We’re proud to say that we have just been shortlisted for a CIPR PRide award in the ‘Best Use of Media Relations’ category, for our client ALLOW. This is a fantastic way to celebrate our first anniversary of being in business! The entry that we submitted was for the work that we have done launching ALLOW to the world and the coverage that we have gained in publications such as the Wall St Journal, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Times, Financial Times and Daily Express, to name a few. The submission showed how all of this was done on a very modest budget through the use of creative story ideas.
The awards take place in Brighton on the 11th November, so fingers crossed!
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how financial services companies in the UK could use location-based services to enhance their brand. (Note, I’m going to focus on foursquare here, rather than Facebook places or Gowalla, as this is the one that I have most experience with.)
The key thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to have geographically diverse locations, such as branches, in order to use location-based services effectively.
Here’s an example – AmEx teamed up with foursquare this month for a trial to offer its card users cashback when they paid using AmEx at participating merchants. All you do is sign up your card via the AmEx foursquare page, check in to the location as normal, ‘load’ the deal to your card via your smartphone, then pay as normal. The money gets credited to your statement within a few days. It’s easy, straightforward, fun, creates a bit of buzz and you get a special badge too. The added bonus is that AmEx donates some money to charity when you complete your first transaction – probably not the main reason why you would do all this, but a nice touch all the same.
What a fantastic example of a financial services brand engaging with consumers in an innovative way!
So, with that in mind, here are some things that could be done in this country right now. The first, and most obvious one, would be a high street bank because of the physical presence that they have around the UK. If such a bank were to set up a foursquare presence, then it could create a range of badges for customers such as ‘SuperSaver’ (for when you make 10 deposits into an ISA); ‘First-time buyer’ (for when you take out a mortgage); ‘KidsFund’ (for when you open a CTF; or ‘Chequing In’ for when you have to deposit a pesky cheque.
As we all move more towards a scenario where purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by your online networks, by social media sites and by online reviews, wouldn’t this be fantastic PR for a bank to have a certain section of its customers talking about its products and services via foursquare. The big benefit comes when these users’ foursquare accounts are linked to their twitter and facebook profiles, which I’m assuming most are.
You could make more of this, of course, by introducing discounts or special offers for whichever user is the ‘mayor’ of a branch, although I suspect that this would be a logistical nightmare for the product development and administration teams. So, why not invite all the mayors of all your locations to take part in feedback sessions to help improve customer service and develop new products or propositions? This could be a virtual or real-world event, but it would be a really valuable focus group.
Extending this example further, if this bank was a sponsor in the sporting or musical world, as many are, then you could leverage that sponsorship even more through foursquare. Santander sponsors the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, of course. What if you could check in to a Grand Prix circuit and then get a discount off your purchase of Team McLaren Mercedes merchandise if you pay with your Santander card?
The idea of badges would work quite well with a company like AVIVA too, given its sponsorship of athletics. VISA could, of course, do something similar to AmEx and also has a golden opportunity (forgive the pun) to capitalise on its involvement in London 2012. The London 2012 foursquare site is well-established and looks very impressive.
So, there you’ve got banks, payments providers and insurance companies, particularly those that put money into sponsorship as part of their marketing, which can amplify their reach through the use of foursquare. I hope to see developments in this area in the not-too distant future.
[Image credit Nan Palermo.]
Traditionally when you think about defining PR you’d probably say things like ‘enhancing reputation’, ‘influencing opinion’, ‘creating word of mouth’ or ‘generating advocates’. However, we believe that PR is now much broader than that, to the point where it is as much about search engine optimisation as it is about reputation.
SEO is of course all about driving traffic to your site via high rankings on search engines.
The types of people that have traditionally been in the hitherto separate camps of PR and SEO are very different types of people. PRs tend to be creatives, relationship builders, writers and communicators and SEO experts tend to be, well, techies.
They are very different disciplines, there is no doubt about that. You might almost go so far to say that PR is an art and SEO is a science. However, practitioners in both disciplines are going to have to learn to bridge that gap, and fast. PRs must at least have a very good knowledge of the core principles of SEO and vice versa for SEO and PR.
SEO agencies must team up with PR people to generate the best type of online content and the most effective PR coverage.
PR people must collaborate with SEO experts to enhance and leverage their campaigns. The commercial reality in 2011 is that companies need to drive traffic to their websites and SEO is a much more cost-effective way of doing it than competing for key-word advertising. We may well see more PR agencies take on SEO people to sit alongside the account management, creative and planning people.
There will already be clients out there who want to undertake PR purely for the rich SEO benefits that it brings. For these companies, creating a good impression with viewers of the online media where you achieve coverage is a nice by-product, but not the core aim. Not least because the conversion rates for good SEO are arguably much better than PR on its own. This trend is going to grow – significantly.
Clients should look for PR agencies that are very capable at SEO and SEO agencies that have access to quality PR resources. There may even be PR/ SEO teams that evolve out of this in the same way that copywriters and art directors go together in an advertising agency.
Must try harder
This is the first in a series of blogs looking at the online media capabilities of various types of financial services provider and the first organisations I’m looking at are the Building Societies. I’m a big fan of the mutual sector, having worked for Nationwide Building Society in the past and I am fully behind the concept of putting members’ interests above shareholders. However, it is disappointing to see that Building Societies fall short when it comes to online media centres and using their website to communicate with journalists.
For this blog I analysed the websites of all 56 Building Society brands, even though recent mergers mean that strictly speaking there are only now 49 Building Societies. The results were quite eye-opening and I imagine if I were a journalist looking for information on these organisations I might have to work quite hard to get it.
48 of the 56 Building Societies provided links to news about their organisation. That’s 86% but it really should be 100%. Every organisation has news of some sort or another, even the tiniest Building Society with a handful or branches. At the very least, they should showcase their community involvement.
Next up, I looked at the availability of contact details for PR contacts. This is where things start to go downhill for Building Societies, because just 30 of them (54%) listed a phone number for a journalist to call. Of course, I understand that only the larger Societies have dedicated PR people, with Nationwide the only one to have a press office of a significant size. However, there should be someone, potentially the Sales & Marketing Director or the CEO who should be listed. Likewise, email contact details were slightly worse, with 29 Societies (52%) listing them.
Finally, I looked at social media capabilities and, frankly, this is laughable. Building Societies have a strong role to play in their communities and now is a good time to promote the mutual model. Creating and taking part in communities is important online as it is offline so Building Societies should recognise that. Just four Societies are involved in social media at all, that’s a lowly 7%. Respect is due to Saffron Building Society for their blog, facebook page and twitter feed. Well done also to Ipswich Building Society for their twitter feed and Hanley Economic for their CEO blog. I guess Stroud & Swindon should also get a mention because they make limited use of social bookmarking tools on the site.
Overall, the sector could do a lot better without too much more effort. Nationwide Building Society in particular needs to get to grips with social media and quickly because it sets an example for the rest. Come on guys, you can’t ignore it any longer!
If you scan a lot of news releases you’ll notice a high proportion of them use a similar sort of language. It’s the language of corporate speak, only to be found in PR and marketing materials and never used by anyone in real life. There seems to be a distinct lack of creativity when it comes to using adjectives in external communications. The worst culprits are the words ‘leading’ and ‘delighted’.
Why can’t PRs think of more words to use than ‘leading’ and ‘delighted’?! It seems like every company is a leader and every spokesperson is always gushing that they are delighted about winning a new client, hiring a new manager or winning an award. Why don’t you stop and think for a moment about whether this is really news and what you really feel about it.
Let’s take leading first – it’s actually ridiculous to use this adjective when you think about it, because so few companies ever substantiate or qualify this claim. Do you sell the most, do you have the most customers or members, are you the fastest growing, have you won the most awards, are you the most trusted by consumers? If you are, then say you are – don’t just say you are the number one. In any case, no journalist is ever, in a million years, going to write about your company in the exact same way as you have presented it in your carefully crafted news release.
Secondly, we come to ‘delighted’. If you look on twitter for #delighted there are an increasing bunch of well-respected journalists who tweet every time some hapless spokesperson uses ‘delighted’ in a quote. And the rest of us are all having a good laugh at the spokespeople’s (and PR’s) expense.
Are you really delighted? Can you not think of something else to say?
Being lazy about language makes your news look like an identikit communication and undermines what is a potentially serious or interesting message. Get creative and do yourself justice.
I have noticed a huge variation in the quality of online media centres in the financial services sector. It’s vitally important that your media centre functions effectively, looks good and helps you to interact with the media. If it isn’t up to scratch then you are missing out on big opportunities and making the company look amateurish.
Here are the seven deadly sins of online media centres:
- Not having contact details. If you want to do PR then you need to be instantly contactable. That means email address, landline, mobile and any other details you think might be relevant. What bugs me the most are those standardised email contact forms. Nothing says ‘we don’t really want to talk to you but we’re making a token effort’ like one of those forms. The journalist will think ‘get stuffed’.
- Not having your news releases/ articles/ white papers in an easily searchable archive. You’ve written all this good stuff – why make it difficult for people to find what they want?
- Not having any content or not having updated it for months/ years. I’ve seen quite a few online media centres that haven’t had any fresh content for a year or more. What happened, did you just get bored? It makes your organisation look like it has one foot in the grave.
- Not having any sharing functions. Make it easy for users to post things to twitter, tag it in delicious or whatever.
- Not having any multi-media content. Get with it and have pictures at the very least and ideally some video. It’s so much more engaging.
- Not having the functionality for people to join/ sign up for news. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Just give people the option to ‘opt in’ if they want to.
- Posting your coverage as company news. It’s fine to post your coverage and include links to online articles where you have been quoted. It shows that you are a mover and a shaker. But don’t dress them up as ‘press releases’ or something that they are not. Would you expect a journalist to report on something that has been written by a rival? Of course not. Stick your coverage in a section called ‘in the news’ or ‘media coverage’ or something like that.
I’d also add one more which isn’t necessarily ‘deadly’ but is certainly a bugbear of mine – calling it a press centre. Hello? The days of Fleet St. are over. The media are newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, website, blogs and social media sites. It should cater for all of these.
I recently wrote an opinion piece for CorpComms magazine to help in-house communicators feel more comfortable using social media. In essence, my argument is that social media ‘principles’ are not that new and that PRs should be used to the concept that you cannot control how your output is eventually used.
When you create strategies, think about how social media can enhance (rather than replace) your existing PR activity. When you create stories and issue news think about ‘shareability’ and make it easy for people to spread your message.
For a long time, I have been treating key influencers almost in the same way as journalists because I know that they have significant reach. The same principle should apply to bloggers and influential social media users.
I concluded by saying that PR is still about building relationships and it is still about people. If anything, social media is actually putting the ‘public’ back into public relations, and moving it away from simply media relations.
You can read the full version here.
We all know that journalists are bombarded with PR material every day and that unfortunately, some of it is poorly targeted, poorly produced and not relevant. Journalists can actually get some brilliant story ideas from PRs, as well as really useful content to enhance an existing story and vital statistics, quotes and case studies within very tight deadlines.
So I guess the answer to the above question depends on whether the PR is trying to ‘get a story to run’ or ‘stop a story from running’. Journalists would have a pretty hard time functioning if there weren’t efficient PRs to organise spokespeople, source stats and case studies quickly or investigate customer stories. Similarly, they would probably rather have the mobile numbers of all the experts and top people than have to phone a press office and get an anodyne reactive statement.
Either way, journalists and PRs do depend on each other, but not exclusively, and less so since the advent of social media. Journalists source stories from readers, contacts, announcements, surveys and increasingly from bloggers and social media platforms such as Twitter. PRs need journalists to be featured in newspapers, magazines and on radio and TV, but now they can also go direct to their target audience via websites, podcasts, iPhone apps, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube etc etc.
It comes down to the skills of the PR individual and the ethos of the company as to whether the PR function is a barrier or a facilitator. But the acid test of who needs who more comes down to one simple thing – who pays for lunch – and that is still the PR.
I recently met with Christophe Langlois who runs Visible Banking, a site which tracks social media initiatives in financial services, particularly banking. (By the way, this was social networking in action as we originally starting chatting via Twitter earlier in the year!) We started talking about social media and financial services from the perspective of my PR role at Legal & General and ended up producing a short video for his blog.
You can view the video here.
If you believe that social (or digital) media represent the future for the media industry, and presumably you do, then PRs have a golden opportunity here. What I mean by that is PRs are used to ‘earned’ media rather than ‘paid-for’ media and we accept that you cannot manage the media. Advertisers and marketers who are used to paying to get what they want and planning certain content to appear at certain times, are fundamentally different.
These PR skills, which are ingrained, combined with experience of crisis management, mean that we are perfectly placed to take the lead on social media.
To realise the full potential of social media, you need to have buy-in from all parts of an organisation, particularly sales, marketing, customer service, HR and internal communications. However, PR is normally the best place to co-ordinate this activity as it impacts significantly on reputation.
In my opinion, the key attributes for a brand to have if it wants to engage successfully via social media are openness, transparency, integrity, energy and the sense that it can participate but not control. I think that good PRs tend to get their head around this quickly because they are very similar values to the ones that work well with traditional media.
To put it another way, no-one owes you editorial coverage or mentions on a blog or forum. But the balance of power is different with paid with paid-for activity so there might be a tendency to assume that this leverage can automatically work in the social space. Broadcasting, shouting, bragging and being overly self-promotional will not win you digital friends.
PR is changing and adapting to the digital media revolution – make sure that your efforts to manage the flow of information between you and your communities reflect that.