Thoughts on the evolution of marketing communications from James Warren
This is the copy of an essay I wrote a while back. I like the phrase Ideas That Grow. If you want to print it out, there’s a PDF on the Weber Shandwick Brussels site, here.
Ideas that grow: making marketing work in a networked world
Agile and conversational, only PR can help marketers take control of the chaos and construct and maintain brand campaigns that understand the need to evolve
It is generally held that advertising has many advantages over PR. One genuine advantage is that it’s far easier to understand – a truism established by the fact that in simplistic terms advertising is easier to practice. Anyone with enough money can buy media space and fill it.
Clearly, success in advertising is predicated by ensuring that this media space is in front of the intended audience’s eyes and that what it is filled with is something visually engaging, interesting and of relevance to the intended audience. Most typically advertising fills the space with arresting creative content, or ‘annotated art.’ It then puts this ‘annotated art’ in as many places as it can, for as long as it can afford to.
Repeat after me…
Which brings us to the single greatest advantage advertising has over PR: repetition. The fact that the same creative is repeated time after time after time, in multiple locations across varied form factors ensures that recall – the tried and tested measure of advertising effectiveness – is always high.
Marketing by numbers
So, as a CMO making cost/benefit decisions, I know I can generate x amount of recall among my target audience with a spend of y. As y increases, so – to a degree – x increases. Typically, the size of the budget determines the length of the campaign and therefore the amount of recall. If the annotated art is particularly strong creatively, the amount of budget required to generate the desired level of recall can be decreased – particularly in this digital age where the online media space is infinite and, in many instances, free. Which explains the advertising industry’s obsession with creative content.
Advocacy starts here
If we consider the advantages of PR, the greatest by far is advocacy: the delivery of positive messages by independent third parties that promote a perception about a thing (product, service, organisation, person…). PR is able to deliver advocacy through its ability to deal with the tough questions: something advertising can gloss over. A good PR has detailed knowledge of his client’s business and industry, the current and upcoming issues and trends that are shaping the news agenda. A very good PR will also know which advocates the intended audience is most influenced by. An exceptional PR will know how to present its clients proposition to each advocate in a way that is tailored to the advocate’s needs and addresses their previously-held perceptions of the ‘thing’ being promoted.
Blink and you’ll miss it
‘Old school’ PR – at its worst – obsessed about media coverage. Campaign success would be measured in terms of column inches, generated by a media event. So the length of the campaign was often incredibly short: amounting to just one day’s reports in as many papers as possible following an event and that was that. And, as PR’s critics are always quick to note, today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper. But the advent of digital, fuelled by a buoyant search economy, has given the humble news report new life. As content fights for precedence, it is the traditional and trusted mainstream media entities that carry most weight.
The King is dead. Long live the King!
That doesn’t mean to say the only reason PR is more valuable today is because the internet search giants ensure its output is fresh and relevant. It’s just a coincidence that happily validates the long-held knowledge within the PR profession that influence is a constant. The main – and oft-cited – reason PR now demands such respect is the evolution of media habits online. As social media rivals traditional media for consumers’ attention, so the opportunity to deploy PR’s skills within new channels extends the opportunities to drive advocacy way beyond traditional means.
Stop the world, I want to get off
So what? Digital has created an opportunity for brands to move beyond ‘annotated art’ as a vehicle to secure attention. PR’s ability to react to events, to create and sustain ongoing relevant conversations about the stories its clients want to tell and to use advocates to amplify those stories means that it is instinctively positioned to help organisations ‘cut through’ in this new, networked media environment.
Ideas That Grow
PR creates Ideas That Grow. Creative concepts that are not simply annotated art, but rather are deep and engaging brand experiences. PR is skilled at managing the timeline of a story, sustaining interest and relevance, and syndicating the advocacy in real time. Using a combination of direct social (digital) engagement and traditional influencer relations, PR can deliberately create programmes that have organic growth and evolution at their heart, that identify the roles of both the brand and its audience in the campaign, and that set out to more richly alter and/or shape perceptions and opinions. Through agility, empathy and an understanding of what truly constructs/maintains reputation, PR can help organisations come to terms with the chaos of modern-day marketing.
There has been lots said in the past few weeks about Social TV. The concept is simple and potentially very powerful. In a nutshell, it describes the mass online collaborative experiences that occur in real time during TV broadcasts, extending the viewing experience beyond the goggle box and towards interaction within social media (the google box, if you will). The opportunities for brands (and media companies) are huge.
Simple activations include brands associated with sport sponsorship enabling pundits to provide commentary live during games, allowing fans to interact with them and each other. During ‘reality’ TV shows brands should enable celebrities to critique (Twitique?) what’s on screen, via the brand’s Twitter handle. Similarly, on platforms like Facebook an opportunity exists to create a non ad break, activated during the live commercial break showing video or content directly related to the show being broadcast, but providing interaction/adding depth/commentary etc. When the show recommences, the content ends (but the opportunity to discuss it/share it persists).
Where things begin to get really interesting is around the concept of live DVD extra-like commentary and interaction (enabled for you by brand X). So hypothetically, during the broadcast of the latest Bond film on national TV, Omega (or Aston Martin or any of the franchise’s many commercial partners) would bring you the opportunity to Tweet directly with Daniel Craig and the film’s director. So the audience can interact with the people behind the content as it plays out in front of them, adding depth and flavour.
From a very simple PR perspective, social TV can be used by brands to ensure that spokespeople/employees are active on social media platforms when that brand is going to be featured, especially on short format shows like news bulletins when the opportunity to get the brand message across is short and the positioning potentially hostile. That way, as long as you let people know about it in advance, they can ask for more detail and brand ambassadors can direct interested parties to more information.
UPDATE: No sooner do I post this than I see this. Orange is sponsoring comedian Peter Serafinowicz to commentate on the BAFTAs via Twitter this weekend. Smart.
Absolutely essential reading from Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones. It’s an fascinating speech. Mr Hinton seems to lay a significant portion of the blame for media’s current travails at the social media ‘industry’. Wrong argument, I think. The world is what it is, technology has changed things (as it always has – it’s just this time its changing information).
On brief reflection, I think it’s the advertising industry that is failing. As soon as it works out how to (cost-)effectively add value to the people its trying to influence without interrupting them, the sooner big-brand money will flow back into information sources (the media) and the sooner this type of conversation will move on. No small challenge though.
Our recent INLINE research proved the huge relevance of the traditional media to today’s consumers. The media industry needs to sort its economics out, which I believe will be best done by working with advertisers to redefine how they help people find and consume useful/educational/entertaining information, rather than building a wall around their journalism and charging for access.
In the future good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for. Free costs too much. Good content is valuable. That hasn’t changed. It never will. The question is who will provide the content and who will be compensated fairly for the value delivered.
Wrong question. He should be asking ‘how will we (the media) be fairly compensated for the value we deliver?’ And the answer might be found were the advertising industry to ask itself ‘how can we innovate to help maintain these valuable channels to our audience?’ rather than stumbling aimlessly around throwing money at infinite digital billboards. Because the eyeballs will follow good content.
As I read this back, I realise I have made one massive assumption (never a good move): that all media will become exclusively digital. That’s inevitable though, right? I showed my eight year old daughter some photo negatives at the weekend. The look of puzzlement on her face was hilarious. She genuinely thought the concept of having to process pictures was absurd. Buying information printed onto paper last night (or weeks ago in the case of magazines) will be similarly regarded as being daft, I’m certain of it. No?
Eric Schmidt asserts most people in the future will get their information from non-traditional sources. As we know, they already are. Anyway, interesting views on content (it’ll be mostly Chinese, by volume), device-agnosticism (esp video), ranking of location/relevance (mobile) etc. Worth a watch.
This morning in London Colin Byrne and I hosted a seminar for 100 media, clients and prospects on INLINE Communications. Here’s the deck. You can also download the report and other stuff (and watch a hideous video of me talking mostly nonsensical gibberish) here. INLINE is a very simple concept: that your communications should be consistent across all channels, be it online, offline, experiential… We’ve proved it, via INLINE profiles, and we’ve got a model to help clients deliver against it. Anyway, it’s early days – there will be more dripping through in the coming weeks and months.
What’s not to like?
From The Economist. Hat tip to Chris Vary.
Maker-of-cars Henry Ford is credited with saying:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse
In that simple statement lies the essence of innovation. This blog intends to address and discuss what organisations want (or rather, need) from their PR/PA functions, now and in the future. The world of established media is reportedly in a state of flux, a global recession has diminished companies’ propensity to spend on marketing activity, while search and self-publishing have brought about their own opportunities and challenges for the people/teams tasked with promoting or protecting brands. What are the innovative marketing communications tools and techniques we should be using to tell the stories behind those brands in order to truly effect change (in perception, reputation, sales etc)?
Inevitably we’ll end up talking a lot about donkeys, bicycles and spaceships. Cool.