Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Agencies Should Start Thinking More Like Consultants

January 14, 2017

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This post originally appeared at MediaPost

Consultant Steve…more than five years ago

For the last five years, my account managers have called me Mr. Scopecreep. I’ve never been able to see a problem and not try to fix it, even if it’s outside my lane or scope of work. As a result, I tend to get involved in conversations or meetings I may not technically be getting paid for. While this used to be viewed negatively — I over-serviced my clients, I worked longer hours than I should, and I was responsible for more than a few bright red cells on profitability spreadsheets — I’m starting to think it may not be.

After nine years as a consultant and five more at ad agencies, I’ve realized maybe the problem lies in how agencies build scopes of work rather than how I’ve interpreted (or ignored) them. When I was a consultant, our clients bought our people. They were buying our consultants’ specialized expertise, unique experience, or both. The who was more important than the what. In the agency world, though, our clients tend to buy the stuff our people produce.  The what is more important than the who.

Unfortunately, because much of what agencies produce has been commoditized, clients have squeezed agencies on costs. This has driven profit margins down and pitted agencies against one another in a “how low can you go?” game that doesn’t have a winner. Consultants, on the other hand, have stayed above this. Instead of selling stuff, they continued to sell the people who create the stuff. And that’s a lot more difficult to commoditize.

From Deloitte Digital to Accenture Interactive to IBM’s iX, big consultancies have taken advantage of the gap agencies created. They’re buying up agencies and integrating them into their management consulting practices, giving clients true business partners who also now offer cutting-edge creative marketing services, too.

If agencies want to compete, they have to start thinking more like consultants. Here’s how.

Sell your people, not what they create. If there’s one thing clients hate, it’s when an agency wows them with senior people and then passes the work to junior staffers without the same experience or expertise. Spend time talking with clients about who will work on their business and commit to keeping them on the business. Make sure clients understand the value your agency brings to the relationship isn’t what these people create, it’s having these people on your business.

Invest in your people. One of the complaints agencies have about marketing their people is there’s a lot of turnover and they need flexibility to switch out people as needed. You can’t market your people if you can’t hold onto your people! Consultants invest in everything from onboarding to training to tuition reimbursement. If agencies invested more in treating their people like primary assets instead of secondary parts, the clients would, too.

Be a partner, not a vendor. To manage razor-thin margins on what’s becoming more project-based work, agencies have gotten good at creating detailed, specific contracts. This keeps client requests focused and the agency from losing their shirt in the process. Unfortunately, it also means the agency doesn’t see the forest for the trees. This turns agencies into little more than vendors responsible for creating a deliverable. Consultants, on the other hand, strive to be strategic partners who focus on solving business problems and integrating the systems, processes, and people required to run the business.

If agencies started thinking more like consultants, they’d realize the real growth opportunities lies in partnering with clients to write the briefs instead of only executing against them.

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Your Best Content May Be Right Under Your Nose

November 8, 2016

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A version of this article originally appeared on PRDaily.

Escher's Relativity.jpg

Content marketing has become one big M.C. Escher painting – people create content about how to create content, which creates more content, forcing more content about creating content that rises above the content everyone else is creating.

8 Super-Simple Tools You Can Use to Create Better Content

“How To Create More Content In Less Time: A Science-Backed Guide”

“13 Tools to Automate Your Content Marketing”

“15 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers”

Here’s what drives me nuts about this. Your priorities are backward. Brands are making the same mistake that newspapers and other media publishers have made. As Quartz put it in a recent article, “humans are losing the battle against Kardashian-loving algorithms for the soul of new media.”

“Analytics and algorithms have emerged as key weapons in capitalism’s brawl with journalism across the web. And the struggle has real consequences for all of us.”

This has led to media publishers cutting journalistic staff in favor of algorithms that optimize their web content based on clicks. The AP is using artificial intelligence to automate some of their stories. Facebook famously let go of the human editors curating their Trending Topics section in favor of the newsfeed algorithm. You see, when you’re only concerned with optimizing numbers on a spreadsheet, the machines will always win out. And while that approach may drive more clicks, that’s about all it does. It doesn’t build brands. It doesn’t drive customer loyalty. It doesn’t create advocacy. And it reduces content to its lowest common denominator.

Don’t let your brand make the same mistake. Don’t build a content strategy just to drive more clicks. Build one that will build your brand, help your customers, and increase your employee’s morale. Unfortunately, most brands get overwhelmed by all the content marketing best practices, tools, and gurus and totally miss the resources right under their noses.

  • You are already creating the content your customers want most – you’re just not using it. In the rush to create more memes and GIFs that will drive more clicks, brands are forgetting about the content their customers actually want. Your best content doesn’t come from Photoshop, but from your own offices. Your customers want to hear about your brand’s history, how your products are being used, the “why” behind business decisions, your causes, your culture, etc. If you’re a tool brand, why are you trying to out-GIF your competition? Why aren’t you talking about how your tools are used? About what they can create? This content already exists. It just needs packaged for public consumption.
  • You already have hired most of your content creators – you’re just not activating them. From R&D to customer service to operations, your brand is loaded with expert sources. These sources can give your customer insights into your brand, into your products, and into the category they literally cannot get anywhere else. You tell me what’s more “valuable” – another Valentine’s Day meme or a story about how your latest product was developed? You’re already paying these content creators. Why not leverage their expertise?
  • You already have most of your assets – you’re just not using them. If you’re a car brand, share photos of cars. If you’re a tool brand, share pictures of your tools in action. If you’re a restaurant, share photos of your food. It’s why Honda’s Instagram strategy is all about sharing photos of cars. And why Stoli’s is about bottleshots. And why GE has created an entire magazine that dives into all the aspects of the company’s business. This isn’t rocket science, but it does require access, creativity, and storytelling.

So take a look at your content strategy. Are you creating and sharing content for your brand? For your customers? Or are you doing it for the clicks and likes? While you’re spending all your time and money on external experts, influencers, and content creators, you might be surprised to find out that the insights, products, and content your customers actually want have been hiding inside the walls of your company this whole time. You just need the right people who can tap into these sources and tell the right stories. You know what? I did hear that there may be some journalists out there looking for a new career now…

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Create Better Content by First Creating a Better Relationship with Your Lawyers

July 10, 2016

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DMCA Notice

Legal would not approve using this screengrab of Tom Cruise from “The Firm.”

Using Google Images can cost you thousands of dollars. A Jewel-Osco ad about Michael Jordan resulted in a decade-long lawsuit and millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. A Tweet triggers a $6M lawsuit. With every high-profile lawsuit, #socialmediafail hashtag, and cease-and-desist letter, we know lawyers and general counsel become more and more likely to pull out the red pen and cut anything that could be considered a legal gray area.

And so on we go, back to our desks to create content that will get approved. If it also happens to be funny, profound, engaging, or interesting, well, that’s an added bonus. The most important thing is getting it past Legal, right?  Wrong.

How did we let things get to this point? How did lawyers gain so much control over what we do and the content we create? How they did go from “General Counsel” to “What I Say Goes”?

It’s because they’re speaking a language that’s totally foreign to us. We accept their feedback because we are completely and utterly unfamiliar with things like copyright laws, regulatory guidelines, and legal precedents.

You see, their job isn’t to create engaging content. It’s not to accumulate likes, shares, or follows. It’s not to make something go viral. It’s to protect the interests of their organization. That’s it. That’s what they care about. No lawyer has ever been fired for saying “no” to a Facebook post. So, put yourself in their shoes – what incentive do they have to let you take any risk?

That communication breakdown is why I recently moderated a panel discussion for the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Pittsburgh chapter where I debated these topics with three intellectual property attorneys from The Webb Law Firm. I wanted to find out how content creators, PR people, and marketers can improve their relationships with their legal counsel. Here are three key takeaways for anyone creating content for their brand:

Do your own research. Your in-house legal counsel probably aren’t experts in copyright, intellectual property, or trademark law. Your job is to help educate them. Come to the meeting armed with knowledge about what is and isn’t allowed, what other brands have done and what the legal precedents are. Or, find a contact at a local law firm that does focus on these topics and connect them with your lawyers.  Demonstrate you’ve done the research and you’re comfortable enough with it that you can have a conversation about the benefits and risks.

“No” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. When asked a specific question, lawyers will give a specific answer. A question like “can I just take photos at this next event without needing to track down signed photo waivers for everyone?” will always result in “no” for an answer. However, by following that up with “but what if I posted a film and photography notice with all of the appropriate disclaimers at all entrances to the event?” you’ve now provided a potential solution that allows for compromise.

Resist the urge to make user-generated content more than it is. A celebrity’s video goes viral and she’s wearing a shirt with your logo on it? Retweet it but don’t imply that she endorses your brand because of it. A fan uploads an Instagram photo of him drinking your brand’s beverage? Like it, comment on it, but don’t download it and share it on Twitter with your own take on the photo. Brands get themselves into trouble when they try to modify external content, share it across channels where it wasn’t posted originally, or imply endorsement. The safest thing to do is ask for permission, attribute it correctly, and stay within the same channel (that way, you’re protected by the terms of use for that platform).

With a little research and a lot of empathy, you can help turn your brand’s lawyers into a content creation resource, rather than an adversary.

For more information on content curation and whether or not you can fall into legal trouble, take a look at The Webb Law FirmPRSA’s informational guide about copyright or visit lawyer, blogger and speaker Kerry O’Shea Gorgone’s blog that discusses legal issues social media marketers can face.

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Create Content for Humans, Not Machines

June 14, 2016

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Let me preface this post by saying that I’m the current Director of PR and Content Integration at an agency. I’m telling you this so that I can tell you this – I really hate content marketing.

Well, let me rephrase – I hate what marketers have done to content marketing. Content marketing used to represent the new era of marketing – a less offensive, less intrusive, and more useful way of advertising. Brands realized that interrupting what their customers were doing only to shout at them with CTAs were getting their ads blocked and fast-forwarded with increasing regularity.

The content marketing revolution was upon us! Brands came to understand that if they started creating really useful and entertaining content, people would not only stop avoiding it, they would even (gasp!) search it out. This led to brands creating everything from full-blown magazines to films to video games to how-to videos. Life was good. Brands stopped shouting at customers and started delivering more of what their customers were looking for.

Unfortunately, just as marketers did with commercials and TV, spam and email, banner ads and the Internet, we’ve reduced content marketing to nothing more than yet another way to score some impressions, views and likes. Rather than solving problems, telling stories, and collaborating with our customers, we’re poring over analytics and algorithms to figure out ways to optimize clicks and shares.

Engineers, analysts, and data scientists have wrested control of content marketing from the creatives, writers, and storytellers. We’re letting Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Google’s algorithms decide what to create and when and how to share it. And like a Las Vegas casino, those algorithms are put in place to help the house, not you the brand, and surely not the end user. And so on we go feeding the machine, creating and sharing more and more content, all in an attempt to get these algorithms to smile down upon us with the occasional huge payout.

Las Vegas slot machines.jpg

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5709790

We’ve even gone so far as to remove humans entirely from the process. Chatbots are taking over customer service (oh good, the digital version of “Press 1 if you are having an emergency”), blog posts are being written by machines, even native advertising is being standardized and placed programmatically.

Here’s the problem. In our big data haze, we’ve forgotten the whole point of content marketing. How much of the content we create anymore is truly for our customers? How much of it actually builds our brand? How much time and money are we spending on creating content that serves another platform’s goals more than our brand’s business goals?

Creating content for a social media platform is a lot like feeding the slot machine – put in a lot of cheap coins to trigger an algorithm and hope for a jackpot. Instead, let’s start creating content for people, not machines. Let’s take back control of our brand’s story from the social platforms. Let’s get back to creating content that benefits our customers. Let’s get back to using data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. The data that we have access to now is exponentially more powerful than it was even just a few years ago, but rather than using that data, we’re just abdicating our decision-making to it. Data should be used to help us identify what our customers actually need, not just what they’ll click the most.

Sure, that video interview with your head of customer service may have taken a lot more time to create and probably won’t get as many likes as that cat GIF you shared the other day, but it was probably a hell of a lot more effective at telling your brand’s story and educating your customers about who you really are and what you can do for them. I’m guessing it’s also a lot easier to justify the time and expense of creating a customer service video than a series of cat GIFs.

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