Tag Archives: Positive Marketing

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.

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Man bites dog(food) in snow

Thanks to the UK’s well-publicised inability to cope with light dustings of snow and the ludicrous Spanish Air Traffic Controller’s strike, my three days with a client in Barcelona, turned into almost a week of time out of the office and a chance to prove that even bad news presents opportunity.

What started as an interesting challenge, interviewing several IT services gurus on-stage, ended up somewhere between a game of chance and a military planning operation. Ten of my eleven team-mates opted for wild and wonderful escape routes with cross-border plane reservations and seven hour pre-dawn drives to neighbouring France.

There are worse places to be stranded of course, but weekends, although not work-free, are precious in fast-growing businesses. My Plan B, the overnight Barcelona to Paris train, would have been wonderful in high summer, but not on the third day of no air transportation in a cold snap and with the risk of poor internet connectivity. So I held tight and waited for events to turn my way.

As we always tell clients at Positive Marketing, with some careful preparation, savvy execution and a preparedness to be wrong, the news agenda can be your friend. We call it trend-surfing because of its many similarities to the preparation and the timing required for actual surfing. So it was, that after posting my comments on the UK’s BBC News Website, in-between frustrating server errors on the BA site, that a researcher from the broadcaster called to ask how things were going. This was the opportunity.

A couple of coffees later I was live on air, from my hotel bedroom, with BBC Radio 5. We discussed the implications for fast businesses, especially those experiencing growth like Positive Marketing, when state workers, in charge of national infrastructure, strike.

It was, the interviewer noted ‘a good plug’ but it is always good to ‘eat your own dog food’ because it reminds you of what you are asking your clients to do. Pleasingly enough, selected highlights from my rant also made it to the main BBC News Website. The twin hits resulted in a stream of emails from potential customers and partners, all tuning in early on a Sunday morning to catch-up on news, some of whom I had not heard from in a decade.

Modern news agendas move ever faster, making agile trendsurfing a critical skill. Marketing folks just naturally feel better when they crack on, experimenting with angles, rather than letting events wash over them. A two-hour turnaround from pitch-to-coverage proves we can walk the walk for their brands too.

If only the over-paid and unthinking Spanish air traffic controllers understood the consequences of their inaction would be for hundreds of thousands of revenue-generating passengers. But then, had they done so, this trendsurfing opportunity would not have existed. So, if you think eating canine cuisine beats letting the tail wag the dog, we would be happy kickstart your trendsurfing too.

Is nastiness necessary?

Yesterday I visited a Tradeshow which seemed immune from the current general malaise. Long, but orderly, queues formed for sessions, abundant freebies were displayed on the stands of a plethora of start-ups with shiny new logos. What was this exciting exposition, flourishing despite the current financial doldrums? A show focused on technology for marketing professionals.

These days that covers a lot of services and applications, including SEO tools, CRM and statistics packages, Web-building and hosting. Not to forget the man with the mobile bubble making machine – possibly the stand-out in terms of innovation. It did seem ironic to stage a conference to market marketing to marketing professionals but the free entry ensured a healthy crowd.

My excuse was to talk to a prospect. She was an overseas marketing professional from a software vendor, attending ‘to pick up ideas’. I was selling Positive Marketing to her and her colleagues. For them this was a perfectly valid research trip; so we all had alibis. These though are tough times and beneath the gloss, the hawkers of today’s marketing tools were doling out some interesting, no, plain-nasty, messages.

One VP speaker recommended using his analysis package to find deeply unprofitable customers and then giving them to your competitors – nice. Another senior panellist picked on poor old Microsoft Outlook, which he opined would be dead in 18 months, replaced by universal use of Google Apps. This was ironic as UK Gmail users were at the moment of his speech experiencing an outage which lasted several hours.

Marketing guru Al Ries once likened marketing to war and it seems it is now. For years ‘unfair competitive advantage’ has been the half-heated rallying call of many a marketing professional, but now cut-throat competition means some people are thinking it means survival of the bitchiest. But is this the smart play?

The first rule of smart marketing is to qualify your audience to make sure you send the right message. In this case, the audience was marketing executives spending some time, but little upfront money to review the state of their profession. Even though these are professionals, who know all about having a sharp Point Of View, ultimately ‘people buy people’.

Nasty folks tend not to be nice to do business with and that is what I remember from these two vendors. If we are all getting evil, perhaps even Google, let’s remember that what goes around comes around.

P.S. If you are curious to know who the boot boys are drop me a line pmaher@positivemarketing.org