Nov 022015
Salesforce Analytics Cloud

The Public Relations industry has been mismeasured and undervalued, believes Rebekah Iliff, the Chief Strategy Officer of PR analytics company AirPR.

San Francisco based AirPR is an analytics company founded in 2011 on technology tracking the performance of PR campaigns. Despite being relatively young, the business counts among its customers Fortune 1000 companies such as Rackspace, Experian and the New York Stock Exchange.

Analysing stories

The idea behind AirPR is by analysing the responses to stories, be they articles in mainstream media sites, social media posts or the client’s own content, PR people are able to get a much better insight into what is working in the marketplace.

“You can no longer just throw out a PR campaign and say ‘oh, we got 200 million impressions.’ No CEO is going to buy that,” says Iliff. “You’re going to have to have deep data that you can dive into and then report the things that are going to work.”

Part of the reason PR is failing, Iliff believes, is because practitioners are only making decisions on ten to twenty per cent of the data they have. To make the most of the information they have available involves a rethink on how companies get their message out to the community.

Shifting PR thinking

“We’re trying to shift people from thinking about PR in a linear fashion to get into thinking about it in a networked fashion. A really good PR strategy or narrative looks like a spider web, there’s all these things connected to each other.”

Making those connections is creating a new set of demands on the PR industry as new tools and communications methods evolve.

“The PR professionals of the future who are be best placed to be successful will be the ones who take an interest in the analytics, who understand how to talk about so they can improve the storytelling.”

Stopping the pitching

In Iliff’s view part of the PR industry’s problems lie with how new entrants are taught is how to pitch to journalists, rather than to evaluate what works for their clients. “The second someone comes into an agency on a green level they should be bought into the analytics conversation and be taught how to measure it.”

“Instead they are taught ‘your job is to create storylines and pitch to journalists’, which by the way ninety percent of what you pitch no-one’s going to return because it’s irrelevant.” She says.

“Journalists give you credibility and they’re a third party endorsement but they can’t tell the story the way you want to tell it. There’s a disconnect between the role of journalist is, the role of the journalist is not to sell to your customers, the role of the journalist is to tell the story from an objective viewpoint that puts you in the context of where you fit in the industry. I don’t think people get that.”

“You should be writing the story, following it through and understanding the metrics around it so you can go back and create a better story. It’s like that connective tissue between parts of PR instead of siloing.”

Breaking the data silos

The siloing of the analytics functions of PR and marketing remains a problem for the industry as well, Iliff stays and her advice to communications professionals entering the fields is to understand the data aspects.

“Get a Google Analytics certification, it’s very simple to do,” she states. “Take a couple of Coursera courses on basic statistics and how to analyse data – what’s the difference between prescriptive, descriptive and predictive data – very simple things that if you know how to talk about so you can have a discussion with the engineers.”

As the media industry evolves as it becomes even harder to pitch to fewer journalists working for a shrinking number of traditional outlets, Iliff thinks the future for the PR industry is with making its own content.

Focusing on owned media

“I think in the next five years a lot of things will change because of a couple of things, one is that we have access to data so owned media programs will become stronger for the people who are focusing on it and it will become a huge component in driving leads and sales. So people will stop spending so much time pitching.”

“Things like owned media will be used in a more comprehensive and compelling manner to offset a lot of the things that aren’t working on the earned marketing side.”

“My hope is that brands just hire an internal storyteller like Dell has done and Adobe has done and HP to tell you the story and connect with their customers. That’s the closest point between A and B.”

Taking PR seriously

Ultimately Iliff believes PRs will be taken more seriously in business is if they show they can use the data they have to show companies how to more effectively communicate.

“The only way you’re going to get a seat at the table, the only way you’re going to be taken seriously, is if you have data and you have the most relevant data.”

With data analytics reshaping most industries, it’s hard to see how the PR sector can resist those fundamental changes. How public relations practitioners apply that knowledge to their work is going to be key to their relevance in the business of the future.

Oct 082015

I’m currently attending the Amazon Web Service Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

One of the constant themes in writings about Amazon is founder Jeff Bezos’ focus on delivering the best service and cheapest prices to the customer, even if it does sometimes rely on some less savoury tactics to chase out smaller competitors.

That ethos is on show at this convention with AWS Senior Vice President, Andy Jassy saying at the post opening keynote press conference,  “our strategy is to be customer focused, not only do all of our strategies and tactics work backwards from what our customers want but ninety percent of our roadmap is driven by what customers tell us matters to them.”

He did however fall for the temptation of dissing some of his competitors in the IT market saying, “most technology companies, particularly old guard companies, have lost their will and the DNA to invent. They acquire most of their invention that’s expensive and it really doesn’t fit that well together.”

“We’re extremely long term orientated,” Jassy continued. “We don’t call you on the last day of the quarter and say ‘boy, have we got a deal for you’. You won’t see us auditing our customers and fining them. We’re trying to build relationships with our customers that will outlast everyone in this room.”

Jassy’s points are pertinent to the current business world, the old model of seeing your customer as being a milk cow – something the older software companies were terribly guilty of – is dying. The future needs a lot more focus on treating the customer with respect.

Sep 302015

Businesses would be wise to stop telling people what they should want and let customers tell them what want says Shel Israel in his latest book, Lethal Generosity.

In this book, Israel’s previous works include Naked Conversations and Age of Context which were both written in collaboration with Robert Scoble, he looks at the technological and social changes affecting business and how they can adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Key to that evolving marketplace is the explosion of data offering businesses deep insight into their customers. as Scoble describes in Lethal Generosity’s introduction in talking about social analytics service Vintank;

VinTank was acquired by a big PR agency that wants VinTank to do for all sorts of industries what it has done for the wine industry. Are you a restaurant or a winery ignoring that data? Go ahead and keep doing that for a decade. Your competition won’t.

Israel illustrates the need to watch the marketplace in citing a campaign where Canadian brewer Molsons completely wrong footed an oblivious competitor, something similar to how one bank discovered a rival’s successful marketing campaign through real time bank deposits data described  at the recent Splunk conference.

Focusing on the customers

A customer centric outlook, not looking at competitors but focusing on what consumers want is key to success in the new economy, Israel believes. This is enhanced by technologies that allow both products and marketing to be personalised as shown in the chapter detailing how retailers and airports are using beacons and data analytics in their operations.

One good example is AirBnB, while Israel trots out the ‘biggest hotel chain’ in the world fallacy that’s pervasive among commentators, its effects on the established industry has been profound and have forced hospitality operators around the world to re-evaluate their business models.

Israel suggests the best response for businesses affected by the ‘Uberization’ of their industries is to adopt the social and analytic tools and strategies being used the upstart businesses and he provides a wealth of examples.

Seamless sales

Tapingo, the food ordering service for US college students, illustrates the seamless experience that consumers are increasingly demanding in their shopping, business and leisure activities. Israel cites how Tapingo’s merchant partners are seeing an in-store traffic boost of 7 percent and a gross profit rise of 11 percent as a result of using the service.

Shel also illustrates some of the failures in deploying new technologies, specifically London’s Regent Street Alliance that failed due to poor execution and a failure to engage the marketplace.

One of the weakness in the book – which Israel acknowledges – is its focus on US, and specifically Bay Area, case studies. While there are some non-North American examples such as Australia’s Telstra and China’s Alipay, most of the examples cited are of companies based in or around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Focus on Millennials

Another weakness of the book is the over-focus on Millennials or Digital Natives. While this group is important that obsession risks Israel’s message being pigeonholed amongst the noise of poorly thought out pop demographics and poor analysis that marks much of the discussion around changing tastes and habits between generations.

Israel’s point that the post 1982 generation will soon outnumber older cohorts in both the workforce and the marketplace in the near future though is an important aspect for businesses to keep in mind with the safe certainties and predictable customer behaviour of the baby boom era being long gone.

However the shift in consumer and workplace behaviour is just as pronounced among all the post World War II generations as technology and the economy evolves in the early 21st Century. Focusing on the younger groups risks missing similar shifts among older members of the community.

The value of customer service

Ultimately though, Israel’s message is about customer service. Shel himself flags this is not new, in describing the competition between hiking goods suppliers The North Face and Sierra Designs in 1970s Berkeley.

What is different between today’s businesses and those of forty years ago is technology now allows companies to deeply understand their customers and provide customised marketing, products and experiences to the connected consumer.

For the business owner, manager or entrepreneur, Lethal Generosity is a good starting point to understand the forces changing today’s marketplace. The case studies alone are worth considering for how an organisation can adapt to a rapidly evolving world with radically shifting customer behaviour.

Sep 252015
the web is new neon sign

Click fraud is costing US advertiser 6.4billion dollars a year reports Bloomberg Business.

The promise of internet advertising was that it could provide much more targeted audiences with far better, precision results.

It turns out the truth is different, with Bloomberg citing Heineken US who did a detailed analysis of their advertising returns to find, as the company’s Brand Director Ron Amram says, “giving money to the mob.”

While that news is bad, although not altogether surprising, for the digital media industry there’s even an even worse revelation from Heineken.

Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20 percent of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.

That major brands are television is three times more effective than digital puts online advertisers in a bad position, although social media gurus have long argued companies can’t measure return on investment from their efforts.

Ultimately though the Bloomberg story shows we need a new model, applying broadcast advertising conventions to online services isn’t working. We’re still waiting for a new David Sarnoff to come along.


Jul 292015

“There is no perfect product,” says Jim Fish, “but the Internet of Things makes it possible to deliver a close to perfect message.”

Fish, the Chief Innovation Officer & VP Global Automotive Diagnostics at Bosch North America, was speaking to Decoding the New Economy ahead of his visit to Sydney to speak at the 2015 ADMA Global Forum.

For marketers, the connected car and the Internet of Things presents a unique set of opportunities, particularly when overlaid with today’s social media tools.

“If you think about your ability to message with today’s Facebook and the ability for marketers to micro-target messages so you could push a message to people according to things they’ve shown preference for or things that they have liked.”

“The next leap frog ahead from an automotive perspective is in vehicle advertising specific to vehicle and location,” says Fish. “There is a battle for the real estate in vehicle’s infotainment systems. The automakers are placing a lot of effort in delivering the experience the mobile user desires.”

In the auto industry this has seen a battle between software vendors to stake a position on the smartcar’s dashboard. Fish sees Google with its mapping, search and advertising technologies as being the best placed in that field but doesn’t think there will be one single winner in the automobile space.

Smart Connected Living

One of the biggest opportunities beyond marketi Fish sees is in combining the smarthome with the connected car. “We see this exploding,” he says of Bosch’s future plans. “We see it as perfectly integrating,”

Fish sees how the connected home integrates with other technologies to provide seamless connectivity for people. Even if people lose their smartphones the smart house will be able to inform and communicate with them.

Again, combining the information gathered by social media and other services presents opportunities for businesses and governments.

Networking the smart city

For the smart city, Fish sees connected cars providing a key part in managing and planning the towns of the future citing how the Michigan Department of Transportation sees how equipping vehicles with road monitoring sensors could save the state 11 million dollars a year in inspection costs.

Fish also cites how cities are experimenting with monitoring how taxis and public vehicles are using their windshield wipers to determine weather conditions. The US Department of Transportation flags the smartcar as the mobile weather station.

Again Fish sees Google as having an advantage in applying these technologies with their acquisition of Israeli traffic crowdsourcing service Wayze.

“Crowdsourcing is in its infancy. There are many things computers can do but there are some things they will never be able to do. There are some human elements still required.”

Fish sees much of our understanding of what we can do with the internet of things and the data we generate from it as being in its infancy. The real value lies in extracting the value from it. For marketers the journey is only just beginning.


Mar 222015

Last week this site looked at the idea from Colonial First State Funds Management economists James White and Stephen Halmarick that brands are doomed in a world of perfect information.

Forecasting the end of brands is a big call despite the massive changes the internet is bringing to industries. One of the things I suggested is that the concept of the brand – which was largely born out of Twentieth Century mass communications – is evolving with the social media and online world.

This view is born out by Tom Vanderbilt in an article in Outsideonline where he describes how TripAdvisor is changing the way people travel.

In Ireland Vanderbilt claims the hotel industry found TripAdvisor to be a harsh wakeup call that saw local hospitality businesses lift their game as they realised customers were now far better informed.

Across the Atlantic on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Vanderbilt describes how hotel owners in the town of Tulum had to realign their listings and marketing when TripAdvisor changed how they were grouped in the region. It shows how users are searching and finding accommodation.

Importantly for guests, hotel managers are using online reviews to measure how their premises are measuring up to expectations through social tools and using the results to justify capital expenses on upgrades.

This could justify White and Halmarick’s view that the major global brands such as the Marriots, Hiltons and Sheratons are in decline however it more likely shows those chains are having to raise their game to maintain their worldwide position.

What Vanderbilt, White and Halmarick indicate though is social channels are changing the way the hospitality industry works. This is an opportunity for smaller operators to build strong brands in their own niche or region.