Archives/ Yearly Archives/ 2016

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Can’t you get your staff to like you?

I’ll be criticised for placing undue weight on likes as opposed to reach when it comes to social media posts. After all, you can read a newspaper without feeling the need to applaud every article.  But, admit it, we can’t help seeing likes as a proxy for the success of our work online.

It’s forever fascinating, then, that brands struggle to amass even a handful of likes for their posts. Can’t they get at least their staff to like them? More pertinently, don’t their staffs feel the need to support them? After all, that’s what likes typically are – a show of support for the author rather than an endorsement of quality content.

I know there are reasons why a staff member might not like every post, as their friends will soon tire of being exposed to every post liked by them. But I’m not buying that as the explanation as to why so many companies fail to secure a single like from their workforce. It has to be something else. Maybe it’s the staff member saying, “Hey, this is my private space, back off!” Or maybe it’s just a subtle outlet for them to express that they don’t really like where they work, or who they’re working for.

That’s likely to be how a prospective client or employee reads it.  And there’s real issue with lack of likes. It reflects badly on your brand.  So encourage your staff to like your posts. Or, better still, just be more likeable!

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Lessons from the Donald

Never mind the content, feel the style. Many might argue we have little to learn from the blustering Donald Trump, but they’d be mistaken. Trump connects with his audience, in a way most of us in brandland can only dream of emulating.

So how does he do it? The Economist has worked it out. True to the man, let’s keep it simple:

And that is the first lesson: he keeps it simple. Trump uses the vocabulary of a ten-year-old, with short, easily digestible sentences. “I’m going to build a big beautiful wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it.” Simplicity is powerful.

Secondly, he repeats it. Trump often says the same things several times in a row, deploying triplicates in a hammer-like style reminiscent of Churchill’s “We shall fight …”. Well, sort of.

Thirdly, he doesn’t do speeches, he talks. Trump speaks off the cuff, rarely using a teleprompter, with the expectation that he may stray into controversy at any moment. Spontaneity – a function of self-belief – is compelling.

Finally, he knows his audience. This has served him well to date, but it raises the key question around Trump. Can he now spread his gospel widely enough to land him a seat in the Oval Office, convincing even some floating democrats en route?

Actually he is destined to prove a one-trick pony, with a provocative rhetoric that appeals and alienates in equal measure. And that, thankfully, is not how politics is won.

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Branded content: A tough trade for the TV execs

My MBA thesis was about product placement. It was all of 10 years ago, when the term was unfamiliar to most. One of my conclusions, I recall, was that the scarcity of suitable home-produced programming would curb its emergence as a force in Ireland.

Recently I watched The Toughest Trade, the first, or most high-profile, example of “branded content” to hit our screens. So here’s the distinction. Product placement is about paying to include your brand in an existing programme. Branded content has the same aim, but here you produce and pay for the entire programme yourself. The brand is taking control.

On paper it looks a terrible idea. On screen it looked good. The subject matter was ideal – the boy-next-door heroes of the GAA mixing it with the monied stars of world sport, and AIB to thank for giving them and the sport an outing the like of which they’d never dream of.

Brand intrusion? Beyond a few conspicuous hoardings at Breaffy Park, there was a surprising absence of photo-bombing by out-of-focus AIB logos. Ultimately, the broadcaster still decides whether it’s a legitimate programme, as opposed to a commercial. The credits reveal that RTE and TV3 had executive producers on hand just to keep anyone from veering offside.

So why didn’t RTE just make it? Life’s not like that anymore, and increasingly it will be courageous (and deep-pocketed) brands as opposed to wary (and cash-strapped) producers who we’ll be relying on for this type of innovative content. And that does mean handing over control, from broadcaster to brand, to some extent anyway.  It’s a tough trade, but this was a fair start.

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Content marketing: golden boot or own goal?

As an Arsenal fan, watching Arsene Wenger’s charges plot their way to the perfect goal can be a tiresome experience. The mind can easily wander. Perhaps to one of the electronic pitchside ads which are intruding so brazenly on our beautiful game. There’s Europcar inviting us to visit Europcar Sport. Now immediately I’m sceptical. This is content marketing, clearly. This is a sponsor wishing to ‘engage’ ‘meaningfully’ with supporters by providing content of value to them. But what, I ask myself, can a car rental company offer beyond what I get from the official website or countless news websites?

The answer is as predictable as an Arsenal attack at the moment. Nicely packaged, but no real end product. There’s a news feed ( gives me that) and a list of player twitter pages. The only unique content is a guide to parking for travelling supporters. Time to get back to the game then.

Brands are falling over themselves to join the content marketing craze. For me, content marketing means a brand informs me or entertains me in return for the exposure – this is the value exchange. Unfortunately too many brands stray into areas where they can’t deliver real value. Either the content is weak, or they simply churn out third party material. Lazy.

A more edifying experience this month came in the form of the annual Carat Media Forecast in Marketing magazine. This was content marketing worth taking time out for. The difference?  These people are expert in the field so their content is genuinely useful. While I’m at it, here are a few nuggets from the report:

  • This year digital spend will exceed TV for the first time … and that excludes mobile
  • The use of ad blocking will bring a sharp rise in native and paid content
  • We continue to love radio, and that goes for young people too, even in the face of Spotify, iTunes and other platforms
  • Within 5 years all audio visual advertising (TV, VOD, YouTube) will be bought across devices from a single source, and served based on cookie data. Young singles will no longer be watching ads for nappies!

Marketing as a discipline is probably too prone to fads. Like brands going social purely to follow the crowd, when it’s not really what they are. Content marketing is another example. Customers quickly see through it if it’s forced, so only do it if you can do it well. Otherwise, like many a Ramsey-Walcott combination, it can be a whole lot of effort for precious little reward.

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A journalist scorned

Safe to say, Henry Gomez has had better weeks. Annoyed at how Financial Times colour writer Lucy Kellaway had ridiculed his CEO’s words of wisdom at Davos last month, the communications chief at Hewlett Packard Enterprise put pen to paper, expressing his dissatisfaction at such treatment of an esteemed business leader. He concluded with a thinly veiled threat that such behaviour might affect future ad spend in the pink pages.

Ms Kellaway didn’t take kindly to this rebuke, and promptly disclosed his letter and her no-nonsense response in Monday’s FT. She wasn’t holding back. The FT’s editorial, she’d have us know, is never swayed by ad bucks, and anyway, Gomez would surely be breaching his duty to HPE’s shareholders by withdrawing spend deemed to be in the best interests of the company for the sake of simply showing a hack who’s boss.

Most PR practitioners have been there. A client is miffed at how their brand has been mistreated by the fifth estate. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s just them being a bit too precious. Either way there’s a dilemma for the PR professional caught in the middle. Kellaway laments the fact that years ago such dilemmas inevitably led to a cordial lunch with the CEO, whereas nowadays they are mostly met with silence.

In my experience, the crisis is typically an opportunity in disguise. Often the journalist will have gone a bit too far, without factually misrepresenting the client brand. In the Kellaway case, her jab at the HPE boss was a bit mean, a bit petty, but was mitigated by her customary tongue-in-cheek style that won’t have influenced the reader’s view of the brand one iota.

Hold fire. The client will want a retraction. The journalist won’t. Far better to suggest a right to reply, or, if the perceived misdemeanour is less clear-cut, a separate piece of editorial in the future that benefits the client without requiring a comedown from the journalist. Chances are the reader won’t have been nearly as sensitive to the offence in the first place, and a positive article will be a considerable net gain for the client. Or maybe make your point, and just be nice about it. In the midst of adversity, your understanding might even win you an ally in the media, as opposed to an enemy, as is clearly the case here.

Given the job he’s in, I’m sure Mr Gomez has lots of ink at his disposal. Next time, he might be more careful about how he uses it. Sorry, couldn’t resist it.