In-Bred PR and “Word of Mouse”

‘Tis the season to be jolly. It’s my last day of work. And I’ve got a big tin of sweets beside me.

Theoretically I should be the epitome of positivity. But there is one element of local PR activity that I just have to address as 2014 comes to a close because I would dearly love to see an end to it in 2015.

I might even start a campaign, but I’m too laden down with chocolate at the moment.

It’s “Who You Know”

It could be argued that this phrase is never more pertinent that it is to the Public Relations industry, and especially so in the tiny, almost in-bred part of the world that is Northern Ireland.

Fall out with someone and everyone will know about it.

Likewise, you sort of need to ‘fall in’ with everyone if you want to get ahead.

You need to know all the consultants, the agencies, the in-housers. Then you need to know all the journalists, on all the platforms. And the bloggers too. And THEN you need to mind-map the six degrees of separation linking them all.

I’ve spent years doing this in my own networking and let me tell you, I’m now at the point where I’m tempted to actually draw it on a map on my wall like some kind of police suspect board because I’m losing count.

For a career that relies on networking it’s natural that this would be the case. It only becomes a problem, in my eyes, when it comes at the detriment of actual PR bottom-line results. And, from what I can see, it actually does sometimes.

The Rise of “Word of Mouse”

Social media, blogger outreach and brand influencer advocacy has become a large part of PR delivery when it comes to selling products and services and raising brand profiles. In fact, many pundits claim that the new “word of mouse” is now as powerful as “word of mouth” customer recommendations once was. Engaging these online influencers is easy enough to do in Northern Ireland precisely because of the small nature of our online landscape. However, one look at some of the local Christmas PR campaigns and I see what looks like cliques of people, the same people, in the same groups, outreaching to each other, time and again.

This isn’t, I imagine, what the client is paying them to do.

Now I won’t name and shame (because Santa hasn’t come yet, so I don’t want to end up on the wrong list) but you all know what I’m talking about!

If you’re hired to deliver the local version of a UK-wide campaign for a retailer, you best give more stuff to the public than you do to your chums…

If you’re putting on an event to promote a new drink, don’t fill it full of fashion bloggers instead of food, drink and hospitality industry people…

If your retail client is launching a big Christmas event you’d be better served inviting parent and family bloggers instead of beauty ones - not least because of the intended customer base - but also because they have a few thousand more followers…

I’ve seen this time and time again, and I’ve had some great debates on Twitter about it (recently with the likes of @Belfast_dad and @Belfastbarman who, like me, get invited to nowt but who, unlike me, really should!) And over coffee/wine I’ve also asked friends who run their own agencies why they think this is the case.

Their answer is, of course, that industry relationships are their lifeblood. It’s how they find work, get recommended for contracts, how they network, keep their knowledge up-to-date and it’s how they both compete with foes and make friends in what can be a lonely job.

I accept this but as someone who strives to belong to an industry I can be proud of, I can’t bear when I see it go too far, because it actually makes a mockery of the work we do. Work that is based on statistical analysis, work that needs evaluation with impact, work for whom the reputation of a whole industry relies on the ethical and scientific approach we bring to “the art.”

So please, for the love of PR, let’s get back to basics in 2015. Let’s take a fresh look at the PR and media landscape and let’s really reach out to new audiences online.

I won’t mind if I still don’t get any freebies.

Although I do have another bone to pick with some suppliers of ours who have been gracing PR agencies with gifts while us in-housers go hungry/thirsty after paying out thousands in services….

But that’s a campaign for 2015 😉

Now enough PR-talk. Time to eat, drink and BE MERRY!