Right Messages + Right Spokesperson = Audience Engagement

So let’s talk a bit about messaging and spokespeople and audience engagement.

A recent commercial radio news bulletin, here in the Emerald City, concerning the renewal of a corporate sponsorship of a leading entertainment venue.

An opportunity, with the right messages and delivery, to enhance the general perception of a company, and get people on board.

Include detail, avoid buzzwords

The spokesperson talked about transforming the sponsored building into a ‘smart venue’. This may well be a thing, and it may well be something that can be delivered – but without any explanation, it’s a lost opportunity to connect with the audience. Then there was ‘improving customer experience’. Without specifics, why should anyone care?

It is too easy to substitute a shorthand term for the real message. ‘Smart venue’, when we mean a building that can tell you where things are, tell you how long the queue for the ladies’ loo is and allow you to pre-order two hot dogs and four pints via an app on your smartphone. ‘Improving customer experience’ when we mean discounted gig tickets, a chance to meet the band and 4G in the mosh pit.

Messages are the detail that gets people interested, draws them in, makes them want to be involved. In this case, however, both key points sounded like buzzwords from an approved list, drawn up because research shows they’re what the customer wants to hear.

Suitable spokespeople, not senior spokespeople

The spokesperson had clearly been briefed, and did a workpersonlike job, but sounded uncomfortable and didn’t have the detail that would make the story live. Agreeing a spokesperson is not easy – often simple seniority carries the day.

An alternative approach is to establish a panel of ‘subject matter experts’ who take the spokesperson role when it’s their area.

Another is to spread the responsibility – get agreement that a handful of senior people should alternate as spokesperson, thus limiting the exposure of any one in particular.

And there’s selection of opportunity – the less able spokesperson gets the less pivotal gigs.

Training to tell stories

In the real world, of course, this doesn’t always work. The media want to speak with the CEO, and no-one else will cut it. Or maybe the news story is about a ground-breaking use of technology and only the CTO will do.

Which is where, of course, the message and the spokesperson should be managed in tandem.

Messages are not buzzwords, and a spokesperson is not someone reading buzzwords off a script. Training and rehearsal – above and beyond a simple ‘briefing’ – help the spokesperson to build their own story around the messages.

Telling a story that they’re comfortable with not only brings the message to life, but allows the spokesperson to be genuine in their delivery.

It’s the combination of interesting detail and genuine delivery, by someone who’s comfortable with the material, that creates audience connection and propensity to engage.

The Social Media Marketing Miracle That Wasn’t

What a fantastic title this post has (even if I do say so myself), and all the better for having been delivered to me, on a plate, courtesy of The New York Times in this genuinely thought-provoking piece about the inherent value of social media and how it is linked to the socio-cultural phenomenon behind them and their growth. (Ooooh, get me and my socio-cultural phenomena!) (Yes, yes. Alright. I made it up. No, I don’t know what it means.)

Anyhoo, the key point (for me) is this:

“That, in fact, may be the ultimate lesson to draw from the social media marketing miracle that wasn’t. The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.”

Now, being breathtakingly simplistic here, what this can be taken to mean is that social media are being judged (in a commercial sense) by their usefulness as marketing or communications tools – because there must be a way to monetise them. Worse, those who do not see them in this light, or judge them using these yardsticks, are seen as naysayers and luddites.

Obviously, this is wrong. Social media are not sales, marketing or communications tools in a commercial sense. This is not awkwardness, or a refusal to go into the light – this is trying to see beyond the traditional uses of ‘media’, by which all such channels are judged (at present).

I’m with the author of this article (well done, sir!) when he says:

“Social networks, like them or not, are fast laying out a new grid of personal connections. Even if this matrix of humanity sputters in advertising and marketing, it’s bound to spawn new industries in consulting, education, collaborative design, market research, media and loads of products and services yet to be imagined. Maybe, just maybe, it will even be able to sell soap.”

Not sure about the soap, mind.

Some More Thoughtful Social Media Commentary

You know me, not much of a socio-mediavelist on the whole – but, still, I bet you thought I’d gone a bit Southern (for my friends from the United States and America, ‘southern’ in this context means ‘effeminate’, not ‘toothless, hairy, armed and smelling of bourbon’) (and for my UK fans, yes, I am a southerner, so it is perfectly alright for me to use the word ‘southern’, as it is not offensive. In the same way I could use the word ‘gay’, if I wanted to) (which would be offensive) when I stopped ranting about t’social and how it represents a direct road to hell for civilsation as we know it.

Anyway, rumours of my descent into southernness have been greatly exaggerated, as demonstrated by this article from that stalwart bulwark of editorial honesty (on matters communication), Communicate Magazine. I cannot tell you how much I echo the sentiments in this article – not all of them, obviously, there is some very Southern thinking contained within – and how I am in complete agreement with the school of thought that says social media are completely irrelevant. (OK, that’s not EXACTLY what it says, but near enough as makes no difference. To my mind.)

I also admire the (again, to my mind) extremely clever way that one of the authors – the one in the right, obviously, the one on the side of truth and justice – has designated social media ‘SM’, which, of course, is simply shorthand for a very Southern practice indeed.

Yes, I am wholly in favour of one half of this article.

The one that I wrote, clearly.

 

Journalists Prefer Traditional Comms – Pope Has Balcony Etc Etc

From the hallowed pages of PR Week (issue dated July 22, cover price £57.32) comes this story – and story it is, for no – disbelievers all – the Week has not made it up, oh no, they let Broadgate Mainland(*) make it up for them – t’Week has simply reported it. They’ll make journalists yet.

(* Meisters of Financial Spin of the parish of Old London Town.)

Anyway, before I got so wildly carried away, I meant, bloggy snorkellers mine, to post the link. No, of course you won’t. You’ll simply see if you can make head or tail of the post without going anywhere near the colourful linkey of doom. Wet, is what you are. That being said, maybe there is an Arthurian trotter amongst you and for that brave Templar I provide this – the Holy Link of Har Megiddo. Carefully now – swish and click – obliviate!

(Warning. I am sorry, faithful followers, but in an almost Murdockian stylee, PR Week will wish you to subscribe before you read the article. You may not wish for PR Week to be your horcrux, however, at least, not while there are still pesky kids around.)

So, the article. In brief, it says that while UK corporates are doing more social, a survey of financial journalists (and I think we can take that to mean journalists, period) reveals traditional comms channels remain the more important media relations tools. That’s what it says – ‘more important tools’. With 81% of the 100 surveyed saying that they prefer to receive stories via email, I’d say ‘most important tools’, wouldn’t you?

In other bears-defecating-in-the-woods- type revelations, only 11% thought Facebook was an appropriate corporate comms channel and 97% researched companies via their corporate websites. (Incidentally, a truly spiffing photocaption for the article’s illustration of Zuckerberg’s monster – “‘Inappropriate’ Facebook”.)

So, it’s official. Journalists prefer to get their stories off real people, in real time, via targetted communication. Unsurprisingly.

Other stats in the article included the 38% of FTSE100 companies signing up to Facebook (up from 25% six months ago) and the 56% running a corporate Twitter account (up from 40% in December). And we know why they’re doing this. Mostly peer pressure and a misguided desire to be ‘down with the kids’ and to have their very own shiny object. And, as I’ve said before – if you’re an airline, then Twitter is useful for updating your customers. If you’re a firm of management consultants it is wholly inappropriate (like Facebook). In the case of most of the FTSE100, it is wholly inappropriate.

Just sayin’.

Lies, Damn’ Lies and Social Media Statistics

Another day, another hefty dollop of horseshit about how the social media conversation is changing, irrevocably, life as we know it. (While I’m here, big up to Danny Rogers, the ‘editor’ of PR Week, for this phrase ‘Increasingly one hears that ‘PR is the new advertising’ or ‘conversational content is now king”. On so many different levels, blog trotters mine, on so many different levels. He goes on to say that we need some stats to confirm what we suspected – don’t tar me with your cavalier ‘we’, Danny – as if stats could actually prove that ‘conversational content’, whatever the living crap that is when it’s at home, is indeed ‘king’, another nebulous and completely immeasurable concept. Anyway, the whole stats thing is what’s driving this post, so let’s proceed, shall we?)

Today’s merde de cheval du jour is from the Not PR Week (some may say that this is a good thing),  Communicate Magazine – you may visit its hallowed portal here – swish and flick – crucio!

Anyhoo, it’s an article entitled Fit to Print (which is, indeed, in the print version of the magazine but not, strangely, available online) and it’s about how ‘social media has fundamentally changed online communications over the last few years.’ Backed up by a wodge of statistics – here’s a few examples:

  • 90% more journalists use social media than in 2010
  • Tumblr’s referrals to news sites increase 350% in past year
  • The Independent has seen referrals from Facebook grown (sic) 680% year on year, whilst Twitter referrals have increased 250%

The problem – obviously, I don’t have to point this out, I know, but let’s pretend that there’s one lone blog snorkeller out there who’s maybe just a soupcon less incandescently bright than the rest of us – is that the stats are meaningless. An increase of 350%? Enormous! Unless your starting point was one, or two. In which case it would be up to three and a half, or seven. (I think. Maths never was my forte.) You see, without hard numbers, it’s impossible to tell. And if people are making it difficult for me to see the full picture well – forgive me – I get a little suspicious.

Even when the stats are reasonably clear cut, there’s something not right about it. Read!

“Visits to news and media sites from social networks have increased by 80% in three years up to March 2011, and in that period social networks have gone from providing6.26% of total traffic to news and media sites to providing 11.33%.”

Great! My comment would be that news and media sites are on t’internet, and part of t’digital age. Thus, really, you got to expect that a proportion of their traffic would come from social media, which are also internet-based and part of the much-vaunted digital age. In fact, you’d be forgiven for expecting that the proportion of traffic provided by social networks – if they’re the phenomena everyone says they are – would be CONSIDERABLY FUCKING MORE THAN A MANGY 11.33%. Just sayin’.

Thank God, however, that Communicate magazine got digital content agency Zone to ‘dramatise the findings’.  Interesting choice of words. ‘Dramatise’. Implies making a story out of something. A fiction.

Which is exactly what I remain convinced the hype around social media actually is.

Chips and Beans

Chips and beans – staple foodstuffs – the very foundation of a robust and balanced diet. Every day, three times a day, if I had a choice. (Sorry, dearest blog trotters, I find myself a little lacking in the breakfast department and – quite frankly – I could suck a frozen dog.)

But this post isn’t about me and my almost unmanageable craving for fried food, no, it’s about ideas. And it touches on what I believe to be a potential communication trend for 2011, so, if’n’ your in the field of communications, you might want to stick around to the end.

I’ve touched on the topic before – there’s this debate that rages on in the communications background (and when I say comms, I mean advertising, marketing, PR and corporate communications because, unlike so many others, I AM inclusive and I embrace both sides of the line and, yea, through it as well – I am, truly, a renaissance communicator) which occasionally surfaces almost, but not totally, completely unlike a small volcanic eruption – and the debate is – who owns the idea?

Obviously, the answer is – who gives a shit who owns the idea? If the idea is a great one, we should all embrace it and use it as a great theme for our part of the business mix. Unfortunately, too many companies trammelled by ‘not invented here’ syndrome, meaning many good ideas smothered at birth. I’ve had my fair share.

So how genuinely marvellous to see a totally fantastic idea (I cannot tell you how much I am in awe of this idea), being used across a business – increasing sales, making consumers feel warm inside, evoking memories, generating laughter and, I’d wager, bringing the home team together in an internal-communications-stylee. Yes, blog snorkellers, it really is that good. And it’s for beans. Baked beans. Heinz baked beans to be exact.

Here it is in all its glory, presented through the medium of film. (Obviously, I’d prefer it if it were presented through the medium of insane industrial mime, but you cannot have everything, as me old mam used to say. Still does, in fact.)

So, the idea – for you lazy, lazy slackers who cannot be bothered wid da clickety – is a resealable jar of baked beans. A screw-top jar. Why is it so good? Let me count the ways (and sorry if I miss some):

  • We’ve all had that ‘not used all the beans in the tin moment’. What do you do with the ones that are left?
  • It is a childhood memory for everyone. Newborn babies know about leftover beans, at a genetic level
  • It is humorous
  • It is a money-spinner – a screw-top jar of beans is going to be more costly than a tin
  • It makes the workforce feel proud

It, genuinely, is a work of genius. Have I said this before? It works across every piece of the business melange. And no, it is not important who had the idea, it is important what everyone does with the idea. This could be a communications trend for 2011 – everyone working together – through-the-linery – accepting that the brilliant concept can come from anywhere. Chances of it happening?

Briefly, then, chips. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a restaurant chain. I had an extremely creative PR agency. We needed some local media coverage, because we couldn’t afford to advertise or offer local discounts.

(PR purists, look away now.)

We made up a story – the story being that this restaurant chain were launching something called a ‘Pincher’s Portion’ of chips. This  was – supposedly – a half-portion of chips that you could order for your girlfriend to stop her eating yours (after having flatly denied that she actually wanted any). This is very resonant – every bloke in the entire world – at a subatomic level – knows how frustrating – and true – this scenario can be.

It was brilliant – the coverage was beyond our wildest dreams. And better, the NPD department looked at the idea, worked out how they could implement it, and made it a reality. A half-portion of chips at three-quarters of the price of a full one. Money spinner. Again, doesn’t matter who had the idea – a good idea can benefit everyone.

Finally, riding on the tube the other day, I saw a big poster advertising MacDonalds. It featured a packet of chips. With fingers. And the slogan ‘pick packet’. It minded me of the Pinchers Portion and also of the fact that no-one has a monopoly on ideas. At any one time, different people all over the shop are having the same idea. Embrace the idea – once again, it doesn’t matter who had the idea – it’s what you do with it that counts.

I am really, really hungry.

Snakes and Ladders

Hey, blog snorkellers – whassup?

Just a quick one – yesterday’s rant about a certain global PR concern and its lack of control over its own blog (social media + no control = the chocolate cupcake of cock-up) – well, two things.

First – they’ve not taken the offending post down. They must have seen me linking to it, they probably read my comments – a bit of action here, people, please. Actually – bugger off – don’t take it down, it wasn’t a bad post. Just edit bits of it. And you know which bits I mean. Go on – do it now.

Second – a further post on the same blog. Now this is genuine genius. Brilliant. Honestly.

Tell me – would it be too difficult to hook up Author 1 with Author 2? My feeling is that everyone would benefit.