Tag Archives: PR

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 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

How was the feedback from your latest event?

“A great event, different from the usual!”
“Event was well thought through and executed. I’m all for interactive events to engage the audience. Just a wine and cheese thing can become quite repetitive.”
“Definitely an enjoyable and insightful evening. I will definitely use the access info you have given me and spread the word.”
“I was also impressed that the more senior people in the room were more than happy to chat with me and you guys were happy to let them, which doesn’t always happen!”

Positive Marketing spent three months planning a rather special event for one of our much-beloved clients. On what for most will have been for many just another rather uneventful Tuesday – together we pulled off an ambitious live launch of a new product surfing one of the hottest new trends in enterprise applications; Gamification.

Product launches like this involve time, money and energy spent on the details to create something which can redefine a company’s future brand awareness. Get it right and client and media walk away feeling like they gained valuable learnings. Get it wrong and in a world of instant communication your shot at leadership is set back considerably.

Positive Marketing loves providing excellent client service and this often involves experiencing the same sleepless and afterwards the relief and excitement as we wave off the final guest from a successful launch event. So, in today’s environment- where on the night a 50% dropout rate is not unusual, what are the secrets to success?!

1. Minimal PowerPoint – Sounds simple but it is amazing how many companies still feel compelled to build that 30 page slide deck. Leave it. Your company is not two dimensional so don’t treat it as such. Microsoft code may have its place in your corporate board meeting but for the press it’s as popular as a stop smoking campaign in Mad Men.

View photo in message

2. Interactive – Let the audience ‘drive’ – How is your offering different from all the others? Journalist are invited to countless events, what can they experience at yours? Rather than telling your guests how to feel about it, let them make up their own minds with a product launch which lets them touch feel and play with your product. After all, the school teachers whose lessons engaged us hit home harder. So take a risk – everyone likes a trier.

3. The way to an influencer’s heart may be through their belly – Good food and wine are to be expected, but truly great catering could be your best differentiator. Why not theme your event from invite to venue to food? It may win you comments like this (from our event) “The sushi was kickin rad, as they say in the 1990s )”

4. Access All Areas – Rarely are journalists given access to everything and everyone, instead they are ushered from one sterile meeting to another having perfectly briefed spokespeople giving them a well scripted, news-free, company line. Having customers and senior spokespeople with the ability to have honest and frank debates is a winner for journalists.

5. Remember The 6 Ps (Perfect Preparation Prevents P*ss Poor Performance) – Yes the inevitable will happen so expect it. People get sick, flat viewings will coincide with your event (despite being in the diary for 2 months) and ‘dogs will eat homework’. So follow a simple ‘50% drop out’ rule and plan accordingly. Err on the side of caution and prepare for all eventualities, if you want to get results like this.

Hope you can forgive us blowing our own trumpet just this once. But the serious point is that events success is tougher than ever – there are more reasons than ever to say No. We would be very interested in your Best Practices around media events, get in touch, we have lots more hints and tips we can share one-on-one.

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.

All the world’s a stage – so get outta Tech

Last week’s lunch with a former colleague confirmed that technology is the most innovative and exciting sector in business PR. A space Positive Marketing is proud to work in. He is about to start-up a new style of tech community events, hard on the heels of previous success (which only served to increase his desire to do things differently) and pondering out loud the new economics of today’s cloud-enabled business models;

“It used to be that your first business outlays were for office space, a server and Microsoft licences. I don’t need any of these. So why would I do things the same way this time around?” he mused.

In embracing this change right from the start, he is, at least for now, still a relatively lone voice. The benefits and drawbacks of Google-equipped, smartphoned-up and Skype-connected virtual teams have yet to sink in for many present-day Europe businesses. But this desire to innovate should be a source of real pride for those of us trying to change the world with ones and noughts. Such passion for new technology is rare outside the US – even in the UK technology marketing sector. As fellow tech enthusiasts, we view this rise and rise of geek culture, even if gently mocked by The IT Crowd, as a good thing.

Yet in a former role, forced by corporate dictate to buy ‘Corporate PR’ from some of the fanciest brand names in the PR business, this sort of technology enthusiasm was shockingly absent and in some cases, frowned upon. Similarly, years earlier, I worked with tech journalist colleagues who openly harboured ambitions to be music and car industry writers (two former news reporter colleagues did just that). Tech for them was a stepping stone to the limelight, instead of the glitzy cauldron of innovation we see.

The worst culprits have always been the UK’s larger multi-discipline agencies. Many have trophy HQs near to London’s shopping districts, stuffed with disillusioned time-servers looking for their ‘big break’ in fashion PR, or even in front of the camera. These would-be thespians ended up in the wrong career, so I will spare the blushes of the major agencies who pitched campaign ideas which were perfect, in fact recognisable, TV gameshow scripts.

Our industry deserves better. This is tech marketing people. Not fluff, not fashion and only occasionally a little Rock n’ Roll. So if you think you really want to be using software to autotune your voice for Simon Cowell, rather than explaining which version of cloud computing works best, leave the innovation to the enthused amongst us.

In the mean time, whether you are a techie or a secret luvvie, we are interested in your comments.

Build momentum not a database

Many years ago, a naive young PR exec winced as a prospect, on the point of signing a contract with his tech agency, announced her reason for doing so. “You guys have all the media contacts”. This was insulting to those tender ears because there was so much more to building a powerful brand presence than a Rolodex. Surely there was a media strategy, compelling messages, attractive press events and much, much more. Once these were in place, writers would come.

As the years went by and the PR Exec’s role morphed into that of New Business, he changed his opinion – but not for good reasons. Selling the ‘magic sauce’ of the agency was much easier if clients believed your contacts were better than others. Clients would pay special attention to the journalists who a PR team ‘knew’. The press audit – in reality a call to selected journalists, most of who had freelanced for the agency – became the crucial proof point. Attracting clients based on ‘contacts’ really was as riggable as an F1 race. I should know – I was head of new business at that agency.

Today, contacts are easily obtained online and for free. From Jigsaw if you are a sales person, from Linkedin if you are a professional networker and of course in your ‘private’ life from Facebook. There are a half dozen competing databases of media and bloggers making life a little easier for professionals and allowing semi-pros to dabble (and sometimes achieving the exact opposite to the positive exposure they had hoped for).

But contacts are not what B2B brand building is about, they are only part of the puzzle. What are required are relationships. Relationships are not transactional, they are not entries in a database, and they are not even introductions from a mutual friend in a social media context. They are based on momentum.

At enlightened, post Social Media consultancies, like Positive Marketing we never sell on contacts – even though you could phone hundreds of journalists to ask about our work. What we have is the ability to help your brand connect with and establish relationships with buyers and their influencers. In a world where much of the buying decision is made online, this requires that your outreach strategy has internet-speed momentum – clear and growing reasons to stay connected. We like to think that while each brand story is different (by definition), the core success strategies are similar. So, it seems, that green-skinned young PR executive was not so very wrong to state that contacts are not enough.

We are also unafraid to share some of this new ‘secret sauce’ with prospects because we really believe it is about execution. Feel free to reach out and we will explain how our outreach differs.