Getting you story out: the FT alone won't do

At least once a month, we hear a Brussels-based communicator state that their goal is to get their organisation’s story into the Financial Times. I get it, and I agree to the extent that if I had to choose to have my best story appear in just one place, it’d be the FT. Please don’t think “mission accomplished” if your story gets coverage in FT though, or any top-tier publication for that matter. It’s simply not enough; people – and this includes legislators – need more: individuals view 8 sources of media per day and on average need to hear a story 3-5 times to believe it (Richard Edelman.)

So what do you do about it?

  • You open your eyes and acknowledge that the list of credible news sources has grown exponentially, and it’ll often include people you’ve never heard of. Edelman speaks of dispersion of authority, meaning that figures of authority aren’t just main stream media and the like anymore, but also other experts or aficionados in any given sector or issue who might not reach 100,000s of readers like the FT, but will reach everyone who matters within their niche.
  • You extend your monitoring so that it refelects this shift to niche content providers, whether online (usually) or offline.
  • Extend the scope of your editorial work so that you’re present in all the spaces that matter. Whether that means responding to blog comments on someone else’s blog or writing your own tweets doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your editorial plan reflects “dispersion of authority” and the shift to niche.
  • People don’t find information by having it sent to them or by picking up a paper. They look it up on Google, so you really need to have a search strategy in place. It’s the dullest part of the job but arguably the most important (remember: +90% of MEPs use search daily!) Get an SEO agency in to help you, and produce content that will mean people find you online when they look for information on whatever issue you’re working on. Tip: publish far more press releases on your site and on eWires only than you do at present as it’ll mean you provide more good value content and improve your search engine ranking without bothering journalists. For more on this, I’d recommend David Meerman Scott‘s eBook, New Rules of PR.

Tracing eFluentials and what to do about it

An eFluential is an online influential (or influencer) i.e. someone who matters online, someone people read and respect, and who can drive and influence an issue’s trajectory online.

For obvious reasons, communicators are often eager to identify eFluentials within their sector or issue. That’s all very well. Unfortunately, plenty of  communicators then think it’s OK to pester them, assuming that of course they’ll be willing to spread a story and use their networks to promote anything from a take on an issue to a product launch. Think again. It barely works with traditional media, even less so online.

So as a communicator, what should you do? First, do identify these people. That’s not a crime. How? The basic tools work: look up keywords (brand, issue, legislation, organisation etc.) on Twitter search and Google blog search. Don’t forget blogrolls: finding bloggers via other bloggers works well. You can be even more sly. Look up your keywords on delicious, flickr, digg, reddit and check out if someone is tagging lots of good quality material. Google their names and see if they write blogs or where else they turn up (LinkedIn perhaps?)

OK so what do you now? DO NOT spam these people. Follow them, see what they have to say, learn from them, use them to gain an understanding of what’s driving your issue online. Then, if you’re really keen to build relationships with them, start engaging in their space  e.g. go on Twitter or start blogging (or rather, advise your client to do so) and provide interesting and insightful material that they too will be interested in – and only then try to hook up with them. If they share your interests and you build a mutually beneficial relationship, they might, just might, refer to you at some point, follow you on Twitter or put you in their blogroll (but only because they really want to.) If at any point, however, it becomes clear that you’re trying to plug a product or promote a position, you’ll lose all credibility and you’ll need to start from scratch. Be warned.

As a side-note, I’d highlight that eInfluentials are not necessarily the people with most followers on Twitter or whose blogs are most read in your sector: “pitching social media creators who are influential but who are not really customer evangelists for a brand are the wrong people to target” (from a post by John Cass.) This is relevant for issues as well. If you’re engaging in online advocacy and want to, say, build relationships with bloggers in the hope that they might help you spread the word, focus on those who really share your interests and are most likely to join forces with you: if they have a huge following but only ever write about certain elements of your sector/issue which don’t involve you, that’ll remain the case no matter how many scoops you throw at them. Remember, online isn’t like traditional media. Getting an article in the FT will always be more valuable than getting a far better one into a small trade publication. Online, that’s not always the case. Via search, people can find anything that is relevant, while good quality content even on a low-profile site or blog can spread like wildfire if it captures the imagination.

Storytelling over big budgets

Title_storytellerA tale heard many times in varying incarnations in Brussels:

  • Big company X spends hundreds of thousands to get an independent report published by a reputable institution.
  • Takes months, the report is finally published and the company is happy: the facts support its side of the story (e.g. product Y is not nearly as dangerous as some say) and the report is truly independent, so case closed – or so they think.
  • What’s the story? Company X publishes “independent report” which proves so and so? No, that’s not interesting enough. The story becomes company X publishes supposedly independent report but pressure group Z says it can’t be trusted as it’s industry sponsored. The report flops in PR terms.

This is another tale that’s been around the block a few times:

  • Pressure group Z doesn’t have any budget but understands PR far better than industry behemoth X.
  • It makes a mountain out a molehill by taking a nothing story and relating it to a day-to-day human experience e.g. the equivalent of say “paracetamol will kill you” without mentioning that you would have to take 100 tablets or whatever to do so (to be fair, plenty of NGOs and the like publish material that is much less controversial, but you get the gist.)
  • Pressure group Z gets loads more press than Company X got for its crumby report.
  • Company X responds to the story with a press release a week later rather than responding to it immediately using online crisis communications tactics that have more impact.

What are the lessons for corporate players in all of this? Each of these points could be a blog post in itself (if not something much longer), but in short:

  • Re. the last point, clearly, your crisis communications requires an online element.
  • Most of all though, don’t get caught up in trying to win hearts and minds through science and fact alone. Nobody cares about science, however spuriously, if their family’s health may be at risk.
  • Don’t let business people, academics, engineers or scientists decide on your story. You need communicators on board.
  • Don’t just make it about defensive communication and proving that you’re not as bad as they say. So your substance isn’t that harmful (or whatever) but is your organisation really doing good deeds in the long run? If not, it should.
  • Treat pressure groups with respect, engage in dialogue, show them that you do good things, and they might even be nice to you. Or at least be less outrageous.
  • And I have to say this considering my line of work… Go online and develop a super web presence to engage directly with the public and explain your story to them without intermediaries. Media relations is important, of course, but the press is likely to side with pressure groups more often than not, no matter what you say or do (and if you’re truly nasty, deservedly so!) Why? Because they’re the nice guys and readers like them more than you.

Don’t overlook the importance of being able to communicate directly with your audience


When explaining why online communications is worthwhile to clients operating in the Brussels bubble or anywhere else, it’s easy to overdo the sell. Bloggers, engagement, social networks, the value of two-way communications and so on sounds great, and most will acknowledge that it’ll matter at some point in the future, but for now, it often puts people off: “we’ve got a small team, Directive X is now in its second reading, I just need to get an article in the right paper now, I’ll think about the web next.”

What I tend to do is to start off highlighting the diagram above. It outlines that which most people tend to overlook: that the web is more than an entirely new and separate medium. Sure, making the most of the web does require a mind-shift and a new way of working. But it also allows organisations to communicate directly to their target audiences. That’s a phenomenal opportunity:

  • It allows them to publish more good quality content
  • The content is available instantly, not however long it takes to get something published and distributed
  • It reduces reliance on journalists who then might skew the story anyway
  • It can improve media relations by providing journalists with more, better and easily accessible content

Reputation management in a day

The smart people at We are Social had an interesting post up describing a conversation that took place on Twitter about their client (@stephenfry). It was claimed that he didn’t write his own tweets, which he in fact does, but within a day the whole thing had been cleared up and the person making the claim, none other than Robert Scoble (@scobleizer), had retracted the claim and apologised.

How? We are Social were scanning Twitter for comments about their clients, caught the relevant tweet, responded on Twitter immediately, and Scoble obviously did the right thing and apologised. Case closed.

This incident is a great case-study in how effective monitoring and quick reponse via social media can speed up reputation management. Of course, in this case all people concerned actually work in social media, which helps, but generally, social media monitoring and rapid response is becoming part of the communications mix for a number of organisations and politicians, in an attempt to nip untruths and other damaging stories in the bud. On the political front, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was, as ever, at the forefront with Fight the Smears.

And if we look into our crystal ball?

  • All organisations and politicians will have a social media monitoring set-up as well as a social media presence which will permit them to address issues directly and instantly.
  • Reputation and crisis management will be web-led.
  • PR agencies or even internal comms teams dealing with reputation and crisis management will be given a lot less time to clear up the mess..!

Digital PR/PA: it's not all different

A running theme of this blog is that online communications need not be something entirely removed from that which PR and PA professionals have been doing for years. Although social media et al has changed the communications landscape and a new approach is required to make the most of it, the web can also help strengthen, but not necessarily change, age-old activities, such as basic content production.

In this post (including video interview), Sally Falkow explains this concept a little better than I’ve done i.e. that PR practitioners should still be producing content, because that’s where their expertise lies, but that what’s different is that they now need to be thinking of more formats and different distribution channels.

A PR nightmare

us-airways One of your planes about to sink into the sea, name clearly visible on the side, with passengers in life-vests being rescued from a wing. Worst possible nightmare PR scenario?!

Photos like the one on the left are doing the rounds on the web and in newspapers around the world. The Guardian has a whole 18 of them.

I checked the US Airways site quickly to see how they were communicating around this. The story is on the homepage, they’ve got a number for support, and a statement from the CEO. So a few boxes have been ticked. I do think they should have hidden their flight booking form though, just to highlight that their focus now is on getting to the bottom of this rather than selling tickets.

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