digital communications

Thought Leadership, Google & the Digital Guardian

PRA Public Relations thought leadership Google digital guardian


There's been a lot of change happening in the world of communications, much of it is affecting two issues near and dear to my heart:  

1.  My client's thought leadership

2.  The swiftly-evolving landscape of marketing, and the expansion of paid content.

Last week had some serendipity happening, in that several incidents converged and prodded me to give some thought to our evolving communications marketplace, and the changing roles of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned Media*.  Here's the outcome:

Three Things Happened

1.  Top Media Access for Almost No Money

Yet again, someone called and wanted to be featured in the New York Times for a grand total investment of $500.  I responded in my usual fashion; thanking them politely for contacting me, sending on some free DIY reading materials, then hanging up and having a small fit.  Again.

2.  Yet, Someone is Doing This

A number of someones, apparently, as a partner of mine mentioned one of several companies that provide "cooked to order" articles in top publications, for the cost of most New York agency's lunch meetings.  While this has been part of the landscape for quite some time, I'm seeing a proliferation tipping point.

3.  I had my Bias Surgically Removed

By this, I meant I stepped back and took a hard look at the industry and its changes.  I need to stop automatically dismissing, and start thinking about this here-to-stay member of the marketing ecosystem.

Here is What I Saw, This is What I Think

Yes, indeed, the change in access to top publications has opened dramatically.  Content networks, and agencies focused on providing client-vetted articles to "top outlets" has proliferated, and this is not anything new.  

Democratic Ecosystem

It is part of the very democratic ecosystem that allows enterprises and thought leaders to get their messages out in the marketplace in a controlled manner.  From dialogue across social platforms, to paid-message positioning and paid amplification, the enterprise is now also the gatekeeper.  This is an excellent thing, as elbow grease and budget can now allow companies and their founders to drive their market dialogue.

The Slippery Slope Downside:  Third Person Credibility

There is a caveat however; institutions, conventions, media and markets are in many ways like a luxury car or fine jewelry:  these things only hold their value if the market consensus agrees there is value; and one of the hallmarks of value is quality and rarity.

To put it bluntly, if anyone with the price of a weekend trip to the beach can be featured in a top business magazine, then what is the value of that coverage in the publication?

Right.  Not much.  So, what protects the asset value of true earned media, the independent coverage of an issue, executive or company, by a credentialed journalist when favorable coverage and low-cost interviews are readily available?

PRA Public Relations Google Digital Marketing

Google:  Thought Leadership's Digital Guardian

While Google means many things in the marketing universe, for the discipline of public relations and its role as conveyor of thought leadership, Google has emerged as ultimate boundary and gate-keeper.  It ranks and reveals quality content, and pushes away the also-rans (which is why some of my client's coverage outranks even their website; a powerful earned media placement carries significant gravitas in the search world).

Why is Google the thought leadership gatekeeper?  Because it needs to retain its role as unbiased source of legitimate search.  Allowing search to be impacted by paid-placement media results ultimately lowers the confidence of the consumer in Google ranking and results.  An earlier post of ours takes a look at the power of Google, SEO and public relations.

This is content which is featured "as seen in" on company websites cannot be found in search.  Google won't index independent content, as it impacts credibility.  And that is an issue as critical for thought leaders and enterprises as it is for the world's foremost search engine.  Which means, in my humble opinion, the need for journalists, and independent news coverage, is here to stay.  But so are the other communication strategies.

What does all of this boil down to?  Here's what I decided

Pam's Three Laws of Thought Leadership Immutability

1. Original, Visionary Thinking Always Needed

Leaders of companies and causes lead precisely because they see pain points, solutions, big pictures, and are often the very first to see things in a fresh new light.  Society needs them; we most especially need to hear what they have to say, and read their words.  The role of the public relations expert is to help them get their words out to a larger world.  This need will never change.

2.  The Market Decides. Always

Marketplaces are peculiar things.  On a collective level, there is a continual surge and recede as solutions, products, trends and thinking are adopted and discarded.  If prestigious publications are flooded with paid content, it is highly likely the market will decide the publication is not as prestigious, or more importantly, credible**. It is no accident that media outlets considered to be "authentic" have seen extraordinary rise in readership and revenues; it is a natural reaction to the rising tide of paid and opinion-driven content being served across all channels.  So, yes, paid content is valuable, and will largely find a receptive audience.  But issues such as credibility and trust will belong to what they perceive as independent media coverage.

3. There is a Time and a Place

The reality is the marketplace - and marketing industry - needs a smart mix of ALL the channels, paid and earned.  While there is tremendous benefit to having an independent journalist cover an executive's forward thinking, or a company's breaking news, the reality is paid marketing content is critical for sustained, managed engagement with the consumer.

My course of action for my clients is to keep these channels separate and distinct.  Do not try and pass off a paid placement, advertorial or other controlled content as the work of an independent, credible journalist.  Both Google and your market community will look askance.  DO, however, use the paid and and PR channel mix to carry a blend of strategic messages and market touch-points across social, digital and media channels, ultimately connecting with your customer in a fluid, seamless and  multi-channel way.

*At the crux of this change is a topic I've written about previously:  PESO - the strategic combination of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media channels, and their impact on both the brand and the position of company executive leadership.  

**This research summary provides a valuable look into consumers'relationship with the media.


New York Magazine: The Extraordinary, Inward-Facing Lens

The brutally candid survey, and what it says about us

New York magazine undertook a deep-dive survey into the heart, soul, psyche and habits of American journalists, and emerged with a revealing portrait, the reading consumers.

Not on purpose, by any means,  The research, "The Case Against The Media.  By The Media" is a survey-and-summary driven look of the forces propelling journalism today, and the ways in which the writers' feel accountable. 

The reporting take a thorough look at how journalists are responding to the influx of social media and channel choices in covering the news, how the craving for highly-clickable headlines interferes with broader news coverage, the (almost) inability to provide in-depth coverage within a seconds-to-publish news cycle, and, as you guessed, and how the drive to profitability in a competitive news consumption marketplace has replaced deep news reporting with a "give the customers what they want" mentality.

The lessons to be learned from this survey and self-examination by the fourth estate are eye-opening, much more for consumers of the news, than those of produce it.  Doubly so for those of tasked with a role in the creation of it - the communicators.

While the journalists' interviewed held themselves mercilessly accountable for current media coverage trends, the rest of us need to take heed.

When it comes to creation of a better news and media product, it's upon the consumer to drive healthy content demand, not the journalist to force us to eat our editorial "vegetables."

Ironically, trust in the news-making institution is at an all-time low (only 21% of the public "trust" TV news these days), at the same time the media are giving us more of what we want then ever before:  irresistible content.

Competition, in the form of channel proliferation, the rise of social media as a news-capturing tool, has given consumers greater choice.  And our choice, demonstrated by our clicks and viewership, are snack-worthy headlines centered around scandal, personal and professional misconduct, celebrity doings and more.  We can do better, can't we?

As a consumer, the role I can play in turning this trend around is to simply be more mindful of what news I choose to consume.  The number one step to take?

Think before we click. 

This simple step will go far in re-directing the national flow of news away from the sensational, and back towards substance.

But, wait.  I'm a communicator first, which tasks me with a double-duty:  to create as responsibly as I consume, for myself and my clients.

So, it's  upon us to ensure accuracy in all we portray of our clients to the media, and to work tirelessly to elevate the media conversation towards the larger platform of thought leadership and market impact.

Insightful briefs on the topics driving technology and industry.  Informative articles that explain, not sale.  Working in tandem with our clients, we have the unique ability to drive accurate,  quality conversation in the marketplace of news and media coverage, to the betterment of their business as well as the quality of media content.

The irony is not only is this more fascinating reading for technology, business and consumer alike, it's a greater benefit for the industry, a more compelling look at issues over product features, and a chance to let journalists do what they do best:  report the news and issues of the day. 

Which in turn gives:

  •  Readers a more compelling reason to click and consume;
  • Business leaders a clear call to share their knowledge and insight;
  • Journalists the chance to shine.

A win-win for all involved.

So, I say "kudos" to New York magazine, andto the journalists willing to speak so frankly and with such high accountability. 

Now let's do our part as communicators and consumers to drive demand for the insightful, balanced news coverage those media professionals are chomping at the bit to produce, and that consumers are willing, ready and eager to read.




Digital Transformation: The Call to Action

Digital Transformation credit CMSWire

Educate.  Inspire.  Nudge.

The always-amazing Altimeter Group's Brian Solis has shared his thoughts around digital transformation and the need to embrace change.

I couldn't help but think this call to accept digital transformation is equally at home in the broad technology world as it is in the world of communications.  All of marketing has changed, none more so than public relations itself.  Time-honored and relationship-driven, many people still think of "PR" as an old-school press release-and-publicity gambit.

Luckily, not so much these days.  Data, thought leadership, the credible-content preferences of search and the digital and social media marketer's need for original content to power their campaigns means public relations is increasingly a foundation for many enterprise marketing initiatives.

Even the name has changed, earned media, to differentiate its role as independent, non-paid promoted content in the marketing channel.  See our overview of SEO and digital to explain more of this.

So, much as this report offers a call-to-action to embrace digital transformation, we work daily in our profession to educate, inspire, and yes, even nag, to get people to embrace the new, digital, thought leadership reality of PR.

Trend Report:  Digital Transformation

Credit:  CMSWire 2016