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PR is More Than Just a Workstream

February 1, 2016

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A version of this post first appeared in the PRSA PRSAY Forum. 

PR pros have to start thinking of themselves as more than just the “earned” bubble of the PESO model. If and when they do, they’ll realize that while they’ve been focused on writing press releases, pitching the media, and planning events, marketers from other disciplines are not only playing in the earned bubble too, they’re increasingly doing it better than we are.

We live in a world of integrated marketing whether we like it or not. Ad agencies are winning Cannes Lions for “PR campaigns” and PR agencies are winning for “ad campaigns.” We may be the only ones still drawing a line between PR and marketing and between paid and earned media.

This “us vs. them” attitude is the same argument we were having 20 years ago. Today’s consumer doesn’t care. And increasingly, clients don’t care either. As Kieran Donahue, VP of Marketing Americas at Hilton Worldwide said,

“The whole idea of PR versus marketing is crap. You are all connected.”

The things that make great brand marketing are the things that PR should have always been about – authenticity, newsworthiness, shareability, transparency, creativity. Think about the best marketing campaigns. They are filled with content that you seek out, that you watch willingly, and that you share with your friends. That’s the type of content that PR has always talked about. And as more and more people use ad blockers, DVRs and subscriptions to avoid interruptive advertising, PR thinking is finally showing real business dividends.

So while PR pros are sitting around arguing about how we should have a seat at the table, other disciplines have started doing PR work better than our own industry. That invitation to the table that we’re always waiting for? It’s not coming. Seats at the table go to the people with the best ideas, not the people in a particular box on the org chart. If we want a seat at the table, we have to earn it, and once we’re there, we have to be better guests.

We have to compete on the strength of our ideas, and that means changing how we think, how we talk, and how we present ourselves. We have to think of PR less as a workstream, as a functional specialty and start thinking of it as a mindset, as a unique perspective you can bring to marketing. I spoke about this topic at the PRSA International Conference earlier this month. In my presentation, I shared five things PR pros have to start doing to improve the quality of those ideas.

  1. Get inspired. Stop reading PR-only articles and blog posts. Stop going to PR-only events. Stop talking to PR-only people. You’re not only allowed to get out of the PR bubble, it is necessary for your survival. Broaden your horizons and start checking out what other marketing disciplines are doing. Understand how they talk about themselves. How they present their ideas.
  2. Learn their language. Saying “I went into PR because I hate math” may be said jokingly, but every time it’s said, it sets our industry back. We may have different functional specialties, but we’re all business people with the same business goals. Learn about aided and unaided awareness, share points, RTBs, CTAs, CPMs, CTRs, and USPs.
  3. Think critically. Rarely is a business problem solved solely with PR. We have to stop and think with our business hat on more often. Let’s ask “is that really the problem we should be solving? Is that the real problem?”
  4. Own the big idea. We’re all tired of being asked to “PR this” or to “get coverage” for something. Why are we sitting and waiting for “the big idea?” What would happen if we were the ones coming up with the big idea? What would happen if we were driving this bus from the beginning instead of jumping on at the end? Do we even know what a “big idea” is? Instead of training our people to come up with big ideas, we train them to be smart and detail-oriented. We have to work harder to come up with our own “big ideas” – ideas that work across paid, earned, owned, and social. They have to impact the business in a profound way.
  5. Sell in the big idea. Coming up with ideas is easy. Getting them sold in to your boss, to your client, to the finance department – that’s the hard part. And unfortunately, that’s the part we don’t do well. Here’s one example of how PR is losing that battle. Leo Burnett and MSLGroup’s Always’ #LikeaGirl campaign was one of the most iconic campaigns of the past year. Not surprisingly, it was awarded the Cannes Grand Prix in PR this year. Here’s the submission video they created for Cannes, the “Oscars” of advertising and creativity:

Pretty inspiring, huh? I’ve got three daughters and that video got me thinking they’re going to change the world. What a great way to showcase that campaign. Note how it uses video and striking imagery to tell a story and inspire people. That’s what sells in big ideas, not complex slides and detailed bullets.

If you’re interested in checking my whole presentation, it’s available here. PR is what makes great brand marketing today, so shouldn’t we be the ones leading the charge?

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Who Owns Content Marketing?

October 9, 2015

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Shepard Plants Flag - GPN-2000-001120

Rather than rushing to plant your flag in content marketing, invite others to participate.

For more than 12 years now, I’ve worked at companies that have been committed to integrated marketing. That has given me the chance to work with a really diverse group of really smart people who are experts in their field. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on really big integrated marketing campaigns and to tap into industry-leading expertise and experience. I’ve always said that the actual integration is the best and worst thing about working in an integrated agency. The people in these agencies tend to be both simultaneously very competitive and very collaborative.

Most of the time, this works out just fine. There are mutual feelings of trust and respect and everyone’s pretty collaborative. There’s a lot of open dialogue, a lot of drop-by meetings, and a lot of “take a look at this and let me know what you think’s.” Sure, there may be some disagreements over the creative idea or budget allocations, but at the end of the day, everyone trusts each other to do what they do best and get the job done.

But any time there’s a new trend, tactic, or channel, this collaboration turns to competition. This happened with websites, with social media, and it’s happening again with content marketing. We continue to make the same mistakes we did before. Open dialogue gives way to back-channel alliance building. Drop-by meetings become scheduled status meetings. “Take a look and let me know what you think” turns into “here’s what we decided.” All of these really smart, really competitive people suddenly have all the answers and instead of collaborating, they compete against each other for ownership over the new toy.

  • Who owns websites? IT? PR? Marketing? Agencies?
  • Who owns social media? IT? Agencies? PR? Marketing? Legal?
  • Who owns content marketing? Agencies? Brands? Publishers? Marketing? PR? Social Media? Creative? A dedicated content marketing team?

There’s an argument to be made for and against everyone. Creative has a claim because for decades, they were the ones responsible for creating things. Digital has a claim because hey, everything is digital! PR has a claim because they have the best pulse on the audience. Social Media has a claim because much of the content is created for social media channels. And so on and so on.

Why don’t we stop competing with each other to build a content marketing walled garden, only to realize that yes, successful content marketing isn’t done in a vacuum? Content can literally encompass everything a brand creates, from commercials to blog posts to online videos. And so if the creation of that content is expected to live in a single department, you’re creating a lot of duplication, inefficiency, and competition that doesn’t need to exist. Can’t we just accept that everyone should have a content creation mindset and skip ahead to the collaboration and mutual trust and respect part?

Brands are creating a LOT of content across a wide variety of media. This is a space we can and should all play in. If you’re in marketing, you’re now a content marketer in some capacity. Congratulations. Now, let’s start working together to create content that people actually want to see.

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More Than a Stepping Stone – the Mid-Size City Becomes a PR Career Destination

August 21, 2015

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Pittsburgh Skyline

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This post originally appeared on the PRSA Pittsburgh blog.

Take a look at the social media feeds for the media in any mid-size city around the country and you’ll see a ton of listicles, articles, and hype videos talking up their hometown. Thanks to the seemingly endless demand for new content, hometown pride is stronger than ever before. And based on my newsfeed, Pittsburghers seem to love their lists more than most.

Despite their love for the ‘Burgh, many young PR and marketing pros unfortunately still look at the city as a second-tier stepping stone. That to really have a PR career, they have to move to New York or Chicago or LA. However, as I wrote back in February and Shannon Baker wrote in May, it’s well past time for the PR and marketing pros here to change the conversation around our beloved city and show the country that we’re more than a stepping stone to somewhere else.

That’s why I got so excited when I saw Josh Brewster’s PRWeek article about Kansas City in July. I saw a lot of Pittsburgh (and Cleveland and Charlotte and Nashville, etc.) in Josh’s article. I reached out to Josh recently to get his take on the evolution of the mid-size city and how other cities can learn from what Kansas City has done to retain their top PR talent.

Steve: In your PRWeek article, you mention that “the city has rallied to keep Millennials and Generation Xers in Kansas City.” Can you expand on that at all? What is the city doing to try to keep those individuals there in KC?

Josh: It’s been amazingly simple, really. As a community, we’ve come together to make this happen. And it’s not like there have been community task forces, or anything choreographed like that. It’s been grassroots, real stuff that young people and the young-at-heart can latch on to and support. The most outward facing examples are events geared toward Millenials and Gen-Xers, like the Fiery Stick Open (http://fierystick.com/). It’s a day long event in the heart of Downtown KC that features awesome music (Girl Talk), hole-in-one golf contest for $1 million dollars, good beer, bocce ball, great food…who doesn’t love that? It’s not too corporate. There are other examples too. Like the “Midnight Underground Circus” (https://midnightundergroundcircus.splashthat.com). It is funded by corporate sponsorships (the same companies that need young talent to stay here), but it keeps a grassroots vibe. Surprise concerts, funky live entertainment…all the good things in life.

And all of it is geared toward catering to the next generation…to remind them they are in the right place. Right here in KC.

Steve: Pittsburgh had a bit of a “lost generation” of people who grew up in the 80s and early 90s who fled the city (myself included) for better jobs and more opportunities elsewhere. These people are now starting to boomerang back to the city and have really started to make an impact here. Does KC have a similar “boomerang generation” and if so, how are they working with the Millennials and Gen Xers?

Josh: Oh man, we are speaking the same language here. Ditto for us in KC. I was born and raised in Kansas City.  I went to college in St. Louis, and returned home a year after I graduated. But so many of my friends (and others in general) headed to Chicago, Denver, stayed in St. Louis, moved out to LA, New York…all the usual suspects. Slowly but surely they are coming back. And you know what? They aren’t shy when they return. They are getting involved, and we are welcoming them back with open arms.

And it’s not just about geographical decisions. It’s a pride standpoint too. Some folks have lived here forever, and are now beginning to jump on the KC bandwagon. And that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s all the growth we’ve experienced downtown. Maybe it’s the Royals (hell yes). Something has lit a fire in everybody’s belly to take it up a notch. And we love it.

Steve: Beyond the lower cost of living, how has your firm and other KC firms made that mid-size city attractive to talent who may have their sights set on one of those big cities? How do you get a talented 25 year-old to turn down the opportunities in The Loop in Chicago for The Loop in KC?  

Josh: I’d be lying if I said I had a perfect solution to this. But we are trying our hardest to find and keep the very best here in KC…and specifically at our agency. We don’t always win that battle, but we make it a priority. Our angle is centered on “Impact.” In Kansas City, you can make an impact. We’re not Mayberry or anything like that. We are healthy-sized metro area – 2.75 million people. But there is something about this place that makes it feel much smaller.

We tout the philanthropic community as an incredible opportunity. It is such a welcoming opportunity, and Millenials absolutely love to have the chance to make a difference in the community…outside the office. In our opinion, it’s more difficult to break into that world in a super large metro.

We also focus on the size of our company – it’s midsized (like KC on a macro level). We have 55 folks working here. We’re all entrepreneurial, and we all have an extra gear to deliver for our clients. There’s a chance to blaze your own path in our company, and as a young up-and-comer in the Kansas City community. That’s a nice position to be in. So we sell that pretty hard.

Steve: You’ve lived in KC for a long time now and seen a lot of changes in the city and in the industry out there. What advice do you have to cities like Pittsburgh that are in the midst of a similar renaissance?  

Josh: I love this question. My advice is simple: Don’t apologize for being proud of your home city. We’re all in the same boat, whether it’s Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Austin, Nashville. We all have a sense of pride. In Kansas City, we’ve come together to make the most of that pride. Whether it’s the “KC” hats everybody wears, to the Charlie Hustle t-shirts (look them up, they are awesome) we all have, it’s a constant reminder that we are part of something awesome.

It’s that collective spirit that helps us build a new convention hotel in downtown, explore a new airport, build a world-class performing arts center, sell out Kauffman Stadium for Royals games, rejuvenate historic entertainment districts…all that good stuff.

So, the short answer is: Embrace that collective spirit, and create something awesome that a new generation can enjoy and experience.

Steve: For a client looking for a new PR or marketing agency, what are the benefits to looking outside the big cities for their next agency relationship?

Josh: I don’t think it matters where your agency is located. What matters is if they understand your key audience, the competitive landscape you are facing, and are willing to hustle on your behalf until the needle is moved. So many brands – big and small – default to big-city agencies. But I can honestly say, some of the best PR and Ad work is created in cities like Kansas City, Omaha, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They work hard, leave their ego at the door, and deliver for their clients.

We’d love to hear from other PR pros in mid-size cities across the country as well. What’s the PR scene like in Indianapolis? Columbus? Chattanooga? Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can improve apply our PR brains to change the perception of these cities among the generation that’s about to enter the workforce.

Josh Brewster is a Vice President at Trozzolo Communications Group based in Kansas City, Missouri. For more on Trozzolo, visit their website at http://www.trozzolo.com/

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Integrated Marketing Is A Mindset, Not A Mandate

March 30, 2015

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This post originally appeared on PRSA’s blog, ComPRhension.

"You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Hungry!"

According to a 2013 Forbes survey, 68% of CMOs and marketing executives put integrated marketing communications ahead of “effective advertising” (65%), when they were asked what the most important thing is that they want from an agency. That’s the result of years of agency specialization and the emergence of PR agencies, digital agencies, social agencies, creative agencies, etc. Managing all of these specialties became a job unto itself and brands are increasingly asking for both the expertise AND integration.

Unfortunately, this saturation has created a buzzword without any real meaning. Go to any agency’s website, any conference, any academic program, any industry publication and you’ll see the result – “integrated marketing” is everywhere. Integrated marketing has become nothing more than a bunch of boxes on an org chart – get the Director of Search, and a VP of Media, a Director of PR, a Senior Social Media Strategist, and a User Experience Czar in the same meeting and poof! you’ve got an integrated marketing team.

Here’s the thing. That doesn’t mean you’ve got an integrated marketing agency. What you’re more likely to have is an old-fashioned game of Hungry Hungry Hippos – everyone’s scratching and clawing to get more money and power for their respective discipline. By involving all of the functional experts, all you’ve done is get a bunch of hammers looking for nails in your meeting. That is, the social media guy will try to think of ways for social media to solve everything. The paid media guy wants a paid media solution. And so on and so on. You end up with a bunch of strategies and tactics that someone then has to cobble together into a deck that is probably organized by discipline vs. a single integrated, coherent strategy.

Integrated marketing isn’t about mandating that each capability gets a seat at the table. It’s about making sure that each seat at the table is filled by someone who is focused on meeting the business goals, regardless of capability. And perhaps counterintuitively, that may mean that those experts you went out and hired should give up their seat at the table. In my session at the PRSA Strategic Collaboration Conference on April 24th, I’ll discuss how to better leverage your team’s strengths to make integrated marketing a mindset that drives better results. I hope you’ll join me, but if you can’t, here are three tips to help create that integrated marketing mindset in your organization.

Make your org chart a little fuzzy. Functional experts, by definition, have gone deep into one particular area. Integrated marketers, on the other hand, have to be more of a jack-of-all-trades and they don’t always fit nicely into your existing org chart. Don’t force these people into a box. They’ll more valuable if they’re encouraged to flow in and out of those boxes.

Stop rewarding fiefdoms. If I’m judged solely by how much PR business I have or by how many clients I can upsell PR to, that’s where my focus is going to be. Rather than using all of our capabilities, I’m going to try to wedge PR in there whatever way I can. Truly integrated agencies reward integrated thinking, not empire-building.

Stop organizing your deliverables according to your org chart. Rather than creating different deliverables/sections/budgets for each discipline, consider organizing things based on the customer journey. This requires getting all of the disciplines working together on the same slides, not just copying and pasting their respective sections into a deck. Integrated marketing is a new way of working together to create new thinking, not a new way of organizing what we’ve always done.

I’m presenting “Improved Decision-Making: Leveraging Your Team’s Strengths and Filling in the Gaps” at the PRSA Strategic Collaboration Conference on Friday, April 24. Register to attend the conference to learn more about Steve’s topic.

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