In 2016, winding your way around the World Wide Web feels less like surfing the Internet and more like an acid trip. Once a place where marketers felt comfortable presenting carefully curated content has become an assault of seemingly random sights and sounds driven to virality by the curious enjoyment of consumers. Sure the typical tales of the Kardashians, their romances and their stolen jewelry will likely remain a part of the mainstream media’s messaging, but it’s far more aberrant posts which are rising to the top of trending stories, where they find more staying power than can be bought with millions of brand dollars.
“Content Shock,” or the theory that a person can only consume so much content, is no longer just a scary hypothetical addition to the marketer’s lexicon. It has been with us for quite some time and grows increasingly apparent to those who pay attention to what goes viral. People have become so inundated with communications, be they push marketing or branded content, native or social, that linear ideas and images no longer hold the same magic they did less than a decade ago. These three trends showcase the psychology of social virality in a world where content marketers are dead and “differentiation agents” will have to take their place to ensure impactful messaging moving forward:
- Cat Breading: The Birth of Non-Linear Marketing
There are few forces more powerful to marketers than that of novelty and intrigue. Neurobiologists have even found a region of the midbrain referred to as its “novelty center” which responds to unique stimuli by activating the release of dopamine. But despite their best efforts, many advertisers are unable to inspire these emotions in consumers even while heavily investing in creative pieces designed to break the mold. That’s because even their most original offerings are no match for a picture of a cat with a piece of bread around its head.
What began as a Tumblr post in 2011 and became the subject of a South Park episode in 2012 is still available as a Snapchat filter option in 2016, without any sort of branded promotional dollars behind it. Why? Because bread cats are non-linear, if not downright absurd, and for that reason they demand attention and inspire loyalty. Their novelty is intriguing to a population tired of being bombarded by far more purposeful content provided by advertisers. To really be heard, modern marketers need to take a step back from deliberate attempts at established variation, instead looking towards ideas that use confusion to their own advantage by inspiring the strange delight of consumers.
- Boaty McBoatface: The Power of Crowdsourced Humor
Super Bowl ads still drive a relatively engaged audience at scale due to carefully scripted, humor-based creative formats with celebrity power baked in at an opportune time. But these expensive marketing efforts can pale in comparison to the amount of earned media that can be garnered by a crowdsourced non-advertisement. Consider the Internet frenzy created in May when a British government agency decided to let netizens decide the name of a $287 million research vessel.
Quicker than virtually any brand-driven call to action could inspire, hundreds of thousands of voters flocked to support the moniker “Boaty McBoatface” and organic virality was instantly achieved, with the naming convention still showing up in nominations for more recent, similar contests. The force at work driving the popularity of this concept is its open-ended, unscripted opportunity for humor. When audiences are allowed to determine the direction the content takes rather than having it forced upon them, they respond. The lesson to marketers here is a deep one. The Internet doesn’t just want freedom of expression. It wants control over the direction the conversation takes. It wants to decide, rather than be told, what is funny and brands may benefit from incredible viral potential by letting it making such choices.
- Buzzfeed Basics: The Switch from Bigger Pictures to Smaller Ones
The media has changed in far greater ways than just a shift to digital content. This evolution is reflected not only in how stories are being shared but also by what is being talked about. Today’s most widely circulated news/entertainment websites now offer many narratives driven by random people in unusual situations, with articles like “A Raccoon Stole This Guy’s Phone and The Hilarious Chase Was Caught On Video” enabling Buzzfeed to become the most popular viral site month after month. That so many highly read stories are now quick-fire tales of circumstances with absolutely no relevance outside of an entertaining diversion demonstrates how popular content is becoming reflective of the self-involved generation which is consuming it. To combat this gap between what audiences want and what brands are able to offer, marketers need to realize they will lose relevance if they rely on pushing their clients’ established storylines, instead engaging the media with unique assets more appealing to journalists’ current desire to cover the little things.
Certainly, creating unique content remains an important aspect of a communications strategy, but unless consumers’ needs for authentic virality drivers are taken into account, all of the marketing dollars in the world are no match for the psychology which leads consumers to crave non-linear randomness in what messages they find worthwhile.
Around this time every four years, the media goes into a frenzy covering the country’s potential political future. It’s an absolute free for all where no parties’ candidate is safe from the scandalous headlines and public scrutiny. However, this year’s race is one for the books.
Why am I writing about the current state of politics for a PR firm, you may ask? Because never before in our nation’s history has a candidate been so unbelievably talented at getting free press. And no, I’m not referring to Hillary Clinton.
Pushing all political opinions, Donald Trump currently and always has been a master craftsman at PR. No other presidential candidate in this century has gotten more free media coverage than Trump. How does he do it? Well every single remark, speech, event and move he makes is carefully plotted. While most statements he releases even make the most conservative squirm in their seats, the media thirsts for such controversy. If the media truly wanted to take a stand against the republican candidate, then they would cease to cover his campaign. But of course, media companies are in the business of viewership and nobody receives more views on both sides than Donald Trump.
Even before his campaigning days, Trump stirred up controversy. No matter how controversial the statement, whether it be by questioning Obama’s birth certificate, attacking Rosie O’Donnell or even providing excuses for rape in the military- he’s always gotten free press and it keeps his business booming.
Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party and only trails Hillary by 9 percent in most polls. The old saying goes “There’s no such thing as bad press.” While I certainly don’t agree with this, he makes it extremely difficult for me to prove my point.
All the best,
Writing is an art, but there are so many forms that they could practically fill a dictionary: Creative writing, technical writing, poetry, newswriting, etc. The list goes on and on and on. So when you set out to put pen to paper and crank out some truly great PR writing about company news, accomplishments or anything else, how can you ensure greatness (or at least garner interest)?
Step 1. Don’t write some wackadoo, over-the-top headline like the one that sits atop this piece. Headline writing is a tricky art, but if you want to get a journalist’s attention, it’s key. It’s like those greeting cards with scantily clad men and women on the cover: You just have to see what’s inside.
So to write an attention-getting headline, be sure to keep it short and sweet (nobody knows the name of your company’s new vice co-chair or cares whether it’s in the headline); include the gist of the story, but not every single detail (“customer and consumer engagement technology application” can just be shortened to “app” for headline purposes); and still try to make it interesting. Even though they may not want to admit it, journalists appreciate a good turn of phrase and even the occasional pun, so creativity is still important.
Step 2. Once you get past the ever-daunting challenge of writing a great headline, you reach the body. This may seem easier, as this is where you get to spill all the details of your exciting news and all the great things your company is doing. But sometimes, words are all you have to convince someone that what you have to say matters, and if you don’t say it well, the audience tunes out.
So first things first, you have to hook your audience with your lede – the meat of the story and the whole reason you’re writing to begin with. If a story or press release is to, say, announce company achievements but you start with a generic explanation of the company’s background, the audience will probably be left thinking, “Why does this matter and why am I reading it?”
It’s important within the body that a story is being told. By and large, press releases are boring, but essentially so. But if there’s a unique hook in what you’re writing about, capitalize on it. And if a company executive or someone in the industry has an interesting quote about the material, great. But if it’s what PR News calls a “happy quote,” most journalists will stop reading as quickly as they can answer a trivia question about AP Style. That is, a quote that says how happy they are to welcome a new personnel member, how happy it makes them to have placed in the top 10 companies ever by a niche magazine no one’s ever heard of, or if they just cured cancer. Make sure quotes have some meat to them.
Other useful tips to follow in the body text:
- Avoid hyperbole. Journalists can smell this from a mile away.
- Use uniform text formatting. Don’t ever use all caps and don’t over-use exclamation points.
- Spell things correctly and make sure everything reads well. Journalists are expected to do so to maintain credibility, and they expect you to, too.
Step 3. Wrapping things up may be the easiest part of PR writing, but don’t pay it any less attention. But if you’re following the inverted pyramid style of writing – a style that journalists know by heart in which the most important points are at the beginning of the piece and the least at the bottom – this is when you can include general company info and other items that aren’t as pertinent to the overall story.
OK, so journalists may not expect you to be Hemingway or the next Pulitzer Prize winner, but they’ll appreciate it when you hook them into a story that is well-written, grammatically correct and, most importantly, will be of interest to their readers. It may not be easy, but take a little extra time to do these things and you’ll start seeing your pitches in print.
Developing a productive relationship with the media is tough. I have witnessed both publicists and founders go into a complete meltdown over their efforts. In recent years, it has become more difficult to receive media placements thanks to shrinking newsrooms and overwhelmed journalists. However, when done correctly, a media placement can be more effective than any advertising, social media and marketing efforts combined.
To ensure that your story is told by the media, here are the five golden rules of media relations:
- Build a targeted media list. Building a media list can be extremely time consuming, but it is one of the most important processes in beginning the outreach process. Communications professionals often rely on software to build media lists; however, to really zero in on media relevant to your company, nothing replaces Google News. Search for your competitors to see if journalists found their stories intriguing and pay attention to the coverage they are receiving. Are they releasing data, company culture news or raising funding? These are the journalists you should be targeting as well.
- Research, research, research. Now that you’ve spent hours building a media list, it’s time to research the hell out of these journalists. Not only should you be reading over their most recent articles, but you should also check out their social media profiles and read their bios.
Reading every article a journalist has penned can be extremely time consuming. As a general rule of thumb, read three articles to completion, then peruse their headlines to get a feel for what they cover.
When reading the journalists’ work, take note of the tone in which they write. Are they dry and factually driven? Do they write with a sense of humor? You’ll want to use this information and match their tone when you reach out to them.
- Focus on the relationship, not the pitch. The No. 1 mistake people make when pitching the media is treating them like they are robots. Journalists are real people — do not be afraid to have a personality when reaching out to them. Before sending journalists a story idea, reach out and introduce yourself and your business, and ask if they would be interested in receiving updates on the company’s achievements. Also ask if they are in need of any information for pieces they are working on. Always remember that media relations is not the same as advertising. Just like in every other relationship in life, it is give and take.
- Prepare and be prompt
Nothing will put you on a journalist’s shit list faster than not being prepared or timely. As I stated earlier, journalists are extremely busy people with strict deadlines. If they are doing you the courtesy of including your company in an upcoming piece, you need to respond promptly and have all information readily available. What information, you ask? Have ready any quotes, pictures of your work and employees, a media kit and any other information the journalist may need. Also, you should always be available to hop on a call with the journalist. No matter how busy your day may be, making the time for an urgent 15-minute phone call can mean the difference between a syndicated article in Forbes and praying that people read your company news on your blog.
- Be prepared to follow up. Sometimes a media list was perfectly fleshed out, you did great research and you crafted the perfect pitch, but you won’t get a response. Chances are the journalist’s inbox was inundated and they just didn’t see your email. Always follow up after a week of pitching to see if the journalist had a chance to read your email. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve scored a placement after following up with a journalist. Just like you, they can miss emails.
While much of what we read is inherently newsworthy or based on daily events, journalists and reporters also heavily rely on news tips and other information. Having the ability to deliver a good pitch and build strong relationships with the media can go a long way when sharing your news. With these tips in your media relations pocket, you will be better prepared to position your company and form long-lasting relationships with members of the media.
#KillPR is an initiative to re-define an entire industry in flux. Content marketing, earned media, and social campaigns must be united to best serve organizations in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
Blurred lines between service sectors, disparate agency types and non-communicative marketing teams have created a communications 8 headed hydra that is too disorganized to overcome the content overload that barrages modern day audiences.
For all brand initiatives, a new breed of integrative champions must emerge. They are going to be the renaissance men and women who are in a state of constant innovation with content that interweaves the best practices across earned, owned and paid as a seamlessly unified whole. The modern marketer will need to be able to utilize data not just to hyper-target audiences, but also to drive creative holistically. They will need to be able to cross silos, mediums, and platforms and they will need to drive experiences in utterly novel ways. Content marketing, social media and public relations are no longer terms nor ideas that can be separate. Content relations, however, is a term we should begin to embrace. (Feel free to read more about it Here on ImediaConnection)
Are you interested in receiving a free analysis and audit of your owned and earned media strategies? Or perhaps just some earned media of your own? (See what we did there?)
Tweet us: #KillPR @emerginginsider with your best stat, quote or concept as to how the marketing industry needs to evolve and we’ll offer you a free consultation session. Additionally, the top ten responses we receive will go out with your name, handle and brand message across the multitude of our owned channels. Or if you’re one of those goody-goody types, you can just claim to be helping an industry in need.