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Public relations the saviour?

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If advertising isn’t working, is public relations the answer?  After all, people trust editorials much more than adverts. In terms of our three ways that buying decisions are made, editorial is effectively a recommendation from a 'friend'. It just so happens that 'friend' happens to be a trusted news outlet or TV programme.

The short answer is yes, PR is part of the equation. But it’s not the same as it used to be in the pre-internet world and there is a prerequisite for it to be successful.

The circulation or ‘reach’ of the big publishing houses has dropped and so, too, has advertising in newspapers.

If we look at our reading habits today, what proportion of the media that you now consume comes from a name established more than 20 years ago?

For example, if you get an industry news round-up emailed to you every day, does it come from a big name? Probably not, yet they are still a publisher and it is taking up a proportion of your media consumption. If you are part of a club and get regular news from their blog or via email, they are also taking up a proportion of your media consumption. Twenty years ago, the club would not have been able to afford to give you this news so regularly. If you read an update on Facebook from a friend, your friend is also a publisher and is also taking up a proportion of your media consumption.

So, whilst we might read the Sunday Times (in print or digital format) the number of us doing so are far fewer, while the time we’ve spent doing it has likely dropped too. And, as a percentage of the overall media we consume, it will definitely have dropped. A hit in the Sunday Times is still nice, thank you very much, but it very definitely isn’t the be-all and end-all.

We spoke to Alice from a well-established, luxury African safari company who had been a participant in one of our in-house online marketing training courses. She illustrated the point above nicely with her own volume of enquiries that used to result from being featured in the Travel section of the Sunday Times compared with today's dramatically smaller figure. Note, the percentage drop in enquiries is higher than the circulation drop. Her theory: while the article may encourage people to go on a safari holiday, they now turn to a search engine for further advice rather than to the featured tour operator. In fact, Alice says that now: “Journalist trips are the most expensive and least effective form of marketing.”

Back on to the breakdown of our media consumption today: who makes up the other percentage? As we’ve outlined, it’s made up of a large number of other publishers which is why there is so much excitement about social media. You and I are now publishers and, as a result, the Sunday Times (or Telegragh, or the Record or Sky or ITV, whoever you want to choose) are less able to influence us. Because of this, the old 'go and have dinner with the editor' model of PR doesn’t work.  

Of course, there will be some new publishers who hold significant sway over our particular audiences, but they may not be known to PR agencies. An endorsement from these individuals can seriously make the tills ring, so getting to know them is a priority.

A bigger priority is to get people to come to us, so we need to get them writing or filming or recording nice things about us without us having to reach out to them.  

If we look at many of the big breakout internet companies, you'll typically find they have not courted mainstream publishers. For example Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Evernote, to name but a few, have all broken out without mainstream PR coverage until they were already well-established. The growth has simply come from customers recommending them. Indeed, if you tune into the Silicon Valley start-up scene, you will hear many experienced commentators warn against 'PR-ing' a product or service since it risks bringing in people with expectations greater than the product or service can provide. This, in turn, can lead to a negative reaction that will be hard to get over. Far better to have new users sign up in full knowledge of the limitations and work with you to reduce them, while using them to spread the word as you solve those limitations.

Congratulations on completing Chapter One; next we move onto 'First, Being Remarkable', where we make the case on why it's important and look at how to go about it.


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