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Current Affairs Digital marketing digital pr General PR marketing online pr

How much is BP really paying for those “oil spill” PPC ads?

The piece quoted Maureen Mackey, a writer on the Fiscal Times as saying: “What it effectively does is that it bumps down other legitimate news and opinion pieces that are addressing the spill… and [BP are] paying big money for that.”
Er, not quite.
First, BP are buying PPC ads – so they are hardly bumping natural search results anywhere. Second, there is an assumption that BP must be paying “big money” for these PPC ads.
Let’s take the phrase “oil spill”. Sure enough, plug it into Google and BP’s ad is there at the top – in fact, it is the only PPC ad on the page (at least when I did it).
So how much would BP have to pay for this? Using Google’s free Traffic Estimator tool, it would seem they would pay a maximum of $1.38 per click. And
Google estimates the number of click throughs that BP would get as between 29 and 45 per day. In other words, a cost of around $70 per day – maximum.
Now BP may well be bidding on lots of other “oil spill” related terms – but I’d hazard a guess that their total PPC budget for achieving these top ad positions is not nearly as much as some people assume (ironically, The Times article has probably done more to encourage people to search for the term “oil spill” and for people to click the ad in curiosity).
If you look at historical bidding patterns on the term “oil spill” you’ll see that nobody has really bothered much about it. In fact, in March in the UK (pre-BP crisis) not a single company was bidding on the term. In April, a lot more companies started bidding on the term both in the US and UK. Curiously, everyone seemed to stop bidding on it in May. And BP are probably the only one of a handful of companies bidding on the term right now. Coupled with a relevant landing page, that probably translates into a relatively low PPC cost.
Of course, the big question many people are asking is – are BP right to be buying PPC ads around these terms?  The moral issue aside, the notion that BP are bleeding money on this exercise is probably wide of the mark.
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Business Intelligence Current Affairs Digital marketing digital pr General PR Humour marketing online pr

Exclusive! Daily Mail actively using “prying” technology to influence reader behaviour

Visitors to the Daily Mail website are having personal information about themselves captured for the purpose of influencing their behaviour to purchase goods and services, we can exclusively reveal. The Mail also admits that it will use information gathered on individuals to “deal with” comments made on the site.
Extensive research carried out by a crack escherman web team can reveal that the Daily Mail deploys an array of sophisticated web analytics and tracking technologies including Omniture, Sophus3, Google Analytics and ComScore.
According to Andrew Smith at escherman: “It took us all of 15 seconds to identify the full scale of the Daily Mail’s arsenal of monitoring technology. Some of these tools can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and clearly demonstrates how seriously the Daily Mail is prepared to invest in prying into the online behaviour of its readers.”
The sales literature for Sophus3, for example, makes no attempt to obscure its true purpose:
“Sophus3 has the capability to identify visitors who come from online campaigns, how they behave on your website and whether they turn into a lead or buy after that. With our analysis tools we can determine the effect of online advertising on consumer interest.”
In addition, the Daily Mail’s so called Privacy Policy brazenly asserts that it will use visitor information to: “Deal with, and respond to you about, a comment you have submitted for or on our message boards, blogs and other such user generated content facilities.”
However, demonstrating the highest standards of journalistic integrity, the Mail has already reported on similar kinds of outrageous breaches of privacy by organisations such as BT and Carphone Warehouse.
Concludes Smith: “The amount of information that the Mail is gathering about its online readers is immense – everything from the kind of browser they are using down to their IP address. There can be no doubt that they are openly using this information to try and personalise their readers experience – or worse – co-erce them into buying third party products and services. We can only hope that their own journalists will apply the same rigorous approach as they’ve used with other organisations to write a follow up story to expose their own colleagues questionable behaviour and flagrant disregard for privacy.”
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Digital marketing digital pr General PR marketing Media online pr

Rolls Royce Corporate Comms Director: “Social media is a complete waste of time”

Well, that’s how I interpreted the words of Rolls Royce Director of Communications Peter Morgan in the latest issue of Corp Comms Magazine. I appreciate that I didn’t attend the event where he is supposed to have made the statements below – but I don’t doubt that Corp Comms Editor Helen Dunne has faithfully recorded what he said.
According to Morgan: “I was communications director at BT for five and a half years. I’ve been communications director at Rolls-Royce for about six months. I don’t think there is a single example where social media has impacted directly on the reputation or share price of either of these significant organisations.”
The phrase I picked up on here was “impacted directly”. What about the indirect impact of social media on a company’s reputation with its customers? Surely if BT or any other organisation continually ignores grievances voiced by customers on social networks then this is surely indicative of a deeper malaise within the company? And that sooner or later those chickens will come home to roost?
“If a subject gains traction in the social media domain, if it is important, it very quickly feeds into the mainstream press. And when the Daily Mail phones to tell you that you’ve got a problem, you know you’ve got a problem. There is a self-alerting mechanism.”
But how can the Daily Mail call Peter Morgan? Although he is listed on the Rolls Royce corporate website as a media contact, he stands out from the rest of his colleagues as being the only one who doesn’t have his phone number listed (reminded me of the Director of Customer Relations for a FTSE 250 firm, who, as a matter of policy, refused to talk to customers).
Morgan seems to view social networks as simply feeder channels for the mainstream media. In other words, a social media topic is only validated if it is picked up by a traditional big media outlet.  Dealing with the Daily Mail et al should therefore still be the top priority for a corporate comms director. Presumably Morgan isn’t one of the 54pc of senior communications directors who think that their key challenge for 2010 is executing a digital strategy.
He continues: “For decades, there have been people in pubs all around Britain saying how much they hate BT or how frustrated they are with Virgin Atlantic or whatever. The fact that they now spout their opinions on a social networking site doesn’t make them any more important or more alarming. “
If I’ve understood his comment correctly then – in Morgan’s opinion – BT and Virgin Atlantic customers (or any organisations customers for that matter) are simply annoying oiks whose opinions are worthless. They are an irritating distraction to the main goal of making sure the share price is propped up at all costs.
In which case, the irony will not be lost on Morgan by this story in today’s Mail on Sunday in which his former employer, BT, is, gasp, monitoring and responding to negative comments on social networks – big style. If customers “spouting their opinions on a social networking site” are “neither important nor alarming”, then why is his former employer patently investing heavily in social media monitoring?
And how would Peter Morgan deal with this story if he were still at BT?
What would he do about how the story has been circulated widely online using the very social networks that he appears to regard as unimportant? Or deal with the growing number of comments the story is attracting on the MoS site itself? The bizarre irony of this piece is that most of the people commenting think the MoS has taken a daft perspective on companies paying attention to customer complaints online – but in turn, they are then using the MoS story as a platform to air their grievances about BT generally – but presumably these people are the same kind of “opinion spouters” that have been dismissed as unimportant previously.
On a different subject, anyone thinking of selling a sentiment analysis tool to Peter is also probably wasting their time:
“I’m deeply suspicious of this early warning idea. In most consumer organisations, the time taken between this becoming a good social media story (My note: what’s a bad social media story?) and this becoming a good online news story and the Daily Mail being on the phone is minutes. I think that it is a waste of money to invest in online tracking systems for social media alerting you to problems. Every problem that has come across my desk has travelled too fast for that early warning system to be of help to me.”
As I’ve said already, it appears that Peter Morgan believes dealing with traditional big media is the main priority of a corporate comms department. In which case, he is probably right to argue that using a social media tracking tool as a crisis management early warning system is flawed – but only if you view dealing with traditional big media as the top priority for a corporate comms department. Surely the modern day comms director must pay attention to what customers are saying – wherever they are saying it. And respond appropriately.
Finally: “Your company website is of critical importance. When deciding how to deploy resource, you would be rash to deploy social media at the expense of a principal corporate website. The oldest communications tool of all is frequently ignored.”
Presumably one of the oldest communications tools is the telephone – which as we’ve seen above, is one that Morgan himself seems to ignore too. At least as a two way communication tool.
So, is he a PR dinosaur? Or a voice of sanity? I wonder if he’ll stop by to comment on this post? Given his apparent attitude to social media, I assume he’ll never even be aware of its existence. But I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. I’d even be happy to take a phone call (020 8334 8095).
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Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

What PPC ad spending can tell you about the UK PR sector and other digital tales

As part of a recent SEO analysis of the websites of PR Week’s Top 150 agencies (*), we found that only 37pc of them contained the keyword term “PR” in their home page titles. And barely 15pc used the term “public relations” (a fairly bog standard SEO technique).

We then realised that many firms referred to themselves as communications agencies and/or consultancies. So perhaps they were optimising on these terms?

Nope. A mere six agencies had either of these terms in their page titles.
You might argue that PR firms are using other terms to optimise around. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realise that most PR Week top 150 agency websites pay little or no attention to SEO.
But do they need to optimise their sites? Perhaps they will rank highly on Google in any case for standard industry keyword terms?
At first blush, this looks plausible. For example, for the term “communications consultancy”, Hanover, FD and Freud occupy the top 3 slots. And the term is searched for 29 times per day in the UK on a broad match basis.
But perhaps, these PR firms (and others) are missing a trick?
For example, on the term “communications agency”, no single top 150 PR firm ranks in the top 10. And with the term being searched for 217 times a day in the UK on a broad match basis, that is a lot of potential click throughs (and business) going elsewhere.
But are agencies making up for lack of natural search rankings by using Pay Per Click advertising?
Again, no. We estimate that around 60 companies spent money on Google Adwords around the term “communications agency” in the last 12 months. But not one of them was a top 150 PR firm. The same applied for the term “communications consultancy”. (Even those firms that are using PPC seem to be doing so in a fairly crude manner – they don’t test different ad copy and rarely provide a dedicated landing page).
So what does this all mean? Are top 150 PR firms failing to invest in their own SEO and PPC approaches because they don’t know how to do it? Or because they don’t think it is worth the effort?
Or does it say more about the clients who buy PR services? In other words, PR firms are sticking to non-SEO/PPC business development because they’ve tested it and found that this isn’t the way that their prospects decide how to choose a firm?
Perhaps. But even if this were the case, surely client side PR buyers are still looking to PR firms to give them genuine digital communication insight.
According to a joint PR Week/Brands2Life survey from December 2009, 54pc of communications directors think that their key challenge for 2010 is executing a digital strategy. On the agency side, you’d be hard pushed to find one that doesn’t tout its digital capabilities. For example, the following, taken from a top 150 PR agency site, is typical of what you will find in most PR firm’s marketing collateral:
“Search engine rankings are key to increasing the reach and visibility of your activities online. We optimise content across a range of formats for search engine visibility, from press releases to video content. We also ensure any new campaign is designed with natural search results factored in, to ensure that the right content is ranked and easily accessible.”
In which case, what are clients to make of the fact that most of the content on top 150 PR web sites is patently unoptimised. Or betrays a lack of understanding of other elements of the digital marketing mix such as PPC?
If the PR sector is to take a lead on digital communications, it needs to provide better evidence it can provide clients with the most rounded advice on executing a digital strategy. Its own backyard might be a good place to start.
(*) I’ll happily email the full SEO analysis of the PR Week top 150 to anyone who asks me. Nicely.
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Digital marketing digital pr General PR marketing online pr tech pr Technology PR

An alternative look at the PR Week Top 150 League Table

PR Week published its annual top 150 rankings of UK PR firms a few weeks ago. Adam Parker at Realwire has already produced a good analysis of the figures. I thought I’d throw in some further analysis to try and draw a clearer picture of the state of the UK PR industry.
First, some top line figures. Based on PR Week’s league table, the top 150 UK PR agencies in 2009:
Generated £814 million in fee revenues
Employed 7790 people
Worked on 5683 client accounts and 7154 client projects
Had an average monthly client PR retainer of £6K

In terms of this last figure (and others), I used a rule of thumb that says 80pc of agency fees come from retainer work and 20pc from projects. Clearly this will not apply across the board. Indeed, given the economic climate of the last year, it could be argued that project work should occupy a higher share of total revenue, And looking at the number of projects that some agencies worked on, it would seem that perhaps even the majority of fee revenue came from projects.
Taking all of that into consideration, the 80/20 split at least provides a starting point for analysis.
On that basis, we arrive at an average monthly client retainer fee of £8K. However, it is worth qualifying this. First, given my rule of thumb, one agency skews the results hugely. According to the PR Week league table, Axon Communications only has one client – but on my ROT, this would provide an average PR retainer of around £179K per month. If we remove Axon from the list, then the average monthly retainer drops to £6K per month.
Next, let’s look at some other performance metrics.
1. Fees per earner
Fees per earner has been a standard metric for evaluating the relative performance of PR firms for decades. Looking at the PR Week figures for 2009, the fee per earner leader board clearly shows that financial PR is the place to be:
Agency Fees per earner (£000s)
Brunswick 280
Finsbury 280
Maitland 280
WCG 235
Financial Dynamics 190
Buchanan 190
Gavin Anderson 190
Citigate Dewe Rogerson 171
Bell Pottinger Group* 159
Galliard Healthcare Communications 157
WCG is an anomaly (see below).
Of course, profit per earner would be an even better metric, but short of trawling Companies House for the data, the fee per earner ratio is the one that must suffice for the moment.
Here is the bottom of the fee per earner table:
Agency Fees per earner (£000s)
Iris PR 50
Wolfstar 50
Bellenden 50
Luchford APM 50
Quantum Public Relations 45
GyroHSR/ Woolley Pau PR 41
Radio Relations 40
Finn Communications 29
Kenyon Fraser 28
ICE 22
Some immediate caveats. In a number of cases, PR fees represent only a proportion of total turnover ie the firm makes money from non-PR fee related activity and the staff numbers refer to the business as a whole. So the fee per PR earner ratio is clearly higher. (However, it does beg the question as to what percentage of total turnover devoted to PR should qualify a firm for entry into the league table).
Also, a number of these lower fee per earner agencies are based outside of London – so may argue that a lower cost base allows them a lower than average fee per earner ratio.
2. Ratio of staff to clients/projects
This metric takes the total number of clients and projects an agency works on and divides through by the total number of staff. In theory, it should give an indication as to the average number of clients and projects that each agency employee has to deal with. Again, this comes with a number of caveats. Clearly project type, length and budget will vary enormously from agency to agency. Having said that, it is at least an attempt to provide some kind of indicator on agency workload. Combined with fee revenue, it gives a picture of which firms may be performing better than others.
Agency Client/project staff ratio Change in fee revs 09/08
WCG 33.33
TVC Group 14.41 -8
Radio Relations 11.25 2
Grayling Communications 6.87 -22
PPS Group 6.71 -31
The Reptile Group* 6.27 -7
The Outside Organisation 6. 2
FWD 5.50 -10
The PR Office 4.8 0
Myriad Public Relations 4. -3
Again, WCG should be treated as an extreme outlier. One thing to note though is that nearly all of the agencies with high client/project to staff ratios saw revenue drops.
Odd curiosities

WCG
WCG (rank 138) employees only 3 staff according to PR Week – which leads to some anomalous results. Namely, its fee per earner figure is 235K. It also means it has the highest client/project to employee ratio of 33.33.
Grayling
Grayling stands out for the huge number of client projects it worked on in 2009: a total of 965. Coupled with retainer clients of 430, that’s a total of 1395 clients and projects. Based on my rule of thumb, the average Grayling client is paying around £2K per month. If they are paying more than this, then the average Grayling project is going to be around £1 – 2K.
Axon Communications
According to the PR Week table, Axon only has one client – but generates fee revenue of £2.6 million. Even allowing for the fact that project work may represent a larger than average share of revenue (41 projects), that still suggests that one client represents a large slug of revenue.In my opinion an Cheap Ambien excellent medicine, in order to fall asleep in the evening and normally wake up in the morning.
This is only a cursory analysis. As ever, I’m always grateful to PR Week for producing the baseline figures. I’ve no doubt that further insight can be gained into the health of the sector and individual firms with more scrutiny.
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Digital marketing digital pr online pr tech pr Technology PR Web/Tech

Are PR people the main readers of UK online IT news publications? Google thinks so.

Google has just updated its Doubleclick Ad Planner tool with a useful new feature that shows a site’s top 10 audience interests, representing the aggregate interests of the site’s visitors.
As Google says: “In these top 10 lists, each interest is assigned an affinity score, such as 3.9x, which means visitors to the site are that many more times likely to be interested in the topic than the average Internet population.”
I tried it out on a couple of UK online IT news sites – computerweekly.com and v3.co.uk.
For the former title, public relations was the 2nd top audience interest for UK visitors, with an affinity score of 33.3x.  For V3.co.uk, PR was the top audience interest with an affinity score of 30.1x. In other words, the average UK visitor to computerweekly.com/v3.co.uk is 33.3/30.1 times more likely to be interested in public relations than the average Internet user.
Which is curious. Who knew that UK IT folk were so interested in PR. Or could it be that a sizeable proportion of UK visitors to these online IT news sites are in fact PR people (presumably checking to see if they’ve got any client coverage).
I realise this is only a sample of two, but I’m curious to see if this is a common phenomenon across the online IT publication sector as a whole – at least in the UK.
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Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

What engagement time tells you about the value or otherwise of online press coverage

Consider the following:
1. An average person can read around 200 words per minute on screen.
2. The average UK Guardian website reader spends around 7 mins and 30 seconds per visit (according to Google)
3. The Guardian has monthly page views of around 88 million in the UK and around 21 million unique visitors per month (according to Google)
4. Based on the above, the average visitor will spend around 450/4.2 = 107 seconds per page. In other words, the average reader will read up to 350 words before moving on to another page or off the site completely.
What might we infer from this?
1. Any article longer than 350 words will not be read in full. Not least because on any given page, the reader is also potentially being distracted from reading editorial copy by ads and other elements on the page. In which case, what density of client reference is required within 350 words to have any material impact on the reader?
Is 107 seconds really long enough to make any impact at all?
What about press releases?
Based on Google Ad Planner figures, the average amount of time spent on a page on Sourcewire.com (a well known press release distribution service) = 151 seconds.
Based on an average reading speed of 3.33 words per second, then your typical Sourcewire visitor (ie a journalist) is going to consume, at best, 500 words per page.
However, based on an admittedly small sample, the average Sourcewire press release contains 800 – 900 words.
In which case, you might argue that putting a release on Sourcewire of more than 500 words is a waste of time because the likelihood that a journalist will read more than 500 words per page is very slim (ignoring the SEO value that you might gain from using Sourcewire).
Caveats
These are average figures (Avanash Kaushik would roast me alive). Some people may be able to read more quickly on screen. Then again, many people will read more slowly. And clearly some people may spend more time with content. However, that means that an even greater number spend less time. In fact, that probably is the case if the Newspaper Marketing Society’s figures are true (that 56pc of all UK newspaper web site visits last less than one minute).
Google’s figures may be wildly inaccurate too. That was certainly the claim from publishers when Double Click Ad Planner was first launched. However, you don’t hear so much complaint about them now.
Conclusion
Online PR planning needs to take account of engagement in determining what media sites to target and the appropriate content to provide. If a site’s visitors spend barely 30 seconds on reading a page, then crowing to the client that they’ve got 14 paragraphs of coverage at the end of a 3,000 word article is pretty meaningless – whether it is the BBC or the Wheel Tappers & Shunters Weekly.
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Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

Is your Twitter Home Page your biggest SEO asset?

Do you know the Page Rank of your Twitter Home Page? You may be surprised to find it is a lot higher than you think it is – and you probably achieved it without even thinking about it.

For example, the Page Rank for my blog home page is 5 – and that’s taken a little while to get to, not withstanding the blood, sweat and tears of creating and maintaining content. In the course of some client work recently, I happened to plug in some Twitter Home Pages to check Page Rank – given they were created relatively recently, I was surprised by how high the Page Rank values were. And then I checked my Twitter Home Page PR value. Turned out to be 5. I then started looking at a few other people’s Twitter Home Page Ranks. For example, my chum Stephen Waddington of Speed Communications, who has a very respectable Page Rank of 6.

In which case, it is worth paying some attention to what you choose to link to from your Twitter Home Page profile – you may have one of the best backlinks available to you right in front of your nose.

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Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

Video: PR Week’s Search Box

[wpvideo wEX4Wcva]

After my PR SEO presentation at the CIPR last week for Glide Technologies, I had discussions with a few people regarding video content. It made me realise that many blog posts could convey the same message but done in a video format. To show that I do eat my own dog food, see above for a video version of my recent blog post regarding what PR Week’s search box says about the PR industry.

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Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

PR doesn’t care about business outcomes: what PR Week’s internal search function tells you about the industry

PR Week’s web site has a very useful search box that tells you which articles contain certain keyword phrases. It also helpfully breaks out what kind of article the phrase was contained in and the year.  As a result, it provides a useful measure as to how the interests of the PR sector are reflected in the actual words used by PR Week journalists. And perhaps indicates why PR still isn’t taken as seriously as it might be.
For example, the word “pitch” has appeared in nearly 8000 articles since 1995. Unsurprisingly, the number of articles about pitching or pitches rises in line with a recessionary year eg 2001 and 2008.
Phrases such as raising, boosting or building awareness appear in over 5000 articles. The number of articles on this subject peaked in 2004, dropped for a few years and rose again through 2008 and 2009. A total of 83 articles this year have referred to this subject.
The phrase “media relations” appears in nearly 5600 articles. However, having reached a peak in 2004, the term seems to have lost currency in recent times.
The term “Online PR” has 180 articles, with “Digital PR” following closely behind with 168. Interestingly, both of these phrases have been used for nearly 13 years. In fact, a PR Week article from 1997 credits Matthew Ravden, ex-MD of Bite Communications with coming up with term “digital PR” (I’m quoted in the same article saying that “by the end of 1997 the majority of the press will want to receive information in an electronic format.” I was only a decade out).
However, it is curious to note that the phrase “behavioural change” appears in only 62 pieces – and most of those in the last 2 years. Perhaps even more damning, the term “business outcome” appears precisely 3 times in 15 years.
If PR Week is a reflection of the industry, then it shows that the PR sector needs to start using language (and developing services) that better reflects genuine – and quantifiable – business benefits.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see a PR agency talking about how it is helping clients to deliver an improved business outcome rather than simply raising awareness?
Useful links
  • The SBS Interview: Lee Odden – An interview with Lee Odden about how small businesses can take advantage of new opportunities in public relations and social marketing online.