The NFL: A Runaway Train

Wreck imminent. (BigStock)
Wreck imminent. (BigStock)

I don’t personally know NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Every opinion I have about him as a person and the leader of the NFL is gleaned from third-party sources. But I’ll say this – based on everything I’ve read and heard, he’s one of four things: unfathomably stubborn, exceedingly arrogant, amazingly delusional, deeply incompetent … or all of the above.

Now that the NFL season is in the rear view mirror, you don’t need to be a practitioner of hyperbole to call it one of the most exhausting and trying seasons in decades. Back in September, I wrote about how the months leading up to the 2014 season were a PR disaster for the league. Well, if you’re an NFL fan, this season was the campaign that really tested how much you were willing to tolerate to remain a devout follower of the sport. This season ran the gamut of depressing incidents: horrific domestic abuse cases (both against women and children); supposed cover-ups (or incompetence) by the league office in response to those cases; allegations of cheating against the eventual Super Bowl champions; and the disclosure of more grisly details around the toll the game has taken on ex-players. And at every turn, Goodell appeared to fumble every opportunity he had to address these incidents and mitigate their effects. It reached the point where the average person on the street probably thought they could do Goodell’s job better than him. I know I did.

And yet, the juggernaut that is the NFL rolled on, remaining as popular and lucrative as ever. Heck, this year’s Super Bowl was the most watched broadcast of any kind in U.S. TV history. It’s almost as if this past season was a science experiment to test how many public relations blunders a business could withstand before it buckled. The results for the NFL: they’re gonna need a lot more blunders.

Those blunders will come, as Goodell undoubtedly has some PR mishaps in front of him: while he’s delivering those ever-valuable profits to his bosses – the owners of the 32 franchises – he has a knack for making uninformed, knee-jerk decisions that cause him far more trouble further down the road and alienate the league’s fans and players. But here’s the thing: due to its popularity and ability to pretty much print money, the NFL is akin to a runaway train – it doesn’t need a driver, and it’s going to steamroll over any trouble it encounters on the tracks. It’s important to remember, though, that runaway trains don’t run forever. Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, said that the NFL “is 10 years away from an implosion.” Parents are increasingly forbidding their kids from playing football, thereby drying up the talent pool – President Obama is one of those parents. And the issue of the far-reaching effects concussions are having on ex-players is only going to grow as the years go by.

So what can the NFL do to avoid its potential demise, or at the very least, improve its image and keep the league alive and kicking? Let’s face it: the NFL faces a communications challenge so daunting that even the most skilled marketers on Earth couldn’t completely right the ship. But as with any organization faced with image issues, the league should take it one piece at a time. My advice to the NFL? Be more transparent, honest, and frankly, ethical in your day-to-day operations. Admit that you’ve had significant challenges managing player safety, appropriately addressing cases of domestic violence, and administering consistent disciplinary punishments. These issues deserve more than half-hearted lip service. At this point, Goodell’s reputation is so tainted that ANY attempt to show remorse and a desire to get things right will be a breath of fresh air.

At the end of the day, if you’re Roger Goodell right now, you’re probably sitting in your plush office in New York City and feeling a sense of invincibility: “If my league can survive this season, it can survive ANYTHING.” And for now, that’s true. It was the season from hell, but not really. But at some point, that runaway train will need to be corralled, and if Goodell has taught us anything, it’s that right now he’s not the guy equipped to apply the brakes.

Media Magnates: Does the Man Make the Brand?

Rock Center
Rock Center

This past week, the world of broadcast media was sent through the wringer when the beloved Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show and NBC suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for six months following his absurdly unnecessary string of lies.

What Stewart and Williams have in common is that they’re arguably broadcast television’s most famous faces. Their shows don’t support their personal brands; their personal brands make their shows. Without these two as the titular hosts, both nightly segments are at a crossroads in terms of future popularity.

Obviously a certain level of iconic, untouchable celebrity does wonders to preserve and grow a media program’s audience. Even when John Oliver took over for Stewart one summer, the show famously kept the name The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. So just how important is a central personality to a media brand’s appeal? And how far can one person carry (or in Williams’ case, sink) an entire news institution?

Ultimately, it depends on the diversity of the program’s offerings. Is there more to the show than the person delivering the news? Are there classic segments or consistent running themes? How strong is the brand’s personality and how unique is the reporting?

If I were an NBC executive right now, I’d be concerned about this in regards to Nightly News. I don’t know about you, but I can’t name a single thing about that show other than, “It’s hosted by Brian Williams.” Well, was. The news delivered on that show isn’t exactly magical content that you can’t find in thousands of other media outlets. And it doesn’t help that viewers, especially we the coveted millennials, now trust the whole program less, if we even cared about it in the first place.

I think The Daily Show, on the other hand, will be fine. Losing Stewart will be a blow to the brand, for sure, but audiences loved the show before Stewart joined years ago and they will continue to love it in the years following Stewart’s departure. Why? For one, it has a stellar supporting cast that’s produced countless other fan-favorite personalities over the past few decades. And its award-winning production staff isn’t just going to give up on the masterful program they’ve spent years refining – and to which they’ve consistently added relevant content that appeals to a wide range of viewers across different mediums. In other words, consider the number of Daily Show YouTube videos that have gone viral compared to the number of Nightly News ones.

So what does this all mean for media brands? Well, if you work at a company like The Economist, you’re pretty set. The brand delivers intelligent, varied and consumable content across print, Web and social channels (and events – that’s where a lot of the money is). It’s also such a trusted source that it doesn’t even need to attach the names of reporters to its articles. But if your journalism brand relies entirely on content produced and delivered by one key celebrity, just remember that person could always lose that clout in a matter of seconds – or move on to something new – and seriously screw your whole program.

There’s a Platform for That: Medium vs. LinkedIn

In an ultra-competitive world where companies are constantly battling to be heard, corporate websites and traditional

Credit: nemo, 29822, pixabay
Credit: nemo, 29822, pixabay

marketing platforms alone are no longer enough. But articles in high-readership publications can be tricky to secure as well.

That is why many brands – and for that matter, individuals – are starting to act like a publisher and embrace the brand journalism concept.

But where should you start? LinkedIn and Medium are the two most frequently used by business leaders to publish articles. In fact, everyone from celebrities to corporate CEOs to the White House are using these services.

Which site is a better fit for you and your business? The honest answer is – it depends.

LinkedIn and Medium both allow you to publish content, but that’s where the similarities end. Before you choose one, ask yourself:

Who am I trying to engage?

What do they care about?

What am I trying to accomplish?

How do I want my audience to react?

Feeling like this, right about now? Well, don’t despair. There is a lot of great information out there about how the two platforms compare, including this article that looks at how one CEO fared when he used both platforms for the same post.

Still confused? Well here’s our take on how the two platforms compare on reach, ease of use, design and engagement:

Reach

LinkedIn: As an established platform, people and brands have had a lot of time to build up a network/following on LinkedIn. Any content published on LinkedIn goes directly to its user stream, where it typically appears in the news feeds of the people users share the most connections with — particularly shared connections who are frequently on LinkedIn via their browser or mobile app.

Medium: Since Medium was founded by Twitter’s Evan Williams, it easily integrates with Twitter. This can be a good or bad thing. Good because if you have a large amount of followers on Twitter, you automatically have them on Medium. Bad because if you don’t have a Twitter following – or if you’re not on Twitter to begin with – it’s like adding an extra (and time-consuming) step to building your platform and audience. Like LinkedIn, Medium also sends out weekly updates to your followers, showing them the fresh content for the week, increasing the likelihood of your content getting read.

Ease of Use

LinkedIn: It’s pretty straightforward. Just click on the pencil icon in the status update bar and begin writing (or pasting). The problem comes when you start to consider how to make your content stand out. Because people go on LinkedIn to network with peers, look for jobs and connect with recruiters, it can be easy for your content to get lost in the shuffle.

Medium: It’s hard to imagine how Medium could be a more intuitive platform. It’s got a full WYSIWYG interface, as well as an HTML5 text editor for any word you want to highlight. That’s pretty sweet. Unlike LinkedIn, where the pencil icon is subtle, there’s a huge “new story” button on Medium you click to get started on your content. That button’s almost asking you to “click me and let your thoughts run wild.” 

Design

LinkedIn: If all you want to do is push content … and not worry about how cool it looks, it’s all good. There’s a headline, your headshot and an option to add a photo in the body copy if you’re interested. Not much else.

Medium: Clearly the better platform for your creative juices to flow. You can add hi-res header images, better looking text and annotations for each paragraph is available instead of your typical comments section at the very bottom of the story. With Medium, you feel like the content is yours and for a second, readers might mistaken it for your own website. This makes Medium an awesome platform for longer, more thorough and cutting edge thought leadership pieces. (A long article on LinkedIn just looks like a long article). Need some inspiration? Check out these great posts – Monday NFL Hangover: Super Bowl Edition and Ubuntu 14.10 Running on my MacBook.

Engagement

LinkedIn: More LinkedIn users are turning to mobile apps because they’re on the go. They’re likely to read content if it’s quick and easy (say 500 words) – just the right length to kill time while waiting in line at Chipotle. It’s one thing to reach your audience, it’s another to actually engage with them. One advantage LinkedIn has is that as your network is already familiar with you, users are more likely to share your content (how many times have you seen a post that starts with “Check out this article …”)? Also, most people are on LinkedIn to read stuff — not write stuff. That means it’s easier to find influencer content on their stream while scrolling. LinkedIn continues to send users weekly emails with status updates and recommended posts. Your article will be there too.

Medium: What’s great about Medium is that anyone can use it. What’s bad about Medium is that – well … anyone can use it. It’s a strong vehicle to attract readers and share your stories. At the same time, you’re battling other users who apparently forgot to take English class in college and just spew out rants (usually about sports or politics). After that, there are businesses that are just looking to push marketing materials and press releases. This makes it that much more important to generate thought-provoking content and publish it across social channels, instead of simply posting it and waiting to see who finds it.

So you should pick …

There isn’t necessary a “winner,” but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. No one said you have to pick one platform over the other and instead, this is one of those times when double dipping is perfectly acceptable as long as you keep Google’s duplicate content rules in mind.

So try both. Even The White House is using both. Just prior to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, the White House announced what he was going to talk about on LinkedIn, while posting the entire transcript on Medium (you can also see the amount of views and shares).

This process may take some time (try a couple of months), but over time you’ll see the metrics yourself and formulate your own conclusion on which platform is right for you. If you can’t wait that long and need a recommendation right now – give us a call.

Publishing and Social Media: Could This [Finally] Be Love?

Unsplash

Let’s take it back to a magical time when newspapers were newspapers and social media was MySpace. It was 2005, and people spent their Sundays poring over a dense print edition of their local newspaper, section by section, before later turning to their enormous desktop computer screen and carefully curating their Top 8.

For a while, traditional media scoffed at social as a source of real news, smacking it down as merely reactive to the hard stuff – not the core of anything concrete but instead a cacophony of regurgitated opinions against a backdrop of cat memes and brunch Instagrams. But as social media has matured, it has evolved two specific functions: publishing and messaging.

Enter 2015. To the untrained eye, it’s almost like both spaces are currently in the midst of an identity crisis. Is LinkedIn a professional networking site or a professional publishing site? Is Facebook a social media network or a media company? And is Snapchat just indulging millenials’ selfie obsession, or is it surreptitiously converting the Internet generation into news junkies?

What we’re seeing is the beginning of the tech and media industries collapsing into one another. It makes sense – every other industry has been disrupted and reshaped by tech. Publishing was just late to the party after some internal identity struggles. The rules are also different here – these two spaces have grown into each other through a natural evolution in reporting, storytelling and information sharing rather than a single disruptive blow from one to the other. Lines haven’t been drawn; they’ve been blurred.

Some are dubbing it a journalistic “third way”: a marriage of old news norms and standards with the transparency and openness of social media. What will the hybrid children look like? Think Quartz, the digitally native offspring of old-media stalwart The Atlantic, which categorizes articles under “Obsessions” – topics of current interest that have more in common with trending hashtags than traditional news sections. Or Medium, publishing’s love child with Twitter that elevates citizen journalists into something that actually resembles real journalists. Or even the infant Reported.ly, fresh out of a “baptism by fire” after putting its social-first reporting and publishing model to the test by jumping into real-time coverage of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy a mere 48 hours after launching.

Whether you’re for this shift or against it, one thing is certain: there are more stories being told by a larger range of voices and in a greater number of ways than ever before. I don’t know about you, PR colleagues, but that sounds an awful lot like opportunity to me.

Don’t Be Content with Your Marketing Content

It’s a cliché that I personally dread, but in 2014, content certainly made a strong claim to the marketing throne. It was as if everyone that worked in any flavor of marketing job suddenly thought, we need more content in our lives. We need to produce more. And we need to talk about it more.

One problem. A lot of that content was…well, how can I put this? Not exactly worth sharing. This thing is, with so much content being produced by so many people every minute of every day – the stats are kind of crazy – the bar for what constitutes “good content” keeps rising. Mark Schaefer’s Content Shock concept analyzed the situation perfectly in what must have been one of the most talked about pieces of content on content of the year. And that post was from January 6, 2014.

"You don't need more content, Oliver. You need different content." (Thinkstock)
“You don’t need more content, Oliver. You need different content.” (Thinkstock)

Despite the obvious diminishing margins of return, marketers still wanted more. It was the key to unlocking the value of social media. It would transform SEO. It would engage audiences in new and exciting ways. It was very cool stuff and like Oliver Twist, all you needed was more. Except that wasn’t really the case.

Marketing content had already been increasing like crazy for years. It was just 2014 when it seemed to become vogue. But instead of looking for simply more content, brands should have been looking at things a different way. After all, simply writing more newsletters, automating social media feeds, producing more infographics or launching more company blogs/magazines/YouTube channels/LinkedIn profiles/Facebook pages/carrier pigeon programs (well, that one might work) was never going to be more than a very short-term solution.

So as we enter another content-full year, I wanted to share some thoughts on how we are helping our clients differentiate their content storytelling:

Targeted: Funny how we often miss the most obvious things. And while I know the obligatory goal of any piece of content is to go “viral,” you haven’t got a hope in hell if you start by targeting the masses. All too often sweeping statements are used to describe target audiences – “IT decision makers” and “the C-Suite” are classics – when in reality, we need to really invest the time to understand exactly who we are hoping to talk with. What are they interested in at work? What are their interests outside of work? Where do they go to find information? Who do they trust? What makes them laugh? By answering those kinds of questions, you suddenly have a wealth of information to inform your storytelling.

Real: I was going to call this authentic, but that in itself felt a little fake. As if the aim of your content is to engage an audience in some way or another (in other words, the aim of 99.999% of all content marketing), then it has to be like a real conversation. That means the content won’t have marketing messages masquerading as stories. It could reference interesting data/insights your competitors have shared. It will be designed for the real world rather than your executive suite and it may not even refer to your company, product or service at all. Crazy? Maybe. Interesting, different and shareable? Definitely.

Visual: I might be dipping back into clichés, but simply put, a picture tells a thousand words. You can no longer afford to ignore video and other visual assets. In an increasingly mobile and social world where your story might have a solid five inches of real estate, they are now the price of admission. And don’t just think infographics. Think instead about the cool content you share with your friends – everything from gifs and Vine/Instagram videos to video-embedded content and video storytelling. A couple of great examples are GE’s cool #6secondscience and #GravityDay campaigns and the YouTube Rewind series.

Integrated: Yes, it’s cheaper. Yes, it’s simpler. Yes, it’s faster. But just producing standalone pieces of content is, in most cases, a waste of time. Content now needs to not only integrate visual and written assets, but also be a fully integrated part of your social, SEO, PR and advertising strategies. Don’t just think in terms of “one-offs” and instead take a leaf out of the HBO or Showtime book and think of entire series. That gives your audience something they can rely on, a reason to come back. And what’s more, developing content should be a core part of your team’s skills, because with so much integration required, outsourcing content to separate departments or teams is counter intuitive at best.

Part of It: Don’t be the person that walks into the bar and immediately tries to change the conversation. Listen, watch, care and ask. We have talked a lot about the power of the right question, but great content is about more than just that. It needs to be in the right voice, be relevant to popular culture, timely and something that people not only find helpful, but also enjoy. A tough ask, but we now have the listening and measurement tools that give us unprecedented insights into our audience’s likes and dislikes. By using that information correctly, content can be constantly fine-tuned.

That’s right. It’s a lot of work. But when we get it right, the payback is huge. And of course, telling a story that gets people talking is the really fun part about our jobs, and with all the changes that have taken place in PR, we now have more opportunity to do that than ever before. So rather than just focusing on “more” content in 2015, think bigger and look at how you can produce “different” content. It will lead to a very different year.

2014 Social Media #Fails That We Can All Learn From

2014 was a great year for social media as big brands started to take online conversations seriously. Just look at the Superbowl, where a record number of ads were accompanied by the now almost obligatory hashtag.

As with any relatively new area, mistakes will happen. And that was certainly the case in 2014 as social media continued its march to the mainstream. As a company that runs a lot of social media campaigns, we certainly don’t want to tempt fate, but we did think it would be good to look back at some of the biggest blunders and see what we can learn. Okay, maybe we did have a laugh or two as well, but if you read this blog regularly, you already knew that.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 11.53.33 AM
Credit: DiGiorno Pizza Twitter

1. DiGiorno Pizza

Thousands of women took to Twitter to speak out about domestic violence using the #WhyIStayed hashtag after the suspension of NFL player Ray Rice for beating his wife. DiGiornio also joined the conversation – regrettably.

DiGiorno is a brand known for jumping on trending social media topics, but this is one it should have stayed away from. DiGiorno tweeted: “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” Minutes later DiGiorno took down the tweet and responded with, “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.”

Lesson Learned: Take a minute – even a few – to do your due diligence and research a hashtag before joining the conversation. This is a mistake that could have easily been avoided if they had taken the time to understand its context.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 11.55.10 AM
Credit: New England Patriots Twitter

2. New England Patriots

To celebrate the NFL team’s one million followers, the New England Patriots asked people to retweet an image of the Patriots jersey with a chance to get their handle written on the back. Unfortunately, the process was automated and the lucky one-millionth follower featured a racial slur in their Twitter handle.

After realizing the mistake, the team deleted the tweet and responded with an apology, claiming their filtering system had failed.

Lesson Learned: Be wary of over-automating your processes. If you do have automated programs, make sure you have adequate checks and balances in place. It may take more time and resources, but you should always take a personalized and human approach to social media.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 11.56.52 AM
Credit: NYPDTwitter

 3. New York Police Department

Earlier this year a New York Police Department social media campaign backfired when they asked followers to post pictures of themselves with police offers using the #MyNYPD hashtag. Instead of receiving police-friendly photos, they received a slew of photos that depicted officers abusing their power, like wrestling protestors and pointing weapons at civilians.

Lesson Learned: Brands should think through and analyze the possible outcomes of a social media campaign – the good, the bad and the ugly. If there’s a high chance of social media backfire, then you should probably pass on the campaign.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 11.54.26 AM
Credit: US Airways Twitter

4. U.S. Airways 

U.S. Airways got red in the face when one of its employees accidentally responded to a tweet with a pornographic image attached. As you can imagine, this social media faux pas got a lot of laughs (but not from U.S. Airways). U.S. Airways quickly apologized for the tweet and said it was investigating the matter. Luckily, the U.S. Airways employee wasn’t fired for their mishap.

Lesson Learned: It’s always a good idea to get a second pair of eyes on your content. Someone else may notice a typo or mistake that you didn’t. By taking a few extra minutes to review your tweets, you can save yourself from a year’s worth of embarrassment.

Every company has made mistakes on social media – it’s inevitable. Some have just made bigger mistakes than others, resulting in PR fiascos and brand meltdowns with huge economic consequences. Hopefully, we can learn from each other’s mistakes and avoid social media fails like these in 2015. Let’s make it a New Year’s resolution?

XTC 12/10: The Biggest Tech Stories You Won’t Have to Pitch in 2015 (Part 1)

Our Crystal Ball of Buzzwords predicts equal amounts of innovation and disruption next year. (Thinkstock)
Our Crystal Ball of Buzzwords predicts equal amounts of innovation and disruption next year. (Thinkstock)

‘Tis the season for 2015 trends. Each December we’re treated to a veritable cornucopia of content around hot technologies, spending forecasts, innovative marketing bets, and disruptive business models.

But for those of us in tech PR, one of the most precious commodities in 2015 is time, followed closely by budget. So this year, B&O is proud to share our view on the biggest tech stories of 2015 that will get written whether or not you spend any time or budget on them. For those of us from the old school of PR, this is called “drafting”. For those of us from the new school, I believe the term is “trend-jacking”. And for those of us into Kanye West, you could call this being an “SEO gold-digger”.

Let’s start with a summary of what we already know from the plethora of predictions and prognostication from pontificating pundits and pollsters:

B2B Tech

The B2B tech market is predicted to grow in low single digits in from 2014 to 2015, with the most spending coming from industries facing extreme disruption—those who no longer have a choice and face a mandate to either disrupt or be disrupted.

According to Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015, the biggest areas of disruption fall into three categories: the merging of real and virtual worlds (which includes mobile computing, the Internet of things and 3D printing); intelligence everywhere (which includes data analytics, context-rich systems and smart machines); and the “new IT” (which includes cloud computing, software-defined IT architectures, web-scale IT and security). And interestingly, all of these are technologies that have been around in some form or other for quite some time.

Consumer Tech

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between the consumer tech predictions and B2B tech predictions this year.

Take, for instance, the Consumer Electronics Association’s 5 Technology Trends to Watch, 2015 Edition. It showcases data analytics, the Internet of things, digital health, immersive entertainment, and the acceleration of business model disruption. Meanwhile, actual device innovation is reported to be reaching a plateau—it’s about services more than gadgets now. Again, many consumer technologies aren’t necessarily new. They’re simply achieving global scale thanks to better pricing, packaging or evolving human behaviors.

The Pattern That’s Emerging

When you look at these trends more closely, a common theme emerges: 2015 is the year we as individuals, businesses and marketers figure out how to use the technologies that already surround us more intelligently.

Think about it. As a species, we’ve seen a dizzying array of technological advancement over the past few years. Mobile tech means what we can do is no longer limited by where we are. Social tech means that we always have the power of the crowd (which is more powerful than the cloud) at our disposal. Analytics means we never have to guess at anything, ever. So being isolated, being alone and being ignorant—some of our most defining human challenges—have basically been erased within the past decade.

That’s a big deal.

Because much of this innovation has outpaced our ability as humans to absorb it all. So the big tech winners of 2015 will be the ones that help people catch up with these innovations and put them to good use. The other big tech winners of 2015 will be those who help prevent us from doing more harm than good with technologies we don’t quite yet understand or know how to control.

This is the central tension that will define the biggest technology stories of 2015—the ones you’ll never have to pitch because they are the technology story for next year.

What exactly do those story lines look like? What are the PR challenges we’ll have to overcome in 2015? And how do we get our signal through the deafening noise of tech innovation PR? Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series … when we come back from the holidays!

The Post-PR Era: Embracing Content, Intimacy and Collaboration

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Technology has had a profound impact on our profession. While the basic art and science of storytelling has remained relatively unchanged, the channels and content via which those stories are told have been transformed.

As a result of the changes to the different communication channels and the emergence of new forms of digital and social content, brand journalism has emerged as the new standard. In fact, an organization’s owned and earned channels are now becoming increasingly important outlets for news, content and ideas.

Rethink Content

With increased focus on corporate publishing, modern PR teams need to be able to move beyond traditional programs that revolve around press releases and instead understand ever-evolving news values, have an eye for a story and always be exploring new ways to engage audiences.

While PR practitioners tout the benefits of brand journalism, marketers have been singing from a similar hymn sheet and content marketing has become a key element in lead-nurturing campaigns that go beyond transaction to establish an ongoing digital dialogue with their audiences.

In tandem, consumers are increasingly looking for relevant, timely content that offers insights into trends, as well as more granular content that provides answers to their specific questions.

PR has traditionally had high-level trends and thought leadership covered, but effective content strategies today go beyond traditional media angles to provide useful content that anticipates questions and pain points of customers.

For example, one of our clients (Oracle Marketing Cloud) recently shared an example of a customer that began posting answers to frequently asked questions from customer service emails on the blog. The company now ranks in the top 3 search results for 360 keywords, and now 70 percent of its revenue can be tied back to its online content.

Embrace Intimacy

Digital channels and the social Web have enhanced an organization’s ability to communicate directly with its audiences. At the same time, cross-channel marketing technology, social media management platforms and data services are enhancing customer understanding, and giving organizations the ability to engage their audiences with a whole new level of intimacy.

Contributed articles, blog posts, and a full range of digital and social content generated by PR and marketing teams can now be targeted at very specific audiences using a combination of internal and external data sources, and used to nurture prospects and mobilize brand advocates.

But the intimate communication that digital channels allow also demands a different style of communication. The modern consumer of media is a connoisseur of content, doesn’t respond well to the hard-sell or broadcast-style communication, and is looking for more of a dialogue with organizations.

The less-controlled, relationship-based communication of traditional PR placed the industry in a strong position to deliver on the promise of customer dialogue with the emergence of social media. As organizations build on this intimacy with new digital marketing tools, the PR department is again well-positioned to contribute content that drives discussion and fosters two-way communication between an organization and its audience.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

With both marketing and PR pushing for more content, the ability for both groups to repurpose, reuse and recycle, makes collaboration and interdepartmental integration essential.

The content-savvy consumer expects message consistency at every touch point. In fact, according to a recent study by Accenture, 58 percent of consumers are frustrated with marketing inconsistency between channels.

While the trend toward content-driven marketing and PR cannot be ignored, the essence of PR hasn’t changed. Our goal is still to develop and share compelling stories, and to quote the PRSA, build “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” However, digital communication platforms and changes to the media landscape are transforming the way we deliver on this goal.

To be effective in this modern era, PR programs can no longer rely on only traditional media channels. Instead, today’s successful communicators must work collaboratively to create a consistent voice across different channels and develop content tailored to specific audiences.

LeBron: A Lesson in Reshaping Perception

What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison
What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison

Let us take you back to early 2003.

LeBron James, the most hyped high school basketball player of all time and the supposed next Michael Jordan – which is one of the most misused pieces of acclaim for any basketball player who shows any flash of brilliance – was in his senior year and the undisputed #1 pick in that year’s talent-rich NBA draft. True to the ideal narrative, LeBron, raised in Akron, Ohio, was taken with the #1 pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In his seven years with the Cavaliers, LeBron made all the right moves (short of winning a championship). To the NBA, its fans and the media, LeBron was an uber-talented player who had deftly and maturely handled an enormous amount of pressure since entering the league. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

And then, in 2010, came “The Decision.”

The main storyline of the 2009-2010 NBA season wasn’t the actual games, but LeBron’s impending free agency. The bottom line was that there were only a few teams that had the financial flexibility to sign LeBron to a full-term, high-paying contract, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. On the evening of July 8, 2010, LeBron was the star of a bloated, self-indulgent television special on ESPN that was held solely for LeBron to announce which team he had chosen. The now-iconic line uttered by LeBron at the climax of the show: “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” Miami it was.

The backlash was immediate.

Back in Cleveland, LeBron’s former fans burned his jerseys in the street, and the owner of the Cavaliers wrote a scathing screed against LeBron (that might’ve held some weight if it hadn’t been written in Comic Sans font). Everyone who wasn’t a Heat fan was sour on the fact that he was teaming up with fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a “super team.” The result was that LeBron was public enemy number one to everyone but Miami fans, and the crassness of “The Decision” had a lot to do with it. Public perception: overwhelmingly negative.

As LeBron won two championships in Miami, the majority of the public began to somewhat warm back up to him: chalk it up to the adage that time heals all, or most, wounds. Cleveland also positioned itself perfectly to potentially sign LeBron to a maximum contract and bring him home in the 2014 offseason, when LeBron was once again (and maybe for the last time) a free agent, and this became more of a reality when LeBron’s Heat team got thoroughly outplayed in the 2014 NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. The best player on the planet surveyed his surroundings, perhaps realizing that his current super team wasn’t so super, and disappeared for a few weeks to make one of the most crucial decisions of his life.

Then came the bombshell.

On July 11, 2014, LeBron revealed in a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he had decided to return to the Cavaliers. His announcement was in stark contrast to The Decision: his essay was genuine, heartfelt, and devoid of fanfare. Here was a player who wanted to return to his roots and deliver his hometown team something they’d never had: a championship. THIS decision – probably owing largely to how it was communicated – was roundly applauded by fans and the media. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

In life, and especially in the sports world, people tend to get second chances. You need to look no further than the NFL’s Michael Vick for a prime example. But LeBron’s case was unique in that he never really did anything wrong – at least, nothing that brought real harm to anyone or justified any legal action against him – but he toyed with a few of the emotions that are most sacred to sports fans: loyalty (leaving Cleveland in such a cold manner) and humility (doing so during a national TV show). In returning to Cleveland, however, LeBron orchestrated one of the most profound and immediate reputation makeovers in the recent public consciousness. He let us know that he had unfinished business in Cleveland and that delivering a title would be one of his greatest accomplishments, and we knew he had the wisdom afforded by experience to mean what he said. But undoubtedly most importantly for LeBron, he was making a decision that was completely true to himself – and at that point, public perception be damned.

1,000,001 Opportunities: Every Story Is a Tech Story

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

If every company is a technology company and every business will be digital, does that mean that every story could be a “technology” story? Nilay Patel at The Verge certainly thinks so. And as Ricardo Bilton at Digiday explains, there are very interesting shifts taking place in the technology publishing world.

Stepping back, the bold claims about every company and business come from the experts over at Gartner. At their last two symposiums, the Gartner team have painstakingly detailed how technology should now be a key part of every company’s DNA. And it’s hard to argue against that as technology continues to transform the way we live.

If technology is now either part of, or soon to be part of, absolutely everything, then wrapping a neat bow around “technology stories” and placing them in an individual “technology section” could be an increasingly futile exercise for publishers. Sure, there still needs to be coverage of the actual technologies themselves (the speeds, the feeds and all the stuff geeks like us love), but more and more, the bigger and more impactful stories about what technology can actually do live within areas that you might not initially expect. Unless of course you already have Vanity Fair, Backchannel and Refinery29 on your list of targets for enterprise tech stories.

From a technology storytelling standpoint, this is kind of cool. It challenges us to rethink how we tell stories so that they can be understood by people who don’t understand, or don’t really want to understand, how technology actually works – and these simple, digestible stories often resonate the best with readers. With major technology publishers continuing to face tough times, taking a broader approach that focuses on the human and cultural aspects of technology opens up many more opportunities for hacks and flacks.

To mix things up further on the PR side, the way we actually tell said stories also needs new forms of content. A recent study of 500 top publishers by Frac.tl. showed the challenge of being heard, with writers at sites like nytimes.com, TheGuardian.com and CNN.com saying they receive about 26,000 emails a year from people trying to get press coverage. The study was also another PR blow for the press release, with only 7 percent of digital publishers asking for more. By contrast, the most requested items were articles (19 percent), infographics (12 percent) and mix-media pieces (13 percent). And forget stalking people down on the phone (only 5 percent want you to call) and those lengthy pitches – 45 percent of writers want them to be fewer than 100 words. Or to put it another way, you have fewer words than I used in the last four sentences to get your story across.

So opportunities abound, but they are not on a silver plate and they do require a rethink. Which is exactly what we are doing everyday at Blanc & Otus. It’s fun. It keeps things different. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.