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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.

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.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 12 – Dr Happy

With it being that time of year when we are getting back to work, I thought it would be timely to speak to an expert about how we can stay positive as our holidays quickly fade into the memory.

Who better than Dr Happy! Listen here or download on iTunes

Dr Tim Sharp has two great titles – Dr Happy and Chief Happiness Officer of the Happiness Institute. Tim is an academic, an author, an executive coach, a podcaster and a brand ambassador.

He approaches mental health and wellness from a positive psychology perspective – how can we all thrive and flourish.

The key to happiness is to make it tangible (what is happiness to me) and to have a plan of how you’ll get there (just like losing weight or saving for a holiday).

Hand in hand with happiness comes resilience. Because sh&t happens. No matter how happy you are, in the real world things happen that are outside of your control, and it takes strength to bounce back from these challenges.

The main attributes of resilient people: they keep looking at light at end of tunnel rather than losing hope; they take care of their physical health during the difficult times; they are positive; and they have strong relationships and ask for help when they need it.

Organisations can be happy too

One of the myths about happiness is it is just about feeling good; however, meaning and purpose are also important.

For organisations, a sense of purpose is vitally important for attraction, retention and engagement of staff. Research shows those organisations with purpose outperform.

And while Brand Purpose been the PR a buzzword in 2018, Dr Happy provides a timely reminder that  a lot of these concepts have been around a long time – the language changes over the years but the main concepts have been consistent; what we are seeing is stronger research to support these concepts.

And as we await the findings from the Royal Commission into Banking, Dr Tim Sharp’s advice for the banks and other large institutions whose reputation has been impacted – get back to basic principles and values of purpose and trust. And most importantly, make sure the day to day behaviours of the organisation match these values.

The challenge:  whether it’s a small PR firm with 10 staff or a big bank with 30,000 employees, creating cultural change is easier said than done as the reality is more complex than theory.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 11 – Is PR true to label?

Throughout 2018 I’ve had the opportunity to interview a range of interesting people across the PR profession. One question I’ve asked them all is: Does the term public relations adequately describe what we as professionals do today?

The term PR often comes with negative connotations around spin and dishonesty. It is one of the reasons I named this podcast Smoke Signal – as PR is often clouded in mystery and not well understood.

In the final episode of 2018 I bring together responses from across the spectrum.

Listen here or download on iTunes

Some, such as UK pracademic Andy Green, see the writing on the wall for the term “PR” unless we do something about it, and quickly. While others like PR Warrior Trevor Young and HSPR’s Sarah Mason are sticking strong to the old school definition, seeing relations a key word describing what we do.

I tend to agree with the latter, but it is an open debate and one that continues not just locally, but globally.

In the news on this episode of Smoke Signal, I discuss one of the many 2019 outlook pieces out there. This one, by social media monitoring platform Talkwalker, looks at the 12 social media trends that  will impact PR and marketing in 2019.

The rise of data, ongoing technological innovation and dramatic societal changes will be felt in 2019.

Here’s a link to the report and take a listen to the podcast for the trends I found particularly interesting.

*Image attribution © AdobeStock/canbedone

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 10 – A look inside the fast-paced world of consumer PR

In this episode we delve into the world of Consumer PR with Bessie Hassan – Head of PR Australia at finder.com.au.

Listen here or download on iTunes

Finder compares everything from personal loans to pet insurance and Bessie is charged with engaging individuals on a topic that is not always top of mind – finance.

The trick – understanding the readers are just like ‘me’ – they want helpful advice in simple language.

We discuss some of the current buzzwords and what these mean for consumer PR professionals:

  • Content Marketing: Brands need to be targeting audiences from all angles – video, facebook, blogs and the more the better. Experiment, look for ways to reach new audiences in new ways – and those ways are constantly changing.
  • Thought leadership: This means coming out with an opinion but it needs to be genuine. Ultimately, it needs to be something that is different, that is going to change the industry you are working in.
  • Influencer marketing: It needs to again, form part of an integrated approach. You want a genuine relationship that is well aligned and that will work in the long term.
  • Creativity: To stand out you need to not be afraid to try something new.
  • Brand purpose: Once you do have that clear purpose you are becoming a brand that customers and employees are not just buying, but are buying into, and that is how brands move to the next level.
  • Measurement: creating a dashboard of metrics to show how PR is helping to achieve real business goals.

Bessie is an accomplished journalist and also shares some great lessons of her career journey.

In the news this episode I discuss a new report from the University of Southern California Annenberg Centre for Public Relations – the 2019 Relevance Report.

The Report is a compilation of contributed articles from leading industry academics and practitioners. Each article gives a snapshot of a trend or issue that is likely to impact the public relations profession in 2019.

The introduction is cleverly titled Fast Froward, playing on the ongoing pace of change the industry has experienced over the past 12 months. The report states that this change has been driven by five T’s. Technology, transformation, transgression, turmoil, and of course, Trump.

According to USC’s Global Communication Report – a report conducted in conjunction with the Holmes Report and discussed in Episode 3 – 75% of communications professionals believe this dramatic pace of change will continue well into the future.

“As the communications report becomes more complex, PR executives must become more sophisticated. Reading the USC Relevance Report is one way to do that.”

I recommend you download and have a read here

BLOG: You don’t know what its got till its gone…

Trust is a fundamental pillar of society. But it is broken.

Last week I heard a speech by Richard Harris, the anaesthetist who was a central figure in the Thai cave rescue, helping to sedate the stricken boys before they dived into the water to exit the flooded cave.

Here was the ultimate act of trust. These boys, their families, the world, put their trust into the hands of Dr Harris and his peers. And an amazing result, or what most, including Dr Harris, have described as a miracle, was achieved.

But in the age of Trump and fake news, trust, it seems, is broken – trust in media, in governments, and in organisations is at an all-time low.

A Roy Morgan research poll this week found the most trusted brand in Australia is Aldi – a German supermarket chain.

Top 10 trusted brands

Aldi entered Australia in the early 2000s to disrupt the Coles and Woolworths grocery duopoly and has earned this trusted position for the simple reason it does what it says it will – deliver quality products at a lower price by switching big brands for home brands and focusing less on marketing, merchandising and loyalty programs and more on customer satisfaction.

Bunnings, with its lowest prices guaranteed, and ING, delivering simple, straightforward products, and Qantas, with its commitment to safety, service and reliability, all made Roy Morgan’s latest list of the top 10 most trusted brands. They did so by living and breathing their brand promise.

Trust is an interesting concept as it is both rational and emotional. It is something we think but also feel. Why do we believe (or not believe) online reviews? Why are we comfortable with Uber and getting into cars with strangers? Or using Airbnb to rent houses from strangers? Or going on dates with someone we’ve only “met” on an app?

The thing about trust is that it is hard to earn but can be easy to lose. Or put another way, it’s easier to maintain trust than restore it.

Take my brother-in-law, for example. He had his business, home and both cars insured with NRMA and had been a loyal customer for 26 years. He had trusted (as clearly do many Australians, given  NRMA is also among the top 10 most trusted brands) that he was getting a good deal. So he was surprised when he recently got his car insurance renewal from NRMA and it was $200 more expensive than the previous year. A fair hike in anyone’s book.

After calling the NRMA and pleading his case he was told there was nothing it could do, so he rang around and found an alternate car insurance policy for $480 cheaper. That’s right, $480. Suffice to say he won’t be so trusting of NRMA anytime soon.

Trust is earned by not only doing what you say, but doing it consistently and for all. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for our politicians too.

The Roy Morgan survey not only looks at the most trusted brands but also the brands with the largest distrust scores. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the royal commission into banking and financial services and ongoing negative headlines, AMP and the big four banks have some of the biggest distrust scores.

The inaugural Deloitte Trust Index launched this week found that only 20 per cent of Australians believe that banks in general are ethical – that they do what is good, right and fair.

Trust doesn’t discriminate, either. Facebook, among the world’s most valuable brands, is also on this least trusted list. The issues of the past year have hit its brand hard. Privacy and data protection are now at the forefront in the minds of many users.

So why does trust matter? RBA Governor Philip Lowe put it bluntly when he said this week: “Our economy, and our society, works best when there are high levels of trust.”

For organisations, trust is rewarded with loyalty and conversely, Roy Morgan says, distrust can lead to customer churn and loss of market share, and it is a bellwether for an unsustainable future.

The bottom line: if I trust a brand I am more likely to buy it time and time again, and perhaps even more important, recommend it to others. It’s the barbecue effect. And in case your wondering, my wife does our shopping and chooses our insurance. I suppose that means she’s the only one I trust.

This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald / The Age on 25 November 2018.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 9 – Respectful Disrupter

The title on Alan VanderMolen’s bio is Respectful Disrupter – in his words, our industry, and the environment in which clients operate, is being greatly disrupted by technology. At the same time, we’ve seen the massive disruption in the media ecosystem. So in that environment, Alan’s role at WE Communication is to disrupt the agency’s business model to make sure it is keeping pace with the external environment.

Alan was in Australia recently to launch WE Communications second global Brands in Motion research.

Listen here or download on iTunes

The research challenges the traditional concept of brand perception as a static indicator, by arguing that all brands are constantly in motion – either driven by, or inspired by, technology.

In this episode, Alan, takes us through a few of the key findings:

Consumers still want a high level of innovation. However, given real concerns about data security consumers are getting nervous about the pace of innovation and now expect brands to use technology and innovate ethically and responsibly

Consumers and B2B decision makers are defaulting to rationality. That is, show me, prove it, versus tell me. Consumers have become increasingly weary of being talked to, and marketed at, and want to be engaged with.

Consumers have become binary. They tend to love you or loathe you, there is not a lot of in between and that has been a big change over the last 12 months. In this environment, it is more difficult for brands to be consistently loved.

On the hot topic of brand purpose, 72% of respondents think it is important for brands to take a stand on important issues. There is a nuance to that – the brand has to have permission to take that stand. Permission is given by having a good product or service from an organisation that is operating ethically and responsibly – then consumers are  very interested in the brand having a purpose. In other words, brands need to start with do – do what they say will do; move to the how – act in a way that meets community expectations; and then end with the why – the broader purpose of the business.

So what it means for PR professionals? For Alan, this represents a call to action for PR professionals to take responsibility for the moral and ethical behaviour of brands and not just be focused on promoting products and services.

Beyond the research Alan believes the future for the profession is a positive one. As issues become more real time and more transparent, the communications function will re-establish itself in the C-Suite. We’ve seen communications subsumed to marketing in the past three to five years but that trend is reversing. Alan believes you will see communication re-emerge primarily because there is a massive call for responsibility and ethics to be embedded in innovation and that is clearly the domain of PR versus marketing.

In the news this episode, I share another survey that follows on from Brands in Motion. Global Creative Agency Future Brand recently released the 2018 Future Brand Index .

The Index looks at the world’s 100 largest companies and ranks by brand perception two key trends to emerge:

  1. A strong corporate purpose and better experiences are key to those brands who outperformed; and
  2. Surprisingly it is not necessarily the ”new era” brands of Apple, Amazon or Netflix that dominate the rankings.

Actually this year it was Walt Disney Company that ranked number one in the company – despite being the 51st largest company in terms of market capitalisation. It proves established companies can cut though even in this time of continuous change and upheaval.

There’s a good Echo Chamber podcast from the Holmes Report featuring Future Brand’s chief strategy officer Jon Tipple, if you want to hear more about the research.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 7 – Jim Macnamara Keep Learning

“Distinguished Professor of Public Communication at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) former journalist, PR practitioner and media researcher” – Jim Macnamara’s twitter profile was the briefest descriptor I could find to summarise the career of Jim who started as a journalist; has worked in agencies; owned and sold his own business; is a published author; award winning researcher; and today a Distinguished Professor at UTS.

I’ve had the privilege of being both a student of Jim’s during my Masters of Public Communication and a colleague when working as a casual tutor and lecturer at UTS. I am excited to have Jim as a guest on this episode of Smoke Signal.

Listen here or download on iTunes

In the field of Public Communications Jim has many passions (he truly believes society is communication) and among other things I was thrilled to talk about three of them in this podcast: education; measurement and evaluation; and organisational listening

The changing face of PR education

After months of research and feedback from industry bodies, agencies and alumni, UTS has recently unveiled two new Public Communications Masters degrees – Master of Strategic Communication and Executive Master of Strategic Communication. The former is for recent graduates and international students with little or no working experience; the latter is for working professionals and delivers advanced learning that applies back to their roles.

The degrees will include a lot of new material such as digital media; creativity and innovation; communication and media law; and research to understand audiences.

However, Jim is quick to point out education today is more than just sharing knowledge or what you can teach students today but rather is about creating an environment that gives students a life-long thirst for learning. Helping them be open to others, to be flexible, to be creative. These skills are what will help practitioners be able to adapt to new technologies, new challenges and new opportunities.

When it comes to Strategic Communication, Jim firmly believes it is important for students, and practitioners, to think more holistically. It shouldn’t matter if it is paid, owned, shared or earned. Practitioners of the future will not sit in silos but rather use whatever means is most appropriate/effective to solve a communication issue and reach and engage stakeholders.

Measurement and evaluation

Jim has worked with the PRIA, AMEC, the UK Government and the European Commission and the US Standards body and strongly believes, echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln, that the need for measurement and evaluation should be self-evident.

However, he realises the industry has lagged in this area for years and this is often because the majority of practitioners are creative people and measurement requires a more pragmatic approach.

For Jim, this needs to change. And the reason? Because until we measure outcomes, PR is simply a cost centre, not a value-adding centre.

And there is no excuse, as there are many many methods to measure from low cost and simple through to sophisticated, but it requires practitioners to build their knowledge.

Brexit didn’t surprise me as the government wasn’t listening

We’ve treated communication for many years as disseminating organisational messages but the reality is we need to do more listening, as that is the only way to regenerate the continuing falling trust in organisations.

Jim is in the midst of an international research project looking at communication in 55 organisations globally, looking at how often they are talking, i.e. disseminating messages, versus how often they are listening to their stakeholders. The shocking conclusion is that 80-95% of what we call corporate communications is actually putting out information and messages from the organisation

For Jim, if the UK Government had listened they would have seen Brexit coming.

Jim sees a great opportunity for tomorrow’s practitioners to shift strategic communication from mass, top down communication. The reality is, Millennial and Gen Z don’t tolerate that approach and organisations, and communicators, are struggling to adapt with a new generation that is more educated, that want to be listened to, want to be involved, want to participate and want to have a say. The organisations that do adapt and engage in true communications will be very successful.

Following the discussion with Jim, in the news this episode I look at the recent investigative series into the state of journalism by Mumbrella. The statistic that just one quarter of journalism grads find a job in media was one that resonated with me.

I have long been concerned that while journalism courses continue to rise in popularity, and universities continue to pump our journalism grads, the number of journalist roles is falling. So where will they all go? This, to me, this is an issue not just for the journalism profession or PR practitioners but society more broadly as we should be encouraging and supporting the next generation of journalists.

 

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 6 – A chat with the new PRIA National President

In this episode I speak to newly appointed National President of the Public Relations Institute of Australia – Sylvia Bell.

Listen here or subscribe via iTunes

“It is a really important industry in that it gives voice to people, issues and programs that otherwise wouldn’t happen”

Sylvia, who originally studied science, has for the past two decades worked in both in-house and consulting roles across the education, health and sciences sector.

As a former member on the NSW PRIA Council, a fellow of PRIA and Chief Judge of the Golden Target Awards for the past two years, Sylvia brings a deep knowledge and passion for the industry.

Sylvia has a clear mission in her role as PRIA President;  to advocate for the profession and be an authentic voice for the trends emerging in communications not only among the direct membership but the broader corporate community.

In this podcast, Sylvia also discusses:

  • Her commitment to continuing to build a PRIA community of practice, providing education and networking opportunities for practitioners at all levels.
  • The importance of measurement and evaluation, citing the recently launched PRIA Measurement and Evaluation Framework to really measure the impact of your programs
  • The PRIA Professional Development Framework and how this could form the basis of a more formal designation in the future.
  • The value of Awards such as the Golden Target Awards in breeding an increase in quality across the profession.

In the news this week I recap the Cannes Lions Awards and discuss some of my favourite campaigns.

Blog: Taking inspiration from awards

The 2018 Cannes Lions Awards have been won and run for another year and it’s worth checking out some of the great campaigns and ideas.

Despite the ongoing debate and disappointment that many of the PR campaigns continue to be attributed to advertising agencies, there are some great ideas that are a tribute to the continued evolution of the practice of public relations.

Grand Prix Winner Trash Isles is clearly a great campaign, centred around the creative idea of transforming a pile of trash in the middle of the ocean into an officially recognised country – complete with a currency!

A few other personal favourites were:

  • Turning Beer into Water where Anheuser-Busch re-tooled its production line to produce canned water (rather than beer) to deliver fresh drinking water to people caught up in natural disasters from California to the Gulf Coast.
  • KFC ‘FCK’  where simply changing one letter in their name, and authentically responding to (literally) running out of chicken, turned a crisis into a great PR stunt.
  • The Most German Supermarket saw a German supermarket, to showcase the importance of diversity in this age of Trump and Brexit, open a store with groceries it would sell if they banned ingredients from other countries (i.e. not many)

As we’ve heard across a number of podcasts, creativity is an important currency for all PR practitioners. So awards like these provide a great source of inspiration to keep challenging the status quo.

Next month I’ll be judging the PRIA Golden Target Awards and look forward to seeing many great local campaigns.

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 5 – Creating a tribe of change makers

Why after 120 years don’t we have a universally accepted definition of public relations? According to UK pracademic (practitioner and academic) Andy Green it is because we have been asking the wrong question.

Andy is spearheading what has been called, The Dublin Conversation. As described in my earlier blog There’s something going on in the world of comms, this includes proposed definitions of PR, comms, advertising and brand and is a starting point for 100 conversations in 100 days.

Listen now or subscribe on iTunes

After seven years of struggling to arrive at a definition for public relations that was fit for purpose, Andy finally realised that previous thinking was blinkered in trying to define PR in isolation rather than as part of a bigger universe.

In this podcast, Andy discusses a new theoretic PR canvas, based on the work by Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman who identified that five things govern all social interaction – being known, liked, trusted, front of mind and being talked about.

According to Andy, and as detailed in the Dublin Conversation, these conditions form the foundation stone of any communication campaign as you are invariably looking to do these five things.

On that canvas – which we are all operating whether you are in public relations, advertising, digital marketing or any ‘comms’ role – there are then four channels of interaction: paid, earned, social, owned (PESO).

In this world of ‘comms’, advertising and PR work in polarity of each other with advertising being born out of the need to be known and PR out of the need to be trusted. In other words, advertising leads with paid (PESO) and PR has earned at its core (ESOP).

At the heart of PR is earned trust and PR five prime activities:

  1. Managing the activity of earning, growing and measuring trust
  2. Champion of corporate listening to its wider environment
  3. Advice and counsel on brand character
  4. Building social capital
  5. Managing narrative, storytelling, media relations, and content marketing or inbound PR

The reality of existing PR practice is that we tend to focus on the last point, so by broadening this out further creates a whole new extended platform of future PR practice

The good news, this validates existing global definitions of public relations but also gives us as practitioners greater clarity and focus on what we can/should deliver in practice and always with earned trust as the cornerstone of what we do.

Join the conversation here, or write a comment below. I look forward to the debate.

Blog: In an age of distrust; trust matters

A survey released by Roy Morgan last week found the ABC is by far Australia’s most trusted media organisation.

Trust in the ABC was driven by its lack of bias, quality journalism and ethics. It is an interesting result after further cuts to the ABC budget in the May Federal Budget and recent speculation that it may be privatised.

Roy Morgan spoke to 4000 Australians and asked then which brands they trust and which they distrust.

At the other end of the spectrum Facebook – and social media in general – is deeply distrusted by the Australian public.

Social Media has what Roy Morgan calls a Net Trust Score of minus 42%.

To put that in context, the banking industry, which has been battered by the Royal Commission, has a Net Trust Score of only minus 18 so that shows you the level of distrust in social media in an age when fake news has become a common meme.

Roy Morgan outlines 5 reasons why distrust matters:

  • Distrust triggers audience churn
  • Distrust kills audience engagement
  • Distrust kills advertiser spend
  • Distrust is the tipping point for reputational damage
  • Distrust is the bellweather for an unsustainable future

The Walkley Foundation in its recent submission to the ACCC digital media inquiry said: “Fake news is simply easier. Shaping a fake story takes less time than digging out true stories. In fact, it’s so simple that bots can do it. This means that the sheer volume of manufactured news overwhelms true news.”

However, the rise of fake news has eroded trust – especially in social media – and according to Roy Morgan the rise of distrust can have significant commercial implications.

 

 

BLOG: There’s something big going on in the world of Comms

You may not be aware but the very foundations on which public relations has been built is being discussed, debated and (potentially) redefined.

The Dublin Conversation, as it has been called, is a 100 day challenge (starting from May 22) to make sense of how public relations practice needs to evolve and change because “there has never been a more critical need for a redefined, revitalised and rejuvenated public relations”.

I’d encourage you to get involved here.

In a whitepaper to start the conversation, UK-based PR practitioner Andy Green, with help from numerous supporters, outlines seven steps to understand why the Dublin Conversation is needed. At a high level these are:

  1. What was previously an academic debate about ‘What is public relations?’ is now an urgent task for our society.
  2. You need to be looking from somewhere completely different to define ‘public relations’. It’s emergent.
  3. We have witnessed the emergence of the ‘Comms’ era and need to evolve the PESO model
  4. You cannot define ‘Public Relations’ in isolation – it exists and works in polarity with advertising
  5. Earned trust is the pivotal touchstone for public relations – and validates existing accepted definitions
  6. Public Relations activity is scoped by the process of earning trust
  7. It’s urgent. We need to begin an emergent, bottom-up conversation for change

And the goal at the end is to come up with a Dublin Definition on Public Relations which in its current (draft) form is:

Public relations is born out of the need to earn trust for any social interaction. Effective Public Relations creates better influence, relationships, reputation, social capital and word-of-mouth conversations.

Public Relations operates in a ‘Comms’ environment, working alongside advertising and other communication disciplines to achieve familiarity by making you more known, liked, trusted, front-of-mind, or being talked about through using Own, Shared, Earned, or Paid-for channels.

The goal is to encourage a bottom up debate to refine and evolve this draft definition, and debate and agree the underlying principles, with the outcome to be presented a major international PR conference in October in, you guessed it, Dublin.

The paper builds on current theoretical models, brings in new concepts and approaches and most importantly looks to link theory to practice.

There will no doubt be things in here you disagree with, things you may not have known, things you may not have thought about, or things you may have been championing for many years.

For every practitioner, there is a clear call to action to get the Dublin Conversation going:

  1. Reflect on what you currently define as ‘public relations’. Compare and contrast with the draft Dublin Definitions
  2. If you have new feelings, insights or ideas share them at www.prplace.com
  3. Spread the word. Tell at least two people.

I hope at least two people reading this put their views forward. I am certainly be adding my views and I am excited to see how this debate evolves.

 

A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 4 – Continuing Education

At its core, public relations is a set of vocational skills that can best be learnt by doing, that is the view of Sarah Mason who shares with us the mission of HSPR in helping improve the professional standards of the PR industry.

Listen below or subscribe on iTunes

HSPR is the only Registered Training Organisation dedicated to the PR sector and helps deliver professional development to emerging practitioners, career progressors, senior executives and career changes who may be coming to PR for the first time later in life.

Sarah has a clear passion for the professionalisation of the PR sector which she believes will  help attract a more diverse workforce, new ideas, new thinking, new perspectives and help keep good practitioners in the industry longer by supporting them to do great work.

In this discussion we touch on:

What makes a good grad: It is all about attitude and a willingness to keep learning

How to teach ethics: It’s common sense – do as you would be done by and be true to yourself

Skills that as an industry that we need to get better at: Creative thinking is our industry’s currency. Creativity is really the only thing that can differentiate us

Diversity: We need to step out of our echo chamber and build a deeper understanding of our audience we are speaking to

Digital and social: Our skillset remains the same just broadening opportunity to engage directly with stakeholders

You can find our more about HSPR and its courses here and follow Sarah Mason on LinkedIn

And do you believe PR is a Bullshit Job?

In the news this episode I look at a new book by David Graeber, an anthropology professor at the London School of Economics, who says over half of all jobs today – including PR – are BS jobs.

 

 

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