Match, pace, lead: Influencing across cultures

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend”

Albert Camus, 1913–1960

12 Nov
by Aspectus PR

Written by Martin O’Connor

influencing-across-culturesCulture lacks a universal definition. Broadly, it is the deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, and values; accumulated experience, which is socially constructed. I prefer to simplify it to ‘it’s the way we do things around here’. It embodies itself in national identities and corporate cultures, and it explains why people and businesses just do things differently.

Here is a first-hand account of an exercise that I use to show the opaque translation of business cultures across nations: When conducting seminars or workshops, I ask a delegate to stand with me and tell the group about a recent holiday experience. As the delegate speaks, I take hold of their hand, and nine out of ten times, they quickly pull away, much to the amusement of the group. The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate ‘culture clash’ in a light-hearted way and within a safe environment.

A question of culture

When dealing with culture in business, the key areas where ‘culture clash’ takes place tend to be around time (e.g. are meetings fixed or flexible?), following protocols versus building relationships, and hierarchy and status (can the boss’s judgement be challenged?). To judge this, it is crucial to look at the nexus of their communications. Are they direct and to the point? Do they communicate in emails of five words or five paragraphs?

The point is that no culture is one sided. A balance is struck somewhere between the two extremes. Finally, culture is not static: it changes regularly. Using the key areas outlined above, it would be quite easy, say, to plot a German company against an Italian company, or the finance department against the marketing department. It is important here to recognise that such an approach is based on generalisations not stereotypes.


Generalisations are not perfect, but can be helpful if you do not know someone or a company well and are trying to build a strong relationship early on. They can give clues as to what to expect, and how to behave and react accordingly. They can be useful, but become insensitive when laboured.

So what does this mean for influencing across cultures? If the start point is that we are aware and acknowledge that people and companies are different, the next stage is to ask ourselves: “What can I do to give a new relationship a higher chance of success?”

We have five broad choices:

  • Continue to operate your own way – this only tends to succeed when you have the power in the relationship
  • Do things their way
  • Compromise – give a little and ask for a little back
  • Stonewall – disengage and decide it is all just too much trouble or unworkable
  • ‘Our way’ – a genuinely shared way of working and relationship that all sides are comfortable with (this relationship often takes a lot of time to mature)

Heading to an ‘our way’

In the world of Neurolinguistic Programming, there is a technique called ‘match, pace, lead’. It is deployed by salesmen to clinch the sale at the end of the meeting.

I have found that this technique can be adapted to form new relationships across cultures. In these situations the ‘way others do things’ differs to what we are accustomed to.

Bearing in mind how behaviours are affected by time, status and hierarchy, it is wise to match them to those you wish to engage with. Stay in their comfort zone, build trust and inspire your contacts to have confidence in you. Do things ‘their way’. It is right for the relationship.

To avoid culture clashes, you need to head for an ‘our way’: a genuinely shared way of working that all sides are comfortable with in the pursuit of a common goal. By this stage, people will understand each others’ personalities better and where someone comes from becomes less important than what we do and where we are going.

There is no magic formula. But spending a little time considering the culture you are about to deal with – whether it’s national or business – can only increase the likelihood of creating and maintaining a mutually successful relationship.

Google’s answer boxes demonstrate appetite for E-A-T

Another month and another leak. This time it was Google’s search quality evaluation guidelines – the criteria its human website testers use to judge website quality. While this might not garner WikiLeaks’ levels of attention, some of the information revealed […]

04 Sep
by Aspectus PR

Another month and another leak. This time it was Google’s search quality evaluation guidelines – the criteria its human website testers use to judge website quality. While this might not garner WikiLeaks’ levels of attention, some of the information revealed is no less illuminating, and anyone with an interest in their digital presence should take note.


The standout point is that Google is placing a premium on excellent website content. One section of the guidelines states that website evaluations should utilise an ‘E-A-T’, or ‘expertise, authority, trust’ methodology. Presumably this means that for a website – or pages of a website – to be considered ‘excellent’, its authority and trustworthiness must also stand up to scrutiny.

Human testers are used by Google as part of its search quality team to help distinguish between good and bad search results. These evaluations are then used by Google engineers when search updates are rolled out. The new guidelines made particular mention of both high and highest quality results, which suggests that for websites to really stand out in search results they’ll need to hit as many ‘highest quality’ criteria as possible.

The key here is that with Google’s Hummingbird update last year, the prominence of semantic search and conversational searches has increased greatly. Google’s attempts at incorporating these aspects into its search results has seen a fairly dramatic increase in answer boxes, as well as in-depth articles and knowledge graph search results – all of which hinge on expert quality content.

Answer boxes in context

Answer boxes are the boxes that appear at the top of the organic search results and attempt to answer the question in the query. To demonstrate their growing significance, it is worth looking at a couple of examples of search queries relating to Aspectus PR’s sector expertise in financial services.

Taking financial services as an example, a relatively typical, if not common search query (260 times per month according to Google) such as, “What is a derivative in finance?” returns the following result on desktop:


The answer box appears at the top of the organic search results, which attempts to answer the question in the query.

The content for this answer is taken from the fifth result on the page. This is notable because Wikipedia, Investopedia and all rank above These sites are well known as sources for Google’s answer box results and are large and authoritative websites.

Therefore, there is a good chance that the content that explains financial derivatives on the website has positively checked enough boxes on the E-A-T scale to warrant Google using it over and above its usual sources.

The mobile search result shows how the answer box dominates the entire above-the-fold view:


The link to the page is included under the definition, and it is highly likely that significant amounts of organic traffic will be driven to the website – from both mobile and desktop – as a result.

Further examples include:

“What is a security in finance?”


“What is FX trading?”


“Who is the Governor of the Bank of England?”


These examples go some way to showing the range of “what” and “who” type queries and results that generate answer box results. Of course, most of these queries exist around answers with a fairly solid factual base, but Google’s current focus on understanding the meaning behind searches and how prominently they are displayed means that ever greater importance is placed on high quality content.

Businesses and brands that are interested in promoting themselves through their websites have an obvious opportunity to take advantage of semantic results for niche search queries. The acronyms and terminology in financial services is a case in point, but can just as easily be applied across myriad other sectors.

As ever, to achieve this with Google, the starting point to search result dominance is to create expert content on a website that is authoritative and trustworthy.

Tags: authority, EAT, expertise, google, SEO, trust,

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What the NYT’s ‘Innogate’ leak tells us about innovation in the digital era

The aftershock continues to reverberate across the media following last month’s leaking of a strikingly frank New York Times (NYT) report.

16 Jun
by Aspectus PR

New YorkOriginally intended as an internal document examining the challenges faced at the NYT, the report’s content, and the circumstances surrounding its leak, have proved divisive. Some call it a key document, others argue it could be a disaster. And just a day after the leak, the paper’s chairman and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. fired editor Jill Abramson citing on-going management issues.

While these two events certainly won’t go down as the finest days at the NYT, the travails outlined in the 92-page report raise some big questions being faced by many companies – and not just those in the media: namely how to innovate and remain relevant in the digital age.

Somewhat ironically, the NYT has a relatively strong track record of digital innovation, from being one of the first to create an uncluttered ‘news first’ homepage, snaring nearly 800,000 paying digital-only subscribers, to its lauded long form feature Snow Fall about the 2012 Tunnel Creek avalanche.

However, as the report points out, putting a lot of resource into big projects is not something that can be easily replicated or consistently produced. So, despite pockets of brilliance, the NYT is seemingly yet to find an effective way to put a cross-organisation digital strategy into action.

While the answers are far from simple, several nascent trends appear to be establishing themselves as conventional procedure, in an industry where the ‘digital first’ mentality is starting to dominate.

Continuous delivery

Continuous delivery is a technique that has been employed in software development for many years to streamline and improve the deployment of updates. It is well suited to the digital and online age, where website and app users quickly get to experience updates in features, functionality and appearance. Many of the big digital hitters including Facebook, Google and Amazon have adopted the methodology, and the Guardian makes its view clear on a dedicated developer blog.

For the media, it is probably the mindset of continuous delivery that is key. The notion of continual evolution in an un-pausing environment (the internet) means that nothing can ever be considered as being complete. As the NYT report states, it will become necessary to “push back against our perfectionist impulses”.

In the digital world, it is possible to publish brilliant content but promote it via what proves to be the wrong channels or at the wrong time, and therefore not achieve the pickup anticipated. Moreover, unlike with print, ‘mistakes’ can be rectified more rapidly and, with analytics and actionable reporting, a trial and error method enables publishers to pursue successful procedures more quickly.

Rapid response

A long established technique in the PR world, rapid response involves monitoring breaking or current news and adding a ‘this is what it means’ angle for a target audience. Arguably the basis of Buzzfeed, Upworthy and other ‘newsjacking websites’, the ability to continually repackage current content for an audience to share has seen Buzzfeed outstrip the BBC for website traffic.

The NYT’s report features the chart below that shows how the Huffington Post – one of the first big digital only news aggregation and blogging sites – dominates website reader traffic in the US.


Irrespective of whether or not this proves to be a passing trend, it is clear that speed, timing and creativity are crucial to news delivery. While there’s no substitute for great journalism, such as breaking the big story (the scoop), the ability to publish, promote, and rapidly repackage or repurpose to grab the attention of new audiences is one of the main challenges facing newsrooms.

Digital channel innovation

Arguably, there is no single brand or publishing entity that has yet to create a fully formed ‘multi-channel’ approach to its digital offering, but the statistics in the NYT report are particularly illuminating. Only 10% of its website traffic comes from social media, despite more than seven million ‘Likes’ on Facebook and 12 million followers on Twitter. By comparison, the report estimates that 60% of Buzzfeed’s traffic is generated by social media.

Given the New York Times’ reach, it is surprising it cannot generate a greater share of social traffic. The report details how its most effective newsroom social media users honed their skills in marketing or commercial roles, and emphasised the need for training for all editorial members involved in the publishing and promotion of content.

Although this issue may not be sequestered to newspaper and media publishers, the need for a coherent strategy that organisations can put into action when a story goes live is apparent.

Multi-screen media consumption

Here, Google’s Gmail may be a useful example. When a user checks their email using Google’s mobile app, the desktop or mobile website version updates almost simultaneously. Essentially, any actions taken in Gmail will be reflected across all versions a user can access.

News and media sector publishing also employs a similar concept.

BBC-news-sports-appFor example, the BBC’s sports app contains a stream of important news feeds that can also be found on its website, together with additional functionality such as linking to iPlayer so that programmes broadcast over the internet can be streamed directly through many portable devices. This multi-platform and multi-screen environment demonstrates the breadth and reach of digital publishing, where a story or event can be repurposed rapidly for consumption almost anywhere.

Design and user experience are also crucial. The trend of responsive websites that can render content intelligently to meet various screen sizes is likely to continue. The key challenge, however, is coherently linking all these properties, to build an effective platform for print and digital media.

Ultimately, ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place is absolutely crucial to being able to publish the right content in the right places at the right time.

Top 5 PR tips for Oil and Gas firms breaking into new markets

In the lead up to OTC 2014, Aspectus PR’s Laura Iley looks at how PR can support energy companies stepping into new geographical markets.

02 May
by Aspectus PR

Entering new markets is a complex process. From a communications standpoint, the task can seem particularly daunting, and none more so than in the oil and gas sector where there are countless companies with something new or interesting to say fighting for voice share on the global media stage.

The sector is one in which demand, innovation and new discoveries not only drive rapid company growth, but frequently call for entry into a new geographical market. As such, it is crucial for firms to tailor their communications strategy to the locale in question, set clearly-defined objectives for their PR activity in that region, and develop messages aligned to these objectives. Only then can a communications strategy be delivered effectively.

Here are Aspectus PR’s top five tips for developing an effective PR strategy that not only promotes interest in and understanding of your business, but ultimately, generates new business leads:

1) Do your research

Entering a new market requires a great deal of research. From a PR perspective, this means getting to know the local media landscape. You should consider:

  • Which publications are most relevant to your target audience?
  • Which news outlets are the most credible and influential?
  • Which journalists are covering your type of organisation and your competitors?
  • What events, themes and issues are driving the local news agenda?

Performing this type of analysis equips you with the business intelligence you need to ensure your communications activity delivers maximum impact for your business. It enables you to hit the ground running and greatly increase the speed at which results are realised.

For example, the introduction of new oil and gas regulations or tax incentives for offshore fields could significantly alter the course of your PR campaign. However if you have done your homework, you will know where the new opportunities lie.

2) Get the message right

Strong messaging lays the foundations for all future communications activity. So before you begin to communicate with new audiences, you need to be confident that your messages are appropriate for – and of interest to – your audience, the wider market, and aligned with the aspirations of your organisation. It is critical to review your key messages before embarking on a new PR campaign.

3) Use the right language

This might sound obvious, but entering a new market goes beyond simply translating your communications into the local tongue. Understanding cultural and linguistic nuances is equally important. So consider how your current messages translate and whether they resonate in another language. Translations can be particularly tricky when faced with industry-specific terminologies, so always check with an expert native speaker before publishing. And given that nuances often get lost in translation, it’s important to ensure you stay true to the overall brand message.

4) Don’t forget digital

It can often come lower down the list, but ensuring your website is optimised for different regions can actually make or break your success in a new market. Localisation can be achieved in a number of ways, but clearly defined sections are a must. For example, if you are looking to target Mexico, Malaysia and the Middle East, you will need site sections dedicated to each, and with localised content to match. You should also ensure the correct keywords in the local language are being targeted. As discussed earlier, a literal translation may not reflect what people actually search for.

5) Get social and network

Social media is a fantastic platform for raising your company profile and enhancing engagement with stakeholders in new regions, but it is important to find out which outlets are most relevant to your target audience.

Engagement via social media is also crucial for improving your online presence. The more engagement you have online, the better your search visibility will be. Getting to know people on the ground is equally important. Local businesses and media often prefer doing business with locals. Relationship building is at the very heart of PR, so this is an investment worth making.

A strategic approach to PR and communications

It is essential to recognise that PR is a long-term process. It can take time until you see the benefits, so you must be realistic and persevere. What’s more, measuring ROI is not always straightforward. You can, however, devise strategies that focus your approach in specific areas and make it easier to monitor the results.

This is where engaging an external agency can help. Bringing in specialist knowledge and expertise can ensure that the PR strategy and tactics you employ work as hard as possible to generate the highest return.

Aspectus PR has significant experience working with clients in the oil and gas sector. Our energy team is trusted by major international players, respected by journalists worldwide, and has a demonstrable track record in creating effective selling conditions for our clients in new markets.

Energy PR: Ensuring effective comms during the water-energy nexus shift

As water sustainability pressures increase, Aspectus PR’s Rosie Williams argues that it’s time for energy and water firms to rethink how they communicate around this complex topic and outlines three important steps they should take from a PR and marketing perspective to make the most of the changing market.

29 Apr
by Aspectus PR

The energy sector now accounts for about 15 per cent of the worlds’ total water use. This is the startling figure shared in March by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in conjunction with World Water Day, and is based on the IEA’s most detailed analysis to date of the energy sector’s impact on water sources. The supply of clean drinking water is also reliant on energy: energy is used to collect, transport, distribute and treat water.

The interdependence between water and energy is called the ‘energy-water nexus’. And as the battle for the centre stage heats up with increasing column inches dedicated to this critical issue, energy and water firms need to have a cohesive and targeted approach to PR if they are to communicate effectively around it.

Demand drives sustainability issues

Certainly, the pressures are building. The UN predicts that by 2030, the global population will need at least 40 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy. Already 768 million people lack access to clean water sources, 2.5 billion people have no decent sanitation, and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.

Moreover, the energy industry itself is undergoing dramatic change and one that will drive a significant increase in the amount of water it consumes. A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration forecasts that natural gas will begin generating more electricity than coal by 2035, largely as a result of the shale boom. But hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a water-intensive process; it can take millions of gallons of water to frack a single well.

Given the potential impact of the growing demand for water not just on the viability of future energy projects, but on existing operations and the additional costs anticipated, it is essential that energy and water companies adopt a proactive approach to addressing the issue of water sustainability. Those that get it right will be able to ride the wave that is poised to wash away the industry as we know it, and use a strategic approach to PR to keep one step ahead.

Essential energy PR steps

The key to brand survival is in effectively communicating a defined set of messages, while always keeping sights set firmly on overall business goals.

Of course, the energy sector has faced many PR challenges as a result of the changes seen over the last decade – from the liberalisation of energy markets across Europe, to the emergence of the smart grid and the growing penetration of renewable energy sources.

A lack of consumer engagement is all too often cited as a key issue for energy companies who are looking to innovate ahead of the changing market and experience has shown that more attention must be paid when adopting a more focused communication and PR strategy. There are three important steps that energy and water firms could take from a PR and marketing perspective to make the most of the changing market, while broadening and refreshing their campaigns overall:

1. Evaluate existing strategies

If your PR and marketing efforts are focused on appealing to your current address book, it’s time to consider a change – and time is of the essence. Begin by recognising the challenges being faced by your current audience; note the challenges that you are, and the ones that you’re not answering in your PR outreach. Then define new target audiences and the publications that they are reading, and note the challenges they are facing that your solutions can solve. Once you have outlined these key challenges, you can begin to identify several topical angles for PR campaigns, which will demonstrate your solutions to these key challenges. Bringing in external assistance at this stage can help by providing a fresh perspective and ensuring you establish a new strategy quickly, and provide a rapid response to news and events as they break.

2. Become famous for your thinking

Use your messaging and expert industry knowledge to develop a new, currently unexplored focus point, which addresses your target audience’s challenges and effectively grabs your readers’ attention. In the crowded media market, quality content is essential. Make use of informed copy, research, facts, statistics and third party contacts to give journalists everything that they need to develop your story.

3. Foresight for future trends

Campaigns take time to plan and implement, so the ability to spot future trends is invaluable from a PR and marketing perspective. Make sure you keep on top of the news by setting up relevant alerts that are delivered direct to your inbox. It can also be extremely worthwhile to bring in external PR support in this area. After all, it’s their job to always stay informed of the news and spot potential opportunities.

Following these three vital guidelines and adopting a more strategic approach to PR and marketing communications can ensure your firm’s voice will be heard, while helping it to actively engage with wider audiences on topics that affect everyone. Crucially, by being proactive, your firm can always keep one step ahead of the changing market.

This article is the first in a two-part series; keep your eyes peeled for the second part which will look at the ways that social media can be used as part of a rigorous and fully intergated public relations campaign.

High quality content still rules the digital media age

It may seem an old adage, but content remains King in the digital age. Thanks to the consumerisation and mobilisation of digital devices and IT (the means of production), the media has become real-time, more personal (on-demand, citizen-led) and global […]

27 Apr
by Aspectus PR

It may seem an old adage, but content remains King in the digital age. Thanks to the consumerisation and mobilisation of digital devices and IT (the means of production), the media has become real-time, more personal (on-demand, citizen-led) and global in reach and scope (networked). It has also become more dynamic, multi-dimensional, and instantly searchable and sharable.

Contrary to the belief that social networking, syndicated online publishing and citizen journalism have somehow diluted both the value (‘for free’) and quality of content however, it could be strongly argued that high quality, authoritative content is more valuable today than ever before.

Indeed, the rise of content marketing and the move towards brand journalism are shining examples of how the reverse has been true: that those producing content have been forced to improve its quality in order to successfully compete for eyeballs and crucially, to meet the ever more discerning guidelines set out by the world’s largest publisher – Google.

Defining ‘content’

In the world of communications, marketing and public relations (PR), content can describe information made available via traditional printed media, website or other electronic medium. This information can be in written form, it could be a video, a graphic, or a piece of audio content. It can even be a combination of two or more of these – an infographic being a good example.

Creating content as part of communications strategy is much like finding a perfect blend between two of the Oxford English Dictionary’s most recognisable definitions of ‘content’:

i. That which is contained in anything

ii. Satisfaction, pleasure; a contented condition

In other words, you need content with substance. Content that engages, informs and influences your audience, but at the same time keeps both your clients and your audience contented. The more cynical of the editors manning the gate between your clients and your audience would argue you cannot achieve both; that a PR-led article, sound bite or video clip will be too subjective, too tainted by ulterior motives or simply too ‘on topic’ and thus be wide of the mark.

Granted, this is a real danger. But it is the ability of a communications agency to identify the most relevant angle, build the arguments around it, and then carefully craft the facts into content that both matches the aims and messaging of the client whilst delivering an objective story satisfying its intended audience that ensures content has every possible opportunity to make it through the editor’s gate.

So what exactly makes good content?

Content that is well-written, informed, and accurate, is an obvious starting point when looking to identify the key traits of good PR. This is why it pays to employ a communications agency with former journalists amongst its number. Not all journalists make good PR writers, but those that have fully embraced the ‘Dark Side’ (as the PR profession is still known to many of them) and successfully made the transition can help you achieve these essential yet often neglected aims.

At the same time, creating quality content depends very much on serving the needs, expectations and desires of the audience. This is where a communications agency’s sector experience comes to the fore, because knowing the industry and the nuances of its verticals, its corresponding media and what its audience really wants will dictate just how well the content produced is able to engage with and ultimately influence its audience.

Consistency of content is also crucial. The spelling of names, places and titles can easily become confused, as can style. These might seem like simple hygiene factors but again, are all too often overlooked. Once you have settled on a style, be sure to follow it across all pieces of content, otherwise both your audience, and your client’s messaging could be lost in translation.

Content works at so many levels

There are a number of factors that make the creation of good content infinitely more challenging than in the past. The number of media channels has mushroomed and from the ‘hearts and minds’ perspective of PR, there is a dizzying array of channels available today. Combined with the ubiquity of the mobile phone (sometimes referred to as the ‘fifth screen’), the web, and social media, a vast mass of content is instantly accessible to users – wherever they might be.

The Indexed Web for example, contained at least 3.3 billion pages at last count, but since most savvy users know how to search this seemingly infinite universe of information, quality content can and will be found – regardless of subject matter, sector or industry vertical (i.e. whether it is long or short tail).

The ability of the communications agency to understand its client’s search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy, and identify and weave keywords, phrases and hyperlinks throughout the copy is therefore crucial, as is the ability to find new and interesting ways in which to present it multiple times and distribute it across and through multiple channels.

Moreover, quality content is vital to the sustainability of a campaign. Your company has a wealth of content that can be used to keep your PR engine properly fuelled and the coverage pipeline flowing, so why not find an agency that can keep the engine well lubricated and drive your company’s success even further?

Emphasis on quality content

When it comes to selecting your communications agency, you cannot afford to be content with lacklustre content. Given that the web comprises an almost limitless volume of information that can be accessed almost instantly via the internet, and that consumer devices mean today’s citizens are now the potential journalists of tomorrow, the pressure to deliver quality content has never been greater.

Great ideas and great stories make a significant difference, but they are wasted if poorly designed and delivered. This is why employing a specialist communications agency with the ability to find the right blend of ingredients and to prepare intelligent and creative content that is easily digestible, is crucial to gaining the competitive edge in today’s media-fuelled economy.

Some dos and don’ts for producing good content:

  • Don’t forget Rudyard Kiplings’ six honest serving men; don’t be too subjective; and [this will make my ex Editor-in-Chief smile] don’t over write or over elaborate
  • Do be persuasive, original, and emotive; do ensure accuracy of copy, facts and sources; and above all, do make content interesting
  • ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ – always remember the power of three

Tags: B2B PR, B2B PR content,

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Google’s guest post blacklist presents PR opportunity

Guest posting has become the latest medium to have been placed on Google’s blacklist of SEO activities.

11 Feb
by Aspectus PR

The SEO industry often finds itself in thrall to Google, and to one person in particular, its head of webspam Matt Cutts. His team effectively operates Google’s non-paid results police force. Sites deemed to have flaunted the search engine’s webmaster guidelines may face justice in the form of ranking penalties. Cutts and the Google Webmaster team produce plenty of useful videos detailing many aspects of website optimisation and, more often than not, he is answering questions from people who’ve kept on the right side of their rules.

Occasionally, however, he will tell people to stop using a specific tactic because it’s descended into the realm of what Google considers to be spam. At this point, there’s a good chance that Google will be looking to put a stop to it. Such a post appeared on Cutts’ blog in January stating:

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”

While the warning was pretty clear, he did acknowledge that guest posting as a promotional tactic had been around long before Google (and indeed the world wide web) existed. Guest editorials, opinion pieces, columns and letters to the Editor have long been a staple of the printed press.

But it is the “way to gain links” that is the salient phrase in Cutts’ statement, because it is their manipulation that most bothers Google. Put simply, a link from one website to another can count as a ‘vote of confidence’ for the content it links to, and is one of the most important of more than 200 factors used by Google’s ranking algorithm.

The issue is that both Google and web links are open to abuse, with some SEOs having spent many years looking to manipulate the use of links using a wide range of tactics to try and improve the rankings of the websites they are working for. The scale of the activity is such that Google has a page dedicated to link schemes it does not like. This page is worth paying attention to, because excessive use of these types of schemes is likely to get a website flagged and could potentially incur a ranking penalty.

While it is difficult to know Google’s exact definition of link spam, anecdotal evidence suggests that websites with large quantities of links from a small number of domains, heavily repeated anchor text links and links from irrelevant sites are those that might cross its threshold.

That said, many of these schemes have proved successful in the past, with many businesses taking the “Lance Armstrong stance” of: “If everyone else is doing it, then why not me?”

The answer is that while such schemes may work in the short term, significant penalties have been incurred by JC Penney, Interflora and, allegedly, Expedia.

Crucially, considerable time and effort is needed in recovering from these penalties.

So what does this mean for the PR industry?

While much has been made of the negative impact that the blacklisting of guest posts will have, for PR professionals there is a silver lining in that their skills should be in more demand than ever.

The objective of good quality PR is to: raise brand awareness, generate sales leads, increase website traffic or help clients penetrate new markets. In SEO terms, this activity can result in high quality links from one website to another. Rather than soliciting or even offering to explicitly pay for links, a PR campaign can create a great story that publishers are happy to link to.

Moreover, PR campaigns can help in the development and strategic placement of “marquee content” on a website, so this too can be promoted and linked to. As such, the ways in which PR can support the website optimisation process are myriad.

Google provides a succinct summary of how links should be perceived: “[They] are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

This is the mindset that needs to be adopted to ensure that the quality links required to get the best search visibility should be a by-product of great quality content and promotion, not a means to an end in themselves.

PR at the forefront of lead generation in the digital age

The convergence of media content, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and sales engagement is the new hotspot for PR. Now for the first time, PR can be used as a real driver for lead generation across all business environments and demonstrate […]

08 Jan
by Aspectus PR

The convergence of media content, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and sales engagement is the new hotspot for PR. Now for the first time, PR can be used as a real driver for lead generation across all business environments and demonstrate a clear return on investment.

Bottom line is that PR agencies have often struggled to demonstrate real value to sceptical Finance Directors. Coverage by the column inch has never really cut it as a serious form of measurement because too many questions remain unanswered. Chief among them has always been: so, when it comes down to it, as a business, what do we really get from all this coverage?

In response, PR has tended to lay dubious claim to misty areas such as brand building, profile raising and long-term attitudinal or behavioural change as essential elements of the PR value proposition. The problem has always been that, at best, PR can only really claim a partial role in any of these; and secondly, there is no reliable way of attaching any kind of measurement of its precise contribution to them.

On the other hand, mention the idea of associating an investment in PR with anything as down-to-earth and clearly measurable as generation of sales leads and agency account directors tend to go all wobbly and call for the smelling salts.

But at Aspectus PR, with our new model for integrating PR-led media content with search optimised websites and the creation of traffic to key sales engagement pages and opportunities, we are more than happy to hang our value-for-money hat on lead generation.

Our Search Integrated Communications (SINCOM) model, which is now used by more than half of Aspectus PR’s clients, is a process and method for creating a direct link between PR content and lead generation. It has been perfected over the last 12 months and we now have a substantial body of success stories and case studies.

The SINCOM process is detailed and rigorous rather than complex. It starts with an agreement on key messages: the things a client really wants to get into the ears of decision makers in their target markets. These can be quite raw; but they must be arresting, original and clear.

The next stage is developing these core messages into PR storylines to create platforms for all outbound media content, perhaps over a six or 12 month period. This leads on to a complete review of a client’s target keywords and the creation of a new keywords tree, starting with the top search terms and working down to longer tailed, more complex phrases at the bottom of the tree.

At this point, under the SINCOM process, we conduct a complete review of a client’s website. We focus on structure, content and how well engineered the site is for PR-driven sales engagement. Through our work in this area, we have developed a detailed knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and – more importantly – the best way of pushing new PR-driven visitors into sales engagement.

After any structural changes that are needed have been made to the client’s website, development of the PR content can begin in earnest alongside strategies for mainstream media and social media. We try and encourage clients who are inexperienced with, or nervous about, social media not to get too hung up about it. In terms of SINCOM, engagement with social media is simply a means to an end; the Google robots like it, so it helps improve search performance and drives quality traffic to the target website.

Benchmarking is important at the start of a campaign. This means looking in detail, not just at the volume of current web traffic, but analysing how long visitors stay, what pages they look at, what files they open, what videos they watch and so on. Examining and learning from these patterns of visitor behaviour are crucially important in this process.

As the campaign progresses, Google Analytics will reveal a great deal about how well it is working and what needs to be adjusted. Indeed, being flexible and prepared to change elements of the content and keywords in response to traffic data are key characteristics of SINCOM.

SINCOM is like an engine: all the component parts need to be working for it to fire properly. And since we designed and built SINCOM, we know exactly how to engineer and maintain it.

But if there is one element of SINCOM that has to be spot on for the whole thing to work, it’s the quality of the content. One of the great things about SINCOM – and indeed the crossover between the web and mainstream media – is that fantastic ideas and compelling copy are still what really count in PR.

The fact that you can get so much more value out of PR content and, using Aspectus PR’s SINCOM model, use it to drive sales in a way that has never been possible before, makes this profession more exciting and relevant today than it ever has been before.

PR and thought leadership: How to write and place a great opinion piece

Be honest now. How many of the zillions of opinion pieces that are published in the business media ad nauseam do you actually read? Not many, would be my guess. One of the problems is that most of them are […]

27 Nov
by Aspectus PR

Be honest now. How many of the zillions of opinion pieces that are published in the business media ad nauseam do you actually read? Not many, would be my guess.

One of the problems is that most of them are insufferably dull, both in terms of subject and style; and probably the only people who read some of the worst are the by-lined author, their spouses and the PR wordsmith who hacked the thing together in the first place.

Do opinion pieces actually have any real PR value at all?

The simple answer is that, in the right hands, they can and they should be effective.

Here is the Aspectus PR guide to successful opinion pieces.

Step One. Recognise at the outset that it’s much easier to place an opinion article somewhere in the media than it is to write a good one. The media like them – they are easy space fillers – and don’t always apply much rigorous judgement about their quality. But, as we’ve established, there’s little PR value in a tedious piece that nobody reads.

So start with a sound, original idea for your article. Give it a really good kick around to get it into shape before you even plan out the piece and apply some important tests. Is it going to impress your target audience? Is it going to make them want to engage with you and your company? Is it going to enhance the named author’s reputation? Is it consistent with the client’s overall message strategy?

Keep in mind that a good article should have many different applications, not just as a media piece. It should be adaptable and the basic argument or idea good enough to work as a blog, an outbound email, a Twitter post or even a text. It’s the idea that matters; the article is just one vehicle among many for getting it out there.

Step two. Let the writer do their job. A good article needs a good writer, someone who knows how people read and absorb information. The ‘author’, under whose name the piece is going to be published, should focus on the message for the piece and not get involved in the editorial process. So many opinion pieces fail because the copy is ‘improved’ by the client.

The writer understands the dynamics of a good piece: how to make it flow, how to make it easy to read and compelling.

No opinion piece should be much longer than about 1,250 words and they can be a lot shorter. We have produced some cracking articles of just 500 or 600 words. Never let the piece be longer than it needs to be.

Don’t forget to optimise the copy. Get plenty of your search target keywords into the copy. This will help your client’s Google performance and drive people to their website.

Step three. Aim to place the piece in the best, most appropriate media. Sometimes, it can be very tough going to get a piece into exactly the right media. But it is better to aim high with the article, perhaps taking a bit more time to place it than might be ideal, than to take the easy way out and dump it in some low grade trade mag that publishes more or less anything.

Good opinion pieces are often republished many times over and can have a direct impact on brand recognition and lead generation. Indifferent ones are simply not worth the effort.

Hedge funds discover the absolute value of branding

These are difficult days for hedge funds. Regulations in the form of AIFMD are forcing fund managers to think more seriously about the impact of compliance, the markets are static, and competition from other investment vehicles has never been greater. […]

22 Apr
by Aspectus PR

These are difficult days for hedge funds. Regulations in the form of AIFMD are forcing fund managers to think more seriously about the impact of compliance, the markets are static, and competition from other investment vehicles has never been greater.

They have also had to contend with the blows dealt to their image over the last few years. Even sophisticated investors don’t trust them in the way they once did. In an era when transparency is king, hedge funds are still seen as secretive and opaque, perhaps even dated.

Plotting a way forward has not been easy. Hedge funds are slowly trying to build bridges with asset managers, pension consultants and other influencers in the funds arena, but it’s hard work. All these stakeholders have clients of their own to consider and need to make judgements about how they would feel about using a hedge fund. It’s a double or sometimes even triple sell.

Part of the problem is that hedge funds have never before had to consider the issues of brand and image. Marketing has always been about producing the standard promotional materials in an attempt to highlight the quality of their top people, their performance, and their strategy. But when was the last time hedge funds stopped to think about the type of information investors and advisers really want?

People and performance will always be important, of course, but hedge funds need to consider other parts of their brand such as their attitude, their standards of client service, and their ethics. Impending regulation means costs are going to rise, and more funds will be needed on the balance sheet just to maintain existing profit margins, let alone see them grow. In what is already a challenging fundraising environment, it is clear that a formulaic approach to marketing will no longer work. The question hedge funds need to be asking themselves is: How can we stand out from the crowd and appeal to new clients in the wider investment community?

Quality, targeted marketing content is absolutely crucial. But it will be the hedge funds that consider the bigger communications picture that will really build confidence in their brand and image, as well as their strategy. This extends beyond traditional marketing techniques and takes time to develop. Hedge funds need to get used to the idea of using design, PR, and online media to build and sustain an image that will give the investment community the confidence to engage with them.

It’s not just a question of transparency and openness. Hedge funds have a lot of image baggage to offload and demonstrating they are completely in tune with the new evolving culture within the investment community is critical. That’s not to say that performance and strategy are any less important than they have always been – it’s simply how these are communicated that require significant attention.

The US is different, of course. There are more wealthy individuals for a start but following the JOBS Act, it seems likely that hedge funds of all sizes will embrace PR, marketing and communications much more strategically. UK and European hedge funds cannot afford to be left behind. Those that take marketing and communications seriously can create an advantage, giving themselves the best possible chance of emerging strongly from these difficult times. However, not all of them will.