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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Luca Penati

by Luca Penati
Category: Technology

Here is a link to a presentation I gave yesterday at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference in Berkeley. It’s about the role of Public Relations in content development and activation. Unfortunately some of the videos I used are missing in the slideshare version.

These the four key take-aways:

  1. We need to be social storytellers
  2. because every company is a media company
  3. that means that in the next few years we will see marketing departments transforming in publishing operations
  4. and while content is king, we shouldn’t forget about the Queen (Activation) and the Court (Community)

A company cannot just start a twitter and/or facebook account without having any competences in this field. Well, (technically) it can. But acting in an unfamiliar but public arena generally bears risks and this is especially true for social media. But what if a company does not have the man power – or the know-how – to professionally run a social media campaign? Fortunately, there are PR agencies that offer professional advice.
But when social media is all about transparency and authenticity how can that be handled through an external PR agency? Ok, this seems to be a no-go and could mean the end of all social media activities in the above mentioned case.

But wait – taking a closer look at the issue, there is an approach to outsource major parts of an enterprise’s social media activity without interfering with the social web’s ethos. Most important thing here: major does not equal all. A successful outsourcing of social media marketing requires active partnering and contribution from both the enterprise and its chosen agency.
At the end, it is much more crucial that the created content sticks to the social web’s rules and expectations than the question of its originator. It is important that a consistent delivery of quality content is guaranteed. And that is a task a social media specialist who is familiar with the company’s business can fulfil even better – if he is not stuck in time-consuming approval processes.

Every year San Jose State University sponsors a contest that “challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”  Click here to see this year’s winners. (It’s so worth it.)

Showcasing bad writing – especially in such a light-hearted fashion – is one way of exposing it, educating practitioners and, hopefully, elevating quality. I think it’s time the PR industry inaugurated something similar. So here goes. Readers: I challenge you to come up with opening sentences to the worst press releases you can think of. Post them in the comments section. If we get enough submissions I’ll crown a victor in a week or two.  (And let’s keep real brands out of it.)

Here’s a worrying thought: I don’t think much invention or creativity will be required.

 

This past Monday, as I feverishly refreshed Engadget’s live Blog of Steve Jobs presentation at the WWDC conference, I was reminded of this excerpt from the book about the development of the Segway, Code Name Ginger, and this quote from author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”

Apple has access to the same sort of raw material (in the form of people, technologies, strategies and tactics, etc) as their competitors, and yet is a very, very different company than all of them.  I’m not going to speculate as to why that is, this TedX video makes one argument, but I do think part of the answer – as suggested by the book excerpt linked to above which heavily features some of Steve Jobs thinking on promotions – is that the company is just more sophisticated and disciplined when it comes to marketing than most other technology companies.

Jobs presentation at the recent WWDC – and really, all his presentations – is a great showcase for some simple, straightforward marketing principles that more companies should employ:

  • Intensity: Apple treats its news like a precious commodity, hordes it, and announces it all at the same time. On Monday Jobs had 8 pieces of news. Most companies would string those out over 8 press releases and each would achieve the attention it deserves. By packaging them together their inherent news value becomes more, not less, significant.
  • Simplicity: Remember this article in the New York Times about the problem the US military has with PowerPoint? Apple doesn’t have that issue. Ever. Presentations are simple. A concept a slide. A word or two a slide. A picture in place of words whenever possible. Our minds seem to be wired to want to communicate in complex forms but to only understand things when cleanly and simply presented.
  • Credibility: Want people to understand how wonderful you are? Establish your credibility by showing them real, functional solutions (um, WiFi issues notwithstanding), and get partners and customers to help tell the story. If you’re giving them a big stage, they’d be crazy not to want to share it.
  • Beauty: Maybe it’s just me, but when Apple communicates something, it takes the time to make sure it’s presentation is, well, aesthetically pleasing. Look at the Engadget pictures. Sure the slides are text, or photos of hardware, but they look good. There’s nothing bad about being easy on the eyes.
  • Narrative: The presentation recognizes the importance of narrative, something I’ve written about before. This isn’t just a series of product introductions, it’s a story about what ‘we’ (Apple) are doing to innovate and create an even more compelling next generation of products. Narrative is important, it’s how people think, process and store information. There’s a story, an innovation story, behind everything Apple does, and it works.

The following is guest post from Craig Badings of Cannings Corporate Communications. It originally appeared at www.thoughtleadershipstrategy.net/

There is a lot of a commentary flying around the web at the moment about content, optimising that content for search engines , content curation (filtering and aggregating relevant content) and how best to deliver content to your publics.

But…and this is a big but – content alone does not make you a thought leader.  It may help a company’s publics, it may make their lives easier, it may drive traffic to a site and it may position that brand as a trusted source of particular information.  But does it make that company a thought leader?

No it does not.

Let’s have a quick look at my definition of thought leadership:  Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors

Key to thought leadership is innovative content

The key to being a thought leader is offering something of value, insights that position you as the expert in that field.  By that I mean stuff which frames the debate and conversations on a particular issue or issues.  Content that challenges the paradigms and the thinking of your own staff as well as your publics if not an entire industry sector, and content that delivers deep insights around a particular issue or sector.

Content that doesn’t do this cannot and should not be labelled as thought leadership.  It is merely information.

This is not to say that it’s not useful but it doesn’t make you a thought leader.

Content curation

HiveFire has produced a thought provoking e book on content curation.  You can download it here : http://info.hivefire.com/eBook.html  and I suggest you do.  It is a good read and raises some very interesting questions about how you manage your content.

But as they say, competitors are drowning in a sea of information overload and they are challenged to decipher what information is relevant and which sources are trustworthy.  My view is that it is particularly because of this that to be a thought leader, the content you deliver needs to differentiate you from the crowd, must be different and challenge insights and should position you as the pre-eminent company/commentator in that space.

The spin-offs of doing this right are huge as many marketers, particularly in the professional services arena will attest.  True thought leadership is one of the most valuable marketing assets in which a company can invest.  It inspires trust in your brand and in process imbues in your company and your people a perception by the marketplace that you are the ‘go to’ authorities and knowledge experts on that topic – a perception that no amount of advertising can buy.  OK maybe a bucket load could buy it but it would cost a bomb .

Publishing alone will not help

Publishing on its own is not going to help.  It’s what you publish and how you take it to market that makes the difference.

Before you become an aggregator or curator of content ask yourself the following questions:   What is our thought leadership position?  What do we stand for in the market place?  What is our differentiator in terms of leading the market?

Only once you have established a position in this regard are seen as the go to place for insights in your area of specialty is it useful to become a content curator and specifically for content that relates to and helps inform that position.

 Until then I’m afraid, you will just be a follower.

By now, almost all the western world — and a good chunk of Asia and Africa — have all heard of Apple’s latest breakthrough product, the iPad.

The sheer number of impressions this launch has generated is in itself impressive. But what is even more impressive is the use of early adopters and key influentials to drive the story, enthusiasm, excitement and buzz for Apple, not the company itself.

Remember that Apple is not a company that is that into social media, yet check out the Twitter hashtag #ipad and end user blogs to get a sense for the mountain of coverage and interest generated for the iPad.

How does it do this? Good old-fashioned smart PR and a communications strategy that relies on the magnification effect of early adopters and influentials to amplify launch noise via traditional PR, Word of Mouth (WoM) buzz and aspirational excitement.

Here’s some of the ground rules:

1. Carefully pick and choose your hero product(s) for the year and put as much wood behind these arrows as you can. The iPad was THE launch of 2010 for Apple. The company maintains ongoing influencer relations, a thorough reviewer’s program, and ongoing engagement for other products, like their laptops, iPods, etc., but the focus was iPad and later this year iPhone OS version 4.0. That’s it. Laser-like focus, picking and backing your product bets, not spreading the wealth across a wide product range that all cry out for PR support, even though they may be close to end-of-life (EOL) and have reached the downward side of the S-curve. The other products bask in the halo of the hero products. See what the iPod did for Macintosh sales post launch? See what the iPhone has done for iPad sales?

2. Focus on long term influencer and early adopter relations and engagement. These are your natural allies. Cultivate them, let them talk for you because they ultimately carry far more weight and credibility than your own Press Releases, blog posts or advertising. Engage with not just technology influencers, but with business, social and celebrity folk that give you brand cache and style. It’s no accident that Stephen Fry is an Apple fan boy, so is half of Hollywood, thanks to decades of engagement with product placement on set and off set, with the stars themselves. Every episode of Seinfeld has a Macintosh and a small statuette of Superman in the background. Check it out next time re-run comes on. At one point, Jerry Seinfeld had a Mac too (and probably still does even though he did ads with Bill Gates last year).

So how does this translate into the iPad launch? How do these uber-strategies map with launch tactics? Well, here’s a synopsis:

The iPad launched officially on April 1, but embargoes were set for March 31. This means a wave of launch buzz and hype 24 hours prior to people being able to buy one (not counting the rumours and speculation in the prior nine months).

Key influencers were seeded with Product Verification & Testing (PVT) units three to four months out in some cases, depending on when these units were deemed stable enough and of sufficient quality to pass muster for people that will forgive non-production machine foibles because they love the technology and because they consider themselves Apple-insiders. These units went to key Apple business partners/friends (remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt got a pre-production iPhone and not so surreptitiously flashed it at Davos, where it stole the headlines rather than dry economic prognostications?), celebrities, technology gurus, etc. Also note that they all honoured the strict Apple NDAs — no insider wants to be ostracized and get thrown out of the club.

Journos/key bloggers in the US (a very select few, high impact folks) had their iPads under NDA for a week prior to launch, enough for them to play and enjoy, but not enough time for them to be too heavily critical. Launch reviews reflect that and it’s commonsense when you think about it. The shine always rubs off the shiny new toy the longer you have it. This early enthusiasm sets the tone for the launch coverage, providing the initial launch gestalt.

Celebrity Twitter-ers helped fuel the social media buzz. Stephen Fry was on the US West Coast at launch (funny how that happened) and put up video of the un-boxing of his iPad. He openly Tweeted he had one a day prior to the rest of the population. Robert Scoble did the same thing, except for the video of the unboxing (he later went out and bought two more iPads because his family kept hijacking his — and Tweeted about it). Reviews popped up the day before the official launch by Walt Mossberg and David Pogue in the US — two of the most highly respected tech journos in the country. Surgical media placement and engagement for maximum impact rather than a broad ‘hit as many as you can’ approach most companies take.

Foreign (that is, non-US) media got flown to a glitzy New York event and even if there was no pricing for their markets, they got to play with units at launch in salubrious surroundings and with high profile Apple execs. They in turn also had the opportunity if they were keen enough to buy their own units in the US, which judging by the coverage, a good few did, thereby continuing the buzz momentum.

And the result is, as you can see, a wave of initial great coverage that drives WoM, then sales and sets the tone.

More importantly its a self-reinforcing cycle of clever, surgical market engagement that fuels Apple’s mystique as a cult rather than as a technology company.

And the interesting thing is that other companies with ‘insanely’ great products could be doing the same to build their own mystique and stories. Mass communications doesn’t have to be massive, just smart.

Postscript: The iPhone OS 4.0 was announced a few days ago. Only Apple developers are supposed to have the beta code for testing. Stephen Fry, who last time I checked can’t cut a line of code, Tweeted yesterday that he had just installed it on his 3G iPhone. General availability for the masses is not expected until the northern hemisphere summer/autumn (fall).

According to PR Newser Ken Auletta reports in his book, Googled that Larry Page told his PR department that he would give them “a total of eight hours of his time that year for press conferences, speeches, or interviews.”

Supposedly the Google founders aren’t fond of PR. Although Google apparently has 130 people working in the PR department so maybe they don’t find PR so distasteful after all . . .

The interesting thing, to me anyway, is that if I were Larry Page – and I’m a long way from being Larry Page – I’d probably do the same thing.  In fact it strikes me as a pretty sensible approach for Google right now.

Let me explain.

A lot of times public relations professionals focus on two things – the message and the pitch – at the expense of all else. But there’s a third quality – connected to messaging and pitching – that we don’t spend enough time thinking about and that is at the heart of strategic public relations: the narrative.

The narrative, as the name implies, is the story of the company or organization over a set period of time.  It has protagonists, antagonists, plots, plot devices, climaxes and denouements. There’s never just one of course and large brands such as Google always have several narratives they want to be associated with, several they wish people would forget, and several they hope never get told.

There was a time when the ‘silicon valley whiz kids behind that oddly-named new search engine’ made sense as Google’s dominant narrative.  That narrative got old a long time ago.  The story Google is telling now, the narrative they deserve to be known for, needs to be spun around the various ways they are unlocking access to various types of data and the incredible array of talent – beyond Brin and Page – who are making that happen.

The Page/Brin celebrity gets in the way of that narrative and obscures it. It may be harder to secure a journalist’s attention without them – I wouldn’t know – but if staying consistent with the right narrative takes more work then isn’t that what you have to do?


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twitter-birdAt the Australian launch of Windows7 today, Microsoft has invited Twitter followers to take part, with the event being streamed live through Ustream.tv . These followers have the chance to engage directly with senior Microsoft executives, and during the Q&A session, every fourth question will come directly from the Twitter feed.

However, a number of journalists are not keen. First they would prefer questions only come from journalists at the event itself. Second, they’re worried the Twitter questions will be filtered and that only the easy ones will be answered. Third, they’re concerned it will take up too much time and give real journalists less opportunity to table their questions. But with only 140 characters and no follow up, it’s not likely to be a time consuming exercise.

One alternative suggestion put forward by a journalist is to run a Q&A by the likes of Slashdot and Digg, where questions are crowd sourced, than a top ten are posed to the interviewee and would better represent what the audience wants to know.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how it goes and the reaction. Twitter is now common place on TV with live studio audience shows using it to get questions in real time from viewers.

How many other PRs, particularly from the tech sector, are incorporating Twitter feeds like this into big events? What has the feedback been? Keen to hear what people think.

Last week I had the pleasure of representing Ogilvy PR at the Washington Business Journal’s event honoring the fifty fastest growing companies in the Washington, DC area.

While horrified to discover a concoction named the ‘Ogiltini‘ that the organizers had thoughtfully dreamed up, I was truly amazed – and pleased – to discover that the ‘fast 50′ generated $14.15 billion in 2008 revenue and some of them had average annual growth rates in excess of 100%. (Data center company DuPont Fabros Technology, the fastest of the fast, grew a ridiculous 328.44%)

As a long-time tech PR person my attention, naturally, was drawn to how technology companies fared.  I expected to see a large number of government contractors on the list and, while I was right, I was surprised at the scale; the federal government was the primary customer of almost half the companies on the list (20 out of 50).

In fact, the dominance of companies selling some sort of technology product or service to the government was so overwhelming that no other industry had more than 3 companies represented on the entire list.

So what does this mean?  Well, for starters the government is clearly open for business and companies with an IT services offering should be in a position to do particularly well.

But the government isn’t the only game in town. Companies like DuPont Fabros Technology, Apptix, Vocus, Blackboard and iCore may not address the same market but are all part of the broad technology community and proof that – along with the government-focused IT companies – while we may not be Silicon Valley, tech has home in DC as well.


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There is a product here in Australia called Vegemite, which is popular eaten on toast. Like Marmite in the UK, you will either love it or hate it. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Apparently, there is nothing similar in the US.

 

iSnack 2.0

iSnack 2.0

Owned by Kraft, a new recipe of Vegemite was launched a few months back, but without a name. Instead, the name was entrusted to the Australian public as a competition. This week, the winning entry was unveiled and it has been called – iSnack 2.0Yep, can you believe it? How can you give food a name like that. What is going on?

As you would expect, the public is equally puzzled. As is the modern debate, the social media channels have been on fire with opinions on both sides. The mainstream media has also reported heavily, both here in Australia and overseasgiven the iconic status of the Vegemite brand and probably because it’s such an unusual name.

 

Personally, I have to agree with the negative camp. It is one of the most unusual product names in living memory.

What do you think?

Or, is it going to be remembered as a smart PR stunt to simply get people talking about the product? Would we be at all surprised if the product is re-named in a few weeks, due to the weight of negative consumer feedback? We will find out soon enough.

In the meantime, like it’s famous UK counterpart Marmite, you will either love it or hate it (the iSnack 2.0 name I mean).

Update: Kraft has just announced it has dropped the iSnack 2.0 name and will get the Australian public to vote again.

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