Category Archives: online PR

Trying not to suck at Marketing

Having previously teased with the reasons why Marketing can suck and before we embark on the five part response, here are five ways we are trying hard not to suck.

1. Freshen your look
Not externally visible yet, but working with the extraordinary talent at Stone Creative to revamp our document suite and brand. Clients judge marketing teams internal and external on how they present themselves – it helps them gauge how you represent them.

2. Get offsite
Taking the team away from the work environment, despite hilariously cruel parodies  is almost ever a poor investment. We use High Road House just down the road from our Glamoursmith bat cave which we share with Celebrity Juice. This time our external perspective will be provided by analytics guru Andrew Smith.

3.Re-ping the ‘ones who got away’
Those customers who said ‘thanks, but the time is not right’. We have waited for years (the record is eight) for clients we liked and thought we could work well with, to give us a green light. As Churchill, himself an overlooked leader, who only achieved greatness late in life and in death,  said ‘Keep on, keepin’ on’ (the actual quote is a little more, er, British)

4. Question your processes
Boring you say? Crucial is what we learnt. Our new bag of tricks for 2013 including working with clients on Google Analytics to learn which of our tactics works best for them and a move to a suite of sweet new Gmail-friendly apps like Smartsheet.

5. Keep thinking bigger
It is a depressing fact that while the European market continues to wallow in self-pity. Elsewhere, there are plenty of bright spots, for those who look. Silicon Valley continues to boom which is why we visit regularly (January’s roadtrip will now be followed up by a June tour). In addition, our current client roster includes companies HQ’ed in Finland, Romania and Israel. Pleasingly, we are chosen to lead Thought Leadership globally for many clients. We, like our clients, dream big.

The results? New business this year is tracking nicely. New clients from the emerging tech sector in Eastern Europe, inroads to London’s world-class insurance technology market as well as the world’s largest IT security firm.

Why Earned Media sucks (#5 of 5 Marketing Tactics that suck)

This company opened its doors three years ago inspired by two decades of B2B ‘Earned Media’ experience. The goal was to build the best boutique media relations firm Europe has ever seen. Things changed fast. As intended, we built a team of PR and Social ninjas who ‘earn’ indecent amounts of exposure for our clients in national and business media, vertical press and the technology blogosphere.

But what we do now is very different from Old Skool PR. Earned Media sucks because it can suck you dry of content and fresh approaches. The reason? Consider these five radical changes to the media landscape –

1. Freelance blogger/analysts now vastly outnumber in-house journalists and work differently.
2. The editorial ‘action’ moved online and mobile – with radical consequences for content.
3. ‘Stories with legs’ have a shelf life of minutes, not days or weeks.
4. Done right. Social Media is finally proving as effective for B2B brands as B2C.
5. Publishers prefer to curate, rather than create, content – it saves cost

Another print title ends up as fish and chip wrapping

Newsweek’s last issue

On both sides of the flack/hack divide, these changes to Earned Media, what purists still call PR, have proven hard. Pleasingly, this meant Positive Marketing has flourished, growing six-fold as we did what all start-ups do – adapt. Our lesson learnt ? If you can learn fast, evolve and execute it is possible to create great advantage from the market forces bearing down on Earned Media (N.B. the opposite also applies).

1. Smaller editorial teams mean more curational opportunities for original content.
2. Stealth editorial outsourcing via ‘contributed articles’ makes editorial skills more valuable.
3. Brands can win or lose in the course of a Twitterstorm requiring social teams who are ‘on it’.
4. Despite the rise of gadget tech, B2B stories are more relevant in economic downturns.
5. Apple/FaceBook/Google link baiting is an editorial ‘fact of life,’ PR leveraging this is crucial.

On this last point means we regularly have to persuade cynical European media of the merit of a story without major brand as linkbait. This requires more planning than ever plus the sort of tenacity which generalist in-house teams may, understandably, not naturally possess – theirs is a wide scope of skills, but not necessarily those needed to succeed in today’s new world of Earned Media.
Speaking from experience, most in-house teams, are more natural content curators and storytellers than frontline ‘story sellers’ and may not have the stomach to hear a time-pressed journalist ‘call their baby ugly’ (rejecting their new product launch). In-house teams are also handicapped because they have only one flavour of story to sell (theirs), whereas agency teams sell many and frequently switch between clients in a single email or, increasingly rare, phone pitch.

All this makes content consultants, who can create great pitches and can convert these to great stories more valuable both to clients and writers, who still have to ‘feed the beast’ which devours online content, despite their much-reduced staffing rates.

Earned Media has changed irrevocably, so how do B2B brands make the most of it? Firstly, editorial coverage is still powerful, especially in reaching non Digital Native senior decision makers, who are partly for historical reasons, or, just because of time pressure, less likely to devote time to surfing blogs. For instance, The FT’s pink paper still rightly holds a jealously-guarded place in the heart of CEOs.

Second, as news reporting becomes commoditised and democratised, exactly the opposite is happening to news analysis, which is becoming a rarer, more valuable commodity, increasingly protected behind paywalls. Once a news story breaks, whether read first in a magazine or newspaper, on a tablet, PC or phone, readers immediately seek strong, trustworthy editorial opinions. This makes news analysis stories which make it through editorial scrutiny more valuable than ever as part of a brand’s customer perception. It is this ‘second bounce’ which is the entrance point for many B2B brands stories – especially when they missed out initially on editorial stories driven by link baiting.

The point of Earned Media is that it is earned. The harder earned, often the more valuable. This is why, while we do less media pitching these days, it is valued more highly than ever by clients who realise the newfound scarcity of quality B2B media outlets, drives value for their brands. If they needed any proof, they need look no further than the publishers, who while struggling to justify print advertising rate cards, are only too happy to capitalise on the demand for internet usage with higher-than-ever website reproduction fees once the story is online.

Earned media ain’t dead it just grew up a lot and now gets on better with its neighbours. What was once B2B PR, and unthinkingly labelled ‘free advertising’ by some, is now more complex. As publishing economics blur the lines between owned, earned and curated brand communications, it remains a tough, but worthwhile benchmark of a brand’s credibility. Customers know editorial endorsement matters, even though they will no longer pay directly to receive that editorial.

At Positive Marketing the game is on to achieve the optimal blend of Earned, Curated and ‘Paid For’ media and we think we play it more enthusiastically than anyone else. This post is one of a series of five exploring the myths surrounding today’s B2B marketing buzzwords and is designed to stimulate debate, reconsideration and in some cases mild nausea. Please do add your comments below. Sign up to the blog as a subscriber and we will let you know how to turn these five disparate marketing tactics into campaigns which work in today’s market.

Why Content Marketing sucks (#2 of 5 Marketing Tactics that suck)

As mindless jargon goes Content Marketing is right up there. To ‘market’ anything, from salt to silicon chips, requires informational content in addition to the goods themselves. Whether that’s a brandmark or, that holy grail of Content Marketing, the pseudo-scientific but not peer-reviewed Whitepaper. The idea is to reassure buyers that branded goods are of high enough quality to justify the additional premium buyers are expected to pay.

Technical buyers are different from salt or pepper shoppers. They want to know exactly WHY a solution will work for them by understanding HOW it works first. The Whitepaper and its ‘live’ equivalent the Webinar were until recently effective, if time-consuming, tactics to educate buyers about the HOW. They build credibility, helping convince IT buyers that a particular technology could work for them.

Content Marketing is reassuring, WhitePapers downloads and Webinar registrations (or even attendees) are measurable. Today though, the vast Whitepaper ‘farms’ hosted on technology publications’s websites give buyers an experience as confusing as Borat in a US Supermarket. Image

If buyers like the HOW from the Content Marketing, they could next learn WHY a solution might work well for their company. Traditionally they did this in three ways;

     1. Asking peers (if they were not competitors)
2. Consulting technology analysts (if you had deep pockets)
3. Reading ‘Success Stories’ from companies like yours who had implemented
the technology in the media.

This last means of checking, although prone to intervention by Positive Marketing and others seeking to push their clients’ successes, did at least have one guarantee of independence; the technology writer. The editorial process claimed to debunk as much ‘PR spin’ as possible and help readers understand if the claims made by vendors were true.

Now though, with B2B technology journalism in decline and advertising revenues moving online, Content Marketing has ‘worked around’ this journalistic scrutiny. In fact it has co-opted the very journalists who used to ‘look after’ the interests of their readers. Inboxes are full of ‘Last chance to Register’invitations and ‘Latest Technology News and Expert Advice’ apparently sent directly from the editors of publications. Although on checking with them, it turns out most know nothing about these email blasts, which are in fact sent by the advertising teams.

Short term, this is a problem for the press. Where once credible writers used investigative skills and strict editorial guidelines to provide a valuable service to their readers, now they pimp unscrutinised Whitepapers and Webinars at readers whose inboxes are now overflowing with very similar offers direct from marketing pros. Where once they could be relied upon to check the truth of the claims made by brands, now they are sending out un-edited propaganda in their own names, making them, well, samey and undermining their role.

Medium term it is the brands themselves who suffer, with pay-to-play Content Marketing now just seen as a form of brand advertising (never popular with technical buyers). The sheer volume of webinars and Whitepapers as a tactic also means they are having diminishing returns. Undifferentiated marketing makes for a lower brand premium over time.

Longer term, Content Marketing, as we know it today is doomed. As always with marketing, differentiation, authenticity and innovation will win out. Content Marketing is just too samey, too generic and plain lazy a tactic to keep the attention of discerning buyers. If you can’t tell your story these days in a better fashion, perhaps with the help of animation, video or an Infographic, you risk appealing only to IT folks of a previous era, one before smartphones, respected opinionated bloggers and ‘Try before you buy’ freemium software – all of which change the decision-making process.

The future will be much more Social, which implies briefer content, more fleetingly sampled, but delivered in increasingly integrated marketing campaigns, where content is less formulaic. We are building some of those campaigns right now and would be happy to explain more, so feel free to get in contact. Feel free to check out our previous post in the ‘Marketing Tactics that Suck’ series and check back for some ideas which do not suck.

Why Inbound Marketing sucks (#1 of 5 Marketing Tactics that suck)

Inbound marketing is hot. Who says so? The opportunists taking lots of VC money and building fast-growing businesses ‘while the sun shines’ and before the inevitable ‘consolidation of platforms’. We too love fast-growing technology businesses but the hype level here is off the scale. As one prospect we met last week acknowledged, the high-pressure “Create Marketing People Love” message is just not credible.

Full disclosure, Inbound Marketing competes directly for marketing budget with one of our core offerings, influencer relations. But that is not why it sucks for its buyers. It sucks because the vendors who are selling high-ticket item solutions for Inbound Marketing are claiming they have a Holy Grail a One-Size-Fits-All ’ERP for marketing’, a panacea to make B2B marketing easier.

Of course it is great to have a ‘Web to Lead’ process more sophisticated than first generation web forms and for SEO it is also fabulous to have click tracking which can automate the A-B Testing of headlines, copy and images, especially as Web Designers charged so much for these basics in the past. However, automation alone is not a strategy and the dirty secret is

A better mousetrap is useless without cheese

Without a compelling message and great content , it doesn’t matter how you track ‘website journeys’. If you just don’t have the traffic, you just created your own Zil Lane, which a select few travel up and down as they please, while the world moves on around it.

As the ultimate creator of content, Einstein, once said ‘Not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that can be measured matters.”. Belatedly, to address this gaping hole in their offerings, some of the leading players have been farming out a ‘commoditized’ version of content creation out to their partners. You can see this sneaking concession to the all-important content buried here on a leading inbound marketing provider’s website. This in itself tells a story – not so much ‘Who moved my cheese?’ as ‘Please sir can I have some more?’.

The truth is while you want an industrial strength mousetrap to be built sturdily in a factory, most of us prefer the taste of hand-crafted cheese to processed squares (even if the barcodes are great for tracking where we buy them). Great content is a pre-cursor of Inbound Marketing. Without it, the promise of torrential leads effortlessly flowing into websites rings as hollow as ‘jam tomorrow’. Just check out the outbound emails in your inbox and sales calls from inbound marketing firms for further proof.

Next time we debunk another ‘great white hope’ of modern B2B marketing – Content Marketing. Feel free to comment on what you have read so far and expect us to come out swinging again next time.

POSITIVELY NEGATIVE – Five B2B Marketing tactics that, individually, suck

With a brand like Positive Marketing, you would expect us to be upbeat. We are – ridiculously so. Our clients notice how much we high-five and giggle as we create results. In fact we know how important it is to laugh hard while working harder.

To change things up a little and be contrarian, our next series of blogs looks at five of the hottest, some would say over-hyped, buzzwords in B2B Marketing and explain how, on their own, they portray a negative impression of our sector’s progress, especially compared to our slicker B2C brethren.

1. Inbound Marketing sucks
2. Content Marketing sucks
3. Thought Leadership sucks
4. Corporate blogging sucks
5. Earned Media sucks

Given we do all of the above, you may wonder why we are so down on them. Well, all will be revealed as we conclude the series with an article which explains how you can change these buzzwords from sucking the life out of you to sowing the seeds of career-defining success. As always, we welcome your feedback, negative as well as positive. After all, it helps if marketing creates an impression…

Now let’s get going, with our first critique

The ‘e-smerging’ UK Tech media landscape

This post has been coming a while. Sometimes it takes some time to stand back from the pixels and focus on the emerging picture. However several recent events have led me to believe that Tech Journalism is dead. In fact, what precious little there was has now smerged into the realm of online advertising.

Not that there is anything wrong with advertising, that, plus a good World War or Two*, are how great brands are made. But it is not what many in the UK call journalism; investigative, free-from-commercial considerations and provocative. And this revelation demands a new type of response from those of us who work in the ‘earned media’ B2B space that stubbornly resists being rebranded as anything other than Public Relations. First the evidence:

EXHIBIT ONE

TechTarget acquires Computer Weekly – 28th March 2011

When a $270m giant, whose business is to repackage and distribute content built by advertisers to a highly qualified audience, swoops in to buy the UK’s leading technology title for small change, this is a seminal moment. TechTarget’s admirable business model (slogan ‘Where serious tech buyers decide’) is built on selling eyeballs to advertisers in much the same way that broadcasters sell slots between programmes. With one difference; almost all of the content has been pre-created by the advertisers themselves. It is too early to see what that means for Computer Weekly’s readership and long-term editorial direction, but no one is claiming this move increases the freedom the UK tech press enjoys. In fairness, it is the case that ‘free’ content, mostly whitepapers written by tech vendor product marketing teams, is very compelling, more technically detailed, if a lot less objective, than much UK tech media output, which all too often focuses on IT consumerisation and gadgets (as previously ranted about).

EXHIBIT TWO
Nasty US tech journalist spat Tom Foremski v Michael Arrington – April 2011 (ongoing)

There are few things more wrongly compelling than observing two girls fighting at close range – except for two grown tech journalists bitching. In the fascinating and deeply personal battle for the moral high-ground which followed failed media empire AOL’s surprise purchase of up and coming blog Techcrunch, the winner was not so much the truth, as the status quo. As both sides slung mud about whether investing in the companies they were writing about clouded their judgement – it was easy to see both sides. It got really bitchy when writer’s partners and their employers were cited, in a row that even the UK red tops would relish. Bottom line – there is a conflict of interest in writing about and investing in companies. This seems to confirm that there is a new code of ethics for those who create commercially beneficial copy about companies whose profits they ultimately share.

To recap, so far we have the cream of the UK’s tech media working for what some unkind souls might call a ‘content farm’ and reporters who describe themselves as well-paid by their employers, writing copy which may also contribute to their personal wealth. Confused? See a ‘smerging’ of roles here? Here’s more proof from another recent personal professional experience.

EXHIBIT THREE
‘they are not a PR firm’ – May 2011

OK, hands up there are some journalists who thanks to many years of careful nurturing, preferential treatment on stories and possibly the odd expensed refreshment, are ‘friends of the family’ here at Positive Marketing. On the other hand, we like all PR companies are entreated daily to submit copy for titles either too lazy or too cash-strapped to provide their own content. That is the status quo. So when we recently saw a competitor given a regular blog slot by a leading UK B2B tech title (who we agreed to keep nameless), we were intrigued at the possibility of getting in on the act. A quick call to a normally hard-to-track-down editor (coincidentally a former colleague) and then three rapid-fire email volleys disabused us of this possibility and I quote “X isn’t a PR firm as such = it’s a consulting firm”. According to this editor, the blogger in question did not work for a PR firm, so why would its hyperbolic Linkedin description be “the only PR and communications consultancy to specialise in the enterprise software industry”?

It seems the best of us can get confused in this new ‘smerged’ new world order. But rather than bleat about it, we at Positive Marketing are getting with this new charade and turning into a consultancy too, it’s just that some of our paying clients want to call what we do PR.

Hopefully these three examples confirm what many have said for some time, tech journalism, advertising and PR are ‘smerging’ together to become, well, just plain tech marketing. When editorial can be replaced by product literature [EXHIBIT 1], when journalists can promote companies they invest in [EXHIBIT 2] and when PR companies are the new journalists [EXHIBIT 3], the rules of the game really have changed. In some ways that puts us all into competition for the same vendor dollars that have always fuelled the information opportunity which surrounds the IT industry. Whether we have to change the name of our services, literally invest in our clients, create more Whitepapers (or even all three) we still love this sector and treasure its dynamism, so maybe it is better that the hypocrisy around editorial independence needs to die. Or maybe it was just a myth to start with.

In subsequent posts we will look at the repercussions of this new advertorial honesty and why with content as king, contacts as commodity and relationships the new currency, we like our position in the market for ideas more than ever. If you want to learn more about how we think, work and deliver results daily, leave a comment, email us at contact@positivemarketing or, if you can be pithy, send a tweet to @positmarket.

* If you have not yet you have to see the excellent BBC Three series ‘Secrets of the Superbrands’ where Alex Riley sees, amongst other things, the rise of Coca Cola and adidas as being aided by their roles in supplying opposite sides in World War 2

When a national treasure suffers an outage, why do we forget the next day?

The ‘Twitterstorm’© that followed last week’s BBC outage was both extraordinary and typical of the times that global brands now need to survive in. With amazing speed, a flurry of comments some witty, some bitchy (including from rival Channel 4’s news team) but most at least well-intentioned, greeted what was just 30 minutes of downtime from a brand rated very highly according to independent research.

The Beeb is not the first to have suffered from having the full light of the Twittersphere trained on it and there are the well-publicised examples of Habitat’s sale fail and The Daily Mail’s gypsy miscalculation.

These days, if you are a brand owner, you need to be aware of ‘sentiment’ in real time. Something made eye-wateringly obvious by the large premium Salesforce ‘overpaid’ last week for the incomplete solution formerly known as Radian 6. When brands such as Pepsi have ‘brand control rooms’ which contain sufficient computing power to put men on the moon, one can see just how seriously brand sentiment is being taken.

But this was not about some bad experiences in purchasing sugar water. This is about disruption to a national information service. One which, allegedly until recently, had implications for global security as UK nuclear submarine commanders allegedly used its output to verify the know world beyond their vessel remained un-nuked. Its absence would signal Armageddon for their pre-programmed target cities.

The BBC’s original terseness in explaining itself, was remedied in part by a rapid resumption of service, it took just 30 minutes at around midnight on a working day for the sites to come back up.

I predicted at the time that, just as with the recent outages at the London Stock Exchange, there would be no accurate public apportioning of blame. Although the ‘culprit’ was allegedly traced to a router in Canary Wharf’s Telehouse, which we were told was protected by a back-up, there was no explanation as to why the hardware, as well as its back-up failed, who was responsible for the hardware, the service or the maintenance and no remedial action promised to prevent future failure.

By the next day, The Twitterati had moved on to another story, which in a way is a real shame, because this story at its heart proves three things:-

  1. Enterprise technology is now so embedded into business that it has become a competitive edge.
  2. Brands need to have the ability to respond in Real Time to technical issues which present them in a negative light.
  3. The time when technical issues can be apportioned to faceless hardware faults is coming to an end. CIOs need to diagnose and call out the real issues behind such failures. The alternative, we all just accept such poor service as inevitable, is the opposite of progress.

The epilogue showed that moving on may have been the wrong instinct for many IT press. A story ‘buried’ on Friday morning, conveniently, April Fools’ Day, showed that perhaps there were reasons for the LSE and Beeb outages that were a little less benign than an unnamed contractor simply unplugging a router in a highly secure datacenter. Although there is no proof that the two stories were linked, at least the BBC’s redoubtable tech team was taking the issue of downtime seriously now.

This SQL Injection risk is one faced by thousands of enterprises every day, due to poor coding practices and is one taken seriously by banks and others who see the link between business success and reliable Enterprise IT.

However, this is not the stuff that parodies of 140 characters or less are made out of. In this way, the very strength of Twitter, with its ability to brew storms in the late night cocoa cups of BBC Website watchers is its weakness. It doesn’t have the attention span to analyze the real tech stories that matter.

What is your perspective on Twitter as a medium for observing Tech meltdowns? Is there enough coverage of enterprise tech and its implications in the business press? Feel free to leave a comment.