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Recycled Friday: Is £2.5 billion really spent on press releases in the UK?

I was inspired by the following comment from @adcontrarian in his latest blog post:

Because I am a lazy bastard and the thought of writing five posts a week is a constant source of terror, I have decided to introduce a new policy around here. From now on, on Fridays,  I’m going to recycle old posts that I like and that are still relevant. Today is our first Recycled Friday.

What a great idea. Having nearly 600 posts over 7 years gives me a good back catalogue to plunder.

Without further ado, here is a post I wrote five years ago – has much changed? You be the judge.


New survey conducted by Benchmark Research on behalf of Glide Technologies has thrown up some interesting, if not entirely unsurprising, results about the PR industry in the UK today.

The full report is here:

Glide PR survey

However, the one item that caught my eye was the calculation that  £2.5bn is spent on press releases in the UK. This based on the survey finding that 39pc of PR professionals time is spent on creating, distributing, and following up on press releases – and the estimated total size of the UK PR industry at £6.5bn. Couple that with only 32% of releases received by the media being of genuine interest, then I calculate that means £1.7bn is being wasted on irrelevant press releases.

Although I’d take this calculation with a pinch of salt, it would be fair to say that an awful lot of money is still being spent (and wasted) on the humble press release.

The survey also highlighted a clear discrepancy between journalists desire to be contacted by email and PRs who still overwhelmingly use the phone.

I know the reasons for both sides views. Journalists have been jaundiced by too many wasteful phone calls along the lines of “did you get my press release”, or are you attending exhibition X (see Phil Muncaster of IT Week vent his spleen re: the pre-InfoSec deluge of calls asking him whether he was going – Muncaster InfoSec rant )

On the other side, PRs often feel that they will get more “attention” by actually talking to the journalist. Though of course that still means you need a good enough story to give them.

My take on the survey as a whole is that is shows the same old values still apply to PR in terms of media relations – journalists will give the time of day to a trusted source – but even that doesn’t guarantee they will use a story. Perhaps some of that wasted £1.7bn could be spent on training PR professionals to get better at becoming trusted information sources.

Other findings below:

81% of Journalists on a desert island opt for laptop over a phone

Email remains the most popular delivery format for journalists. Fax, post, newswire, PDA and SMS all decline. RSS and IM emerge.

76% of journalists more likely to use press communication with photos etc.

89% of journalists will visit an organisation’s website most of the time when writing about them

Journalist Complaints

Poor use of email (e.g. sending large attachments) accounts for the two greatest online deterrents to journalists

Only 32% of releases received by the media are of genuine interest

73% of journalists think an organisation is ‘not media friendly’ if its online press information is poor. 60% think they’re ‘lazy’, 50% that they’re ‘incompetent’.

Research conducted by Benchmark Research.

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The Economist confirms: “Blogging is useful and versatile”.

From The Economist, November 8th 2008 regarding blogging (Oh, Grow Up):

“Gone, in other words, is any sense that blogging as a technology is revolutionary, subversive or otherwise exalted, and this upsets some of its pioneers. Confirmed, however, is the idea that blogging is useful and versatile. In essence, it is a straightforward content-management system that posts updates in reverse-chronological order and allows comments and other social interactions. Viewed as such, blogging may “die” in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died. A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars. Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone.

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UK search marketing agencies vs UK PR firms (updated)

NMA recently published its “league table” of UK search marketing agencies – the equivalent of PR Week’s Agency top 150. Admittedly it only contains 36 firms, but it is interesting to compare with PR Week’s list – both for general PR and tech PR.

For example, the number one search marketing agency is The Search Works recording an £88m turnover for 2007. Quite impressive when you consider that the company was only founded in 1999 and employs a mere 64 staff. Number one in PR Week’s league table is Bell Pottinger with fees of £52.5m and 467 people (and before anyone asks, of course, we aren’t comparing like with like ie turnover with fees – but I’ll come to that in a minute).

Number five search agency Steak Media was only founded 3 years ago and has already raced to over £20m annual turnover. Number 5 PR firm Citigate Dewe Rogerson turned over £25m last year – though it has been around considerably longer.

According to my calculations, the combined turnover of the UK’s top 36 search firms is around £330m, employing around 1300 people in total. Contrast that with the top 40 UK tech PR firms who brought in around £71m in fees last year and collectively employ around 850 people.

Of course, the billing model for search agencies and PR firms is different. Search firms business tends to fall into three broad camps – paid search, natural search and other stuff (which can be a mix of anything from e-mail marketing, affiliate networks, etc). Based on the NMA figures, the average search firm seems to get around 50pc of its sales from paid search, 25pc from natural search and 25pc for other activity.

Paid search is renumerated either via commission or management fee basis. As far as I can glean, commission varies between 5 and 15pc (though Google Best Practice Funding is due to end at the beginning of next year). This is a traditional ad agency model and you can thus begin to see a correlation between those agencies with high turnover and the majority of their revenue coming from paid search. For example, 90pc of The Search Works business comes from paid search – likewise Steak Media (around 80pc).

Natural search is much more akin to the PR fee model – so those agencies that tend to do more natural search may well have lower turnovers, but have higher margins than paid search. For example Netrank has a turnover of £1.3m and 35 staff – but 100pc of its business is in natural search.

Various sources have pointed out that some search firms that rely upon paid search (and specifically the Google BPF rebate) may be in trouble come next year. However, those that have taken a management fee approach or are moving more work into natural search seem well placed. Interestingly, the move to a fee based, natural search offering seems to parallel issues for PR agencies. It requires more human beings ie brains to do it properly – and thus you hear from various quarters that there is a growing demand for people with the right kind of skills to be able to deliver on natural search. As far as I know, unlike PR, there are no MAs in SEO and online marketing yet – so the search firms are having to train people themselves.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see why the worlds of search and PR are going to get closer together in the future – to borrow from Deep Throat in All The President’s Men: “Follow The Money”.

As far as I can see at the moment, the profitability of search firms is generally better than PR agencies. Whether that will last remains to be seen.

NOTE: This is an updated version of this post – my thanks to Nick Clarke at Profero for pointing out that I’d got the figures wrong for the percentage volume of their natural search business. I have thus replaced it with Netrank as a more accurate example.  My sincere apologies to Nick and Profero – it’s called looking in the wrong column on the spreadsheet with tired eyes.

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How freelance journalists and writers can use Google’s Keyword Tool to get work

I’ve already blogged about Google’s Keyword Tool now displaying absolute search volumes. I thought it would be worth looking at a practical example. I keep hearing from various freelance journalist and writer friends that it is tough finding commissions these days – not just journalistic work but also PR and general copywriting. It occurred to me that perhaps they could put their writing talents to good effect by testing the water with some PPC advertising (this presumes of course that they have a blog or website – and that it is properly set up to capture and convert traffic).

Here’s a quick look at some fairly obvious keyword terms – the first figure shows the search volume in the UK for June 2008 and the second figure the expected cost per click for a 1 – 3 ad position.

Copywriting 33,100 £1.29
Copywriter 14,800 £1.02
Media training 8,100 £2.01
SEO copywriting 1300 £2.76
Web copywriting 1,000 £1.85

Clearly not all of these searches will be from people seeking paid-for copywriting work – but surely some of them will be. Even gaining a tiny percentage of response from some of the more popular terms would hopefully convert into work that would justify the ad spend (I’d certainly suggest setting a nominal initial budget and test from there).

The media training result was also interesting. I know a number of journalists offer media training services – over 8000 searches in the UK last month suggests there is clearly a lot of interest in it – and surely a percentage of that must come from people seeking to buy media training?

On a different tack, I looked at a few phrases containing “How to start a (insert company type)”

The results below are the searches for last month along with the trend:

How to start a publishing company (73) Falling
How to start a record company (46) Falling
How to start a clothing company (36) Rising

I wonder who those 73 people are out there dreaming of starting their own publishing company? I wonder how many journalists are in that number? However, it would seem the current trend is down – as is starting a record company (no surprise there I guess). Though rag trade interest seems to be rising – albeit from a very small base.

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“Online journalism is about more than just writing”: Chris Green, Editor, IT Pro

IT Pro Editor Chris Green has written a very good post regarding the changing nature of online journalism.

(In tune with the zeitgeist, he says he was prompted to write the piece after he made a Twitter comment about his traffic/contributor analysis – and I and others asked him for more detail).

Specifically, he highlights things that he believes freelance writers will need to consider and change their working practices to incorporate. If you substitute the term “PR” for freelance writer, much the same principles apply.

For example, on SEO, Chris says: This is key to the future of online publishing. All writers, whether they are in-house or freelance need to understand the importance of making copy search engine-friendly. That means understanding how search engines interpret content, how they look for keywords and what relevant keywords are popular at the time of writing and publishing. Writers also need to track the online zeitgeist to understand what search terms, themes and trends are popular, in order to incorporate them, where relevant, into an article.”

PRs also need to adopt a similar methodology and mindset.

On Content Seeding – CG: “With publications looking at the audience traffic an article receives as a measure of success (as well as looking at traditional elements such as whether it is well written, accuracy, relevancy and how current the information is), the writer needs to take on some of the responsibility for promoting that article and extending its reach. That means seeding links to content to relevant locations where the links will bring in additional traffic. Also, think about whether the piece you are writing will appeal to the audience of the popular social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Slashdot, StumbleUpon and Reddit. We want readers to submit your content to these services, and it is in the interests of the writer as well for readers to do this.”

The role that PR can and should play in “promoting” relevant editorial content is an interesting one. Or what role PR can have in helping the journalist create the content in the first place.

On comment Generation – CG: “Your piece needs to spark debate among readers. It needs to encourage them to post comments, engage and debate other readers on that site. The conversation should not end with your final paragraph, but should stimulate the reader to participate in the conversation, add knowledge and share alternative viewpoints.”

The PR debate about “conversation” has raged for some time. PR will have an increasing role to play in encouraging and helping clients to get actively involved in these kinds of fora.

On Multi-skilling CG: Online journalism is about more than just writing, it is about providing complete coverage in the most appropriate media form, and doing it in as timely fashion as possible. You are covering an event for a publication; you need to consider visual elements as well as written. Think about how you can incorporate video, audio and images into the piece to maximise the effectiveness of the piece. Waiting for images to be sent over from a company or PR agency may be counterproductive to publishing a timely and informative piece, so be prepared to take your own photos, shoot your own video and record audio content for inclusion in a podcast. You don’t need thousands of pounds of equipment to create audio or visual material that is suitable for publication.”

I absolutely agree with Chris that the tools to produce multi-media content are now cheap and easy to use (as are many of the traditional tools used in PR). But the tools are only 10pc of the issue = it’s the 90pc of skill/training to produce quality content that matters – and who is going to fund the training in these new areas? Simply taking a good print journalist and asking them to suddenly acquire top notch audio and video content skills is a big ask. And is everyone capable of being a great all-rounder? Eg I have a great face for radio.

Some other thoughts:

I wasn’t sure from Chris’ post whether he is assuming that all traffic is equal? eg in the case of IT Pro, are IT Directors more “valuable” in traffic terms than a junior developer? i.e. is it possible to reward a writer who attracts a smaller but high value audience (in terms of value to potential advertisers and/or marketing partners)?

I also wondered whether the traffic/performance measurement analysis and reward process applied to Chris and his editorial staffers rather than just freelancers 😉

Anyway – read Chris’ full post – it is worth the effort.

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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.

Web/Tech Weblogs

Predict the future with Web Of Fate

My thanks to Mashable for the tip on a new site called Web Of Fate:

20-word Description: Web of Fate is a semantic analysis engine that extracts meaning from historical, present and future events and draws connections among them.

CEO’s Pitch: The Web of Fate semantic analysis engine can visualize and uncover hidden relationships among historical, present and future events allowing people to:

– Study the flow of events and decision paths chosen by historical figures.

– Take snapshots of the exact state of when a predictive event is made. So future generations can understand why certain choices were made.

– Identify trends, locate anomalies, detect threats and track multiple/alternate futures with FutureGraph.

Web of Fate also provides semantic web services, allowing users to integrate semantic and decision analysis into their own products and services.

It is quite an intriguing concept. I particularly like the Quote feature that allows you to highlight predictions made by 3rd parties – and then you can check back at the appropriate time to see whether the prediction came true or not (and how likely other people think the prediction will come true) – so checking on, say, Gartner predictions now becomes easy.

You can enter your own predictions – perhaps, I intend to get a client featured in the Financial Times – and people can then vote on how likely the outcome might be. Could be a useful tool for setting management expectations appropriately.

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Weird scenes inside Charlie Hoult’s goldmine

Actually, not weird at all – but gave me an excuse for a gratuitous Doors song title reference in the headline.

For those who keep an eye on these things, you’ll know that Charlie Hoult has recently changed roles at Loewy Group – from CEO to VP of corporate development. He remains the largest single shareholder and is now casting his not insignificant entrepreneurial eye to new projects. As his Opencast Project blog says, he’s looking for the next big thing in digital marketing and business. If anyone is going to find it, don’t bet against Mr Hoult.

Expect a steady stream of interesting developments over the coming months from Opencast.

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Wikipedia’s definition of Digital PR

This Wikipedia entry for Digital PR is curious for a variety of reasons.

First up, it has clearly been flagged as an orphan entry (ie few or no other articles link to it). Second, it has been marked as a blatant piece of ad fluffery.

And when you read it, you note the very poor use of English. The final line had a certain odd quality to it:

“Digital PR is also a new style of pr not just an agency! Many agencies do this form of pr not just the above group.”

Which seemed a rather mangled way of saying “other PR agencies are available.” As well as a lame attempt to make out that this item had been written independently.

I was curious to know more about this H&K division – clearly I’d missed something. On checking out the Digital PR web site, I discovered that they are: “an agency specialized in the research and implementation of the most advanced digital communication tools.”

Hmm. Lots of non-existent links. Garbled English at every turn. The most recent “news” dated from May 2007.

Perhaps these guys could do with some help. It was only after looking at the contact page that it revealed they are based in Milan (they also have an office in Madrid). I’m sure the copy is fine in Italian and Spanish – but it felt like they’d hired a cheap translator to do the English version.

However, I came away with a general sense that they were shooting themselves in the foot – as well as, by association, tainting the view someone might get of H&K’s overall capabilities in this area.

Having a key search term like “digital PR” linked to a high ranking Google slot (via a Wikipedia entry) would on the surface appear to be a good thing – but allowing this entry to remain there –  as well directing English language speakers to unhelpful content – (if they can even be motivated to click on the link as most people will realise it is a very unsubtle plug) does seem rather counter productive – both to Digital PR and H&K.

Anybody who feels like helping Digital PR to remove this unhelpful Wikipedia entry can of course go here.

Not only that, but we could do with someone writing a more detailed and objective entry to replace it. Any takers?

Wikipedia entry on Digital PR

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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.