The Medium is Not Always the Message

The Medium is Not Always the Message

Agencies are embattled by clients that don’t understand PR’s importance in a social media-dominated landscape.

When I started my first agency, mobile phones were a novelty, we used typewriters for press releases that were faxed to news desks before nipping out for an afternoon’s lunch with a journalist mate. Today lunch is a novelty, my smartphone is the office, and fax machines are as popular UK MEPs.

Technology is a relentless mistress always teasing with its come-hither eyes and cheeky grass is always greener grin. The promise of better, faster, easier is compelling, but what is more important are the underlying behaviours people repeatedly use.

In 2012 the average Facebooker used 2.5 other social platforms, this year it’s 4.6. More new platforms don’t mean that the existing suffer, we’re simply more promiscuous.

It’s easy for brands and their brand builders to be distracted and attracted to a new shiny thing. But shifting budget and focus out of tried and tested communications practices is a falsehood in the reputation economy.

I’ve seen it during the past ten years, PR agencies reinvent themselves as social agencies, content marketers, digital relations, even digital content PR consultancies. Why? A fear of the new shiny thing cannibalising their budgets.

Where many clients and agencies go wrong is a lack of audience understanding. Too many see Facebook and Twitter as broadcast mediums that are cheaper than a PR retainer, opinion leader product testing and seeding, or a well thought through consumer experience that excites, delights, and incites a desired behaviour.

Five hundred likes from people who have got few followers each. So what? If the Mail Online, Mashable or Buzzfeed pick up a story the share numbers go ballistic, so there is a really important role for traditional media relations.

One of Honey’s core sectors is consumer technology – particularly for nascent Chinese brands with no western reputation. Yes we could create a few social accounts, write cleverly crafted posts, GIFs and videos in the hope we can deliver sales targets or drive traffic to an ecommerce platform or build an unknown brand in the timeframe our clients demand. But it won’t.

It has been the case that our Chinese clients were not ready for PR, getting a well written and optimised website, plus ecommerce solution has been the response to a PR brief. Before we write a social brand book and set up platforms we go through the timeless process of identifying USPs, positioning and messaging.

Once our social research tells us where the audiences are and what they like, we can identify the touchpoints and craft the stories. Key opinion leaders are targeted to test and review product or invited to tailored experiences.

PR experts understand the bigger picture, are not platform myopic. The art and science of modern PR has opened doors for a ‘below the line’ industry maligned by spin doctors to stick its head above the line and promote openness and transparency. We have tools to listen, create, and share.

But technology is the medium not the message, we may have new platforms that compete for attention but brand communications principles remain the same, it’s just practices that change.

People don’t watch technology, they consume and share content – but that is one aspect of the relationship between brands and their fans. Social may be trending for many brands but it’s PR that will build and maintain their reputation and ultimately, sales.

Mark Terry-Lush