Revolutionary Measures

The state of PR – underpaid, overworked and under representative

Over the 20+ years I’ve worked in PR I’ve seen the profession become much more visible, if not necessarily better understood. However, while we’re not there yet, there’s a growing realisation at a senior level within organisations about the business benefits that strategic, well-executed and effectively evaluated PR campaigns can deliver.

So, the latest PRCA PR and Communications census provides the perfect opportunity to take stock of where we are now – and where we need to improve. Reading through the results, and the analysis from my ex-colleague Stephen Waddington, five things jump out at me:

1.PR is big business
Total industry turnover is £14.9 billion, up 7.9% since 2018. To give some perspective this is bigger than the UK space industry (£11 billion) and about two-thirds of the defence sector. This is positive news, particularly as I believe that there’s a lot of PR and communications that isn’t covered by the census, either because it is carried out as part of other people’s roles, or that those doing it don’t realise it is PR.

2.PR is growing
As well as turnover increasing, so is the number of people working in the industry, rising by 9,000 to 95,000. That’s the size of a large town or small city – the PR industry has grown from being the equivalent of Chester (population 86,011) to Bath (94,872). All very lovely, as it shows that the market need for PR is growing, hence the profession’s expansion.

3.Average salaries are down
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. The average salary has decreased across agency, freelance and in-house roles, falling from £45,950 to £42,700. That’s a drop of 8.75% that the PRCA puts down to increasing numbers of more junior staff in the industry. PR has always been a pyramid, with lots of account executives and fewer account directors, but widening the base of the profession brings risks. Automation and AI are likely to remove the need for many of the traditional parts of the account executive role, and if we are to be seen as more strategic (and win a place at board level), we need to grow the amount of senior talent that is correctly remunerated. Otherwise skilled people are likely to either leave the profession or not even consider it in the first place.

4.And workloads are up
Not only have average salaries dropped, but they don’t tell the full story when it comes to workload. Half of PRs work for 45 hours a week (10 more than their supposedly contracted 35 hours), with senior professionals most likely to work overtime. That means that not only are people being paid less, but they are expected to do more. As well as being financially unfair this risks stress, burn-out and mental health issues. It is therefore sad, but unsurprising, to read that 32% of PRs have suffered from, or been diagnosed with mental health issues.

5.Diversity is not happening
Two-thirds of PR people are female – yet there is an average gender pay gap of 13.6% across the industry. This is shameful, even if it has dropped from 21% last year. Clearly skilled, motivated women are leaving the industry or not getting the senior jobs that they should be. Equally concerning is the lack of diversity in PR – 89% of the industry is white, although it is more diverse at more junior levels. PR needs to better reflect overall society – there shouldn’t be any barriers to entry for people. After all, you don’t need access to specialist equipment to enter the profession, meaning it should be open to all, regardless of background and ethnicity.

To me the PRCA census shows both sides of the industry – accelerating ahead in many areas, but still needing to fix fundamental issues around pay and diversity. Without overcoming these challenges it won’t have the talent and backing to truly establish itself as the strategic, vital profession that it actually can be.

May 29, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

6 differences between PR and marketing

After one of my previous posts on what public relations can (and can’t do), Ann Hawkins of Drive suggested exploring what the differences are between PR and marketing, leading to this article. To begin with, it is important to stress that PR is a marketing discipline, alongside the likes of advertising, direct mail, brochures and digital. So there is inevitably overlap.

As Ann rightly points out this overlap has increased over the last few years, as marketing disciplines have coalesced, but there are still differences between PR and other areas.

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Here are what I think the six main ones are:

1.PR is less guaranteed
Any marketing campaign can fail, with even the biggest of advertising campaigns coming a cropper. This could be down to poor planning, inadequate targeting or simply not having a strong enough creative idea. However, even the most unsuccessful marketing campaign will have a very visible outputs, whether that is a website, a piece of direct mail, or an enormously expensive TV ad. The outputs of PR appear much less substantial – a press release, a conversation with a journalist or influencer, or an email to a stakeholder. So if the campaign fails there is much less to show for it. You don’t have the 10 foot advertising poster to impress the CEO with. PR is much more of an iceberg – there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get a campaign up and running, and much less guarantee that it will succeed. PR is not just media relations, but I’ve been in the position of having a journalist write a piece which was dropped from a national newspaper as the news agenda changed and there simply wasn’t space.

2. PR is (or used to be) less measurable
Historically, one major difference between PR and marketing was that most marketing campaigns could easily be measured, whether in terms of leads, sales or other outcomes, unlike PR. This is one area where PR has changed dramatically over the last few years. When I started in PR 25 years ago, measurement was calculated on the physical coverage you received, using Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). Full page article? Find out how much buying the same ad space would cost, multiply it by three (as PR is much more credible than an ad), and you have an impressive figure that shows ROI.

Thankfully, things have moved on, with much greater professionalism. Digital technology enables specific tracking of where people go to after reading an online article for example, and it is now much easier to measure outcomes, not just outputs.

3. PR often involves a gatekeeper
Marketing campaigns normally directly target the audience they are trying to influence. For example, you want people to watch an ad and buy your washing powder or click to sign up to join a service online. In contrast PR is more likely to reach the audience indirectly, through a gatekeeper. This could be journalists/publications in the case of media relations, or other stakeholders such as analysts, consultants or other influencers. So, you need to create a message that not only resonates with the final audience, but also convinces the gatekeeper as well.

4. Marketing is trying to drive direct revenue
According to a post on a PR company’s website, marketing is always linked to revenue goals, while PR is about reputation. To be honest, I’d only partially agree. Some PR is about boosting your reputation, but it has always been about driving leads as well. For example, if you launch a new product press coverage is a crucial part of not just creating awareness but getting people into the sales funnel. However, it is true to say that marketing campaigns tend to be more linked to sales goals, whereas PR can be much wider in its results and targets.

5. PR is more credible
To me, this remains the most important difference between marketing and PR. Even (or especially) in an age of fake news and widespread disinformation, the outputs of PR, such as media coverage are seen as more credible than an advert. This is because it has passed through a gatekeeper meaning it has been verified by a hopefully independent third party before reaching its audience. Yes, there have been plenty of examples of PR being used to support dubious causes or campaigns (take the work of Bell Pottinger in South Africa), but those that clearly cross an ethical line or have no basis in fact are normally discovered and called out. In the case of Bell Pottinger, the resulting scandal brought the whole company down.

6. PR isn’t always visible
One of the key aims of public relations is managing reputation. While this can be a relatively straightforward job of aiming to build a positive profile with key audiences, it also covers crisis management, mitigating (or even avoiding altogether) negative stories. I appreciate that this sounds dubious, and I’m not advocating PR being used to keep bad stuff out of the media. However, we live in a more and more complex world, where it is more common for things to go wrong in some way. Having a crisis management PR strategy is therefore crucial if brands are to react to minimise any reputational damage. That’s something that you can’t really do with other marketing disciplines, although the likes of VW and Facebook have tried, taking out full page adverts explaining how sorry they are for various corporate misdemeanours.

I’m conscious that while I set out to outline clear differences between PR and marketing I’ve ended up with a fair few caveats that show that different disciplines are getting closer in many areas. That’s actually a positive for PR, as it shows how its reach is spreading, not just in marketing but other areas (such as internal communications) and demonstrates its business value. No marketing campaign (or company) can afford to neglect PR, whatever its overall objectives.

April 3, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apple bets on reputation to drive streaming success

This week’s news that Apple is expanding into multiple new markets, including TV, gaming and finance is not unexpected. The market for iPhones is becoming saturated, with revenue from iPhone sales dropping 15% in the last quarter. So, increasingly Apple wants to be seen as a services company – it already has a successfully streaming product (Apple Music) and generated $10.9 billion of revenue from services, more than from selling Macs or iPads, in Q4 2018.

The announcement is also unsurprising for two other reasons. We now live in an experience economy, where people are more likely to rent or stream products and services than to buy them. And it joins a stampede of companies that want to be the digital provider of choice, for everything from entertainment and news to healthcare and control of your smart home.

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This trend is turning digital companies that previously co-existed relatively harmoniously, such as Amazon, Apple, Google and others, into competitors. Combined with the rise of Netflix, this is disrupting the business models of existing content providers/film studios, leading them to scale up (witness Disney’s purchase of Fox) to try and compete.

Apple’s glitzy launch featured a host of A-list celebrities, from Oprah to Steven Spielberg and Big Bird from Sesame Street as it promised to spend $1 billion a year on original content. However, it is up against the likes of Netflix (which spent a reported $12 billion last year), and Disney, which counts best-selling franchises such as Marvel and Star Wars amongst its properties.

So can Apple succeed in streaming? After all, its existing Apple TV service has never really taken off. There are two factors it is betting heavily on:

1.Reputation as the champion of privacy
Throughout all the storms that have hit tech companies around privacy and use of personal data, Apple has aimed to position itself as the champion of the consumer. It has repeatedly stressed that it won’t share user data with advertisers, and even refused to allow the FBI to access locked iPhones belonging to criminals and terrorists. Apple boss Tim Cook continually reiterated the focus on privacy at the launch event, and clearly it is one of the ways it is looking to differentiate itself.

2.Market power
As Oprah said of iPhones “they’re in a billion pockets”, and Apple clearly has a huge, loyal fanbase to appeal to. That’s what has driven its services success to date, and even if it can only convert a small percentage of customers to its new offerings, it will be in the money. However, an awful lot of iPhones are in markets, such as China, where the new services are unlikely to be available, while most customers already have subscriptions to the likes of Netflix. The new Apple TV+ will allow consumers to bundle some existing services (such as HBO and Hulu), but not Netflix. And while it will be available on other hardware (such as Sony TVs), making it appeal to non-Apple owners may prove difficult.

So, when it comes to services and effectively its future revenues, Apple is essentially betting on its reputation rather than the deeper content reserves of its rivals. Can it take a bit out of streaming? Whatever happens expect a long and bruising battle as more and more companies try to differentiate themselves from the chasing pack and use communications and reputation to dominate the market.

March 27, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nick Clegg – the worst job in PR?

There are lots of jobs in public relations that could best be described as ‘challenging’ – and at worst be considered nightmares to avoid at all costs. Press secretary to Donald Trump or Elon Musk’s PR handler both spring to mind. However, these revolve around trying to control a wayward individual known for having their own communications style. In these cases the PR issues come with the territory as they are part of the brand.

So what are the worst jobs in PR when you take the figurehead out of the equation? I’d say that at the moment they revolve around Brexit and Facebook. I won’t go into Theresa May’s communications strategy as I’m not sure there is one beyond repeating the same stock phrases over and over again and hoping that the world will change.

Instead I’m going to focus this post on the challenges facing Facebook’s PR team, and in particular Sir Nick Clegg, the company’s recently appointed head of global affairs. First, a quick recap of the issues in his intray:

  • The Cambridge Analytica case, where data was illegally collected and used to target Facebook users
  • Failure to regulate fake news or Russian interference in the US election
  • Allowing posts that promoted genocide against the Rohinga minority in Myanmar
  • Automatically recommending content involving self-harm to vulnerable teens on Instagram
  • Not paying its fair share of tax

I’m probably missing a few – suffice it to say that in PR Moment’s annual review of 2018’s PR disasters, Facebook was villain of the month on three separate occasions, well ahead of any other business.

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What hasn’t helped has been its ‘solution’, which seems to amount to taking out a lot of adverts and whingeing a bit about it being so unfair (being 15 the company is going through a sulky teenager phase).

Oh, and hiring Nick Clegg. Obviously Clegg had a background in public affairs before he entered politics, so the combination of his experience seems like a good fit. But since he joined little has really changed. There’s still a refusal to engage with politicians – Mark Zuckerberg has dodged requests to appear in front of politicians, apart from one hearing of the US Congress. And all the time revenues have been increasing, adding fuel to the allegations that the company puts profits above doing the right thing.

Clegg’s job is not one I’d relish as clearly Facebook needs to undergo a root and branch reform to make it more open and accountable. And the clock is ticking – murmurs of breaking the company up in some way are growing, with splitting the different services it offers (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) into separate entities, providing what looks like an easy solution to lawmakers.

I’ve previously outlined what I think Facebook needs to do, along with other tech companies, to turn around its reputation, focusing on openness, confessing to past wrong doing, investing and matching words with deeds. Essentially Facebook needs to engage and that means communicating in a more human way – for its sake let’s hope that Nick Clegg is given the space and resources to deliver real change, rather than propping up the status quo.

February 6, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why PR is like an iceberg

It’s a well-known fact that 90% of an iceberg is below the water. PR is actually pretty similar. What is visible (often the results of tactics such as media relations) is simply the tip of a strategically planned and delivered campaign. However, what the wider world sees is the end result (or in the case of journalists the pitch or press release). I think this is one of the major reasons PR and media relations are continually confused, pigeonholing the profession.


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The latest example of this is on the BBC’s Media Show. A recent episode, entitled “The Art of Public Relations”, has drawn widespread condemnation from the PR industry for its focus on media relations and publicity, and describing PR people as bullies and liars. Clearly this is both an outdated view of the PR world, and – let’s face it – if all 70,000 of us were liars I think we’d have been closed down by now.

Media relations is a key skill for PRs, but it is one of many. And arguably it is becoming less important as PR becomes more strategic and involved in delivering corporate goals, and other communication channels such as social media give a direct route to target audiences, bypassing journalists. But it is human nature to focus on the shiny things rather than the hard work and brainpower behind them. The trouble is, this is less easy to explain in a soundbite. Perfectly valid complaints about how PR is perceived are seen as whingeing – as a profession we suffer from Cobbler’s Children syndrome, too busy working for others to do our own PR.

How can this be overcome? Here are some recommendations from my experience:

  • Keep demonstrating the value we create for companies, organisations, communities and individuals. They are the people that pay the bills, and simply wouldn’t be investing in PR if it was not important.
  • Don’t just show value to immediate contacts, but talk to senior management and build up their understanding of PR. Given most CEOs tend to come from a finance, sales or operations background they are unlikely to have learnt about PR properly on their way to the top.
  • Measure effectively what we do, and show that we are supporting corporate strategy inside and outside organisations.
  • Spend more time proactively on doing our own PR, whether that is educating people we meet (without boring them senseless!) or speaking to schools and business groups.
  • Show clients the strategy behind what we do for them, and lean more heavily on academic and business research to justify why a particular campaign is worthwhile.
  • Always be professional, and avoid the temptation to focus solely on the tactical or the Ab Fab stereotype. It won’t deliver a lasting career or client relationships.

PR does seem to be constantly striving to justify itself to the public and journalists – but over the last 20 years I have seen things change for the better. We just need to keep pushing. We’re all in it together, so do share your recommendations for how we can better get across what we do in the comments section below.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 ways that tech giants can turn their image around in 2019

Its fair to say that tech giants had a shocker PR-wise in 2018. Vilified for how they treat consumer data, spread malicious/fake news, fail to protect privacy, low tax payments and underhand PR methods (as in the case of Facebook hiring a firm to spread dirt on George Soros), they’ve so far come up with a poor defence. In fact, senior management has either ducked out of governmental hearings or spouted platitudes that placated no-one.

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And the early indications are that 2019 will be equally challenging for the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, as they are publicly attacked on multiple fronts. Countries such as the UK and France are proposing ‘tech taxes’ to claw back money, while competition authorities are taking a keen interest in the idea that these organisations have too much power and need to have their wings clipped. It seems a long time ago that they were hailed as innovators changing the world by connecting people in new ways and providing easy access to untold information and opportunities.

So, what should the tech giants New Year PR resolutions be? Here are four to start with:

1.Confess
One of the biggest issues facing Facebook et al is that they are taking an overly legalistic approach to dealing with their problems. Essentially, they are denying everything with the aim of protecting themselves from potentially eye-watering fines. As the growing number of legal cases show, this isn’t working as the public mood has very much turned against them. It isn’t an easy step, but they have to change their attitude, confess to past misdemeanours (even if inadvertent) and wipe the slate clean. Think Lance Armstrong on Oprah, but with Mark Zuckerberg replacing the drug-taking cyclist.

2.Match words with deeds
We’ve all seen the adverts from social networks telling us that they are committed to protecting our privacy and online lives. They need to go further, and change how they operate, such as making default privacy settings much tighter and being clearer on the code of conduct that they will follow, with proper independent oversight.

3.Be more open
Ironically for organisations that rely on people being free and open with their most personal data, Google, Facebook and Amazon are extremely secretive in many areas. Clearly, no one expects them to give away commercial advantage, but they need to show how they operate to satisfy regulators, consumers and current and potential employees. By demonstrating that openness they will show they’ve not got a secret agenda and that Mark Zuckerberg is not a lizard.

4.Invest
The rise of Google and Facebook has hoovered up huge amounts of advertising spend, particularly affecting local and regional newspapers. Alongside the reports of cats stuck up trees, these provide a powerful method of supporting local democracy, holding elected councils to account. Investigating vested interests costs money, and national newspapers have also seen budgets slashed, despite the importance of exposing malfeasance. At the same time, Amazon has led an ecommerce boom that has decimated the high street, again hitting communities across the UK. While there’s no legal obligation to pay for these problems, it is time for tech giants to dip into their pockets. Google already funds some media initiatives and Facebook invests in local journalism, but they all need to go further if this is to redress the balance. Paying a fair share of their tax bill would also help.

Clearly not every tech company is in the same position as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Uber, but the current ‘techlash’ threatens the entire industry. This isn’t just about perception or slowing user growth – share prices have fallen as nervous investors cash out, while many talented employees are looking elsewhere for their careers. 2019 promises to be a watershed year for tech’s public image – lucky that Facebook has got Nick Clegg on board to turn it all around……….

January 9, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why sales is the new opportunity for PR and communications

For many B2B industries the sales process used to be relatively straightforward. You made products customers wanted, and provided the price and quality were right, they bought them. Salespeople were involved across the process, giving ample opportunity for them to build relationships, explain benefits and overcome any doubts.

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This has now radically changed, with a much larger proportion of the process carried out by prospects themselves – without speaking to a salesperson. The combination of the internet and social media gives them access to a huge amount of information that they can use to refine their needs, and create a shortlist of potential products and vendors without the companies being involved at all.

Content, content, content
While this means that sales need to learn new skills, it also dramatically boosts the importance of content. If you don’t have the right content available, based on the keywords and topics that your potential customers are searching for, they won’t even find you. With the amount of competition out there, customers simply don’t have the time to check every potential supplier’s website to find out if they offer what they are looking for.

This applies to all sectors. For example, I’ve talked to lawyers who say clients have found them by searching for particular legal specialisms (e.g. “European rail infrastructure law”). So to get onto the shortlist, you need to be visible. And visibility isn’t just through company websites, it is in the media, on Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, emails and marketing collateral.

What does this mean? Essentially you have to build a brand for yourself and/or your product. This has to be built on the right content, in the right places, giving a consistent message to your target markets.

For me, this is a tremendous opportunity for communications/public relations professionals. We have the skills to understand an audience, create a strategy and messages to reach them, and then execute it through relevant, well-written content. We just need to think beyond the old confines of media relations and we can position ourselves at the heart of the sales process that drives modern businesses. This means breaking down the old barriers between earned and paid media by using whichever is best for the job in hand.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on whether we should switch from calling ourselves public relations professionals and rebrand ourselves as communications professionals. It became part of a wider debate, with some people agreeing and others feeling it lost the strategic element of what we do, pigeonholing us as messengers. Given the business opening that content provides now is the time to seize the opportunity and expand what you do – whatever you call yourself.

 

October 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Elon Musk and brand safety – a cautionary tale

Consumers increasingly want to engage with genuine brands with a personality. And in many cases this goes back to the founder and CEO. Think of Apple and Steve Jobs, Microsoft and Bill Gates, Burt’s Bees and Burt. Or, as I heard yesterday on Radio 4, Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop.

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In a world where consumers are bombarded with slogans from faceless corporations, having a figurehead that they can relate to should be an excellent shortcut to drive success. And, in many ways it often is. However, one of the key factors that drives people to found and grow businesses is self-belief that whatever they do is right, and that they need to battle the world to maintain their success. Add in that the more success they have, the fewer people there are around them who are willing to tell them when they are wrong and you can see a recipe for potential reputational disasters.

Elon Musk is a classic case in point. He’s built Tesla into one of the most recognised car brands on the planet, from scratch, and helped accelerate the spread of electric vehicles. Earlier in the year the company had a stock valuation of $50 billion – larger than Ford, despite its much smaller size (and profitability).

Of course, the key phrase is “had a stock valuation of $50 billion”. Musk announced in a tweet that he had the funding in place to take the company private at $420 per share. When it turned out he didn’t he was sued by both investors and regulators. A further tweet after he was fined for this saw the stock fall further, knocking $10 billion off its value. And don’t forget this is the man that called a British diver involved in the Thai cave rescue a ‘pedo’ and was recorded smoking pot on a podcast.

So how can organisations combine the creativity, drive and charisma of a founder with brand safety? There are four ways to achieve this:

1          Trust the CEO
You could, of course, just let the CEO do what they like, Richard Branson style, but that’s assuming that they understand that there are limits to their behaviour. In the case of true loose cannons (like Musk), this isn’t going to work. In the case of public companies it is also going to make the share price gyrate on a daily basis.

2          Focus on the product
A longer term strategy is to shift the focus from the founder to the product. So while the CEO might be introducing what the company makes, they are talking about what goes into it and what makes the company special, beyond their own personality. Bring in outsiders such as celebrities to subtly shift away from a single founder – a good example is the Virgin Media ads featuring Usain Bolt alongside Branson.

3          Build a team
No one person can run a multi-million pound company successfully. Leaders need help, so build a team and make sure that they are increasingly seen in the media. They are never going to have the same appeal as the founder – for example compare Tim Cook with Steve Jobs at Apple. But creating a wider team will deflect some of the attention over time and prepare for the point when the founder is no longer around.

4          Have people who can say no
Probably the hardest thing for an underling to do is to disagree with their boss, particularly if they have built the company from the ground up. Not many employees would embrace such an almost certain career-limiting move. That means telling founders that they are on the wrong track has to come from boards, independent mentors and from creating a culture where messengers are not shot, but encouraged. This is another long-term process, but one that needs to be thought of early in the process.

Balancing the marketing value of a charismatic figurehead with their wayward side is never easy – just ask Ryanair – but if brands want to stay around for the long-term they need to be ready to outlive their founder and put in place a framework and culture that turns ‘me’ into ‘we’ without losing the brand essence and magic they bring.

 

 

October 10, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking a stand – and the risks to brand reputation

Brands today face significant challenges when it comes to marketing themselves. Competition is growing, particularly from smaller, nimbler and often cooler players. We also live in an increasingly polarised world, where consumers demand that the brands they engage with stand for something. That’s relatively easy for quirky startups – the trouble for established multinationals is that ‘something’ varies radically between different groups and cuts across their existing customer demographics.

The current debate over Nike’s latest marketing campaign demonstrates this perfectly. It has recruited American footballer Colin Kaepernick to narrate its new ad, which features athletes from a range of backgrounds who have overcome adversity to achieve success. The slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, sums up Kaepernick’s role as leader of the movement to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against police violence.

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Burning rubber
Predictably, the campaign has drawn ire from both sides. Photos and videos of people burning their Nike shoes and clothes went viral on social media, and the Nike stock price initially dropped. Donald Trump complained on Twitter. The body responsible for buying uniforms for the Mississippi police force announced that it would now longer purchase Nike products. At the same time, commentators have complained that Nike is simply hijacking a key issue to essentially sell more trainers. And given their previous poor record on issues such as ethical sourcing, child labour and more recently complaints of a culture of sexual harassment, people may well have a point.

Nevertheless, Nike clearly feels that its core buyers are going to respond positively to its position. In a similar vein, the CEO of Levi’s announced a partnership with gun violence prevention groups, causing the National Rifle Association to complain about “corporate virtue-signalling.” On this side of the Atlantic, Lush had to drop a campaign focused on undercover police who infiltrated activist groups to spy on their members.

So how can brands make sure that taking a stand doesn’t alienate the people they want to appeal to? Essentially it comes down to answering four key questions:

1.Does it fit with your brand values?
One of the reasons Lush received so many complaints was that its campaign didn’t fit with its brand values. Yes, it was seen as alternative and studenty, but being seen to attack the police was a step too far. Companies need to live their brand values – but not over-extend them in pursuit of cheap headlines, as it will damage their reputation.

2. Does it fit with your target audience?
For Nike, its core audience is overwhelming young, urban and involved. Therefore, while it might lose some sales (will Donald Trump switch to Yeezys?), they are clearly confident that the positive impact outweighs the negative. In the same way, UK stationery chain Paperchase pulled promotions from the Daily Mail after its customers complained about the difference between the paper’s editorial stance and their own views. So start with demographics and listening to your customers – after all, there’s a world of social media to help you hear their voice.

3. Are you seen as genuine?
For me, this is where Nike falls down, though it isn’t as bad as Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner advert. I simply can’t see them as genuinely believing in the issues raised – and their own record on worker’s rights undermines their case for promoting fairness. Obviously this is an issue for any major corporation as most have skeletons in their closet of some sort. However, in contrast, Levi’s campaign on gun control looks much more genuine as their CEO is an ex-US army captain who has spoken out on the issue before.

4. Is it cohesive?
If you take a stand, it has to run across your business. You can’t complain about police brutality and then treat your own employees poorly, for example. That’s one of the reasons that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon are currently in trouble. They talk about an innovative future based on technology and openness, and then create labyrinthine corporate structures to minimise the tax they pay and (in the case of Amazon) face accusations of sweatshop conditions for their warehouse staff. In today’s world failing to live your brand will be quickly discovered and publicised.

We’re in a position where more and more brands are being forced to make a choice – Trump or Democrat, Leave or Remain

? To do this successfully is a balancing act – but starting from genuine brand values built on trust with your audience is a key starting point.

 

September 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why the internet won’t kill traditional TV

We’ve all heard about the death of linear, traditional TV. At one end pay streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are grabbing viewers, while at the other, more and more people (particularly the young) are getting their entertainment for free from YouTube.

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But is it really happening? And if it does, will it mean the inevitable decline of traditional, broadcast television and organisations such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5? I’d say not, based on three recent data points.

1          People are still watching live TV
Things are certainly changing, but the latest Ofcom figures show that of the 5 hours and 1 minute that the average person spends viewing audiovisual content every day, 71% of this is spent watching broadcast shows. Over half is live TV, with the remainder being recordings of programmes and broadcaster catch-up services, such as BBC iPlayer. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon have overtaken traditional pay-TV (Sky, Virgin Media) in terms of numbers of subscribers, but bear in mind that the cost of these services is much less. Many people have multiple subscriptions, particularly given the rise of exclusive content, such as The Crown on Netflix and The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime.

So, while broadcasters may be finding harder to fund new content, they still have a loyal viewership – even fickle 16-34 year olds spend 46% of their time viewing broadcast content. And I’d expect those figures to be affected by teenage viewing habits – previous Ofcom research found that 66% of teenagers use YouTube to watch TV programmes and films, against 38% of all adults.

2          Terrestrial TV is talked about
The rise of the internet and digitalisation has given us unparalleled choice, resulting in the fragmentation of audiences. The days of watching a programme on one of four or five channels (and I remember when there were three) because ‘there was nothing else on’ have disappeared a long time ago. While this means that people can seek out and watch content that they are interested in, it has also reduced the power of TV to bring people together as a community – you can’t go into work or school and expect that those you talk to will have watched the same programme as you.

However, I think that again this has been overplayed – at the moment all the conversations and buzz (online and offline) are around terrestrial TV programmes, from The Bodyguard and Vanity Fair, to Strictly and the Great British Bake Off. There is definitely less in the way of shared experiences, but they are still there and are still bringing people together, particularly when they use the likes of social media to involve audiences and make them feel part of a community.

3          YouTube is not yet the mainstream
Like a lot of old(er) people I rely on my kids to tell me what is happening on YouTube. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have heard of the KSI vs Logan Paul fight that happened last month in Manchester. It was billed as the event that would demonstrate the sheer scale and reach of the site, as two of the most popular YouTubers in the world punched each other for five rounds. A lot of the stats from the fight are impressive – it generated 5 million pay-per-view buys on YouTube (including my children), bringing in an estimate revenue of £37.5 million. That makes it the fifth largest pay-per-view event in boxing history.

However, this needs to be put into context. KSI has 19 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, and Logan Paul has over 23 million. Before the fight Business Insider predicted there would be 100 million viewers. Even with allowances made for those that watched illegally, it was clearly a long way short of that. This backs up for me why a lot of teens watch YouTube – it is free, they can watch it on their phones away from their parents and it doesn’t take too long to stream each programme. Instead, the fight was the exact opposite – costing money, best watched on a TV and taking the entire evening. Essentially it shows that YouTube and broadcast TV are different and appeal to different needs.

I appreciate that the internet has transformed the TV market and that the cosy days of a limited number of broadcasters delivering programmes to grateful viewers is long gone. Action does need to be taken to ensure that we still have access to well-made, locally created content, and broadcasters need to adapt, but it is also important not to overstate the case for the internet – we’re not heading for a Netflix and YouTube only world anytime soon.

September 12, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | Leave a comment