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A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 19 – Unleashing the power of the spoken word

Matthew Gain moved from agency to in house three-and-a-half years ago with a clear goal of working at one of the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google). He wanted to work in a growth industry, to immerse himself in big data and he was a true believer that the future of media was going to be in global digital brands.

He landed at Audible, not in a communications role though, but as country head of the emerging business. Now, as Head of Audible in JAPAC and India, Matthew shares his journey from PR consultant to running a growing technology company across the region, and one that is owned by one of the world’s biggest growth companies – Amazon, no less.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

Audible’s mission is to unlock the power of the spoken word. It allows people to consume books at times and in places they previously couldn’t – while driving a car, exercising, cooking or cleaning. Matthew notes that 84% of audible users say they still love the smell of books, so Audible is not about replacing physical books, but creating enjoyable entertainment experiences that keep people coming back.

The competition, in Matthew’s view, is not Netflix or other subscription services but time and attention. To grab this attention, Audible is increasingly focusing on original content –working with authors in Australia,  movie stars in Bollywood, actors in off-broadway theatre – creating great experiences that are brought to life for listening first and foremost.

At its core Audible is a data business and this, Matthew says, was one of the steepest learning curves in the move from PR.

“Sometimes I think the data knows more about us than we do ourselves,” Matthew says. “At Audible, the data informs our strategy. Every single person I work with is fluent in data and understand how to use data to inform the decisions they make. It is a huge a part of our day and part of every conversation.”

Matthew describes a future where voice becomes ever more prevalent – we use voice to engage with the devices around us, today’s smart speakers become smarter personal assistants, and the vast majority of people – especially non-english speakers – use voice to interact with the internet and technology.

After three and a half years Matthew says he’s still learning and shares a great anecdote about Audible for Dogs – that is some PR campaigns are just that, for PR, and not necessarily profitable business ventures. It shows you can’t take the PR out of the guy.

In the news this episode I discuss the fallout from a recent article in the UK Guardian that revealed a lobbying firm run by Lynton Crosby – CTF Partners – allegedly built a network of unbranded websites and news pages on facebook for dozens of clients that were reportedly promoted as independent online news sources.

I thought astroturfing was something I’d left behind in the university textbooks but it seems it is alive and well and ti seems has only become more prevalent in the age of social and digital media. With one industry veteran telling the UK’s PR week that astroturfing is “just another tool in the PR box that is widely used.”

This is a story that is worth watching as it evolves.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 18- Postcard from Cannes

The Cannes International Festival of Creativity is the only global stage where so many pieces of our industry come together at one time to celebrate creativity and celebrate what we do as an industry.

Against the sun-soaked backdrop in the South of France, the Cannes Lions are the industry’s premiere awards for creativity. PR in many ways is the new kid on the block but in an age when ”earned creative” is more valuable than ever they are increasingly making their presence felt.

PR stalwart Michelle Hutton this year held the privileged role of President of the PR Jury – a role she describes as a “career highlight” – and in this episode gives us insight into how the jury whittled down close to 2000 entries from 67 countries to six Gold Lions (and excitingly – or perhaps perplexingly – for the first time one that originated from a PR agency!).

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

President of the 2019 Cannes Lions PR Jury Michelle Hutton

Michelle said the Jury came together around three clear guidelines. Firstly they wanted to see campaigns that had PR as an input, not just an output. That is, work that was designed with PR thinking at its core, not just PR that amplified someone else’s creative. Secondly, the work had to have a clear insight that the creative then developed around. Thirdly, it had to have great measurement that looked at not only outputs but the real impact of the campaign.

Michelle said the jury really wanted to not only recognise and reward great work but set benchmarks about where the industry should be going. Some of her favourite campaigns were:  

  • Mums For Safety Campaign created by Sydney’s Houston Group for Lend Lease and took home a Silver Lion
  • #Stopmithania created by Leo Burnett for HDFC Bank in India to encourage blood donations won a Silver Lion
  • The Land of the Free Press by TBWA/Helsinki FInland also took home a Silver Lion for its defence of press freedom

Michelle distills two key takeouts from the festival:

  • There is no doubt that earned creative is winning across the festival. Work that earns the right to be part of the conversation is not just successful in awards but is the type of work that brands need today to be successful. It is yet another proof point that the industry is well placed, this is our time and we should be showing up at the C-Suite to have bigger and broader conversations around how we can protect and promote brands.
  • The brilliant work that stood out was those that used data to underpin earned-centric thinking to identify the insight; to target the audience; to amplify the work; and to measure the impact. So for those looking to future proof our work data and analytics has never been more important.

Michelle said Australia again punched above its weight at the festival and so she is excited to return to Australia later this month when she returns to take the reigns as Edelman’s Australia CEO and Chief Growth Officer for Asia Pacific.

“We have some fabulous talent in Australia and in many respects we have been ahead of the curve for many years and I have no doubt we can continue to do that,” Michelle said.

“Australia is an innovative market and there are many businesses and brands who can take some risks and I think that’s the wonderful opportunity we have – to do things differently and to lead. That is certainly something I will be focusing on in our business.”

In the news this episode I check in with UK pracademic Andy Green in Smoke Signal Episode 5.

At the time, Andy was spearheading what had been coined the Dublin Definition – a grassroots effort to better define and make sense of the world of PR and how communications need to evolve and change to make a difference.

In the 12 months since the Dublin Conversations have continue online and across the world and last week, Andy and his colleagues toured Ireland to share the outcomes. I look at how the conversation has progressed.

And finally, I am also personally thrilled that Smoke Signal has been named one of Feedspot’s top Top 25 PR Podcasts on the web. Thank you for listening. Do rate Smoke Signal on  iTunes or subscribe via the blog.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 17 – The rise and rise of the gig economy

The gig economy – made up of contractors, consultants, and freelancers – has emerged rapidly over recent years. Driven by the move away from traditional employment models – by both employers and employees – and the rise of digital technologies that create marketplaces for talent to be matched with job opportunities.

The side hustle has quickly become the favourite barbeque conversation as people look for opportunities to learn new skills and try new opportunities.

In this episode of Smoke Signal, I speak to Luke Achterstraat, CEO of Commtract – Australia and New Zealand’s first marketplace for professional communicators.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

The Grattan Institute estimates over 80,000 Australians earn some type of income from a peer to peer platform – be that Uber, AirTasker  or Commtract – in any given month. By 2020 almost 40 per cent of the ASX 200 workplace will be non permanent, in some form consultants or freelancers.

When founded just over two years ago, Commtract hit on what Luke describes as two mega trends: from an organisational perspective there was an increasing restriction on headcount, movement to an agile workforce and the increased demand for talent immediately. Effectively companies needing to do more with less.

The accompanying employee mega trend saw the rise of people seeking autonomy and greater variety in the work they do – especially among experienced professionals who started looking for a “portfolio career”.

Luke talks to an on-demand economy that will only get bigger, with more platforms that become hyper specialized (check out snappr for photographers as a case in point) and a greater focus of community around these platforms.

His advice – whether starting out as a grad or an experienced professional – don’t fear the way the market is moving as it is by no means a new phenomenon. The key is to embrace the opportunity it presents.

In the news this episode  I look at the 2019 Digital News Report – a global study into the issues facing news media that was just released by the Oxford University-aligned Reuters Institute.

The report is based on a survey of over 75,000 people in 38 countries, including 2000 in Australia. Some interesting trends that emerge, include:

  • The level of trust in news continues to fall in all countries with less than half of Australians (44%) trusting news reporting (placing Australia 18/38 countries surveyed).
  • The smartphone is the most popular device in Australia to access news, with 58% of Australians reading news on their smartphone in the past week.
  • Voice-activated smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home continue to grow rapidly – usage in Australia doubled over the past year from 4% to 8% of respondents.
  • Almost a third of Australians actively avoid news . The report posits that this  may be because the world has become a more depressing place, or because the media tends to be relentlessly negative – or most likely a mix of both.
  • Despite a tumultuous 12 months being in the spotlight the ABC remains the most trusted brand with some 40% of Australians getting their news from ABC TV or Radio at least once a week and 22% using ABC online weekly.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 16 – David Brain

In this episode I speak with industry veteran David Brain post the Accenture acquisition of Droga5 – an acquisition by a management consultancy into a creative agency that is of a size and scale that makes it different to what we have seen before.

David Brain uses an apt analogy to describe the competition the PR industry now faces from management consultants who are moving into brand strategy and creative: the PR industry has been training for the past decade to take on the boxing world champion in the weight class above them (creative agencies) but now having stepped into the boxing ring it has found an MMA athlete waiting for us as well.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

David Brain has worked at some of the largest agencies globally, including 13 years at the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman, where he was a member of its global management Board as well as holding a number of regional CEO roles across Europe and Asia.

He’s recently taken a “step back” and now is on the board of ASX-listed communications network Enero; an advisory Board member of online New Zealand news magazine The Spinoff;  an investor and advisory Board member in start-up Parkable; and is currently launching a new research software Stickybeak.

In a recent blog David described the acquisition of Droga5 an ‘at scale threat’ to creative agencies that marks the end of PR’s brief chance to become a lead brand discipline.

David believes there was a moment in time, that is now closing due to greater competition from management consultants – the likes of Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte –  for PR to get more of the CMO budget (that can be anywhere from ten to twenty times the size of an organisation’s PR budget) by moving into strategy and creative.

That is, rather than falling in behind an idea and “making it famous through earned media”, PR could lead the creative idea from the beginning. But to do this PR agencies now must fight not only against  creative agencies (the boxer) but with acquisitions like Droga5 by Accenture we now face even greater competition by management consultancies (the MMA athlete).

David says: “That is a big fight for our industry to pick and win. There are no doubt individual agencies who can win that battle, but as an industry on mass, I don’t feel we now have the opportunity of being the lead strategy or creative agencies, an area that five or six years ago I thought we could own.”

“We have to be smarter and not go head to head with creative agencies who are more creative and management consultancies who arguably are more strategic from a business standpoint.”

David sees a better ‘on ramp’ to those larger CMO budgets, now being an area that is often dismissed – marketing automation.

The opportunity: marketing automation tools and technology – such as Marketo (purchased by Adobe for $4bn) and HubSpot – that is now more fundamental in how companies are managing their relationships with customers and partners and managing their outreach to prospects and customers.

“At their heart is placing different content in front of different people in different channels – that seems a natural area that PR can play.”

In the news I share my take-outs from the 2019 University of Southern California Annenberg Centre for Public Relations 2019 Global Communications Report which this year is titled PR:Tech.

Timely following the release of my PR Tech Tools Ecosystem, this year’s survey – of more than 1500 PR practitioners and this year for the first time 200 CEOs – focuses specifically the increasing impact of technology on improving (not replacing) the practice of public relations.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 15 – James Wright’s Red Sky Predictions

Evolving role of influencers, social networks becoming increasingly attentive to their broader role in society, and the continued rise of voice are just a few of the forecast trends discussed in Red Agency’s recently released 2019 Red Sky Predictions Report.

In this episode, Global Chairman of Havas PR Collective and CEO of Havas PR for North America, James Wright, takes us through this look at the top 10 trends predicted to hit the Australian communications landscape in 2019.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

James is a well-recognised face in the Australian PR landscape, having spearheaded the growth and reputation of the Red Agency. I catchup with James on how he’s found the New York market since landing in January. Apart from the obvious – bloody cold; he shares his experience to date – higher budgets, a much deeper media landscape and bigger businesses.

We then jump into the Red Sky Predictions report which focuses on Australia, but James hopes to take global in the near future. Some of the trends we discuss include:

Social platforms becoming society platforms as they become increasingly mindful of their role in society: There is ever greater pressure on social platforms to take an increased responsibility to monitor and administer public safety: whether in terms of detection of public threats; or health and wellness around screen time; or social bullying and data privacy. And contrary to many media reports, James is already seeing a shift in approach by major social networks, as they move to better ensure they are looking after the huge numbers of people that are on their platforms.

Defining the role of influences: We’ve always had influencers in some way – whether celebrity, a blogger, a journalist. But James explains that today, brands are now using influencer marketing more strategically to drive a brand narrative. James describes the emergence three new categories of influencers – co-creators (work together to co-create a piece of content); distributors (those with access to an audience that you want to reach); and narrators (offer a media appeal outside of social networks; and used in owned media as a trusted brand representative).

Quality journalism to rise again: There will be a continued migration back to trusted information. Newspapers have become brands in themselves and the report predicts 2019 will see a renaissance in investigative journalism as publishers reinvest in the traditional business model that will increasingly attract increasingly larger audiences. And for James, such journalism is a cornerstone of the democratised world in keeping politicians and organisations accountable.

The rise of ‘ears in’ generation: Voice has made a huge impact in the past year.  Everyone today has their headphones in – millennials spend 40 hours a week with their headphones on. At the same time, we are also talking more – not just to each other but to devices – think Alexa. And this is only going to grow as it is only at its infancy.

Check out the report for all 10 predictions for 2019.

In the news this episode I recap on two of the sessions that resonated with me at the recent 2019 Mumbrella CommsCon – the rise of the slow movement and the need for the PR sector to get more serious about mental health and wellness.

BLOG: My lessons from a PR podcast start-up

A decade ago we discovered the simplicity of music streaming with the likes of Spotify. Then came Netflix and the joys of bingeing on TV shows and movies. Today it is the turn of podcasting with Forbes declaring 2019 the year of audio.

In Australia, there are more than 3.5 million regular podcast listeners and those listeners tend to be more affluent. Research shows they spend 39% more than average on cars, 37% more on entertainment and 33% more on holidays.

There’s a podcast for every topic: cooking, crime, comedy. I even recently started my own podcast on public relations. And there’s a podcast for every occasion: commuting, cooking, exercising or driving.

Podcasting hit the headlines in Australia late last year when ABC podcast Trace exposed new information that saw the Victorian Coroner reopen the investigation into the murder of Melbourne bookshop owner Maria James.

There is also a real opportunity for brands to tap into this rising demand and use the unique power of podcasting to connect with highly engaged listeners directly.

Here’s five reasons why organisations should use podcasts as part of their communication mix:

  1. Put a face (or at least a voice) to the brand and tell your story in your own words
  2. Build trust by sharing your knowledge and expertise  
  3. Educate your audiences on themes, issues, opportunities
  4. Access a new touchpoint in the marketing funnel by capturing prospects when and where they want to be reached
  5. Create branded content that drives SEO/SEM activity

The great thing about podcasts is it doesn’t have to be too expensive. Of course, you can hire a studio and make it professional but often a bit of uncut personality comes off more authentic.

Here are ten tools to help you create your own podcast on a budget:

  1. You can record podcasts using tools such as skype or zencaster
  2. You can easily edit the podcast, overlay sound tracks and add sound effects using audacity or garageband
  3. You can host your podcast on platforms such as and share via itunes and soundcloud
  4. Republish your podcast on youtube by using repurpose
  5. Syndicate your podcast on platforms such as whooshkaa or libsyn to reach a broad audience

It is easy to see why podcasting has become a passion for both creators and listeners.

This blog first appeared on honner.com.au

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 14 – The Financial Soulmate

Numbers, budgeting and forecasting are not normally the natural domain for PR professionals. However, if you’ve ever worked in an agency there is one thing we certainly know well – timesheets. But is filling out timesheets and billing our services at an hourly rate devaluing the work we do as a profession?

In this episode I speak to Financial Soulmate for creative agencies, Kathryn Williams, about a different approach to pricing: Value Based Pricing.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

Timesheets are not unique to public relations. They are used by lawyers, accountants and management consultants just to name a few. However, according to Kathryn where we fall down in MarComms is we are generally not left brain enough to record our hours properly and take them seriously. But if this is the way we sell ourselves then it IS very serious.

Kathryn wrote this recent blog on Value Based Pricing that piqued my interest. At its core Value Based Pricing looks at what is the ultimate value of a piece of work for a client. It is about looking at what I am giving not what I am going to do and how long it will take. Instead of tracking hours or widgets you are tracking deliverables.

Timesheets are not necessarily broken, she says, they just need to be managed with respect.

The reliance on timesheets also hides the facts there are many other modes of pricing: time, commission, mark up, and Value Based Pricing would be another.

Value Based Pricing should cover your costs as well as recognise the value you are delivering to the client. Kathryn outlines three steps to implementing a Value Based Pricing approach:

  1. Decide you are going to give Value Based Pricing a go;
  2. Identify the metrics or targets that are meaningful for the client;
  3. Assign a value (a price) to those metrics (this will be based on what will the market bear and your confidence).

Introducing Value Based Pricing has flow on effects across an agency. According to Kathryn a lot more agencies are now also hiring from the top down, staffing up based on demand. This fits with the uber-isation of the workforce where talent moves more often and more freely, particularly in our sector where freelancers are widely available. It becomes much more efficient to staff up from a strong pool of freelancers and that could be local or offshore resources.

Although it has been around for a long time this is very much a new space for many agencies. We are not going to see the end of timesheets, rather it should add and complement to the way we bill and ultimately make agencies more efficient and profitable.

Kathryn gives some great one-liners throughout the podcast, here’s a few of my favourites:

  • We are talking about how a firm manages its most important asset – its people.
  • We continue to give more away and not value ourselves.
  • It is about the ROI and the business outcome – not what we do; but rather what we achieve.
  • There are thousands of dollars a month left on the floor – look for ways to bill that properly or not spend not so long on the job if we have delivered what we promised.
  • Every member of staff should understand the impact of poor timesheets.

In the news this episode a brief discussion on the Public Relations Tech Ecosystem that I released earlier this month.

The technology underpinning the practice of public relations continues to change and evolve and this tool maps the technology ecosystem across 8 different areas of PR practice. It gives practitioners a starting point for what tech tools are out there and I hope it can be shared and added to as this is an area that will continue to evolve and change in coming years.

BLOG: The PR tech ecosystem

Mapping the PR technology landscape

The PR tech toolkit is rapidly changing – from media monitoring to reporting and web analytics, the breadth of tools PR practitioners now need to master is growing exponentially.

As such I am thrilled to launch the Public Relations Tech Ecosystem. Designed specifically for Australian PR practitioners, the ecosystem outlines technology tools across eight core areas of PR practice.

Google Analytics, Factiva and Skype may today be common in everyday practice, but increasingly new tools are appearing to facilitate everything from Video Creation (Shootsta), Social analytics (SimilarWeb) to media engagement (Public Address) and internal collaboration (Slack).

This ecosystem is designed to provide practitioners with a thorough overview of existing and emerging tools designed to support the practice of public relations.

It can be a challenging landscape to navigate but each of these tools is designed to help make the practice of public relations more effective and efficient so the opportunity is for practitioners to embrace the tools that will help achieve this.

The ecosystem will continue to evolve and grow and input is welcome on ones that may be worth adding  

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 13 – modernising media relations

Reports of the death of media relations have been greatly exaggerated.

According to practitioner and entrepreneur, Shane Allison, media relations accounted for 51% of agency revenues in 2018. As such it remains a core skill for PR professionals, but in many ways the way we practice media relations has not evolved from when we used fax machines to reach journalists.

Shane has launched a new platform, Public Address, bringing much needed innovation and technology to improve the practice of media relations and help remove the friction that can exist between PR practitioners and journalists.

Listen here or download on iTunes

In this episode, Shane supports the view of David Skapinker in Smoke Signal episode 8 that there are now more journalists and media outlets than ever before.

As a profession we’ve gone from interacting with 2500 media outlets in 2013 to nearly 5000 media outlets today. In the same time we’ve seen nearly 1000 journalists added to the population of journalists.

As Shane puts it: “You look at that explosion of media outlets you understand why the PR is struggling to meet the needs of journalists. There are so many different titles and outlets that we need to be communicating with, and pitching to, on a daily basis.

“As a result we have never been busier as an industry. The number of people employed in PR has doubled in the last 8 years… We are putting more and more resources to get the same impact as we would have done five years ago with a placement in mainstream media… So the net effect for the PR profession has been declining productivity.”

For Shane, the PR profession has often confused innovation with diversification. So we’ve innovated by diversifying away from media relations – we’ve introduced video, social, content creation, community management among other skills. But, in Shane’s view, that is now holding us back, we need to come back to our core and ask how we innovate in this core skill of media relations.

Shane is excited about what he sees as the imminent golden age of media relations in a time when media relations has never been more valuable for brands  – the process can be improved and evolve but the discipline will remain at the core of what we do.

In the news

Earlier this month I attended the launch of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. In the news this episode I discuss three of the key findings:

  1. Media is becoming more trusted than ever
  2. Trust in social media as a source of news and information continues to be persistently low, especially in Australia
  3. A trust gap has arisen between men and women – women are less trusting

Take a listen and you can view the full results here.

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