OK, so as a PR consultant you’ve found a potential client. A bunch of people with lots of money and a triple-A business plan. You may even genuinely believe that you want to use their product, whether you win their retained business or not. Then things go horribly wrong; one of the ‘Man at Gap‘ clones that makes up the management team has read a book with a day-glow orange sleeve called The Cluetrain Manifesto and tells the rest of the group that they don’t need PR.
What is the The Cluetrain Manifesto?
In 1999, a bunch of technology guys kicked around how the web was affecting business, the method of communicating with each other and how people can make money. Out of this forum or conversation came some 95 theses or principles. Some of it was new, some of it was common sense wearing new clothes and some of it was hokum.
Like the bible its full of contradictions: take 19: Companies can now communicate with the markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance. So no pressure. Yet 21: Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humour.
Should you be concerned?
The Cluetrain Manifesto has a number of concepts that go against what you would normally do in PR. It complains that companies often don’t have a ‘human voice‘, it rails against the ‘homogenised voice of business, the sound of mission statements and brochures‘.
Most importantly number 26: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
How do you sell-in to these types of people?
Well for starters the book is based on the misunderstanding that PR is media relations with a bit of speaking to analysts now-and-again thrown in. So correct this misunderstanding, I recommend including this definition in your presentation to them: ‘Public relations is the art and science of building relationships between an organization and its key publics.’ The source of this gem is Wikipedia so in the audience’s minds it must be true.
Put simply you co-opt some of the good ideas in The Cluetrain Manifesto and blend them with best advice from a PR point-of-view. Developing conversations directly with the consumer, I’ve put some ideas below:
- Research- does the client know who their key influencers are? Is there an ecosystem of key influencers for them? Often in Europe there may not be, but research can provide the client with peace-of-mind that they’ve covered their bases. You can also repeat it on a regular basis to look for trends.
- Getting the client to write a blog, they may know their product and have the technical know-how to make a pretty blog, that doesn’t mean that you can’t sell their engineers creative writing courses and develop an editorial style guide cribbing all the best ideas from the 95 theses to cover items like tone-of-voice.
- Trade show participation, its horrible old school, but what better way of engaging in one-to-one conversations with your consumers? You can sell in all kinds of buzz marketing activity around this ideally including booth babes.
- Open days or parties. So your client can’t spring for a 30,000 GBP trade show spot, how about throwing a basic party during the summer months with pizza, drinks, Frisbee and as many users as can make it to interact with the management? Gauge how much of a success this is going to be by sounding out readers of the company’s blog with a post asking if they want to do a ‘meet-up’ before you go ahead with it.
- Speaking bureau: admittedly this only tends to work when your client has a star techie on board who is a celebrity in their own right or they have a sponsorship package already negotiated and paid for with a show
- Creative ways of interacting with key bloggers: (basically pre-briefing these wannabe Bob Woodwards, pander to their egos. Remember they were probably bullied in school so now want to make everyone else jump through hoops on their behalf.)
- Partner with a decent digital creative agency to sell viral campaigns so providing hooks around which the marketing conversation can happen
Much of the rest of it is common sense, the kind of stuff that you would advise clients to do if you were in a crisis situation: keeping the channels of dialogue open, not trying to keep things secret, being seen to be open-and-honest. Just get a hold of the book and use it to mirror the client vocabulary.