Why don’t Aussie PR companies get it?

by Lee Hopkins on March 26, 2008 · 14 comments

in miscellaneous

Cameron Reilly of The Podcast Network asks Lee Hopkins and Trevor Cook why Aussie PR companies still haven't got it after 5+ years

Up at Adtech I finally got to meet the legendary Cameron Reilly.

Who he, you ask?

Cam (he probably hates being called that, but using his own style, “bugger it”) is the owner of the very large brains behind The Podcast Network, Australia’s largest independent media company. His own podcast, one of the many on the network, is “G’day World” and was Australia’s first podcast. The man is clearly “no fule”, as my childhood hero Nigel Molesworth would say.

Over a table discussion after the Digital PR session I took part in, he turned to Trevor Cook (knowing that I am not a PR person and have always taken great pains to point this out) and asked,

“It’s 2008, for f#$ks sake! How come PR companies here STILL don’t get it!?!?”

A very good question.

As he pointed out, we’ve had blogs as a part of our media landscape for at least 5 years, mainstream media are falling over themselves trying to ‘out 2.0′ each other, we’ve had podcasts for a few years, we’ve had YouTube for what seems like forever…

So how come Australian PR companies still play ‘hide head in sand and pretend it will all go away’ games?

Lloyd Grosse and the PRIA in NSW are doing their best to educate the PR community, but (I’m afraid) even the Social Media Strategy workshop I wrote and ran for them needed to focus heavily on a ’101′ component to bring some of the workshop attendees ‘up to scratch’ before they could even begin contemplating strategic issues.

I know that Mark Jones is tired of seeing only ‘Social Media 101′ workshops advertised, and is eager to find a higher-level course (I’m going to run a Strategy workshop for Melcrum later in the year, Mark, and the PRIA want me back mid-year to do the ‘101‘ and ‘Strategy’ workshops again), but my own experience of Aussie business and PR-types is that in the majority they are clueless.

Really? Oh yes! Reflect on the results of the survey question asked by us in our Digital PR ad:tech session:

Do you have a digital PR Strategy?

Yes – 32%
No – 68%

Seven out of ten in the room had no social media strategy. Egads!

Who was in the room? Please note that not all attendees used the handsets by which they could vote, so these numbers are estimated:

Brand Advertiser – 26% / 19

Agency Executive – 32% / 23

Direct Marketer – 25% / 18

Publisher/Media Owner – 15%/ 11

Technology Vendor – 2% / 1

Jennie Beattie from freshchat and DigitalMinistry.com.au rightly holds her head and weeps:

“More disturbing from my perspective was that there seemed to be no recognition, let alone understanding, of communication theory. Social media in fact lends itself to the two way/ symmetrical communication model (James Grunig Four Models of Public Relations) which puts the consumer at the centre of the communication rather than simply as a receiver rather than the traditional advertising model (one way comms).

So are pr agencies ready to take a lead in this area and meet the needs that marketers clearly have? From what I could see at the conference no.

There was very little presence from pr agencies at the Conference, and just the one panel session on Digital PR moderated by Lee Hopkins one of Australia’s most respected social media experts. The panel included a large pr company Digital Executive [Steven Noble from Hill & Knowlton -- Lee], [Marnie McDonald from] The Wool Corporation (their client) and media blogger Trevor Cook. While Lee tried his best to evoke meaningful discussion the session delivered ‘beginner’ tips further indicating that the level of maturity about digital or online PR in the room was quite low. “

In an off-the-cuff comment I heard Brendan Yell from shopfree say that marketers are now ‘trying on for size’ the language and words that comes naturally to PR-types: “engagement, conversation, relationship”. An environment that is beautifully but unconsciously built for intelligent PR activity (but NOT, I repeat NOT NOT NOT ‘spin’ or any form of manipulation!) is now being usurped by heavy-handed, clumsy and sales-focused marketers. They, as Brendan so exquisitely put it, are desperately trying to have a “One Night Brand Stand.”

Clearly, there ARE large aussie agencies that ‘get it’, Text100 being the most blindingly obvious candidate, as well as Hill & Knowlton. I know that Burson-Marsteller are also working behind the scenes to get things rolling in Australia.

More are obviously keen to find out about it and get in front of their clients with some sort of knowledge (which is great and how I put my youngest stepdaughter through private school and pay for my fountain pen fetish), but I am still melancholic about the state of Australian understanding at a business level about Social Media.

It is still the individual entrepreneur who is doing the most interesting stuff in this space; just today I came across other Adelaidians who also ‘get this stuff’ but who have been banging their heads until they are black, blue and bloody against the corporate brickwall [and if one more company comes back at me with the "what's the ROI?" question I will vomit over their boardroom table -- the answer is at the bottom of this post].

Today I am melancholic. Very melancholic. I listen as I type this to an interview that Shel Holtz recently conducted with Melanie Kurzak from CNW in the US, talking about a news-specific XML (aka ‘news-ml’). They totally ‘get it’ in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems.

Meanwhile I beat my head against the wall trying to help companies understand, against their own detestation, that the ‘game’ of communication has changed. Fundamentally changed.

But hey — the readers of this blog already know that, hey? I am preaching to the converted and being beaten up and crushed by the masses who don’t.

Although, having said that we Social Media luminaries in Australia are all in agreeance, Laurel Papworth and I agreed to disagree over a point when we finally met face-to-face at ad:tech. I hold to the line that the conversation is outside of the firewall (and a point over which we agree) and that therefore the conversation should never again be considered ‘contro
llable’, to which Laurel then vehemently disagreed.

In a great post today, Laurel spells out in more detail what she turned up her nose at with me — the need to control conversations to at least some degree if the conversation is happening on your own space. The way she puts it in her post, I find myself agreeing with her. Me, agreeing with Laurel Papworth. It must be time for some more of those funny tablets my psychiatrist insists I take…

Sorry for my tone — not a good day. Tomorrow will be better, I promise.

————–

The answer to the ROI question: We all know that taking our key clients out golfing is good for business. So how many CFOs, clipboard and calculator in hand, stand outside the CEO’s office when they get back from a day’s golfing and ask them, “So what’s the ROI on today, then?” As Mark Jones replies when asked the same question, “How much value do you place on being able to engage in a genuine conversation with your customers?”

Next time someone trots out the ‘ROI’ question, ask them to give you the ROI on a golfing umbrella.

—————–

Currently listening to: David Sylvian – Everything and Nothing – Let the Happiness In

  • http://www.prdisasters.com/ Gerry

    Lee; our thought convergence is somewhat spooky!!

    I’m on the panel 4 the Communicator of the Year session in Melb in a few weeks and was asked to suggest a topic that’s sure to provoke lively debate…’ere’s wot i wrote to the organisers..

    “Speaking and consulting on this topic of late, one significant issue keeps arising – namely, how many people still don’t get ‘it’. Get social media.

    Many corp Ad and PR types seem stuck in command and control mode; how do we leverage/quantify the blog etc (seeing it as only another comms output)…Unlike Adv/Mktng/Spin it’s no longer about ‘passing off’ messages it’s about listening and engagement; facing up to the fact that Web2.0 comms tools are making biz more transparent, therefore more accountable.

    How do corp/old school practitioners throw off shackles of command and control comms, and engage least a bit more honestly?? Am getting down off soapbox for now; just think that even yrs after
    ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’, many people are still stuck in old comms mindset – don’t just learn new tools, embrace new spirit of interaction!!

    Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

    Best

    Gerry

  • http://www.prdisasters.com Gerry

    Lee; our thought convergence is somewhat spooky!!

    I’m on the panel 4 the Communicator of the Year session in Melb in a few weeks and was asked to suggest a topic that’s sure to provoke lively debate…’ere’s wot i wrote to the organisers..

    “Speaking and consulting on this topic of late, one significant issue keeps arising – namely, how many people still don’t get ‘it’. Get social media.

    Many corp Ad and PR types seem stuck in command and control mode; how do we leverage/quantify the blog etc (seeing it as only another comms output)…Unlike Adv/Mktng/Spin it’s no longer about ‘passing off’ messages it’s about listening and engagement; facing up to the fact that Web2.0 comms tools are making biz more transparent, therefore more accountable.

    How do corp/old school practitioners throw off shackles of command and control comms, and engage least a bit more honestly?? Am getting down off soapbox for now; just think that even yrs after
    ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’, many people are still stuck in old comms mindset – don’t just learn new tools, embrace new spirit of interaction!!

    Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

    Best

    Gerry

  • Pingback: PR Disasters » Aussie PR companies don’t get social media

  • http://www.jargonmaster.wordpress.com/ Simon Sharwood

    As a freelance journalist and therefore a frequent victim/target of PR I think the reason that PR still does not get social media is that, by and large, they still do not get media full stop.
    The quantity of wholly inappropriate communications I receive from PRs is astounding. The number of times that the PR has thin to zero grasp of the subject matter their clients discuss is astounding. The inability understand media motivations or comprehend why a vendor’s key messages do not represent a story are elements of PR I have not seen diminish during nearly ten years working as a journalist.
    Given the inability to do even these basics right, of course most PRs are yet to grapple meaningfully with social media.
    Importantly, however, their clients often do not want to go social. PR is seen as a route to some clean, positive coverage. The marketing managers that hire PR companies are not interested in social media because they do not yet know how to count it as a “result” that they can report on to their bosses.
    Until the “show me the coverage” mentality is replaced with a “measure my reputation” idea, this will not change. And even then, it will be slow because the wider PR campaigns that include social media will be elaborate and expensive compared to traditional PR.

  • http://www.jargonmaster.wordpress.com Simon Sharwood

    As a freelance journalist and therefore a frequent victim/target of PR I think the reason that PR still does not get social media is that, by and large, they still do not get media full stop.
    The quantity of wholly inappropriate communications I receive from PRs is astounding. The number of times that the PR has thin to zero grasp of the subject matter their clients discuss is astounding. The inability understand media motivations or comprehend why a vendor’s key messages do not represent a story are elements of PR I have not seen diminish during nearly ten years working as a journalist.
    Given the inability to do even these basics right, of course most PRs are yet to grapple meaningfully with social media.
    Importantly, however, their clients often do not want to go social. PR is seen as a route to some clean, positive coverage. The marketing managers that hire PR companies are not interested in social media because they do not yet know how to count it as a “result” that they can report on to their bosses.
    Until the “show me the coverage” mentality is replaced with a “measure my reputation” idea, this will not change. And even then, it will be slow because the wider PR campaigns that include social media will be elaborate and expensive compared to traditional PR.

  • http://www.prdisasters.com/ Gerry

    Nice point Simon; now, PRs are dissing other PRs online skills (read link)
    http://www.prdisasters.com/?p=564

    Gerry

  • http://www.prdisasters.com Gerry

    Nice point Simon; now, PRs are dissing other PRs online skills (read link)
    http://www.prdisasters.com/?p=564

    Gerry

  • http://www.networkpr.com.au/ Jenni Beattie

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for highlighting my recent Ad Tech post.

    With regard to @Simon’s comments I agree, measurement is still seen by some marketers as a challenge. Increasingly, however the marketplace is responding with tools such as BuzzNumbers and BuzzMetrics that can be employed.

    I also believe that the role of a good pr agency should be to educate and partner with their client to take them on this sometimes challenging but nevertheless exciting and vital journey.

    Cheers

  • http://www.networkpr.com.au Jenni Beattie

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for highlighting my recent Ad Tech post.

    With regard to @Simon’s comments I agree, measurement is still seen by some marketers as a challenge. Increasingly, however the marketplace is responding with tools such as BuzzNumbers and BuzzMetrics that can be employed.

    I also believe that the role of a good pr agency should be to educate and partner with their client to take them on this sometimes challenging but nevertheless exciting and vital journey.

    Cheers

  • Pingback: Australian PRs don’t get Web 2.0 « Clever Together - PR explained

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  • http://www.frocomm.com.au/ Sarah

    Interesting Lee and I could not agree more. The way we can communicate now is amazing and most importantly cost-effcientwhilst creating converstaion yet PRs are struggling to understand yet alone incorporate it into their plans. As a Gen Y I find we understand what Lee has mentioned but getting people from older Gen’s to listen to us is another question…

    Anyway I have been to this conference in the past and found some great experts in the field:

    New Media Summit, Melbourne 2008
    Tuesday 2nd & Wednesday 3rd September 2008
    http://www.frocomm.com.au

  • http://www.frocomm.com.au Sarah

    Interesting Lee and I could not agree more. The way we can communicate now is amazing and most importantly cost-effcientwhilst creating converstaion yet PRs are struggling to understand yet alone incorporate it into their plans. As a Gen Y I find we understand what Lee has mentioned but getting people from older Gen’s to listen to us is another question…

    Anyway I have been to this conference in the past and found some great experts in the field:

    New Media Summit, Melbourne 2008
    Tuesday 2nd & Wednesday 3rd September 2008
    http://www.frocomm.com.au

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