Friday, March 21, 2014

Big Data Marketing (or just PR)

I just finished reading a book called "Big  Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value."  Written by Lisa Arthur, the Chief Marketing Officer at a marketing software company, the 160-page volume is a clearly written prescription for how marketing and communication professionals can simply understand and begin to apply big data in their daily work.

As a side note, someone contacted me about the book via the social site Goodreads . They had noticed I added another big data book to my "to read" list, and contact me to let me know that the author of that book had written the forward to Big Data Marketing. They sent me a copy for free to review. (The other book I still have to read is "Big Data @ Work.")

So big data was at work to promote a book about big data. Are you with me so far?

The central theme of the book is that marketers need to move  from the dark ages to the enlightened age of marketing, embracing the technology and available data to make real-time, strategic decisions. In other words, marketing needs to be more data-driven.

While that seems to make intuitive sense, many organizations have not embraced and used big data. The hurdles Arthur identifies include being trapped in tactical vs strategic marketing, managing marketing manually, data stored in silos vs being shared across an organization, and a simple lack of talent or training in dealing with data.

A big emphasis of the book is that too much data is seen as a "hairball" that is hard to unravel. Arthur predicts that the issue will be handled in four potential structural changes for marketing: unifying the CIO and CMO roles, adding the chief marketing technologist role, creating a chief digital officer to work across the organization, or collaboration with the chief customer experience officer.

The book concludes with a chapter each on the five steps to becoming a data-driven marketing organization: get strategic, tear down silos, untangle the big data hairball, make metrics your mantra, and a new process for  marketing. The latter step of course means a re-naming the traditional "four Ps" of marketing--product, price, place, promotion--to people, processes, performance, and profit.

While I would recommend the book, as a PR professor and practitioner I noticed much in this book touted as "new" for marketing that resonates as rather tried and true PR perspectives. For example, PR people have for years emphasized segmenting publics and not treating all customers the same. Beyond that, PR people don't see customers as the only public, but consider  employees, community, investors, government and many other groups of people whose relationship with the organization is different than fiduciary.

With regard to breaking down silos, the PR scholarship has a concept called the "boundary spanning role" of public relations. It's very purpose is to communicate across internal and external organizational boundaries, or to break down silos. PR  folks have been saying this for years, and it is the main argument why the top PR person should be part of senior management, also called  the "dominant coalition," in order to function in this capacity effectively.

While the volume and variety of data is new in recent years, PR people have for  decades advocated research as a first step for campaigns, following a process known as RACE--research, action plan, communication, and evaluation. Within that process, there are other components that "Big Data Marketing" touts as new. These include measurable objectives (with benchmarks coming from data), defined strategies based on research, and a plan for evaluation, which is what the book stresses as  metrics.

So, the book does have value for anyone trying to get a handle on the buzz about "big data" from a communications perspective. But my reaction to the book was more "of course" than "aha!"

By the way, in my graduate class a book I use is "Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness" by Phil Clampitt. The relevant chapter in this book has a helpful process with which to consider big data. It's called  DIKA--data, information, knowledge, action. The point is that data on its own is not helpful. Information is data that is relevant. Knowledge is information that has meaning. Action is the application of this knowledge to meet organizational goals. It is the communication manager's role to find data and move it toward action.

In the end, I hope any of the books I mention are helpful to my blog readers. But I also hope you don't get blown away by tech jargon about data, and keep in mind the tried and true PR process and perspective are worth applying to the new flood of data and information we all contend with now.

Monday, December 09, 2013

FTC Chimes in on Native Advertising

You can call it "native advertising", "sponsored content," or some other trendy word for the modern iteration of an "advertorial." Whatever you call it, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may be calling out publishers, as well as advertising and public relations professionals, if they don't make it obvious when any content has been paid for and is not bonafide editorial or journalistic content.

That's the outtake from a December 4 FTC workshop on the subject.  The newly redesigned (as of today) FTC.gov site does not give the detailed results of the workshop. But trade publications including PRWeek have covered the results.

Most interesting in the remarks from FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez is the proliferation of sponsored content. Citing a study from the Online Publishers Association, she noted that 73% of online publishers offer  sponsored content. In addition, she stated that 34% of advertising agencies work with clients to create sponsored content. I have read separately that the PR community is not engaged with this as much, largely because of the belief that earned media has more influence and because those in advertising are already used to paying for reach.

But the FTC's primary concern is deception of consumers. Therefore, any sponsored content must be clearly labeled as such to avoid any potential confusion between advertising and editorial content.

Some might argue that with shrinking media resources the sponsored content idea is a win-win: publishers get content that is harder to come by with fewer reporters, they get revenue, and those seeking publicity have an avenue to reach people.

To a degree that's all true. However, not every organization has the kin of budget to pursue sponsored content to scale, or even at all. Also, if PR pros and others are supplying content, in the online environment people are losing the distinction between old media, new media, and the brand journalism that is increasing via corporate and organizational blogs, online news sites, etc. It's the same as young people grabbing a TV remote and having no idea what the difference is between cable and network TV. Or, using Netflix or some other device to view a show or an episode, with no thought given to the source of the show. Content is no longer tethered to creator or carrier.

But I would add that the FTC concern for consumer deception is a good one when it comes to news, which is entirely different than entertainment content in its importance and the perception of source. As Ramirez notes, the laws already state that connections between endorsers and sellers must be disclosed. That law can have new interpretation in the context of sponsored content.

As I tell my law and ethics students, government regulatory agencies often enact rules and laws where professionals left to themselves fail to follow basic  ethical guidelines. Such is the case here. The PRSA Code of Ethics  principle of "disclosure of information" covers the idea  of making sponsored content transparent. If your professional goal is to ensure that publics are able to make fully informed decisions, you would not hide the fact that content in a publication was written and paid to be placed by a brand or an agency. If your only goal is to persuade people by any means, then you are likely to cross an ethical line.

The FTC workshop merely discussed the issue. But enforcement may come if publishers and advertising and PR professionals think only of persuasion and not of public interest.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Book on Crisis Communications Offers Deep Practical Insights

James Lukaszewski was kind enough to send me a copy of his new book "Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication: What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation and Crisis Management." I was happy to receive it and having read it can strongly recommend it.

Lukaszewski is a seasoned PR consultant who has counseled CEOs of many major organizations. I remember that his workshops at national PRSA conferences are often standing-room only. He doesn't disappoint with this book either.

In a nutshell, this book is a detailed, practical, how-to guide that would be a useful reference for any PR practitioner to have handy. The table of contents is indexed for quick access to specific crisis communications information. There is also a detailed glossary of terms. The 10 chapters are replete with bullet lists of considerations, specific tasks, and other overviews. But each chapter gets into management-level strategy and the philosophy behind them, as opposed to mere tactical advice. I also appreciate the emphasis on prevention and responsiveness to all stakeholders, which is consistent with the academic literature on the subject.

Here is a quick take on the most practical contents of the book:

  • a detailed outline of what should be included in a crisis plan;
  • savvy overview of how reporters ask questions to illicit emotional quotes, and how to respond;
  • sage advice and if, when, and how to hold crisis-related news conferences;
  • the important consideration of using and responding to social media in times of crisis;
  • a very thorough explication of the tactics of activist groups, and how to respond;
  • how to handle crises that involve litigation, with a refreshing downplay of attorney as spokesperson and crisis manager in favor of a professional with actual communications education.
The book could be useful for practitioners and as a companion textbook for classes on crisis communication. I know I may require or recommend it the next time I teach a graduate course in crisis communication as a companion to the academic theoretical works on crisis communications, such as "Ongoing Crisis Communications: Planning, Managing and Responding" by Timothy Coombs, noted for his development of the Situational Crisis Communications Theory (SCCT), "Crisis Communication: A Casebook Approach" by Kathleen Fearn-Banks, or "Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice" by Alan Zaremba. 



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Twtrland Offers Useful Brand Planning and Monitoring

A representative from Twtrland, a social media analytics company, reached out to me and gave me a test drive of their services.

I'm an academic and not a brand with a huge budget for such PR service companies, so I appreciated the gesture. I took some notes for my classes, and thought I'd blog an overview of the service here.

Twtrland offers analytics for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. All can be connected for aggregated reporting, which can lead to integrated planning. There is a free version and a pro upgrade option, similar to other analytic services.

Brands can enter their brand handle as well as various versions of their brand name to get a variety of reports:

  • Audience analysis. Data is broken down in several categories--by celebrities, power users, casual, and novice; by age and gender; by top countries and cities. I especially like the breakdown of users' skills, and the audience interests with percentages in descending order for a variety of subject areas.
  • Fan base. This section gives a quick tiled view of users avatars and profiles. You can sort by followers, recent interactions, or amplifications (retweets, etc). There is also a conversations tab to see in at-a-glance view who is talking to and engaging with your brand.
  • Monitor. In addition to key words and key people, this section allows you to enter the names of key competitors--organizations and individuals--to test your game and maybe show comparison analysis reports to bosses and clients. It's the 'share of discussion' metric for social media.
  • Outreach. This tab allows you to find influencers so that you can strategize ways to engage them. This is also where your lists can be added to do analytics within your own prescribed groups of people.
There are a lot of social media platforms, and even more third-party services to help brands work and measure their efforts in this space. Twtrland is certainly one that could be considered as an option for social media specialists, as well as for public relations pros who have social media added to their long list of traditional responsibilities.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ways of Knowing and Teaching PR

An adjunct where I work said to me earlier this semester, "we teach students so they can get jobs." Sounds simple and straightforward. But it's also a little simplistic.

Obviously, the end result for undergraduates will be to leverage their college education into a job. But  teaching is more than mere training, and college is called "higher" education for a reason. Also, most employers actually seek workers who have more than just PR skills, but critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, and theoretical understanding that enhances strategy and initiative. I wrote about this in a recent post about Learning Assessment and PR Education.

The adjunct made this remark in the context of us undergoing searches for new professors for our faculty. The job posting has the typical "PhD preferred" language. The adjunct made it sound like PhD was a liability, as if a PhD guarantees no practical relevance. (Of course, if this adjunct had a PhD they would know not to over generalize like this).

It is true that candidate pools for jobs teaching PR tend to include young people who went straight through school and have little experience practicing PR. Then there is a batch of candidates with professional experience but no advanced degree. I should point out that the PR professors around the country largely include people, like me, who worked in the field and then later sought the PhD and became professors.

However, this candidate pool and discussion with a current adjunct got me thinking about preparation for teaching PR. In my own doctoral studies I had a research class in which the professor talked about different "ways of knowing." He was talking about the various research methods, their advantages and disadvantages, and the importance of choosing the right method relative to what research would be conducted.

With regard to teaching PR, it is important to know what you're teaching. And here also there are two primary ways of knowing. One is the traditional PhD route. Those who criticize hiring young PhDs with little work experience say that their knowledge is all theoretical. Critics say that as if theory  is a bad thing, and that reveals their own lack of knowledge about theory. Far from being impractical, theory explains and predicts behavior, and therefore is useful for giving students and deeper and broader understanding of PR and all its facets. Theory also is based not on a solitary person's experience and opinion, but multiple observations, vetted scientifically.

However, a professional who may not have an advanced degree and broad research and theoretical knowledge does offer students a primary versus secondary understanding of the field. Their experience can fuel their teaching with confidence and concreteness compared to a more abstract big picture perspective.

In short, taking terms from research, PhDs offer reliability--knowledge based on observations that are repeatable--while professionals offer a form of validity, namely face validity--that what is being talked about is grounded in reality and is actually about PR and not some other concept. Another way of saying this is that PhDs can offer quantitative and therefore generalizable views, whereas someone teaching from personal experience has a more qualitative perspective but it can't be generalized necessarily.

Since good research requires both reliability and validity, and since good research design often includes a combination of methods, it follows that a good way to approach teaching PR would involve combining these "ways of knowing." As I mentioned earlier, there are many PR professors who do have both professional experience and a PhD. But many faculties will have a combination of PhDs on tenure-track and full and part-time adjuncts who have years of experience in the field. It would be good for both types of professor to have mutual respect for the other's way of knowing, and seek to learn from each other. PhDs without much experience--or without much recent experience--should be involved with their local PRSA chapter, stay in touch with alumni to learn about their experiences, meet with local professionals, and read the trade publications as well as the academic journals. Adjuncts with professional experience should seek to see their own experience in the larger context of the field, read books and academic journals, attend conferences, meet with colleagues who do have PhDs to learn about theoretical explanations for their experience and assertions.

John Mellencamp once sang "I know a lot of things, but I don't know a lot of other things." I tell my students, you don't know what you don't know. That's a good attitude to have. In the end, the best way of knowing to teach PR is to have an open mind and keep learning.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Local and National Perspectives on Social Media and PR Education

It was an interesting coincidence that the Grand Rapids Business Journal had a local article about West Michigan colleges not offering social media degrees in the same week that the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) PR Division tackled the subject in the current issue of the Teaching Public Relations (TPR) monograph.

The Business Journal article (self disclosure: I write the "PR and Media" blog for GRBJ.com) noted that it "checked in" with all local colleges and universities and that none offer a social media degree. The article included perspectives from faculty at only two of the colleges--Calvin and Davenport--but the comments were relatively universal--that there is not enough substance to offer a full degree or even a course in social media, that existing theory and practice can and should be applied and adapted to social media, and that social media concepts and assignments can be integrated into existing courses.

That matches the national scale views of educators as well as practitioners as reported in the TPR monograph. Professors are cautioned not to get caught up in chasing "shiny new objects" or bogged down in the tactical how-to instruction for each new app and platform. Some of these tech tools advance so rapidly that professors would have to change syllabi several times a semester. 

It was encouraging to read in the monograph that practitioners encouraged professors to teach theory--existing PR and communications theory as well as recent research on social media use and affects--before blending that knowledge with practice. Students should learn not just how to use social media, but how to use it on behalf of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other clients. This changes the consideration of how to teach social media--professionally, with strategic insight fueled by empiricism and theory and not mere tactical proficiency.

Some of those "old" concepts that need to be applied to social media practice? Here's a quick run-down of concepts and principles that have been taught in existing courses for years:
  • Research--students should be taught how to use social media to gain knowledge of public attitudes, issues, trends. 
  • Objectives--don't just use social media because it's new and cool. We saw a lot of disasters when web sites were new. Have measurable objectives, as in what you want to accomplish for an organization in terms of public awareness, attitude, or actions in response.
  • Strategy--who you reach out to, how you reach them, what you say, the frequency with which you say it, what platforms you choose--all of these and other questions should be carefully considered given the objectives above. If you don't have a strategy, you are just pushing content into the crowded social space. Some old and newer theories are the basis of smart strategy in social media.
  • Tactics--we do teach tactics in existing courses. Social media should be seen as supplementing and not necessarily replacing existing communication tools. Also, social can be integrated with them and courses updated to include them, such as a media relations class now including social media and multi-media news releases, pitching bloggers, integrating hashtags at events and other ideas.
  • Evaluation--I would argue that the emphasis on evaluation has received as much buzz as social media in PR circles. Students need to know that clients, colleagues, and bosses will expect this. This is true of all PR efforts, but particularly social media. Research shows many executives still see social as a frivolous waste of time. Students need to know how to prove the affect of their social media efforts in terms of meeting organizational objectives.
Of course, I'm open to change. In 2006 when Twitter was new, I was the one telling students about it. Now students tweet me before I've had them in a class, and they reach out on many other platforms. I didn't see Twitter and other social media coming or becoming this popular. There may come a day when I have to throw out the syllabus and craft an entire course on social media. 

Then again, the time may come when such a suggestion sounds as ridiculous as having a full course on the fax machine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Books Offer Insights to Investor Relations Pros

I recently caught up on some reading, and on my stack were two short books about investor relations. Investor relations, or IR, is a growing specialty within the broader public relations field. Some consider IR to be distinct from, rather than part of, PR. That may be why there is a National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) that is separate from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Either way, there has been an increase in the number of communications professionals who work full-time or at least in part in investor relations--and it's not all about numbers as the books I read show. One book is by a PR practitioner and the other by a PR professor. Both offer a helpful insights about investor relations.

"Managing Investor Relations: Strategies for Effective Communication" by Alexander Laskin gives an interesting history of investor relations, its current practice, and projections about its future. Laskin, a PR professor at Quinnipiac University, does a good job of giving the big picture about the subject.

"Investor Relations: The Art of Communicating Value" by Jeffrey Corbin takes a practitioner's approach with steps to communicate specifically in the investor relations realm. The practical advice includes breaking down the typical types of investors and what they look for as well as the tactics to reach them.

Both books were a helpful read, confirming some things for me and adding some perspective and savvy in other areas. I have refreshed some lecture notes for the next time I address investor relations.