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.

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.

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.

Transparency is key when editing a Brand’s perception online

The Independent raised an interesting debate over the editing of a brand’s perception online by PR agencies in their article yesterday.

Portland Communications, a reputable PR firm, was revealed to have edited Wikipedia pages that linked their client to a negative association. Portland removed the reference of Stella Artois from the ‘Wife Beater’ Wikipedia page and from Stella’s own page in an attempt to help rid their client of this detrimental association. However, when users realised there had been a change, they reverted it back. Outraged that a PR agency had altered the content they even wrote a blurb about it on Portland’s own Wikipedia page in retaliation.

But surely Portland has every right to alter these pages, as after all Wikipedia itself states it is “the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit”.
Portland Communications acted professionally – they were transparent, editing the pages with the username Portlander10  which they had previously used to set up their own Wikipedia page.

If Limelight were ever found in a situation where they were being linked to a negative attribute, I would want to defend my brand whether it was myself who edited the damaging link, a member of the team or even another company. Everyone has a right to input into what has been said about them online. For this reason, even if it is an organisation voicing the opinion, PR agencies can make an impact online as long as the company is acting transparently.

Susanna Simpson

Facebook and a sea of cartoon faces: engaging awareness or a waste of time?

Like many people, I’m a big fan of Facebook.  I would go as far to say that I love it and, if it was taken from me tomorrow, I would – for a short while at least – feel a big ‘social media’ shaped void in my life! 

I lose count of how many times a day I log in, keeping abreast of what’s going on in my virtual world.  Personally I’m not a big fan of the games, but instead use it to keep in touch with old and new friends; post up pictures of me and my family and generally have a rant about the hot topic of the day. If you want to know what’s annoyed the hell out of me – or filled my heart full of joy – then my long history of status updates is the place to go! Or not – if you’re life is far more interesting than my own!

During one of my most recent visits, I saw a campaign asking for users to change their profile pictures to a cartoon character from their childhood in order to support the NSPCC’s ‘stop violence against children’ initiative. Prompting swift action, I’d soon turned myself into DangerMouse and urged my friends to do join in.

Over the next two days a sea of cartoon characters started to appear – bringing back fond memories of my favourite TV programmes (Sheerah; Superted; and the Care Bears, to name a few!). Great, I thought – it’s fun, nostalgic and, most importantly, for a good cause. And, with my PR hat firmly fixed to my head, I thought it was a fun and engaging way for the NSPCC to tap into social media and get their message across to a wider audience.

Some people, however, weren’t inclined to agree. Instead of adopting a cartoon picture, one friend updated her status to label the campaign a ‘complete waste of time’ and ‘if people really want to help charity why don’t they make a donation instead of wasting their time with cartoon pictures’.  I could see the point she was trying to make and it wasn’t long we were involved in an active debate – her; me; and about six of her FB friends – discussing the rhyme and reason behind this particular use of social media.

I remained firm in my position, suggesting that people could actually do both (that’s make a donation and be a cartoon superhero for the day!) and that the campaign had actually served a very big purpose indeed. Of course, I don’t have access to the stats that may or may not demonstrate how hundreds of more people signed up to make donations or monthly direct debits. But, as the debate continued throughout the day, we discussed everything from the role of social media, to the increasing need of awareness for violence against children in the UK. As with all debates, it drew to a natural close and I made my final point: love it or hate it, you can’t argue with the fact that it got us talking – about the small things and the bigger picture issues of the charity in question – and, from a campaign of this nature, what more could you want!

Apple and The Neverending Story

Q: How do you know if someone’s got an iPhone?

A: They tell you.

It’s a decent joke, and often true. With Apple getting set to announce its fourth-quarter results tonight and some analysts predicting the company will become the most valuable in the world by market capitalisation, surpassing both Exxon and Microsoft, the Apple brand is highly unlikely to go away any time in the near future.

This caps a remarkable transformation under Steve Jobs who has taken the company, since re-joining as chief executive in May 1997, from a total value of $2bn to $274bn.

Obviously there are a huge number of fascinating aspects to the Apple brand and the Apple story, but one I find particularly interesting is how the company has managed to become such a regular topic of conversation in workplaces and homes around the globe.

This ‘chat factor’ is a central goal of the majority of PR strategies unless, of course, you’re trying to keep your client out of the Limelight.

Pure material escapism?

 

And whilst the idea of some shadowy PR director hypnotising the world into talking about the Apple brand is imaginatively appealing, I think the real reasons are somewhat simpler.

Apparently Steve Jobs told a team of coders at the start of his second tenure, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology – not the other way around.” And it seems that this approach is at the heart of the brand’s success.

Apple does make excellent products, whether they are actually worth the money or as innovative as they are visually attractive however, is up for debate. But there is no doubt that they are aesthetically unparalleled and a joy to use.

The topic of conversation, when you get down to it, is not usually about the company, but about the product in someone’s hand – whether that’s the iPhone 4 or the iPad.

This is compounded by the general snowball effect of consumer fashion and the increased prevalence of digital media and technology in our lives and there you have it: a juggernaut that just attracts debate and analysis, just like I’m doing here.

But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there’s something else going on…