How PRs can maximise their body clocks

It’s quite alarming to think that it’s 10.20am as I write this blog post and, according to experts, I’m supposed to be at my most alert… If I’m completely honest, I’m absolutely shattered. On reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t have stayed up late in bed watching ‘The Island with Bear Grylls’ on my laptop. Desperate to see the end of the show, I fought the urge to fall sleep until the credits rolled. It was a great idea at the time but if this is going to be my energy peak, I dread to think how I’m going to make it through the rest of the day. And I’ve got that difficult client coming in this afternoon – help!

This morning, as reported by the BBC’s James Gallagher, scientists from some of the UK’s leading universities warned us that ignoring our innate need for sleep, greatly increases our risk of developing certain chronic diseases. We’ve heard it all before, everything from cancer to heart disease has been linked to a lack of sleep, but when experts club together and issue a ‘warning,’ it makes you sit up and think.

Off the back of these findings, the BBC’s health and science team (including @JamesTGallagher, @RachMBuch and @Vic_Gill) developed this very helpful #BBCBodyClock, an interactive reference tool that explains how your body should feel at certain times of the day. Perhaps we can use these findings to work out how best to tailor our own schedules to align with our likely energy levels, whilst simultaneously improving our chances of a healthy future? Fortunately for my peers, I have endeavoured to do exactly that by considering what the comms professionals’ ideal day could look like.

Laura’s Ideal Daily Schedule for Comms Experts (based on #BBCBodyClock findings):

  • 6-7am – Wake up early and resist the urge to exercise (Phew – I’ve been getting that right, at least!). This is also apparently prime time for heart attacks so keep a packet of aspirins nearby in case you feel one coming on. This may be more likely if you’ve dealt with a number of comms crises in recent weeks.
  • 9-12am – Set the morning slot aside for all writing tasks – everything from press releases to blogs to proposals – this is when your mind is supposedly most alert and is best for short-term memory.
  • 12-3pm – Have a spot of lunch and then combat the post-lunch alertness dip with an engaging brainstorm. Perhaps consider a standing brainstorm to keep the creative juices flowing.
  • 3-6pm – Apparently this is the best time for exercise, so in the absence of a treadmill at your desk, book out conference rooms for afternoon calls and walk continuously around the room during the call to take advantage of your fitness peak. Or schedule meetings across town and walk to them, avoiding public transport.
  • 6-9pm – Get out there and network! Organise drinks and a light meal with journalists, fellow PRs, industry experts, etc. NB: This is supposedly a bad time to eat a big meal but a great time for your liver to digest alcohol.

bike men

  • 9-11pm – Set morning alarm on smartphone immediately so you don’t feel the urge to read your emails right before you fall asleep, thengo to bed as soon as you’re tired. Perhaps read a few pages of your book to take your mind off tomorrow’s workload but switch off the lights before you fall asleep on the pages.
  • 12-6am – Sleep in a peaceful, dark, quiet environment and retain memories from the day.

Now to put my plan into action…

When #PricelessSurprises became #CostlyMistakes

We wouldn’t have wanted to be in House PR’s shoes yesterday.  No, not even a ticket to the Brit Awards (and the remote possibility of rubbing shoulders with David Bowie), would have made us change places with them after the furore that blew up on Twitter around #PricelessSurprises for their client MasterCard.  So what did House PR do that was so wrong?

The agency committed what is commonly known in the PR world as the eighth deadly sin.  They presumed to tell a journalist what they should write.  They used the sought-after Brit Awards press seat allocation as collateral, dangling the tickets tantalisingly in front of some of the UK’s top showbiz reporters, in return for an agreed list of specific coverage. This even included a suggested Tweet for each journalist to cut and paste.

The relationship between hack and PR professional is a delicate thing, and it’s driven by our news media’s need for authenticity and balance.  There is a fine, unspoken line that both parties respect and don’t cross. For the journalist,  this means cutting the PR person enough slack to let them ask for a brand or website mention in the article that they, after all, supplied the idea, spokespeople, evidence and statistics for. Within the boundaries of good balance and objectivity, sometimes a journalist will be able to do exactly that.

For the PR person, this means perhaps working some of the brand’s key messages into the story that they pass on or perhaps supplying an image or b-roll that incorporates client branding in it. Or even perhaps asking in a slightly embarrassed, humble tone, if they would mind awfully, if it’s not too much trouble, mentioning their client by name in their piece. But true PR professionals never, ever presume to have rights over what the journalist will finally publish. Once that line is crossed, the trusted relationship is over.  Which does nobody any favours.

Telegraph Mandrake columnist, Tim Walker has pointed out, what House PR should have done is to pay for advertising alone.  This, in marketing terms, is how you control what appears in the press and is posted on social channels.  Well, direct advertising is probably not the right medium for subtle brand placement.  But there are an increasing number of other forms of paid and owned media that could have been explored. A paid blogging programme for example, could have delivered the brand mentions and hashtags that they were looking to journalists for. Not to mention targeted, sponsored posts on Linkedin.  House PR was already paying to promote #PricelessSurprises on Twitter and we’re pretty sure, if they’d just asked the journalists that were invited to the Brit Awards to use that hashtag, most of them probably would have done so.

As it stands, #PricelessSurprises was hijacked yesterday by just about every p*ssed off hack in London and yet was still promoted all day. But then there’s no such thing as bad PR, so they say…

It might not have helped the PR industry’s reputation, but this story has certainly provided us with a useful case study for our trainees at Racepoint and for those degree students we regularly provide workshops to.

World Wide Web Domination

The Guardian has shared yet another awesome (and terrifying) infographic this week. The illustration visualises each country’s most viewed website in the form of a colonial map, as designed by Oxford University researchers and sourced from Alexa

Scarily, a scarce amount of websites have a stronghold over the Internet globally, with Facebook and Google clearly dominating the lot. Asia seems to be the only region where there is some variation. For example, Yahoo! is still the hard-hitter in Japan and Taiwan.

However, there is another variable to think about. As the Guardian explains “The countries where Google is dominant contain half of the internet’s whole population, with over one billion users.  Although the locations it dominates contain more landmass, Facebook loses out to Chinese search engine Baidu when it comes to total internet population.”

 

The researchers then created a map that illustrated the popularity of websites in comparison with Internet population – check out the size of Russia now!

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In communications, we have to understand where our audience is and how to reach them. If we’re working on a campaign that reaches outside of the UK, it’s important to avoid the temptation to do what we’ve always done and take the time to understand what works in the target territory.   If Russia is a target, you would obviously reach out to the larger Russian newspapers with your stories, but would you have the insight to online habits, to ensure your news would climb up the rankings on Yandex?  In this Information Age, you can’t afford to assume your approach in one country can be universally implemented.

Rumours, headlines and the x-surface-factor

Last week some exciting rumours hit the web, starting on Pocket-lint. It seems an anonymous tipster had got in touch to reveal top secret details of new Xbox products coming up to launch. Amongst other exciting details was the promise of a brand new Xbox console, not to be labelled ‘720’, and a 7-inch gaming table dubbed the X-Surface.

Related and less detailed rumours had appeared before, but this latest gaming-insider-info was quickly picked up on numerous other sites. Then it was revealed to be a hoax.

It turned out the ‘news’ came from a prankster who had clearly reached frustration breaking point with tech and gaming websites reporting unconfirmed rumours. On a dedicated Tumblr blog the wily tipster explains these actions, wanting to highlight the lack of fact-checking some sites do on rumours and leaked stories.

That’s all good and noble and all, although it does somewhat ignore Pocket-Lint’s disclaimer:

“Naturally, when a tipster is anonymous, there is some degree of trepidation attached to believing what they say verbatim. However, considering the facts Pocket-lint has been given, and the lack of outlandish claims, everything our source says is plausible”.

It’s also sad that it’ll discourage future rumour stories that may be correct, as Pocket-Lint suggested in an update to the original article.

As a PR, it also highlighted something else to me – the desire for news sites and blogs to post a story, any story, with a headline including a well know brand or product, sometimes to their detriment.

Don’t get me wrong, this makes a lot of sense. Having New iPhone Launched smack in the middle of your homepage will grab more than your average traffic. And since the majority of sites rely on traffic to support their business model, I can see why even the vaguest of rumours is worth considering.

However, this focus on big brands, products and rumours shouldn’t come at the expense of stories from smaller brands that have something darn interesting to say or show. In my time as a PR I’ve been told by journalists several times news, a new product, or briefing sounds interesting, but the lack of brand awareness of the client company means they can’t dedicate the time to covering it. They sometimes play it off to the high level nature of their publication (I’m looking at you nationals).

This may sound idealistic and a little romantic, that the little guy should get an equal look-in as the goliath brands of the world. And since it does, here’s a real example (with details lacking to protect my cowardly self).

Earlier this year, a client launched a new product that attracted a lot of media attention. The client was very tight lipped in the run up to the launch and was reluctant to do any pre-briefs ahead of a launch event. Event invites started and we had a few yes/no/maybe responses, when the client gave us permission to do a select few pre-briefs with trusted contacts. However, we couldn’t provide details in advance beyond ‘a new product from X company’. So we approached a few nationals who had covered the company’s products at launch before. The response from one was words to the effect ‘Unless you’re Apple or Google, we can’t dedicate the time to come to an event or an interview on something without knowing exactly what it is’.

Happily another contact, who was also open to coming to the event, took a briefing on merit and past experience, assuming it would be a good story from a known company. And it was. On the day, the article was one of the most read and shared the outlet’s website. Then the first contact got back in touch, requesting any future announcements be given as a pre-brief in future.

So in some cases, a good story from a reputable client is out-weighed by an unconfirmed rumour from a well known name. Desire for high search traffic aside, this doesn’t seem right.

What The Times’ new paywall update means for PRs

It’s emerged this week The Times newspaper is backtracking ever so slightly on its paywall policy. It really is ‘ever so slightly’, two sentences at a time.

the times paywall

When The Times’ paywall shot up in May 2010 it was unique. Unique because it completely closed off all access to the site’s editorial content for non-subscribers. This contrasted harshly with other paywalls that allowed readers to view a select number of articles or at least read the headline and first paragraph, notably the FT but other trade and specialist titles too.

Now the News Corp owned paper has backtracked. Google, Bing and any other search engine’s crawlers will be able to grab the first two sentences the paper’s editorial articles and index them alongside freely accessible sites. The update should happen next month, says The Telegraph.

Paid Content rightly suggests this is an effort to market the paper to new customers, having reached over 130,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up. Ignoring the “drive by traffic” has been at the heart of The Times’ strategy, and it’s nice to know the paper’s digital team are willing to reassess their position a few years in.

But what does this mean for PRs?

When the paywall first went up I had a few questions over the value of the paper for PRs, effectively weighing the worth of reaching a fledgling but well targeted audience with a wider, more causal readership. There were also questions of exclusive stories with a site paywalled up to the eyeballs, and generally how monitoring would be tougher for PRs.

The latest update means it is work revisiting these topics:

  • Exclusives: well it seems you can have your cake and eat it too. Or other clichés. From a PR perspective, The Times is much more appealing for an exclusive story with a few bricks knocked out of the paywall. Your story will now get to the national broadsheet readers who are arguably far more engaged than the legions of causal readers hitting guardian.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk everyday. If you’re looking after a brand whose name won’t grab attention in headlines, this is even more appealing.
  • Monitoring: this will get a whole lot easier, especially for anyone scanning nationals for client and industry coverage to compile a morning news scan. If there’s a big story picked up by other nationals, I’ll bet my Gorkana log-in few PRs have included a Times article in news scans over the last two years. You’re just so much more likely to find it somewhere else first. Presumably the update means Times content will be included in Google Alerts too, but Paid Content confirmed monitoring services such as Meltwater are still off the cards. The downside is any client without a sub won’t be able to read the entire article in their scan, but at least The Times will be back on the radar. Which leads us to…
  • Influence vs exposure: this makes me wonder if Times writers have become less influential than their counterparts at other papers, whose stories are freely viewable by PRs, analysts, clients and…everyone. Does lack of exposure mean less influence? It’s not impossible, but if it’s the case the new paywall could reverse this process. Of course the majority of Times’ writers can be followed on Twitter, and the editorial team haven’t been hidden away in a cupboard since 2010. Some of them started a Tumblr.

@simonhill