(For the record, if you want to understand why it’s so important to say as little as possible, this video is a pretty good demo in itself too. At such moments, I sympathise for every client that I’ve advised to control their passion for the subject in favour of clarity.)
I’ve written before about the difficulties of the word “content”. It’s too often bandied around in discussions that lose sight of its meaning to viewers versus its importance in their strategy. And that blindness is costly.
But you quickly find yourself drawing on it because it’s the common reference. Much of the time, that will remain true.
Sometimes, however, it’s worth thinking again to see if there’s another descriptor more suitable. Perhaps another descriptor that can focus on a different detail and a different priority and help you concentrate on what matters.
Made of more
I recently had the following conversation on Twitter. (Incidentally, it’s also one of those incredibly moments that hits home to me how social accounts and interactions can become such an enjoyable scratchpad for new ideas.)
@ToyotaPR we don't expect to simply buy signals to rank higher or ad space to reach people. But we now have the material to make it work.
— Max Tatton-Brown (@MaxTB) October 29, 2014
Hey, there's a replacement for professional "content" = "material". Inextricably linked to quality/ fitness for purpose. Craftlike.
— Max Tatton-Brown (@MaxTB) October 29, 2014
Content’s not included
Material is like the fabric of something actually useful. It’s a bit more tangible. It’s something you iterate on and bang around in different directions — certainly when it’s commonly used in stand-up comedy.
It’s craft-like and something you develop and improve over time. You gather techniques to become competent then workmanlike then artisan. You invent or invest in technology to gain an advantage producing better material than your competition.
Material has customers rather than consumers. Your material must be top notch, it’s not just a snack between courses — it is a product in its own sense.
I’d love to hear suggestions of other words. Even if they aren’t used in conversation, I think clearer definition helps you think about things more strategically and accurately. The power of language is only beaten by the power of the meaning and association that underlies it.
What would you call content to make you appreciate it more?
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.
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.
We recently took part in a discussion from MyNewsDesk about the ways brands tell their story.
Check out the recording below for our thoughts.
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.
“Having come from managing comms at Tradeshift, I’m most interested in the kinds of unsexy, B2B companies that really power things behind the scenes,” Tatton-Brown told the Holmes Report. “Unsung heroes.”
Augur launches with five technology clients, although Tatton-Brown declined to reveal their names, instead noting that some are backed by investors Passion and Notion. He also pointed out that the “much maligned” state of the PR industry requires a more thoughtful, credible approach to communication.
“He said Augur would not be about advising clients to “force themselves on the news” but would take a more considered approach. “It’s about looking at the context of what is around you,” he added.”
“Max said: “Good PR is not about a social media strategy, growth hacking and content marketing. It’s about looking at how you can become a better company, more fit for purpose within the ecosystem around you. The latest channels and trends are part of this bigger picture.”
“Augur, whose name comes from the role of a trusted advisor in classical times who interpreted the will of the Gods through the patterns of birds, is already working with five tech clients, in areas like retail, social/ marketing, collaboration and B2B.”
PR has become a much maligned industry. And perhaps there’s some fairness to the criticism. Over the last 100 years, its “two-way street” origin decayed into something designed to match broadcast media’s growth with scalable profitability.
But as a result, shifting patterns of attention have left many agencies fielding foghorns in a world now thriving in conversation. They besiege anyone with audience, trying to bully their way into the news and, even with non-stories from lifeless brands, some have become very effective at it.
This saturates the news cycle, giving over-pitched and over-worked media a hundred times more noise to digest before finding the signal that matters. But worse, it can deprive great companies and great people of a voice.
I think we can do better. I think good PR is about doing something so interesting or so much better that people can’t help but talk about it — not trying to fake it.