Is the EU’s new Right to be Forgotten a force for good?

Google has become one of the most trusted information gathering tools available to people in recent times. Its effects have been felt across multiple sectors and disciplines across the globe. In the PR industry it has changed the speed at which breaking news is available, as well as making other information easier to find, such as a company’s financials or shareholder reports.

This is why this ruling is so fascinating and it has sent shockwaves right to the core of the media and communications industries. Despite recent criticisms of Google from a number of detractors and subsequent developments of splinter cell websites such as ‘Hidden From Google’, the basis of the judgement has not changed since the off.

To offer a quick glance at how this came into motion; the ruling has been bought forward by an individual’s Google search history highlighting a past conviction and this will now act as a precedent for all future cases. It was ruled that he did have a right to remove the information stored against his name, as this was not seen to be in the public interest. So what is in the public interest?

Most private individuals’ affairs clearly do not impact on the public, unless they are CEO of a public company, but even then information is mainly relevant to shareholders. There are striking similarities between this and the High Court injunctions which were broken in 2012 when Twitter went into meltdown over a retired footballer’s extra-marital behaviour.

Essentially, it is the job of reputation management and PR agencies to protect their clients’ interests, and the EU’s ruling will help achieve this. Previously, PR agencies have created news, social media channels, blogs and interacted with journalists to place stories which will ultimately improve Google’s search results for clients.

There will, however, be drawbacks to abandoning the more traditional approach and focussing solely on removing search results. If, as recent news predicts, Google UK (Google.co.uk) puts a disclaimer against search results stating that information has been removed for that specific search term, this will only provoke more suspicion of those behind the search. This information will be easy to find, too, as under the United States Constitution, censorship is not permitted and so the omitted results will be viewable on Google’s US search engine (Google.com) as well as other websites like the ones already noted.

But prevention is better than cure, and whilst it’s a good thing for individuals looking to remove an unfortunate event from their past, it does not remove the need for PR activity as the information will still be available in the public domain. This ruling will obviously impact the industry; the extent of the consequences remains to be seen. It should not, however, stop you from improving your digital footprint, which will provide you with the opportunity to receive the recognition you deserve.

Why PR is the natural home of content

No one is denying that content really is king, but when it comes to serving the right content to the right audiences we should be cautious not to shoehorn content for content’s sake. 

As with any marketing strategy, the messaging has to be right. Marketing Directors need to ensure that everyone involved understands the strategy and delivers the right messages. With external pressures chomping at the bit, this can be difficult, but marketers should carefully consider the value of PR in creating and publicising content.

When the idea of content was still new, the PR industry happily ploughed its furrow in media relations. The nearest an agency got to content creation for digital channels were SEO-focused overhauls of traditional press releases.

But Google soon put speed to that tactic by outlawing basic, lazy word ordering. Consequently, PRs have had to become ever more inventive in the development of content strategies for clients, over hauling the way we create, cut and display content. Copy and images created have to be agile enough to cross platforms and the messaging has to be interesting enough to gain the all-important share of screen time.

As channels continue to proliferate, and more impactful and intelligent content is required, PR is a natural fit as the custodians of content. It’s our daily job to make messages from an often dry brand interesting to businesspeople and consumers.

Long before the advent of digital content strategies, we were devising copy-driven thought-leadership programmes to amplify organisations’ core messages and reach their customers. That has now naturally extended into a suite of communications tools covering everything from tweets to videos that do exactly the same thing, but across a wider spectrum.

It is PR’s job to challenge perceived wisdom within a business; honestly assessing and improving an organisations messaging; selecting the right subject and spokesperson for the content job at hand; determining the right channels to maximum exposure and impact, and understanding the bigger picture so PR compliments the wider marketing plan.

PR professionals are well-versed in the art of storytelling and making sure messaging is consistent and supports business goals. But they are also experts in creating a good campaign, one that avoids coming across as corporate spin, and is generally useful to the reader or viewer it’s meant to target.

Is the content original enough to make it stand out from the crowd? Can it be replicated across channels, if required, from social media to seminars? Is it available to view in all of the right places? Does it have senior buy-in at the publications running it? Can they promote it for you?

Any PR consultant worth their salt will be able to answer these and provide winning content accordingly. On our office wall is a famous quote from Bill Gates: “If I was down to my last dollar I would spend it on PR.”

Although that wouldn’t buy you much more than a sentence these days, it would be targeted, succinct and impactful.

The rise of LinkedIn

Since its launch in 2008, LinkedIn has become an invaluable tool to businesses and professionals, and with a 300 million-strong global user base including more than 15 million registered UK users, the company should be able to maintain its leading position in the professional networking space.

Despite this success, LinkedIn’s communications manager Darain Faraz says, “a relative minority are using the site to its full potential”. That means many individuals and businesses aren’t making the most of the opportunity for putting themselves in the shop window.

First and foremost, LinkedIn is becoming the primary point of call for job hunters and employers. Due to the changing economic climate putting particular pressure on people beginning their career, the fastest-growing demographic on LinkedIn is students or graduates, with their numbers having doubled in the past year.

For business professionals, LinkedIn has changed networking irrevocably and now forms a large part of an individual’s business identity. It can often be that all-important first impression head-hunters or prospective employers will gain of you. You are no longer walking into a room of people who don’t know you, and it also gives you a chance to research the people you are meeting as well. This makes your first meeting slicker and it is now easier to have meaningful conversations from the outset, as you (and they) will be able to prepare more effectively beforehand.  

For this reason, ensuring your profile gives the right professional impression to those looking at it is important for making the most of the networking opportunities LinkedIn presents. LinkedIn is not a sales platform, it’s a way to be introduced to and meet business professionals. With the acquisition of Slideshare, LinkedIn will only continue to attract more businesses to its site.
For businesses, a presence on the LinkedIn company pages is vital. Below are our top tips for making sure your business page is a success:

  1. Ensure all your employees are linked to the company page; it will reach people outside your network without you having to make much of an effort.
  2. Fill it with content: take advantage of the variety of information you can put about your company on the page. Share your blog, coverage you’ve achieved in publications or even just articles that you’ve read and found interesting.
  3. Share your page – link your profiles across all social media where your organisation is active.
  4. Ensure all your personal LinkedIn contacts are following your company page.
  5. Show that you are active on LinkedIn – engage with other businesses and users by setting up groups and discussions, and join in with those set up by other organisations.

There is no doubt that LinkedIn will continue to rise in prominence and success, and businesses and professionals can’t afford to be left behind. Having a profile on the site is no longer enough, make the most of the world it opens up and ensure your business page is up to scratch.

25 Ways the Web Has Changed The World

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This month our omnipresent friend fathered by Sir Tim Berners-Lee turned 25. The World Wide Web has been with us for a quarter of a century now and has irrefutably changed our lives.

It has turned us into information-holics, changing our working lives and how we spend our social time.

Here’s our list of the top 25 ways the Web has shaped the world we live in:

  1. Email: It’s changed communication forever and made the world a much smaller place. Business now relies on instantaneous contact and response, wherever you are in the world.
  2. Breaking news: Gone are the days when you relied on the broadsheets for the latest news. Online updates and social networks mean information moves so fast nowadays that Mark Twain was nearly right: if you don’t read the news, you’re uninformed; if you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed. Take the New York plane crash for example; onlooker Jim Hanrahan broke the news on Twitter in 2009, a whole 15 minutes before mainstream news outlets.
  3. Smartphones: The smartphone, made possible by the Internet, has made remote working possible. No longer are you confined to a desk, you can work on the move, allowing efficiency and productivity to soar. Some 72% of people have smartphones in the UK, which means 46 million phones performing a variety of tasks and connections that no one would have thought possible 10 years ago.
  4. Search engines: Platforms like Google and Yahoo! have provided us with access to a vast bank of information. Not only does this give people the ability to become experts in every field imaginable, it has also granted businesses a new way to promote themselves. Meanwhile, consumers have wrested some control back from business with the Web extending choice.
  5. Twitter: It’s made everyone’s voice count – frequently breaking news and opinions on subjects ranging from conflicts to entertainment and sport. It’s also a great way for companies to engage with their most valuable asset: customers.
  6. Online shopping: Commerce has greatly changed over the last 25 years thanks to the Internet. As a country we’re spending half a billion pounds a week with online retailers who can deliver straight to our homes, resulting in a huge shift in the importance of the high street. Retailers have had to alter their business models or risk going the same way as HMV and Blockbuster.
  7. On-demand TV: The average adult will spend 3 hours 41 minutes a day consuming digital media through computers, tablets and mobile phones in 2014, an increase of 34 minutes from the previous year, according to new estimates from eMarketer. This has revolutionised the advertising and marketing industries, helping advertisers target the right demographics. Netflix has revolutionised broadcast, allowing content such as House of Cards to be produced purely for online audiences.
  8. Big data: Without doubt the hottest tech trend at the moment. Data companies now know more about you than you probably do yourself, resulting in tailored content and advertising based on your preferences, hailing an end to spam and irrelevant advertising.
  9. LinkedIn: LinkedIn has changed business networking irrevocably. The first impression of someone is no longer made at your first meeting, as search engines and social networks allow you to research the person beforehand. Another initiative making the most of Web-based connections is recently launched ‘GetLunched’, a website aimed at connecting people in business during their lunch hour.
  10. Skype: Like email, video chat software such as Skype and FaceTime has opened up the world of business and lets you keep in touch with connections across the world – helping you to be in two places at once.
  11. Cloud-based services:  Don’t fancy the rush-hour commute today, or staying in for the plumber? No problem. Just log in remotely and work via a host of cloud-based services.
  12. Facebook: It completely revolutionised how people and businesses interact online, as well as still being the most popular social media network. Despite its bad press recently, we mustn’t forget the impact Facebook has had over the last decade in revolutionising the way we connect.
  13. Local businesses: Your local travel agent, car dealership or estate agent will soon be on permanent vacation. According to eMarketer, in 2012 seven out of 10 travellers booked their own rooms and flights online. The automated nature of companies is becoming commonplace during the purchasing process because of the Internet, and although it’s unlikely to ever become completely agent free, the Web has made holiday bookings, second-hand car buying and viewing properties much more accessible.
  14. Recruitment: The way the business world recruits its staff has been revolutionised by the Internet. Job sites have enabled recruiters to target the right people with the right jobs, making the process of finding the right person easier. The CV has also been changed beyond recognition, with creative types displaying their work online and the use of infographics and videos to display previous experience all helping the job hunter stand out from the crowd.
  15. Pinterest: In 1911, Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Times, said: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” His thought has never been more relevant than today. With the popularity of picture-sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, alongside YouTube, Vimeo and Vine, the Web has revolutionised the way we consume content, and made it a lot easier for a picture to be worth a thousand words.
  16. Getting lost and knowing where to be: There’s no excuse for being late any more, as the Web allows you to find that company or restaurant wherever you are. There’s now a plethora of Apps and GPS-based services available to us through our smartphones. Cloud-based calendars and connected diaries have revolutionised the disorganised employee and helped many of us meet business and social commitments.
  17. Wikipedia: With the birth of Wikipedia came the death of the encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is a great source for non-partisan content listing some 30 million articles in 287 languages, allowing everyone to research whatever they choose, making the world a much more informed place.
  18. Blogging: Forget Speakers’ Corner, platforms like WordPress and Tumblr have given the general public the ability to share their views on any number of subjects with whoever wants to read it.
  19. Tech start-ups: London is built on constantly evolving communities and Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout is the latest addition. It has provided entrepreneurs with the space and infrastructure to put new ideas to the test and helped the UK become one of the world leaders in an increasingly lucrative and expanding industry worldwide.
  20. Online magazines: While the Internet has been at least partly responsible for a number of magazine closures in the last decade especially, it has seen the birth of the online magazine, making quality content available for free, or at a smaller cost than print, wherever you are in the world.
  21. Online market places: Sites like Gumtree and Etsy have made everyone an entrepreneur.
  22. Vouchers: Groupon, Wowcher and Secret Escapes have put the consumer in control, allowing them to never have to pay full price, as well as providing brands with an innovative route to new customers.
  23. eBay: More so than any other platform, eBay makes even the smallest of businesses accessible to the general public, worldwide. Figures last year showed that eight million Britons run online businesses from home with the top 5% of sellers on eBay recording annual turnovers of more than £18,000 each.
  24. Crowdfunding: Finding new ideas, raising money, or improving awareness has become easier with Crowdfunding. In Kickstarter’s first year of business, more than £22.5m was pledged to projects in this country, with £17.1m going to successful self-starters.
  25. Digital health:The advent of the Internet has brought a new wave to the healthcare sector. From self-diagnosis on NHS Direct, to fitness applications such as Nike Fuel Band and monitoring systems linked directly to your GP, the Web has provided the industry with new ways to provide services to patients and relieve the pressure on an overstretched system.

25 years ago it would have been hard to believe that just a few clicks of a mouse would open up vast streams of content, not to mention untapped revenue stream opportunities across the world. While the world isn’t getting any smaller, our ability to scale it down into sizeable sections has become much greater and the Web has been an integral part of this.

 

14 PR trends to watch out for in 2014

The positive mood among people I have already met this year makes me certain that 2014 could be a very good year. Companies are more open to the idea of PR and it really feels like the recession we have all endured in the last five years has finally lifted. I feel incredibly optimistic and can’t wait to see what changes and challenges lie in store for the PR industry.

Here are my predictions for the year ahead:

1. Economic recovery

As I mentioned, all signs are pointing to 2014 being the year the UK economy gets back on track. This will only have a positive effect on the PR industry. We will see business confidence increasing and more investment in PR, marketing and advertising services to demonstrate this confidence. In a recession, these budgets are often deemed ‘discretionary spend’, but in more confident times they are seen as essential. Budgets cut by large businesses at the beginning of the recession are already begin reinstated, proved by the IPA Bellwether report, which found that British companies increased their advertising and marketing budgets for the fifth quarter in a row at the end of 2013.

2. Commercially focused PR

Despite the testing times they bring to most organisations, recessions make business leaders think differently and often shake things up in a good way: after all, necessity is the mother of invention. Yet PR still needs to work on its status in the business hierachy. Commercial creativity will need to be the driving force of any PR and communications plan, ensuring all campaigns and ongoing activity are enhancing business value and generating leads.

3. Measurement

Measuring PR has always been difficult, but things are changing. Sponsored content allows us to directly compare a placed article with a paid-for piece; website analytics allow us to track when people move straight from an article to a company website, and clever use of research has led directly to sales meetings. PR can now be very realistically measured and demonstrated to clients, meaning we can be more accountable. This will go a long way to securing the confidence of clients and prospects as we prove the value PR can add with a quantifiable ROI figure.

4. Research and insight

Research and insight are becoming the twin pillars on which many businesses are built, and they will also be a huge part of our activity in 2014. Astonishingly, according to IBM, 90% of the world’s data has been collected over the last two years and businesses are gradually understanding how to make the most of it. They are now not only employing insight to use this information to become thought leaders in their field, they are using research to help validate a story and make what they are saying more reputable when approaching the media.

Research and insight also helps businesses target their customers by providing increased understanding of what they need and what they want, and will help them make smarter decisions faster.

5. Client-led agency integration

In-house PR no longer acts as a separate function to the rest of a business; PR activity already sits alongside corporate communications, sales, marketing, HR, client services, events and even legal departments. I see 2014 being the year that businesses follow suit with their agencies and begin to integrate PR, marketing and advertising to create seamless strategies that complement each other and help businesses head off their rivals by reaping the insights of that co-operation.

6. The end of unpaid internships

For years, internships have been the route into a PR career. Unfortunately these are often low or even unpaid roles, meaning the industry had limited itself to only a minority of people who could afford to do them. In 2013, PR Week and the PRCA drew attention to unfair treatment of interns in the PR industry, and the tax man issued warnings that HMRC will carry out targeted checks – including office visits – to make sure all interns are paid the National Minimum Wage.

I hope 2014 will be the year that sees the end of unpaid internships altogether.

7. The rise of Google+

Since its launch in 2011, Google+’s impact on the world has been distinctly muted. It has struggled to find its purpose, and therefore failed to make much a mark on the social media landscape. But Google+ hangouts have the ability to become a great PR tool to bring throught leaders together to discuss industry topics, and broadcast to wider relevent circles. This might just be the year when Google+ comes into its own.

8. Social Social Social

I have touched on the growth of Google+ this year, but I do not see that as being to the detriment of the other social networks. Twitter will continue to grow, as will Pinterest, as PR’s increase the value they put on the power of an image. I hope 2014 may also see the emergence of a new social media the PR world can utilise.

2013 brought us more examples of how social media is becoming more central in determining PR success and failure and how to use social media and brand personality to manage a potential PR crisis – think O2 and its incredible communications plan during their network failure. 2014 will see the growth of this beyond consumer PR to B2B, with businesses communicating with one another, not just the consumer.

 9. The Power of pictures

In 1911 Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Times, said: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”– This is as true in 2014 as it was in 1911. With the popularity of picture-sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, alongside YouTube, Vimeo and Vine, 2014 will be the year of visual communication.

The Sunday People has already cut the majority of text from its home page, instead telling stories through pictures. While we won’t be seeing GIFs and video replacing the written word in the broadsheets just yet, we will notice more imagery embedded within our news.

PR needs to follow the media’s lead, and ensure releases are as visually pleasing as the stories they support by including infographics, images and video when sending out client collateral.

10. SEO –  Pandas and Penguins have changed the world

For years, great SEO has thrived on quantity of keywords. Google’s Panda and Penguin initatives in 2013, much to our delight, finally throw the focus on valuing high-quality, original content. While this is a challenge to many, it’s a minor shift for the PR industry which has been generating this kind of content for decades.

11. Content creation

The phrase came to the fore in 2013. But 2014’s challenge will be to stand out from the noisy content crowd. Taking into account our point about Pandas and Penguins, the PR industry is more than well versed to ensure this quality is business as usual.

12. Putting the Public back into Public Relations

2014 will see a major increase in the value of the face-to-face meeting. The explosive growth of online networking through a multitude of different digital channels has really changed the style and confidence with which some people communicate. It might be easy to forget, but as a business, and an individual, if you are able to develop rapport in both the online and the real world, you will be at a distinct advantage.  

13. The changing relationship between PR’s and Journalists

There has been a lot of debate about how digital will change our relationship with journalists. While these relationships are continuing to evolve and change, and journalists are still carving out their place in the digital landscape, ultimately there is still, and will be for a long time coming, value in a strong piece in a national or quality trade publication. At Limelight we do not see the relationship between PR’s and journalists becoming any less valuable over the coming year.

14. Power of the people

Social media and online content have given the reader more power than ever in deciding what they want to digest. Not only can they choose what they read, their opinions reflect the news other people see, be it on Buzzfeed which displays the most read stories on their home page, or Twitter, where retweeted news stories will be seen by more people. 2014 will see PR’s having to appeal to the reader with content that is more relevant and clever than ever before, or risk their stories being spiked before they see the light of day.

The man with ideas for energy

When people are asked to “name a high profile entrepreneur” the usual answer is “Richard Branson” or perhaps Stelios. Maybe even Bannantyne.

But a new businessman is blazing a trail for the hottest PR profile around. Dale Vince has ideas for energy. His company Ecotricity has invested millions in green energy since its set-up in 1996, and is championing solar power and wind power in a way that is rattling the cages of the traditional energy providers. Ecotricity is now the seventh-largest retail supplier of electricity in the UK and one of the biggest builders of wind turbines. Vince, founder and owner, could be worth up to £100m.

Increasingly, Vince is creeping into the public consciousness, an anoraked, surfer-haired, wind-swept visionary for a greener, slightly less smoggy future, and he must be driving the power giants mad. Firstly there’s the copyright war with EDF over the green Union Jack. Then there’s the ongoing battle with local councils to resurrect more of his awe-inspiring wind farms.

What about the press ads challenging Sir Richard Branson to discuss his green plan for the future and lobbying government to use the money spent on fuel poverty allowances to build the Severn Barrage energy generation scheme?

What Vince demonstrates to me is the often-touted maxim that a good idea without the right execution is, well, a bit of a waste of time really.

Ecotricity is offering consumers something genuinely different – but more importantly, its founder is championing a singular, consistent message in a challenging controversial way. He’s built his brand around his persona in a direct snub to the faceless energy brands and acknowledged that a business with a personality will always be more compelling than a conglomerate with a logo – whether that logo is green or not.

It’s a lesson to us all in how to wake up and disturb a complacent market, and a case study in launching a personality brand.