10 content marketing spring-clean tips

The first signs of spring are in the air. At least they are in my mind’s eye in a still-windy west of Scotland. So a spring clean using a look at content marketing trends is now in order. If anything, it’s a challenge to myself to make sure I practice what I preach.

Time for a content marketing spring clean? shutterstock.com |new photo
Time for a content marketing spring clean?
shutterstock.com | new photo

1 The lines they are a blurring

With so much engagement now taking place online, the lines between PR and marketing communications are blurring. PR and marketing professionals alike need to be conversant with paid, owned and earned media channels and understand how to blend these depending on the niche markets and publics of their organisations.

2 Chewin’ the fat

So called ‘fat content’ is becoming more of a requirement for becoming recognised as an influencer and credible brand. For many this will mean authoring or delivering fresh and compelling content, from blog posts, webinars and ebooks to infographics and web video. Having mastered the ‘canaries’ of social engagement such as tweets, facebook updates and pins, it’s important to wheel out the ‘elephants’ – the larger executions that will have a longer shelf life and draw stakeholders to engage with you and your content.

3 Sustainable goals

One of the key challenges for brands is producing good quality, compelling content. Rather than setting unrealistic goals for frequency of publishing and posting, it is better to create valuable content pieces and at a sustainable frequency that takes account of the resources available to your business. With content planning, less can indeed be more.

4 Meaty posts

Blogging has already become the content marketing home base for many businesses, and works especially well for companies and their individual specialists that need to position themselves as expert advisers. In this medium – in keeping with the trend towards ‘fat content’ – meatier posts are especially important. Long-form blog content, albeit structured in easy-to-read, bite-size chunks, has the added plus-point of being search friendly.

5 Relevant timing and context

Another factor that is affecting engagement with your content as the competition for online attention intensifies is relevance. Good old-fashioned ‘news hooks’ that every PR professional grew up with are coming more to the fore. What are the time-based hooks (like my slightly premature spring clean!) or current topics in your industry that you can hang your content on?

6 The online/offline balance

A business friend said to me today he’s telling his clients to write new business letters to prospects, as it’s the only way to get new work. I don’t fully agree, but believe he touches on an important point: online and offline need to work hand-in-hand. That can mean writing new business letters. And, yes, even sending them by snail mail.

7 Repurposing

From experience, many businesses struggle to come up with material for maintaining a content programme, but the answer is usually staring them in the face. Do a trawl of existing information resources held internally – reports, research, presentations, cases studies, customer feedback, white papers, videos, animations – and decide how these can be repurposed as online content. Some of the longer existing material could be sliced and diced into several content pieces.

8 Visual content

The old adage that a picture tells a thousand words has a ring of truth. But, as with balancing online and offline, it’s not an either/or proposition. Do both. For example, use long-form posts (still interspersed with shorter ones!) backed up with strong supporting images, whether still or moving.

9 Balancing content creation/content promotion

There can be a tendency (raising my right hand here!) to breathe a sigh of relief after completing a content piece and think ‘job done.’ Content creation needs at least the same effort again on content promotion to make sure that relevant stakeholders engage with your efforts – and with you. As well as trailing your latest post in your eNews and in social media updates, this could mean selectively using a paid-for channel such as an e-campaign via a reputable industry magazine’s opted-in list to boost click-through.

10 Measurement

In an influential survey¹, 60% of B2B marketers with documented content marketing strategy said they were effective versus 32% of those with a verbal strategy. Again, measurement, like realistic frequency of content output needs to be in keeping with your capacity for managing it. But having a document strategy, which sets measurable goals and tracks them meaningfully and sustainably, definitely works better than just having one in your head.

Above all, sow some planned, proactive and focused content marketing this spring, so you’ll have something to measure come the harvest that will have helped grow you business.

¹B2B Content Marketing 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, CMI and Marketing Profs.


The seven steps to better campaigns

Campaigns based on great creative ideas may lack purpose or good execution. Conversely, you can have fantastic purposes and processes but could still be missing that vital spark to inspire your brand supporters.

Image by courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com/Shenki


Here are seven simple steps that will help you harness both pzazz and process in your PR or marketing campaign:

1          Mission

The first question to ask is: ‘what do we want to do?’ Or if we already have a great idea, we need to ask: ‘why would we do this?’ Some campaigns can rush into action too quickly, a bit like the army captain who shouts: ‘ fire, aim, get ready!’

2          Magic

This is what we used to call the Big Idea. It’s the creative crux of the campaign. Like the premise and plot in the screenwriter’s pitch to film producers, if it’s not compelling it will not sell. No matter how slick your planning and evaluation systems are.

3          Messages

It was in 1984 that Grunig and Hunt sang the praises of the two-way model of organisational communication as being top-of-the-tree PR practice.

So two-way is not a social media age invention. The social web just makes the need for mutuality with our would-be brand supporters unavoidable. We can’t just spray them with top-down, one–way messages and hope some will stick.

Yes, we still need core messages. But, especially in digital communications, we need to be able to sustain a conversation over time with our audience.

4          Market

Be clear on the ‘who’ as well as the ‘why’ behind your campaign. Are you trying to reach 22-35 year old professionals in London or early-adopter gadget enthusiasts across Europe? The more than you can pin down your niches, the more likely you are to strike a chord with people who need what you have to offer.

5          Media

In the social media gold rush it’s tempting to thrust our pans into all the social streams. We can have unrealistic expectations that those nuggets of customers will leap instantly into them and stay there. The reality for most organisations is that a cross-media approach is needed, embracing traditional and digital media.

6          Methods

These are the tools and techniques of the campaign. It is crucial to weave together all of the various strands with consistency of brand and content. Whether you’re including online banner ads, a twitter hashtag campaign, magazine editorials or product sampling, think carefully about the call to action in each case. What is the desired next step you want the target market to take?

7          Measurement

Customer engagement specialist Peter Smith –http://bit.ly/RdxVk6 – tells of a B2B marketing director he knows who pays a digital agency £10,000 a month to optimise its website and promote LinkedIn conversations. The company hasn’t generated a single lead in a year in return and is in fact losing business at above-average rates.

He rightly suggests that the company should invest in measuring customer satisfaction to find out what’s going wrong and adjust its strategy.

If they follow Peter’s advice, maybe the evidence will show that some of the above steps were missing in the campaign strategy.


Question: How do we get the right balance between the creative and process-driven aspects of campaigns?

Which Dad’s Army character are you in a crisis?

Watching some of the re-runs of the BBC’s immortal WWII comedy series, Dad’s Army, reminds me of the character types we can encounter (or, worse still, become!) in PR crises.

Photo courtesy of Dad’s Army Appreciation Society

See if you can recognise any of the following Home Guard types from your own crisis management experience:

The Panic Merchant – Lance Corporal Jones

When the captain made Jones, the local butcher, Lance Corporal, he said: “his experience will stand us in good steak, er… stead.” His most memorable catchphrase is: “Don’t panic, don’t panic.” But at the onset of calamity he loses the plot himself. He’s got the right idea, but he doesn’t quite exude the calming influence that he’s trying to promote.

The Smoothie – Sergeant Wilson

His laid back demeanor and impeccable manners may make him seem like a safe bet to put up for interview, but the media and the public may wonder if he’s a bit too relaxed about the whole affair. He perhaps doesn’t show enough concern or urgency about lessening the impact of the product recall on customers or the community affected by the chemical leak.

The Harbinger of Doom – Private Frazer

Meet the purveyor of doom and gloom, who always paints the worst case scenario. In crisis management it’s wise to anticipate what could go almost unthinkably wrong, but he crosses a line by practically willing disaster into reality. He’s definitely not the much-needed ray of hope in the team when chins are hitting the floor.

The Spiv – Private Walker

He’s the wartime black-marketeer who can lay his hands on anything from whisky to nylons. Ironically, he’s among the cleverest in the platoon and others turn to him for answers in tricky situations. He’s best kept well away from the media, though, as he will duck and dive to try and impress journalists and sell your business down the river.

The Born Leader – Captain Mainwaring

Here’s a great respecter of authority – mainly his own. He won’t admit he maybe got it wrong and is likely to put what he would call ‘those spotty faced reporters’ in their place if they ask ‘insolent questions’ – the ones that the PR pro warned him about in the first draft of the Q & A list.

The Ingénu – Private Pike

This guy is so wet behind the ears he needs to wear a swimming cap to keep the water from leaking out. When the investigation into the cause of the crisis begins, he may well be a prime suspect because of his famed carelessness. When a crisis recovery plan kicks in, he’ll probably treat it like a bit of a game.

In answering my opening question in the headline, I know that you can safely answer: ‘none of the following.’ All the characters are comic extremes, but maybe they hint at a few genuine tendencies to avoid in a crisis situation when the heat’s on.

What Dad’s Army type situations, if any, have you encountered in real-life crisis PR situations?

If you aren’t familiar with Dad’s Army, you can check out a few clips here – http://bbc.in/TB6YoJ

How not to be a social media trainspotter

Are we, in the PR and marketing professions, becoming more obsessed by the minutiae of social media than we are with the possibilities of where they can take our businesses and clients?

In an episode of Michael Portillo’s excellent Great British Railway Journeys (am I an anorak in the making?), he recalled the early days of the rail networks. In the Victorian era, people could now breakfast in Brighton in the morning, travel up to the Ascot races in the afternoon and be home the same day.

It occurred to me how there were probably people who were fascinated by – and talked a lot about – the physical aspects of the rail networks. They perhaps enthused over the gauge of track laid, the signal boxes, level crossings and the trains themselves, rather than the possibilities the new connections opened up.

I think it was Peter Shankman who drew the distinction recently between those who talked about being social media experts and social media marketing experts. He likened the first to the guys who knows how to put the bread in and out of the oven and the second to those who know how to create a satisfying meal.

A few questions to give you further food for thought and, who knows, help expel the trainspotter within:

  1. What do our own twitter feeds, blog posts and LinkedIn updates say about our own social realm focus?
  2. Do we bamboozle ourselves too much with the techie side and the minutiae of social media? I don’t talk very much about how printing presses or multimedia production work, but that doesn’t hold me back from creating a great annual report or presentation.
  3. Can we serve up more social media ‘creative cookery’ that satisfies clients and their businesses, while keeping the ovens and bread paddles consigned to the kitchen?
  4. How can we focus more on how social media offer delivery channels to fit it with the bigger picture of integrated campaigns and business and communications goals?

If we can shift the focus away from the trainspotting on social media matters and look to the destinations they can take us to, then I believe we stand a chance of being ‘at the races in the afternoon’ as professionals as digital PR and marketing mature.

Five steps to reputational recovery post-crisis

Solomon once said that ‘from the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.’ In crisis recovery, this means that what you say (and how you say it) is just as important as what you do.

Most organisations have a crisis plan for dealing with a serious incident – RBS’s Stephen Hester was commendably quick off his mark when the bank’s recent IT glitch struck. But few have an effective plan for repairing reputation progressively after the event.

The tailing off of media interest post-crisis is not an accurate measure of communications success as stakeholders can often be left with a damaging impression of your organisation or brand.

1                     Intent

It’s good practice to start a crisis plan – and recovery plan – with a strategic intent for how you will emerge from the crisis, both operationally and reputationally. This could be: ‘Our business operations will be restored to normal, our staff and customers protected and reputation upheld.” Your recovery work on the ground and communications tactics should flow from this.

 2                     Issues

During and soon after the crisis, issues will emerge that need addressing to correct any false impressions created or remedy real problems and communicate the remedial action. These could include mismatches between reality and reporting in the media and social media buzz. Map these issues out and decide what needs communicating or correcting right away and what messages need rolling out over time during the recovery period.

3                     Interested parties

Stakeholders apart from customers and journalists will be interested in your incident and how you’re recovering from it. Who are your key influencers that have a bearing on your reputation? Politicians, for example, will base their impression of your business on what they last read in the media in the absence of other sources. Draw up a plan to communicate with each audience directly, where practical, appropriate and commensurate to the scale of your incident. But be careful in written material to say only what you’d be happy to see appearing in the press.

4                     Initiative

During the crisis much of your communications will have been be reactive. Particularly if your operation is high profile, you will be inundated with media calls and bombarded with questions and interview requests. When the dust settles a few days or weeks after ‘C-Day’ it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and say “well that’s that out of the way,” but lingering stakeholder perceptions could paint a different picture.

In the wake of RBS’s computer system failings over the past fortnight, which it continues to troubleshoot, the bank will need to look a few months ahead as to how it can proactively restore customers’ confidence in its reliability. This may include placing stories with angles reinforcing its ‘robustness’ in business and IT media, as well as finding ways rapidly to step up ‘nice touches’ in customer service. It will want to consider the likely impacts of unpopular moves in the pipeline such as interest rate hikes, and readjust to avoid alienating customers even further.

5                     Indicators

The media, in the event of major crises, will often use time hooks such as and ‘one month on’ to revisit your incident to assess the impact. Rather than reacting to these defensively, could you turn them into opportunities to indicate proactively the progress made, lessons learned and outlook for the future?

The above five points are really a starting point in recovery process. It’s vital to take professional advice from a seasoned crisis practitioner who can come alongside you to help you map out your recovery plan. As the wise man also said: ‘Do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you – better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.’ 

WWWWAAAA! The 8-step news release

In these days of posts, likes and tweets, it’s easy to overlook some of the old fundamentals of PR – such as the humble news release.

I was prompted to write this, er, post, after a new LinkedIn contact asked me for pointers on drafting a news release for a national newspaper.

It was the late Frank Jefkins, Rentokil’s former PR chief, who invented the SOLAADS outline for the model news release – subject, organisation, location, advantages, application, detail and source.

Since I could never quite recall this I decided a few years back to coin my own mnemonic.  My eight-point outline echoed my frustrated yell as I wrote releases, and possibly that of some recipients: WWWWAAAA!

This mixes some of Frank’s trusted formula with the open-ended questions that journalists are trained to ask. So what does it stand for? Let’s use the ‘announcement’ of the mnemonic itself to illustrate:

1          WHAT is the story? ‘Time-saving news release formula announced,’ or similar.

2          WHO is the story about? It’s announced by yours truly and aimed at busy PR practitioners or anyone who wants to write their own release.

3          WHERE is the location? This could include the venue of the announcement, the company’s base or the market’s geography, or possibly all three. 

4          WHEN did it happen? This is the timing of the announcement or ‘happening.’

5          ADVANTAGES? The release model helps save time and makes sure the story includes all the essential points.

6          APPLICATION? The model can be used day-to-day by practitioners, or included in media relations courses and induction packs.

7          ADDITIONAL INFO? Add more details here, such as the   downloadable WWWWAAAA! template or the iPad app (neither of which exists!) Tell readers where to get more info on the aide memoire and the company behind it.

8          ASK? Immediately after the release, add the details of the contact that journalists should approach for more info.

Oh, and: Ends.

PR – the leader’s power tool

I agree with a recent observation by Ketchum Pleon’s Rod Cartwright that ‘PR is a key tool for conveying leadership at a time when leaders are under intense scrutiny.’

With the mainstreaming of social media, leaders and their PR counsel need to be attuned to the variety of different digital platforms available and know how to engage through each channel in an authentic way.

Social media, with their emphasis on real-time conversations and sharing with customers and other stakeholders, render the old ‘top-down’ communications model completely obsolete.

Planning communications campaigns follows a similar pattern to before, but with a few twists. Leaders and organisations need:

1  A clear mission and objectives for communication – allied to business objectives

2  A set of core messages about the organisation, its brand and      product offerings, for consistent communication. But blogger beware: social media engagement requires subtlety, not ‘in your face’ corporate messaging

3  Clarity on target audiences for communications engagement

4  The creative big ideas and solutions for engaging with key stakeholders. Remember that the ideas needs to be translatable into stories and conversational threads to maintain interest and build relationships

5  Appreciation of ‘register’ – the conversational tone of voice that replaces the old ‘promotional copy’ or ‘speechifying’ approaches. If you want to sell via social media, don’t be salesy! 

6  Measurement – what will success look like? Beware, though, of relying on just counting outputs like numbers of followers and likes and find ways to assess outcomes for reputation and sales. And don’t wait for the perfect metrics system before getting started!

Back to my opener – to hear Rod’s comments in full – and other commentators – check out this short video http://bit.ly/KiaQGG  shot at the recent ‘Power of PR’ conference in London.


Here I’ll be sharing reflections on PR and marketing in the digital age. Many of the fundamentals of good communications remain the same as before – clear strategic goals, messages, audience targeting and ROI metrics. With social media continuing to evolve, the possibilities for two-way engagement and building lasting relationships with stakeholders have never been better. And the best ideas and campaigns have yet to come!

Please feel free to follow me on twitter: @newtonpr 

I look forward to hearing from you.