Tag Archives: Twitter

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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NATIONAL EMERGENCY OR TECHNICAL GLITCH?

For the last month the UK banking sector, arguably the country’s most important source of tax revenues, has been under fire. A typically British media circus of Parliamentary Committees, chairman resignations, CEO statements, CEO resignations, declined bonuses, and chairman ‘unresignations’ have created a lot of buzz. We like buzz, we create a lot of it, as you can see from our well-received spoof earlier in the year.

More concerning for those who, like Positive Marketing’s team, promote the vital economic role of technology, is the UK media’s continuing treatment of technology-based stories, even ones described as ‘the industry’s worst ever computer breakdown,’ as a mere distraction from political windbags and celebrities.


Tragically, even in an era where all businesses rely on technology and regulators use IT to check for wrongdoing, the UK press corps seem determined to skim over the important, albeit technical, details of how this happened and could happen again. Much easier to focus on self-serving politicians, calls for resignations and celebrity takedowns. But this was the tech story which would not go away.

To recap – a system error at a UK-government-owned bank meant a batch process, which may have worked perfectly for decades, went hellishly wrong. The results were non-payment of salaries, new homeowners being temporarily evicted from their future homes, vital medication missed and even extended incarceration for those legally free – all because no payments could move. A rip-roaring news story if ever there was one.

So, how was this major news reported? A scant few articles in the week it wreaked havoc (less than 1,000, or about the daily count of a celebrity divorce, according to Google News). Then virtually nothing over the weekend, where it was relegated to a small story midway through the news section of the UK’s best-selling national following, presumably, an effective damping down by the bank’s PR team. Unfortunately for the mainstream media, the issues were not simply resolved by ‘switching on and off again’.

By Monday there were still several million disgruntled UK citizens and a Twitter storm of brand damage and, inconveniently for some, the whole thing had to be picked up once again. The good news (forgive the shameless plug for our work) is this resulted in some intelligent comment as to what went wrong and why it WILL happen again , not least in The Economist (subscription required) and The Independent [Disclosure – this is what we do for clients].

Why did such a major story fail to be covered or even sensibly debated by the nation’s media? Three reasons, some of which we have touched on before:

1. Lack of expertise (as The Guardian’s Charles Arthur’s excellent, much commented, article reminded, few journalists these days have the expertise to even understand the issue)

2. An obsession with blaming the faceless (bankers) instead of taking responsibility (changing banks)

3. Trivialisation of the role of technology in everyday life. The truth is most of the outages which do occur regularly are easily avoidable with decent engineering but instead are seen as technical glitches, the fault of the technology sector rather than the business managers who are meant to be controlling them.

Thank God for the Barclays debacle (more later) which managed to distract the public’s attention away from the glitch and which has effectively let the bank off the hook. To-date there has been no further explanation of what exactly went wrong or what is being done to prevent future outages – nor can we expect any in the near future. As the media circus turns back to Westminster, it seems even ‘computer glitches’ which result in massive disruptions and large-scale pay-outs, are frankly not news for the UK media – yet.

So, let’s just await the next ‘glitch’ – here’s hoping this one’s even bigger. It might be just what this country needs.

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.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well don’t

A consistent theme in Positive’s work, especially with technology start-ups, is Enthusiasm. As most of us in this cash-poor/brain rich sector know, Enthusiasm, can take you a long way, especially when informed by Expertise seasoned with Experience.

Enthusiasm is what drives audacious editorial pitches, cheeky Tweets and newsworthy press releases.

Expertise helps you rapidly pick up when your news falls flat – sometimes for no reason except timing.

Experience determines whether to keep on plugging away or move on fast. Nice work by Nokia this week for signalling it is coming back from the smartphone grave.

Two recent innovations emphasise the need to make that judgement call faster in tech marketing.

Firstly Google Instant, which some celebrated as the death knell of the SEO cult makes ‘the Recent’ as important as the relevant by speeding up searches by 270 milliseconds. Then Twitter, in a much-hyped announcement as an information discovery portal, took on Google as the launchpad for our web searches.

The upshot is that messaging needs to be ‘on the fly’, adapting to the Real Time moves of the market. Positive Marketing is mid-way through a branding exercise with a pre-launch telco start-up. Last week we needed to rapidly course-correct its slideware from ‘SaaS 2.0’ to Cloud 2.0 following the recent Cloudforce London event. If the market is moving on, we need to stay on it.

Marketing professionals, now need much more than a passing acquaintance with the latest state of the market to do their jobs. They need to be ON IT. This means paying close attention to the announcements, successes and failures of customers, partners and rivals, not necessarily to emulate them but to position your messages in context.

Speed clearly matters for successful positioning, which makes failing fast and moving on as important as being right first time. Being out-of-synch in this highly-connected, rapid-change environment is one sign you are in the wrong industry. Others include ‘cloudwashing’ your existing offerings, launching [market-leading product]-killers and taking market leadership for granted.

This is not easy stuff. But there are agencies and tools out there to help. Regarding help, email us for a copy of our soon-to-be-released report covering products from all the key players in Social Media monitoring tools.

Face it – Facebook ain’t Face time

It’s true, as previously discussed, software most definitely does affect the way we behave in business today. This was hilariously vindicated by the BBC programme which excoriated PowerPoint, even suggesting it may be responsible for nations going to war. The players in collaboration software obviously think software can help us collaborate, citing better productivity as a benefit. Indeed recent experience with Tungle has show me that there are leaps forward to be made in personal productivity via Web 2.0 innovation.

But connecting via computers also leaves us exposed to the whims of software authors, as Facebooks’s travails about personal data usage earlier this year show. Is our reliance on this form of virtual reality becoming a weakness? Imagine losing your online ‘To Do’ list’. How would you recover in the physical world? My guess is, not well. Look at the outcry when Twitter changed its URL shortener, leaving links that went nowhere. If your precious comments go unnoticed and your online hook ups are unlinked, is this really such a tragedy?

Having just won two projects with two very different Events companies in the last month, Positive is feeling positive about face-to-face. If time is the new currency for the digerati, then giving it up voluntarily is surely a charitable act on an almost religious level. Even with your Android phone on to monitor all the latest Tweets, spending time in a live networking situation is going to make you behave differently. You may find yourself actually smiling for once as opposed to just “J“ing.

So meeting folks, the recently-maligned collaboration, may even introduce you to the next meaningful meme of your career. Let’s hope Face-to-face beats Facebook in 2010. Why not make your New Year’s resolution to forget developing Square Eyes and RSI, if Social Media inks you with a digital tattoo, could real-life networking be more like a short trip to a health spa?

B2B PR – commodity, or gold dust? PART TWO

In Part One, we looked at B2B PR’s identity crisis caused by the rise of Social Media, free press release distribution and corporate short-termism due to the recession. In fact all is not as bad as it seems, PR is reinventing itself as the creator of online brand discussions and the guardian of content-creation, moving away from commoditised roles such as unquestioning information distribution (a role which even the world’s largest music and print moguls are discovering how to monetise).

If content creation and stewardship are the services required, then Social Media is B2B PR’s best friend. Here are Five reasons Content is more valuable than ever today;

  1. Sales Teams need stories
    Selling on features was always tough. Features without clear benefits are irrelevant in this market. Benefits need narratives. Who cares if your car has traction control – until it saves your family’s life in a blizzard, then, all your friends want it.
  2. Customers need proof points
    Budgets these days do not allow customers to ‘take a punt’ on technology working. Real examples of the success of others, not BS, is what counts. Almost all of Positive Marketing’s new business is won via referrals. Writing up success, is seldom straightforward, as any PR professional knows, often this requires negotiation between two sets of communications professionals. Once approved properly though, this content is tailor-made for Social Media.
  3. Content requires writing
    Writing is, or used to be, a core skill of PR professionals (despite the dyslexic juniors we have all witnessed hiding in large agencies). Online writing requires even more precision and brevity. Once it may have been acceptable for amateurs to ‘knock up’ content for brochures. Online, comparison to the competition is a click away. This requires professional writing.
  4. Even Microblogs need feeding
    Some believe Facebook updates and Tweets are the new newsletters. This is just not true; it is difficult to see how 140 Characters (minus a shortened URL) replaces in-depth explanations of customer proof points, product descriptions or targeted offers. ‘Feeding the best’ of today’s Real Time brand monitoring presents a challenge tailor-made for switched-on PRs.
  5. You pay for it any way
    Search Engine Optimization may attract eyeballs, but what happens when the attached brains land on your page? Satisfying them requires persuasive, compelling content. A Home Run for PR. Why not try reducing your SEO costs by 25% and invest that budget in a great writer? Your SEO will benefit from more sticky content and customers will be more engaged with your brand for longer.

In the concluding blog of ‘Commodity or Gold Dust?’ we will look at how to exploit the new gold rush for content with examples of creative content which work today. If these Five Reasons resonate, positively OR negatively with you, please feel free to leave a comment. If you want to learn more about how Positive Marketing is helping more and more B2B marketing teams to deploy effective Content, email our Chief Goldminer at pmaher@positivemarketing.org.

B2B PR – Commodity, or gold dust? PART 1

Last week, pitching to a prospective PR client, it was clear just how much content creation is needed for Web 2.0 media relations to fly. Differentiated, relevant content is the modern equivalent of gold. If, like me, you have worked in ‘traditional communications’, you learn that the more senior you get, the less you touch content. Facing inwards, not outwards, this is a world of meetings, messaging and crisis avoidance; days filled with PowerPoint and Excel analysis, not content creation using Twitter, Vimeo or WordPress.

PR is at the crossroads. B2B PR especially is in danger of becoming a discredited function, where original content is perceived as having low business value (think Facilities Management or Auditing as opposed to ‘Talent Management‘). However, producing gobbledygook with clockwork efficiency is not Thought Leadership and it is no coincidence that there are lots of press release templates in Microsoft’s Word these days.

Exciting, even contrarian, PR ideas, deliver differentiation and creates sales. So why has PR today become a plumbing function? Here are five dumb reasons for the disrespect and reasons for PR to still be cheerful:

1. “Why pay for real mailing lists?” (aka Free PR wires)

A lot of Web content and functionality is now ‘free’. If you disregard the fact that you get what you pay for, you can boost your Google ranking with ‘robot’ site listings.

Reason for cheer – Hardly anyone reads or cares about, reads or believes these press release reprints. This is low-level PPC fraud not PR.

2. “Why wait for brand discussions to develop, when we know Clicks make Sales?” (aka PPC)

Thankfully, a fallacy that is dying out. PR had its head in the sand when PPC started stealing its thunder (and budgets) but this debate is moving on thanks to the Web traffic attracted by Real Time Comments on influential blogs like Scobleizer.

Reason for cheer No brand was ever built on Clicks alone.

3. “We’ll do PR on top the Day Job!” (aka Staff cuts)

Smaller marketing budgets mean PR is cut or outsourced [Disclosure Positive Marketing occasionally benefits from the latter] But PR creates content for the ‘In the News’, Customer Success Stories and several other sections of Web-sites that sales guys point customers at when they are closing deals.

Reason for cheer – PR is wising up and selling.

4. “Why wait for permission to publish?” (aka Embargo-busting)

A key part of ‘Corporate PR’ was to stops stories coming out until the company was ready. The Real Time nature of the ‘River of News’ on Twitter means more, not less, perception management is needed to brands.

Reason for cheer PR can reassert its importance here (unless you are Habitat).

5. “Our Investors are not paying attention to our numbers” (aka The economy is down)

A sure sign of the downturn is a reduction in proactive media outreach (although the press release production line marches on). With fewer ‘good news stories’ to pump, it is easier to trot out ‘back-slapping’ partner releases than thought leadership.

Reason for cheer –  This short-termism is great for those taking calculated risks to influence news-hungry media today.

Next time, we will discuss why PR content may be a commodity (just like gold) but is about to become yet more valuable. In Part 3, we will look at how to exploit the confusion over just what PR is good for anymore. Mean time, feel free to Retweet, leave comments or debate directly at pmaher@positivemarketing.org.