Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Remembering your orphaned content

I have a bunch of orphans to look after.

Not long ago, I worked on a series of video podcasts. Created them, actually, with the help of some very talented video professionals. Our videos profiled professional photographers (see the screen shot below), many of whom championed the virtues of film and digital photography.

No one called our work "content creation" at the time. But we produced online material to help build the reputation and brand of a company struggling to re-imagine itself for the digital era. Digital eventually supplanted film, and the company filed for bankruptcy reorganization.

Our videos, however, reflect the company's view at the time: that film gave photographers creative latitude that digital cameras did not. (View the series at this link.) This view, in 2014, has changed.

The podcasts -- including this one, profiling British photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg -- live on as created in 2011. Frozen in time. I would have forgotten them altogether, had I not received messages this week from YouTube that someone had found the Bain Hogg video and shared it with online friends.

Online content is plentiful, but it ages more rapidly than we realize. Bain Hogg's concepts are still valid, but the company that created it has all but left the business of pro photography, licensing its brand and products to another company. The content has become orphaned.

So, add to your list of PR job responsibilities: content curation. Someone needs to remember that content ages, and doesn't always synch with the organization's current objectives. 

If your PR programs include podcasts or other online content, it's essential to audit this content. Compare it with the company's current product portfolio and business objectives. If it's no longer relevant, consider removing the material, or perhaps make it available as archival content to the subjects in the video. If the content includes copyrighted material, it may compel you to remove it in order to comply with your licensing agreements.

Just don't let it become orphaned.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Realism and shoe leather in research

There's no shortage of companies eager to conduct research to fuel your PR recommendations for clients. Good data is helpful, sure. But I recommend a different approach:

Listen to your customers. Face to face. And not at a noisy, overstimulated trade show.

Author and market researcher Paco Underhill's firm makes a practice of doing retail research by having a staff member track a consumer's behavior, in detail, as he or she navigates through the store. Me, I'd be highly suspicious of anyone stalking me with a clipboard. 

However, the research I'm talking about does not involve clipboards or stalking. Here's how one experience went:

On a brief trip to the west coast, I had time to spare. I wandered into a small camera shop that catered to serious photographers. I asked "how's business," and then added that I worked for Kodak -- at the time, a powerhouse brand in photography. 

Unknown to me, the shop owner had serious issues -- not worth detailing here -- but the biggest was that no one at my employer's office had acknowledged his concerns. I listened, made mental notes, and promised I'd inform people higher up the food chain of his issues. Which I did.

You won't get an earful like that from a market researcher. But you also won't build a relationship by relying on online surveys and statistics as your sole source of insight. 

The best research? It involves an expenditure of shoe leather, and listening to customers. Those interpersonal exchanges will stick with you. And as you develop PR strategies, those experiences will influence your creative process. You'll remember that mildly annoyed retailer, and keep his concerns in mind.

That's research you can't buy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

When Public Relations isn't Public Relations

I coach and advise students about careers in public relations. So I see my share of online job postings for PR positions. Too often, they read like this:
By Esra / Esra
 [see page for license],
via Wikimedia Commons

[Headline:] Entry-Level Public Relations/Sales/Marketing

In Your Eye Marketing Inc is currently offering entry level sales and marketing positions that include comprehensive training. No prior sales or marketing experience is necessary, and we will train you at the entry level to learn a variety of skills from sales and marketing to management and mentor-ship. (sic -- mentorship is seldom hyphenated)
Responsibilities in Entry Level Include:

  • Assisting in the daily growth and development of our company
  • Assisting with efforts of new business acquisition
  • Expertly managing the needs of external customers
  • Developing strong leadership and interpersonal skills
  • Face to face sales of services to new business and/or consumer prospects
  • Preparing marketing and sales strategies alongside our Marketing Managers
  • Great interpersonal skills and social competency
  • Professional demeanor, organized, reliable
  • Effective and skillful communication skills
  • Ambition, a strong work ethic, and an earnest willingness to learn
  • Results driven attitude with a hunger for success
  • Ability to excel in a high-energy, fast-paced environment
This ISN'T public relations. It's sales. Period. If you don't see words like writing, news release, social media, media relations, or strategic planning, it's not public relations. It doesn't talk about working with editors or developing relationships with influencers or gatekeepers.

You may contact members of the public, but it's not a PR job. You won't be building a brand or working to understand attitudes. It's just sales promotion. Nothing wrong with a job like that, but if your goal is to do PR work for NASA, Ford, United Way, a college or professional organization, this isn't the best first step.

Yes, I get it; "entry level" opportunities are intentionally vague. But to suggest this role has much to do with the public relations profession is an outright lie. And the first rule of real PR is: "do not lie to the media."

Or, in this case, through the media. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adrian Peterson at your breakfast table

I vowed not to give more airtime to Roger Goodell and the National Football League's problems. So despite the headline, this isn't about Ray Rice, or Goodell, or the league's inability to utter two simple words: "Zero Tolerance."

It's about using sports figures to promote consumer products. And whether it's time to end this practice.

The cereal box here shows Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who's accused of child abuse for injuring his young son. The most recent coverage appears here. 

You'll struggle to find this Wheaties box on a store shelf. Maybe collectors snatched them up. Or store managers thought it wise to remove them. Maybe General Mills recalled them and shipped them to a country that never heard of Adrian Peterson. It doesn't matter.

As a society, we deify our sports heroes, pasting their likenesses on or in automobiles, footwear, food products, and even pain remedies. And when they make mistakes or cause off-the-field injury to others, we're shocked.

Olympian Michael Phelps faces a DUI charge. Cyclist Lance Armstrong lied about using performance-enhancing drugs. NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman. Tiger Woods, his mistakes are legendary. And on and on.

Surprised? They're human. They're well-paid athletes, and well-paid athletes face temptation at every turn. Sometimes, they make mistakes or errors in judgment. Just like those of us whose workplace isn't the Metrodome or the Staples Center.

Most parents know eating Wheaties won't help their kid burst past defensive linemen like Adrian. Or collect gold medals like Phelps. Wheaties has less sugar than some breakfast cereals, so maybe that's General Mills' motivation for putting sports figures on cereal boxes, because no one ever mistook Wheaties for Cap'n Crunch.

But the practice backfires -- often enough to call on marketers to revisit the practice. The marketing business is rich with very creative minds. I'm betting there are better marketing strategies to sell ready-to-eat cereals that don't involve showcasing fallible sports heroes at my breakfast table. And eventually dumping boxes of cereal in some distant country to help erase the embarrassment.