PR Blackout?

02 August 2009

Will it really happen in a week’s time?  It’s scheduled for August 10-16, but there has been little written about the call for a PR Blackout since the middle of July when MomDot issued the challenge to mom bloggers across America, which also seems to be echoed by certain mummy bloggers in Great Britain.

The issue? Apparently mom bloggers have gotten a bit carried away with the allure of give-aways, reviews and blog trips.  The challenge?  Get back to basics and “talk about your kids, your marriage, your college, your hopes, your dreams, your house and whatever you can come up with for one week”.

BlogHer, the leading participatory news, entertainment and information network for women online, seems to be taking a more practical and balanced view in “The good, the bad, and the completely puzzling”.

Is this about having a go at PR folks who don’t approach the blogosphere professionally and intelligently?  They are probably the same PR people who don’t earn the trust of traditional journalists either, and whose PR prose ends up in the trash bin countless times.  It’s no different – just a group of PR hacks who don’t take the time to learn about the people doing the writing, the media channel they write for, and the interests of their readers.

Or is this about a group of bloggers who got carried away with the freebies and/or pay-for-play that the PR profession can offer the blogosphere?

When I heard Jory Des Jardins, co-founder and president of strategic alliances for BlogHer, speak at the CMO Club’s May summit, I was encouraged to hear how BlogHer has put some structure around how bloggers can work more effectively with brands and their partners.  There are ethics and guidelines; there is transparency; and there is a a publishing network of more than 2,500 qualified, contextually targeted blog affiliates.

BlogHer just completed its 5th annual conference last weekend.  Nearly 1,500 women bloggers descended on Chicago to attend meet-ups, sponsored sessions, events, and more.  One of my colleagues who attended suggested that there is a clear break between a small group of top bloggers, “purists”, who are creating guidelines and dealing with sponsors in a very professional manner, and a middle group that is willing to cross lines for sponsorship or some free products.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Blackout and how the community may morph over the coming months.  Monetization will undoubtedly continue to be a contentious issue, as well as the Federal Trade Commission’s targeting of parenting bloggers’ informal product endorsements.

With an active US female Internet population hovering around 42 million – 43 percent of whom visiting blogs for advice or recommendations, there’s a lot at play.

Digi consumers have stronger relationships with brands…no duh!

22 July 2009

Those clever folks at our WPP sister company Millward Brown conducted an additional study on WPP’s BrandZ global equity database to specifically examine “digital” consumers, i.e. those who have bought from or searched for information about an individual category online.  Findings show that, on average, digital consumers have a 15 percent stronger relationship with brands than non-digital consumers.

The strongest brand relationships were found with airline brands where digital consumers’ brand relationships were nearly twice as strong (93%) as those of their offline counterparts.  That makes complete sense.  As a frequent traveler myself, I often check my frequent flyer mileage, schedules and bookings online, and I have my favorite websites (Virgin Atlantic) and Tweeters (JetBlue).

Other key categories where digital consumers had stronger relationships than non-digi folks were, not surprisingly, IT hardware and software (48% stronger), credit cards (33% stronger) and fragrances (29% stronger).  Talk about the importance of image!

There seems to be no hard-fast rule about complexity or simplicity of purchase either.  Cars, a relatively complex purchase, have stronger relationships with digi consumers (17% stronger), but body care – a much easier and quicker purchase I would proffer – has an even stronger pull (at 22% stronger).

And the digital advantage was found throughout the world, with correlations to internet penetration (Japan and Taiwan scoring the highest average digital relationships differences).

Why then, do so many leading brands not demonstrate a truly well-rounded digital engagement with consumers and other important influencers?  This is not just about Web design and development, banner ads, widgets or iPhone apps, but a more thorough social participation in the online environment.

Interestingly, even Millward Brown is going more digital.  I couldn’t find a Face Book page, but I’m now following them on Twitter and just downloaded their iPhone app.  It’s kinda cool too – a quick reference to the strength of brands by category, region, top risers and newcomers (available at the app store; look for BrandZ 100).

The demise of the purchase funnel

20 July 2009

I guess since the Cannes Lions closed three weeks ago, it’s ancient history. But there are still so many lessons to learn from the experience and the winning campaigns. Most of the commentary surrounding the awarding of PR Lions and the PR Grand Prix centered around the blurring of disciplines. Are any of us surprised?

My major take-away was the participatory nature of the winning campaigns – across more than just the PR category. They all had one thing in common – engaging and participating with audiences, harnessing influence and advocacy and, in some cases, evangelism.

This isn’t new to any of us in public relations. We’ve always been focused on two-way communications and engagement, and navigating the less controllable area of “earned” media.  It’s in our DNA.

As a result, when social media really started to get traction, a group of us from the UK and the US started working on a new model which effectively replaces the purchase funnel – since we believe that the process is no longer linear and instead is far more fluid and dynamic. It was both comforting and rewarding to see the McKinsey Quarterly recently validate our thinking in its article “The consumer decision journey” which was based on an examination of the purchase decisions of almost 20,000 consumers across five industries and three continents.

I couldn’t have said it better. According to co-authors David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder and Ole Jorgen Vetvik, “today, the funnel concept fails to capture all the touch points and key buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer. A more sophisticated approach is required to help marketers navigate this environment, which is less linear and more complicated than the funnel suggests.”

This is no longer a profound view, but marketers still struggle to address the evolution in terms of spend and media mix in this broader remit. It seems to me that whilst the CMO is the most natural candidate to forge new pathways to success in the new marketing eco-system, it may be difficult for them to fully grasp the broad spectrum of skills required to do so and break down the internal silos still creating barriers to truly holistic thinking.