Time to read: 4 minutes
As a professional and experienced copywriter, AI and how it will come to influence humanity has been the cause of much recent existential dread for Anthony McNamara, content creator at The Comms Crowd. In this post he looks at the risks and benefits of ChatGPT and what it is really in store for us.
As a professional and experienced copywriter, AI and how it will come to influence humanity has been the cause of much recent existential dread. Admittedly, binging on every documentary and podcast the topic has to offer, all with contributions from long-time experts in the field, did little to assuage my fears.
Initially, the dread was far-reaching. The speed with which AI continues to develop is raising questions those in power don’t even know exist, let alone know how to answer. Approaching its adolescence, the advent of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) – a term suspiciously innocuous – will mark the technology’s passage into maturity and the point at which our dependency on robotic intelligence will begin its final phase.
It will mark the most significant point in human history since the first homo sapiens discovered how to create fire. AGI, however, will be a blaze we could all too easily lose control over forever. Hence the recent dread.
The dread gets real
When ChatGPT trampled onto the scene like a heavily caffeinated Wildebeest in a pensioners’ yoga class, I admit to not thinking too much of it. “Another AI service that I can spend my free time interrogating on whether 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is the more effective football formation. Big wow.”
But then I used it, and the cold beads of sweat began forming on my expansive brow.
The solution I opted for, Bearly.AI, offers a variety of ‘prompts’, one of which is called ‘Copy Wizard’ for essays, blogs, and posts. I typed in a made-up, generic title and sat back in horror as the tool generated a grammatically sound and, on the face of it, relevant 1,000-word blog.
If it was dread I was experiencing before, I wouldn’t even know what the word is to describe what I experienced at that moment.
It was a feeling that lasted for weeks. The gig is up. Time to start thinking about re-training.
The importance of knowing your enemy
Having sought reassurance from a selection of family members, friends, and colleagues, I unearthed my resolve. I love my job, and I’m not losing it to a set of cocky algorithms.
It was time for me to step into the ring with ChatGPT, and we were going bare knuckle.
Instead of using some generic blog title, I re-engaged Bearly.AI and typed in the title of an actual blog a real client had asked me to write. The blog outline immediately separated into different sections and looked depressingly appropriate. Next, I clicked the ‘Generate Copy’ button, and within around 30 seconds, the full blog cascaded down my screen.
But then I began reading it, and the sense of elation was almost transcendental. The blog was crap.
It was littered with repetition, from sentence openers to entire sentences. It had zero personality. And, it was laughably light on illuminating facts and figures — just crap.
Friend, not foe
With round one going emphatically to the human, I began to recalibrate my whole attitude toward ChatGPT. Its ability to produce quality content is limited, to put it politely, but it offers other functions that have since proved to be handy.
The ‘Continuation’ prompt designed to help beat writer’s block has merit, as does the ‘Executive Summary’ and ‘Counter Argument’ prompts. In fact, it turns out that learning how to construct the best prompts is arguably the most important skill you can acquire when using ChatGPT-enabled tools.
True though this may be, even with the most ChatGPT-friendly prompts inputted, the resultant copy is not what any self-respecting copywriter or organisation would ever think to submit, much less, publish. But it can give a decent starting point, a handy blueprint for something a competent human can radically improve upon.
In other words, ChatGPT can be thought of as a promising work-experience student approaching their employer and saying, “Hi, I’ve done this for you to try and save you a bit of time.” And I, the employer in this dubious analogy, reply with, “Thank you. I can probably use some of this. Now you run along and finish transcribing that video for me.”
Even if ChatGPT does become a little too self-assured in the future, it faces another problem even more formidable than me.
The search engines won’t stand for it
When the likes of Google cottoned on that people were stuffing their websites with key words as a means of doping their SEO, the backlash was ruthless. Many websites were penalised so heavily with SERP (Search Engine Results Page) relegations, they never properly recovered.
Expect the same for AI content. Indeed, a raft of AI content detector tools are already sweeping the marketplace and it seems to be a matter of time before they’re integrated into search engine result generators.
The last thing any search engine provider wants is for its users to be pummelled with a load of robot content during their cyber surfing sessions.
Apart from the inevitability of this development is the delicious irony – AI saving the livelihoods of copywriters from AI. *chef’s kiss*.
ChatGPT knows its place. For now.
I don’t know what the future holds for ChatGPT. That’s the one thing that’s still quite scary – no one really does.
However, I do know that in its present form, it can’t respond to detailed briefs anything like as ably as a human copywriter. It can’t understand the unspoken reactions of clients during calls. It can’t offer original insight on any topic, question a client’s approaches or ideas, and it can’t inject personality unless it’s pretending to be someone else.
Mercifully, it also seems to understand all of this. With ChatGPT draped against the ropes, sweating and bloodied, I asked it directly if it was coming for my job.
“As an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to predict the future. However, it’s unlikely that ChatGPT or any other AI language model will completely replace copywriters. While AI can be helpful in generating content and assisting with certain tasks, copywriting involves creativity, critical thinking, and a deep understanding of language and communication. These are skills that are difficult for AI to replicate, and human copywriters are likely to remain an important part of the industry.”
Maintain that attitude, ChatGPT, and you and I will get along just fine.
Time to read: 2 minutes
Emma Tucker, our newest team member and Internal Communications Consultant at The Comms Crowd provides her top three tips for creating a company culture that is the right for you.
All companies – regardless of how long they have been running – have a culture. Your culture is that certain something that captures the essence of who you are and how you do things. It’s the thing that attracts people to join you and it’s also what keeps them working effectively and loyally.
For start-ups, your culture and vision are probably the two things that you can use to convince those first few hires through the door. So arguably, taking an intentional approach to define and use it is smart and will keep you honest as you grow. Here are three ways to get intentional with your culture.
1. Define it. Get your people in a room and discuss what makes the company what it is or what you want it to be. Write it down. Get specific on the words you choose and don’t be afraid to disagree; it’s in the debate that you’ll uncover areas of tension and uniqueness. Think about the stories that you each tell about your company – what do they say about you?
Be sure to define the values and behaviours that you want to live by. For example, you might choose “Impact” as a value and explain the accompanying behaviours as “You accomplish important work that positively impacts our clients” “You consider the impact of your work on the people around you” and “You leave a good impression because you take action and deliver on your promises.”
Then test it. And better yet, get more people in your company involved in the process. Let them discuss the values and pick behaviours that are relevant and helpful to their work. Get their input and the behaviours will stick.
Then test it with your clients and external stakeholders. Honest feedback will be your friend.
Keep refining the descriptions until they feel right and truly reflect what you’re all about. Aim to define four or five company values. Teams can then decide on the accompanying behaviours relevant to them (aim for three behaviours per value).
2. Embed it. That means weaving it into every interaction with your employees and clients. It should be part of how you hire, develop, and measure your people. It should become integral to the way you innovate and grow your business offering. It should be part and parcel of how you show up to client meetings and deliver results.
It should be reflected in your communications, both in the tone and in the method; instantly recognisable in everything from financial updates, processes and procedures, town halls, team meetings and one-to-one conversations. Ultimately your culture should dictate how you measure your performance and success.
3. Evolve it. Your culture is alive and will continue to evolve whether you maintain it intentionally or not. So, revisit the definitions – a fitting set of values and behaviours in year one might require a different nuance in year five. Check that you haven’t missed an important touchpoint as you’ve grown.
Smart leaders keep their finger on the pulse so go back to your employees and clients and listen again to their stories, observe their behaviour, and act on their feedback.
The speed and scale of your growth will dictate the frequency of these checkpoints, but every six months is a sensible guide.
This is time-consuming work but well worth the effort because getting intentional about your culture, will ultimately drive better business outcomes. McKinsey’s Organisational Health Index shows that organisations with top-quartile cultures post a 60% higher shareholder return than median companies and 200% higher than those in the bottom quartile.
People who want to positively add to your culture will perform better, more easily adapt to change, and help you to attract more talent. They will be your champions.
And putting in the effort to define, embed, and evolve your culture during the early years of your start-up, will save you a lot of time, money, and energy in the long run.
Time to read: 4 minutes
Anthony McNamara, content creator at The Comms Crowd looks at why it is important for companies to talk about their corporate culture and values and why it is should be part of their communications plan.
For any business to perform at optimal levels, designated KPIs must be monitored and assessed regularly. Typically, these KPIs surround functions such as sales, technology infrastructure, PR and marketing, and client relationships.
Critical though such metrics are, they are the supporting walls and lintels of the corporate edifice, and without a solid foundation, they are liable to collapse.
Sitting beneath the processes, goals, and assets of a successful business, that foundation takes its form as the corporate culture. Often neglected in favour of more short-term pursuits, developing a strong, inclusive, and supportive culture is the key to unlocking maximum potential.
However, simply embedding such a culture is not enough if you want to really reap its rewards; you have to talk about it.
In this blog, we look at the benefits of a great corporate culture, how The Comms Crowd clients have developed theirs, and how we helped them spread news of their successes to the masses.
The ‘Great Resignation’ has put corporate culture to the fore
If the development of a robust corporate culture was important before the Covid-19 pandemic, it became critical in the years that followed.
In what became known as the ‘Great Resignation’, employees voluntarily resigned from their jobs in unprecedented numbers and in the UK, between July and September 2021 alone, over 400,000 workers left their jobs.
Among the cited reasons employees gave for leaving were hostile working environments. Indeed, such was the prevalence of the reported phenomenon, that ‘toxic workplaces’ became a trending topic nationwide.
It is clear that the massive disruption of the last few years prompted fresh expectations among the workforce as to what behaviours they will and will not tolerate. A poor or neglected corporate culture may have been grudgingly endured before the 2020s commenced. But times have changed.
Quorsus, a former Comms Crowd client and strategic financial services consultancy founded just before the pandemic started and now owned by Capgemini, led discussions on the dangers of a toxic company culture and how one might be avoided. Quorsus was established with a vow that theirs would be a corporate culture imbued with positivity and reinforced by core values from the start.
Within consultancies – where your people are your product – the importance of embedding such a culture and values cannot be overstated and goes some way to explaining the extraordinary success Quorsus has enjoyed.
With our help, their approach and their message was amplified across their sector and beyond.
A robust corporate culture breeds productivity
Ask any education professional, and they will confirm that praise is essential for a child’s development. The chemical reaction experienced from being told they’ve done a great job provides an immediate boost to a child’s sense of self-worth and encourages them to continue working hard so they might experience it again.
In other words, it has the power to supercharge their productivity.
Yet, something changes when we reach adulthood and enter the world of work. It’s as though we forget those reward centres exist and how powerful they are. Consequently, praise is often replaced by criticism and our inner child – still so easily motivated by encouraging words – begins to suffocate in a miasma of ruthless expectation.
It is short-sighted, to say the least. A national Workplace Culture Survey of US employees found that 63% of respondents claim that workplace culture directly impacts their organisation’s success.
Productivity also depends on the abundance of opportunity. When a former client and friend of The Crowd dxw, a leading employee-owned digital agency that works with the public and third sectors, launched its Returners’ Programme to help build a diverse, inclusive workforce, it broke new ground.
To ensure that dxw’s sector and potential stakeholders knew of its endeavours, the agency brought in The Comms Crowd to tell and disseminate their story. The coverage was such that dxw has become recognised as an expert provider not just of digital public services, but of opportunity to those who may have felt it had passed them by.
Together we made sure that the world knew of its leadership position in creating a positive, inclusive culture. Among various steps, this included becoming one of the first companies to introduce gender pronouns into their signatures.
dxw’s small size notwithstanding, the firm went on to win an array of company culture awards, helping to attract exceptional like-minded talent. An essential for any fast-growing technology enterprise.
Positive cultures promote development
Five years on and ‘The Great Resignation’ jolted many organisations into action because they didn’t want to lose their top talent. Recognising that avoiding high employee turnover requires more than just an amenable working environment, many firms put a renewed focus on facilitating professional development.
Ahead of any recruitment drive, senior leaders invariably begin reviewing factors such as pay scales, perks and benefits, and holidays. However attractive they’re able to make each perk, if the organisation is renowned as a place where careers stagnate, the drive is doomed to failure.
As such, building a positive culture requires embedding opportunity and routes to success at all levels of the business. The best cultures underpin this by making commitments to personal development as much as professional, properly rewarding achievements, and understanding of the importance of a healthy work/life balance.
Former client, JDX Consulting, acquired by Delta Capita, attributed their sustained global success to a carefully developed culture of inclusivity, coaching, and empowerment that allowed the firm to attract diverse, high-quality talent from all walks of life.
By entrusting The Comms Crowd with articulating and sharing their methodologies, JDX quickly became the corporate culture benchmark within their sector before their acquisition by Delta Capita.
We then went further by working with JDX to promote their Festival of Learning, a professional development programme set up by the firm’s HR division. The initiative gives employees the space and tools to grow professionally at their own pace and take control of their own career progress.
Showcase your corporate culture with The Comms Crowd
Our clients love us because we’re adept at getting their messages and successes out into the public domain and the publications their stakeholders engage with.
If you have invested time and money into developing a corporate culture that breeds energy, achievement, opportunity, and happiness, it deserves to be celebrated.
Moreover, potential talent, partners, investors, and clients want to know what you’ve done and are doing. Speak to The Comms Crowd today, and our internal comms consultant, PRs and writers can ensure they soon will.
Time to read: 2 minutes
Lauren Bowden, Fintech content lead at The Comms Crowd looks at the opportunities and challenges facing Regtech firms, and the role trust plays in ensuring future success.
When the term Regtech burst onto the scene around circa 2015, it was met with mixed reaction. Some took the cynical path – simply as spin for existing regulatory technology vendors who have been in the business for years to benefit from Fintech’s halo effect. Others saw it as a way for new start-ups to shake things up, offering more cost-effective and agile SaaS-based solutions to post-GFC problems.
Seven years later, with the market projected to reach around USD 33.1 Billion by 2026, countless players are thriving in all areas from tax to cannabis. Established vendors are now embracing the portmanteau with open arms and investing in more flexible forward-looking business models – few would dispute that Regtech is here to stay.
That said – there are still a fair few hurdles these firms need to jump before they can realise their full potential. According to the FCA, one of the most active regulators supporting this burgeoning market, it all comes down to trust:
“The trust element is ingrained in the complex ‘business case for RegTech’ – RegTech firms need to convince firms to allow them to work with their most sensitive data assets and systems in order to solve their problems.”
Policies, procedures, and – most importantly – legal documentation go a long way to ensure sensitive data assets and systems remain safe. But before anything gets signed, to get even a toe in the door Regtech firms need to find ways to demonstrate trustworthiness. Of course, trust needs to be embedded internally first, through a solid culture, stemming from the top down and cultivated by HR, but it needs to be demonstrable externally too, especially in such a crowded market. And this can be achieved with transparent marketing communications.
- For start-ups when there’s a multitude of moving parts at any one time, external communications should be planned carefully and not rushed. Investing in building relationships with the trade journalists forms the beginning of your journey and is always time well spent, as these independent and credible sources are always essential conduits to getting news out when the time is right.
- For more established vendors looking to move into the Regtech space, a solid analyst relations programme should be at the heart of any product roadmap. Honest, open, and regular dialogue with the gatekeepers of those ever-important magic quadrants, waves, or rankings should be prioritised.
- Solid content marketing and a strategic social media plan including blogs, e-books, infographics, whitepapers, and other high value content shared directly with prospects and customers or distributed over curated social media accounts like LinkedIn can work at any size or type of Regtech firm. That is provided it speaks authentically to the right audience, and that content is relevant, it adds value, and is not overtly promotional. And with the amount of change inherent in the regulatory landscape, the opportunities for subject matter experts to demonstrate thought leadership and guidance are plentiful.
There is a whole arsenal of comms tools that Regtech firms can employ at various stages of their evolution, but the art is knowing when, what, how and to whom. Working with marketing communications professionals who understand the nuances of this complex, jargon-filled environment, as well as how to make the message hit home will ensure their voice is heard in this very crowded marketplace.
Time to read: 3 minutes
A persistent and key question for B2B companies is whether there is real value in social media and, if so, which channels are worth the investment of time and resources. Our social media expert, Simona Cotta Ramusino shares her views on the best approach.
The outage that simultaneously affected WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram last month highlighted an important lesson for social media managers: either take a day off, or ensure you are on multiple platforms. But aside from the outage there is another reason why a B2B firm should be nurturing multiple social media channels – they fulfil different purposes.
The way I see it LinkedIn is about describing who you are, Twitter is about doing what you are and Facebook is about showing who you are.
Let’s hear it for LinkedIn
LinkedIn remains our preferred social media platform when it comes to our B2B clients.
According to some recent stats, LI drives 46% of social traffic to B2B sites and is considered the most credible source of content. Other numbers supporting the business case for having a LI presence include:
- 4 out of 5 people on the platform “drive business decisions”
- there are 61 million “senior-level influencers”
- 33% of B2B decision makers use LinkedIn to research purchases
As a fully integrated communications agency we see LinkedIn management as a key piece of the comms plan.
4 reasons we love LinkedIn
- You can build your company’s profile within your sector. As your competitors will likely be on LI too, it is important to be seen and promote your latest company news, updates and wins.
- You can promote thought leadership and highlight your company’s experts. This helps put the accent on the individuals driving the business as well as your products and services.
- You can directly engage with peers, clients and prospects. As with many social media platforms, LI supports two-way communication, allowing for followers to comment on and share your updates. You can also gather their views through polls and posts – something that more traditional channels do not allow for.
- You can have a positive impact on employees and attracting new hires. Understanding the kind of culture a company has is key when deciding whether it is going to be a right fit – whether it is worth leaving your current company for. It is no longer a leap of faith or a ‘grass is always green’ scenario: LI (and Facebook) can help you acquire a view of what it is or would be like working for a certain company.
LinkedIn has also added some interesting new features over the last year to improve user experience and make engagement with followers more interesting:
- LI Polls
- LI Live
- Option to use Carousels for posts.
Also, not quite as new (but still worth noting) is the option to set an event under your company profile, share it with connections, and invite connections to follow your company page.
For B2B firms, is there life beyond LinkedIn?
YES! Twitter is great if you are attending virtual (or dare we say live now) events and for sharing snippets from presentations or keynotes. It also allows you to follow and engage with key influencers in your space with many analysts and journalists tweeting regularly.
Facebook is probably the best platform to showcase your culture, the people that make the company a great place to be and any CSR projects that you may be engaged in. As well as helping to create a strong community feeling among employees it is also a powerful means of attracting new, like-minded people.
If you are a business that relies more on visual marketing then Instagram is the place to be. The platform is optimised for videos and images so products and services can be brought to a target audience in a more compelling, memorable, and engaging way, both building trust and increasing traffic back to your website. Although Instagram is often disregarded by B2B marketers, viewed mainly as mainly a B2C channel, there are stats and business reasons that support the value in having a presence on the platform:
“B2B companies experience their largest engagement ratios on Instagram—meaning that of the major social sites, Instagram fosters the highest number of interactions per number of followers. Not only does Instagram promote engagement through commenting, but it hosts text, photos, and videos directly on the platform so your followers don’t have to click elsewhere to see the content.”
So if you are considering upping your social media game or hiring someone to do it for you, establish what it is you want to achieve and who exactly you want to reach. Equipped with this knowledge, selecting the right platform or platforms, becomes much easier.
Time to read: 2 minutes
Reflecting on a couple of our recent virtual analyst events, Eria Odhuba, Head of AR, provides some best practice dos and don’ts.
Oh, the joys of jumping onto a plane and flying off to host an analyst event in another city or country. If you speak to some industry colleagues, their eyes go all misty as they remember the best bits (or try to ignore the worst bits) after a year of Zoom calls. Physical meetings, handshakes, drinks at the bar, meals, 1:1 meetings – all seem a distant rose-tinted memory. And nobody is 100% sure they want to start again in 2021.
So tech companies have been attempting the ‘virtual analyst event’, with analyst Twitter feeds telling us who got it right and who didn’t.
One of our clients, Finantix, hosted a couple of virtual analyst events last year, and hit gold because The Comms Crowd’s AR team had the exact analysts that focus on their specific technology joining the events.
What did we learn?
- With only 2 hours for each event, our content had to be spot on. We didn’t have a full day to build up narratives, and each presentation had to deliver compelling content instantly. I don’t see why this should change when we go back to in-person events.
- Customers are your best friend, and getting them to talk to analysts is even better. Just think, analysts have been on virtual events for 12 months listening to vendors wax lyrical about how great they are. The customer just tells them what has actually worked and where they are going. If there is a moment when analysts will not multi-task, it is surely when the customer speaks.
- Good broadband is what keeps us all sane at the moment. Not everybody has great broadband, so glitches are inevitable. But presentations and demos need to run smoothly, so making sure you have the right technology, broadband and back-up as a presenter is crucial.
- Mix it up – videos, demos, panels, presentations. When someone switches their Zoom video off, assume you have lost them. It might not be the case, but if you have rocking content, nobody will feel the need to multi-task and start clearing their inbox (or turn off their video).
- OK, you are not organising flights, hotel rooms or dinners, but making sure analysts have all the right information in the lead-up to the event is crucial. Let them know the agenda, who is speaking and when/if there will be breaks well before the event, and confirm just before it.
- Not least, we learned that however important you are, your dog doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that you are delivering a presentation – there is a damn squirrel in the garden.
“Thanks again for helping to pull together an impressive crowd of analysts who cover our space for the briefing yesterday… . First time we have done this in our own right, so it was no mean feat to get so many folks on the call for what was a pretty reasonable discussion.” CMO at Finantix
“Thanks for inviting me. I was able to listen in for the first half. I enjoyed the content, especially the happy client testimonial.” Forrester
“Thanks very much for your kind follow-up! Amazing presentation.” Aite Group
“Great briefing today and clearly a lot going on. There were many other topics that were of interest to us. We would be happy to get in touch at the appropriate time.” Aite Group
What might we do better next time?
- Use the technology we have for more personalised engagements with execs, partners and customers (e.g. meeting rooms, personalised landing pages, etc.)
- Arrange more direct discussions between customers/partners and analysts.
- Once lock-down lifts, find a top notch venue and meet in person!
So we are going to run more analyst events this year, having learnt what worked well. We’ll use them as markers to engage with analysts, but maniacally focus on engagements with analysts between times to keep them abreast of client developments and, just as importantly, listen to what they are seeing in the market. Analyst relations is always a two-way conversation, however you have it.
Time to read: 3 minutes
Our newest team member and content creator, Anthony McNamara takes a stand on writing for your audience – not the algorithms.
Most professions attract people to them for a range of reasons. Law, for example, will attract those enticed by the potential earnings as much as it will attract those with an overwhelming desire to see justice done. Providing both do their jobs well, the motivation isn’t particularly important.
However, this is where content writing is a different beast.
For the love of words
The primary motivator for pretty much all content writers (and I make this bold claim with absolutely no empirical data to back it up) is the desire to make a living doing what we love – writing.
In this, I am no different. The thrill of concocting a clever metaphor or constructing a killer closing paragraph (with just the right amount of alliteration) is palpable on those occasions I pull either off. More so when I receive an emphatic “good job” from the client.
And yet, as my years penning words for cash pass, I am increasingly motivated not only by an earnest love of writing, but by a sense of indignation. I still see so much content that has demonstrably not been written for the enjoyment and/or enlightenment of the reader and really it grinds my gears, as the kids say.
I should pause here to affirm that I am in no way taking a pot shot at my content writing kinfolk. Most of what I see that so infuriates me has either not been written by a professional content writer or has, but clearly under the duress of either stringent SEO objectives or anxious marketing managers keen for something, anything to be published.
SEO at the price of coherency
Addressing the former, though the faceless Google algorithms to which we are all beholden are allegedly becoming savvy to it, much content is still produced only with them in mind, and not the actual human beings who have to read ‘cheap, reliable laptop’ 17 times in one 400 word blog.
It’s not just SEO though. Plenty of businesses are shrewd enough to know that regular content output is a good thing, but on those occasions they have nothing much to say, force their writers to say it anyway.
For example, I once read a blog about resolving office conflicts. One piece of scholarly advice contained within was, in the event of an argument, to “walk away and count to 10”. Yes, they had re-purposed lesson one from ‘Anger Management for Toddlers’ for grown, professional adults with mortgages and NutriBullets. If I’d been so angered by this banality and the utter waste of precious seconds of my life reading it, how many others had been similarly angered? How many of those were potential customers?
It’s true that writing with the algorithms as your target audience will get you high up on the results pages. It’s equally true that regularly updated content on your website will make you appear committed and active. But if the final destination is a hastily cobbled together, anti-climactic piece, it will reflect poorly on your brand.
Of course, this should not be the sole motivation for wanting to produce great content. Motivation should also come from the fact that word will soon get around if you become a reliable repository of well-crafted insight. With the right strategy backing it up, regular quality content can elevate your brand to the position of influencer, aka Content Marketing Shangri-La.
Finding your content is one thing, enjoying the consumption of it quite another
The point I’m trying to make (and it’s a fair criticism that I’ve gone round the houses making it), is that your written content should always, always be an illuminating read. Even if it has been written with SEO in mind, or because it’s been a fortnight since your last blog, always assume that someone, somewhere will actually take the time to read it from top to bottom.
Speak to that person. Respect their intelligence and make an effort to involve them in the conversation because that’s what’s happening when they’re reading your words. If you have no new knowledge at that moment to share, revisit something old and put a fresh, entertaining spin on it. And if, for whatever reason, you’re unable to do this, pass it over to someone who can.
I’ll end this semi-rant with some advice and that is to remember the following: When a potential customer is reading your content, at that moment you are in dialogue with them. Even if indirectly, you are giving them reasons why your services and yours alone are the ones they need.
The question is, how useful are those reasons, and how well are you getting them across?
Time to read: 1 minute
After the year we’ve all endured and as a parent and small business owner, Sam Howard adds her voice in support of mental health awareness.
Running the agency and being a lone parent are usually quite enough to be going on with. But aiming for all the plates spinning all of the time is normally OK. It’s the life I’ve chosen and I make a point of rewarding the tough times with the good: Normally we enjoy lots of family travel; yummy dinners with friends; hikes out into the countryside with the hounds etc. So I can usually ride out the storms.
But when thinly-stretched is your base point and then you swap out your reward system for grief, fear, restrictions and isolation – I guess it’s no surprise that I have sometimes felt completely overwhelmed. Add to that a very ‘tentative’ year for business and ‘bleak’ would just about sum me up for much of 2021.
Also having to bear witness to the carnage this era has wreaked in our children’s lives is extraordinarily painful. An observant parent once noted, “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child.” Effectively keeping me tethered somewhere between despondent and extremely anxious.
I have no magic cure, no top five tips, no slick way of linking this back to our services.
I’m lucky to be old enough to have had my first jab which was huge. And for me, things started to get better when after a winter of all work and no play, I swapped the laptop for a shovel and headed off into the garden for a couple of weeks to give my brain a bit of a break and to get some perspective.
Looking forward to looking forward
In the short term, I hope that as we all come out of this and are able to reclaim our personal reward system, we can look forward to better times and our mental resilience and stability will be returned to us.
But in the longer term I hope we have learned some collective empathy. Having weathered the menopause, I am no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks. Even though it was only a few years ago, the general consensus at the time was that all I need do was, ‘just get a grip’. With so many of us now more personally acquainted with the debilitations of poor mental health, I hope there will now be a much deeper well of consideration for those in our care. Whether they be colleagues, family or friends who are suffering, let us hope this collective experience, enables us to give them the comfort, patience and support they deserve.
Time to read: 3 minutes
We are very lucky that our head of tech content Sandra Vogel is also a working journalist, as it helps keep all us PRs on our toes. Here she shares some journalist pet hates – forewarned is forearmed.
PRs try their hardest to achieve success with every pitch. Journalists spend significant parts of their day reading pitches, and working out what is and is not useful to follow up.
For both parties it can be a bit of a battlefield. For the journalist there’s never enough time to triage an inbox. For the PR there are never enough successful placements of a pitch.
There are ways PRs can up their pitching game – and perhaps the first place to look for clues on strategy is identifying things that annoy journalists so that these can be avoided.
Here are six things that can annoy a journalist – and obviously enough, they are six things a PR might want to avoid.
One email is enough. If you’re going to send a follow-up, wait a while. Wait a couple of days. Sending a follow-up within hours is not going to win you brownie points. If several PRs are working on an account, make sure only one of them sends email to a particular journalist. Journalists don’t want or need to receive multiple copies of the same email from different people.
As for follow-up calls, tread carefully. “Did you get our email about….” is not a good way to go. If you sent it, the journalist got it. If you are going to follow up do so with more information, a new snippet of interest. Don’t give the task to a junior who may know neither the journalist not the subject matter. Follow-up calls are part of your journalist relationship building. Use them rarely, use them wisely.
2) Inappropriate addressing
I don’t want to receive emails that start “Hi, Vogel”, “Hi [name]”, “Hi Andrew”, or anything else that’s not, “Hi Sandra”. But I do receive them. Even though I know this isn’t personal, it annoys. For some journalists it will result in immediate hitting of the Delete key, before the main point of the email has been reached.
3) Media database errors
If you’re taking the personal approach and set aside time to check a journalist out and reference their work, then make sure you get it right. I’ve had emails that start something like “I really enjoy your work at [website], and I wanted to run an idea by you”. OK. But if I’ve never worked at [website] alarm bells ring.
This can cause a journalist to decide in a split second that whatever comes next it’s not relevant to them, and spark another quick reach for the Delete key before any further words are read.
4) Spelling mistooks and word-related offences
Journalists are writers. I know, talk about stating the obvious. But the point is that they are therefore highly attuned to spelling, grammar, and other word-related matters. Emails and pitches that have not been through a spell checker, or those where the grammar and syntax is poor, won’t get much traction. Not everyone is a super-wordsmith. But nobody that can’t write a proper sentence or pay attention to a spellchecker should be let loose on journalist emails.
5) Errors in accompanying documents
Accompanying documents include things like press releases and report summaries. In late February I received a 2021 press releases dated 2020. Seven weeks into the new year. Oh how the PR and I laughed. I’ve also had press releases and report summaries with tracked changes left in them. These can be amusing and informative, but sometimes the tracked changes can be a bit near the knuckle and embarrassing for the PR and their client. The PRs don’t laugh quite as much then. I am afraid an email request to “please delete without reading” is sent more in hope than expectation.
6) Jargon and weasel words
Any pitch that claims what’s on offer is “unique”, “groundbreaking” or “game-changing” gives itself a lot to live up to. Usually it can’t meet the highfalutin claims, and a journalist will not need long to confirm that. Tread carefully about what you claim in a pitch. The watchword here is to show not tell.
Related to this point is the overuse of a range of words that just set journalists’ teeth on edge. Here are a few: showcase, synergy, disruptive, next-generation, revolutionary, innovative, DNA, passionate.
It might be hard to avoid using words like these, but many journalists just find them lazy ways of expressing your ideas. Avoid.
It’s not too difficult to find out what irks journalists. Just ask a few of those your own agency values and respects the most and you’ll get a good strong list of annoyances. That’s step one. Step two is doing something with what you’ve learned. Onwards!
Time to read: 3 minutes
Tech PR lead Debbie Smith looks to balance the more subtle benefits of earned media against the instant gratification of the click through…
So you’ve just achieved two great pieces of coverage for your client. You send them the links and pat yourself on the back. Then you get a reply from their SEO expert: “But one piece doesn’t link to the website at all, and the other only has a link at the bottom.”
They go on to explain that for SEO purposes it’s good to get links, but ideally these links would be towards the top of articles to increase click-throughs.
Resisting the temptation to throw your coffee at your screen in exasperation, you take a deep breath and explain PR 101: the difference between earned, owned and paid media.
This is not the only time I’ve had to explain earned media in recent weeks. So I’ve been thinking about why the question is being asked. Although it may seem glaringly obvious to those of us who’ve spent our careers in B2B PR, perhaps the convergence of different channels has muddied the waters for some marketeers?
It’s not that PRs don’t understand the value of SEO and the value of obtaining links back to the client’s site, it’s simply that earned media is first and foremost the tool to build credibility, increase brand trust and manage reputation.
First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about.
- Paid media: you pay for visibility or reach through advertising, advertorial, PPC or affiliate marketing. So you have complete control, but it’s the least credible. Ultimately you are paying to get your audience’s attention.
- Owned media: includes your website, your blogs, your newsletters and your social media channels, where you control both channel and content. This is ideal for education and demonstrating thought leadership. So no money is changing hands but it’s still you explaining to the world why you are so great.
- Earned media: third party objective endorsement, i.e. someone else is talking about you as an expert, and no money has changed hands. This includes media coverage obtained through PR, where a journalist has covered the story because in their view it’s newsworthy, not because you’ve paid for the coverage. To obtain this you need strong content, whether it’s a product that’s truly innovative, an opinion which provides new and informed views or a piece of thought leadership – which is where owned thought leadership content is valuable, as it can be repurposed for PR.
The great benefit of earned media is the credibility it brings which the other two routes can’t provide.
However, the downside of this is that you don’t get to dictate to the journalists where to put a link back to your client’s site, or indeed if one is there at all, depending on their editorial policy. You certainly don’t go back to a publication and ask for a link to be added or you’ll be promptly referred – with a few choice words – to their advertising department, and they’ll be unlikely to feel inclined to write about your clients again.
Where it gets blurry is when earned media becomes ‘online word of mouth’, including shares and reposts, content picked up by third party sites and media developed through partners and influencers.
Say you post on your company’s LinkedIn page about your new blog (owned) or latest piece of press coverage (earned) – when these are shared, they are both ‘online conversations’, even though the content has originated in different ways. Are posts from partners truly earned, or based on a mutually beneficial relationship i.e. owned? And while tech and fintech analysts (i.e. influencers) review products and provide editorial independence, the ASA has taken many so-called consumer influencers to task for not making clear when content has been paid for.
There’s a tendency to class all click-throughs as equal. Perhaps that’s true for buying trainers. It also makes reporting more straightforward! But in the world of B2B, the clicks driven by third party objective endorsements are surely the most likely to generate real interest and preference.
The journalists we work with pride themselves on their editorial integrity. A discussion on a journalist and PR social media group this week made that abundantly clear. So they’ll only cover material that in their view has earned its place on their websites. And we’ll continue to focus on obtaining that earned media, and other third party objective endorsement, as well as on generating the strong owned content that drives it. We’ll celebrate when journalists write about our clients because we know there is more to building credibility, increasing brand trust and managing reputation than including a back link.
Where we sit in the digital marketing mix