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 242015

Thought of the day. We’re in at point of change in social and consumer behaviour similar to that of the late 1950s.

Sixty years ago the drivers were; the first baby boomers entering their teenage years, the rise of television, an era of accessible and cheap energy, along with rising incomes from the post World War II reconstruction.

Today the drivers are; the baby boomers entering retirement, the rise of the internet, an era of abundant and easily accessible data, the rise of the internet along with stagnant living standards following the late 20th Century credit orgy.

Your thoughts on where this goes?

Sep 192015

The latest release of Apple’s mobile operating iOS with an inbuilt ad blocker has again raised the issue of blocking website advertising.

Some see it as good for the advertising industry, believing it will force advertisers to think beyond intrusive pop up ads while others point out that ad blocking will devastate most of today’s online publishers.

While both views are probably right, it underscores how the media world is still waiting for a modern David Sarnoff to appear as the current model that sees publishers’ revenues declining is clearly not sustainable.

In the meantime though we’re almost certainly going to see more aggressive ‘native content’ – adverts posing as articles – as publishers try to find revenue and advertisers attempt to get their message across readers can expect more desperate attempts to get attention.

Those cheering for the end of the current advertising model should be careful of what they wish for though, the scramble for revenue and eyeballs is going be unseemly as we enter the era of the blocked advert.

Aug 082015
not listening to your market or industry is a big management risk

Yesterday Decoding The New Economy posted an interview with Michael Rubenstein of AppNexus about the world of programmatic advertising and being part of a rapidly growing startup.

The whole concept of programmatic advertising is a good example of a business, and a set of jobs, being disrupted.

Media buying has been a cushy job for a generation of well fed advertising executives. David Sarnoff’s invention of the broadcast media model in the 1930s meant salespeople and brokers were needed to fill the constant supply of advertising spots.

Today the rise of the internet has disrupted the once safe world of broadcast media where incumbents were protected by government licenses and now the long lunching media buyers are finding their own jobs are being displaced by algorithms like those of AppNexus.

A thought worth dwelling on though is that media buyers are part of a wider group of white collar roles being disrupted by technology – the same Big Data algorithms driving AppNexus and other services is also being used to write and select news stories and increasingly we’ll see executive decisions being made by computers.

It’s highly likely the biggest casualties of the current data analytics driven wave won’t be truck drivers, shelf pickers or baristas but managers. The promise of a flat organisation may be coming sooner than many middle managers – and salespeople – think.

Jul 112015
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

The first industry to face the consequences of an age of data abundance was, not unexpectedly, the news media.

As the web took off, the old model of distributing news through broadcast bulletins and newspapers collapsed along with the advertising model which supported it.

Now the entire news industry is in transition as we look for a modern day David Sarnoff to figure out a business model that works.

Profiting from the transition

In the meantime that transition has opened up a whole range of opportunities for canny and fast moving entrepreneurs with a range of sites looking to profit from cheap or free content.

Most exploitative of these sites are the viral sites who, at best, lightly rewrite someone else’s work before posting it on their own pages. With the rise of Facebook, the social media referrals have boosted the traffic to these sites.

The acquisition of ViralNova by Zealot Media at a hundred million dollar valuation shows the value of those sites at present. Zealot itself is on an acquisition spree as this is the fifteenth acquisition made by the mysterious company this year.

ViralNova and the other viral sites don’t add a great deal to the internet with their glib repackaging of other peoples’ content based around what their algorithms believe will get the maximum traction from Facebook’s systems.

The end of the web

Some even believe this model marks the death of intelligent content on the web with Vice’s Carles Buzz declaring the dream of the highbrow internet is dead as sites like ViralNova and Upworthy come to dominate the web.

Wall Street Journal however sees the opposite in proclaiming the ViralNova move is the highpoint for the content farm business model as the economics and business risks of depending upon Facebook for traffic are ultimately doom these ventures.

Sites like The Awl in the meantime see their future in writing intellectual articles for a small but tightly defined audience. At the moment web advertising economics favour high traffic over highbrow however it may be in the medium term the higher quality will win.

High volume over highbrow

Recent history hasn’t been kind to those backing sites like The Awl however the viral media and content farms have seen their finances become increasingly shaky as online CPM rates decline and Facebook increasingly controls distribution.

The news model does need to be reinvented and someone, somewhere in the world will do it, although the person who cracks the code is as likely to be a smart kid in the Rio barrios or Mumbai slums as some VC backed Stanford graduate in a SOMA loft. For the moment though savvy entrepreneurs like those behind ViralNova will be making a quick buck.

Jun 162015
Should we be watching more TV in the Internet age

“We seek news on Twitter but bump into it on Facebook” points out the Reuters’ 2015 Digital News Report in its analysis of global media consumption.

The broad trends from surveying over 20,000 online news consumers in the US, UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Brazil, Japan and Australia are clear – social media is becoming the main way people are finding their news while television is slowly declining.

Probably most concerning for the television networks how younger viewers have turned away from TV with only a quarter of those aged between 18 and 25 tuning in as opposed to two thirds of those aged over 65.

Given the aging of television network audiences it’s not surprising that last week Australia’s Network Ten, part owned by Lachlan Murdoch, found a lifeline from the country’s main cable network as the broadcaster is finding revenues declining.

The question is how long advertisers are going to stick with television as audiences increasingly move online creating a revenue gap estimated by analyst Mary Meeker to be worth around thirty billion dollars a year.

For the moment, the great hope for the online world is Facebook with Reuters finding the service is dominating users’ time. In that light it’s not surprising the company has such a huge market valuation.

The competing social media services are still facing challenges, particularly with Twitter showing a far lower level of penetration with the general public, leading Harvard professor Bill George to speculate the company risked becoming the new BlackBerry.

While the online services struggle for supremacy and television slowly declines, the real pain continues to felt by the newspapers who continue to find their relevance erode and few of their readers prepared to pay for their content.

The Reuters report confirms the trends we already know while giving insights into the unique peculiarities of each market.