No, Jane Sarkin (http://tinyurl.com/8vn9o5l) has not been laid off, that plum job at Vanity Fair complete with enough corporate freebies to equip a home (and a second home) is not actually up for grabs, your place of work may not actually be about to change to Sixth Avenue, New York.

But thousands of jobs matching precisely that of the features editor at one of the World’s most iconic lifestyle magazines are up for grabs in PR agencies across the globe. In fact demand for such skills has never been higher; the job description could read:

· Must be able to predict and capture coming trends and zeitgeists

· Must be able to analyse the impact of those trends through meaningful cultural, economic and social insights

· Must be able to definitively prove the existence of the same through quantitative and qualitative examples

· Must be able to coherently and compellingly identify and explain the difference between short term fads or crazes (skinny jeans) and long term shifts in style and taste (environmental activism)

· Must be able to illustrate both with precision, style and wit with respect to consumer behaviour, attitudes and lifestyle choices

· Must be able to provoke, entertain and inform in equal measure

The above skills are now at a premium because the PR dynamic has completed a shift; from ‘pitching’ and ‘placing’ our clients’ stories (stories, built around their particular brand of toothpaste or enterprise software), PR agencies are now tasked with ensuring their clients’ brands are included in other people’s stories. This shift has (or should have) transformed the way PR agencies work. Product features and competitive positioning have become subordinate to a genuine understanding of how these products and brands actually touch people’s lives and influence their conversations.

And the starting point for this is not the product or feature; on the contrary, the starting point is people’s conversations. In exactly the same way a features editor must surf the wave of popular culture and conversations, providing interesting and entertaining insights on the same, PR agencies must find a way to fit their clients’ products and services into these stories. Brands (ie products) no longer drive the media agenda; successful ones find a way of exploiting it.

This could mean that the latest episode of Desperate Housewives in HBO International could provide the ideal platform to highlight the trend towards luxury suburbs in India; what George Clooney’s Up In The Air reveals about the stress and pressures of business travel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_in_the_Air_(2009_film)) in the US; and what Yahoo’s appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO (http://tinyurl.com/9kyldwp)reveals about work/life balance and the ability to really ‘have it all’ in Europe. Feature writers, columnists and editors are absolutely certain to be covering these trends; the agency’s role is to ensure – where appropriate – their clients’ brands are included in the conversation in (a positive manner, of course).

The increasing impact of social media makes the parallel between the PR agency role and that of a features editor even more obvious. Bloggers and people who tweet are notoriously suspicious of brand-led rhetoric and less likely to participate in conversations driven by brands than those which are organic and perceived as being ‘genuine’. Geeks all over the globe basked in a new-found prestige following the successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity on Mars, and not merely because of the amazing technology at work. One of the young engineers in mission control, Bobak Ferdowsi (http://tinyurl.com/d7cewhz), became an instant geek hero with his exotic haircuts and infectious Tweeter feed (https://twitter.com/tweetsoutloud) which now boasts over 50,000 followers. Smart lifestyle brands can cash in on this type of ‘organic’ trend; does this mean that brain outstrips brawn even in an Olympic year, is geek fashion no longer an oxymoron, can a physics qualification really beat a sports scholarship to attract the ladies? All of these conversations can be extended and leveraged by brands. The key is to move quickly and carefully (ideally, with a sense of discretion and humour) introduce the brand. As President Obama so ably demonstrated (http://tinyurl.com/8cs3o3b), unlike marketing or advertising, PR/social media has the advantage of instant response. This means brands can react and surf on the conversation of the moment and – where appropriate – associate themselves with the ensuing dialogue.

This could take the form of engaging in social media dialogue or proactively pitching a feature on the trend ‘du jour’; in short, agencies need to behave increasingly like feature writers.

This logic is not limited to the fun, consumer end of the PR agency – you know, the one with crates of Red Bull and Xbox’s Dance Central (http://tinyurl.com/8zlycuv) on permanent play. It is equally relevant to corporate or technology clients. What do the travails of Barclays (http://tinyurl.com/9uafbwe) and Standard and Chartered (http://tinyurl.com/8j8oqco) reveal about attitudes and practice towards corporate governance in truly globalized businesses? What lessons can be learned, what tools, processes, services (brands) can be introduced into the conversation? What does the proliferation of Cloud technology mean for competitive positioning? Does data securely residing in the Cloud render the concept of geography meaningless; will low cost markets soon become high value ones? What products and services (from international contracting companies to security providers) could be associated with this discussion?

Once again, the perspective is squarely that of a feature writer; the trend/story comes first, the product association second.

The ‘feature editor’ perspective is one which I’ll be investigating in detail in later posts, but I believe it remains the most fundamental shift in PR since (and probably because of) the advent of social media. Agencies which can – literally – think and write like features editors are going to be the ones best placed to drive visibility for their clients over the coming years.

I can’t promise the number of freebies typically associated with a Conde Naste features writer, but behaving like one from an agency perspective will certainly bring its own rewards.

Post by: Roger Darashah

Some of you may well have seen this research from the Guardian earlier this week, which aimed to highlight the top journalist tweeters in the UK – headed by Neil Mann, aka @fieldproducer, digital news editor at Sky News.

There just seemed to be one problem – the list was, perhaps unsurprisingly, absolutely dominated by Grauniad hacks, with half the top ten being employed by the paper running the research. The highest placed non-Guardian ‘paper scribe on the list was the FT’s Tim Bradshaw who came in a lowly eighteenth, while the Times could only muster one journalist in the top 50 – Michael Savage, in at #35.

Shurely shome mishtake?

We’ve run the findings through the tweetlevel  algorithm instead to give it some more context, and the same list appear in a very different order, with Charles Arthur the highest placed hack on the list, and afore-mentioned Tim Bradshaw rocketing up to eighth.

Check out the revised list here.

top tweeters grab

Picking a couple of other tech journos at random, there were notable exceptions in the original list: from The Times, Murad Ahmed would have been in the top fifty; the Telegraph’s digital media editor Emma Barnett would have triumphed in at #20; while arguably one of the UK’s most influential tech industry bods, Mike Butcher, would have come in joint with Tim Bradshaw.

To be clear, we’re not saying ‘our list is better than yours’, nor are we saying our methodology is better – we’re just saying that if you’re producing a list of the influential people in your industry, it might be a good idea to widen the scope to people who don’t work for you.

Let us know what you make of our version of the list originally produced by the Guardian. For more info on the algorithm used, make your brain hurt reading this.

Is Facebook a content or conversation source?

Back in May, Matt Locke, Richard Sambrook and I had a conversation about the future of Social Entertainment.  (In case you are thinking “My that’s a wonderfully catchy, if opaque, buzz word. But what on GoogleEarth does it mean?”; Social Entertainment is a term we coined a few years back to represent the idea that as social networks grow to parallel the influence of mainstream media channels, so too would traditional media companies need to progress their content and communications to fully embrace the social sphere).  Not rocket science, perhaps, but we’re interested in the implications of Social Entertainment, especially with regard to how entertainment companies communicate with audiences.

It’s highly probable that no one listened to the podcast back in May (I haven’t asked for the statistics lately, in case my worst fear was confirmed and we had chopped down trees, but no one was around to hear the loud thud of timber on the forest floor).  So if you didn’t, let me summarise: We talked about some meeja things and at the end Matt and I made some predictions for the next 12 months.

The erudite Mr Locke suggested that the talent rather than the media brand would continue to increase in influence and that this posed both a problem for the brand and an opportunity for talent looking to take advantage of the currency of their social profiles.  The case of @ITVLauraK (nee @BBCLauraK) perfectly illustrates this issue.  Both Tom Callow at TheWall and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian sum up the ramifications better than I could.  Congratulations Matt.  You were right.

Back in May, I felt the interesting shift would be the inverse of our original Social Entertainment theory.  I.e. Social Entertainment originally concentrated on how traditional entertainment companies could leverage social channels to engage audiences.  I predicted (again, perhaps not radically) that Social brands would expand to become fully fledged media channels and businesses.  This was based on increasingly professional content finding its way onto YouTube – but I thought that Facebook, Twitter and the like would increasingly become media channels – producing and distributing content, not just hosting conversations around it.

Interestingly, our annual research shows a conflict in consumer perception, here.  As this graph shows, consumers now think of social networks as a form of entertainment.

However, when asked who are the top-of-mind entertainment companies, consumers do not name new social or internet brands.  No Facebook, no YouTube, no Spotify.  Only the old dogs are named (I can’t actually show you the brands, but we do have this info should it be of interest.  Let me know if so).

And so here we are at the 22nd September 2011 and the f8 conference.  Much has already been written about the social updates (I’d recommend the Mashable picture gallery, if you’re looking for a quick summary of what it’s all about).  But I’m most interested to hear about how content companies and entertainment channels are going to be integrated in Facebook. Is this the coming of age for Social Entertainment?  True my prediction, unlike Matt’s, has yet to come to full fruition.  But with the f8 announcement, we may well be one step closer. The integration, assuming the often vitriolic users embrace it, will mean that Facebook becomes a powerful, if not the de facto, promotional channel for content owners and publishers.  This presents an opportunity but also a challenge for entertainment brands.  Content has always driven conversations. But some content is more naturally geared to social conversations and ‘lean forward’ programming than others.  For all entertainment brands, programs and channels, not applying Social Entertainment is, from today, arguably not an option.  It’s a simple dilemma; innovate and  collaborate, or risk not being talked about at all.

(alt. title@ “how Gary Neville ever managed to play for Manchester United”)

Wanted; serious media hound, must possess exquisite writing skills which are perfectly adapted and adaptable to the needs of our clients (from corporate brochure to rap), must enjoy granular, detailed work such as formatting and proof reading, must possess and be prepared to nurture a deep pool of media contacts (from daily newspapers to the most obscure subscription trade title) and – most of all – must be prepared to take direction and work as part of an extremely structured team. Hobbies and interests? If you must, but see below for hours of work; and make sure it’s nothing too dangerous as we don’t provision much time for illness or injury. Hours of work, 9h until 18h (that’s just the weekends, we reserve the right to finish later during weekdays). In short, we are looking for a PR apprentice who is capable of and prepared to learn the roles of our esteemed industry.

Also wanted; social media guru, must live and breathe new media, possess a large and lively personal social media profile, must be prepared to improvise, work independently and convey the essential in 140 characters or less. Neither structured pros nor proof-reading nor formatting are likely to feature heavily as part of the role. Working hours are not structured, but you will be expected to deliver insight and response in real time from your mobile (wherever you may be; whether queuing for lunch or moshing at Glastonbury). Speaking of moshing; do people still do that? We are very interested in your hobbies and interests you see. In fact, your outside interests could actually be good for business, especially that of our clients; particularly if you regularly blog about them. Oh, yes we are quite relaxed about your blogging and Tweeting on company time; in fact, depending on your aforementioned outside interests, we’ll actually require you to furiously blog and Tweet on behalf of our clients. To summarise, just about as far a departure from the traditional PR apprenticeship as you could imagine.

And here’s the dilemma . . . agencies need both of these people. Despite the demise of Rupert (or perhaps because of it) traditional print and online media is not about to disappear. The proven skills required to deliver compelling PR will still be required; and that includes an attention to detail and pure copywriting skills. However, agencies also need social media experts to help give a voice to their clients’ products and services, to help position them across the increasing range of user generated content platforms and to continually monitor online opinion and feedback on the same.

So what’s the solution? I realize that this will prompt hails of “cop out” but I actually believe that there are two approaches to this dilemma. The challenge is basically to figure out which to apply to which candidate:

· Approach 1. The apprenticeship; social media mind sets should be coached and trained to deliver a minimal level of detail, copywriting and structure. They should also be required to undertake ‘due diligence’ in terms of media knowledge, press contact and drinks with the usual array of trade press misfits (insert your own).

“Traditional media mindsets” should likewise be supported to understand and participate in a minimum level of social media life (i.e.. on a personal level through Twitter, online communities etc.) and learn to effectively select and communicate the benefits of various platforms.

· Approach 2. Play to their strengths; in footballing terms, Gary Neville was never going to make a centre forward (despite his finishing), and Romario never likely to track back and defend. They were specialists, and what amazing specialists they turned out to be (well, Romario).

While Manchester United and FC Barcelona can afford such luxuries, can PR agencies afford employees who are not going to “track back”? In this case, adhere to deadlines, write up minutes from meetings or, even, proof read? I believe that agencies can employ specialists; but on certain conditions:

  • The size of the agency or department; while such social media specialists are great within a structured and functioning team, they are going to be of less use in a start up environment where staff are expected to do everything from cold calling prospects to making the tea.
  • What is the social media specialism? Does it fulfill a current or future client need, is it really a specialism we are talking about, or simply someone who never learned to punctuate
  • Does this person possess experience or knowledge that is not currently covered by the existing more generalist staff. This is a vital consideration if you decide to accommodate a genuine specialist, in order to avoid resentment amongst the incumbent team.
  • Finally, above all, do you want to see this person working for the competition? If not than you’d better him or her!

So that’s the agency dilemma and my dual approach (cop out) to addressing it. Specialists (particularly social media ones) can cause disruption and resentment within a team due to the nature and relative informality of their work. They can also prove a secret weapon for agencies who can genuinely harness them.

I’d love to hear any feedback on the dilemma and my suggested approach; at what size can a team/department start considering social media gurus as stand-alone hires? How can you tell if the candidate before you requires Approach 1 or Approach 2? What’s the best way to incorporate them into an existing team to maximize performance and minimize disruption? How should they be trained and measured?

If nothing else, let me know your thoughts on my incorporation of Gary Neville in yet another blog about PR!

I must admit to being unusually intrigued by the above headline spotted on Twitter yesterday. Knowing my boss as I do, I can attest to his absolute commitment to, and vision for, influencer marketing through channels such as YouTube.

However, YouTube to “save his career” seemed a bit extreme even in these times of crisis!

Then a follow up headline shed more light on the mystery “Hargreaves to prove fitness by YouTube” . . . . a click on the link revealed a different Hargreaves, England and ex-Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves, who has turned to social media in an attempt to convince clubs of his recovery from knee injury.

Apart from the ease with one can confuse one of English football’s leading proponents of the holding midfielder (formerly “Makalele”) role and Edelman’s European Managing Director of Technology, this story revealed some interesting insights into the use of social media within the workplace.

By turning to YouTube, Hargreaves (Owen) is seeking to convince not merely prospective clubs but also their fans; a vital constituency in any eventual transaction. While no club would seriously rank armchair or bar room insight above that of professional scouts or medical experts, they ignore this community at their own risk as Hargreaves is fully aware.

He will be wanting to remind them of his prodigious past; winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich aged 20 and England performances in the 2006 World Cup (where he was one of the few England players man enough to take and score a penalty in the shoot out against Portugal.

With staff review season fast approaching at ‘Edelman Towers’, how could Hargreaves’ approach be adapted to the workplace in general? Am I about to receive a dozen urls from aspiring account managers highlighting their best pitch moments, the phone call of the year when they secured additional out of pocket expenses, or – even – their network moment of the year when they collared a journalist/prospect in a bar over cocktails?

Perhaps these links will be shared “a la Hargreaves” with the wider PR community as part of a genuine influencer marketing campaign supporting their bid for promotion (“did you see that pitch . . . ? S/he still has it . . . they haven’t lost their touch!”). [although the YouTube pitching stunt by 10Yetis split the PR world; either ingenious or desperate? – Ed]

Football is a distinct workplace given the level of media coverage, discussion and opinion that it generates, but the principles of influencer marketing could still apply in terms of promoting your cause internally. I like to think that we in the PR profession would produce something a little bit more sophisticated that the Owen Hargreaves keep fit video, but the logic of seeking endorsement from a wider community (i.e. beyond that of your immediate line manager) is equally relevant.

I am, therefore, standing by for the creative videos and virals extolling the virtues and professional prowess of my colleagues. Jonathan Hargreaves scoring a penalty against Portugal in the World Cup finals; now that’s a YouTube video I would not want to miss!

@RogerDara

There’s a PR storm kicking off on Twitter. Briefly, an angry video game PR had threatened to blacklist gaming journos and websites that gave bad reviews to one of its client’s games.

Rightly, hacks and flacks have piled in to condemn this approach, and indeed the PR behind the Tweet has eaten ‘umble pie and apologized. But apart from highlighting yet again how Twitter is becoming THE channel for mainstream audience communications  – both good and bad – it also raises an interesting question, ‘can public relations prove the old adage wrong that you can’t polish a turd’?

For the uninitiated, the turd in this question is the game Duke Nukem. A legendary franchise that started life 20 years ago on the PC. After a 15 year hiatus – during which time the game’s title became a by-word for anything that was promised but never delivered – the latest installment was launched to much fanfare and pretty average (read poor) reviews. Put simply, the game seems like a bit of a dud.

I’ll admit straight away that I haven’t played it, and that’s sort of fundamental to this post. Games cost upwards of £35 so they’re hardly an impulse purchase…which is why game reviews websites, blogs and magazines retain a level of respect and importance in an otherwise fragmented media landscape. Aside from the hardcore franchise fans, most gamers want to know if they should invest their hard earned cash (or pocket money) in a title. The integrity of gaming reviews therefore is of paramount importance, hence the outcry at the PR’s attitude in this case.

I speak from experience. As a former video game journalist, my first ‘taste’ of PR was being given a fair amount of booze and assorted video game tat to ‘ahem’ help me review products. Being honest, the free stuff was secondary to the relationship myself and my magazine had with the PRs . The ones that came to see us and helped us with exclusives, tips and other useful stuff definitely benefited from lenient scoring on bad games. I also appreciated honesty on behalf of the PR…if they knew a game was shit and they didn’t try and polish a turd then we, in turn, tried to look for the positives rather than focus on the negatives. This approach is arguably universally true regardless of what PR discipline you focus on.

But my time served on the mags was nearly 20 years ago. Times have most definitely changed. There was no Internet back then, word of mouth or magazines were the only real channels to get an opinion on whether a video game (though it could have been any piece of consumer tech) was worth purchasing. In an age where peer recommendation is available at the click of a mouse (or swipe of a finger) I’m starting to wonder whether PRs should be focusing on polishing turds themselves, rather than trying to give influencers and media their own candy-coated dusters and  gold-clad cans of Mr Sheen.

By that I mean, accept that a bad product or service is a bad product or service but also accept that there are ways to move people to purchase outside the channels of media reviews. I’m not advocating bypassing the media and bloggers (you can’t anyway) rather I’m talking about creating compelling content and messaging, written and curated by the publishers and placed directly into the target audiences by the PRs themselves.

I’m sure many PRs will say that they are already doing this, but I doubt many of them have the sanction to honestly appraise the product they are promoting and adjust their approach accordingly.

Some might even say it’s not the PR’s role to make a value judgment on the quality of what they are selling-in to the media and influencers. I can sympathize with that view, but going on my own experiences of being a consumer tech hack, that approach doesn’t work in the long run. I’d also argue that it restricts creative thinking because the focus will most likely be on messaging and elements of the product or service that just won’t wash with the target audience. Far better – I would have thought – to know what the limitations of your product are and work around them?

So I guess I have some sympathy for @TheRednerGroup because I’m sure they knew they were pushing a product that wasn’t as good as the hype yet couldn’t find a way to communicate that understanding to their media and influencers without harming the client/agency relationship.  Perhaps they were in a no-win situation, their own kobayashi maru from which there was no escape, hence the ill-judged, frustrated and angry Tweet?

Perhaps. But I genuinely believe that if the PR industry as a whole gave itself a greater license to be honest about the output of its clients, then we’d all find that we can indeed polish a turd.

@pazman1973

*I apologize for the amount of times the word turd has appeared in the piece. ‘Silk purse’ and ‘sows ear’ just didn’t seem to have the same impact

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers