The intersection of PR and digital

A conversation with Ralph Katz, Owner, and Anne Green, President, of CooperKatz & Company and Angela Cason, Chief Strategy Officer, TEMPO Strategic.

Overview: In March 2017, TEMPO Strategic moved into the offices of CooperKatz and began working with them to augment their PR efforts for clients. The following is a discussion of the challenges across our respective fields.


Earned, Owned, Paid

Anne: We’ve been watching from our side, the PR side. And probably the biggest transformation is in measurement, which is what our clients are looking for: more tangible and digitally-oriented quantitative measures, in addition to the qualitative measures we have.

And on the content side, how are we creating it, and how are we helping disseminate it, especially from an organic and earned media perspective, which is huge, relative to social, and Search. You know, we help to sometimes get that organic lift that you’re not going to get in other ways.

But then a third area is in paid. For PR content, that starts with paid social amplification, and content discovery platforms like Taboola, or Dianomi.

The measured and the unmeasurable

Angela: It’s been interesting to me, just in the time we’ve been together, to watch the differences between how we all think. Digital Marketing is always driven toward a measurable end. Clients know that so from the start we’re working with client-side information, such as their Google Analytics. We’re getting sales information; we discuss their sales structure and what CRM they have in place, what assets we can bring into the ad space.

Anne: We don’t often get to automatically see those elements. But we’re certainly asking for them, as much as we can!

Angela: So, for you guys, in an environment that used to be about general goodwill, or unmeasured value…I know that over the years there were sort of ad equivalencies and those kinds of things which you tried to do, but which were always kinda iffy…

Ralph: Which some of us can’t stand because, you’re right, it’s not really an equal comparison. We get our client quoted in a full-page article. What’s the equivalence to an ad?

Angela: Yeah, there isn’t one.

Anne: Well, because the qualitative measures of stature, the trust in the outlet, the stature of the people reading it, are the things that that PR has traditionally helped to assess. The qualitative measures.

Ralph: And sometimes it’s the depth you can get across, but if you’re doing an ad, it has to be catchy and catch somebody’s attention. If you’ve got an article on your product/service/company…there’s a depth there and a credibility. That’s totally different.

Angela: Editorial is the ultimate word of mouth.

Anne: Or was. But now, the way the media landscape has changed, with fragmentation and also trust issues with media sources, I would say that things are shifting. When we talk about metrics with our clients, we’re trying to talk now about multiple streams of data and where we are plugged in.

There are going to be earned media data points, search data points, social data points, etc. But we also need quantitative and qualitative, that for each of these, there’s assessment. So even with earned media, the quantitative is like, what is the actual measured circulation of these publications and what is the actual demographic of the audience reading them? But then, there’s also the qualitative piece that’s more like, what is the message inclusion? How powerful was the tone of it? Was it positive or negative sentiment? You must look across all of these things.

Angela: Consistent metrics have to be a challenge for anything qualitative. Are social media monitoring platforms part of your arsenal?

Ralph: Yes, of course. But we have also done manual sentiment analysis that is complex… For example, we set a benchmark for change in perception for a heart monitor client in the exercise space. I think we did it eventually as an A, B, C, D, E grade of the sentiment. Did it further what we wanted people to think? Did it not? Then we did similar grades, like, monitoring heart rate and what that means to individuals. It is a hard concept, so we were determining whether the concepts came through.

Anne: And we have used SMM platforms for years. Sentiment measurement has improved now, with natural language. We had used platforms like Radian6 in its early days, and others that had built-in sentiment. We knew at the time they were probably 60% effective. Maybe today they’re, like, 80%. And advancing. I’m literally having this discussion with three or four different sectors of clients right now, all suddenly at the same time, because we’re at a turning point in some of these technologies. So, I think from a monitoring and automation perspective, it’s getting slowly better.

But like the whole PR industry, we’ve had to up our game in terms of the digital metrics conversation. I think now we’re able, when we go in to our clients, to speak to them more in a language that many of them understand…especially on the marketing side of the house.


Delivering numbers for the CMO

Angela: There are a couple of things driving the demand for metrics. One of them is the increasing importance of the role of the CMO, getting into the C suite, and being able to stand up to the CFO and go, “Look, I have numbers, too,” and kind of meeting that measurement standard that gets respect.

But there’s a part of me that resists that, because I think that there are effective communications that are not and cannot be measured. I always get a little nervous when I feel like we’re trying to contain something that is fuzzy and, of right, ought to be.


The unmeasured high value of qualitative marketing

Anne: That’s why I have the conversation (with clients) about qualitative, and I define for them what that means. We don’t always measure it perfectly. We are building awareness and credibility and understanding, and then somewhere down the line intent to purchase, hopefully, right?

Sometimes you would get, you know, Oprah loving a product, and you would go straight to purchase. But that’s rare. So understanding that we are a part of building that foundation and giving the air cover of, “What is this thing? What is this category? What is this product? What is this company? Are they credible? Can I trust them? Where do I find them?” all that stuff.

Angela: Especially for innovators, you have to introduce and explain the need for a new concept to someone before they even know to search for it!

Anne: Exactly.


Who should create the social content?

Angela: Let’s get back to the idea of where content creation happens. This is where we’ve seen a lot of shift in roles. As an agency, we did a lot of social media content creation in the beginning. We had food writers on staff, for our clients, and that was valuable. But even before the shift by Facebook, there was a question in the mind of clients “Is this doing anything? What is this doing?” They were okay as long as it also worked as web content and contributed to SEO, but on its own, social wasn’t moving the needle.

Anne: We definitely have seen trends roll through, like you have, and I think they’re similar in our worlds. Several years ago, community management…well, social channel creation, strategy around that, and then ongoing content editorial calendar, but also social community management itself, were big buzzwords in our field. This was something that people were seizing on, especially for larger brands, right? Over time, the bigger brands have built more in-house excellence in terms of social media managers and the content creation, and really being the authentic voice of the brand and doing it well. Although we still have clients that we run all social for, like The Physicians Foundation, which is a virtual organization without the in-house team to handle it.

Angela: I think PR agencies are evolving as the natural source for content creation. PR has to be expansive. You can’t pitch the same thing twice. You have to find multiple aspects of a client to talk about. Whereas advertising is naturally reductive. “I’ve gotta get this whole company down into 25 characters and say it a thousand million times.”

Anne: What’ll happen with us is there’s the brand, and typically there’s the brand campaign theme…the umbrella, the halo, the hero…you know, the campaign. But for us, then, there’s the different stakeholders, and there’s different messages and angles for each of them. There are different stories for each of them. But all of them bring you back to the core. The core theme is always there. If it’s, you know, the old Avis tagline “We Try Harder,” or what have you, it’s always there somehow.

But the other piece that distinguishes us still – and we haven’t said it this whole time, which is a bit insane – is news. It’s not all that we do, because no organization has truly breaking news all the time. But real news and fresh insights or a fresh way of looking at something… something authentically newsworthy…that’s the core of what works. And that is still at the heart of public relations.


Influencer Marketing

Anne: And the other thing that’s huge right now in our industry is influencer marketing, which is a little funny to me, because when we first started working in social media years ago…in the mid-2000s…we were doing a lot of one-to-one “seeding” of bloggers. That was with people who were authentically out there in the space, not necessarily these blog networks where you throw money at them and they give you reviews.

That has come full circle again today. This discussion about influencer marketing could not be bigger right now in our industry, as the buzzword. And ultimately, it’s is a mix of organic and paid. It’s the paid of, you know, “Who are the heavy-hitters? Are we running sponsorships for top people on Instagram or courting the big tastemakers” or all the stuff you’d expect – blog platforms, blog-seeding programs, etc. But it’s also, organically, who are we creating relationships with where there’s a more of a natural “quid pro quo” thing?”

Every client we have…B2B or B2C…is talking about this. They’re all about which influencers, how do they match our demographics, who do we pay, who do we not pay?
On the B2B side, a lot of the power and the heft and the focus of content is around, “Are you in financial services? Are you in banking? Are you in mortgage? Are you in alternative financing? Are you in healthcare? Are you in healthcare plus informatics?” Right? In terms of finding influencers who really connect with audiences, it’s very sector-driven.

And then in terms of the broader human-interest areas, it’s like, “Are you into food? Are you into theater? Are you into music? Are you into sports?”

Which…here’s one of the things I think that is one interesting dynamic between the worlds we live in… In both our worlds, everybody has to follow F.T.C regulations, right?

Angela: Yes.

Anne: And in some ways, PR had been less regulated by them in the past, but more so now because of influencer marketing and social media. There were a lot of the things that were more like truth-in-advertising claims. Now the F.T.C has really pushed that framework into the blogging and social media world. So Kim Kardashian can get in trouble and the brand can get fined if she’s not following the rules on Instagram, which has happened more than once.

Angela: Going, “I love Chanel,” and they gave her a free purse, right?

Anne: Yeah, without saying why, yeah.

Angela:  …without disclosing.

Anne: So we in PR are really active now in disclosing the relationship with our spokespeople in digital. We’re much better about that. But the one thing that’s been very interesting is, as our industry gets into this, the idea of truly white-hat SEO, the idea of never writing fake reviews, never stuffing reviews, never hiring people to write reviews….our industry, at the highest level, is very careful about that. Some people just don’t get how critical the ethical dimensions are in the PR field. And that goes for digital channels too.


Social media outside the social platforms

Angela: The other topic I wanted to circle around to, something I was writing about yesterday is that when we talk about social media channels… we talk about Facebook and then LinkedIn, all the usual suspects, but one of the huge social channels are places like Amazon. Amazon’s an enormous…

Anne: All the reviewers.

Angela: Yes, all the reviews. You know, CNET, if you’re into tech…

Anne: Yahoo Finance, yeah.

Ralph: I mean, Yelp is just everywhere…One of the things I think is interesting is when all of this started, and consumers could talk back to and about brands and companies, there was a whole loss of control, right? Some companies couldn’t deal with it. They were like, “Wait a minute…I’ve lost my chance to dictate whatever I want about the brand,” and there was a lot of resistance.

Now we’re talking directly to consumers, in a way that’s not going through a third party, and how do you make that credible and all? But then there’s the loss of this control of your brand. So you do something bad, you’re going to be called out.

Angela: And how you handle that is everything.

Anne: It’s a lot of the same stuff we always face, which is people throw around the buzzword, like, “We have to get to the influencers,” but what that means in practical terms and also, the measurable ROI, can be a real question mark. And I think, really, it demands a mix of earned and paid. We have to collaborate together. You gotta put money on the table for this.


The takeaway: PR and Digital are natural partners

The practices on both the PR and digital sides have evolved as PR has emerged as a natural content development partner for digital initiatives, and digital has developed channels for amplifying PR.  For both TEMPO and CooperKatz, that makes this a strong partnership, beneficial to our clients in new ways.