Good journalists and editors can smell when brands are looking for media coverage about how wonderful they are. By contrast, editors and journalists seek pitches that will touch their readers. They want stories about interesting problems. Issues or problems that large groups of people may be facing can make excellent stories. A pitch about one brand’s journey, told in its own words from start to finish, will not.
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It’s happened again. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has upended a major brand for failing to comply with regulations concerning influencers. This time it’s Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc. Its online influencers failed “to disclose adequately” that the brand paid them to provide favorable coverage during a late-2014 marketing campaign for video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The brand settled with the FTC, the agency said July 11.
You know how bloggers have invented a writing subgenre of mocking the PR pitches they get? Recently I saw a lengthy takedown of a PR firm’s effort to publicize what the blogger felt was a hollow startup. The blogger portrayed the PR firm’s pitch as comically superficial. I’ll forego linking to the post because I prefer to avoid boosting ad revenue for crass blogs that bully people. Admittedly, the pitch material was superficial. It went against every principle of clear writing that I teach. All things being equal, the PR firm’s staff should have pushed back on the startup to get more concrete facts about the new company’s goals, what it does and why it’s credible. But that wasn’t the main problem, and it didn’t prevent the startup from ultimately succeeding elsewhere; more on that below. The biggest problem is where the startup’s material landed: in other words, where the material was pitched. Granted, the pitch was directed to a blog that’s well read among the startup’s target market: millennials. But this particular blog also is known for snarky opposition to PR outreach. It was like putting red meat in front of a gaunt, stray dog.
After a reported two years of testing recipes, researching and listening to consumers, PepsiCo admitted June 27 it had goofed regarding artificial sweeteners. The result: Not even one year after spurning aspartame and launching Diet Pepsi with sucralose, the soft drink brand was forced to reverse course. Amid falling sales and consumer outcry, it said Diet Pepsi with aspartame will return shortly. Adding a touch of confusion to the situation, PepsiCo also will continue to offer Diet Pepsi with sucralose. Importantly for communicators, this sour episode occurred when it’s easier than ever to gather information about customer preference via social media.
In one of social’s least-surprising developments, video is booming. Exclusive data Shareablee has provided PR News is evidence that consumers are engaging with brands’ video at unprecedented levels. And with online video having an estimated ad revenue of $10 billion in the U.S. market, even Instagram, created to highlight still photos, added a whopping, by its standards, 45 seconds to its stingy 15-second video limit for non-brands; brands were granted a full minute early in 2016 to preview Super Bowl ads.
In our nervous-twitch environment, PR execs who provide media training often face an executive or a team that has received coaching previously. These executives or team members know—or think they know—the basics and don’t want to waste time on Training 101. They are content- and results-focused and likely lack the PR knowledge about how the 3 P’s (preparation, practice and performance) can be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful interview.
As target audiences change, the tools for engaging them evolve, and machines enable us to do our jobs faster and more accurately. Our core function remains the same, however. PR pros still will be responsible for creating stories that educate, influence and connect people with our organizations and brands. To thrive in 2020, communications professionals will need to become more creative, have strong cognitive flexibility, collaborate, be emotionally intelligent and develop the grit necessary to constantly challenge the status quo. Here are ways to start building these important skills now.
In 2002, social networking came into play with the launch of Friendster, followed by LinkedIn in 2003. In 2006, Facebook opened up to the general public and Twitter launched. With each new social media milestone, the movement to cultivate relationships with influencers has grown. As we know, modern-day social influencers are prominent people, often bloggers, who have the reputation and power to sway others with their opinions. They represent opportunities to shape perceptions about your corporate and brand reputation, in addition to your products and solutions. The long-term goal is to convert them into brand advocates.
Confucius said, “Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” The same holds for PR firms and profitably. Data supplied exclusively to PR News Pro by Gould + Partners reveals none of the 106 PR firms, which were grouped by net revenue, reached 20% profitability, the industry benchmark. Individually, some firms polled for this 2016 study had 30% profitability, others were far less. The groups failed to reach 20% profitability in the ’14 and ’15 surveys, too.
Social media is a green field for PR pros. Virtually every person you want to market to spends time online engaging with a social media platform. The catch is you must stand out. In a world where everyone wants just a minute of your time, asking for the mere seconds it takes to read and like a post is a tall order. The nonprofit association CompTIA faced this challenge. To get results it failed to attain previously, the association had to do things it hadn’t done before. By going back to journalism basics it rebooted its approach to social media, and increased engagement by as much as 180%. Thinking like a journalist will not only help you achieve your goals, it will make you indispensable as this niche grows in professional relevance.