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Ten Symbols That PR’s ...

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I hate hyperbole.

But in this case, my hyperbolic headline — I do like alliteration — tells the truth.

Today’s upheaval in the PR industry is redefining our business in a similar way that the industrial revolution retooled manufacturing. I’ve captured 10 symbols that remind us this isn’t our father’s PR industry.


1. Meet Max Swisher

I first met Max, 12 at the time, at Great Bear Coffee in Los Gatos where I coaxed him into ordering a hot cocoa before starting our interview. You see, Max’s blog on consumer electronics had gained such a following that the likes of Dolby and HP were courting Master Swisher.

Max Swisher

Change: Influencers — not just journalists — come in all shapes and sizes.

2. White House Advances Owned Media

Sure, the White House engages Twitter, Google +, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, SlideShare … and the list goes on. But the administration’s true digital savvy comes out in how it shapes in-depth content with a storytelling bent, attracting a mass audience. Exhibit A occurred on December 2, 2014 when the White House cracked the Techmeme Leaderboard, the algorithm-driven list of the most syndicated online “media properties” when it comes to covering the tech industry.

White House Website

Change: The reach of owned media can equal and even exceed that of conventional publications.

3. The Saga of www.SearsKilledMyDog.com

In the course of delivering a freezer to a couple in Dripping Springs, Texas, the driver from a Sears Hometown Store accidently ran over and killed the family dog. Making matters worse, the manager for the Sears Hometown Store claimed it was the couple’s fault for allowing the pooch to roam at his leisure. Less than 24 hours later, www.SearsKilledMyDog.com went live quickly gaining national attraction and helping Sears “see the light.” Credit to social media guru Steve Farnsworth who captured the debacle as a case study.

Sears Killed My Dog

Change: Everyone has access to a digital pulpit (and you can no longer run over dogs with impunity).

4. It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s Sponsored Content.

While many fixate on native advertising, the partnering of publications and brands in the making of journalism is the more jarring trend. For example, The Huffington Post teams with Johnson & Johnson to produce a channel called Global Motherhood. Good luck discerning what comes from The Huffington Post and what has Johnson & Johnson’s fingerprints on it.

Global Motherhood

Change: What used to be a blurred line between journalism and corporate storytelling now often disappears.

5. Fortune Magazine Gets into the “PR” Business.

Showing just how far publications — even the most prestigious brands — will go to generate new revenue streams, Fortune offers a service called Trusted Original Content. For a fee, the publication will write stories for companies to distribute on the platforms of their choice. Might Fortune write content for Johnson & Johnson to be published on The Huffington Post? That would be rich.

Fortune Writes Articles Exclusively for Advertisers

Change: Publications are behaving like PR companies to land a slice of the owned-media pie.

6. Google Strives to Squeeze the Technical Gamesmanship out of SEO.

With the launch of its Hummingbird update in 2013, Google let the world know it intends to crack down on those conducting unsavory acts to game SEO and specifically organic search. It turns out that many of the “signals” associated with PR — like links back to the company covered by a publication — are the very ones that Google favors in deciding what to serve up for a given search.

Google Algorithm Keeps Evolving

Change: The door has opened for PR to help companies create online presence with organic search as the prize.

7. The Wall Street Journal Bombs at BuzzFeed-like Storytelling.

This one still cracks me up. On June 20, 2013, The Wall Street Journal tried its hand at BuzzFeed storytelling. Riffing on a Department of Labor study, the Journal creating a slide show comparing the stats of American workers to animals. Can you say non-sequitur?

The Wall Street Journal tried BuzzFeed storytelling

Change: In spite of the Journal’s failure, all forms of communication increasingly depend on visuals to cut through the crush of information.

8. Facebook, a News Media Platform.

Facebook generates up to 20 percent of the traffic to news sites. Even more revealing, 30 percent of U.S. adults get their news on Facebook, according to a Pew study.

Pew study on Facebook

Change: Facebook and other social channels have a huge say in the reach of a given media article.

9. Messaging and Media Are Converging.

The best example sits in China. Called WeChat, the social media tool has almost 500 million monthly users who not only send messages, but play games, check train schedules and buy stuff. In short, WeChat has become part of everyday life in China which explains why brands are leveraging the platform (IKEA platform below).

IKEA Platform

Change: Staying current with social media calls for continual experimentation. And don’t think that the major social media platforms only come from the U.S. They don’t.

10. The Crush of Information Is Only Getting Worse.

The phrase “content is king” has been uttered so many times, it’s become a cliché. And it’s not even true. Content is not king. Compelling content is king. Unfortunately, if you believe Mary Meeker’s number crunching, the amount of digital information that rains down on us will double from 2014 to 2016. Even if she misses by 20 percent, that’s still a sobering stat.

KPCB - Meeker Chart

Change: The best storytelling wins attention with the rest relegated to the pile of corporate speak.


If you have your own symbols for the disruption of PR, please send them my way by posted comment or email.

It seems like something happens in the communications industry on a weekly basis that causes amazement.


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