Friday, October 18, 2013

Dethroning King Content: Why Context Should Be Just as Important

“Content is King.”

It’s a phrase PR professionals, marketing gurus, journalists and editors hear every day.

Coined by Bill Gates in 1996 as part of his Internet worldview, it’s worth noting that even back in the 28.8k days of dial-up modems, “content is king” was not all the Microsoft Chairman stressed. Equally important was the context of the material published.

“To be successful online, a magazine, [for instance] can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm,” Gates wrote. “There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium.” 

Nearly two decades after Gates wrote those words and their meaning still resonates. Not only is context important between print and online, all the digital mediums such as email, social, mobile and so on require different methods of user engagement.

In other words, one size does not fit all.

One of the most obvious rules of thumb: lengthy copy should be presented on lengthy screens, tablet-sized or greater. Smartphones, even those with 6-inch screens are too small for maximum user enjoyment. Even the definition of “long copy” is relative to the medium. Chances are that anything over 500 words in mobile format pushes the limit.

But it’s more than that.

Ideally, PR teams should be large enough to include channel-specific content writers. Or at the very least, content writers should have the freedom to discuss with in-house or outsourced social media experts how their content could best be adapted to fit channel needs. Repackaging a 3,000-word whitepaper into 120, 140-character tweets might “get the job done” in the strictest sense, but it may miss the mark in terms of user engagement.

Successful tweets are not article or presentation bullet points. They’re conversation starters; unique insights or observations that spark genuine debate and feedback.

Maybe “dethroning King Content” is a little harsh. After all, establishing proper context would be impossible without the raw materials of content already laid out. But how those knowledge building blocks are assembled and presented to the right audience on the right channel is critical if PR executives (and any communications professionals) are to use the web and its many channels to their fullest extent.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

“Shane” on You: A Perfect Example of Why the Media Continues its “Flack Attack”

There was I, excited to read another PR professional’s musings on why journalists give us a hard time when it comes to pitches, follow-up emails, do not call times and other various gripes. I was eager for the advice.

Instead I found myself agreeing with the so-called “other side” of  the communications industry. Written by Andy Shane, a PR professional whose resume and personal webpage feels a little light, his recent article violated several critical rules if our (PR) industry and our clients are to be taken seriously.

So move aside Andy Shane, here are mine:

Rule #1

Get to the point – fast. At nearly 800 words, Shane’s article does a lot of rambling, repeats a few points concerning the need for “compelling narrative” and offers little concrete advice or action steps. 

Rule #2

Limit clich├ęs, use correct grammar and don’t make ‘Writing 101’ errors. This last point really bugs me and it’s a rule we all learned in…well…grammar school.

Shane writes: “We are using the media – and the inherit third party credibility – as a way of telling our story to our real audience.”

Correction, I think you meant “inherent,” as in “innate” or “inseparable element,” according to

He goes on to write: “As pitches are being flushed out, consider.”

Strike two. Pitches are fleshed out, not flushed out – unless they’re really terrible.

I’d like to tell you mistakes like these are rare. But even as a PR professional, there’s no way to spin this. Mistakes like this do crop up all the time. Whatever value Shane’s article originally possessed is instantly cancelled out.

Great pitches are more than compelling narrative. They’re also about crisp, clean writing, free of embarrassingly sophomoric mistakes. Journalists like to say, “Let the copy sing.” Very often our industry’s jargon habit interferes with what could be a lovely client voice.

So “shane” on you, Andy. I know we can do a lot better in putting the “flack attack” to rest.