Does Your PR Company ‘Get it’? Social Media and Sailing.

f-socialprIT technology was supposed to make things easier. ‘Work smarter not harder’ is the slogan for the information age. But just as you think you have understood it – how to make the most of email, how to measure click-throughs and page impressions, the geeks invent a new thing. Or they rename an old thing and make everyone else seem foolish. How many of these terms do you understand: Web 2.0, RSS, twitter, UGC, personal media…

The latest buzzword is ‘Social Media’. Ask 10 people what social media is and you will probably get 10 different answers. The term ’social media’ is misunderstood by many. From nowhere, social media consultants have appeared selling their opinions on reputation management and sentiment engineering. Whatever you call it, the technologies that allow huge numbers of people to create, publish, share and comment upon content (images, text, video, audio, gps co-ordinates), are important for sports marketing and PR.

One of the services receiving a lot of interest at the moment is Twitter. While on the surface the functionality seems simple, almost banal, the power of millions of people saying what they are doing, feeling, thinking at any one point in time should not be underestimated.

Let’s compare two examples. Imagine a sports entity; a pro-sailor, a team, an event organiser with a large company as a sponsor. This entity also has a traditional PR company working to maximise the ‘coverage’ of news and activities and in turn help the sponsor achieve their goals of exposure or association or some other objective.

Example One – the Traditionalists.

In example one, the traditional PR company is measured on more old-fashioned metrics like column inches, television screen time, radio brand mentions. Even in 2009, there are PR companies that believe that national newspaper coverage alone is enough to determine the success or failure of a campaign. There might be historic reasons for this. News used to be determined by powerful editors and specialist journalists. Developing relationships with these people determined whether your story was featured or not.

More recently this PR company has been forced to learn new methods of distributing the news – via email – usually in the form of a PDF, so that it can not be easily changed or manipulated. For these promoters, the only website mentions that are worth talking about are BBC.CO.UK or TheTimesOnline. Bloggers aren’t real media.

To this company, Social media is the devil. If taken to its end, social media makes a PR company redundant. If the talent can communicate directly with their fan base, what role is there for PR, or journalists, or editors for that matter.

While this is a hypothetical example of a PR company, it is a thinly disguised collection of behaviours that we see daily in the sports marketing industry. Not all are anti new technology; some just find it overwhelming and alien.

Example Two – The New World of PR.

In our second example, we imagine a PR company that understands how media is changing. While the traditional press and television is important, they understand that niche sports like sailing are more frequently being covered on other platforms. More importantly they understand the value of the network effect. Instead of all news going through a handful of gatekeepers, the content is free to appear wherever it lands. Some of the concepts in the new world are the same as the old world – things like reach, reputation and influence. But in the new world, these relationships are not as straightforward.

Much has been written about Stephen Fry’s 120,000 twitter followers. Obviously if Mr Fry twitters about something he raises its awareness and delivers thousands of ‘eyeballs’ to the story. You might then be tempted as a PR company in the new world to target Stephen Fry, but that would be to ignore the fact that Stephen Fry also follows other people. So imagine a person who has only 5 or 6 followers, but those 5 or 6 are followed by thousands.

PR company number two has spent time developing relationships, not just with traditional media, but with influential bloggers in their space. They understand that a small blog read by 100 people can be very powerful if those 100 people are an exact match to your target audience or they influence thousands of others.

PR company number two also understands that the new world is not a one-way broadcast. This is not a Sunday broadsheet that states – this is the news and there is no more. This is more like talkback radio. If the people disagree, they can say so. In public. With an audience.

PR company number two is asking questions like:

  • When was the content published? Where? Who saw it?
  • What was the sentiment of the authors? Were they in favour or against?
  • How many times was the story reposted? Where? By whom?
  • How long did the buzz last?
  • What was the highest number of mentions on twitter per minute?
  • Where do the people live who were twittering about the story?
  • How many comments were attached? What was the sentiment of the comments?
  • Was the story shared amongst friends via Facebook? ….

Obviously PR companies don’t work in a vacuum. They are representing brands and personalities that may not yet themselves understand the value of these new media. If a client tells you that their objective is to have a photo on the front page of the paper, do you sell them the benefits of bloggers? If you don’t someone else might.

All of this assumes that you want to communicate externally. Social media principals are just as important, perhaps more so, when communicating internally, but that’s a subject for another blog.

Pilote Media are offering Social Media Health Check for companies who want to learn more. The free 30 minute sessions can be held, in London, via phone or skype conference. The aim is to provide honest, down to earth advice without the jargon. For more information see