Blogging is a total waste of time

Waste nof time

I have heard this increasingly over the past 12 months. I have seen peers from the communications industry who used to be ferocious bloggers disappear. I myself, took a year off while a combination of a new role and family life took their toll on my time…..but I never lost the belief that blogging is a valuable part of the communications mix.

Everyone at Berkeley PR blogs. Everyone. You need to know what works and what doesn’t and a textbook can’t provide you with as much knowledge as simply doing it. In addition, a third of our team are trained journalists so just try and stop them from writing.

What I have found heartening over the past month were a couple of stories about children blogging to great success. I’m sure most will have heard the story about Martha Payne’s blog on school dinners (see Wadd’s blog for more details) and I also enjoyed hearing about Holly Pope’s blog – Childtastic Books – where she offers her thoughts on the books she is reading at school.

In an article in the Sunday Times a teaching assistant who works with Holly explains: “….its encouraged Holly to formulate her own opinions. By blogging in this way children are encouraged to start thinking about things like, what am I reading, do I like it, what do I like about it. It’s letting them realise they can have these opinions.”

I totally agree but both stories also highlight that if you have great content there is no limit to how far you can go. Here are two school children who both started blogs but have received both national and international coverage of their campaigns.

It also shows the power of local. Both of these blogs were picked up by local newspapers who  in turn were picked up by larger titles.

I would say that the only people who would say that blogging is a waste of time either aren’t doing it properly, don’t understand it or have had zero engagement because simply their content isn’t very interesting.

What are the secret rewards of free?

Everything must go!

The joy of reading is finding a book that challenges, grips you and encourages you to make changes to your life. I also read a lot of trash that does none of the above but are still enjoyable, it is just when you find a book like this you want to shout about it.

One such book is Drive, by Daniel H Pink, that looks at how we motivate people. One of the chapters starts with story:

Imagine it’s 1995. I would like to test your forecasting powers by describing two encyclopedias.

The first comes from Microsoft. It is going to fund this encyclopedia. It will pay professional writers and editors to craft articles on thousands of topics. Well compensated managers will oversee the project to ensure it’s completed on budget and on time. Microsoft will then sell the encyclopedia on CD-ROM and later on-line.

The second encyclopedia won’t come from a company. It will be created by tens of thousands of people who write and edit articles for fun. These hobbyists won’t need any special qualifications to participate and absolutely nobody will be paid to write or edit articles. Participants will have to contribute their labour, sometimes twenty and thirty hours a week, for free. It will only exist online and will be free – no charge for anyone who wants to see it.

Now imagine it is modern day. Which will be the biggest in the world and which will be defunct? In 1995 I doubt you would have found a single person who would not have picked the first model. The incentives were all wrong for the free offering as everyone involved in that project knew that success would bring them nothing. In fact it would cost them something.

So what happened? In 1995 Microsoft pulled the plug on MSN Encarta while Wikipedia ended up becoming the largest and most popular encyclopedia in the world.

Edward Deci explains that human beings have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capabilities to explore and learn.

I like this. Cold hard cash is never something to turn your nose up at, but I agree with this ethos that a challenge or opportunity to create a legacy is a stronger driving force. They are certainly skillsets that we look for when recruiting people at Berkeley PR.

The story also reminded me of the excellent work that Barbara French does with her blog and analyst database. There are a number of expensive (and frankly not very good) analyst relations databases out there but she has bucked the trend by creating a community analyst database.

Barbara has created a free information resource looking for experts on the tech and telecoms market. She openly encourages user to send her updates, add comments about their dealings with analyst firms and sends out regular updates via her Twitter feed to highlight changes. She also does this on top of the day job.

So what motivates Barbara to do this? Having never discussed this with her I wouldn’t like to put words in her mouth but having read Drive would suggest it is the motivation offered by intrinsic reward that drives her forward. She isn’t working on this directory for commercial benefit but simply because she finds it gratifying to provide a service to the community and enjoys it. The joy of creating the database is in itself its own reward.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a similar media list service presented itself? It would certainly save many PR companies many thousands of pounds each year.

Bad news and The Olympics

London 2012 logo

With the Olympics coming to town and the opening ceremony this Friday I am officially VERY excited about the start of The Games. I literally can’t wait. I remember sitting around the television at a previous employer watching the news come in that London had won the bid and thinking this is going to be a once in a lifetime event. I still feel that way.
A former colleague Laura Slade wrote a blog last week calling on the press to stop being so negative around the games and to get behind them. She explained that positive stories also sell papers and pointed to the Royal Wedding as an example.

At Berkeley PR, we believe there are three things that make a great story.  My colleague Matt Brown wrote a blog recently that opened with the infamous moto of Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail, “Get me a murder a day!” This might sound like a cynical approach to journalism but time and time again it has proven to be successful. People like drama. They like having something to gossip about. Think about the stories you have read recently and actually retold to someone else – I bet they were all bad news stories.
That said, there are two other elements that can make a great story which seem to be forgotten at the moment. Human interest and topicality.
This was why the Royal Wedding sold papers like hot cakes. Not because it was a nice story but because people felt they were part of something and because, regardless of who you are, everyone loves a wedding.

I sincerely hope that the British press embrace these elements of a story of the next couple of days and help bring a sense of occasion to the whole country. The Games should be a source of pride to this country and more importantly an opportunity for businesses to prosper after a difficult couple of years. The Olympic flame went through Reading and Theale recently and the whole of our company was excited about the fact.

The eyes of the world will be on London this week so let’s show them that we can put on a show but also approach the reporting of The Games in a creative and imaginative way that we can all be proud of. Don’t forget, bad news sells…..but so does human interest and topicality.

Would you take a pay cut so your colleague could have a pay rise?

I watched a very interesting programme last week about Pimlico Plumbers, where the CEO decided that he was fed up with people knocking on his door every two minutes asking for a pay rise so he asked everyone to share with each other how much they were paid. The results were startling with many people doing exactly the same job but being paid up to £9k less.

This brought back memories of when I worked for my first PR agency and management called everyone to a meeting and asked everyone to vote on whether they would take a pay cut for six months or keep their current salary and watch the business make three/four redundancies.

I remember at the time it was a no brainer to take the pay cut for my colleagues but now with a wife addicted to ebay, a two and a half year old and a mortgage would I be so generous? A very difficult decision but I hope I would make the right one almost as much as I hope that I am never put in that situation again.

As well as getting me thinking the show taught me three things:

1. I wish I was a plumber……I couldn’t believe how much they were getting paid!!

2. The PR manager should get his pay rise if the show was his idea. What a great piece of positive PR for the business. An hour long show for a plumbing company that didn’t focus on blocked drains but how it was a caring business and forward thinking in its approach to HR.

3. More business should be open with their staff about how they can have an impact on salaries. I was really impressed with a group in the body work team who recognized that if they asked team mates to take pay cuts to help others it would lead to bad feelings, but if they analysed their costs in their department and put the savings towards pay rises for those in need of them, they could really make a difference.

What I’m not saying is that I want execs coming to me to say that they have stopped posting press releases on Real Wire so can they have the money instead but I do think everyone (regardless of industry) can be guilty of having tunnel vision and doing the job and not being aware of the costs that the job entails. Maybe if more people were aware of where they could make savings on top of delivering results it would be easier to distribute rewards.

6 tips on how to maximise PR for small businesses

The Hidden Hut

The UK is blessed with some wonderful small businesses and while their entrepreneurial flair can be commended, they sometime forget the importance of using the media to publicise their business. I have just returned from a holiday visiting my brother who manages a National Trust café (The Hidden Hut – check it out, it’s amazing) on a private beach near Portscatho in Cornwall. The spot is one of the most beautiful in the country and as I was sat with my daughter enjoying some soup I got speaking to a couple who informed me that they had seen the Hut on Caroline Quentin’s Cornwall show six months ago and decided that they needed to visit it. Talk about the power of positive PR. During a terrible summer of rain, rain and more rain their business has flourished because they have embraced all the free publicity thay can get their hands on… well as a shed load of hard work and a brilliant product.

My brother has always understood the power of communication, not just in the kitchen but also via PR, social media and advertising to help maximize the potential of his various business ventures. Considering most of my friends and parents don’t understand what PR is, I am always secretly quite impressed.

I have helped him out over the years to set up restaurant reviews with local journalists or to promote their participation at fates/exhibitions/regattas and he has always impressed boss after boss with free coverage for their business. That said, all his recent success has been his own work by simply following a couple of tips that work.

Below are my six top tips for maximising your small businesses exposure with an effective communications plan

1. Make friends with a local journalist.

2. Set up channels to communicate to customers and build a sense of community rather than just selling. Facebook and Twitter are perfect for this. You never know what connections a customer has.

3. Ensure you have a simple website where people can contact you and get a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve/ethos.

4. Understand why you are newsworthy.

5. Look for free PR. Contact larger organisations or companies you work with and offer yourself as a case study. Let them pay to promote you.

6. Timing. Sit down and plan when and how you are going to communicate your story. Everything needs to work at the same time and if one channel isn’t working you will soon hit a brick wall.

What can PR pros learn from Lingo Kid?

I was shown the video above by one of our partners and I wanted to share it as I think it is superb. The lad in the clip has learnt how to say the same line in a variety of different languages to help him sell his fans.

So, why do I think this is relevant for PR professions?

  1. Know your audience. One pitch won’t fit all even if you are selling in the same story. Tailor each pitch to the specific person you are speaking to and you will always get a better result.
  2. Know your pitch inside out. If you sound like you are reading a pitch or are uncertain about what you are talking about you will almost certainly fail. Understand what you are offering, why the person you are talking to should be interested and be ready to answer a couple of questions should you get their interest. You don’t have to be an expert (that is the client’s job) but you do need to know enough to show you understand the subject matter.
  3. Be confident and smile. If you smile when you speak people can hear it. If you are bored and miserable it comes across in the tone of your voice. If you sound excited and happy people will always be more open to let you finish your pitch. If you sound bored then the likely hood is that others will be too.