Heavy Chef got the chance to talk to Sarah Rice, the public relations consultant for 22seven, a money management service that has been highly successful in its first few months. Sarah is well known in the online space and we decided to ask her a few things about online PR and how to do it best.
Sarah: Before I start on this I want to come clean on a few things. I don’t know what online PR is. I know what I do and I call it PR. Sometimes it happens online but I don’t differentiate between what happens on the internet and what happens in print or on radio or even in a closed door meeting.
I am a tech specialist PR person and my experience is in this niche. I am currently being pushed out of my comfort zone as the communications strategy for 22seven expands into the consumer market. So far it’s going okay but it’s possible that my view of the world of PR only works in the tech niche. I am really not sure.
Thanks Sarah. So when it comes to online PR, what should you really avoid?
Lying. In life it’s a bad idea, in PR it’s professional suicide. And I don’t just mean on the big things, but the small things too. The PR eco-system is based on trust. I trust journalists, bloggers and influencers making a call on whether the story is good enough for them. They trust me to do my best to give them stories that are good enough and to not abuse this trust by giving them rubbish. For me, trust is the most important currency. It gives me and my clients benefit of the doubt when things go wrong and it makes sure that I work hard to make the stories relevant.
The other thing you should avoid is feeding trolls. The Internet is filled with wonderful, informative, humorous, intelligent people and bits of information. The uninformed, the crazies and the haters also inhabit it. Sometimes people complain and raise questions that deserve to be heard and addressed and sometimes people are just mean. The ability to tell the difference within the first tweet, post or comment is the new PR meta-skill.
Generally speaking, traditional PR doesn’t often merge with online PR. Many think this is because those involved with offline PR don’t take the time to really understand online PR and how it works. What are your thoughts on this?
I can see how online PR may not break out into traditional PR, but I can’t imagine how traditional PR does not take online into account. The story may happen in print or on radio but the conversation, the engagement with the public, happens online. The danger is that the traditional mode of PR is focused on asserting control on the message or conversation. As you know, this is not only impossible online, but dangerous. The moment people feel manipulated in their own private conversation space they get upset and vocal.
In your opinion, what are the best tools for measuring online PR and its effectiveness?
The fundamental question should be ‘is it making a difference to the business?’ PR is like fertilizer and if it’s working then the seeds sown by the business will grow fast and strong. PR doesn’t happen in isolation and while a press release may have been syndicated 25 times and reached a potential market of 5 million, unless that becomes sales, or clicks, or signatures on a petition, it is completely meaningless.
That saying, what you measure is what you get is true, so make sure you are measuring something that makes strategic sense.
What are some of the challenges faced when doing online PR for a start-up, such as 22seven?
The most difficult thing is managing the impulse to get completely ahead of reality. The best thing about a start-up is its potential. But this can lead to massive, grandiose statements about growth, significance and ‘revolutions’.
In the tech space especially, most people have been burnt by hype so it’s harder to get people interested and excited about new technologies and services.
Where does traditional PR differ from online PR, and how are those differences handled when it is necessary to merge the two?
The basic stuff is the same, audience, medium, message, story, and supportive facts. The difference is how people perceive their editorial integrity. Media are used to getting calls from PRs. This does not impact their editorial integrity. They choose to write, speak or share based on whether they think the story is worth it.
Social influencers and social media influencers don’t traditionally have a business relationship with PRs, so pitching a meeting or piece of information can be difficult. PRs view it in the same way they do a journalist pitch. Here is an opportunity to get some information, and if you like it, use it how you see fit. But it can lead some people to feel that their editorial integrity has been put into question. So the process of making contact takes a lot of thought and in some cases it’s actually best to just wait until they come to you or talk about you, and then make contact in response. It just depends.
How can a company know when it is best to outsource their PR, or do it internally?
I am a big fan of the outsourced model. The worst thing a company can do is believe its own PR, and this is more easily achieved when your PR consultant is not in the business. There is also the benefit of working with a team of people who are networked in your business’ industry, speak to related media often and have a good understanding and awareness of related events and therefore, what constitutes news and why ego-based is rubbish.
But I also know that working at 22seven as their full time PR chick has had massive benefits. I have enjoyed the level of focus I can apply to the job and I get things done really quickly. I do think that in the long term 22seven will need to engage with specialist agencies but while we are still working out what works and what doesn’t it makes sense to keep it in-house.
But in-house and outsourced PR both need to work though two things. A clear marketing strategy to drive, test and hold the PR strategy and implementation plan; and an open, honest and respectful relationship between the business leads and the PR consultant.