The Zen Manifesto

Traditional PR is dead. And deservedly so. For too long PR agencies have happily taken clients’ money, have banged out a few template press releases in return, and have skipped off into the sunset oblivious – and seemingly not bothered– by the fact that any coverage achieved generated nothing at all for the client commercially.

In fact there’s a complete indifference to the commercial side of business, a snooty, turning-up-ofcollective-noses when ‘crass’ questions about return on investment are raised. Oh, don’t get me wrong, any PR worth their salt can quote figures about ‘PR Value’ and espouse the value of editorial weight and third party endorsement, but it’s all completely pointless in most cases as – at best – the coverage is aimed only vaguely in the direction of the person the client cares most about.

The PR agency doesn’t take the time to learn which customers add the most money to their clients’ bottom line. Which are best to work with. Easiest. Most appreciative. Best payers… Whatever a ‘good’ customer looks like to the client. And if they don’t know that, how can it be anything more than pot luck that any story they choose to promote will impact the ideal end user?

Yes, there may be a great tie-in with National Hugging Day, or World Hopping On The Spot Day, but if the end customers don’t care, and if it doesn’t demonstrate an area of the client’s business with some commercial potential, what is the point? I’ll tell you. It’s easy for the agency and it’s the way it’s always been done. They can get coverage which has a high perceived monetary value and which looks good on paper. But it’s worthless. And don’t even get me started on how they’re measuring it. The monetary value is assessed by something called advertising-value-equivalent, and as a guide it’s about as ineffective as possible. It assesses how much the coverage would have cost, in that title, on that day, and in that position. But the client wouldn’t have advertised, and if they did they’d never have paid the rate card, they’d have negotiated.

Our canny PRs don’t stop there though, they then multiply the figures by anything between three and ten (yes, ten) times to ‘weight’ it towards the ‘value’ of editorial. Tosh! The client gets coverage that achieves nothing, and the agency tells them ‘yay, we did a great job, look at our pretty excel sheet showcasing our awesomeness’…

Some clients are suitably convinced and plough on regardless – after all there must be something in it mustn’t there? Even just ‘brand awareness’… Others get turned off the whole PR industry and figure we’re the marketing communications equivalent of muggers, but ones who make you say thank you afterwards.

But if PR is such a pointless exercise why has Zen spent the last ten plus years making it our home? Simple. We believe in PR 2.0. The next generation of PR. We talk about it as reputation management, which can sound a little ‘management speak’ but which does the best of summing up all of the facets of any support. After all, good PRs don’t just promote their clients, they protect and defend them too, across all of their clients’ publics and stakeholders.

Reputation Managers operate in a very different way to traditional PRs. We start at the point of success and we devise a strategy which leads exactly to that point, ensuring success is the only possible outcome. We spend time developing a really full understanding of our clients’ ideal customers and we develop two or three avatars to bring them to life. Then we develop profiles for these avatars which cover all five PR pillars – essentially we consider all of the ways that we can reach them, covering traditional media, digital and social, direct, experiential, and advocate and affiliate.

Once we know who they are and how we can reach them, we drill down into their psychological drivers – what do they care most about? And how can our client help them avoid that challenge or leverage that opportunity? Only then do we start to consider the tactics available to us. And this is another way that we stand out from the traditional PRs – we have much more than simple press releases in our arsenal.

From opinion-led and by-lined articles, to white papers, keynote speeches, interviews and profiles – not to mention tactics like round tables, fringe events and lead magnets – we cherry pick from them all. We then craft these into a beautifully-timed campaign, building awareness, challenging perceptions, adding educated awareness about the depth and breadth of the offer, and generally sharing the love strategically.

And then, we agree how we’re going to measure it. Some clients do still want the advertising-valueequivalent figure, because that’s what their Board is used to seeing, but we always offer much more too. We look at who had the opportunity to see the coverage and we can even profile these people if our clients wish. We consider how many of the clients’ core messages are included in each and every piece of coverage. And we look at the strength and impact of the coverage in terms of its placement on page and framing.

Then we consider wider key performance indicators around Google Analytics including search term use and whether this is any more in-depth, sophisticated or educated about the service office, plus we can analyse visitors’ behaviour when they’re on your site – where do they go and what do they do? Of course we also encourage clients to track contact through phone, email and web and we can assess this for them, plus downloads of content or other action we’ve driven. And for those who really want to be belt and braces about it all, we can engage a third party agency to conduct a perception study to assess sentiment changes around a brand. Phew!

Help us bury the bad old PR by demanding more, by asking awkward questions of your agency, and by driving the change we need to see. Together we can welcome in a new world – PR is Dead. Long live PR 2.0.

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