As part of the preparation for a new digital PR course presented through the PM Forum, I am interviewing some leading practitioners in the professions for their views.
Kelso Consulting http://www.kelsopr.com/ is an agency comprising around eight people which has long operated in the professions – working for accountants, lawyers and management consultants. Tim was an early adopter of social media and the agency publishes useful research on topics such as the take up of LinkedIn and provides seminars on a variety of topics including social media.
Kelso Consulting won the top awards in two categories at the 2011 Fresh PR awards – in the Best Research & Response category (which looks at the best use of data – GlobalExpense Benchmark Report) and also in the Best Austerity Marketing category (which is for campaigns making the best use of existing resources – for Knox D’Arcy consultants).
Q: What is digital PR?
It’s hard to define it precisely. On the one hand, it is traditional PR using online and social channels as part of the mix and on the other it is campaigns designed entirely for the online media community. Obviously, your digital content and PR strategy should support and integrate with your overall marketing strategy. A lot of people try to overcomplicate matters. Others focus too much on the digital channels.
Q: What’s the biggest change from traditional to digital PR?
At the core are the changes in the way that people behave and the way in which the media now operates.
The immediacy of the Internet means news travels extremely fast and media have had to adapt and restructure – so what appears in print now is more commentary, expert opinion and analysis – they have to add value. Also, reader loyalty has declined – whereas before people might have bought their preferred newspaper and trade magazines, now they are dipping into a much broader range of media for their information.
Blogging – and often by those who aren’t trained journalists – has increased the number of influencers and made it a little trickier to target your news. Many influential bloggers are almost in the hobbyist category – the fashion industry is a good example of where this has had a major impact.
Online stories and email – Whereas it can be notoriously difficult to get into some print media, their online news headlines are often sent out in email updates to the entire readership providing the same sort of reach. This happened recently for one of our clients in Management Today.
PR is now much more integrated into the overall marketing process – we must always be alert to the power of positive online PR to drive traffic to web sites and to generate leads. Whereas before most communication was by telephone, it is now by email and web visits – and this information can be captured and integrated into CRM systems.
Q: Is the press release dead?
No – it remains an important tool. It is still an effective way to package up news stories – for journalists and also, through the use of keywords, for SEO and Google rankings.
Furthermore, when there is such a sea of information assaulting journalists there is more reliance on offering exclusives to journalists and the press release is a key part of the way to pitch stories prior to widespread distribution.
Q: How has reputation management changed?
No one attends a meeting now without having done a Google search of the relevant people and organisations. There is much more information available. The downside is that a negative piece can have a big impact and remain active for a long time. It can be difficult to reduce the impact of a negative piece so in some respects it is now much harder to manage a reputation.
So crisis management remains an area where people come to PR consultancies for advice. However, I generally advise clients to avoid public on-line discussions with detractors and trolls.
Q: So when would you use a PR agency now?
You would use a PR agency now for all the same reasons as before the internet arrived. Naturally, people will still seek help when they are inexperienced in media relations, when they lack relationships with the target journalists and also in crisis management situations. Often they seek help in setting up media interviews and press lunches as part of a campaign. PR also is far more than media, so we work with a lot of organisations on all aspects of creating thought leadership and innovative campaigns.
A particular skill we offer is in terms of identifying a story – which is incredibly important in the professions where lawyers, accountants and surveyors might all be doing a similar role and you need to tease out some aspect or item that is the kernel of a topical news piece or thought leadership campaign. We might assist in running a brainstorm where ideas are generated, clarifying the messaging, packaging the item with research and supporting materials and pitching the ideas into the media.
People sometimes need help in negotiating the deal around a story – where it will appear and in what form and in what position and for how long. As well as how it will be included in supplementary activities such as email shots.
And there is an important role for agencies in sustaining the momentum for a campaign – after all, Deloitte and KPMG did not build their brands with one-off PR campaigns. Despite being huge firms with big advertising and marketing budgets, proactive PR for them is a day-in, day-out undertaking. A one-off bit of press coverage is all right for tactical marketing purposes, but for achieving a strategic goal – such as being recognised as a leader in a particular market – you require regular activity.
Unusually, we also provide support to smaller businesses who need help with PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising as it’s unlikely that they will have the necessary skills to run a small campaign effectively.
Q: Do people still use PR consultancies the same way?
Ideally, we still expect a written brief where the target media and desired commercial objective of the campaign is outlined. We need to know what they are trying to achieve and the sort of in-house skills and resources that are available.
A retainer is the norm with our clients, although often we are asked to provide an estimate for a one-off project.
Tim points out that Kelso Consulting also offers some fixed fee services for small firms who need only occasional PR support. It has created a no-frills ecommerce offering, www.prmybusiness.co.uk for such occasions where, for example, for £750 + VAT they will place two articles into a list of 15 target media. There’s a new service coming soon called “PR my law firm” (www.prmylawfirm.co.uk) where for a set fee of £350 there will be a brainstorm and planning session.
Q: What case studies in the professions are noteworthy?
BDO Accountants – I like the way they used video for public sector thought leadership campaigns – for example see extracts from their seminars on International Public Sector Accounting Standards http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uchm30jwrBU. They also did a report on social media in local government http://www.bdo.uk.com/library/social-media-within-local-government which is supplemented with a video.
Knox D’Arcy – We won an award for our work with these performance improvement consultants http://www.knoxdarcy.com/. The objective was to achieve a two page article in Local Government Chronicle. The initial release on the report, which found that public sector workers spent 80% of their time being unproductive as a result of poor management, was released in the quieter August period.
An exclusive was arranged with the Daily Telegraph but was pulled on the day. But we had also arranged for it to appear on political activist blog ConservativeHome, and the Telegraph’s interest was re-ignited – appearing on the front page the following day. This led to further coverage in the BBC, Daily Mail and other national media. It also resulted in 10 meetings with Heads of Council – wherease previously two years of telesales calls had not achieved any.
McKinsey Quarterly – Moving from mobile web sites to Apps, the McKinsey ipad App on Business Technology shows how a quarterly magazine can be effective at positioning – providing an easy way to access their reports and publications and, if you are a registered user, book onto their conferences.
Decoded programing courses – Whilst not in the professions, I was impressed with this organisation. I read the FT on the way to work and saw details of its training courses in Hoxton. When I visited their website it already said “As mentioned in today’s FT”… and it was only 7.30am. That sort of joined up thinking and immediacy was impressive. (http://decoded.co/)
PropertyPlace – This was the first Facebook page where you could buy, sell or rent properties and was a sort of Rightmove for FDs of small start ups. Through editor briefings we got coverage in the online magazine of Estate Agents Times and there was a lot of online debate about it. The coverage quickly produced leads for several millions of pounds of business, and was important in helping them impress investors to give the them their second round funding.
Management consultancy – Several years ago the founder of a consultancy was unfortunately featured following a relationship with a minor celebrity. But as it had hit the national media it remained in the top three mentions on Google for the firm for many years and even lost them business from a major client. A strategy was developed to generate stories to displace the popularity of the negative story online.