Saturday, December 28, 2013

Branded Journalism: Texas Style

Branded journalism is standard in content marketing yet it's not new. Over 70 years ago it was being used to sway Texas voters.

In 1941 Lyndon Johnston (LBJ), later to become the 36th US President, was campaigning to become a Senator in his native state of Texas.  The election was hotly contested and the battle for the attention of voters was fierce.

The only source of news for many voters in rural Texas was the 25 newspapers that published weekly in farming and ranching communities across the State.  Few publishers were professional journalists and most were often short on cash and short on news to fill their pages. Some were prepared to print articles provided by the candidates in return for advertising. Payments for this political advertorial were small, because at that time local merchants could buy an ad for 50 cents or a $1.

Johnson had poached accomplished newspaper men for his campaign.  In an early example of branded journalism, these reporters provided the small rural outlets across Texas with packaged news stories and pictures of their candidate. Content could be a copy of a recent speech, a favourable item from the campaign trail or an endorsement by a local identity. And the content kept coming - edition after edition - throughout the campaign.

The payments paid off and Johnson received massive coverage throughout the State.  His team never rested, recycling particularly good print coverage as radio content in the numerous broadcasts Johnson's campaign arranged over the 10-week long campaign.

Ironically Johnson was beaten in the Senate race by then Texas Governor Pappy O'Daniel.  Pappy, himself a savvy media operator, used his popular, weekly hillbilly radio show to champion his claims for the Senate seat. 

Winning only by around 1000 votes, it seems Pappy's down home style and branded journalism out manoeuvred LBJ's more polished efforts. 

Which proves that many of today's communications approaches we hold up as new, someone somewhere has tried before. 

(Source - Johnson:The Path to Power by Robert Caro.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Content Marketing in Australia: 2014 Report

Should Volunteering Be On Your CV

A Linked-in colleague recently asked a question on volunteering after reading our recent post on volunteering.

Hi Bob,

I am seeking some advice on how to best put down volunteering experience on my resume - I have been in both scenarios before and had volunteered my time around Canberra in various capacities and now, having relocated to Melbourne and pending a suitable job offer, volunteering my time as a fundraiser/marketing officer for
(name withheld) something completely out of my previous field but thoroughly challenging and enjoyable.   Your advice is appreciated.

...and our thoughts are....

 It's great you're keeping your PR skills fresh by volunteering. 

Yes, include those roles on your CV. They are an important part of who you are and how you've taken the initiative to use your skills to do something really worthwhile.

I have found presenting volunteer jobs in the same way you present a regular job, works well. The only difference is after the job title add Volunteer Role

And when you land the next job interview, don't forget to tell the interview panel why and how you are extending your skills through PR volunteering.

What do you think? Should your CV list your volunteer efforts?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Infographs: Distraction Or PR Tool Of The Future?

A previous post talked about infographs as a compelling format for presenting detailed information. 

Below is one I was recently involved in.  It condenses a complex industry concept into a simple, one-stop image - at a very reasonable cost.

Will the infograph become a standard PR tool like the media release or will it soon disappear replaced by the next, best toy for communicators?

Are infographs merely pretty distractions? 

Infographs in three easy stages.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Volunteering Is An Career Saver In Tough Times

Volunteering is a valuable survival tactic for PRs

 The outlook seems grim for  Canberra communicators faced with the MOG - the Machinery of Government.  Those are  the changes that kick in when governments in Australia change.

The incoming Abbott government has tighter than tight media arrangements. New ministers are reluctant to promote policies and the national security mantra is closing down discussion on key issues.  

If there is space or appetite for proactive communications in the Commonwealth, it's hard to spot looking in from the outside. 

And with big decisions on hold, communicators nervously wait to see if their jobs will be chopped.  

It is not a good time to be a PR professional in government right now.  Particularly if you are someone open to learning new skills, expanding your horizons and advancing your career.

One way to retain your edge amidst all this uncertainty is to get back in the game and offer your PR skills to one of Canberra's many not for profits. Local charities and community groups are always hungry for PR support and highly appreciative when someone steps forward to offer their services.

If the Commission of Audit targets your job and you are find yourself unemployed in the next few months you can confront fairly distressing circumstances. I know.  I have been out of work four times spanning a 22-year PR career, starting with when the Howard Government came to power in 1996.  I have seen the jobless movie too many times and it's not fun to sit through.

I also know that volunteering your skills to the community sector is a lifeline strategy that can keep you professionally engaged.  Volunteering your talents to people who normally could not afford them can be a strategy to keeping you in meaningful - if unpaid - work, continuing your craft and feeling valued. 

Perhaps you have a job but are on a career path that seemingly leads nowhere.  Your agency may pay you but that does not appreciate you.  Even though you are keen to try new things, you never get the chance.  Out of work or out-of-rewarding work situations can be stressful for communicators of any grade because as a group we are upbeat, positive people hell bent on achieving results.  

Not for profit volunteering can be one way to change the chemistry in your situation or expand your skills set.  Not for profits always have the welcome mat out for communicators and are willing laboratories to practice and improve your skills.  Any PR effort will always be  a big plus for them.  

Contact Volunteering ACT for ideas on how to begin your personal PR change through volunteering. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Content Marketing: Infographs In 3 Easy Steps

We recently arranged this infograph through
Click to expand
The digital age has bought a deluge of data and given communicators another dimension to storytelling. The downside is all those numbers and details can quickly overwhelm our ability to make sense of the information we present.

Enter the infograph, a newly arrived social media and PR tool blending graphics and data into digestible imagery, and proving popular in content marketing.

In recent times I've become an infograph fan but only recently started using them in my campaigns.  If like me, you're new to commissioning infographs, here's three simple steps to get you started when someone hands you a pile of data and asks you to make sense of it for their audiences.

Design  Firstly check what capacity there is to design or commission an infograph. If you're lucky you may have in-house talent.  No. Then a quick Google search of free infograph software will bring nearly 6.8 million results.  Or sites like Fiverr offer cheap ways to tap into experts for minimal cost. Either way there's plenty of online help available.

Numbers Next settle on the numbers to highlight.  It's similar to crafting key messages.  Decide on the most important pieces of information you feel audiences to know. That's probably the single most important call in the production process.  Sometimes you get to make it but more often it means collaborating on what's considered essential.

Icons   Successful infographs are simple.  They use clear iconography to breathe life into data.  So it's important to choose symbols appropriate to your story and which will aid the understanding of your audience.

Finally bring together your numbers, icons and other visual elements into an educative but easy on the eye graphic.

So there you have it.  Producing them is straightforward but infographs can be highly effective particularly when you need to convey complex information. 

Good luck and let me know how you go.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Story Telling in 2014

Perhaps Gary Vayerchuk is a bit over the top in his presentations on marketing.  

But Gary's presentation has nailed the need for storytelling (and at the same time promoted  his book.)   

It will give you some ideas so it is worth reviewing it. 

Search for it on Slideshare.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Creating Social Marketing That's Actually Social

Image courtesy of
Creating Social Marketing That's Actually Social

The above blog post by Ryan Darby and Jake Herway explores why businesses don't succeed on social media and how to get better results.  It may sound like SOCMED 101 but we all need a refresher on the fundamentals every now and then.

Ryan and Jake report businesses doing the best with their social outreach:

  • Set unambiguous expectations on why they are on social media.  They have not blindly wandered into the social media space nor are they there to do everything.  They go for a clearly defined business purpose - it could be to sell, provide customer service, tap the mood of the market or simply share information.
  • Engage the engaged.  Rather than going for volume they go for quality.  They use social media to reach out to those who already understand or like what they do, keep them informed and encourage them to spread the word to their networks.

  • And they are simply social.  They appreciate social media was born to connect people to family and friends.  So they share and converse, and scrupulously avoid blatant advertising.  

They get it and instinctively know command and control communications and banging a broadcasting drum don't work in this space. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Global Chief Forecasts Communications Trends

Don't try to control the conversation, be prepared for never ending PR campaigns and acknowledge the  consumer is king.

That's what IABC Global Chair Robin McCasland advises leaders confronted by an ever-changing communications landscape.  

During her recent leadership tour of Asia, Robin briefed government communications chiefs in Canberra on trends in international communications. 

Speaking in a government town a few of Robin's observations run counter to traditional government models.  

For example while surveys routinely show public trust in government and corporate leaders is falling, administrations still put forward only the top echelons of officialdom who it comes to advocating policy to the public. 

Robin forecasts that in future, smart organisations will empower their employees to share the communications load and deal directly with citizens, consumers or clients particularly through social media.   Workers already know the issues and are the buffer between the community and their own hierarchy.  The time is coming when clever leaders will look at  workers not only for what they do, but how they can evangelise the corporate brand. 

The Global Chair also touched on the growing importance of peer opinions in decision-making, illustrating this with a personal example. When an  online dress buying experience turned sour, Robin took to social media to alert her friends to her dissatisfaction   Someone with Robin's global profile must have significant networks, so after the offending company learned of her displeasure they were quick to fix the problem.  
Which proves that while communicators can labour long and hard to present a persuasive case, often it's the conversations we have within our own circle that really decide how we act and the results we get. 



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Did This Blog Change Government Policy?

On Thursday I blogged on why Australian military officers should not be part of Government media conferences on Asylum Seeker operations.

Yesterday the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced changes to these weekly briefings.  These foreshadow a much more limited role for the  ADF spokesperson, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell.

Did my blogging cause a shift in the new Government's media arrangement?  Hardly!!!

My concerns were but one voice in a growing chorus of condemnation and frustration from traditional and online media about the way the new Coalition Government is so tightly managing information on Asylum Seeker matters. 

Along with other veterans who now work in PR, I'm pleased the Government has restricted the ADF's media profile.  Having said that, the communications strategy behind the "stop the boats" policy still needs a major overhaul.

As much as the Government tries to curb the flow of information by referring to operational security, people interested in the issue will skirt around tight Ministerial policies to get information somehow. They might seek it from from the Indonesian Government and other sources, concerned citizens letting the rest of us know what's happening on  Christmas Island, Manus or Nauru, or welfare groups across the country alerting the public to the ongoing plight of refugees. At this stage all seem willing to talk through mainstream and social media.

Government media mangers, no matter how shrewd, cannot contain news of Asylum Seeker issues.  The issue is too enormous, contentious and ongoing not to find a way to make it to the surface.

This is a story that won't be stopped, so watch this space for more changes to the Abbott's Government communications management of this issue.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No Military In Asylum Seeker Communications

No one ever accused the Australian military of being good communicators.   
After a decade do Australians really know what our troops are doing in Afghanistan other than a "good job"?  So why involve them in asylum seeker communications?

The new Coalition Government's media policy on asylum seekers can be summed up in two words "trust me."

That is a big ask given trust in governments is low, and the issue of boat people seeking sanctuary in Australia, is among our longest running and most divisive issues. For the past 12 years. the story of the boats has been front page in our national discourse.

The new Government is intent on removing the issue from the 24/7 news cycles by restricting information to weekly media conferences held jointly with the Australian Defence Force. The results so far are tightly controlled affairs where legitimate questions meet with blunt refusals to answer.

Is this strategy sound?

The military may be in control of our borders, but having them alongside Ministers at these  briefings politicizes their role, particularly when senior commanders work from narrow scripts.  They really say very little and questions are batted away because of "operational security."  Which is a favourite recourse by any government unwilling to tell citizens what it is up to. 

Media and now parliamentary inquiries about on water operations are just not entertained.  Now there is a unique term - on water operations - whatever happened to the simple term at sea.

The presence of a senior soldier at these media conferences is meant to reassure Australians that our borders are under control.  Having uniforms at press conferences is a  long standing practice of politicians who surround themselves in emergency situations with emergency service and police officials. 

It works in times of crisis because people can see an immediate threat.  In this situation it is over-dramatising the situation and over time will tie the military to Australian's most difficult political problem. Is that where we as a community want them?

The media strategy of tightly restricting information on asylum seekers is showing cracks.  Journalists are frustrated, individuals with legitimate interests in the issue are in the dark, and the ADF, while very good at maritime operations, adds little value in communicating this highly contentious issue and winning over the Australian community.

It's time for a rethink by the new Government's media advisers. 

Disclosure: I am a former Director of Public Affairs for the Australian Army

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Australian Government Use of Social Media

My colleague Craig Thomler recently talked to IABC Canberra about how the Australian Government is using social media.  

Despite challenges, Craig gave government agencies a tick of approval.

Content Marketing for Smaller Players

I've been in the US in recent weeks, so it's some time since my last post.  So let's start back with something good.

My Canadian colleague Martin Waxman recently gave a presentation on content marketing, storytelling and start-ups.  Here's Martin's simple but very effective approach.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Australia Is Ready For Content Marketing

We're super connected, everyone is now a publisher, we're busy and trust levels are low.  So it's time for a new approach to communicating as Australians move from mass audience to  niche communities. 

(Summary of a recent address by Contentgroup's David Pembroke and myself at the National Press Club in Canberra.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Template: A Content Marketing Secret

Peter Yorke is one of India's top content marketers.  In this interview he reveals how content marketing tools and templates can guide staff, save time and help clients.

 I have known Peter for years and always look to him for great insights into creating great communications.

(Sorry about the sound quality.  There were some Skype issues during our conversation)

See Peter's views on when you should outsource your content marketing.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Little Marketing in People Smuggler Campaign

Pity the Government marketers saddled with an expensive mass media campaign to reach such very small numbers. 

They must be scratching their heads and cursing the backroom operatives who dreamed up this campaign to 'win votes rather than stop boats' 

For several weeks ads like this have been appearing in Australian newspapers and broadcast on radio.

They support a recent change to the Australian Government's asylum seeker policies.  From 20 July unauthorised boat arrivals will no longer be settled in Australia but sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru where their refugee claims will be determined.

Fierce criticism has sprung up about the ads in recent days. The Opposition claims they breach Election caretaker conventions which stipulate what governments can and cannot do once a poll is called.  

Bipartisan agreement is needed when communications campaigns run during an Election period. And in this case there is no such agreement.

The people smuggling ad spend is rumored is be around $30m, a hefty sum for the cash strapped government agency managing this campaign and which has probably struggled all year with its marketing budget.  

There is no issue with ads targeted at environments likely to reach people smugglers overseas or their collaborators in Australia.  I would have thought these audiences are tiny, and already known to the Intelligence services - or at least they should be. 

But how many people smugglers or their accomplices live, for example in Canberra or Sydney, where full page ads are regularly appearing in the metropolitan press. 

Why spend tens of millions of dollars for a mass audience campaign to reach a small handful of people here in Australia and overseas?  The Commonwealth must have other, far less expensive communications tools to send a stern message to these criminal elements?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rudd and Abbott Use Social Media For Election. 7 Things to Watch

We're off and running to the ballot box.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set 7 September as the date for Australians to go to the polls to choose a new government.

In the 2007 and 2010 elections social media was seen as something of a novelty. That makes 2013 Australia's first real social media poll because Australians are now terminally addicted to social through devices, phones, laptop and desktops.  In fact there has never been a more connected and potentially better informed electorate than today's voters.

Preparing for the upcoming battle the Labor Party recently hired three top American social media types who worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.  You'll recall that campaign set the gold standard for politics and social media.

So as we start the Election trail, how do the chief contenders rate on social media?

PM Rudd starts with a well established social media presence.   He's been in that space a long time. He has 1.3 million followers on Twitter and tweeted over 9500 times.  On Facebook he has almost 94 000 likes.  That's impressive, and the tone and level of his conversations on both platforms shows Rudd is comfortable with new media.

Mr Abbott starts the Election campaign with only 148 000 Twitter followers and 1350 tweets. His Facebook following of around 39 000 fans is almost one third of Rudd's numbers. In comparison Abbot's social conversations come across as more formal than Rudd's dialogue and at this stage Abbott does not show much online interaction with others. Still it is early days!

Interestingly both Labor and Liberal Parties have similar numbers of Youtube subscribers (around 3500 each).  This is likely to grow with many predicting Youtube will be where it all happens as the parties turn negative as they invariably do during Australian elections. 

Over the next five weeks it will interesting to see how both contenders adapt and adjust to social media.  

So keep a mouse ready and eye out to see how the two candidates use these new channels in their bids to win high office.  

Among the things that would indicate the candidates are serious about social, are their:
  • Frequency of using social media to get their Election messages out.
  • Level of interaction with followers and fans or do they stick with one way conversation?
  • Cross linking to others' commentary such as media and third party endorsements to portray credibility.
  • Ability to persuade voters to donate money or volunteer their time.
  • Use of imagery to bring emotion into messaging and cut through the clutter.
  • Willingness to bypass traditional media and use social to break news.
  • Capacity to inspire others to produce and share favourable content.

...and of course look out for novel or unusual online tactics as the campaign unfolds.
It is interesting times ahead.  So in the coming weeks check your screens for what could well be Australia's first social media election campaign.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Content Marketing Is Like a Bullet Train

Stop, go, pause.  Stop, go, pause.

Traditional marketing and most PR moves from one campaign to the next. You plan, implement, await  results, adjust and start over again.  

These traditional approaches are like a milk train chugging from point to point, stopping at all stations along the way.  The journey is slow and steady.  There is lots of shunting and grunting with station masters along the way putting themselves between you and your customers. The passengers continually hop on and off.

Content marketing on the other hand is more like a hi-speed inter-city bullet train. You step aboard for a journey with few planned stops until you reach your destination.  

There are no third parties between crew and passengers, and hopefully the passing scenery (your content) is so engaging your travelers enjoy the journey with time and kilometres flying by.

Related post:  Content marketing: why now?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

4 Reasons To Outsource Content Creation

Peter Yorke is among India's most experienced communicators
Content marketing may be new to Australia but elsewhere it is more established. Take India for example.

My friend Peter Yorke runs a very successful content marketing agency in Bangalore India.  We recently spoke about why a company might want outside help to implement a content management strategy.  

Peter has been helping Indian B2B companies - mainly in the tech space - develop and share content with customers and others. He has been doing this for nearly five years and has come the conclusion that outsourcing content creation and strategy carries distinct benefits.
  • Firstly, outsourcing provides flexibility.  It lets companies scale their content creation activity up or down depending on their budget or what's happening operationally. And  it can provide the surge capacity if serendipity delivers an opportunity too good to miss.
  • Contracting content creation guarantees customer service levels.  You're paying for a content asset (piece of work) tailored specifically for your audience.  Being a commercial arrangement you can be confident it  will come in on time and within budget, making things more predictable than relying on internal staff who, let's be honest, are often diverted off to other priorities.
  •  An outside agency brings a fresh set of eyes to your operations.  They can spot a good case study for online publication or turn up a story to round out a speech although it's been sitting under the noses of staff for some time.
And finally, Peter points out that content marketing is still so new, CEOs just may not have the in-house talent to start up a content marketing strategy. 

What do you think?  If content marketing is all about relationships should you keep it firmly in-house? 

Listen to how Peter uses content marketing templates to guide staff and help clients. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

If Content Marketing Was A Train ....

Stop, go, pause.  Stop, go, pause.

Traditional marketing and most PR moves from one campaign to the next. You plan, implement, await  results, adjust and then start over again. Traditional approaches are like a milk train chugging from point to point, stopping at all stations along the way.  It is slow and steady and with with a lot of stops and station masters along the way putting themselves  between you and your customers.

On the other hand content marketing is like a hi-speed inter-city locomotive. You hop on and you're there for the journey.  The crew and passengers are together until they safely reach their destination and during their travels get to understand and appreciate each other. 

Related post:  Content marketing: why now?


Friday, June 14, 2013

Making Content Contagious

Jonah Berger busts myths on why people share information
 In a recent Harvard Business Review podcast, Wharton Professor and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger, revealed the results of a recent study on why things catch on online. 

So why do we share some information but feel disinclined to pass along other material?

As communicators we may intuitively know positive content is more easily shared than negative information. And naturally people like to share things that make them look smart, 'in the know' or ahead of the trends. 

Yet it seems that emotions are a bit more complicated than that.

Berger reports positive tends to be shared more often than negative information. Yet emotions like anger and anxiety can induce powerful reactions that impel us and others to share content.

Also it seems negative publicity is not always bad for a brand. Berger notes:

" What our research found is that even negative word of mouth, even negative publicity, can increase sales if it increases awareness or accessibility. For small businesses or products that most people don't know much about, even a negative can be a good thing because it lets other people know that the product exists. I'm not suggesting go out there and get negative word of mouth. But what I am saying is negative isn't always as bad as we think it is..." 

 And what about controversy?  Can that make your content contagious?  

PR practitioners know a little controversy can sometimes be very handy in causing conversations and drawing attention to an issue.  Yet this too is not clear cut.  Berger's research shows we might be ready to share controversial issues with those we know.  Yet we can hold back from passing along really controversial information - such as news on abortion, asylum seekers or political preferences - for fear of offending others or drawing hostile reactions particularly from those we don't know. 

So how do we best spread our information round? Do we frame our content as positive or negative, aim for controversy or avoid the difficult issues?

It seems making your content contagious really does require some deep thinking from the outset.