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The living, breathing strategy: Richard Medley, Spider PR

Listen, be generous and useful, blur edges and provoke a reaction - these are the key elements to any successful brand campaign in today's fast-evolving and experimental media landscape.

Rules change. Audiences evolve. Channels breed. So if there is a constant challenge for marketers to embrace, it is one of experimentation - to find the smartest ways to listen to, learn from, and sustain, a fan base.

That may sound a risky world to be in - too much about losing control and abandoning traditional expectations. However, brands have already lost control thanks to social media's lack of respect for rules. At every new-business meeting, we always surprise the client with online chatter about its brand. The unleashed customer is increasingly independent-minded, and is not afraid to share his or her thoughts.

This is a good thing for marketers as more relevant, business-led PR approaches stand out. For Spider PR, it is about supporting the core proposition with a range of disciplines: a social-media newsroom increasing the ease of journalist interplay; a team of thousands on call as a test-bed to share, overnight, real-world thoughts (or simply get out there and sell); and a brand consultancy present at the birth of products and providing road maps for business owners and entrepreneurs for whom ad budgets and TV spots are not the way forward. All of which is fluid, relevant and an upgrade on many people's expectations of PR.

The imperative to move from traditional to experimental is far from being woolly or unfocused, and about being flexible and receptive. PR is the function that best understands spontaneity, instinct and the mood of the moment. More than ever, it is about being fleet of foot in today's new world order, where to simply edge along risks failure.

The investment in PR as a 'living strategy' capitalises on delivering what people want, when they want it. Marketing operates in real time, and that's where PR comes in. For campaigns of real relevance, Spider PR's mantra, which follows, is fourfold.

Listen. We are all good at talking, but this is the listening generation. If we don't know what the audience wants to hear, how do we know how to put across key messages, framed correctly? This isn't about death by focus groups to reach the expected outcome, but about recognising that finding the right opinion-formers online - the gatekeepers to conversation - is much more personal, effective and engaging than just broadcasting to the many. Understand them, listen in and be best placed to have a conversation of real live value that will spread. Effective narrowcasting allows for much more targeted communication.

Be generous and useful. If it isn't shareable, then it isn't interesting. A simple test, but it's easy to fall into the trap of loving one's brand and missing the key question of whether your audience will care enough to pick up the 'did you know/hear/see' traction that is needed. The art of generous and useful storytelling goes hand in hand with listening. So mass-media releases give way to bespoke journalist conversations, needs and solutions, and big ideas are what communities of interest (online or real) will genuinely embrace and build on. PR-led storytelling is the starting point, but how well the story grows and the extent of its impact are the measures of success.

Blur edges. The best content is portable, working across channels.

From a PR perspective, it's important to see audience, staff and customer-service teams as one. There may be message tweaks, but the customer won't see a dividing line between marketing and their own direct interaction with you, or between what they read in the media and what they engage with online. It had better all join up and be shared internally.

Provoke a reaction. At Spider PR, we believe that inspiring active impact is a business imperative. AVE should have been binned years ago as a measurement tool, but it has hung around like a poor definer of industry capabilities when what we can be instead is commercial, sales-driven, listings-gaining, traffic-driven and real-fan-base-building. If your PR is just data on a spreadsheet, then it's time to park tradition and embrace experimentation.

I repeat: tradition needs to be parked and evolution embraced - as we have done, having spent the past 12 months evolving from our own 20-year story as The SPA Way into the bright and silky, but still independent, Spider PR.

We know that change is exciting for the forward thinker.

From Marketing's PR essays supplement October 2011


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