For the last several years PR agency Peppercomm has worked with Nikon to promote the Nikon Small World photomicrography contest, which features up-close-and-personal views of everything from algae and bugs to beautiful landscapes. Previously, Peppercomm deployed its PR efforts around the winning entries, which offered a relatively small window—perhaps a few weeks or so—to get the word out and pitch the media to cover the contest and the results. But in the last two years, Peppercomm has taken a much different shot at promoting Nikon’s photomicrography competition.
Rather than a garden-variety PR campaign—and the limitations that are inherent in such a strategy—Peppercomm has turned the micrography competition into a year-round event.
The agency keeps the momentum going for the contest via the Nikon Small World website and myriad social platforms,.
For example, each entry turns into content that Peppercomm spreads throughout the appropriate online channels as well as offline vehicles such as print publications covering photography and science.
The effort features regular posts online about the competition and information about topics that are relevant to the participants. Peppercomm also ties the photographic entries to specific events on the calendar, such as Valentine’s Day (a romantic shot) and April Fools’ Day (a humorous picture). By sharing every single entry, each picture becomes an “episode” for the overall story. There’s also coverage of the judges.
A live Facebook chat and Twitter feed announcing the roughly 125 winners each year keeps the conversation going about the competition. (This year there were more than 2,200 images submitted, a new record.) Exclusive content from the winners is then released to key bloggers to continue the conversation, inspire more people to enter the contest and create a virtuous circle of engagement.
In the last two years, the contest has seen a 300% increase in Facebook fans and a 200% increase in Twitter followers.
‘SOAP OPERA’ MINDSET
Peppercomm’s work on behalf of Nikon helps to illustrate the growing movement in PR and communications circles to develop more “serialized” content, in which continuity is baked into the marketing strategy. In an always-on world, the traditional PR campaign—with a beginning, middle and an end—is turning into a losing proposition.
“There’s a growing awareness that the campaign-based model no longer—or never did—make sense,” said Sam Ford, director of digital strategy at Peppercomm.
He stressed that if PR reps want to see the future, they need to reach into the past.
“I compare it to TV in the 1960s,” Ford said. “Daytime dramas were without end and serialized. The end of an episode didn’t mean the story was over. There was no ‘off season,’ there was no ‘campaign.’ There were repercussions for what happens from one day to the next. Compare that to prime time [TV] in the 1960s, in which each episode was tabula rasa.”
In order to land bigger budgets, PR pros will increasingly need to apply a serial approach to their communications efforts. They also need to embrace what Ford calls “trans-media” storytelling, where PR departments and agencies build narrativesand brands across traditional media channels and digital communications such as social platforms.
“Companies can learn a lot from how fictional storytellers build their stories and how those stories are interconnected,” Ford said.
BuzzFeed, the website featuring so-called “listicles,” is a major proponent of branded content that is continuous in nature and doesn’t have a shelf life per se.
“PR is about earned media and with sharing, you can create earned media at scale,” said Jonathan Perelman, VP of agency strategy and industry development at BuzzFeed. “But you’re not able to get that if it’s a one-shot campaign.”
To play in the current media game, PR pros must make their content perpetual, according to Perelman. “It’s not about recycling the same thing every day but always adding new information and new stuff, whether it’s every day or every other day.”
Take Virgin Mobile. Last year the company partnered with BuzzFeed to create a 24/7 newsroom that listens to social conversations and responds with timely and brand-relevant content.
During the yearlong partnership Virgin Mobile and BuzzFeed created 190 pieces of original branded content that users were quick to share, garnering Virgin Mobile 9.7 million engagements with its content.
“Content is King but distribution is Queen and she wears the pants,” Perelman said. “There has to be constant distribution of content and it has to be truly distributed—it’s not enough to say, ‘Let’s post this on Twitter and Facebook.’” PRN
Sam Ford, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jonathan Perelman, Jonathan@buzzfeed.com.
Join the Crusade Against Campaign-Based PR
Has serialization killed the campaign star? If not, then it soon should. The nature of agency-client relationships has often meant pigeonholing our thinking around the concept of “campaign-based” approaches to building relevance. Ultimately, however, the campaign approach is shortsighted.
Here’s why we should lose the campaign mentality and usher in the era of crusade-based marketing.
▶ Relevance is not earned in “one-off” fashion: Whether we’re trying to get the brands we work with to get positive press mentions or simply earn mentions, we’re really after relevance. But because today’s consumers are empowered to ignore fluff in favor of substance, the game has fundamentally changed. Relevance is earned at the gateway of content discovery. It’s also earned in search engines, social media, your email inbox and the outbound links of media sites and blog posts.
Gaining traction in those gateways means creating value—often via publishing editorially sound brand content—so that you start to earn authority in the eyes of Google; have something worth sharing in social channels; give audiences better reasons to open your emails and provide journalists and bloggers a valid reason to link to you. Bloggers are more likely to link to other bloggers than to brands. Stop begging. Start blogging.
▶ Think of crusade-based marketing as investing instead of spending: The rub of campaign-based marketing is that the value ends along with the campaign. There’s little residual benefit and memories are short. A crusade-based approach—which includes creating valuable content on behalf of brands—has a much longer shelf life. Authoritative content can rank in search and subsequently be linked to and shared in social for years. For one of our clients, we have a post that answers a simple industry-specific question in authoritative fashion and it’s been sending search and social traffic for six years.
▶ There is no start and stop; there is only go: Campaigns have a beginning, middle and end. But that’s not how the attention economy works. Today’s consumer is always on. The successful PR exec of tomorrow needs to follow suit.
Andrew Hanelly is senior VP of strategy for McMurry/TMG.
This article appeared in the July 1 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.