Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.
Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.
Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.
How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.
Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation
Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.
The journey of a good narrative in comms
Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.
It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.
Countless people have said it, but this year really was anything but predictable. Despite the sudden change, the year wasn’t all doom and gloom. Mental health was discussed more, social justice movements really accelerated, carbon emissions dropped at the height of lockdown, Animal Crossing had its time in the limelight, and most of us learnt how to make bread and other baked goods.
With 2020 almost behind us, we’ve been having some great discussions here at Firefly about what we think the year ahead holds, so here are six of the main trends we’ve come up with that we think will have a huge impact on the world of comms in 2021.
Stronger communication of social and political movements
This year, we have seen social justice efforts dialled up drastically. Hugely important topics such as climate change, animal rights, and wellbeing were brought to the awareness of the masses more so than ever before this year. However, the most powerful of which was undoubtedly the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, where many stood in solidarity to fight against racial oppression and reflected on the prejudices within their own societies. The impactful global movement not only brought these issues to the front of everyone’s minds, but it also prompted action from a number of organisations and effective communication became key.
As we approach 2021, it is likely that topics much like these will continue to surface, causing a shift in both corporate and consumer behaviour. Responding in the wrong way, or not responding at all, can have a negative knock-on effect on the reputation of individuals and/or companies, so being prepared for communicating on issues will be a key consideration as we enter the new year.
Move over media relations
In the coming year, the face of PR will change, even more so than it has already. Companies, and particularly in-house PR teams, are focusing less and less on traditional media coverage. Of course, the media remains an important audience to communicate to, but comms specialists must start to look at the reputation all around them, not just in the media. Finding the right means of communication will become crucial to helping build or improve the reputation of organisations or individuals. With tactics such as SEO, employer branding, and other reputation-building tactics becoming more and more impactful, it’s clear that media relations alone simply won’t cut it anymore. As an industry, we must start to adapt, develop, and innovate in 2021, pushing communication to its full potential.
Tim believes that “The best campaigns nowadays hit different audiences, in different ways, and at different times, and the truth is that media relations on its own doesn’t usually deliver that as effectively as a wider comms campaign.”
Cancel culture continues on
Prior to this year, we knew cancel culture was a thing, but with the power of social media and the increase of social justice movements, both the extent and frequency has increased a fair bit. Most infamously this year was the fall of the once beloved writer, J.K. Rowling who voiced opinions that many deemed as anti-transgender. Despite numerous attempts to repair her reputation by demonstrating support and clarification on her opinions, J.K.’s cancel saga continues.
So far, the comms industry has had some trouble with understanding and getting to grips with cancel culture. And this is only expected to get harder in the coming year. Our words, especially on social media, can make a huge impact. Now that those involved in cancel culture know that it works, it’s likely that this will only increase just how much they partake in the public shaming of brands. Going forward, we must start to take cancel culture seriously.
For anyone who’s still new to cancel culture or wants to learn a bit more, we wrote a blog about it recently. You can read it here.
The battle against misinformation continues
We wrote a blog last year about deepfakes being a big threat to the media, and the efforts of those involved in spreading misinformation have really ramped up since. The pandemic has caused a huge amount of misinformation to be spread as many questioned the virus, the causes and eventually the vaccine. In retaliation, the World Health Organisation coined the phrase “infodemic” to explain this plethora of information and its rapid spread. Social media giants even began to crack down on misinformation by flagging posts that may have inaccuracies or be deceptive – hopefully, this will be just the start of the likes of Facebook and Twitter preventing the spread of fake news.
In the next year, it’s likely we will begin to see some real innovation in this area and a shift in behaviour, but it won’t be easy. Comms will have a tricky year ahead trying to deliver accurate, reliable, and credible information, and if the culture of misinformation continues to grow and become more mainstream, this will cause even more challenges!
Empathy, care, and continued commitment
After being subject to nationwide and local lockdowns, where many of us were unable to see our closest friends and families, we all needed a little boost. Everyone has already begun to pay close attention to their own mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. Even the government has begun to comment on this too. With so much focus on this, it is almost definitely something that will impact the year ahead. For comms professionals, communicating with care is key and care should be top of the agenda for leaders too.
Christian thinks that “The Covid-19 vaccine will take a long time to change the world stage, so people will be working remotely for some time yet. This means that leaders must continue being inspiring, motivating their staff, and making difficult decisions for some time yet. It’s time to dig deep and communicate clearly, powerfully and responsibly.”
Planning for uncertain times
As we know, this year hasn’t been predictable at all, and actually, it’s uncertain just how much we can know about the next year. Despite the uncertainty, we can plan for the year ahead by ensuring there is fluidity interwoven into our plans. Pre-Covid, it was easy enough for us to plan around big events, or key moments in the calendar for the following year. Due to the vaccine being distributed, we can almost start planning in this way again, but we must ensure we have a back-up plan if these milestone moments in the year are postponed or cancelled.
According to Charlotte, “A full, detailed yearly plan has not been ‘a thing’ for a while, things change far too fast to look that far ahead. There is still uncertainty around the corner, so comms planning must be fluid and we must give ourselves room to flex, to either face new challenges or take advantage of new opportunities.”
There are, of course, countless other trends that are likely to make an impact in the year ahead, but these are the six we really think you, as a comms professional, would benefit from keeping a close eye on. This year has been an interesting one to say the least, but we’ve all learnt a lot, and despite the uncertainty, some great things have happened. From us at Firefly, we hope you have a wonderful festive break, enjoy time with loved ones, and recharge those batteries for a brilliant new year ahead. And of course, hopefully the newfound baking skills many of us picked up in lockdown can come in handy for whipping up some festive treats while playing Michael Bublé on repeat!
I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that many of us are very much looking forward to saying farewell, au revoir and auf wiedersehen to 2020. It has been quite the turbulent year, to say the least, and I’m sure almost people are exhausted and ready for the Christmas break. With vaccines preparing to be rolled out, 2021 is already starting to look more hopeful and ‘normality’ may actually start to return.
Whilst we’ll be quite glad to see the back of this year, we shouldn’t totally forget it. We’ve seen a lot of great things come out of 2020 that had a real impact on lives and society – from the generosity of people and companies offering their money and support to those in need, to finding a better work life balance through remote working –, so it’s not all been doom and gloom.
Here at Firefly, we have had many moments of inspiration throughout the year. If anything, the whirlwind of 2020 got us talking, debating and sharing so much more, with lots of great new ideas and reflections in the comms space. Launching Reputation Shapers was most definitely a highlight for us – more on that below! With every crisis comes creativity, new thinking and differing outlooks on life, and so I wanted to share some of our best pieces of content.
We look forward to writing more inspiring and thought-provoking content in 2021 and continuing to shape the reputation of tech-driven companies. Bring it on!
This is a post from the Firefly archives – timeless advice, as relevant today as it was in 2015!
Memes, public Instagram images, and screenshots of funny things that’ve made it into the media via Facebook are just a few examples of the popular content we see constantly in today’s digital world.
They’re increasingly popular across the internet for both commercial and non-commercial reasons, and with the ease of consumption and sharing, it’s no surprise the lines are a little blurred between what constitutes copyright infringement or image plagiarism.
PRs and journalists are not immune to this – we use and re-use a vast amount on content on a daily basis. For example. someone’s hashtagged a nice picture with your client’s brand on it? Seen a funny picture in a forum that would make a viral-worthy news piece? Great! But before you use these for your own advantage, consider these tips to avoid image plagiarism:
Is the person who posted this image the first person to post it? Try your best to ensure that it’s original content. Likewise, if the content is associated with a news event, it’s vital you’re publishing true information and won’t have to retract items later.
Always get in contact with the person who posted the image and ask their permission to use it. You can tweet them, direct message, comment – it all depends on the platform, but make sure you get consent. If the picture is on sites such as Flickr, you might also need to consider Creative Commons attribution. Don’t forget, if you’re using the image for a client or employer, it’s being used commercially, rather than for personal use.
Again, this will depend on any applicable Creative Commons licences, but if you’re using someone else’s image it’s generally good practice to attribute their name. Better yet, tag the social media account it was sourced from or embed the image directly from the source.
If possible, why not try and take a picture yourself? In a lot of cases, this might be just as easy and save the wait-time for user consent. You need is your smartphone and a few filters or an editing app, and you’ve got a picture!
While user-generated images can make excellent and authentic social fodder, any media buffs concerned about getting into trouble can always stick to stock images. They aren’t always as engaging (and they can cost you money), but you’ll know you’re not breaking the law. When you’re using free stock images, please do note that it’s still polite to reference the creator! For ideas, check out Unsplash, Pexels and PxHere.
That said, it’s always worth looking at the terms and conditions before you use them. For example, you can’t usually use a stock photo as part of a logo or trademark.
In practice, image plagiarism online is a bit of a legal grey area, it’s better to be safe than to lose a client contract or risk fines. Photo agencies have expensive lawyers and aren’t afraid to use them.
Getty Images has teamed up with the BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) and PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) to set up Stockphotorights.com, a useful guide to using stock photography and understanding image rights. There is a helpful FAQ, which is well worth bookmarking.
(Photo credit: Bonnie Kittle, Unsplash)
Communications staff are continually having to adapt to new circumstances, tools, platforms and approaches – but Covid-19 has presented a significantly different set of challenges to pivot around! We’ve reprised our ‘comms brain’ – originally contributed to PR Moment in 2013 and 2017, but now for Just.Marketing in the midst of Covid-19. In the piece, Claire Walker also outlines the biggest changes to her role – and in the feature, you can also read what she thinks are the three most important skills for a marketer today, and the most important priorities.
What has been the biggest change to the way you approach your role during the lockdown?
Walk the talk. As an agency leader, I spend 5 x more time on Zoom and Skype virtually walking the talk to the team and to our clients. I end my day with a strained throat!
Teams comms. I do a daily morning team call so everyone is energized and mobilized. I do a weekly CEO update, total transparency and honesty.
Agility is everything. This is COVID situation has reinforced the need to complete actions quickly before the next changes are announced and everything shifts again. Its speed over elegance, but never compromising quality or sensitivity.
Extracts from this interview first appeared on Just.Marketing.
In 2007 ‘Silent Discos’ were the next big thing. Really? It seemed ludicrous, silent parties, dancing with headsets on, everyone with different music, throwing different shapes? But roll on 10 years, it’s commonplace. Last week I organised a Silent Disco at home – 75 headsets, 3 tracks, £200. The neighbours were delighted.
So, what are the crazy trends predicted to become lifestyle norms by 2027?
Over 90% of all restaurants will use some form of 3D food printer in their meal preparations. Really? 3D printed cupcake anyone?
Forget googling for your holiday, we will all have an ‘e-agent’ inside a watch or piece of jewellery that will book our flights and accommodation. (Yes please. I want this now).
So, here are four more seemingly-ludicrous trends that will be quite normal activity by 2027, and how these trends can these be woven into your 2018 campaign
Siri, it’s over. I’ve married Alexa
As AI and machine learning develop and evolve, they become more embedded in society. For example, Apple recently began hiring engineers with psychology backgrounds to help Siri have meaningful conversations and by 2020, Gartner has predicted that the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. It is clear that our smartphone assistants are becoming more like virtual companions and soon, millions of consumers will start having meaningful conversations, or even relationships with these virtual assistants, changing the way we interact with one another.
So, as comms professionals what does this mean for us? Well, instead of planning our campaigns around people, we may have to start thinking about targeting them at bots. People will begin to trust their virtual companion’s opinions, so we will need to start considering algorithms as another audience.
Currently, Google constantly crawls websites in order to update their search results and the more a ‘Google Spider’ crawls your page, the higher you’ll rank in the search results. As marketers, we use SEO tactics to ensure our client’s rank highly in the search results but soon, software programmes like the Google Spiders will be outdated and we’ll be planning our campaigns around more intelligent programmes, like virtual assistants.
It is likely that brands will also develop virtual companions, shaping them to reflect the brand’s culture and values. Marketers must consider how these companions will fit into their campaigns and how they can benefit consumers to stay ahead of the game.
Your bum will never look big if your bot is your stylist
And in retail, this has also had an impact; the Amazon Dash buttons have given us a taste of one-touch automated shopping, but this is only the beginning. The retail industry could soon be fully automated with all of the searching, purchasing, deals and delivery conducted by AI-programmed personal assistants. We are seeing this process already with the app, Finery. This app adds fashion purchases to an online ‘wardrobe’ and organises them by colour, style and designer. The users then get notified about price changes, sales or brand news.
Not only will algorithms become our virtual companions, but they will be involved in every aspect of our lives – planning our wardrobe, deciding which food we should buy and even controlling the media. In 2015, the Associated Press announced that a number of its original news articles were written by AI.
Algorithms can take behavioural data from thousands of consumers and determine what they are buying, at what time, when and how. They can dictate which audiences to target campaigns at and when to place an ad. Soon, marketers will have to design their campaigns around algorithms as well as humans.
Seeking, as hiding is not possible
2017 is the year where we saw a shift when it comes to transparency. Uber came under fire after an employee blog went viral, detailing a culture of sexism. The #Metoo campaign came swiftly after the Weinstein allegations.
Transparency is quickly becoming imperative for all organisations. Last month we wrote a blog discussing the benefits of being transparent and using transparency to make your brand’s voice and message clear. Companies can no longer hide behind a walled garden, consumers expect information from brands and as we look towards 2018, transparency will become even more important for brands, with those that are unable to comply facing huge repercussions.
Brands must understand their core values for PRs to work on promoting their message. Taking action and being honest and open with customers will ensure your brand will elicit a positive response amongst consumers.
The cheapest gap yah, without leaving your home
With the rise of virtual and augmented reality, the boundaries between the physical and real world are becoming blurred. In 2027, our houses could include virtual projections, or we could be holidaying from the comfort of our own living room. The possibilities are endless, and brands will need to adapt accordingly – marketers just need to consider where people consume their content and how. Our living rooms weren’t designed for mixed reality, our sofas are static, and furniture is placed so we’re sat comfortably. Mixed reality may need us to move or look around and we need to be mindful of this. Marketers also need to consider how consumers will view mixed reality, will it be on a smartphone or via a headset? Or, will we be living surrounded by projections?
Whilst the technology is still at its early stages, brands and comms professionals need to work together and start thinking about how they can use mixed reality to their advantage.
I’m a trendjacker extraordinaire
There is a term for brands using trends to create buzz – trendjacking. My view is that it’s important to stay informed on trends, but hijack them wisely. Jumping on the back of any trend isn’t strategic, it is opportunistic. Instead, it’s better to carefully watch trends that are relevant to your business development, and get the PR timing right. Trends can grow quickly, change shape and meaning or simply fizzle out – the key is to use it to your advantage before your competitors, but not when it is so farfetched you seem like a “crazee” or a luddite.
Great, you’ve just spotted an interesting article you actually want to read, but of course you’re just about to run into a meeting. Sound familiar? We thought so and it seems to be a regular scenario we all face.
Everyone may now be online, but we are increasingly just skimming over content, failing to properly engage with anything online. If we do want to devote some quality time to a piece of news or an article, we can’t, and frankly it puts us in a bad mood. This is something the media world is starting to recognise.
Attending a recent digital journalism conference, news rewired, showcasing the latest IoT inventions for the media world, we came across PrinterThing. Though still in beta, it enables users to ‘pocket’ articles they like throughout the day and then print off all the news and features at the end of the day to read at their leisure in their own home. Social giants have also already cottoned on to this growing need. We’re sure many of you are already aware and even use the ‘save for later’ functions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, letting you bookmark Tweets, posts and photos to refer back to later.
Immediacy is losing its appeal and we don’t always want to be the ‘always-on’ consumer’, continually gobbling up but not processing content. As the editor of The Monocle highlighted at the conference, we are living in a two-speed media world – fast and slow – and “sometimes it’s good to be slow.” It’s true; we are willing to wait twenty minutes for a cup of coffee, as long as we know it’s guaranteed to be good. We can be patient if it’s worth it.
But what does this shift mean for marketers and PRs, and how should you be catering for these changing preferences?
Strike a balance
Grabbing someone’s attention can be simple, but you also have to keep it – that’s a little trickier. Balancing both is a fine art but one that marketers need to master if they’re going to deliver what consumers want.
First, you’ve got to spike consumers’ interest, using that punchy title, a leading question or a great image or video to make them want to read on – but make sure that there’s substance behind it and avoid clickbait at all costs. Anyone who clicks on a link and finds out that the article or video is irrelevant will be annoyed. If they have specifically saved down content to look at later, taken out precious time to digest it properly, they will be fuming. You may have elicited that all-important click and generated a precious view, but you may have lost a potential customer. Worse, you have may have done damage to your brand.
So, don’t mislead people. Instead, remember that well-known phrase ‘quality over quantity’. Slow it down but make it worth people’s while and just like that great cup of coffee, if they know it will be good, they will keep coming back for more.
Don’t be short-sighted
When it comes to analysing results and reporting, everyone has been raving about the need for real-time data – that’s the only way we can gain real insights into consumer behaviour and preferences. If ever true, it’s no longer the case. If we are saving content to read at a later time, then real-time data will only tell part of the story. To truly know the reach and engagement of your content, you need a comprehensive view taking all activities into account across a much longer time frame. This will provide much more accurate and insightful results than just scrutinising the here and now.
This also presents a further opportunity for marketers and PRs to monitor and track what type of content and what topics are proving the most popular among your target audience. Keeping an eye on which articles, videos, and more that your audiences are saving, for example, will give you a clearer and more informed idea of what resonates with your audience, not just what sparks their interest but also what connects with them on a deeper level.
Can’t beat them, join them
This new disregard for fast-consumption is also a result and rebellion against over-saturation. We are completely inundated by content, pushing many of us to go offline completely. Indeed, a former Facebook exec recently apologised for ‘ripping apart society’ – and I think we all have at least one friend who has completely deleted all their social accounts. However, it is also having a serious impact on businesses across every sector. PR and marketing are no different.
No, we will not all be going offline completely and, no, printed media will not be having a complete revival, but marketers do need to change and re-think how they target consumers online. We already know the importance of SEO, but with consumers trying to drown out the noise from adverts and news feeds, they are only going to listen and, more importantly, engage with what they are specifically looking for. So, make sure you’re offering it to them – providing the content they actively seek out, ensuring your keywords are fully optimised and relevant, and of course, boosting those all-important search rankings. When consumers do go looking, you want them to find you. Increasingly, brands will only be able to engage with their audience if consumers come to them first and with the upcoming era of GDPR, there will be increasing restrictions on how you can reach out to them.
Though we are not abandoning the world of digital completely, we are seeing an increasing frustration and rebellion against online, and certainly the fast-pace associated with it. So, for 2018, take it down a notch and slow it down to make sure you’re offering what your consumers want, how they want it and when, and resonating with their needs. We take this as a very positive sign that marketers and the internet are starting to focus less on what they can do and more on what they should do; a sure sign that we’re evolving, or at least growing up a bit.
Slow and steady may yet win the race.
It’s not polite to speak ill of the dead but when it comes to cold calling, it’s a practice we’re not sad to see become extinct. In fact, 97% of cold calls are ineffective and 70% of exec-level buyers state that sales people on calls are unprepared to answer the questions they ask.
We’re in the age of story-selling – not a new concept, but one that becomes more important as we become more reliant on social media and search. The savvier we are online, the more equipped we are at researching and making that purchasing decision. The disruptive ‘out of the blue’ sales call doesn’t work any longer. We don’t like to feel we’re being ‘sold to’, and we don’t like to feel like we’re uninformed, or even speak to someone who’s uninformed. We know how to get the information we want – isn’t that right, Google?
Story-selling is a subtler way of making that sale. It’s about providing value and engaging a prospect over time – by answering questions and providing interesting content, in a logical sequence – until the person is ready to make a purchase.
Unlike cold calling which needed marketing and PR’s help to boost the top of the sales funnel (in the awareness and understanding of a brand), story-selling needs marketing and PR to help influence the buyer throughout the full sales cycle. For example, a sales person could be about to close, but then the customer sees a bad Google Review and decides against it. Or a customer could be hesitant and needs gentle nudges through thought leadership content to be further convinced and move further down the sales funnel.
Good marketing and sales alignment goes all the way down the funnel from top to bottom. Many marketers have the top end in check – generating awareness for their organisation and passing the sales team Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
But, how can marketers ensure they’re still influencing the customer until the sale is made?
How can marketing and PR influence the full sales funnel
1. Stay on top of the company’s digital reputation
At any point in the sales funnel, and often nearing the point of making a decision, customers will Google you. I mean even when you’re being told a story in your personal life – like watching Making a Murderer on Netflix – we still feel the need to check the facts by Googling during the TV show.
Marketers should keep track of what appears on page one (especially) and pages two and three of Google. Is there anything that could hinder a sale, such as a bad review or a damning article? If so, marketers should have a strategy in place that looks to displace negative content.
The long-term solution to digital reputation challenges will include both places where you can control your content (Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, etc.) and sites classified as News/Expert Authority. The latter is much harder to influence but this is where PR excels due to its inherent understanding of storytelling, engaging experts and developing messaging that resonates with various audiences.
2. Feed insights to the sales team
How much internal dialogue happens between the sales team and marketing? This should be regular and marketing can take the lead by feeding the sales team with thoughtful content and insights. And in fact, having the sales team pushing out content means that marketers unleash a social army that has considerably more reach than it could ever hope to achieve just through its own social channels.
A great example of this working well is with one of our clients Cornerstone. Every week, Firefly compiles a newsletter with a selection of industry stories, blogs and insight on the competition. We continually refine the way we select content by analysing popular and effective content through trackable links. This gives the right context to the story our client is selling.
3. Interact with even more tailored thought leadership content
We all know that pushy sales tactics don’t get anyone very far – it’s about being consultative and this is where PR and sales need to be more aligned. Do marketers know which questions come up time and time again? Do they know which content prompts a response?
As much as marketers should feed sales with insights, sales must do the same. Marketers need this understanding to develop tailored ‘persuasion’ content, especially for a high value lead. It’s worth the high effort. Everyone wants a Disney ending!
4. Get in it, to win it
The mature story-sellers on your team will understand the importance of building and maintaining their social profile to give the ‘story’ personality. But some may not, and the marketers who are at the forefront of digital technology need to educate and support the sales team when it comes to the potential of social media. For the sales team, it’s about making it personal and relevant, and not relying on a company’s social presence to feed the sales funnel.
With this army of story-sellers, it’s also important to all align. This means looping in sales at the start of message development because they need to be authentic when speaking to prospects. ‘Plugging’ a message that’s been given to them by marketing may not be as effective as a message that they bought into early in the process.
5. Build, listen, build more, listen, build even more
Story-selling is just as much about listening. That’s really listening to what a prospect is saying, but also how they’re behaving and engaging with you. Sales and marketing need to work together to build conversations and help each other keep track of each stage. A customer won’t want to start explaining everything over and over again. Continuity in story-selling is so important.
Likewise, if you begin to feel like you are shoe-horning in your ‘solution’ to their issue, then it’s time you re-evaluate your proposition. You can’t build on a conversation if it’s off to a wonky start.
We live in a time where we are resourceful and make decisions on our own terms. The instructive nature of a cold call is long dead and this new sales environment is perfect for marketing and PR to thrive. However, it will only flourish if marketing and sales teams change working practices in order to be more closely aligned.
It’s Halloween and once again we find ourselves preparing for a night of dressing up and pretending to be something we’re not. Whilst for many people this only happens once a year, for many communications professionals we switch to being someone else on a weekly basis.
You will be extremely hard pressed to find any business executive that is able to take time out of their day to do their own written content (that’s not to say the thoughts and ideas aren’t theirs!). But content marketing has created a demand within organisations for ghost written content on behalf of time poor executives to feed the busy communications machine. This content is important to a communications programme because it provides journalists and readers with thought provoking content and opinions, boosting brand exposure, which is why most communications professionals spend a lot of time ghostwriting for clients and colleagues.
Ghostwriting, the act of creating work like a book or a byline for someone else to take the credit, can be spooky at first for anyone managing the process or writing the content themselves. The mere thought of whether or not you’re doing or saying the right things can send a shiver down your spine. Part of this fear is down to not knowing the ins and outs of what is required for great ghostwritten copy.
This is because whilst ghostwriting is an individual task, it can have significant blow back on organisations if things go wrong. Melania Trump’s speech writer recently had a bit of a nightmare for plagiarising extracts of her speech from a similar speech by Michelle Obama, which carried a significant backlash for the Trump campaign.
To avoid creating your own nightmare, here are my five principles to follow when managing ghostwriters or doing your own written content.
What is the author’s intention?
It’s important to establish the author’s intention of the work, in order to ensure that what is being produced is relevant. What are their aims and what do they want to achieve from content produced for them? What is it contributing in terms of brand exposure and messaging?
You also need to establish clearly who is responsible for the work. Yes you may have written the piece, but ultimately as a by-lined piece of work your subject needs to accept overall responsibility for any comments or opinions. That’s something that needs to be secured up front by whoever is managing the process.
If they don’t say it, don’t write it
Responsibility defined, you also need figure out “what you can/can’t talk about?” This will set out guidelines as to what is completely off topic and what kind of things interest them, allowing writers to add personality and nice little touches. Some people will want to talk about family and hobbies, others will want to steer clear.
It’s also important to at least get some indication of what your subject would like to say in individual pieces. Unless the writer is explicitly an industry expert on mobile telecommunications, learning and development, etc. then they will not know the ins and outs of the complex matters your subject deals with every day. Whilst they cannot make time to write their own pieces, the sentiment and opinions expressed will still need to be the subject’s own.
Get under your subject’s skin
When the writer is speaking to the subject, it’s important to avoid limiting questions to yes or no responses, because this limits the writing. Ask open-ended questions to invite them into talking about themselves or what they are passionate about. Research is an important aspect of this, because relevant issues can be presented to get the subject’s opinion on it, giving a topical hook to the piece.
It’s also important to stay on topic. It’s so easy to get side tracked into a 30-minute conversation about how much everyone loves Halloween. Whilst that’ll be great to help get a feel for the person, the writer must always lead the subject back to the original conversation: “Halloween is a bit of a nightmare, but I suppose it’s not as big a nightmare as digital transformation.”
Trouble could be knocking at the door
All content should be original. Take inspiration from other pieces but never copy and take parts for your piece. It will be embarrassing for the business and the company executive. Not only is plagiarism totally lazy, it also shows you have no faith in your work and consequently, no faith in what the company executive is telling you. It’s dangerous, unethical and can massively impact your brand’s and your subject’s credibility.
I recently wrote a blog post on the six golden rules to catch plagiarism and prevent it from happening. Providing you take into consideration those points, this should never be a problem.
Trick or treat?
It’s important to consider that whilst ghost writing copy is an individual task, the benefits and ramifications affect the entire organisation. That’s why you need to be very clear in your aims and have the buy in of your subject in terms of preparation work and approvals, whether you are writing the content yourself or simply managing the process. Good ghostwritten content will have a positive impact on your brand and provide you with great brand exposure, ensuring you keep the nightmares away.
Now a straw poll – did I write this or was it ghost-written for me?
“Just google it.” The phrase that seems to have become the answer to… well… everything. Like the brand name hoover, the Oxford dictionary already features the verb ‘to google’.
With control of 81.67% of the search engine market, how consumers and businesses find your brand online is most likely to be through Google.
Your company website now needs to be the best digital asset for your brand. The best way to do this? Ensuring your brand continues to be seen in search results pages and that your website is optimised for Google. This is where your PR strategy plays a vital role.
Many companies may feel that they have only just fully come to grips with the notions of keywords and on-site SEO but Google is developing and changing. How companies approach their SEO needs to as well.
The full amalgamation of Google Panda into Google’s main ranking algorithm has already made Google a lot smarter. Now AI is here and Google is making sure that it is the first to jump on board. The more Google acts like a human, the more important your online presence – and PR – will become. Gone are the days when Google was easily fooled by cheap ploys and clickbait, PRs offering mass volumes of any old content.
However, there are still some fundamental aspects to Google optimisation that will not change. Google is (at least for now) still technically software and like all software there is a certain pattern to follow to ensure the best outcome and success.
So, how do you prepare your brand to not only survive the changes to Google but to actually utilise them?
We’re no psychics, but the signs are clear: Google wants speed, responsiveness and relevance. Quality is also far more important than quantity. A longer page dwell time and low bounce rate are vital – and so is your brand being mentioned on external sites with quality links.
Content is also key. Google now expects brands to have original, relevant content that is useful to the company’s web users. Continuously refreshing your company’s online content, with the use of a company blog for example, also ensures that your website is not static and that it climbs up the Google search rankings.
These tips are just a little starter for 10 for your brand’s off-site Google optimisation. Keen to learn more? We have a solution which we hope should be far more informative than just doing a Google search.
Firefly hosted a webinar on the 7th October covering what Google’s latest developments mean for brands. It looked at how UK companies in the technology sector fare against their US, French and German competitors in the search rankings – and what PR can do to ‘futureproof’ brands against Google’s inexorable progress.
To download the eBook, visit our resources page here.
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