It’s a quick and easy read. Do it!