Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Last weekend I visited the Tower of London, to see the major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red; marking one hundred years since the first day of the First World War. All 888,246 poppies represent a soldier’s lost life during the war.

The placement of the artwork against the 948 years old Tower of London, surrounded by a modern city provides a sense of perspective; we’re here thanks to the service of brave men. Not just from the First World War, but from many wars since. Even in the bustle of city life, the memories that all the poppies represent provides serenity.

That’s why I took the below picture and highlighted the vivid colours of the art installation. We should always remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.

Tower of London poppies

The disconnection between music sales and Facebook influence

Following my last post which turned into a rant about Facebook, I’ve stumbled across a Facebook update by US metal band, Machine Head, which provides an exclusive peek into what it’s like running a Facebook Page from the perspective of a band. However, the sentiments expressed can be applied to any organisation.

Credit to www.digitaltourbus.com
Credit to www.digitaltourbus.com

In the popular ‘THE GENERAL JOURNALS: DIARY OF A FRONTMAN… AND OTHER RAMBLINGS’ updates that are shared by Machine Head’s Rob Flynn, he reveals the complete disconnection between real-world success and Facebook.

“From time to time, I look on our Facebook page and it just seems like an endless stream of ads for our new record.

I’ve asked myself several times, “is this just too fucking much?” “Are we just shoving ourselves down people’s throats, and running the risk of turning them off, or worse, tuning them out?” In an age where there’s an endless barrage of info coming from every angle, would it just be better to let people discover the record?

And yet, amazingly, every time we put up an ad, inevitably, multiple people on our FB ask, “They have a new record coming out?””

That would be because, without sponsorship and social interaction, posts are only reaching 20% of your Facebook fan base. The mere fact multiple users are only just seeing posts about the new album, which have been advertised heavily for the last three months, shows just how many users miss Facebook Page updates each day.

“…when I see our Facebook page I see we have about 1.3 million “likes” from all over the globe. I ask, does that mean “Bloodstone & Diamonds” will sell 1.3 million copies?

Fuck no.

Shit, every post about the new record almost half the comments are saying “Nope, not gonna buy it.”

Well how about ½ of that number? Will it sell 500,000 copies?

Oh hell no.

So let’s cut that in half and we shoot for 250,000 copies, worldwide, in a years time. I mean I’m no math major, but if 250,000 people from the MH page actually buy the album, the other 1,000,000 people are off the hook and can continue to occupy a place they have little (or no) interest in.

We have 270,000 “likes” in the U.S., and our A&R guy Monte Conner swears emphatically that if we equal what “Locust” did on it’s first week sales (16,000 copies) we will be killing it, especially considering that the CD / iTunes market is down 40% since “Locust” came out in 2011.

I know Sebastian Bach and even Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder have gone “public” with the very same questions. Why the absolute chasm between “likes” and actual sales? To some, an artist calling out their Facebook “friends” is what could only be seen as “Social Media Suicide!”

But on the other, what does 1.3 million “likes” even mean?”

Remember those Facebook Advertising case studies that promote the real-world success of business who follow the social advertising path? It’s not what I’ve personally experienced in business, and clearly Machine Head, along with other bands, feel the same.

“Albums and singles don’t sell anymore. The new iPhone 6 just did 39 million. That’s 39 times platinum in 6 weeks!!

Not one album in ANY genre has gone platinum this YEAR.

Not ONE.”

It’s the sad truth. Rob Flynn actually touches on a much bigger issue here, the evolution of the music business away from album sales to monetise through relentless gigging instead. We can’t blame Facebook for the struggle industries are facing to modernise to internet technologies. However, we can blame Facebook for promoting an out-dated method of social media success; the number of ‘likes’ Machine Head has, is completely disconnected from their album sales.

“Being in a band is not profitable. You do it because you love it, because it fills a need in your heart.

These days, the smartest and brightest go into technology, not music. Technology has crushed music into the dust.”

 

 

 

 

Facebook is a misleading advertising network that promotes an out-dated approach to social media

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to recommend Facebook as part of a social media strategy. Here’s why.

In September 2012 Facebook announced that they were making changes to the way content appeared in peoples’ newsfeeds. This involved limiting the organic reach of posts from Facebook Pages (when posts are published without advertising). Following this change, global brands reported a staggering 40% drop in reach.

1196px-Not_facebook_not_like_thumbs_down

Facebook did this for two reasons:

  • As a business they need to make money, and the primary way for them to do this is through advertising. If a Facebook Page could reach all their fans without paying, then there would be little need for businesses to advertise. By Facebook drastically limiting organic reach, organisations are more likely to use advertising to give their page a boost.
  • There is too much content being published on Facebook and, because of this, the social network has had to filter what appears in peoples’ newsfeeds. All of the posts you publish are in competition with other pages on Facebook so that your fans aren’t overwhelmed by content.

Both of these reasons were confirmed earlier this year when it was announced that Facebook users only see 20% of the content that is published by friends and pages.

The only way to change this is, unfortunately, is by advertising on Facebook. This means that Facebook Pages can reach more of their existing fan base and present content to other targeted users. However, this does begin to question whether Facebook can accurately be called a social network anymore; isn’t it more of a social advertising network?

The rebellion has started…

Eat24 – A BREAKUP LETTER TO FACEBOOK FROM EAT24

“It makes us think all you care about is money. Why should we have to wade through a dozen promoted posts about how to lose belly fat (are you trying to tell us something?) and requests for Candy Crush (NO! Just no.) and suggesting we like our arch nemesis’ page (seriously, WTF) before we can finally find the perfect Doge meme, It really seems like you’ve lost your way and have become nothing more than an ad platform.”

Copyblogger – Why Copyblogger Is Killing Its Facebook Page

“Have you ever stared at something, knowing you’re doing everything right, but it still won’t … freaking … work? That’s how Copyblogger has felt about its Facebook page for quite some time. As of today, the page has 38,000 “fans,” but Copyblogger’s presence on Facebook has not been beneficial for the brand or its audience.”

The point about Facebook is this: their algorithm changes and focus on advertising is causing much anxiety in the business community. It is quite simply becoming too expensive to be on Facebook. Especially as the content you painstakingly create may only organically reach a small percentage of your fan base.

I’ve worked with companies in the past who have literally spent hundreds of thousands of sterling on managing a global presence on Facebook. But WHY? There is nothing to verify users who ‘like’ a page, other than what Facebook’s own Insight measurement dashboard shows. Even then, these profiles are private, the owned property of Facebook. In a sense, you’re not really buying a fan but instead renting them; due to their lack of information (I’m personally convinced many are bots) and that you’re unable to export any of their individual data (such as email addresses).

As Facebook owns all of the data, the only way for them to sell to companies is by promoting the idea that social media metrics are the main purpose behind an online campaign. A dated idea in a world where the real value of social media is attained through the data – driving real-world conversions. Who cares if your page got 4,000 more followers this month? This shouldn’t be the aim – drive sales, bookings, downloads, etc… ANYTHING!

It’s interesting to note that in Facebook Advertising’s promotional copy, case studies are referenced claiming such results. Although in reality, I’ve never met an organisation that can claim such a successful experience with Facebook.

It isn’t just the big organisations that should question their use of Facebook. It’s the little ones too.

Last week I met with a small business owner who needed some social media advice. In exchange for a couple of ales, she revealed that she was primarily putting all her effort into her Facebook Page. However, our discussion was about improving the ranking of her website on Google. In the kindest way possible, I had to explain that it might be time to refocus efforts on SEO related activities. After explaining the costs needed to drive a successful Facebook Page – she whole-heartedly agreed.

She saw that Facebook was misleading her, enticing her with promises of sales that would realistically never meet the cost of her investment into buying fans. The social media metrics were not the end goal for her business; it’s sales.

For this reason Facebook is a misleading advertising network that promotes an out-dated approach to social media; that your business will thrive if you buy fans. Even worse, it is misleading companies into spending thousands of pounds on attracting fans to their pages, which they will never organically be able to reach.

This is why I find it difficult promoting Facebook in a social media strategy. There are better methods.

Do you require excellent writing skills in PR?

The below is an extract from an email conversation I recently had with a student considering changing their course, instead to follow a career in the PR industry. After replying, I thought this might be of interest to readers of the blog, so here we go. It’s brutally honest in places…

… to this end, don’t let this blog allure the PR industry. I spoke to an experienced peer of mine last week that boasts 35+ years in the industry. Starting in the 1980s, working through the 90s, he now finds himself in the position where most of his colleagues are dead. In his words, ‘The human body is only able to take so much, many couldn’t take it, and only a few of us are left in adequate health’.

The hours in PR are long (10+ hour days common), plenty of monotonous research, varying/questionable pay grades across all agencies and an unstable media environment, usually resulting in low job security. 90% of the time the industry is not glamorous, and despite the positive vibe of my blog, my own moods some days can be horrifically depressive.

Feel put off? Don’t. I love the industry due to the countless developments in online and digital technology. In terms of corporate PR, the internet poses an all-encompassing opportunity and threat. C-suite executives require plenty of advice, brands need to re-think their communication strategies and all disciplines of marketing can now be delivered through PR.

Now that the scene is set, in answer to your specific questions:

My degree and employment required good writing skills. PR requires excellent writing skills. How do I improve?
I couldn’t read or write properly until I was eight years old. For years I was behind my primary school classmates because I have dyslexia. To this very day, dyslexia impacts my life in both good and bad ways. In some areas my mind is able to perform in the top 10% of adults (spacial and visual), in other areas it performs well-below average (auditory memory); because of this, writing has always been a passion and a chore. I strongly believe that the only way you improve is by reading a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books, delve into newspapers frequently, and learn the technical elements of the English language. You then need to try writing in different styles, start a blog or write a private diary. Writing is creative, even if you are just drafting the copy of a corporate website.

Can you recommend any books or websites that I need to read where PR or writing in general are concerned?
A fortnight ago I listened to the Intelligence Squared podcast (episode 30/09/2014), which featured Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading authorities on language, mind and human nature. He is a professor of psychology at Harvard and has recently published ‘The Sense of Style’, a short and entertaining writing guide for the 21st century. Do have a listen – it may help. Other than that, the book I have on my bookshelf at home is this one on advanced English language. As mentioned in my question above, I also tend to read plenty. This includes articles by Christopher Hitchens, books by Charles Bukowski and PR specific conversations through this CIPR portal.

As an intern at an agency what sorts of things will I be asked to do/write?
Every agency is very different, put simply; some agencies treat their interns well through providing plenty of experiences, others will take advantage of free labour. Generally you will write press releases, monitor for media coverage, pitch to journalists, write marketing content, take part in brainstorming sessions, and make plenty of tea and coffee.

Most vacancies I have seen require experience which I don’t have. (I’ve heard most people take portfolios of their work to interviews).  What can I do to remedy this? 
My strong advice is that you make time for work experience; otherwise an employer has no guarantee that you can deliver the work they are interviewing you for. You will also have a very limited understanding of how to do PR. It is an extremely competitive job market; you need experience and glowing references. Even if you just manage to secure a few days experience, it is better than nothing. Most big agencies offer structured work experience programmes, which would also provide more clarity to some of the answers I’ve provided in this email.

10 Albums that have impacted my life

As a fun weekend post I thought it would be good to step away from the PR world, and instead focus on the thing that keeps me ticking: music. Those who know me in real life understand (or pretend to!) my enduring love for heavy metal. One of my favourite monthly magazines is Metal Hammer. Each month a different artist selects his/hers metal albums.

Today I’ve borrowed this idea. You can also see my latest listened to tracks on my last.fm profile.

The first album I ever bought was…BBGV1Cover
The Beach Boys
The Greatest Hits (1995)
I had an awkward, vaguely mum-themed, introduction to music. It’s fair to say that from this point everything either went up or down hill, depending on your view of my music taste!

The album I wish I’d made is…Midian
Cradle of Filth
Midian (2000)
It was also probably one of the first metal albums that I ever listened to. Dani Filth’s vocals were so clear on this record, chilling in places and the lyrics were beautifully crafted. It’s certainly not an album for everyone, but creatively if I had a band, it would sound a little like this album.

The album I break the speed limit to is…OSLAUGHT--VI-
Onslaught
VI (2013)
I saw Onslaught earlier this year at the 02 Islington Academy in London with my thankless girlfriend. As one of the pioneering bands behind thrash metal, I often think they are missed, shadowed behind the ‘Big Four’; Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax. I have the CD in my car… its powerful.

No one will believe I own a copy of…Album_Cover-The_Fame
Lady Gaga
The Fame (2009)
As one of the most ‘poppy’ albums in history, it’s an odd addition to my iTunes collection. I do feel for some of the lyrics though, regularly drawing comparisons between Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson (an ideal couple?).

The album I listen to when working is…Eparistera_Daimones_gatefold_LP_cover
Triptykon
Eparistera Diamones (2010)
Don’t read too much into this one. It’s a very dark album, with extremely sludgy guitar playing. There is something about it though that makes it a perfect writing aid. I saw Triptykon play at Bloodstock Festival this year and they were just brilliant live.

The album that should not be is…Metallica_-_St._Anger_cover
Metallica
St. Anger (2003)
Come on! Really? You can’t really blame Metallica for this album in their otherwise pure discography; the band was going through therapy. It has no solos, the drums sound absolutely awful and the lyrics are unimaginative. Creatively it was a disaster.

The best workout album is…440px-KreatorEndorama
Kreator
Endorama (1999)
If you enjoy jogging, be careful with this album. Its steady beat raised my pace by a couple of minutes and almost killed me!

A kid asks me what metal is, I have them a copy of…Metallica_-_Master_of_Puppets_cover
Metallica
Master of Puppets (1986)
Every child should listen to this album; it is such a perfect introduction to metal. Each track introduces a different take on thrash metal, from Battery to Damage, Inc. My favourite track has to be Leper Messiah; the lyrics representing the dangers of mindlessly following the claims of false prophets. Just staggering, a breath-taking album – I hadn’t even been born when it was released!

The album that reminds me of school is…Slayer-GodHatesUsAll
Slayer
God Hates Us All (2002)
Having attended a Church of England Primary School and a Catholic Secondary School, it’s fair to say some found this album a tad controversial. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed listening to it so much? Still, 12 years later I love this album. It’s a historic thrash metal album; listen to the track New Faith.

The best band to see live is…Are_You_Dead_Yet-_(album)
Children of Bodom
Are You Dead Yet? (2005)
I’ve seen CoB live twice and was left buzzing on both occasions. The crowd just get lost in the music, usually tossing each other over the security barricades! Of all their albums, this one has to be my favourite.

 

So yes, this post has absolutely nothing to do with PR, marketing or social media. It’s just fun. Which is what blogging should be about, fun. What is your favourite album?

 

I work in PR, but haven’t pitched to a journalist for a year

Somewhere in-between the next coffee and wishing that the morning would end to excuse the monotony of breakfast (an important meal I refuse to appreciate), an email will be delivered.

“Dear Michael,
We’ve been shortlisted for another award!”

DELETE

As the owner of a mildly read blog, my personal email is regularly doorstepped by PR requests. Occasionally so thwart with poor grammar, it can leave a bitter taste of failure – as an industry we just have to be better. If I think that, then one can only imagine the frustration of journalists.

The last time I pitched to a journalist was on a graduate scheme – that was almost 2 years ago. Yet I work in the PR industry. I can even prove it; my MCIPR membership has just been renewed.

This isn’t going to be a post examining the different definitions of PR because that would be tedious. But for argument’s sake, here is the CIPR definition:

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

From this definition I can confirm that I…

  • Look after the reputations of clients through earning understanding, support, and influencing opinion and behaviour;
  • Maintain a mutual understanding between organisations and its publics.

The only difference is, I don’t need a journalist acting as a mediator between my client’s organisation and its publics. That’s partly because I work in digital/social media, and journalist liaison doesn’t blight my to-do list – others do that. It’s mostly because digital alternatives provide a means to get in touch with niche audiences that mainstream publications are unable to target.

Journalists still have enormous value; they know how to frame stories, sell them to their audience, and hold the most influential positions online. In all the social reporting I’ve done, mainstream news outlets command huge engagement rates and sway conversations. Traditional media is very much alive, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Don’t let this deter from the fact that, depending on your clients, PR can be achieved without journalist liaison. Whilst a journalist’s skills should be envied, their media world is no longer exclusive. Only a few weeks ago I was chatting with a blogger who sways a collective influence comparable to the Mail Online.

At the recent Social Media Week event I helped arranged, one member of the audience remarked that bloggers are perfect for communicating with particular niches. They also have time to review products, know how to spread the word across media channels and engage with their audience at an individual level. This is more than most time-strapped journalist can offer, or frankly technically achieve.

Yes, I’ve been around journalists who scream that bloggers are mere amateurs. So what? This is just a typical British cynicism, when really Amateur in French means ‘lover of’. I’m a proud amateur of blogging. It has led to this blog receiving 30,000+ visits this year; it is why I will never demand a penny from those who read my words. It is why an industry PR book review on my blog would gain far more influential coverage in comparison with a mainstream publication, as I attract beautifully niche visitors.

That all-encompassing “little black contacts book” that my lecturer once mentioned contains the names of bloggers, not journalists. It is also a lot smaller, because I’m able to give organisations the ability to publish their own content, to far more specific audiences.

Digital marketing and social media provide other options to fulfil the goals of PR. We all know this, but sometimes it’s worth highlighting as a blog post. Especially as there are some in the industry, who I’ve spoken to, who believe speaking with journalists defines PR as PR.

 

 

 

 

 

How to build an audience for your blog

Everyone likes to think that their blog has an audience, but does it really? My blog wants to communicate with students, fellow PR practitioners and prospective clients. Out of all these groups I may have a very small audience, typically those who have signed up via RSS feed and email subscription. Otherwise, each post of mine is pitching cold into the social media void.

small audience

It is this void, this noise, which is the enemy to building your audience. This is a PR blog, but it is hardly unique – there are hundreds of blogs online all about PR and public affairs. If you want to build your audience, then you need to keep them – this means capturing data.

This is an important part of content creation because unless you can build an audience, even a small one, then you will find it much harder planning content. To capture data you need to gain an understanding about the value of the content you are creating, the various touch points across the website where you can ask for personal information (mostly email addresses) and a method for handling the data.

Aspects to consider are:

  • Does your blog allow people to subscribe via email?
  • Have you got content you can give away in return for peoples’ information?
  • Do you want to have a subscribers only section?

Once you have captured this data and people have given you consent to be contacted, what is your approach?

Some bloggers like to:

  • Do weekly or monthly newsletters (I tried this once, it takes dedication to do well!)
  • Giveaway exclusive gifts (such as guides, training sessions, etc)
  • Simply sign people up to their blog mailing list, to be alerted to new posts

Unless you are capturing data then you are pitching cold each time. You may receive a few clicks from social media sites, search engines may send you traffic, but you will lack direct visitors to your website. Again, remember the why element when blogging – especially if you are a business.

Watch your blogging language! Does it make sense?

When you write posts for your blog make sure that the language you are using makes sense for the audience you are trying to speak to. If you work in the financial services industry then you may be completely at ease with jargon such as ‘dilution levy’, ‘floating rate notes’ or ‘GRY’. However, if you are attempting to speak to sane members of the public, you should simplify your language. In my eyes this is the most simple SEO trick that most companies are missing, because for most companies SEO is a purely technical affair.

You can see why. Just take a quick visit to Search Engine Land, a wonderful resource but littered with technical advice (especially in the comment sections). With so many geeks shouting about meta tags, XML sitemaps, cookies, responsive design and caching, it’s easy to see why SEO seems a mystical art. For the purpose of this post though, I’m telling you to forget all those technical elements. The chances are that if you are using a popular blogging platform such as WordPress, Blogger or BlogSpot, then these elements are handled for you in the background anyway.

Instead go to the source of SEO, you blog’s content. Think about what a person would need to type into a search engine in order to reach your website. The chances are, using the financial services example once more, is that they want to know “How to manage direct debits from one bank account” or “Options for investing small amounts of money” (and other variations). This is about remembering your audience, knowing what they want and then serving them juicy content that delivers.

The main barrier for companies achieving this tends to be living in a corporate bubble, where industry specific terminology encroaches on everyday service delivery. The main barrier for individuals is often writing the content that you find enjoyable for yourself, not addressing the needs of your audience. Blogging can so easily become a selfish affair, a satisfying habit, which can negatively impact the language you are using.

Of course, when remembering your language also watch spelling and grammar. Some of the bigger blogs even use corporate style guides. I personally prefer using The Economist Style Guide. Keep in mind George Orwell’s six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language”, 1946):

  1. Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
  4. Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).