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For the Guardian: Marketers must get over their social newsfeed obsession.

We’ve started writing for the Guardian. First up, about how it’s hard to properly understand changing use of social networks if you stay hung up on your own expectations.

When your Facebook includes everyone you know, the feed is inevitably going to become like “an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave”. You haven’t selected what’s showing up anymore, it’s just aggregated noise. Why should it reflect your interests? Especially when it’s only one of a number of sources most people frequent these days.

Read the full article on The Guardian here — and let us know what you think.

The Media Relations Paradox

Imagine if the most valuable thing you could offer was close relationships with journalists. Not to say there isn’t power and potential in those — but imagine if that was what your whole proposition hinged upon in 2014.

I can’t work out which way the chicken and egg of this value in the PR industry started — but it’s still one of those things people talk about when they talk about PR. Even some great companies approach Augur expecting us to talk about the strong links we have with major editors.

I think this perception is one layer too superficial vs PR’s real potential today. It’s one of the things  I talked about with Danny Whatmough on Digital Wake, our new semi-regular podcast about PR and technology (blame him prioritising his wedding over sitting with me in a soundproof room.) It also links up with Stephen Waddington’s recent #PRforPR campaign (more on that here.)

Why PR?

So what’s going on? And what about the voices out there in the PR industry who may be shouting “we’re good at the media relations thing, what’s so bad about that”?

Well, here’s the issue: we’re operating in a world where more or less all the marketing disciplines are converging on the same zone. Within that nexus, there’s one persistent priority. One point around which so much else revolves.

It’s the thing that comes before all the glitz and glamour of advertising, the chummy chatter of social or the obsessive optimisation of search.

PR can lead the charge in helping companies understand and articulate their Meaning.

PR fit for purpose

This is the opportunity. Because our industry has grown up sparring with the media, it has had a century’s head start in grappling with the scrutiny and cynicism of the journalistic mindset.

You couldn’t hope for a better training regime. Because PR has had to learn to harmonise with influential audiences for so long, it has become part of our way of operating. In the marketing multiplex, it defines the direction of our industry’s potential.

This is what I think we can focus on. Yes, journalists develop relationships with good PRs and yes there’s some value there. But they are the result of our real skill and specialisation: Identifying and amplifying a company’s meaning to tell its story, for whichever audience matters.

When it comes to propositions you can be proud of, I think that’s worth shouting about.

Photo Credit: Esparta via Compfight cc

Making Content Matter

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.)

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?

Photo Credit: ch.weidinger via Compfight cc

Product Hunt, PR tools and my advice for startups

Young companies that aren’t eager to spend thousands on a retainer still realise they need to get their story out to the people who count. But, based on the selection of tools showing up on ProductHunt, you’d think the future of PR was press releases and spamming media lists.

To anyone who actually has experience with PR, we know it doesn’t work like this.

Read the rest at Econsultancy

Death to content: long live the editor

In the effort to rule their industry, almost every player has ended up churning out the same old slurry by neglecting a key element of creating great stories.

It comes down to this: the world doesn’t need more content, it needs better editors.

A good editor establishes a fair, consistent point of view. They bring priorities, standards. They understand when to say no — and why.

It’s a concept that (forgive me) Steve Jobs brought to Apple, and rings through its most heartfelt advertising.

Leave it out

It’s not an instinct that everyone has. And marketers need to get a grip on this fact.

Too many marketing teams are kidding themselves that they can write, interview, or unlock the extra essence that takes the finished product to the next level.

And that word: ‘content’. It’s like calling a beautiful crafted cup of coffee a beverage. It misses what the substance is all about.

That’s not to say these teams are all awful, but look at it this way. While they trudge our generic slurry, there’s a huge crowd of talented, struggling, born creators that basically can’t manage to monetise their passion for what they love.

May contain posts

And what about form? Great editors know form and content are two sides of the same coin. In publishing, we’re seeing a grand resurgence of open-minded experimentation with how you present a story.

Forget Snow Fall, it doesn’t have to be anything so grand. Just presenting material in the way it’s going to be useful is improvement enough. And no, that doesn’t mean an infographic.

It means questions like: Why would you launch a blog with ‘tags’ or ‘archive’ in the sidebar? Why would you call it a blog, what does that mean in 2014? What could it mean?

What should it mean strategically for your business and what does it need to mean to stand out to readers and keep them coming back for more?

The real measure

Finally, good editors know how to measure progress and success. But they don’t just enslave themselves to making arbitrary numbers bigger.

They find a balance between instinct and iteration, confident enough to take chances and walk a more irrational path where their intuition dictates. But cautious enough never to lead everyone off the cliff.

Some of that comes with experience. Experience you won’t get by simply sitting your junior marketing person down in front of WordPress. The world of telling great stories that generate value for your business deserves a more dignified and confident approach. But the first step is admitting you have a problem

Forget content, find yourself a real editor.

(Originally published as a guest post for Econsultancy.)

The people who ruined search are coming to ruin content

Search has changed. It’s becoming so hard to just play the game that you end up with half the discussion revolving around really sensible smart strategy, things like using content to gain attention and stand out online or semantic markup and metadata to genuinely clarify the definition of your entities.

The downside of this is that it potentially disenfranchises and creates a fleet of ex-”search experts” whose previous toolkit is no longer fit for purpose, and they’re prepping up to turn their questionable intentions and gaze this way.

Read the rest at Econsultancy