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One of Banksy's Public Works in New York City

One of Banksy's Public Works in New York City

A few months ago I had a chance to check out a book of Banksy’s art.  At least for me, I consider it art, others may consider some of the work graffiti or vandalism, but that’s a different discussion.

In the book I was flipping through there is a quote from Banksy stating, “Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use.  Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”

While very much focused on advertising – billboards, poster-boards, etc. – and brought to life by some of Banksy’s public works where the existing Ads were altered, I think it holds true to the online world of communications today as well.

More than ever, companies in the tech sector (and others) are acting as publishers and the sheer amount of vendor generated content in the form of blogs, videos, photos, slideshows, podcasts, etc. are almost unavoidable. Whether you are creating a video, shooting photos of an event or just publishing your latest white paper, its important to keep in mind that the minute you share it online – your message is now open to the world at large to ‘take, re-arrange and re-use.’  This is a trend we call Socialized Media and is permeating not only vendor Websites but industry publications as well.

In many cases the opportunity is present for someone to interpret, analyze and share opinions and perspectives on your content — so the concept of re-using or re-arranging may take many different forms.  In short, the job of creating and sharing is the first step, the ongoing conversation and engagement around the content is what becomes even more important for you to be a part of. Have you thought through what you’d do if / when a competitor responds publicly to your content or a mashup being created of your content or are you even prepared to track and monitor that conversation?

In many cases, how you respond or don’t may say as much about your brand as the original content itself.

To use Banksy’s words, in the evolving world of communications, there is a fine line between throwing rocks at someone and throwing a rock WITH someone – so they realate to and become part of sharing your message.

View more presentations from Luca Penati.

Last week I spoke at Santa Clara University about the changes in the media industry and the impact these have on PR. It was my opportunity to speak about Tech PR, Social Media, “Socialized Media”, Visual Storytelling and of course about Content, and the key role it plays – has always played – in everything we do.

Here is a link to a great blog post on the event.

This week wrapped up San Francisco’s Web 2.0 Expo with its conversations about openness and transparency (including NPR talking about its API), innovation (presented by the “accidental entrepreneurs” of Threadless.com), and marketing (which took the form of everyone talking ad nauseum about Twitter, including the upcoming cruise on which you can learn tweeting best practices).

Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media and the person who coined the phrase “Web 2.0” to describe the phenomenon of increased social and consumer-created interactions online, spoke about the changes in the media industry with a group of 15 bloggers at one morning roundtable. O’Reilly, whose company publishes the DIY magazine Make and its sister web publication Craft, wore a Maker Faire t-shirt while answering questions about the types on content that stand to survive the much-discussed “death of print.” Craft has been distributed as a somewhat substantial print magazine but is soon to become an online only publication. The switch is a bittersweet one: while I’ll miss dog-earing and saving the physical volumes, I’m intrigued by the multimedia and mobile content possibilities it presents for clever creators.

O’Reilly described some of the variables that have become key considerations for media organizations looking for sustainable long-term publishing models:

  • Format: The Web becoming more people’s de facto space for interaction with other people and their ideas raises huge questions about how content providers can create the most optimal experiences. Because reading coverage online can be a more distracting experience than holding a piece of printed material, how can web publishers best replicate the more static offline reading experience? Should they?
  • Visibility: It was interesting to see O’Reilly’s mention of the importance of awareness and promitions come up again in the Threadless keynote when founders Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff said they’ve never used print or television advertising to promote their efforts. Instead, they describe their weekly e-newsletter as their most traditional form of marketing.
  • Distribution and sales: The recession has made bottom line production costs a consideration not just for publication managers but for audiences as well. Readers have good reason to be concerned about the transition away from the longer lead times and bigger staffs that newspapers and magazines enjoyed, especially since there’s no assurance that bloggers and microbloggers will pick up the slack to regularly develop decent in-depth coverage.

Because each of these factors has so many additional variables (form factors and timeliness of delivery not the least among them), the issue of the quality of the news product that the reader is getting can be overlooked. While print publications are inherently limited in the amount of sensory information they can deliver (video, real-time observations from the community, and photo slideshows win here), I’m concerned that the demise of print gives us an easy excuse not to create something well-made in its place but to sink to the level of what O’Reilly described as the most minimal form of publishing–the dreaded retweet.


If you’re a Sheryl Crow fan like me, you’ll recognize the lyrics from Maybe Angels. But in this economy, B2B marketers and Tech PR pros are dying to believe that IT decision-makers are out there ‘angels of the technology economy’ that they are – ready to be engaged.

And Forrester Research says they are out there. Forrester’s just released study The Social Technographics Of B2B Buyers by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young looks to be a fantastic study on what buyers of technology products are doing with social media. We knew they were out there, I swear. But its been difficult to determine who they are (still is), and what exactly they’ve been doing with social media as it relates to their jobs (now we’ve got the first look). The good news is they are on the whole (77%) engaging with social media, though predominantly as what Forrester calls ‘spectators’. Which is fine. That’s what we do in PR; reach out to target audiences (active or spectator) to foster positive engagements.

Take a look. Laura Ramos gives a nice overview of the study on her blog. Our B2B technology PR clients have done some effective initial forays into social media. Now with greater data to prove the right targets will be there, there’s no time to lose to jump in with both feet.


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Tech PR in 2009 and beyond.

A new year. A new American President. A bad recession. There are many reasons why I have been thinking about the future of Tech PR, not just through 2009 but beyond. What is the role PR agencies play in this new world? I am an optimist by nature, and cautious by experience.

What can we expect to see, in the short term and the long? Is PR going to suffer as an industry?

I see seven major trends:

1.    Smart companies continue to invest in PR during recessions because this is the time to gain market share, differentiate yourself from your competition, build your brand and protect your reputation. I like the way Craig Barrett put it “You can’t save your way out of recession – you have to invest your way out.”

2.    PR agencies who can provide a seamless, integrated approach to tech companies will survive better than tech specialists. This is the time where you need to provide your clients with counsel on different issues, so you need to have a team of people with different backgrounds that you can pull from. Corporate reputation, crisis and issue management, consumer marketing, public affairs, government, and vertical expertise…the list goes on. The agency who can deliver a seamless, holistic mix has a huge competitive advantage (and will prove most useful to clients.)

3.    Tech companies need to learn how to better integrate PR and marketing. In a media world that is becoming more complex, fractured; where the difference between earned and paid media is blurry, companies that will develop a strategic, integrated marketing approach (we call it 360) will go beyond mere survival. It’s not about channels; it’s about how you engage with your stakeholders. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Agencies that can deliver on that will hugely benefit from it (and so will their clients.)

4.    Social media is not killing PR agencies; on the contrary. It’s giving us more opportunities. We all read posts about social media killing PR… well, anyone who thinks PR is  just calling media doesn’t have a clue about what we actually do. As I mentioned above, the complexity of the environment is only adding square feet (and toys) to our already really fun sand box.

5.    Chief Content Officer. Content creation is key. With the media shrinking (every day we hear of layoffs at very prestigious media outlets) creating your own content and distributing it through different channels is critical to the success of building a powerful brand. Is it time for a new position? Chief Content Officer, anyone?

6.    The world is flat, yes. But it is also hot and crowded as Thomas Friedman pointed out. Two trends here. Global and Green. Let’s start with global. Clients need PR agencies to work with them on a global basis, but it’s not about “Think Globally, Act Locally” anymore. It’s about idea creation and sharing those ideas globally, efficiently. It’s about understanding the sensibilities of different markets and cultures.

7.    Green. As I wrote in my post the opportunity for working with green tech companies is huge. But the skill set needs to go beyond pure tech PR. You need to combine b2b tech with experience in public affairs, energy, government relations and corporate reputation.

PR is here to stay. Paraphrasing Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” song, PR can never die, there’s more to the picture.

my my, hey hey
rock and roll is here to stay
it’s better to burn out
than to fade away
my my, hey hey

hey hey, my my
rock and roll can never die
there’s more to the picture
than meets the eye
hey hey, my my

Here is to a new era of responsibility.

Here is an important post on TechCrunch about the decision of the SEC to recognize corporate blogs as public disclosure. This is just a natural step towards more visual communication, something we have been talking about on this blog for some time and something we are pushing our clients to embrace more and more. I predict we will see companies (probably mid-size technology companies) to embrace this more rapidly than others. One thing is to have the SEC making this decision, the other is to change the corporate culture overnight. It will require time and as PR consultants we will need to sit down with our clients and help them go through this process. It seems easy. But it’s not. Game on.

For the past couple of years I haven’t been in a client meeting or industry event where “social media” isn’t mentioned. Forget “mention”: it has been at the core of the discussion. But in all these conversations, what hasn’t been covered is how traditional media, in particular tech press, is evolving, changing, adapting; and what this means for “traditional” tech PR professionals. Publishers like CMP (or better the former CMP) and IDG are changing. They have been “socialized”.

From now on, when I talk to a client or colleague, I’d like to make a distinction between social media and socialized media.

Of course I believe they are both very important, but they are critically different. And since all the attention has been focused on the first one, in this post I want to share some initial thoughts on the latter:

  1. Traditional tech papers have been migrating for the past 2/3 years from print to online. By 2010 there won’t be any print. We will be living in a Paperless Tech PR world.
  2. Traditional space in the media to cover tech related stories is shrinking, but new opportunities to pitch and place stories are rising in new, different venues. The use of video, slide shows, graphs is exploding. The publishers themselves are still sorting out what they want to be, still blurry on what is pay to play and what is vendor content deemed worthy of editorial sharing. They’d be wise to make the distinction. As PR professionals, we now need to learn how to navigate this new environment and become fluent visual storytellers. We always knew that “an image is worth 1,000 words “. Now a video is worth even more.
  3. Almost all “traditional” journalists (I hate calling them traditional, as if they didn’t matter anymore – they do) are now blogging. We all know that. Some of them prefer staying unbiased on reporting, others enjoy the opportunity to become commentators. But the way they get their information and are sharing their stories is changing. Some of them are using social networks to do that, others not. So, in some cases, following a journalist on Twitter can be the best way to find out about a story or to come up with a brilliant pitch.
  4. Everyone is now a publisher. Now, in the “socialized media” world, tech publishers are eager to use vendor-generated content. The publishers are becoming a distributor of information. Transparency, ethics and credibility will play an important role as new rules will apply.
  5. Bloggers can be social media or they can be writing for a socialized media outlet. How can we define what’s what? Traditional bloggers like Michael Arrington, Om Malik and Robert Scoble (I love to define them as the traditional ones!) are spending a lot of time building their own personal brands. We can call them the “brandbloggers.” Bloggers of traditional media outlets (the “journabloggers”) are not focused on that at all. They are journalists by background, enjoy the freedom that only a blog platform can give them and know that branding is not part of their job description.

So what’s the net-net? As PR practitioners we are in front a very complex ecosystem, with a lot of moving parts. I think knowing and understanding the different motivations of all the players (the blogger, the journalist, the publisher, the editor) will make us better counselors and strategists.

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