Ad Age: Social media marketing supplanting traditional media relations

And the earth’s temperature is heating up.

While the dismantling of traditional media both financially and by audience/credibility has been gaining steam for years, this past year’s economic meltdown has only exacerbated the derailment. Clients are pursuing more direct lines to consumers through micro-targeted ads, Youtube channels, Twitter accounts and tactics of the like while PRtists continue to race the rest of the marketing world to plant their flag on social media mastery.

But, Michael Bush at Ad Age misses the point when he jumps from the sorry state of earned media pitching to the blossoming social media marketing scene: earning credible media is still a vital and often omnipotent strategy to achieve one’s communications goals. The slow strangulation of traditional mass media outlets is most definitely bruising to experts in negotiating earned media but that doesn’t necessarily mean former media relations mavens have thrown their eggs into a basket of Tweets.

Online media is evolving in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  Both niche and mass audience vehicles are establishing themselves as credible, editorial-based outlets that audiences are galvanizing around leading to trust. Skilled PRtists are recognizing these new media places, developing relationships with their writers and editors and negotiating access, products, and news stories to them in a meaningful way for their clients or organizations.

Maybe Team PR will win the race to thought leadership and supremacy over social media marketing. Maybe they’ll realize its not the only game in town.

But be on notice: Public relations in a wired (wireless?) world doesn’t mean giving up one ghost for another. Earning media is not a thing of the past. What’s that they say about evolution not revolution?

PR Geniuses? Or a bunch of hot air?

They (the proverbial “they”) say that all publicity is good publicity. The informed public relations professional will wholeheartedly disagree with that slice of conventional wisdom. The backlash and disgust aimed at this Balloon Boy hoax that was allegedly perpetrated in an attempt to initiate interest in a reality show should prove dangerous, transparent stunts that maliciously fool the public doesn’t gather the steam of goodwill that rewards publicity seekers.

But… I just don’t know. This story isn’t going to die quickly. There are so many questions and charges and reactions yet to come that I can’t rule out the appetite for a reality show about the family that would do anything to get a reality show.

Public relations and publicity “work” by addressing goals and objectives and using its tools to advance them. The Heene family (allegedly) had a brash goal of focusing visual-hungry 24 hour cable news and making themselves famous. The reality TV game feeds off the same brash ideals. So, its hard not to credit this family with being strategic.

We’ll have to wait and see how this one turns out but I can’t help but award at least a quarter of a Stractical point to the Heene family for at least pulling Stractical out of hiatus to comment.

Burst balloon

Burst balloon

On transparency and authenticity…

I lose.

For not contributing nearly enough to this precious weblog. But while the hours in a day seem to diminish with every new month and I’m not able to update as much as I’d like, I still keep a very active blogroll of PR and communications-type vehicles that keep me in the industry loop.

One of these blogs, PR in Canada, is local, regularly updated and phenomenally written by Christie Adams. Go check it out. Really! Then come back.

………………………………………………………………….

Okay, welcome back. If simply giving praise to a blog may be considered mere lip service, I’ll prove my engagement by taking issue with a couple recent points that came across my Google Reader (articles = good, articles that provoke discussion = stractical).

From“Does Transparency Mean Corporations Can Reform Themselves Without Changing? Thoughts From The Shel Holtz Dinner,” Christie recalls a debate with Shel Holtz about a company’s ability to avoid changing behaviour (due to mediated pressure) by practicing total corporate transparency.

I think it is fundamentally wrong to assume that transparency trumps action in resolving crises or issues.  The relationship between a company and an exterior stakeholder group (generally referred to as “the public” as mediated through mass media but really any group that does not have a vested interest in the viability of the company like a shareholder or employee) is forever tenuous because of the disparity of negotiated principles.

Whereas internal stakeholder groups have specific negotiated principles with respect to the company — increase the share price or produce a dividend — the public’s relationship is less clearly defined. The public generally accepts populist frames like fairness, equality, underdog triumphs and honest disclosure and rejects the opposites of these principles like hypocrisy, obstruction, or asymmetrical conflicts (like layoffs). If you’re representing an oil company that is making huge profits and there is an environmental or gas price crisis, the public is not going to like you.

Transparency satisfies one of these populist principles, especially in the tobacco and Wal-Mart examples since the contentious issue relates to ethics. Tobacco companies lie and sell people death sticks and Wal-Mart locks their employees in their stores overnight according to public lore.  Both are, in the abstract, bad. Using transparency to clarify so-called “bad” (unpopular) policies is better than letting the unpopular policies fester in the public’s mind. But honesty only addresses one of these principles. If your company’s ethics are in question, disclosing the questionable policies is better than hiding your head in the sand, but it’s only one level up. A commitment to transparency should and must include a willingness and openness to amend unethical or other secret behaviour.

Now, I’m not saying that corporate transparency is always the right move for every company and every reputation management initiative — I believe (and I’ll post about this in the future) that often some moves companies make would never pass the public’s populist principles, even with savvy public relations support — but if you have made the commitment to disclose, you can’t ignore the prerogative to change and adapt without drawing attention to the fact that you are refusing to change and adapt.

A quick note on: “Popularity Defines A ‘Real’ Online News Outlet”

I agree that the line between bloggers and journalists is blurring. But the important point for PRtists, when assessing an outlet is not merely popularity, it’s suitability. The internet has brought a level of specialization in journalistic content in that there are blogs for enthusiasts for specific models of cars. When considering suitability to pitch or engage in media relations with bloggers, popularity is just one of the factors that we must consider. The most important factor is credibility. Like trade print publications, online entities can have small audiences that deem the outlet to be so credible and trustworthy that a product review, spokesperson defence, expert comment or other PR-centred activity will almost certainly be well received. Now, judging credibility speaks to PR measurement which is, as discussed here previously, a black hole but we should still recognize that spikes and trends in popularity may not necessarily point to spikes and trends in credibility.

Thanks again to PR in Canada for getting the blog rolling again!

Big Tobacco

Can they be honest AND evil?

No Crossing The Blog Line

Apologies all around for not posting this week. Sometimes life happens.

Mark Cuban, the polarizingly (not a word) charismatic owner of the Dallas Mavericks has decided to ban bloggers from the locker room, creating a clear separation between newspaper reporters and bloggers. As of now, the only person affected by this ban is Tim McMahon who blogs for the Dallas Morning News. McMahon has written a few scathing articles recently about the state of the Mavs and many believe this policy stems from a grudge. Cuban denies there is bad blood and insists that the policy is put in place so that he would not have to grant media access to any and all bloggers who wanted in the locker room.

Questions raised:

– What defines a blogger vs. a journalist? Tim McMahon, as an employee of the Dallas Morning News is subject to that paper’s code of ethics where as Stractical abides by zero codes. We’re both bloggers though. If I started printing these posts and stapling them together, would I be a journalist?

– If this is truly a grudge response from Cuban, is it safe to say that he’s never heard the phrase, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” I guess that should read “Never pick a fight with people who have WiFi access and a laptop.”

Mark Cuban

“It’s for you…”

Stractical would like to stay away from the cavalcade of slung communication tactics known as the Presidential primaries/election. Not because the Hillary vs. Obama vs. McCain vs. talk radio topic is uninteresting or doesn’t illustrate sound communications lessons. It’s just that, well… once you dive into the deep end of political communication, you may not be able to swim back to the ledge.

But.

Piggybacking on the last post, we just couldn’t help ourselves from talking about the flipside of earned-media-from-paid-media strategy. The Toronto Star reports on Hillary’s new attack ad playing in Ohio and Texas. The premise of the Cold War-style ad is that a phone is ringing and its an emergency (red phones = serious)…

“It’s 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep, but there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing,” says the narrator in Clinton’s ad.

“Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military – someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.”

The commercial plays up Sen. Clinton’s experience but in a way that can only be described as heavy-handed. And while getting her commercial picked up by credible, unpaid news outlets should be a coup for Hillary, a controversial attack ad was bound to be cut to pieces by the media. In political reporting, anytime there is an attack, they assign space for a rebuttal. And since attack ads play out as unpopular (even if they might sway voters in the end) Obama gets ample earned media space to deride the tactic. Her media money = his good press.

The lesson? Be prepared to defend your advertising to the media. If there’s controversy, you’ll rarely get the last word so make sure the first words are powerful. And ensure that your integrated strategies are similar in tone and message. If you’re going to release an aggressive ad, pro-actively communicate why it’s aggressive. Using paid media for PR purposes can be a terrific strategy, especially when trying to create news value where there is little. But remember that any paid-media exposure can stir up media coverage, positive or negative.

“The Big Game” Advertisers Win Big with Earned Media

If you remember, it’s called “The Big Game” of course, because the NFL cried trademark over the name “Super Bowl” and forced advertisers to dive into the land of vague associations. But that’s for another post.

 Marketing Magazine reports that the $2.8 million price tag for 30 seconds of commercial real estate during Pigskinapolooza also came with the hardwood floors and marble counters of almost seven thousand news articles with 750 million impressions. The data was compiled by Cision.

It’s difficult to say whether companies like Pepsi and Budweiser get their money’s worth out of a 30 second spot alone — I’d think the writers’ strike made court But the earned media is indisputably valuable as participating brands get to jump onto the one time a year when commercial advertising is reported as news. Reputable news stories describing in detail the products being advertised build hype around the products and the companies for being robust enough to play in the Gridiron Gala.

Six plus the extra Stractical point to Super Bowl advertisers for bringing their paid-media message to the editorial side and a two point conversion for Cision for compiling the data and reminding us all how important media monitoring services are.

Nice how I wrote a Super Bowl-themed post without using the word “touchdown” or “fumble” ain’t it?

Get Out Your Editorial Calendars: It’s Valentine’s Day

Here’s a story about the best places to snog in Canada. The article doesn’t really matter though. What matters is it’s Valentine’s Day which means love is in the air and love is in the ink.

Besides driving up the price of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, Valentine’s Day, like Mother’s Day and Halloween, create opportunities to pitch themed ideas. Almost every mainstream publication will include stories about romantic getaways, that perfect piece of jewelery (it comes with a slice of ‘za) and even how to get a free divorce.

So, start writing up your strats and tacs on how your client or company can jump on the holiday bandwagon. No one delves as deep into Hallmark creations as deeply as the media: It helps parse human interest stories for the year and advertisers love holidays. You’re too late for V Day this year but I hear Flag Day is going to rock hard this year.