With the explosion of new media (especially social media), squeeze on budgets and new business harder than ever (or should that be as hard as ever?) to come by, the question of where to focus your PR is even more difficult than it has been previously.
The biggest change that has taken place over the last five years is that print media – especially in the business-to-business arena – has shrunk; if not in terms of number of titles, certainly in terms of the thickness (or thinness) of the journals. Electronic versions of print titles have sprung up, along with their subsidiary e-shot offerings, and social media has exploded like nothing else and with it the myth that if it’s not part of your marketing mix, you’ve had it. It has created a bit of a foggy outlook in terms of the marketing landscape, exacerbated by the many siren voices trying to seduce the marketing decision maker.
Add to that decisions such as whether or not to attend your main industry exhibition to maintain profile, so people don’t start to think you’re going under, and the need to devise a strategy to compete with your rivals, who seem to be able to advertise and promote themselves with unlimited restriction on their marketing budgets, and there is immense pressure to simply ‘do something different’, because your current marketing activity doesn’t seem to be working.
There can be an overwhelming temptation to try something new, because it might just be the answer. It might be. Then again it might not. Or it might be the right thing to do, but if you don’t approach it in the right way or fail to give it the resource it needs, it still won’t work, so it won’t deliver the results you hoped.
In the current economy this scenario is very, very common. And very understandable.
So what’s the way forward?
Trust yourself and your instincts. This can be really tough, especially when it seems the whole world is telling you should be following a certain path. In fact you’ll have voices from all directions telling you to do this or that. Naturally, they’ve all got a vested interest in what they’re telling you to do.
In PR terms there are only three things you need to think about:
1. The message (what have I got to say?)
2. The audience (who do I want to tell?)
3. The method of communication (what’s the best way to reach them?)
Sometimes one or more of these things can get missed out of the thought process or confused in the rush to drum up new business.
The first point is the most crucial. The message or content is the driving force for any marketing activity. If you’ve nothing to say, why will anybody listen to you? Hence why you can spend hours tweeting on Twitter and see nothing in return. A rough estimation of Twitter activity shows over 98% of content is retweeted comments, simple musings or tweets about where someone is going, has just been or what they’re doing. Basically, noise. Over half and, frequently, over 75% of many company’s Twitter followers are suppliers, prospective suppliers or employees.
That’s not to say Twitter can’t be a useful tool. It can. But it has to be used in the right way. Same with all of the other social media platforms.
Content is where some organisations struggle when it comes to PR – especially in a recession. There’s not as much going on, fewer orders, fewer projects, no new products coming out. Nothing to say. Not true.
Your company is full of experts in its field. People within it have good, informed opinion on key industry issues. You have a lot of knowledge that can help prospective customers choose you as the company they want to work with. This is gold dust in PR terms.
There’s a reason people buy from you. In fact there are probably a number of them. There has to be or your customers wouldn’t buy off you. If they are, other people will too (one of the most important lessons I ever learned in marketing).
All of this feeds into your PR programme – it’s what makes your content. It’s what helps to define your brand.
When we work with companies, this is what we focus on in the early days – getting the good stuff out of the people who own it and translating it into marketing and PR messages.
Your audience you’ll know. Not by name, but by job title, market sector, type and size of business. The only question now is how to reach to them and get them to take notice of what you’ve got to say.
Method of Communication
Newspapers, magazines and journals, online version of publications, influential bloggers, social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Flickr etc), video, newsletters, e-shots, awards, seminars, webinars, exhibitions, roadshows. There are a lot of options.
As well as content, this is the big one.
In fact, for most organisations too big to do everything. But it has always been that way in marketing – you’ve got to make choices, depending on your budget and resources.
The issue now is that there are more choices than ever before, basically as a result of the digital explosion and the ease with which digital ‘channels’ can be set up. Social media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn for example – can be set up within a matter of minutes. A website or an e-magazine requires significantly less investment to establish than producing, printing and posting 10,000 copies of a trade journal.
It’s also the case that digital media can give quantative feedback in terms of people who have read something (or, more accurately, opened it or clicked on it), ‘clicked through’ to a website, and how long they spend on a page.
Like all statistical information, though, it’s important that these analytics are interpreted carefully to fully understand what they mean. 100,000 followers on Twitter, doesn’t necessarily mean you are talking to 100,000 people every time you tweet.
Conversely, having only 500 prospective customers on your database for a regular e-newsletter may not sound a lot, but if they all have the purchasing decision on the products you are selling, especially if it’s a high value, niche product or the 500 people you have researched are the 500 ‘most likely to buy’, it can be the most fruitful communication you have.
And with all of this digital media, is there still a place for old fashioned printed press? Simply, yes or it wouldn’t still be around. Although most national and regional newspapers are losing circulation, they still sell in their millions and most have online editions as well. As for trade press, the same falling circulations aren’t apparent. Many of these titles are either subscription based (in which case people are spending money to get a copy) or they are free but have controlled circulations, in which case their recipients must actively request a copy.
What’s more, the publishers of these titles would love to be able to dump the printing and postage costs of their products and concentrate solely on web versions. They can’t because their readers demand the printed format, even though most serious publications also have a web offering.
When the printed form has had its day, it will become obvious very quickly.
What the increase in digital media has done is to massively increase the number of PR opportunities that are available. But, at the same time the impact of the PR generated can be diluted by the fact that these various communications vehicles each have a smaller audience (there aren’t enough people to go round).
The trick is to optimise your effort to return ratio.
Don’t forget about your website
One thing that the rise of social media, in particular, has done is take companies’ attention away from their websites. In today’s digital world, it’s more important than ever to evolve your company website; constantly updating it with news, case studies, product information, video, blogs, technical information, ‘how to’ columns, product insights, white papers, knowledge banks. Keeping it fresh and informative – as you would expect of a market leader. A good website is far more important than having a presence on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
A company website is the first place people go to ‘check out’ the business and its product offering. This is especially true in the business-to-business arena. It’s like getting in front of a new prospect: you’ve got one shot to impress, don’t blow it.
As the ‘current economic climate’ starts to witness glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel (to mix our metaphors), the key concern for any marketeer, as we said at the outset, should be content; how to get enough of it and how to make it engaging. Not just to feed a hungry website, but also to populate the numerous communications channels (especially of the digital variety) that offer multiple ways of reaching your audiences. No longer is a simple ‘this is what we’ve got, this is where you can buy it’ message going to be good enough.
Content, and most importantly, good content will be the watchword for anybody involved in PR and marketing. It’s not the number of communications channels that are available or the ease with which they can be set up that’s important, it’s what you put on them and how the world then views you. Those companies who do it well will be the ones who prosper in the digital age.