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The Future of Communications: Women?

femalesymbolIt pains me a little to write this.

I’m a bloke who works in an office with three other men and over 20 women. It’s not unusual in the PR industry for guys to be outnumbered five to one. Nor is it an issue.

I may have, in the past, been known to post the odd tongue-in-cheek #workingwithwomen sarcastic tweet. I may find the high-pitched and emotionally-charged environment when something exciting happens a little overwhelming at times. And the topics of conversation I’m exposed to…oh, the topics of conversation!

But, for the most part, I like working with the laydeez.

Yesterday was the FutureComms14 event in London. It totally rocked. Seriously. Check out the #futurecomms14 hashtag on Twitter for a taste of what people had to say.

But one of the many things that struck me about the day was the major impact that the female participants had on the event.

Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge

Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge

There were 20 speakers on the day, 7 of whom were women. And, for me, it was they who stood out. Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge and panelists Emma Hart, Vikki Morgan and Betony Kelly all spoke with great authority and intelligence. They were concise, articulate and succinct. There was no waffle, no bluster, no buzzwords and no egos.

Don’t get me wrong; Tom Foremski and Jon Morter were interesting, thought provoking and entertaining characters. And the likes of Neville Hobson, Danny Whatmough and Jon Bernstein proved why they’re so highly respected with valuable insights and inputs.

But it was the girls who stood out. Which is maybe a worry if you’re a man working in comms?

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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Video: The Future of Communications

FutureComms14

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a live Google+ Hangout on the subject of the future of communications. Featuring no less than PR industry sage Deirdre Breakenridge, highly respected technologist Neville Hobson and PRCA Digital Group head Danny Whatmough, it was a teaser for the highly anticipated FutureComms14 event, organised by Mynewsdesk.

Moderated by Adam Cranfield, it proved to be a fantastic taster of what’s to come on June 18th in London. If you have an interest in the future of the communications industry (and if you’re reading this I have to assume you must do) then the recording below is well worth 50 minutes of your time. We discussed a number of topics related to the integration of marketing, PR and social media roles; the relative merits and value for money of large and small agencies; and the development of in-house communications teams: themes that will be addressed in more detail at FutureComms14.

Full details on the speaker line up for the main event are available here. And if you use the special discount code Sutton-VIP you’ll get 20% off the ticket price! But be quick as the event is selling out fast.

To whet your appetite before you watch the video below, a few choice quotes:

“Our processes have to change due to connected media and the connected consumer” – Deirdre

“We shouldn’t be scared of the changes, but we need to be brave” – Neville

“Clients want a creative solution to their problems, and the agencies that best provide this will be the ones that succeed” – Danny

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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5 Corporate Facebook Lessons from an Indie Band [Case Study]

embrace

This week, rock band Embrace’s eponymously-titled new album entered the UK chart at number five. Which is quite an accomplishment for a band that sunk without trace eight years ago and whose last album, ‘This New Day’ released in 2006, really wasn’t that great.

So what on earth does this have to do with PR, communications and social media?

I’ve been following the band’s activity on Facebook for the last few months in the lead up to the new record, and it’s no surprise to me that it should chart so high given the way the band has gone about whipping its fans into a frenzy of anticipation. Me included, I should add.

They may not know it, but Danny McNamara and the boys could teach a lot of brands a thing or two about the power of social communications and advocacy. Here’s how they did it…

The Set Up

It all started back in September 2013 when the Embrace Facebook page sprung into life with a sudden announcement that attracted a lot of attention. Note the number of shares.

embrace september

This set the scene for a seven month-long campaign that drew fans in and generated excitement and expectation the like of which I’ve rarely seen.

Embrace fans have always been pretty ardent and hardcore in their support of the band. Of all of the bands I’ve seen live, Embrace were rivaled perhaps only by Oasis in the fervour at their gigs. Embrace fans LOVE Embrace.

What the band has done so well, whether or not they’re aware of it, is to leverage that zeal through Facebook to generate hundreds (thousands?) of ambassadors who went out to spread the word about their comeback.

Following that initial status update, a series of mysterious secret gigs were teased, announced and reviewed with intriguing imagery over the course of the next three months. Boiler suits, radioactive iconography, graffiti and night vision photography hinted at something new and exciting from a band that, despite having become a little stale and predictable, was much missed.

danny mcnamara

boiler suits

hands

And then, come January this year, the band stepped things up a gear by posting a series of teasing and unexplained tally mark images over consecutive days, culminating with the announcement that all Embrace fans were hoping for.

album announce

The Reveal

13th January was a big day for Embrace. And the band used Facebook to great effect. There followed in quick succession the announcement of a new EP, a video for the ‘Refugees’ single, more secret gigs, and a series of radio interviews. All generating great social engagement to spread news far and wide.

By the start of February and despite there being three months until the release of the new album, Facebook fans were already in a frenzy of anticipation.

At this point you may think Embrace had peaked too early. Community managers everywhere will know that Facebook fans are fickle, and that maintaining a high level of expectation and engagement over twelve weeks is a big challenge. Especially in an age of Facebook Zero.

But thanks to daily updates from the band themselves (no community managers or PR people in obvious sight, by the way) with plenty of exclusive content from gigs, teasers of what was to come and eye-catching imagery, interest was not only maintained but built. Embrace were back.

teaser

gig

album

box sets

The Conversion

On 28th April, the big day arrived. By this point the expectation of the new album was almost palpable. The secret gigs and the singles ‘Refugees’ and ‘Follow You Home’ had whetted fans’ appetites for the new material, but it didn’t stop there.

launch

The following week saw the band up the activity again, engaging fans with multiple updates per day, asking for feedback and comments about the new record, and questioning people about how they’d been spreading the word (thus encouraging them further to do so). All of which was creating overwhelmingly positive flows of information into fans’ Facebook news feeds.

Above anything else, the tone of this activity was spot on. As I’ve already made reference to, the band run this page themselves. There’s little evidence of any pre-planned marketing here; no social media guru guiding them; no overt selling. They sign off their updates personally. They come across as genuinely grateful, warm, authentic and likeable guys. And, as Embrace might say, ‘The Good Will Out’.

personal

The result? An album from a band that could very easily have lost all relevance after an eight year hiatus that sold enough copies in its first week of release to make the top five.

The Lessons

It may, at first glance, seem like a stretch to offer Embrace up as an example of great social communications. After all, Embrace is a band. If you’re reading this you’re probably working for a company or a product or a comms agency. But look beyond the topic and you can learn a lot. The same principles apply. In short:

  • Draw your fans in with activity that piques their interest. Be original, surprising, eye-catching and attention-grabbing.
  • Offer exclusive content they won’t find elsewhere.
  • If you’ve got something to announce, do it with style. Tease and build anticipation.
  • Treat your fans like people. Be personal and make them feel special. They’re not robots and neither should you be.
  • Create reach by encouraging genuine, meaningful engagement.

Adendum: The Album

As an aside (although this isn’t a review post), ‘Embrace’ is a great comeback album. The band has updated its sound to something distinctly 2014 that is still immediately recognisably Embrace. Each of the ten tracks on the record has something to offer, whether it’s a driving baseline, Joshua Tree-era U2-esque guitars, Danny’s soaring vocals, prominent synth riffs or surprising changes of direction mid-track. It’s an interesting listen, and it’s a very welcome return for a very well-loved band. Go buy it!

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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Two PR & Comms Events Not to Miss!

FutureComms14It’s not often I get excited about industry events. So many comms events; so much duplication; so little forward-thinking.

So it is with a great sense of anticipation and excitement that I can report that not one but two events have been announced in the last week or two that should blow the socks off the UK PR and marketing communications industry in 2014. There will be no naval gazing introspection with these two!

FutureComms14

The first is an event that focuses its crosshairs squarely on how PR and communications are evolving and at what professionals need to do to adapt. With modern marketing communications being real-time, multimedia and multichannel, we face a real challenge to master new and emerging technologies, and to learn new skills. FutureComms14 aims to address exactly those challenges.

With a wide-ranging yet focused agenda covering topics including the psychology of why people share stories online, the skills of modern communicators and the future of the media, the event is gathering together the collective knowledge of those at the forefront of the industry. Notable speakers include the likes of Tom Foremski, Robert Philips, Alex Singleton, Stuart Bruce and Neville Hobson.

Personally speaking, I’m delighted that Deirdre Breakenridge is making her first trip to the UK from the USA to keynote the event. Deirdre is someone whose books I’ve read and whose opinions on PR I’ve taken note of for a long time, so to have her speak at FutureComms14 is a real coup for organiser Mynewsdesk.

FutureComms14 takes place on June 18th at The Crystal in London. The full agenda and speaker list is currently being finalised, but there’s a lot more information and ticket details here. Go look. Now!
You can also follow a list of the contributors on Twitter here.

Disclosure: I am assisting Mynewsdesk with formulating the agenda and speaker line up for FutureComms14. However, although the event shares a name with this blog, it is a Mynewsdesk initiative.

Social TV Conference

On a very different but complimentary tack, the second event I’m looking forward to follows the success of its fledgling appearance in January 2013. This year’s Social TV Conference, organised by CloudNine, is anticipated to be a must-attend for anyone interested in how broadcasting, advertising and audience outreach are embracing technology and social media culture.

Last year at Soho Theatre, MTV, Ogilvy, Telescope, Orange, and the now Twitter-owned SecondSync graced the event with their insights, as well most notably the ‘Social TV Godfather’ Matt Locke. This year, the venue moves up a notch to none other than BAFTA, reflecting perhaps that social TV as a concept is now even bigger.

Social TV Conference takes place on 29th September. News as it develops, together with ticket details, can be found here.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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Why Comms Blogging is in the Doldrums

cloudysky

“I walk a mile in your shoes. Now I’m a mile away. And I’ve got your shoes.”          Kings of Leon

Last week, influential writer Danny Brown announced that he was changing tack on his hugely popular blog. He said that he’s decided to move away from the marketing and social media topics that have formed the bedrock of his blog for six years, and write more about the things that interest him in a broader sense.

While it comes as a surprise, it’s certainly not a shock. Danny’s never been one for following the status quo. He’s always called a spade a spade. And he’s always looked to progress thinking and conversation rather than repeating the same, tired old stuff. In short, he does things the way he wants to do them.

That’s what, to my mind, makes him stand head and shoulders above other bloggers. A lot of writers could learn from his example.

Following Your Own Path

Danny’s decision set me thinking. The communications landscape is a crowded space. Creating any sort of cut-through is becoming harder and harder, and it’s becoming very difficult to be heard.

In fact, even writing anything original is becoming a challenge. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had an idea for a post, but ditched it after a few minutes’ research when I’ve discovered something similar written elsewhere. Sure I might say things differently, but unless I have a markedly different opinion, why spend time simply adding to the noise?

And that, along with having three kids to look after, is why my own blogging output is nowhere near as prolific or regular as it used to be. A few years back I was publishing three times a week, every week. Now it’s only once a week on average. I beat myself up about it sometimes.

But what’s the point of writing stuff for the sake of it?

I don’t even subscribe to that many blogs any more, preferring to discover content through mobile app, Zite.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But not when it comes to blogging it isn’t. Too many comms bloggers try and compete with the big, multi-authored blogs in the communications world, and there’s no way they’ll succeed. They get so far and then find themselves with waning reader interest and a redundant content strategy. It’s nonsense.

Bucking the Trend

Speaking personally, Danny Brown has been the single biggest influence on the way my own blogging ‘style’ has evolved in the last few years. I get criticised occasionally for my “cynical” and no-nonsense tone of voice. But that’s who I am. And, without wishing to sound like a fan boy, Danny gave me the confidence to voice what I like to refer to as a ‘healthy scepticism’, even if it sometimes goes against the grain.

There’s an awful lot to be said for doing things your own way on your blog, even if that means writing less often to try and maintain originality, and perhaps forgoing mass eyeballs. It garners respect and, as an independent blogger, it gives you a point of difference from the content machines that are increasingly becoming the way the blogosphere works.

So if you’re blogging about PR, comms or marketing, please do it like Danny, and do things your own way. Whatever that may be.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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So You’re a Social Media Junkie, Are You?

david brent

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” Bertrand Russell

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been interviewing graduate-level candidates for potential roles at BOTTLE. And pretty much without exception, each of them has announced excitedly that they’re crazy about social media.

They love it! It was the thing on their course that really fired them! They simply can’t get enough of it!

Only, when I question them about how this overwhelming passion manifests itself, it becomes apparent that it means little more to them than spending insane amounts of time farting around on Facebook and Instagram.

They struggle to name social media campaigns that have impressed them. They can’t really tell me about brands they think are utilising social media particularly well or creatively. They don’t read any social communications blogs.

There’s just nothing there beyond over-confident bluster. And yet that unwavering belief that their very veins have social media marketing blood coursing through them is unaffected.

I don’t mean to sound nasty. In an interview situation it pays to show enthusiasm and it’s important to demonstrate that you’re interested in a potential employer’s core business. I get it.

But for God’s sake, back it up with something. Anything!

Unskilled & Unaware

The process has put me in mind of a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a theory which states that inept individuals are under the mistaken belief that their level of aptitude is much higher than it actually is. Their lack of awareness of their own incompetence robs them of the ability to be able to critically analyse their performance, leading to them significantly overestimating themselves.

Or, to put it more harshly, they’re too stupid to realise that they’re stupid.

dunning kruger effect

I’d have a far greater opinion of someone I interviewed who said that they have a genuine interest in social communications but who recognised that they wanted or needed to learn, than someone who’s a self-proclaimed “social media junkie”.

Imposter Syndrome

Personally speaking, I’m learning all the time. I read a LOT of articles and blog posts on the broad topic of digital marketing every single day. I hate being called an ‘expert’ by my colleagues. I’m not an expert. Not by a long shot. I’m just prepared to work at doing my job well and understanding my industry as best I can.

I’ve written before about constantly doubting my own ability and feeling like I’m about to be ‘found out’. As it turns out, this is what’s referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’, whereby competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others.

It’s hypothesised that actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others must have an equivalent understanding. And it’s the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Self-esteem is important. A strong ego and confidence in oneself enables us to produce our best work. There’s a Woody Allen joke about a guy who has such low self-esteem that when he is drowning, another person’s life flashes before his eyes.

But there’s a fine line in an interview situation between demonstrating confidence and enthusiasm and making unsubstantiated claims about your love for an industry, a job role or a topic. After all, the last impression you want to make is that you’re cocky or ignorant to your own limitations.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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[ebook] Addressing Facebook Zero: a new era for Facebook marketing

Addressing Facebook Zero

Over the last couple of months there has been an increasing sense of frustration and, recently, desperation with Facebook as a marketing channel. It’s long been understood by Page administrators that they could expect to reach a maximum of only 16% of their fans with any given status update. But Facebook threw the cat among the pigeons in December 2013 when it confirmed a “leaked” update to the newsfeed algorithm resulting in that figure falling dramatically to between 3% and 6%.

In the last couple of weeks, rumours have started to circulate that a further update will reduce organic reach still further to just 1% to 2% in the very near future.

Facebook Zero, the point where organic reach is at, or very close to nil, is imminent.

This has spawned a million and one blog posts in the last couple of months with titles such as ‘9 Ways to Game the Facebook News Feed’ and ’15 Free Facebook Marketing Tips’ that promise much but deliver very little. So rather than simply adding my own perspective, I decided to ask a number of highly respected Facebook marketers and community managers within my network for their opinions on the future of Facebook marketing. I also asked them to share their own experiences and thoughts on tackling dwindling organic reach.

The result is the ebook you see before you.

Addressing Facebook Zero is available on a number of platforms:

Addressing Facebook Zero contains varied viewpoints, perhaps illustrating that there is no simple answer. There is advice on advertising, content generation, analytics and community management, from those advanced in their use of the network on both sides of the Atlantic. Each contributor has provided a unique and valuable outlook, the combination of which makes fascinating reading. I recommend you connect with each of them.

Many thanks to Brian Carter, Emeric Ernoult, Danny Whatmough, Eb Adeyeri, Luke Williams and Alex Pearmain for their input.

The days of free Facebook marketing are over. Facebook Zero, a term coined by Social@Ogilvy, is a reality.

I hope this ebook helps you to make effective long-term decisions about content strategy, audience targeting and advertising strategy to make the most of Facebook going forward.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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