This is a continuation of the post “15 minutes of oxygen,” where we discuss some of the white lies that agencies tell clients, and reveal the actual truths behind them.
Your traffic is not going to skyrocket just because you start using a trendy medium.
First it was listicles. Then it was brand videos. Then, long-form text articles, and curiosity gap headlines. There is never a shortage of “medium” trends that take over the web — particularly on social channels — and cause marketers to scramble to adjust their content and messaging to fit that format.
Remember when infographics were the new hotness? I literally remember sitting in a meeting in 2009 and someone was like, okay, well I don’t care what we say in it but we HAVE to release an infographic next month. Can you guess how that infographic turned out? That’s right, awful. There was no story, no message. And because it was outsourced, and the design agency didn’t care about making it unique and was just following the same format as every other one they’d ever done, it even looked terrible. The company wasted thousands of dollars on this project and ended up having to scrap the whole project altogether.
And here’s a big dose of reality for you: You, as a marketer first and consumer second, will always be behind the trend. That is, unless you ARE the target demographic of your product or service, and are spending as much time on social channels and physically surrounded by peers as your customer is (which is unlikely since you are so focused on your other work, right?) you will simple always be a step behind.
Moreover, even if you are fairly on trend, and know what memes or mediums are popular or emerging, good luck trying to move fast enough to get your brand to be an early adopter. Even startups, who are known for their nimbleness and are quick to adjust to consumer trends, can struggle to keep up. Content production takes time, as do approvals and testing and all of the other steps you need to go through before releasing your content into the wild.
So what’s the lesson here? Never jump on a medium trend. Keep an eye on what’s trending, so you always know what your top options are. But start with the message and the story first, then see which of that “menu of mediums” works best for it.
There’s no such thing as “we’ll draft it for you.”
It’s one thing if a consultant or small firm you have hired specifically for communications says this, especially if they’ve been with you for a while and you feel confident they understand your business and your customer. But if you hear this from a marketing or PR agency, and they’re fairly new — even if they are not new to the industry — you should start shaking in your boots. Writing is hard enough, even by in-house writers or executives who run the company and get the brand. Heck, even insiders of a company who started the darn thing often struggle with on-brand messaging.
Writing is a collaborative process. Not collaborative in the sense of many cooks in the kitchen, or a bunch of people all in a shared Google doc playing cursor wars with each other and finishing each others sentences (or sandwiches). But it is a process that needs a clear owner, one or several contributors, an editor and an approval system. The owner gathers the information, preferably from within the company’s thought leaders, so that it’s not only sophisticated and accurate but also never-been-published before. The editor (who can double as a thought-leader contributor) also must have an understanding of the content, so they can confidently make thoughtful, substantive edits.
The approval process, however, is where many clients go awry. Typically, “approval” tends to come from within. The piece gets sent up in the ranks, among executives, and possibly lawyers and other types of brand communications ‘safety officers’ and they adjust language, delete and modify at will. The changes they make are based largely on set policies, such as what you can and cannot say as a private or public company.
And while all of that is understandable, there needs to be another voice in the room: the outside perspective. The person who knows the space, knows the competition, the customer, the journalists and the content that already exists. It could a senior person at your PR firm, or a close consultant, or even a brand partner you trust. They need to look at the piece and be honest with you about its credibility, its originality, and if the corporate or marketing-focused edits you’ve made to it have killed it, so to speak. That’s your collaborative process.
It is, very much, who you know.
LinkedIn was supposed to be a closed network, where you felt safe and comfortable that all the people who had access to you were vetted in some way. But recently I’ve noticed that it’s starting to feel a bit wild, a bit skeezy. Has your inbox been as attacked by spam as mine? Poorly written emails that are selling a product that you have no interest in whatsoever? You are lured into a sense of security that it’s only people that you “know” — but that word has started to lose its meaning.
The business world is absolutely an old boys club. By that, I don’t mean it’s ruled by wealthy older men. It’s much more diverse now, of course, But it’s still a network model, where doors to strangers open through friend and colleague introductions only. As much as I tend to knock PR agencies, this is what they are good at, or at least should be. Media relations takes skill and effort and above all, constant networking. It’s honestly exhausting to be on top of reporters’ beats and interests, even just keeping track of who they are working for today vs. last month.
Though, as much as it’s all about who you know, we still come back to the most important item: the content. It doesn’t matter if you’re the bestest colleague of my bestest friend, I won’t buy it if it’s not a good product. It doesn’t matter if you just went to that big shot reporters’ daughter’s christening on Sunday; if the news you hand them on Monday is lame, they’re not going to cover it. So with all of the attention paid to networking, it’s still just the first step, and all of the knowing in the world can’t make up for a poor delivery.