Breaking the PR rules: 128 units

I was invited to a recent PRCA event, hosting 3x PR industry godfathers who founded and exited agencies.

Like so much with running Augur, I found it had to be analysed at two levels simultaneously. On one hand, there’s nothing like real experience. It’s a hard-won asset that money can’t buy.

But in dispensing the value of that experience, there’s a risk of being blinkered toward only what worked in the past. When it comes to agencies, that means a model that I don’t necessarily believe is the future or is the core of what Augur should be. 

It’s always risky to disagree with experience and the threat is you’re assuming you know better. I think the effective middle ground is based around this: Before you can intelligently break the rules, you have to understand what you’re breaking.

What’s the time?

I asked a question early on about timesheets. And it’s one I’ll caveat with the fact I once wrote an article entitled “Why I’ll always have time for timesheets”. 

My question was based on the idea that timesheets are really just an abstraction. They’re representative of time but ultimately, if we’re saying 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, roughly 4 weeks a month, that’s 128 units of abstract value that you sell to clients.

Why not simplify?

Why try to sell such granular batches? What’s the virtue of breaking it down into 8 units per day. I think there’s an illusion of efficiency and security that comes from the feeling you can now account for every hour of every employee’s time.

But does anyone who has worked in an agency really believe timesheets have that kind of precision? And is our greatest aspiration really to squeeze every last drop out of every team member?

If we say these systems are maybe 80% accurate, and that it’s probably only the last 20% of peoples’ time that you’re trying to increase the efficiency on, how can that realistically work?

I agree it’s unwise to try and manage an organisation without something in the model like this. But I wonder if you can get most of the value from a system that takes a fraction of the time to manage.

Why can’t we simply by reducing the number of those abstract units.

Time for attention

Instead of hundreds of made up hours, how about 4x units of attention per week.

Because more strategic work tends to require more focused, dedicated and, arguably, valuable attention, this currency has greater flexibility.

Lots of great writing may take up one unit of attention. Developing a strategic plan may take less physical time but in how it absorbs the team working on it with the focus of required concentration and experience, it’s equivalent. Maybe implementing it over a month is going to take another four units of attention.

So you spec a project by working back from objectives, establishing the strategy and calculating how much attention it will need. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, it’s just trying to find ways to produce them more efficiently and end up with a better vehicle. 

Obviously there’s no way to discuss this properly with a panel, without becoming that guy (or girl) whose question turns into a diatribe and a distraction. But for the value of thinking about this further, I have to congratulate the PRCA on creating a little haven for us to escape the day-to-day and really scrutinise what we’re doing and why.

Search, and the commercial clash of the information age

People are looking for things. You want them to find you.

But not just when looking for you, of course, that’s a given. Really, you want them to find you when they are looking for other things. Or, best of all, when they’re looking to buy other things.

And so the clash emerges. Because of how search works, if you want to be found, you have to essentially become that thing online.  You have to equate yourself with what your audience is looking for as they hope to buy.

Exceptions and expectations

But what happens if there’s a dissonance between what people are currently looking for and what you think they really should be looking for? It’s a classic issue in something like tech PR. Or communications. Or whatever you want to call the big converging soup of media and marketing.

How do you join the dots between the ‘wrong’ search and the right ideas?

If you can explain the difference, that should be a relevant, shareable, memorable way to tackle the challenge. That should be a good fight in the battle, not for some mysterious search blackhattery — but because you’re genuinely moving the subject forwards.

And even better, play your cards right and it should become a relevant source for the subject you think people should be searching for too. Because you’ve actually created value.

How do brands tell their story?

We recently took part in a discussion from MyNewsDesk about the ways brands tell their story.

Check out the recording below for our thoughts.

Interviewed by Gorkana

Gorkana recently interviewed us about our industry, including where tech PR is going and the worst thing a journalist has ever said to me.

Which social media platform has changed your life?

Can I argue BBEdit, which powers the SomethingAwful.com forums? It turns out that growing up out in the country and wasting hours trawling through that community of 70,000+ “goons” would equip me with the insights to understand online communities when they went mainstream. Trolling, lurking, attention-whoring, Godwin’s Law – none of this stuff is new, it’s just that a wider audience is now experiencing the natural rhythms and characteristics of online behaviour.

Read the full interview here.