A review from my seat on the PRCA Digital Report launch panel

I was very pleased to recently be asked to sit on a panel at the launch of the PRCA Digital Report. But it quickly became clear that many of the problems keeping big agencies awake at night are simply not things we have to worry about.

I also couldn’t help but agree with a few familiar faces in the audience that there really is no “analogue” and “digital” PR. Often, Digital is just a word used to replace “new”.

It’s a bit like when people use the word “millennial” instead of just saying “young people”.

So, looking at the findings, what’s not new?

Online media. Once new, now ordinary (special mention to “online press release distribution.”)

Blogger outreach. Once new, now ordinary.

Is it really that hard to see things like making videos and continuing to integrate social into strategy seamlessly becoming normal?

All technology is really just a matter of evolution. It’s about enhancement and adaptation — all words that describe starting with something and gradually growing or changing that thing.

The thing about this is, we can expand into these new areas most successfully by using what we have been great at historically.

Look at two of the fastest-growing budget areas: Video and sponsored social.

Who is better suited than PRs to find stories, interviews, customers, great material that can be used for video?

Who is better suited than PRs to help produce short, focused stories and pitch-like snippets to amplify on social — especially then we have often been the genesis of the great owned or earner material being megaphoned?

If you already do case studies, think about how you can record and flip the output of those interviews in a constellation of different ways.

If you already pitch stories to journalists and influencers online, why not interview them back about the wider context for your own blog?

I’m a firm believer that what made us great at “old” PR will continue to make us great at the new.

Stop asking if you can do something digital. Start thinking about how you can do something new.

Augur writes about the future of journalism on TechCrunch

One thing we think is really important at Augur is to be properly connected to the world of the companies we work with. So we often end up writing for places like Quartz, Wired, The Guardian about technology and culture trends that are changing behaviour.

Most recently, the editors at TechCrunch published Max’s piece about how payment for journalism must work online. Check out the full piece here or read on below for a taster. (Impressively, it also marks our first crossing of the Great Firewall with a Mandarin version on TechCrunch China here!)

I write. I work with writers. Many of my friends are journalists. The future of being able to charge for quality material online is really important to me.

However, to make progress in this area, I think the industry needs to stop pinning its hopes on the same dead ends that come up again and again. To me, one of these is microtransactions for material.

Leading this field, Blendle has recently been on a PR push around its U.S. launch. Twenty U.S. publications will share with an audience of 10,000 test users articles for between $0.09 and $0.49 (9-49 cents).

Basically, none of this matters. It’s a wasteful diversion. Because to make real impact on this challenge, you need three key things — and Blendle has none of them.

Observations from Level 39 office hours

One of the pleasures of what we do is being invited into accelerators like Level 39, Barclays Fintech and TravelTech to give time to the next generation of young startups.

Every time we wrap up one of these sessions, it strikes me how the themes progress between the different conversations and how I think it says something about the current state of the startup ecosystem.

I’m sharing some simple notes here, in the hope that they may be of interest and use to some of you.

Messaging is a new plateau, not winner takes all

Messaging is the new big trend. As a result many founders are turning their design principles toward this, just as the move to apps became very common in the last few years.

One reaction to this is to think: “won’t your messaging platform just get stomped by Apple, FB, Google and co?” But the interesting thing about messaging is that you don’t have to own the platform to design something valuable that speaks the language of that format.

Quartz new app shows how a messaging dynamic and design language can inform a useful new way of presenting things, whether you are literally running on a messaging platform or not. You get a head start working to this trend, you are immediately compatible with anyone that may think to acquire you and the language of successful messaging apps like Line and WeChat is to integrate a whole variety of third party services into the platform.

Messaging is an opportunity to join the new normal, not just a looming ecosystem war in the hands of a few giants.

Persuading institutions

Often, innovations must play into and function within the realm of more traditional markets or communities. As a result, it can be hard to get the buy in of established key figures and influencers.

One way to tackle this challenge is to think about how you create prestige and opportunity for a core few, that incentivises them to be part of the trend. How do you make disruption aspirational in the eyes of those wed to the old way of doing things?

You may start small — but gathering these first few advocates is like bringing together the first flakes of a snowball, a snowman, then an avalanche.

The entrepreneur is changing

If nothing else, the “Tech City” initiative has made one thing clear: if you want to found a business, London is ready for you.

The variety of founders I have me in the last year is far broader and more diverse than those present five or six years ago. For example, it feels like people who may have been more conservative in the past, who already have existing and growing businesses, are more eager to take the path less trod and disrupt themselves.

This previous experience can be an enormous asset. But, especially if disrupting an existing established biz, you don’t have to have watched every episode of Dragon’s Den to know that investors will quickly push for the old business to die and the focus to shift entirely to where their interests are.

I love indirect network builders

Some businesses produce a product, sell it to an audience and reap the rewards. Others provide a service, often nearly for free, that fulfils a need and disrupts an industry — but crucially, builds a valuable network of connections at the same time.

Tradeshift was such a business. Facebook did this with photos to establish social connections. Whenever I hear a similar mission, my eyes light up. It’s hard. But it’s valuable.

Augur kicks off 2016 with AVG Innovation Labs win. So what?

(For the full story, find today’s news at The Holmes Report and PR Week)

“Who cares when agencies win clients?” I hear you say. And you’re quite right.

Yes, of course we’re all glad to hear that Augur, a communications agency for unsexy tech companies, is working with AVG’s Innovation Labs to share projects like their now infamous “privacy glasses”.

But it’s also about what we are trying to build. Every project matters to Augur as much as its clients. The standard we set will drive this agency’s future, and great work cultivates more great work.

So for every project we kicked off in 2015, we passed on many more. Some too early in their story, some not techie enough, some too consumer.

We are building an agency that helps a very specific kind of “unsexy tech” company reach the customers they were made for. Because actually, we think those businesses have stories with serious and satisfying substance.

For example

Take Pusher, whose Data Delivery Network now serves over 100 BILLION realtime updates a month and has been able to fund its own growth since 2011. Or Notion Capital, a team of ex-entrepreneurs launching the biggest SaaS fund in Europe. Or BookingBug announcing 10x growth, as the biggest retailers in the world use it to bring life back to high street stores.

We don’t work with everyone. In fact, it should be clear that we think very carefully before we start working with anyone.

But we believe that this approach is what will develop a valuable specialism for our clients over the years to come. It’s more important to us to build something right on the foundations for the next decade than rush something to a ‘liquidation event’ as the doors close on an old operating model.

The Team

2015 also saw Sam Golden join the team as Augur’s first Strategist. Shipped from journalist training to London for a role with the BBC, he quickly moved on to a career at the UK’s leading PR agencies while building an award-winning music community on the side.

Meanwhile, I joined PR Week’s 30 to 30 list, managed the PRCA Technology group, hosted office hours at Level 39 and Barclays Fintech Accelerator and helped launch the #PRstack initiative.

We’re looking for the next person to join Augur and, if you’re reading this, maybe it’s you.

The best way I can describe the way we try to work is unstifled. If you think you could do a better job, could handle being more in control of your time and your destiny, then get in touch for a chat.

We’ll be glad to help however we can.