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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.

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.

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 internet is like an endless gong show for advertisers, with consumers only too willing and able to kill your interruption with a quick click of a red cross. This isn’t a “threat”, it’s a return to a more natural balance.”

Read the full post: Marketers and Time

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