What three years in Public Relations have taught me…

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What three years in Public Relations have taught me…

By Alan Keane, Account Executive

The advantage of having started working in PR on Bloomsday is that the abundance of boater hats in South Dublin offers me an easy way to remember the anniversary.

I started on the 16th of June 2014, with the skies as sunny as my disposition. A new career beckoned and it seemed like the type of career that would be filled with Mad Men type japes.

The first thing I learned is PR is not advertising, and neither is it the 1960s. Therefore my whiskey tumbler remains gathering dust in my desk drawer.

Here are a few more things I’ve learned in the interim 1096 days.

Media relations is still the most crucial aspect of PR

For all the hand-wringing surrounding the future of public relations, there is still a huge demand from clients for coverage in traditional broadcast and print media. You could receive a Wendy’s level of retweets (#nuggsforcarter) and the client would still be more excited by the possibility of ten minutes on Today with Sean O’Rourke.

In order to facilitate this, people who PR must make sure they develop and maintain excellent relationships within the media. This doesn’t mean liking the odd tweet and plying them with mountains of press releases. It means taking the time to make sure the journalist or producer knows and respects you enough to not hide under their desk when you ring.

Developing a good relationship with the media takes time, and requires a respect for the work journalists do. Having a knowledge of deadlines, favoured topics and preferred methods of communication are all worthy pursuits. Ringing a journalist on print day to pitch a story for two weeks later is not. Neither is pitching something as an exclusive if you have already pitched it to ten other media organisations.

The glamorous life of PR is a myth perpetuated by Instagram

I’m definitely guilty of this more than most. I populate my Instagram with stunning press trip locations, mouth-watering food and celeb selfies. If every PR person ran an honest Instagram account, they would show PR plans scribbled hastily in notebooks on the run, bed-head after being woken up by an early Saturday morning call from a journalist (#Iwokeuplikethis), and sad salads being eaten at your desk during lunch as you try and meet a client’s deadline.

It’s still fun though…

See the aforementioned press trips, food and meeting celebrities.

 

It’s a job that suits all types of personalities.

When I started PR I truly believed that to work in the industry you needed to be an extremely outgoing person. Like, annoyingly outgoing. I mean American levels of outgoing. How else are you going to make the contacts your client needs you to make, right?

Wrong. PR is certainly about connecting with people on a personal level, and being outgoing is a great skill to have, however you can be shy, introverted or damn cranky and still be an excellent PR person. Irish people value honesty and genuine interactions above sycophantic drones.

You’re never done learning.

The fast-paced nature of the PR industry is such that if you slow down, you’re outstripped by your competitors. There’s no time for smug evaluation of how far you’ve come, unless you want it to be your final destination rather than a stop on the journey.

As you can see, I’ve come a long way in three years.

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National Days are a cod

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National Days are a cod

By Alan Keane, Account Executive

Almost three years into my career as a “PR guy” and my friends are surely sick to the back teeth of my smug declarations that I can’t be taken in by marketing and publicity campaigns.

World weary and cynical by the tender age of 27, I pour scorn on campaigns that I declare transparent and obvious.

You won’t catch me out with your celebrity endorsements, your hashtags, your National (insert any commodity here) Day. I’m wise to you.

Smug.

Then why oh why did I find myself horsing into fish and chips on National Fish and Chips Day on Wednesday last? I don’t usually indulge in takeaways on a weeknight (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), but I was landed with the realisation that I had been put in my plaice, codded and battered into submission by a campaign even though I knew it was fishy.

You see, creating national days is bread and butter for PR agencies (ssshhh). If you can create or help instigate a day which then shifts a tonne of your client’s product, you have done your job. This is especially useful when it comes to food companies.

Taking the US as an example, January alone includes days dedicated to popcorn (19th), blonde brownies (22nd), pie (23rd), chocolate cake (27th) and corn chips (29th).

That’s five days in one month! Thankfully no one celebrates all of these days, otherwise there would be a major global problem with obesity, amirite?

The best example of a manufactured day of celebration was Arthur’s Day. Created to celebrate Guinness’ 250th anniversary in 2009, this became an internationally celebrated annual festival involving some of the world’s most famous music acts playing in Dublin and further afield. It lasted until Diageo pulled it in 2014, largely due to criticism that it was just an excuse to sell more Guinness.

 

The thing is, the majority of people skulling pints of the black stuff knew that Arthur’s Day was, to paraphrase the Irish Times, a drink being an excuse for a festival rather than a festival being an excuse for a drink.

Did they care? No. If you give the average consumer an excuse to consume, consume they will. It was probably no coincidence that Diageo didn’t use the same date every year, but rather the same day, Thursday being the optimum day to draw a student crowd. Even those who never touched Guinness may have tried a pint, given the day that was in it.

You’d think someone working in the dark arts of PR would be wise to national days, able to rise above it all. You’d be wrong.

To Fish and Chips!

Oh and, happy International Doughnut Day.

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The Power of Online Campaigns

by Mark Walsh, Account Executive

Last week we saw a good example of two questions that we in PR ask ourselves quite regularly. Firstly, how effective is social media in promoting a brand and secondly is there such thing as bad publicity?

On the second question, I’m sure British Airways answer is a definite yes after their IT failure and response to the issue turned into a PR disaster and a good case study for how to not handle a crises, but I digress.

The topic for this discussion is the Walkers Crisps online campaign that went horribly wrong (or right but I’ll come to that).

As I’m sure many of you saw last Friday, Walkers asked people to send selfies to their Twitter account. These images would then be automatically used in an animation video with ex footballer/Walkers Ambassador Gary Lineker appearing to hold up their picture in a video. Unfortunately for Walkers, Twitter users began to send in images of notorious criminals and historical figures and soon Gary Lineker was holding up pictures of Joseph Stalin and Jimmy Saville.

At first it seems that this should have been easily predicted and that Walkers were incredibly naive to think that something like this wouldn’t happen. After all a similar high profile misjudgement occurred last year when a British government agency decided to let the internet suggest a name for a €255 million polar research ship. While some ‘suitable’ names were put forward, the name Boaty McBoatface was the runaway winner. What must have seemed like a good idea to begin with: give the online community complete freedom to dictate an online campaign, didn’t quite work out as planned.

This leads on to the second question. While the Walkers campaign was effective in getting people engaged and talking about the crisps (although for the wrong reasons) was the so called negative publicity a bad thing? It’s easy to be cynical but did Walkers foresee some sort of mischief from the online community and decided it would be a good way to get publicity for their campaign? After all can they really be blamed if people decided to upload pictures of criminals when Walkers asked for selfies?

Undertaking an online campaign and giving total control to the online community can result in a PR disaster that a traditional media campaign, where engagement is managed, usually avoids. However it can be effective for generating controversy, debate and focusing attention on a brand. Whether you want this type of attention or not though is another issue and I’m not suggesting that that was Walkers intention.

Walkers did issue an apology and shut down all activity on the campaign while Gary Lineker tweeted that he had ‘an unusual day with some strange company’. No real harm done but a great deal of publicity was generated for Walkers.

As proven today, sometimes all it takes is even just one word (anyone for covfefe?) in a tweet, for the online community to go into overdrive with a series of humorous responses and next thing you know, your mistake is the number one trend.

 

 

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The dark side of social media in a crisis

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The dark side of social media in a crisis

By Alan Keane, Account Executive

When the Guardian notification pinged on my phone around 11pm on Monday night, reporting a serious incident at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the first thing I did was access the rolling news report on the app. At that stage there was very little to accurately report, so the Guardian had scant information available.

Twitter on the other hand…

I don’t normally use Twitter as a source for news. Years of following Spurs and having my heart broken by ITK (In the Know) accounts claiming huge transfer deals have made me cynical. However I decided that with this being a breaking story, Twitter’s immediacy may prove useful.

It was a useful exercise alright, but not in the way I had hoped. Lurking amongst the heartfelt outpourings of worry and grief for potential victims at the Manchester Evening News Arena were trolls posting fake reports, which scared and anxious Twitter users were then proliferating.

The two worst incidences, to my mind, were the reports of two explosions and a shooter that were circulating, as well as an image from an old army training video of a building with blown out doors that idiots were purporting to be exclusive pictures from Manchester.

There are obvious safety risks inherent in this sort of reckless posting, particularly the false reports of a shooter which could cause widespread panic in the MEN Arena should the social media savvy fans of Ariana Grande inside be checking Twitter to attempt to cut through the confusion.

Equally as bad as the scaremongering was the hope given to worried parents by the false reports that the Holiday Inn had taken in 60 children without guardians. Holiday Inn told the Guardian that they were providing support to people after the attack but could not confirm that they had large groups of children in their care. The hope that the initial posts would have given to parents unable to contact their children who were at the concert was thus cruelly taken away.

The majority of people retweeting any of the fake news reports or images were doing so with the best intentions, attempting to get what they believed to be pertinent information to a wider audience. However there is a prevalent culture of wanting to be among the first to break a story that reaches beyond traditional media and is particularly evident on social media as people attempt to cultivate retweets and likes.

This Buzzfeed article highlights just some of the fake news circulating in the hours directly following the attack. The fake reports of missing persons using photos of people who weren’t in the UK, let alone Manchester are appalling and the posters need their heads examined and their phones crushed underfoot.

The crux of the issue is that social media is where the majority of children, adolescents and young adults get their information today. Young minds indisposed to critical thought have a higher likelihood of taking posts at face value.

This isn’t meant to be condescending. It happens to all of us. As a young journalist at a national radio station during the 2012 Olympics, I hastily wrote a post for the station’s website about Barrack Obama’s tweet congratulating Katie Taylor on her gold medal. The only problem was it was a fake account. There was an element of competition, in wanting to be the first with the story, which led to me writing the story without verifying it. That’s an inherent problem in a media landscape dependent on churning out rapid content. It’s type first, ask questions later.

A recent report showed that millennials are worryingly lacking in critical thinking skills, leading to a struggle with news literacy. This coupled with an ever-increasing amount of fake news means that now more than ever we need journalists and those in positions of power (here’s looking at you Mr Trump) to verify stories before pushing them out to what can be a gullible audience.

Just as I was about to close my phone in despair on Monday night, both at the real events in Manchester and the constructed fables, I started to see another kind of tweet appearing. Tweets from people debunking the fake news, as well tweets pleading with other social media users to verify their sources before posting. I fell asleep feeling sorry for those caught up in the tragedy, but a little more hopeful about social media as a tool for disseminating information.

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Under the Influence

by Mark Walsh, Account Executive

 

For generations celebrities, sport stars and popstars have played a role in influencing the way people dress, the type of haircut to have, the latest accessory to own etc. Going back to the days of Elvis and the Beatles, people and in particular teenagers, have modelled their own image on the latest trends that were usually set by a celebrity. This didn’t go ignored and nowadays we see celebrities promoting all sorts of items. The power of celebrities to influence us and to what extent it actually works is an important question that PR Professionals need to consider today. It does seem that if a PR professional can secure a well known public figure to act as an influencer for a client then it is a valuable opportunity.  Or is it?  

Recently, it was revealed that Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo “generated $500 (€450) million in value for Nike from his social media properties in 2016”. Ronaldo, who has 120 million followers on Facebook, 50 million followers on Twitter and 92 million on Instagram, posted a picture on Instagram after the Euro 2016 Final that is said to have been worth $5.8 (€5.2) million to Nike alone. Obviously Nike must believe that Ronaldo is very influential and combined with the fact that he is able to reach a huge number of people is worth every penny of investment. 

Here in Ireland, research done last year showed that Conor McGregor and Pippa O’Connor were the most influential Irish social media personalities. The research also found that 6 in 10 Irish people would buy a product recommended by a social media personality. While we can’t take this at face value it does pose the interesting question of just how much influence an influencer has.

Choosing the right influencer

The first question that PR professionals need to consider is will this person be the right fit for my client and are they value for money. If it looks like that this celebrity was only chosen for their social media reach / popularity and not because they are a match for the client then their influence will be limited. Of course, you need to consider who exactly the client is trying to reach and determine what is the most effective way to reach them. Social media is one option but print or broadcast media can work very well too depending who the target audience is.

 Is it worth it?

Recruiting an influencer can also go horribly wrong for everyone involved. It was recently revealed that the cancelled Fyre Festival (who could provide enough material for a blog post on crises management) gave “hundreds of models and online personalities, such as reality star Kendall Jenner and model Emily Ratajkowski ... free flights, accommodation and tickets in exchange for promoting the event to fans”. In this case, not only were the influencers involved in promoting a doomed festival (see here for the full incredible details) but they also didn’t abide by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules requiring that “influencers” who share promotional materials to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands”.

This case also highlights the high cost often involved in order to get an influencer to promote a brand. It goes without saying that freebies are all part of the package.

 Decision Time

Has it reached the point now where people are so use to seeing a celebrity promoting a brand that we have all become immune to it? Does this mean that we are no longer influenced by the influencer? When stars of the past were creating fashion trends in the 1950 and 1960s it could be argued that it seemed (to a certain degree) to be more organic and that the celebrities dressed/promoted what they did because they genuinely liked it. Is it possible for celebrities to still influence us and effectively promote a brand today when they are being paid to do so and getting freebies from the brand? There is no doubt that the reach that certain celebrities have nowadays with social media is huge and that the right person saying or tweeting the right thing can be very valuable to a brand. Like most aspects of PR, it really depends on what is being promoted, choosing the right influencer and using the correct medium.

Whether an influencer is right or not for your client is a question that PR professionals all need to be asking themselves.  

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Philip Morris tin-king outside the box for Marlboro brand

By Alan Keane, Account Executive

We don’t love you Philip Morris but, weak Jim Carrey reference aside, you can’t help but be impressed at the tobacco manufacturer’s cunning stunt to get around the new packaging regulations that come into force in the UK tomorrow.

Saturday the 20th May marks the end of the 12 month grace period afforded to cigarette manufacturers to phase out old branded cartons, which have been replaced by generic plain packets incorporating pictures and warnings designed to deter smokers.

Whilst Ireland is following suit, with 30th September 2018 the cut-off point for branded packaging, from tomorrow UK retailers will no longer be allowed to stock packets of 10 cigarettes, or the smaller size packages of rolling tobacco.

So how has Philip Morris attempted to get around the packaging regulations which will lead to their highly-recognisable Marlboro brand being diluted? Tins.

It’s such a simple solution, but shows impressive forward thinking. All manufacturing of branded materials had to cease 12 months ago, meaning that the tins that have been distributed to UK retailers were (according to Philip Morris) created before the 20th May 2016 deadline.

The 10 cigarette tins are being sold in major retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Londis, and cost the same as a normal 10 packet of Marlboro cigarettes.

Philip Morris is banking on anyone who has bought one of these tins using them to store their cigarettes for the foreseeable future, ensuring the iconic Marlboro branding stays visible long after their competitors fade into the beige of standardised packaging.

It goes without saying that we don’t condone smoking, however purely as a means of promoting a product Philip Morris has played a blinder here.

It’s almost as if the tobacco industry has unlimited amounts of money to throw around…

I’ll finish as I started, with a Jim Carrey reference. Philip Morris hopes that these tins ensure that Marlboro continues to be the brand that people are…

the mask.jpg

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What's in a name? Can you advertise without mentioning your own brand?

By Alan Keane, Account Executive

Not too many marketing/PR agencies would have the temerity to sit down at a client meeting and suggest a promotion that doesn’t use the client’s brand name anywhere.

Then again, not too many marketing/PR people can count McDonald’s, perhaps the world’s most recognisable brand, as a client.

A New York Times article last week flagged a new 30 second advertisement featuring comedienne and actor Mindy Kaling for McDonalds.

The only nod to the McDonalds brand is Kaling’s yellow dress as she stands in front of a red background.

 

The ad does mention two mammoth brands, in Coca Cola and Google, as Kaling urges viewers to use the search engine to find “that place where Coke tastes so good.” Such is the confidence McDonalds has both in the quality of its offering of the renowned soft drink and the belief that its target audience of teens and twenty-somethings use their phones while watching TV, and aren’t averse to interaction.

What happens when you type in “that place where Coke tastes so good” and hit search? You’ve guessed it. More McDonald’s results than there are Golden Arches on Irish streets.

It was essentially a clever humblebrag, and one that got the media swooning over the audacity of omitting your own brand name.

The question is, would it work for other brands? Other behemoth corporations with extreme confidence in audience recognition perhaps, but don’t expect to see “that place with the great 99’s” advertisements appearing on Irish TV anytime soon.*

*Because we all know it’s Teddys…

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