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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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What Does Integrated Marketing Mean to the Future of the PR Professional?

April 4, 2014

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This article originally appeared in the April edition of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) magazine, Communication World. 

For years, marketing, advertising, and public relations folks fought over budgets, scopes of work, ownership, and talent. It was an inefficient, yet accepted dance at organizations of all shapes and sizes. There was paid media, and there was earned media — and for the most part, everyone understood their role.

If only things were still this easy. Today we have Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Managers, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) analysts, Digital Analysts, Community Managers, Content Marketing Specialists, and way too many social media ninjas, gurus, and rockstars. There’s paid media, earned media, owned media, shared media, and something called omni-channel media. The traditional buckets of marketing, advertising, and public relations seem so quaint now.

Customers don’t care about your org chart, your P&L, or which of their agencies are managing which channel. They just expect you to move seamlessly and consistently from channel to channel and device to device, whether that’s using paid, earned, or owned methods. And increasingly, the clients don’t care about these artificial lines of demarcation either. According to a recent 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.

Some of the biggest marketing and PR agencies are already adjusting their business models and organizational structures to better optimize their efforts in this new environment:

  • Edelman has recently created a position – Global Director of Paid Media – responsible for defining their approach to paid media and for integrating it into their accounts.
  • Earlier this year, FleishmanHillard restructured to be more channel-agnostic, integrating paid, owned, and earned media. In 2011, they placed $250 million worth of ads in paid media. In 2012, that number increased to more than $1.2 billion.
  • Weber Shandwick created MediaCo, a new unit focused on content marketing, native advertising, and digital media buying.
  • Cramer-Krasselt, my employer, while traditionally seen as an ad agency, actually uses an integrated structure that aligns PR, social media, advertising, paid media, CRM, search, and paid media under one P&L that allows us to create seamlessly integrated campaigns across all forms of media.

PR professionals know, of course, that their job is to build meaningful relationships with their stakeholders. However, doing so today means reaching them through paid, earned, owned, and shared media — understanding how all of these channels work, the content each requires, and how to piece it all together into an integrated plan. Clearly, PR is no longer about just getting “ink” in print or pixels. It’s about developing multi-channel relationships with a variety of stakeholders. It means learning more about paid media and how to incorporate those costs into budgets. It means integrating social ads, sponsored content, and syndicated content into strategies from the very beginning. It means the PR pros with experience in paid, owned AND earned media are going to become much more valuable.

If the traditional practitioner wants to remain relevant in this multi-channel environment, he or she is going to have to stop looking at only media hits and impressions, and  start thinking through the entire customer journey across all channels. For example –

  • That reporter at the New York Times just called and said he’s doing a story on your brand! Will he blog about it too? Will he share it with his 100K Twitter followers and Facebook fans? Is your brand willing to retweet his story? How can you use your owned channels to drive more traffic to that story?
  • The blog content you’re publishing is relevant, valuable, and engaging yet no one is reading it. What’s the right syndication partner to increase your audience size? Should you use paid search links to drive additional traffic? How will the increased traffic impact your bounce rate?
  • What’s the hashtag for that event you’re planning? Should you even have one? How will you create shareable moments during the event? Who’s serving as the digital emcee?
  • Your brand is doing a large paid media buy with one of your target publications. How does this impact your pitch to the editorial staff? How segregated are their advertising and editorial teams?

Building and maintaining stakeholder relationships today is very different than even a few years ago.  Thankfully, the tools used to manage them have evolved also. The reach and influence of some organizations’ owned channels rival that of some traditional publications. Some publications offer sponsored content hubs that mirror the look and feel of their editorial content. The social media newsfeed has become a mishmash of sponsored and organic content and they’re often indistinguishable from each other.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rasta Taxi

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rasta Taxi

Knowing when and how to pull these paid, earned, owned, and shared levers could make the PR pro a multi-channel quarterback because we best understand our stakeholders’ information needs, media consumption habits, and user journeys. As the lines between paid and earned media disappear, the PR pro has to be more proactive and get more involved across the entire marketing mix. Whether that’s being part of the creative team brainstorming the new commercial or working with paid media to create more effective media partnerships, one thing’s clear. The PR pro is going to have to figure out how to get more involved in other channels or risk being left out of the process entirely.

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