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.

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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.

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 end of the coveted Mulberry purse?

The commute started with a bang today. Got to the tube station nice and early to then realise I was sans Oyster card. I could either pay for a new one for the sake of two journeys, or trudge back to the flat to find it. I chose the latter. Eventually on the tube, I got thinking: surely I can’t be the only commuter this happens to on a regular basis? I’m fortunate enough to have the option of going back home to pick up my card, but what about those who live miles away and have enough spare Oyster cards in their wallets to rival TFL HQ? Surely there should be an easier way to get through this when ‘morning brain’ strikes.

With the recent rise of ‘contactless purchasing’, it was no surprise or coincidence that I later came across an article based on the idea of leaving your wallet at home – and the role increasingly omnipotent smart phones could have in easing this daily annoyance. With their sights set on world domination, eventually we can only assume that smart phones will be able to give everything you could possibly need. A modern Swiss Army knife, if you will…

 

They do a pretty good job of it already – I have my entire music collection on there, along with my daily fix of gossip, what the weather might decide to do today and, of course, the mighty Facebook. I feel more lost without my phone than I do without my Oyster card and purse, so wouldn’t it make more sense to ‘have an app for that’, since there seems to be an app for absolutely everything else you would ever need in your day-to-day life?

Barclays blazed the trail with its contactless card, making it possible to pay for purchases in-store by simply swiping a chip across the machine, taking precious seconds off transaction time. I can book a train back to Scotland on my phone and pick the tickets up at the station without having to speak to anyone, or even take my bank card out of my purse.  Surely the next inevitable step must be to combine the two together and simply swipe your smart phone at tube barriers?

It would be a phenomenon for the frequent high street shopper; instead of carrying around a purse bulging with loyalty cards and discount vouchers, simply hand over your phone to reap rewards and get rid of all the plastic. Voucher Cloud already does this for the voucher bunnies out there and others should follow suit. Not only would this help the consumer, but also allow companies to take advantage of marketing promotions and provide a channel for real-time interaction with their consumers – key to building even better, longer lasting relationships with them.

With no more printed vouchers to leave behind, no more loyalty cards to lose and no more Oyster cards left in another coat pocket, it’s win-win for both customers and brands. A digital wallet is the way forward.

Katie Wozniak

Slogan vs. brand promise

A funny thing happened the other day. After a roguish water bottle exploded in my bag, my work diary was looking less than smart, so I ordered a mid-year A5 black day-to-a-page diary on Amazon. I specifically wanted a black one – always slick and classic.

A few working days later and I receive my package on time and unwrap it, eager to write my first to-do list on the fresh, new pages. Organisation Central, here I come!

To my dismay and, frankly, annoyance, this is what I was greeted with:

 

Yup, it’s red. And by way of explanation? A carefully written Post-It note: “Sorry. Red only.”

Well, sorry Amazon seller, but I didn’t want a red one; if I had, I would have ordered a red one! I felt like scrawling underneath: “Sorry. Only ordered black” and sending it back.  But that in itself is an annoyance; now I have to re-wrap it and make an unplanned trip to the Post Office. All they needed to do was send me an email to let me know.

Amazon has a brilliant reputation but this was not good form from one of its ‘trusted’ sellers. It got me thinking about brand promise and expectation, so I checked to see what Amazon’s slogan is on the website, ready to tear it apart with my recent poor customer service experience. After all, a brand is only truly successful if it delivers on its promise all the way through the consumer experience.

But Amazon has no slogan to tear apart. Interesting; I hadn’t realised that before. I guess, when you’re as big as Amazon and everyone knows who you are and what you do (normally very well, I might add), do you need a slogan at all? Google, Starbucks and Virgin clearly don’t think so.

Is not having a slogan a cop out? Arguably it is one way of not having to live up to a very high expectation, which if a brand (inevitably) doesn’t reach every time, might “undershoot and sully” its reputation, as Helen Edwards asks in her recent Marketing magazine column. Maybe, but she goes on to make the important point that, “It is more subtle than that. You can bet that a great brand like Google, with smart marketers on board and skilled agencies alongside, could devise a stunning sign-off if it chose to”.

Whether a brand chooses to have a slogan or not, one thing’s for sure – actions speak louder than words. On that note, I wish Nike did diaries, JUST in black.

William, Kate and lots of fun in between

I do love a good wedding. Granted, I’m not going to this one, but I’m still excited about Will and Kate’s forthcoming nuptuals (and not only because we have two mammoth bank holidays to look forward to!)        

It seems I’m not alone in my excitement – retailers are going nuts and Will and Kate seem to be everywhere I go, on everything I look at.

Over the past few months hundreds of pieces of merchandise have flooded the market promoting the royal wedding, and whilst some have celebrated the old sovereign values of ‘British – ness’ , others have provided a tongue in cheek perspective. My personal favourite were the ironically marketed Royal Wedding themed contraception  -somewhat suggesting that we can all be replicating what the newlyweds will be up to.

Whilst contraception seems by far the most tongue in cheek of the items on sale, they are by no means the most outlandish. Some companies are offering goods which allow us to knit the royal wedding (that is knitting dolls of all the main attendees of the wedding), and others are offering ‘sick bags’ with a brand image of the royal wedding, appealing to the anti – royalists of the world.

Then on the more serious side, there are many companies offering commemorative memorabilia such as Gold coins, and engraved plates celebrating that are the wedding. It’s just never ending!

It would seem that regardless of the individual’s prerogative towards the royal wedding events, there is a form of memorabilia for everyone. Even more importantly it would just seem that the nation is up for a celebration, and what better way to have a party than with banter and satire.

Whether the Royal Wedding will deliver the expected uplift for the businesses and brands riding the promotional wave remains to be seen.

Is marketing a dirty word?

Last night I listened to a naked scientists’ podcast about the psychology of supermarket shopping. As the presenter and a psychologist walked through the shop they discussed different in store marketing devices and essentially argued consumers are tricked into buying more than they want and things they don’t want.

 
It got me thinking about whether marketing is always going to be seen as a dirty word.  

So why do some forms of marketing have such a bad name? Are consumers really powerless tricked into buying things? There is plenty of discussion in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink on whether we have free will and just how much this can be influenced. But with lots of conflicting points of view (just check out this in depth discussion on Brain Blogger) it’s not always easy to draw simple conclusions.


There is certainly not space to debate the issues of free will in detail here, so assuming we are in control, but can be influenced; does marketing deserve its bad reputation and if not how can it be shaken off?

Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this problem. In an academic paper from last year that Frédéric Dalsace et al. penned, they suggest marketing needs to evolve in a number of ways. For example marketing is seen as an acceptable form of communication when it allows consumers to find out the information they want about a product they are interested in. But can a line be drawn that defines the difference between persuasion and unfair influence or even manipulation?

One thing we are seeing an increasingly amount of is PR and digital interaction being used to make marketing more appealing. You only have to think of some of the best loved adverts at the moment; Alexander Meerkat for Comparethemarket.com and Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa. Both have been embraced by consumer partly because they are brilliant ideas. But I would argue also through the power of supporting traditional advertising with high engagement tactics such as PR and social media.

When we worked on the Computertan campaign, highlighting dangers of sun beds, the amplification of the original idea through both blogs and traditional media is what made it truly potent. So come on marketers don’t just accept the criticism from Joe Blogs on the street – listen to him and evolve into something better.