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?

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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

Lesson #1 for Social Media Marketing: Don’t be the dupe

I just read Ryan McNutt’s blog (New Media Officer for Dalhousie University) with a post about misleading Facebook groups; ones set up by marketing companies to capitalize on the “Class of 20XX” propensity for students to connect and discuss their upcoming university adventure.

Read it.

Lessons to be learned? First of all, protect your brand. That means sometimes you have to call in the lawyers — and when other parties are pretending to be you, it’s most likely lawyer time. And for the more insidious of marketing companies, always remember that brand authenticity toes a razor-thin line.  Social media vehicles offer unprecedented access, but also wing-melting proximity to screw it up. As Stractical has said before and will say again, the hallows of public relations lie in locating credibility. When you play the dupe, you desecrate your audience’s trust.

Time to ReBrand?

Take a few minutes to think about your brand and get inspired by the best in re-branding efforts in 2009 from the ReBrand 100 Global Awards.

Besides the benefits of refreshing the look of your product or company, re-branding can be used to underscore change or advancement for your brand in the mind of the media. Why the change? What’s different? Where are you going? If you can answer those questions in a meaningful and newsworthy way, with splashy new creative to supplement as visuals, you just might have built yourself strategic media campaign. 

Back when I worked in corporate communications for a major ad firm, we’d call this “pitching around the creative.” It’s a tactic that you should pull out of your bag of tricks only once in a while (because no one cares that you changed your bus ads again, necessarily) but can be used effectively. The greatest example of “pitching around creative” is the spectacle that is Super Bowl ads. While the astronomical prices of Super Bowl airtime reflect the viewership during the Big Game (sorry, “Super Bowl” is a registered trademark of the powers-that-be) it’s the collateral press coverage that Super Bowl ads gain that truly justify the return on investment. 

Have thoughts on when and when not to “pitch around the creative” for brands, products and organizations? Please leave a comment.

Blog to Stick

While I might be wiser to write a post on keeping up with writing posts on one’s blog (and hey, I think I will) I thought I’d take some time to share a great book I’ve been reading.

If you’re like me, you’re probably in the middle of reading three or four books at any one time. I tend to have a work of fiction, something on economics or history, something on sports (mixing with economics and history) and a book that can be generally described as marketing, business or communications strategy-related on the go at any given time.

orange is a sticky cover for a book, dont you think?

orange is a sticky cover for a book, don't you think?

For the latter category, I’ve just finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. One a Stanford professor of organizational behaviour and the other a new-media education expert, these brothers walk us through the foundation of what makes certain ideas break through the clutter and attach to our brains like Velcro — that’s the “stickiness” factor.

The book is broken into six sections with a cleverly-designed acronym (a catalyst for stickiness). Ideas, the Heaths argue, should be:

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
and tell a Story
(SUCCEs)

While treading similar water to Malcolm Gladwell’s wildy popular The Tipping Point, Made to Stick survives with circumstance where Gladwell led with pomp. The authors use countless real life examples in a variety of situations to show why the basic principles weed their way into the best ideas. One central theme is the evidentially “stickiness” of urban legends. I won’t ruin their deconstructed examples but I’ll add my own:

Let’s take the tale of giant sewer rats scuttling through New York City’s sewer system and occasionally popping up through people’s toilets. This is a myth I remember hearing from my older sister when I was 8 or 9. I was very familiar with the giant rats from The Princess Bride and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and was both insanely excited and terrified that I could catch a glimpse of a super rat one day.

The rumours were simple, unexpected (frighteningly so), concrete in that anyone who’s seen a rat can imagine a gigantic one, credible in an anti-authority way — what they don’t want you to know!, obviously emotional and in each instance of the myth, the storyteller will claim to know someone who knows someone who’s actually seen one.

While the book is not aimed intentionally at business communicators, in spirit it’s all PR. From the “clinics” bearing examples of more and less sticky messages, to the narratives about a health official using a vivid Big Mac comparison when trying to communicate the dangerous saturated fat levels in movie theatre popcorn, marketing and communications, specifically, are tested against the theory the most.

I’ll file this one under Streducation as I would have relished the opportunity to be assigned this book back in PR school instead of those textbooks that are now holding up a wobbly bookshelf in my bedroom. I’ve started to go back and look over past campaigns, white papers and strategies I’ve been involved in and test them against some of the principles in Made to Stick, meaning the book itself resonated with stickiness for me.

I’m a heavy user of the Toronto Public Library but if you’d like to pick up your very own copy, here’s Amazon. I think you can even read a chapter there.

Read a good book PR/communications book lately? Drop a comment or an e-mail to stractical [at] gmail.com

This is just friggin’ amazing

One of my Alma Maters, Humber College, has hit the PR payload when four students built a radio and made contact with the International Space Station.

With polytechnics moving strongly with pro-active MR and GR, stories like this do wonders in tying research to colleges with the strategy to remove the stigma that college/polytechnic education is somehow “lesser” than university.  (I speak only to a popular perception, of course) 

The strategy tree reads: If x (where x is relevant stakeholders: potential students, parents, funders, politicians) believes (through some type of research) that college education is “lesser” (not respected by employers, not able to bridge to graduate studies, etc.) raise colleges profile by showing x that in fact colleges do conduct research, are granting degrees and are teaching the skills desired by the workforce. 

As if to say “Hey there Ivory Tower, while you’re navel gazing we’re talking to space.” 19 Stractical Points for aggressive underdog media-baiting. 

 

Apologies for Hiatus

Once again, so many apologies for the seemingly endless hiatus Stractical is on. Rest assured, we will be back, posting more regularly in 2009. So keep your Google Reader revved.