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How to use 80/20 analysis and thinking to maximise blog effectiveness (And thank you, Rory Cellan-Jones)

I’m a big fan of Richard Koch’s 80/20 analysis and thinking. So I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and apply the 80/20 principle to analysing my own blog.

Since setting up In Front of Your Nose in January, I’ve discovered that 5pc of my blog posts generated 54pc of my page views. And, spookily, I find that 20pc of my blog posts have generated 80pc of page views (OK, it was 78pc, but you get the point).

To use Koch’s terminology, these are “the vital few” – again demonstrating the natural imbalance in nature – blogging being no different.

From an 80/20 perspective, I decided to focus on analysing the characteristics of the top traffic generating posts to identify what factors contributed to their success eg subject matter, keywords, comments, in-bound links, etc.

For example, my 2 most popular blog posts (generating nearly 20pc of my traffic) were: How to start a PR company with Google and a credit card and BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones and the death of the journalistic backgrounder.

A little further analysis reveals why they proved so popular. With the first post, it got picked up on Social Media Today and this generated a lot of inbound interest. Second, an analysis of the most popular search terms that attract traffic to my blog all centre around starting a PR company eg: how to start a pr company, setting up a pr company, etc. (More 80/20: these terms constitute 10pc of the total number of search terms – and yet generate nearly 70pc search generated traffic).

With the Rory Cellan-Jones piece, one factor stood out like a sore thumb – it was listed on the BBC Dot Life Technology blog as a “Link We Like” for nearly a month – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you get link love from such a high profile site then you are bound to benefit. But what made the BBC link to the post in the first place? Simple. Rory Cellan-Jones himself thought it was a great post (he told me) ie it was good, relevant content.

An analysis of search terms is also quite revealing. As I said, until I’d looked at it closely, I hadn’t appreciated the volume of searches around starting a PR business.

What does this tell us? That there are a lot of people out there thinking about doing it and looking for information related to “going it alone” in PR? And is that the kind of person I want to attract? How will that help my own business and revenue goals? (Well, if people want to give me a free stake in any new business venture they start, that’s different).

My search analysis also showed me that terms like online PR and digital PR are still in their search infancy – they are still very much in the early adopter search phase. I’m confident that these terms will increase in popularity (in which case, this blog should be well positioned to pick up on that trend). But clearly there is no guarantee – and it shows that mainstream PR buyers are still using traditional terms to find what they want.

So what now? It has certainly given me some pointers in terms of the type of content I might create in the future – and to think more clearly about linking conversion goals and the relationship between input and output. But perhaps most importatnly it has helped to FOCUS my resources and energy. Which can’t be a bad thing. 80/20. You know it makes sense.

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Why you should question any tech B-to-B PR campaign that emphasises print over online

A very instructive interview with IDG founder Pat McGovern in today’s Guardian – with some unavoidable conclusions for the tech PR sector.

McGovern hasn’t built a $3bn empire by getting things too wrong – so worth listening to his views on the future of B-to-B publishing (he says all B-to-B publishing will be online in 10 years).

A few things in the feature did stand out. For example, many questioned his decision to drop the print edition of Infoworld in the US – saying farewell to distributing 180,000 copies every week. “Many said without print people wouldn’t be reminded every week of our brand and 40% of our revenue would disappear overnight,” claims McGovern.

One year later, InfoWorld’s online revenues had trebled, the magazine’s overall revenues were up 10%, and without the costs of print, paper and postage, profit margins went from -3% to 37%.

He also says it costs around $20,000 to launch a new online magazine title – compared with $400,000 for a print version.

And here’s an eye-opener – 60pc of the content on IDG’s B-to-B sites is user generated. As McGovern rather too gleefully admits: “It’s nice to have more than half your content generated for free.”

So what are the implications for tech PR?

1. Any PR approach that prioritises print over online needs to be seriously questioned.

2. Tech buyers still trust media brands such as Computer Weekly, Computerworld, etc – however, the way they consume and interact with the magazine is very different. They are unlikely to pay much (if any) attention to the print title. And even when they get information from the online version, it is most likely to be via search rather than because they treat the online title as a destination. Even the small proportion of readers who will subscribe to a magazine RSS feed are likely to filter the content. The 80/20 principle applies ie 80pc of individual reader value will lie in 20pc of the content – readers will increasingly select only the really relevant stuff.

3. If 60pc of content is user generated, then the way in which PR is involved in the process of content generation and conversation is going to be very different.

4. Paradoxically, some magazine related events may become more valuable eg I’d wager that Information Age events are seen as more valuable by many of its readers than the print version of the magazine. They trust the brand, but they don’t have time to read the print version. And they will get content from the magazine online – and via search (and RSS if the magazine reinstated its RSS feeds….). Particular events, however, allow for networking, peer contact, etc.

Given the importance of search in this whole equation, any tech PR programme that doesn’t integrate with a carefully thought through approach to buyer behaviour and search is seriously flawed.

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Should vendors pay journalist press trip expenses?

I’ve been having an interesting e-mail discussion with an ex-colleague (now in-house) around the issue of IT and telecom vendors paying journalists’ travel, accommodation and subsistence expenses for foreign press events.

He raised the issue on the back of a rival vendor who has organised a 2 day press trip abroad inviting over 100 journalists from around Europe. Having seen the agenda, it does appear to be little more than a thinly disguised “junket”.

Of course, my American readers at this point may be scratching their heads.

I can only speak for the tech sector, but the concept of businesses paying press expenses has always bemused US journalists. I remember running a press trip to California in the early 1990s – we had both US and European journalists there. The US journalists wouldn’t even have a drink bought for them. They couldn’t believe that the European press had flights, accommodation, etc all paid for (and in some instances, attempting to claim for rather more, ahem, exotic items). Then again, the Europeans thought the US press were far too cosy with vendors and rarely produced negative copy in spite of their apparent transparency (the theory propounded by the Brit press being that because US publishers picked up the tab for their journalists expenses, they had to fund it out of other revenue eg advertising. So there was an unspoken rule that US hacks would only write something negative in extreme circumstances. Hence the accusation from some UK and European journalists that much US tech journalism was bland and non-commital).

A senior UK IT reporter once told me he felt the US IT press regarded themselves as part of the IT industry whereas the European press saw themselves as outside observers looking in.

Having said that, there are some notable “no paid press trips” policies over here: The Economist, BBC and Financial Times to name a few.

So. Are we likely to see a move to a more US style model of press trip funding over here?

Probably not. I suspect for many journalists – especially in IT – foreign press trips are seen as a perk of the job – a bonus to compensate for their lower wages and increased workload.

However, given the rise in coverage of “green computing”, it would be interesting to calculate the carbon footprint of all those journalists being flown abroad and back for this event.

Clearly it would be foolish to suggest an end to all foreign press events. But perhaps the main point is (as with press events of any kind, wherever they are held): was there no other more efficient way of providing the information/getting our message across than a press jolly in a sunny clime? And who should pay for it?

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Why journalists ignore most press releases. And why they will continue to do so.

Press releases suck says Sally Whittle.

She lists five reasons why most press releases get deleted:

1. Your sentences are too long

2. Your client descriptors make no sense.

3. Your quotes come from robots.

4. Jargon, jargon, jargon.

5. You sent it to the wrong people.

Read Sally’s post for the detail behind each of these. She says: “I can’t help but think that something has to change.”

Sadly, things probably won’t change. In fact, she nails the reason why in a comment to her own post: “The problem is that nobody dies when this stuff happens, and nobody is really offended.”

Journalists have simply come to regard poor press releases as a necessary evil – a constant background noise. Like tinnitus.

Clients still approve copy. And PR firms still get paid.

Can it really be that hard to follow some basic rules of copywriting?

For want of a few pounds spent on reading the books of David Ogilvy or Alastair Crompton, an entire industry could pull its socks up.

(One of Ogilvy’s many memorable lines was: “Always give your product a first-class ticket through life.” So why do so many clients and their PR advisors allow 4th class press releases?)

However, I suspect there is a much deeper reason for why press releases will continue being deleted in droves by Sally and her colleagues.

Any fule knos that a headline should contain a benefit statement – whether an ad or a press release. Scan SourceWire or ResponseSource and see how many headlines contain a discernible benefit.

Not many, eh?

And whether a journalist receives a press release via e-mail or RSS, the headline is the route to success. Given the dire standard of headline writing, is it any wonder so many releases get ignored.

Why is that?

It must be either:

a) The PR company hasn’t done enough homework to work out what the benefit should be. Or the client hasn’t briefed the PR well enough to allow a benefit to be discovered.

b) There are no real distinctive benefits.

I suspect in most cases, the answer is b).

That would explain reasons 1 – 4 on Sally’s list. Long sentences are usually a sign that you have difficulty in clearly articulating what you want to say – because there is nothing to say.

Or attempting to obscure the fact you have nothing to say.

Client descriptors make no sense because again they are attempts to make the mundane sound new and interesting – but with no basis in reality. Robotic quotes exist because they have been constructed like Lego. If the person writing the release actually uttered the quote aloud, they’d soon realise that no one of sound mind would pay any attention to it. And jargon is of course another example of trying to dress up mutton as lamb.

The fact is, many press releases should never have been written in the first place – but press releases levels are probably going to continue unabated – and no one will bother.

Then again, perhaps it leaves the field clear for those who can write good headlines and great body copy.

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How to start a PR company with Google and a credit card

In 1977, Mark Perry ran a punk fanzine called Sniffin Glue – a defining image from the mag was a hand drawn diagram of finger positions on a guitar for E, A and B7, with the caption: “Here’s three chords. Now form a band.” (Perry himself denies it ever appeared in the publication – but for better or worse, the myth has taken precedence over the reality).

In a similar vein, there is nothing much to stop anyone starting a PR company today – with little more than Internet access and a credit card.

Here’s the FAQ:
1. Do I need an office?

No. If you need to meet people, go to them. If you really feel the need for a business address, then there are plenty of virtual office solutions that won’t break the bank in the early days. Or simply hire meeting rooms as and when you need them.

2. What about a phone?

Use Skype and a mobile (pay as you go if you are on a tight budget)

3. Do I need to own my own computer?

This will probably be your single biggest investment – even so, for PR needs, you could pick up a perfectly serviceable laptop for a few hundred pounds. If you were feeling really bootstrapped, you could get away with simply finding a comfortable internet cafe and paying for your internet access as you go.

4. Do I need my own software?

No. In short, Google is your friend. Using Google Docs gives you free access to a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software.

5. What about a database?

Again, who needs to pay for stuff these days? Try Blist.

6. How do I go about promoting myself?

Build a website. There are plenty of free tools around to do that. Again, you could try Google. Or why not just have a blog as your primary website? And don’t forget LinkedIn.

7. Aren’t there specific services such as PR Newswire, Vocus, etc that no self respecting PR firm should be without?

Not anymore. Name any service that costs a lot of money and you can usually find a lower cost or free alternative. Use Sourcewire for press release distribution. Use Getting Ink Requests to find out about editorial opportunities. Use Google Alerts via RSS to Google Reader and Google Blog Search for monitoring.

8. Don’t I need some kind of fancy intranet?

No. Google Sites will do the trick (some people don’t think it’s much cop, but the point is, it’s free – and at that price, it’s good enough.

9. What about setting up a limited company, VAT, banking, accounting?

Setting up a limited company is quick and straightforward these days – do it yourself, or use a third party. You can apply for the flat rate VAT scheme which removes a lot of the headache. Banking, again, do it online – a number of the banks are offering 2 years free banking now. Accounting – for returns purposes, if you feel confident, do it yourself – or at worst you can get accounting done for a small business at relatively cheap rates these days.

10. I don’t actually know that much about PR – how do I learn?

Well, if journalists are to be believed, the professionals aren’t that good themselves – so you haven’t got much to lose. Even so, there is plenty of good free advice to be found on best practice – try following it and you might even surprise yourself at the results.

Of course, I exaggerate for effect. There are clearly many other factors to consider, However, I believe the general principle is true – namely, that the barriers to entry and potential ongoing running costs of a PR business these days have never been lower. The main constraints are time, energy and imagination. As well as delivering true value added services that clients are prepared to pay for.

Will the spirit of “three chords, now form a band” be reborn in today’s PR environment? Let’s see.

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Measuring the ROI of a blog post (or the Law of Unexpected Consequence)

The reaction to my post yesterday about Can Journalists Write Great Marketing Content has been interesting.

It is by no means my most widely read post (my snippet on Mike Magee’s last hurrah for PR gets that honour – though that one clearly benefited from a Stumbleupon recommendation). It has however generated comments from the likes of David Meerman Scott, Sally Whittle and Ian Betteridge. And as my blog posts get automatically posted to the Marcom Professional social network site, others have picked up on it there.

I also had a comment from Joe Pulizzi at Junta42 in the US – I’ve never had any dealings with Joe before, so I took a look at his website – and what do you know, there is some good content there. Indeed, he has a useful e-book on content marketing – which he is happy for people to freely share and distribute – so in the spirit of co-operation, here it is. Get Content, Get Customers – Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett

However, the really interesting feedback to yesterday’s post was in relation to a new business lead. We’d been recommended to someone and arranged to talk to them today. A few days earlier, I’d suggested checking out our website and my blog to get an idea of our approach and ethos. Speaking to our prospect this morning, they remarked how interesting this particular post had been – it also encouraged them to look at David Meerman Scott’s site and gave them a pile of ideas as to how they might approach PR and marketing.

Now at this stage, I’ve no idea if we will win this business or not. But even if we don’t, I’m sure that this person will recommend us to others.

So what has all this got to do with measuring the ROI of a blog post?

First, I hear from a lot of people who are very cautious and sceptical about the value of blogging and its ilk. They want to know what kind of return you will get for investing time and energy in this activity.

The point is, when I wrote this post, I could never have predicted the response it would get (and this is only in the space of 24 hours). My reward for spending, at most, 15 mins reading some RSS feeds and writing the subsequent post could be worth £000s of business. Even if this particular lead goes nowhere, it has helped to enhance our word of mouth reputation a little further. And brought to my attention useful info I probably would never have come across in any other way (and by definition, it brings it to the attention of my readers as well). So a kind of Law of Unexpected Consequence is at play here.

I don’t want to go too overboard about one blog post – but if someone asks you about blog ROI, ask them how they would best maximise 15 mins of their valuable marketing time. And then point them point here.

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“Embrace digital till it hurts”: Chime Communications CEO

Well, almost. The latest Daryl Willcox digital PR video is now up – and according to Chime Communications CEO Chris Satterthwaite PR agencies should “embrace the digital world so firmly that sometimes some of your clients say you’re almost excluding everything else”.

Couldn’t agree more.

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PR is “deader than the journalistic trade”: Mike Magee

Mike Magee, founder of The Inquirer, co-founder of The Register and one time editor of PC Business World, has penned a rather amusing departing shot from Incisive Media. In a self described “final act of ennui”, he gives us the definitive Guide to Modern 21st Century Journalism.

He has seven rules for the budding tech hack (reproduced in full below). As Peter Kirwan says, it’s a sensible rant against Google-driven hackery.

Rule 1 did get me thinking though:

Totally ignore PRs. The PR profession is deader than the journalistic trade. What place is there for an agency PR person when all the vendors throw up press releases instantly copied by serried ranks of “data gatherers” so cutting out the middle bunnies?

Amidst the satire, there is a serious point about the role of a PR agency today. Clearly there is a role to be played, but it almost certainly doesn’t resemble the PR stereotype of yesteryear. Sadly for Mike, it will involve knowledge of SEO, analytics, etc – but should still include the basics of good content skills and media relationship talent. And personally speaking, I don’t see why booze needs to be cut out of the equation.

Finally, as Intel and AMD’s PR departments break open the champagne, Mike says he will be “at his wit’s end at the end of the month at what to do”. I think the Coach and Horses beckons – for old time’s sake.
I decided to buy this drug on Cheap Ambien Possible side effects are dry mouth, drowsiness during the day, constipation, etc.

Those rules in full:

Rule 1 Totally ignore PRs. The PR profession is deader than the journalistic trade. What place is there for an agency PR person when all the vendors throw up press releases instantly copied by serried ranks of “data gatherers” so cutting out the middle bunnies?

Rule 2 A Modern Journalist never leaves the office, never has a drink, unless it’s a non-alcoholic Pimms, never double checks a story, never takes a chance, and has a pathological fear of a telephone unless the Health and Safety Inspectors clean the mouthpiece and earpiece every morning before the tidy world begins.

Rule 3 Google is the robotic news editor which rules the roost towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A Modern Journalist can do nothing except spur Adsense sales by endlessly re-writing stories that appear on Google News, which may never have actually been broken by anyone but first processed by the more important class of “data gatherers” who get early access to the er, press release.

Rule 4 The Modern Journalist never “breaks a story”. That would court the ire of the serried ranks of news management spinners and would breach Rule 2 to boot. Plus, even if a story fell into her or his hands, it would have to be “gathered” and then “processed” through the serried ranks of lawyers who act as an expensive filter to ensure that no boat is rocked.

Rule 5 The Modern Journalist must have gone to “journalist school”, where she or he will be taught all the tricks of the trade, such as sitting in serried ranks, never going out, never using the phone, re-cyling the endlessly re-cycled, and shamelessly cohorting with legions of other “professionals” such as people that went to “PR school” and those that drink non-alcoholic Pimms. They must be taking other stuff to get them high, surely? An old-fashioned hack would never do that. We think.

Rule 6 Show your adherence to 21st Modern Journalism standards by mouthing marketing slogans in your copy at every turn. If you have a news editor, and she or he wants you to “break stories”, complain through levels of the organisation that you’re being pressured and abused because she or he is complaining that you’re just recycling either press releases or re-cycled chunks from Google News.

Rule 7 Make sure you ignore this so 20th century saying: “You cannot hope To bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But seeing what The man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to. – Humbert Wolfe, Over the Fire” Accept bribes gracefully.

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TWL (theworldsleading) returns as a social network – and other snippets

My thanks to eagle-eyed Peter Kirwan at the FullRun who noted our old blogging chum TWL has returned from a brief self-imposed exile. However, in keeping with the spirit of the times, the acerbic one has come back as a social network (courtesy of Ning). After only a few days, membership is up to 41.

TWL himself remains sceptical as to whether this format has legs: “The blog worked because most of the audience could be passive. Just sit back and read, be entertained, be appalled, be bored. It took no effort. It did for me though, which is largely why it came to an end. This’ll need a great deal more involvement from the members if it’s going to come to life.”

Whether user generated content can rival TWL’s fine wordsmithing remains to be seen. But worth keeping an eye on. Chris “Long Tail” Anderson seems to be a fan of Ning. In a recent interview, he said: “Ning has about 40,000 very niche, narrowly focused social networks. I think that is the right model going forward, with social networks being extremely granular, laser-focused on small, intensely narrow communities. They can perfectly serve those communities rather than forcing them to try and conform to a one-size-fits-all model.”

Speaking of narrow communities, I’ve just joined another new niche social network site – MarCom Professional. It appears to have been going since last October and has some nice features – not least being able to import and synchronise your own blog postings there. Again, early days, but worth a look.