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Where can you buy strings? And other related lessons from the music industry

It was the day my national manager proudly told me that he’d closed more businesses than he’d opened that the question really hit me.

Is it time to reconsider my career? I asked myself.

In hindsight, the red flags started when employee farewell drinks started to outnumber welcoming drinks ten to one, and “how are you?” turned from an enquiry about my weekend to a genuine concern about my welfare from long-term clients.

For the past twelve years, I worked in musical instrument retail in Australia. Initially, opportunities for career progression seemed limitless, and I was naively happy, building a life and career on the back of selling my passion – the guitar. In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the industry failed to embrace new technologies, and as a result, you’d be hard pressed to find a store in any of Australia’s CBDs selling even a pack of guitar strings.

There are parallels to be drawn between the current state of the media relations industry and the challenges faced by my former industry. Over recent years the media environment has undergone rapid transformation. However, media relations is still performed in much the same way it was decades ago.

What happened to the musical instrument industry?
The GFC coincided with a range of technological advancements that led to a complete disruption of the musical instrument industry. Throw in a lowering Australian dollar, and you have a recipe for – opportunity and growth or disruption, denial, and decline.

Unfortunately, the majority of Australian instrument retailers chose the latter. While consumers were increasingly turning to the convenience of online shopping from cheaper international outlets and online peer to peer purchases, most businesses held onto their existing models of face to face transactions in bricks and mortar retail outlets, largely shunning the business opportunities online retail provided.
At the time, the owners of these businesses would argue that “our positive customer relationships will see us through.” This self-important view failed to understand two key considerations: consumers value convenience, and relationships have a monetary value.

What does this mean for media relations?
It is dangerous to depend solely on your current relationships to generate future revenue.
Relationships are never static. Your clients will leave if there is a more suitable solution to their problems, and your internal stakeholders will move. The media landscape has undergone significant change over the past decade, yet the day to day reality for media relations remains largely the same.

If the environment around you is changing, you need to adapt your business to meet not just these changing conditions, but also the next wave of change. Just like we coach our clients and stakeholders to be prepared rather than reactionary, we too should be adapting our methods to take advantage of the opportunities technology will bring now and in the future.

What’s next?
It’s no secret that technology provides an opportunity for growth – or disruption. The rise of e-commerce provided the Australian musical instrument industry with an exciting opportunity to reach a wider customer base. While others focused on reducing their stock range to the “key sellers,” i.e. high-volume or profit lines, in response to lowering profits, an entrepreneurial former mentor of mine was selling electronic drum kits by the pallet load over eBay to customers in remote locations.

At 8:30 am each morning he would check his eBay account and proudly announce he’d surpassed his daily budget before the doors even opened. He was utilising technology to do the heavy lifting for him, until the management of the day shut him down. He was adapting; they were still in denial.

As communicators, we too can use technology to do some of the media relations heavy lifting for us. Developments in machine learning provide opportunities for communicators to automate some of the more mundane aspects of the job, freeing time up to focus on the areas where we can provide the most value to clients and stakeholders.

Technology and disruption impacts every industry. Whether automation augments or replaces our jobs will be determined by our – and our industry’s – ability to adapt. As I take my initial steps into building a new career in the communications industry, I will not forget my past.

If you do not adapt and embrace change, you will be left behind. There’s not much you can do about change if you bury your head in the sand.

New campaign management platform aims to eliminate media relations follow-up calls

The launch of campaign management platform Public Address in Sydney enables PR professionals to harness the power of machine learning to drive better results while making media relations tasks more time and cost efficient.

“Public Address is the first media relations campaign management platform built by communications professionals, for communications professionals,” said Shane Allison, co-founder of Public Address and 2018 Mumbrella Agency PR Professional of the Year.

“Traditional media relations tactics are under pressure – the changing media landscape with fewer journalists producing more content in a 24/7 news cycle means that plain text media releases and follow-up calls aren’t delivering the results they used to,” he said.

“Our aim at Public Address is to cut the volume of follow up calls from PR professionals to journalists by 75 per cent in the next two years. Media Stable research shows that only one per cent of journalists appreciate follow-up calls – most journalists view them as an interruption to their busy day and an incredible waste of time.

“And it’s probably one of the least enjoyable parts of a communications professional’s role.

“Reducing follow up calls, making it easier to share important materials, book interviews. This is all part of our goal of making journalist’s jobs easier – if we can do that, we’ll be providing a significant benefit to PR professionals,” said Shane.

During the Public Address beta testing, one in eight journalists in Australia interacted with the platform and it has been proven to cut the time and cost of service delivery on comparable campaigns by 25 per cent. This was achieved by:

  • Providing one-click interview booking and scheduling
  • Automating routine and repetitive tasks such as customising emails for different journalists and media outlets
  • Halving the amount of follow up calls by introducing a machine learning algorithm, the Predictive Pitch Indicator, that highlights media most interested in a story

Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Thomas Mitchell, former NZ Young IT Professional of the year developed the platform.

“There’s a huge opportunity for media relations to be conducted more efficiently and effectively. It’s time that the traditional media pitch changed and evolved, Public Address is the pitching tool that public relations professionals today need,” concluded Thomas.

Since the company’s foundation in July 2017, Public Address has raised $110,000 in seed capital to finance the development of the platform. Public Address is powered by AWS, the largest provider of cloud computing globally, and SendGrid, the email marketing provider trusted by Uber, AirBnB and Spotify.

ENDS

To view the release on Public Address, click here.

The future of public relations is co-creation

As a profession, we’re struggling to define exactly what our it means to be a PR professional in today’s converging digital world.

Are we media relations professionals, responsible for driving an earned editorial agenda, are we influencer managers, responsible for shepherding a growing cohort of influencers, are we content creators, playing entirely in the owned space, or are we experts in paid media, managing cross-platform spend? Are we really just turning into marketing professionals?

The answer is we’re a little bit of all of the above. But the one thing that defines all of these roles is co-creation. The co-creation of content across a range of earned, owned and paid channels where we can influence public perception, drive shifts in behaviour and create new possibilities for our clients.

Co-creation is when different parties blend ideas together to produce a mutually valued outcome – whether it be a new feature for an app, a new product line or a great outcome for a client. The best examples of applying the principles of co-creation are campaigns where influencers, media buyers, agency, in-house and creative are all working together towards joint outcomes.

While we’ve become adept at co-creating with influencers, marketing, media buyers and the like, we’re still working out how exactly we can co-create content with the media.

So how do we apply the principles of co-creating to our media interactions?

It starts with a fairly simple rule – everyone in the transaction needs to bring as much value as possible to the exchange. While traditionally many public relations professionals have viewed themselves as story shapers and a channel through which media can access great content and spokespeople, now we need to be packaging up the content and spokespeople in media ready formats.

This means that supplying a case study isn’t enough – when you pitch in a case study you need to supply short video grabs for television, sound bites for a radio story and high quality still images for digital and print outlets. It means helping media create content for their platforms by offering to pay for transcription services for interviews, doing some of the legwork of the story for them, coming at your role from the perspective of ‘how do I make my media contacts lives easier?’ not ‘how do I drive media coverage on topic X or Y?’ because you’ll find by doing the first approach right, the second one comes naturally.

Think outside the box. How can you provide raw data in formats that are easily visualised through open source tools like Mapbox, Carto, how can you pre-format graphs so that they’re ready for publication? Think beyond the infographic to how you’ll present information in a way that can be easily converted into a graphic in a journalist’s story.

Think about the multiple channels that a journalist needs to work in. Do your pitches have content for Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat ready to go?

Finally, make sure you’re getting the content to them in a way they can use it. Whether it’s through creating a multi-media release on Public Address, a branded media center or a micro-site for the campaign, make sure your content isn’t getting lost in the post and is accessible by media wherever they are, and from whatever device they’re working from. Just like us, media are working across two or three devices, balancing a dozen stakeholders and just trying to get it done.

Don’t forget to have some fun well you set out to co-create some amazing outcomes with media. I promise you’ll find it more rewarding, enjoyable and that it consistently delivers better results.

Repeat after me – the press release is not dead

The humble press release turned 112 this year, and a few people have used this occasion to commemorate its passing.

Does the press release have problems and need to evolve? Yes. Is it dead? No.

The A4 page with a header, content, contacts and boilerplate hasn’t evolved in a recognizable form since Ivy Lee and the Pennsylvania Railroad issued the first release in 1906. Press Releases are no longer delivered by messenger boy, but the basic format and content delivery has remained the same despite transmission moving to the postal system, fax system and most recently, email.

This humble medium of communication will be preserved for some time yet because it is an incredibly efficient manner of transmitting information to media, a blank canvas to develop and massage your message and a medium to align the various stakeholders whose input is required.

As a result, the bones of your press release will almost always be as much copy as you can cram into a single piece of A4 paper.

It’s the packaging which needs to evolve. Your press release needs to incorporate the content which a journalist needs to access to cover your story, such as pictures, video and audio, in a compelling, easy to use press package. You need to be providing as easy access as possible to your spokespeople as possible, and helping media get through to the right person in your team to discuss the story – not the first person who answers the phone.

And you need the right tools to do this.

For the press releases’ 113th birthday, I hope that you join us at Public Address on this journey of evolution, keeping the core of the press release intact, but helping it grow and mature into a format more appropriate for the 21st Century.

For more information on how the press release is evolving and changing, get in touch at [email protected]

Reducing the cost of customer acquistion

On the way to work Tuesday, I was offered vouchers from three different start ups, before I even made it from my house to the train station. 

 At first, this presents as an odd marketing strategy for companies which brand themselves as digital powerhouses, but in practice demonstrates the increasing problem faced by all start ups – a skyrocketing cost of customer acquisition.

What’s fascinating is that in this environment, it appears that what are considered the more traditional forms of marketing communications truly excel. 

Increasingly, the problems being caused by the rocketing cost of acquisition is being recognised by venture capitalists. It’s no longer enough to turn up with an incredible new technology which will push a traditional industry into obsolescence, start-ups need a marketing and communications strategy, with a relationship with a strategic PR firm. For some VCs, this is now the price of entry. 

But what is the long term outcome of this transition? The cost of customer acquisition is only going to continue increasing, the price of Google AdWords will go up exponentially (research indicates that in Q2 2015 alone, CPCs for brands rose 40%), and I’ll continue to receive my daily quotient of three vouchers on the way to the train station. 

research indicates that in Q2 2015 alone, Google AdWords CPCs for brands rose 40%

But the one, truly traditional, cost of customer acquisition that will not change is the ability for start ups and their founders to polish and refine the story of their business, telling this at every opportunity, through every available medium. For the powerful story transcends a single paragraph adword, creating an emotional connection with a brand and individual and driving long term purchasing decisions.

A powerful story that resonates starts with simple questions – why are we here? what drove the development of the product? whose lives are we seeking to change? But the true power of a story lies in the ability for those who hear it to become evangelists – this sharing is inherent in human nature, and not only underlies the power of social media for brands, but also the power of traditional media and strategic communications in acquiring new customers. 

For while print media faces its challenges, the power of  using mass media for brand communication is not diminishing. The wide reach of these outlets ensures that a broad audience will hear your message, and even if 90 per cent of this audience isn’t interested in your message, if you’re telling a powerful enough story, they will want to share this with those in their community who will benefit from your product or service. 

It certainly seems like a better way to keep your cost of customer acquisition down than paying someone to hand out thousands of vouchers with a minuscule conversion rate, surely?