Sunday, October 18, 2009

Measuring media there a perfect solution or just "make do"?

We measure media results several ways. I've shared some of them below. We're still searching for that perfect solution however, and very open to new and improved ways of measuring success.

There's no point talking measurement if the goal of media relations isn't clear. For the most part we find a typical institution or firm in financial services wants to either overcome an issue or build their profile - in order to deliver better business results.

Some examples include:
- Creating a positive reputation in consumer media that accurately reflects a fund's ethos and member offer    
- Generating coverage that helps establish an asset manager's credentials among potential mandate clients
- Eliminating or redressing media perceptions (and continued reporting) that an organisation is less than committed to the market or a sector
- Generating greater understanding of the depth of expertise.

Knowing the end goal we can have a more constructive conversation about how to measure progress towards it.
Number of articles
There's the simple (and not elegant) count - number of articles. Yes, our clients are still very interested in sheer volume. It's an effective albeit crude measure of the effectiveness of public relations activity, particularly over time. Each year we can show most clients who are looking for proactive, brand-building coverage, an increase in the previous year's number of articles. Bearing in mind all these articles are positive, it's one way to track whether or not we have 'momentum' for a client.

Content analysis
This is really the only way to work out the overall tone (positive, neutral, negative) and focus (key messages or not?) of coverage. Unfortunately it's also time consuming and therefore expensive. Many financial services executives on limited budgets would rather have their consultancy spend time generating coverage than analysing the content - depending of course on volumes and how many issues are being managed.

Proactive versus reactive calls/activity
It's all very well us making all the calls, but we really know you have an effective media profile when the journos call you. This isn't an end game in itself - it's just a lead indicator, or input KPI, that tells us all whether   our client is achieving a level of media interest that's self-sustaining.

Impressions - ideally target audience
Advertising agencies make very good use of measures like TARPs - target audience rating points. We track potential impressions using a methodology developed inhouse. Since we started tracking impressions we've seen some extraordinary results - so much so that some clients don't want to spend limited marketing dollars on advertising because their public and media relations efforts are far more cost effective at generating impressions among the target audience.

Advertising has an important place in the marketing mix, and always will. It's just that increasingly we find financial services institutions want to push more of a message out to their audiences than an ad can deliver. This is particularly true in Australia's highly intermediated retail and institutional wealth management sector.

Reputation studies
Media opinions do seem to lead onto reporting tone. And reporting tone does influence clients or consumers, investors and shareholders, business partners and employees. I tend to think if we're not measuring both the audience's perceptions and the intermediaries' (such as media and bloggers) perceptions then we probably don't have full information about exactly how (or whether) media relations efforts are having the desired impact.

Any thoughts out there on the Holy Grail of media coverage measurement?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What makes a great PR person?

1. Motivation: it sounds basic (and it is) but oh so lacking sometimes...slackness is sure to follow

2. Information: we are only as good sometimes as what we know and when. Regardless of whether someone is a client or a supplier, we are all under constant pressure to actually know what the hell the real story is.

3. Judgement: swift, accurate judgement about a situation is immensely valuable. There are 25 year olds who do this well and 50 year olds who do it badly, and vice versa. It's something more than being smart and something less than needing 20 years experience.

4. Speed: once upon a time you could take four hours to answer most media queries in financial services. Now more than 20 minutes could mean the difference between no story and one that starts to sink the company.

5. Integrity: to tell a client their story won't float, to tell a journo we don't know the answer and the client or the spokesperson won't want to answer (and no we don't know why), to always tell the truth and sometimes, to say absolutely nothing at all. Ever (some things go with me to the grave!!).

These are the things I've seen in every successful PR I've met....

Friday, October 09, 2009

Who does it better? Consultant or inhouse PR practitioner?

Really it's a trick question. The simple answer is "it depends".

On what?

The person, their experience, their colleagues (particularly their manager), the CEO and probably some random things such as news of the day.

This is a question I think about almost every day. For one, I've been on both sides. Secondly, I now devote a great deal of time, as everyone in our team does, to thinking about how to be a really good consultant in order to help our inhouse clients be really good at what they do - managing the reputation of their asset management firm, advice business, consulting firm, super fund or banking product provider.

Having now been thinking about this question since 1996 (when I first watched some PR consultants be charming but deliver a huge amount) I have some general thoughts about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each role.

And more importantly how the two can come together to form, in many cases, a perfect whole. By that I mean a truly great partnership where the inhouse person is relieved of bucket loads of day-to-day grief, and gains a trusted, expert, external sounding board and access to great media or stakeholder outcomes.

On the other side of this perfect pairing, the consultant gets to work with a capable inhouse client who values the role of external PR, knows their company and the internal stakeholders and can gives access to the information or people the consultant needs to deliver the right outcome.

The beauty of being in house is really knowing your firm. No consultant can ever really 'get in the skin' of your company. After a few years you probably know everyone, and possibly have a political intelligence quotient higher than anyone except the HR director. You instinctively 'know' the answer to almost any question of principle about your firm because you live it.

If things are going well, the senior PR person has a hand in almost every significant corporate event. And the ear of senior executives if not the CEO, Chairman and Board.

What is harder to hang onto in house is a sense of objectivity - that instant judgment of what the outside world will think. It can also be mighty hard to actually 'do the doing'. Internal meetings, issues management, endless phone calls and emails all conspire to keep in house PR people from actually planning, writing, calling or otherwise executing what may well be a great strategy. Or not.

Crippling email volumes, media, online or parliamentary monitoring, requests from media and almost any part of the business can all conspire to muddy clarity of judgment. Where do you get the time to plan the proactive positive media activity the CEO or others seem to think should be easy??

It can also be more difficult inhouse to judge success. What is a good outcome here? Does it matter? Longer term yes, but short term it can be very hard to know.

Never a dull moment. When you have multiple clients, as most PR consultants do, you never quite know which way your day will go. And that gives great perspective. Perspective across diverse businesses, with diverse communication challenges - and opportunities. Perspective day in and day out across stakeholders from bloggers to community groups or investors to editors.

Always on, constantly watching the online and media world, grabbing opportunities, meeting clients, talking to media or surfing the relevant online sources.

One thing about being a consultant, at least the ones I respect, is that we 'know what we don't know'. Many consultants (cetainly the team at BlueChip!) work as part of a team, working up ideas, sharing what they've learned and in turn learning from the experience of peers. That collective intelligence can produce extraordinary results.

So too can years of building up 'the little black book'. Whether media or industry contacts, consultants tend to build up a formidable network along with the knowledge bank.

And consultants are almost never in doubt about what a good outcome/success looks like. They have to know that before they can start work or it's all just fumbling around in the dark. And understanding what success looks like matters - because consultants have to stay hungry. For the next project, the next client, the next win for all clients.

Consultants ultimately have to deliver for their clients - or they don't stay consultants. So dedicated, focused resources usually ensure the job gets done - whether that supposedly easy proactive positive coverage or keeping your name out of certain stories.

What I've found both in house and as a consultant is that a few key things are needed in both places to be a truly great PR person....which will be my next post!

But no pressure people!

Actually both roles have potential to deliver immense value, for very different reasons.

The trick is to know what you're really really good at and do that - ideally outsourcing the rest or working only with clients who need what you have!

Note: I worked inhouse for ten years before founding BlueChip Communication, a specialise financial services PR firm, with my partner Bruce Madden. Since 2004 the BlueChip team of consultants have partnered with Australia's leading wealth management, investment and financial services brands. We think a LOT about what it takes to make a great partnership with clients!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Australian PR and social media we stack up versus the world?

I had the great opportunity last month to travel to New York, London & Hong Kong for a conference and meetings with clients, partner firms and potential clients. While it was good to bring new ideas home to the BlueChip team and our clients, it was even better to get a sense of how what we do stacks up globally.

In fact, there are some areas where our niche financial services PR firm leads the world.

First, some observations on the state of financial services PR globally. Given the year gone, I found businesses (clients and consultants) in better shape than I expected. Generally staff numbers are down and margins are squeezed, or in some cases non-existent. Still, those businesses seem to have come through in good shape. If anything there's more focus on results and less on largesse. Those reliant on bonuses are feeling the pinch, while some others are pushing ahead with small scale expansion into offshore markets - a sign of hope rather than desperation.

Secondly, every one is stretched. Again, both clients and consultants are having to do more with less. Not too many are hiring, and the work is still there. That means more pressure on fewer people.

Finally, it seems almost everyone is has, or is starting to, lift their gaze from the few feet immediately in front on them and think "longer term" and "bigger picture".

Of course the first movers were doing that months ago. And that brings me to a couple of exceptions. There were some businesses I met who throughout all the uncertainty were either less affected or just more focussed. Those people have taken a once in a lifetime opportunity to move in this market.

We first saw and heard these sorts of clients in quarter 1 of the calendar year. People who were determined to make the most of the current market, and to use proactive PR as a way to build their brand.

As Australians we've seen more green shoots than offshore colleagues whose economies have had a way harder time of it.

What did surprise was how far head our firm appears to be in social media (particularly online pr) knowledge.

Wealth management (even retail) is a bit of a laggard when it comes to social media. I did think I'd learn more about social media in financial services in my travels.

What I found was that what we've developed at BlueChip is pretty much as good as it gets for wealth management social media.

And therein lies the beauty and the devil of the online world. A Sydney PR person can know more about the latest US online PR expert than those in his own country.