Tag Archives: advertising

Watching Church and State Slide Down the Slippery Slope

This article originally appeared at PRDaily.

The intersection of Church and StateThere’s a common request I’ve been receiving, and it has me simultaneously annoyed, disappointed and scared for the future.

The question comes (via email) in one of two forms:

  1. We’re interested in doing an editorial story on your client. For a small fee, we’ll be able to put together a feature story including an interview with your CEO.
  2. We’d love to develop an entire issue on your client including an interview with your CEO, several other members of the leadership team and a feature video that will run online. In exchange, all we ask is you provide us with a list of partners we can contact to see if they’re interested in purchasing advertising in the issue.

The initial request is usually followed up with something along the lines of “we do have a line between our editorial and advertising departments, but we also have to remember that we’re running a business too…”

Infuriatingly, these inquiries aren’t just coming from scam sites like The Leading Edge or Worldwide Business. I’ve been getting them from legit magazines, newspapers and websites, and even when I am working on something that’s purely editorial, it usually doesn’t take long for someone from the advertising side to reach out and ask if I’d be interested in purchasing an ad as well. I’ve even had publishers call me directly and tell me they keep editorial and advertising departments separate, but if I bought an ad, he’d “talk with the editor and make sure we got a story in there for you.” The worst scenario is when a reporter is interested in a story but is only willing to run it if you buy ad space, too.

Thanks to the popularity of native advertising and the shrinking of editorial departments, this pay-for-play approach is becoming more prevalent, and sadly, more accepted. There used to be a very clear separation of church and state, and now this line isn’t just blurred, it’s become almost non-existent.

For a PR guy like myself, this trend is disheartening for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it minimizes the work I do earning an authentic interest in my clients’ stories. No, the more concerning consequence of this mixing of church and state is the audience no longer knows the provenance of the content they’re consuming. Are those headphones really a best buy for Christmas, or did the publication include them because of that headphones ad that’s also in the issue? Is that thought leadership article really the work of a visionary, or is the author the CEO of a company that happened to do a media buy with that same publication?

In an era of “fake news,” Russian social media bots, and Bell Pottinger, this is a very dangerous development. What was once an outlier is now becoming more mainstream, and by fundamentally undermining the credibility of the media, this administration has created a self-fulfilling cycle of mistrust between the media and the public.

If the public no longer expects impartial reporting, then why should we even try? If the public is OK with pay-for-play content, then why wouldn’t we offer more of it?

The convergence of PR, marketing and advertising has only worsened the issue. While I may view these quid pro quo arrangements between advertising and editorial as abhorrent, many of my colleagues with marketing or advertising backgrounds celebrate it. Why wouldn’t they? They get the article, the editorial control, the timing and the impressions they want, all guaranteed for a dollar figure they can plan for versus paying someone like myself to try and earn that coverage with no guarantees. Add on surveys and studies that show the public doesn’t care if the content was paid or earned, and you’ve got an industry-wide ethical crisis on your hands.

What’s the solution? It’s going to take more than well-intentioned letters to the editor or codes of ethics to solve this problem. After all, the problem lies primarily with practitioners outside the confines of organizations like PRSA or CIPR. It’s marketers who view this as another extension of native advertising. It’s media buyers who think they’re doing PR people a favor by negotiating editorial as part of their ad buys. It’s CMOs who only look at the impact on their marketing campaign instead of the impact on their business.

Maybe Unilever’s threat will spur other brands to take a more active role in media ethics, but history tells me otherwise. As these walls between editorial and advertising tumble down, it’s become more and more difficult to spot pay-for-play content in the media, even for people in the industry like myself.

The answer must start and end with the general public. Call out lazy, biased reporting. Flag fake news as such. Check multiple sources. Report undisclosed sponsored content to the FTC. Pay for journalism so the media isn’t forced to rely on brand dollars to survive. A free and impartial press is integral to our democracy. Insist on it—for all our sakes.

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

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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A Partial Reading List for PR Students

Students in class

Image courtesy of Flickr user vasta

College students across the country are in the midst of moving back to college for the fall semester. In between partying, traveling, club activities, sports, Greek commitments, and jobs, some will also be attending classes. Those lucky enough to be taking a PR class should be looking forward to discussions about an industry that’s being turned upside down by technology. You’ll learn from brands who have made mistakes. You’ll learn from brands who have succeeded. You’ll learn about laws governing social media. You’ll learn how to use social media for yourself. You’ll learn how social media is being integrated into areas beyond just marketing and PR. And you’ll also probably learn plenty of tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, all in the name of efficiency, scalability, or optimization.

Do me a favor this semester. If your PR professor starts sounding like a Buzzfeed article sharing all kinds of tips and tricks advocating how to get the most fans, followers, retweets, likes, or views, tell them that you want to stop taking the easy way out.

If the books and blogs you’re reading for your PR or marketing class start to sound too much like late night infomercials extolling get-rich quick schemes, here’s are some resources I’d recommend sharing with your professor and classmates this semester.

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto  – I’ve talked about this book a lot for a reason. It’s one of the first books I read when I first started in social media back in 2006. It’s as relevant now and it was then, and is a great foundation for any PR or marketing professional.
  • Humanize – Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter provide a fantastic how-to on making organizations not just seem more human, but actually function in a more human way. It tackles the hard people side of change that most organizations seem to think is taken care of with a memo or a training class.
  • Marketing in the Round – Marketing and PR are no longer the only organizational touchpoints with the public. Customer service, marketing, PR, operations, executive leadership – the public doesn’t care about your org chart. Successful marketing is integrated marketing.
  • Social Media Strategist – There’s a difference between being the millenial who is handed the keys to an organization’s social media accounts and being a business leader who uses social media to change an organization. FYI – the latter is who you want to be. Read this book and learn how to do that.
  • Spin Sucks – One of my favorite blogs for years – Gini and her team are whip-smart PR practitioners who understand there’s no technology replacement for good PR.
  • The BrandBuilder Blog – You’ll hear people whine and complain about the difficulty in measuring the ROI of social media ROI. Don’t be one of those people. Read Olivier’s blog and book.
  • Shel Holtz – I’ve been a fan for more than five years. Shel’s one of the smartest PR practitioners you’ll ever meet.
  • Shelly Kramer – I’ve just started reading Shelly’s blog over the last year or so, but I love her matter-of-fact approach to marketing and conversational tone.
  • Doug Haslam – I love Doug’s sense of humor and willingness to call BS on marketing “best practices” that have pervaded this industry.
  • Rick Rice – Rick and I share very similar views and frustrations with the PR industry – the PR practitioner as consultant and adviser, not as publicity hound.
  • Geoff Livingston – I’ve known for a long time too and have always admired his commitment to his beliefs and his broad knowledge of everything from marketing to branding to PR to social media.
  • Jeremiah Owyang – one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this industry. His blog, presentations, and dozens of research studies have been immensely helpful to my career.

There are a lot of other great resources out there (please share them in the comments), but sadly, even more that will lead you down a path full of shortcuts and hacks.

This semester, avoid taking the easy way out and remember that establishing and maintaining relationships are supposed to be hard. As any college student will tell you, creating and maintaining any relationship isn’t easy. It’s not easy in our personal lives, and it’s certainly not easy in our professional lives. It takes time and commitment. There’s small talk, awkward silences, disagreements, reconciliations, and long conversations. This is the case whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates, customers, reporters, or employees.

Through all the tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, remember that at the end of the day, successful PR really comes down to basic interpersonal communications. Listen more than you talk. Empathize with the other person. Add more value than you take. Say please and thank you. Be honest. Apologize when you’re wrong. Keep the basics as your foundation and you’ll do just fine this year and into the future.

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Using Social Media to Reach the Hard-Working Class

How are you engaging with the new "hard-working class?"

How are you engaging with the new “hard-working class?”

They’re not part of the 99% or the 1% or the 47%. They’re not part of the East Coast Elite or the Bible Belt or the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt. They’re nurses, office administrators, housekeepers, entrepreneurs, waitresses and stay-at-home moms. They’re told they’re part of the middle class, but they sure don’t feel like they are. They’re part of a growing class of people in this country making between $30K and $50K a year, aren’t eligible for government assistance (and wouldn’t take it even if they were), are married with kids, and are working their butts off to make things work any way they can.

According to new research released today by Cramer-Krasselt (disclaimer: I work there), more than 75% of lower-middle income moms are more likely to identify themselves as part of a new group called the “Hard-Working-Class. These are people, specifically working moms, who don’t identify with the any of existing consumer segments. They’re technically middle-class, but middle-class doesn’t reflect their reality.

“I’m technically middle class, but I don’t feel that way. If you’re middle class, you should be able to have a home, be able to save for college. I’m barely able to make ends meet. Every day is just a struggle.”

The study found that these moms are re-defining themselves into a new social class and social mindset. For marketers, these moms don’t represent just a new, sizable consumer segment, they wield a lot of influence within their families and with their friends. And while they are price sensitive, they also have many smart strategies for making ends meet.

  • They use coupons…a lot
  • They like/follow/subscribe to brands in social media…if there’s a deal involved
  • They get together with friends…to share and trade clothes, food, and coupons
  • They use coupons to save money…but also to get that feeling of “getting a deal”
  • They buy generic brands…but will spend more for “tried-and-true” brand names

Marketers have to not only better understand this new segment of consumer, they have to find out how to help them. It’s not just about getting these “masters of making it work” to buy your products, it’s about identifying ways to help them out. They’re looking for brands to do more than just offer them a deal or a coupon. They’re looking for acknowledgement, recognition, and most importantly, support.

For members of this hard-working class, they use online communities, forums, Facebook, and Pinterest to create these communities and support systems and conduct the research that allows them to make their dollar work as hard as possible for them. For brands, social media allows them to connect with these moms…if they can stop the hard sell and be helpful and supportive.

  1. Go where they are. Hard-working class moms realize they can’t do it all by themselves. That’s why they’re constantly scouring message boards, forums, and other social media for tips, tricks, and deals. Rather than creating your own branded online communities, consider first actively participating in existing unbranded communities by answering questions, solving problems, and offering discounts to those who need it. Why do you think Best Buy employees frequent online electronics forums or car brands actively participate on top auto blogs? Not to drive customers to a branded site, but to solve problems and answer questions where they already are.
  2. Instead of begging for likes, ask for feedback. Stop using social media to grovel for likes and instead use it to ask what your brand can do to help these moms. Is it making smaller, less expensive SKUs? Is it offering payment plans? These moms have been misunderstood by brands for years. Use your social media channels to ask them for their thoughts and really understand their situation. The trick then, of course, is that you have to actually do something with this feedback once you get it. 
  3. Help her use what she already has. Take a page from Patagonia, who explicitly told their customers that they didn’t have to buy a new jacket just because it was the holiday season. They realized that by helping their customers understand how to do more with what they had, they actually increased loyalty and sales.
  4. Demonstrate the versatility of your products. Campbell’s has realized these moms are always thinking of ways to stretch their budget so they are helping customers understand new ways to use their products. Their Chunky Dinner Creator allows moms to stretch that one can of soup into a whole dinner for her family. Brands should use social media to demonstrate unique uses of their products and encourage their customers to share their discoveries too.
  5. Evolve the coupon. Brands have used coupons to instill customer loyalty by offering a discount. But these women aren’t looking for handouts – they’re looking for hand-ups. They’re looking for more value, not just lower prices. What if brands flipped the coupon and instead of lowering prices, they offered more value at the same price? What if brands took all that big data everyone’s talking about to identify and reward their loyal customers with insider access, limited edition products, or sneak peeks into new plans?
  6. Show how your products work in conjunction with others. Are you a fashion brand? Use Pinterest to show these moms how your shirts, pants, or accessories can be matched up with other clothing items they may already own. A food brand? Help them craft entire meals for their family. A car brand? Instead of talking about horsepower and torque, show how your cars can fit a soccer team’s equipment in the trunk or how kids can stow their toys in the backseat.

What do you think? Has the term “middle-class” become an anachronism? Is it too broad to actually mean anything to anyone? Do you know anyone who identifies more with the hard-working class? Do you?

For more on the study, check out the articles below:
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