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The marketing might of modern public relations

March 26th, 2013 / 4:06 am

On March 23rd I was honoured to address the Bangladesh Brand Forum seminar in Dhaka.

In my presentation, I argued that:

  • social media is revolutionizing the way the world communicates and it is powering the public relations industry’s global ascendancy
  • in Asia, PR has traditionally been a relatively minor and subordinate part of the marketing mix but now it increasingly occupies centre stage
  • because public relations is at its essence a social networking business, it is well positioned to thrive in the digital domain, especially in a region where mobile communications are the new marketing battleground
  • media relations and publicity will always be a key part of PR, but now creating content, building communities, understanding analytics and applying the psychology of persuasion are all part of the picture
  • PR will always be about the art of relationships, but increasingly it is a measurable communications science

The marketing might of modern public relations from Robert Pickard

Categories: Asia, PR industry
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April 12th, 2011 / 5:02 am

A rising PR industry trade journo asked me to answer some questions today. I don’t know how much of the material she’ll use, or whether it’s that interesting, but here it is, FYI:

What does the PR industry need to do to gain access to the C-suite and what are benefits for companies of doing so?

The first thing we need to do is clearly demonstrate the value that public relations adds to the achievement of tangible commercial objectives. C-level executives know in their hearts that PR is now more important than ever, but many just can’t articulate why they feel that way. Many hope for positive publicity, and perhaps more fear a ruined reputation from what we used to call ‘bad press.’ What they increasingly need these days is proof of how PR can promote their image and how it can protect their brand: numbers, charts, diagrams, and analytics. Digital is by its very definition about data and so the rise of social media gives us the power to plot outcomes and track progress during the life of a communications campaign. This is what is increasingly called ‘evidence-based communications.’

What are the current barriers to that?

Even though the opportunities are enormous with PR poised to be the breakout player in this new era of digital marketing, there remains this tendency within the industry to think small. It’s ironic; in my 21 years as a corporate communicator, I’ve never seen our profession stronger and more powerful than it is today, but not enough people in our field stake a claim to the leadership that can be ours if we transcend this stifling lack of efficacy about what we do for a living. Overcoming the legacy of what can be a ridiculous inferiority complex relative to the advertising industry is therefore key. The other challenge that we must meet is the establishment of higher professional standards so that clients can enjoy a certainty of positive outcome across the full spectrum of their ‘touch points’ with PR. Quality levels can be wildly inconsistent across firms, industry sectors, service spheres and geographic contexts. That costs the PR industry credibility and results in a dampening effect on prices that harms PR’s ability to attract and keep the best talent.

Has the situation changed in the recent years in how brands and top management view PR and how? Especially for Asian leaders, what have their attitudes been?

It is abundantly clear that senior people in complex organizations of multinational scale are investing much more in PR than they ever have before. PR is evolving from its roots as a craft of relationship artistry to becoming a measurable modern science of persuasion. More and more, we have proof based on numbers to support our sales contentions. In Asia, the problem is that even in more developed economies, PR often remains a developing industry that is poorly understood by elites in positions of power. In one country, PR might be confused with advertising or advertorial. In others, it might be seen as simple press-agentry or even purchasing coverage with cash. The good news is that in more and more places, the contemporary reality of PR is being refracted through a social media lens and that’s where we can see the true vision of our industry’s future. In the past I think PR people may have been branded in some quarters as hyperbole peddlers, media grifters, or social conveners. Fortunately, today’s serious PR professionals are increasingly seen as a curious hybrid of social scientist, communications counsel and management consultant.

From the agency POV, how have they evolved?

I think we agency people are finally wrapping our heads around the fact that with social technology we now have the tools, techniques, and talent building a consulting business on a digital platform the likes of which we have always dreamed of. In order to exploit the opportunity this presents to PR, we must deliver consistently high service and quality standards while keeping a brand promise in a business where firms have had difficulty honouring commitments in the past. Indeed, there is a lot of restless multinational PR money roaming around Asia, switching from one agency to the next, fed-up with mediocrity and looking for certainty of positive outcome across borders. In some Asian markets, there are few or not enough post-secondary institutions offering PR education, so the smart firms are taking matters into their own hands and building their own training capability. For example, we have BMU [Burson-Marsteller University]. Education is at the heart of building a premium PR brand in Asia. At B-M, training the team to keep setting the PR standard for quality is my #1 priority. I often remind myself of what one of my Korean clients once told me: “Aim for the money, and quality suffers; aim for the quality, and the money will always come.”

Categories: PR industry
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The art of mapping the science of PR

December 7th, 2009 / 4:00 pm

Around the world of public relations, I keep hearing that PR is becoming more a science than an art, thanks to the advent of new online tools that allow us to see how many eyeballs are looking at the content we’ve put into the public domain. As a lifelong maps enthusiast who collects antique world globes, I am particularly mesmerized by the plotting of online visitor data onto measurement maps, such as YouTube’s insight (screen shot from my channel follows):

YouTube insight stats for Bob Pickard's channel

PR professionals have historically specialized in sharing information with others, so that people will do or think what we’re hoping they will do or think. Typically we’ve relied upon the editorial media as the conveyor of content to target audiences. That took a lot of hard work to ‘earn’ coverage, pitching stories to serious journalists, making a case with compelling arguments and ‘proof points,’ thinking in advance about helping the reporter sell a story to an exacting editor (ever worried about producing news product that the marketing department could use to extract larger sums from advertisers interested in persuading the biggest possible audience).

Today with the shrinking of the news media ‘storyselling zone,’ PR people have new opportunities to communicate corporate narratives via social media directly with constituencies of all kinds. “Every company can be a media company,” Richard Edelman has repeatedly stated in many speeches lately (recently putting a finer point on his views in this post). You could also say that “every PR pro can now be a media producer,” because we are all so intimately and directly involved with the creation, programming and sharing of content. Because this ‘PR 2.0′ takes place online, we can measure what people click, where they are located, how long they spend somewhere, what they share with others, etc. This technology is not so new, but the widespread integration of such intelligence gathering into PR campaigns is coming on strong. Clients are also more impatient than ever, and they love the instant feedback from real-time sources.

During two decades in public relations, I have sat in a lot of long meetings across from many skeptical executives — especially those with financial and scientific backgrounds — who can’t appreciate the value PR adds absent the tangibility of numbers on a chart. So, the idea that we can visibly capture the contribution of PR and try to quantify it using richer tools is immensely attractive.

For years, we could count piles of press clippings, look for a client name in the headlines, classify articles as ‘positive,’ ‘negative’ or ‘neutral,’ comb paragraphs looking for key messages, and even try to calculate ‘equivalent advertising value.’ When it came time for the new business pitch or client performance review, we would wheel out these crude measures and package them as convincingly as possible. For my money, while such techniques did offer a useful gauge of how things were going, it was a highly inexact business at best and clients often didn’t feel they could trust what often came across as self-serving numbers.

Thus for time immemorial there has been this quest for the ‘Holy Grail’ of PR measurement, which is now gathering momentum because software platforms developed to monitor social media can now, I am told by experts like Alan Chumley, also be applied to measuring conventional media coverage. Plus we can use tools like word clouds to simplify and vivify what has been a complex and rather boring area.

Going back to 1995-96, when I helped develop the original version of this site in Canada as one of the first PR agency home pages on the Internet (and then this site in Korea and this one in Japan), I’ve been fascinated by visitor stats — using Web Trends, Webalizer, etc. — but clients didn’t share my passion because the numbers didn’t compute commercially. Now, fortunately, owing to the social media explosion and existence of powerful and free measurement systems such as Google Analytics, the Internet metrics seem to mean more to the bottom-line and now PR people can walk into client meetings where budget decisions are made in a more confident way armed with data that is seen as objective and compelling. Can we now attach a specific number to a PR campaign’s exact cash register contribution? Maybe not yet, but we are getting closer, and in the meantime, I’ll have fun playing with the map dashboards:

Visitors to from Korea

[When my good friend Hoh Kim in Seoul posted a link to my blog recently, I was curious to see how many Koreans would visit my site].

Since then — and this is a subsequently edited entry — I was interested to note the 100+ source cities of visitors to this new site within its first 10 days:

100 cities of visitors here within first 10 days

Recently I have been checking out some of the new Twitter apps that map followers, such as Analytics: Analytics

…and I’ve also been using the Friend Statistics application in Facebook for a long time:

Facebook friends

Categories: blog, measurement
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Guest lecture to PR students in Hong Kong

November 26th, 2009 / 3:00 pm

HKBU PR students

On November 10th, I was honoured to address PR students in the Communications School of Hong Kong Baptist University. I was invited and hosted by the distinguished Dr. Flora Hung as well as the wonderful Dr. Regina Chen. The theme of the speech was “Building modern PR campaigns and telling digital stories in the age of social technology.” Feel free to download a copy by clicking the screen shot below:

Pickard presso on building modern PR campaigns

It was my best effort to ‘connect the dots’ between my own two decades of communications consulting experience and the ideas of thinkers like Gerald Zaltman (re. metaphors tapping into the unconscious mind), Martin Lindstrom (re. neuromarketing and ‘unconscious’ storytelling), Dale Carnegie (re. making people feel important in conversations) and Robert Cialdini (re. the psychology of persuasion).

These are the key points made in the presentation:

  • No brainer: the mind is the key issue when it comes to PR.
  • The unconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind.
  • The emotions of the unconscious mind determine PR success, not the rational logic of the conscious mind.
  • Metaphors communicated through storytelling tap into the unconscious mind where people make decisions.
  • PR pros need to design and conduct campaigns accordingly.
  • Unfortunately, the ‘storytelling zone’ of news journalism (which has also been the province of PR people interacting with reporters) is shrinking as the traditional news media business plummets.
  • So marketers and their money are migrating to the entertainment media and social media spheres, where stories can be told directly to consumers.
  • Nowadays every company can create its own content and tell its own stories, like a media company.
  • Digital is now changing narratives; new stories are actually being co-created via conversations with people online.
  • Understanding the ‘psychology of persuasion’ within networked contexts is a key skill for modern communicators.
  • PR people of the future must think like story writers and media content programmers.

HKBU PR students

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