As a communicator, your job is to get people to listen to, comprehend, validate and repeat your company’s story. In order to rise above the noise and be heard, you need a pitch that helps people understand how your company, and its products and services, relate to them on a personal level.
If your job is to communicate the value of the iPhone or Coca-Cola, or any top brand with universally recognized benefits, telling a globally relevant story is a lot easier than it is if your product is twisty ties for bread bags or lug nuts for automobiles.
The key is to move your story to the top of what I call the relevance stack. There are many examples of companies that have done this successfully. Here are a couple from my own experience:
- When Seagate wanted to expand its brand identity from that of a computer hardware manufacturer to a “lifestyle” brand, the company worked with Silicon Valley PR agency Eastwick Communications to develop a more relevant, universally appealing story of how the company’s products positively affect the everyday lives of consumers. They told a story not of “speeds and feeds,” but of how Seagate storage was at the heart of so many popular consumer products. The company secured big PR hits with a Forbes cover story and product placement of its pink external hard drives on the Ellen Degeneres show.
- Darryl Moon, CEO of Orriant, a leading company in corporate wellness, leveraged his personal platform on personal and corporate accountability for curbing healthcare costs to obtain coverage from Bloomberg and elsewhere. While many companies shy away from taking a public position on complex and controversial issues, Moon is able to rise above the noise and be heard with his clearly articulated perspective backed by facts and experience. By connecting what Orriant does with arguments for and against Obamacare, Moon has moved Orriant up the relevance stack.
I attended a PR roundtable where an editor from Businessweek told us that he had been given the guidance that they would not be doing any more “tech” stories but would instead try to tell to lifestyle stories that would be more relevant and engaging to readers.
Can you tell a story of how your company’s products and services are relevant to a broad, consumer audience? Even if consumers aren’t your target market, if you move your company’s message up the relevance stack, you’re more likely to get top-tier coverage.
* Seagate, Eastwick Communications and Orriant are current or former Socialized clients.
As if breaking open a social media Watergate, The Next Web reports “a small storm rocked the ever tense relationship between tech blogs and the PR industry today, when TechCrunch revealed that one firm was charging a specific amount to clients it successfully got covered there.” But what stuns me is not the disclosure of this deep, dark secret, but The Next Web’s naivete (and/or its estimate of the naivete of its readers) about how the PR industry works and how clients compensate agencies.
The concept of paying a PR agency on the basis of published coverage is called “pay-for-play.” It is a favorite tool of start-ups who see their product/service as so world changing that any agency could get them on Oprah and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with ease, and would therefore be eager to be paid on the basis of “performance” rather than effort (billable hours). Start-ups love this because it costs nothing up front. Sometimes the agreement between an agency and a client includes both an hourly retainer and performance bonuses.
But here’s the thing. Paying the agency for coverage in a top-tier journal or blog is not the same as paid placement, which The Next Web sort of goes on to imply is going on here. In paid placement, the agency pays the blogger for coverage. That practice, if not clearly disclosed by the blogger, is unethical and can be in violation of FTC guidelines. Pay-for-play, on the other hand, while an undesirable model to most agencies, is simply a performance bonus like those found in so many other professions. Like it or not, it’s a free market economy and many clients demand this kind of arrangement, which they are free to do.
Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance says it best. “Well, yeah, I guess it’s obvious, I also like to write.” It’s true. I love to write. Which is why I am addicted to Quora. So when Quora included me among its Top Writers for 2012, I was pretty happy about that.
According to Forbes:
“The program recognizes its best contributors–who provide the lifeblood of the site–based on three criteria: best quality contributions over the past year, and best contributions overall, and topic expertise in a specific area. While some of them are professional writers or journalists, most of them are not. The group includes 493 people from 30 countries, including lawyers, doctors, police officers, pilots, prison inmates, professors, engineers and venture capitalists.”
Robert Scoble responded to news of the program by posting, “More elitism ahead, just what Quora needs to succeed.” on Quora’s Facebook page. I question this. What is a Klout score? What is an Ad Age Power 150 rating? Is it OK to recognize people who game the system with stupid SEO tricks, but not OK for people to be recognized for actual content expertise and writing proficiency? Seems like an ass-backwards view of what matters in the world.
I had never heard of Where magazine until this week when images of its unfortunate Fall 2012 cover showed up all over the internet. The placement of the model’s head obscures the “e” in “Where” to make it appear that the magazine’s title is Orange County Whore.
My initial reaction was “PhotoShop!” It would not be the first time that has happened.
Where’s web site has an entirely different cover treatment adorning the digital version of the magazine.
I checked Snopes and didn’t find any reference to this and haven’t read any comment by Where. And of course recipients of the printed magazine would have stepped forward with hard copies if the actual Fall 2012 cover was different, so I can only assume this is an authentic reproduction of the original cover.
I wonder, then, did Where do this deliberately? They have had similar covers in the past, though none generating as much buzz as this one. Was the “misconstrued” title a deliberate way to get people talking about the magazine? If it was, it’s a cheap shot, but very effective!
Disturbing photos posted in the immediate aftermath of the tragic Empire State Building shooting have caused widespread cries of “too soon.” Consensus on “The Internet” (you know, that monolithic entity that has its own voice apparently) is that those posting graphic images of the shooting so soon after the event showed a lack of respect for the victims.
Slate posted a piece titled The Empire State Building Shooting Photos on Instagram: Were They Too Soon? which included one of the photos. Slate was subsequently beaten senseless by Facebook users who recognized that the journal, in what appeared to be a cheap, exploitative move, was both asking the question and committing the act it was questioning. One user commented:
“Technology apparently warps people’s minds. Really, if I saw a dead body in front of me like that, my first thought wouldn’t be to get my camera out and get a salacious photo of it. This smacks of ‘I’ll-get-famous-if-I-photograph-this!’ type mentality, which current culture seems to support, and which adds to the righteous indignation of amateurs who are quite wrong about all this, I feel.”
The immediate (and simultaneous in some cases) availability of images of disturbing events is nothing new. On September 11, 2001, didn’t nearly all of us watch the second plane fly into the twin towers live on TV? As horrifying as that image was, it is indelibly scratched into our collective conscience, and has served, for better or worse, as a defining moment in our history. It put us on alert, just as the JFK assassination did nearly 40 years before, that in the blink of an eye, the world had changed forever. And it was infinitely more powerful because of its immediacy.
And even though we sometimes can’t stomach this immediacy, it is also something we demand. The ability to quickly take quality photographs and share them with friends is a key driver of social networking and Web 2.0 development efforts. Instagram sold to Facebook for $1B. In 2005, Yahoo paid $35M for Flickr. And critics are applauding faster photo handling as a key feature of Facebook’s iPhone app upgrade this week (the app, along with Instagram, used to take and post most pictures like those we’re talking about).
They used to say in response to critics of TV, if you don’t like what’s on change the channel or turn it off. Social networking is the channel we are unable to turn off. Instantaneous, graphic coverage of even the most violent and disturbing events in the news is something we will all have to get used to. And something we asked for.