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Of course, I know the answer.
I know the answer because I’m one of the people who hate Excel. It is the bane of my existence. But, it’s something I need to know (and, I need to know it better), as I work with many Fortune 500 clients, and in that world, Excel and Powerpoint rule. And by rule, I mean R-U-L-E.
Many PR people hate Excel because it’s all about process. And, deep down, it’s about analysis.
And those are skills many PR people lack–and, don’t care that they lack. More importantly, those are skills PR people never learned–in school, or on their own.
But, those process and analytic skills are becoming more important all the time.
And it’s high time our academic institutions caught up.
I was discussing this very topic with a couple of professor friends last week. Here’s the crux of what’s happening.
Academia thinks liberal arts degrees prepare students for the real world. It’s about theories, concepts and well, liberal arts (and they’re right–it is, to a large extent).
The business world thinks students should graduate ready to hit the ground running, with some training (I may be speaking out of school here, as I don’t hire individuals, so I really have no basis here–just speculating based on what I see/hear).
Academia, despite what they may say, doesn’t care as much about preparing kids for the business world. If they did, wouldn’t there be classes in PR programs for video production, Facebook advertising management and Powerpoint development? Aren’t those some of the skills that employers need from young talent?
This is the same issue as back when I graduated almost 20 years ago. Back then, the internet was shiny and brand new. But, the conundrum was the same. Don’t get me wrong. I got a great education. I love my university (Winona State). I sit on the Alumni Board. But, what my school didn’t prepare me for was much of the technical (and somewhat important) parts of jobs I was applying for. At the time, that meant experience with programs like Quark and Photoshop. Those were discussed at a very high level in class–but we never dove in deep. But those were the skills employers were looking for. So, I taught myself.
Is that what we’re expecting kids to do now? Teach themselves digital strategy? Teach themselves how to edit video? Teach themselves how to run a native advertising campaign?
Because those are just some of the things employers are asking these kids to do today.
Is academia failing the future of our profession?
I know that sounds a little inflammatory, but I’m really just hoping to spark a discussion.
What do you think?
After just a quick peek at the Microsoft Stories site, you can’t help but be impressed.
Clean. Easy to scan. Big, popping visuals.
It’s a pretty slick site.
What’s more, dig in a bit, and the content is every bit as good as the wrapper it comes in.
For example, take the post about Microsoft’s “Garage” concept (titled “Inside Microsoft’s 24-Hour Idea Factory”). Just read through the first few grafs of that post. Doesn’t that read like a novel? The writing is fantastic. It’s well researched. And it’s clear, the author (Jennifer Warnick, who writes many of the Microsoft “stories”) has spent a great deal of time in the Garage as preparation for writing the story.
For those of you who write content for your company–when was the last time you actually spent time with the products or services you were writing about?
Then, look more closely at the posts. Notice how they’re produced. They’re not slapped together like some make-shift blog. Every post seems to be almost individually designed–I don’t see a lot of “templates”here.
What I do see is big, eye-popping visuals. I see large close-ups of employees and leaders. I see pull quotes (remember pull quotes?). I see unique artwork. I see illustrations.
This is high, high quality brand storytelling folks. And yeah, it’s Microsoft that’s creating it. This just in: They have a bit of money lying around.
But then again, so does Apple. And a number of other companies.
My point? Microsoft may have figured out the key to fantastic brand storytelling–and I think it goes something like this…
Right on the front page is the story of Kevin White, program manager at Microsoft. And what do we see in the photo promoting the story? Kevin working with Bing, the platform he’s responsible for? Kevin collaborating with his team at Microsoft HQ? Nope. We see Kevin sipping wine. Wait, what? In fact, the story begins by talking about Kevin and his winery, with few mentions of Microsoft of his work (we get to that later). And, that’s the rub. They could have told the story of a smart program manager working on the latest updates on Bing. But, they chose to tell the story of a part-time winemaker who happens to work at Microsoft. Sure, they worked in the “work” angle later in the story, but what MAKES the story is the combination of his interest in wine-making and his chemist/data-mindset. Many brands write these kinds of executive and employee stories. But, they frequently fail to let that human side of the story come through because they’re so worried about promoting the brand. Forget about the brand for a moment. Your EMPLOYEES are your brand. Promote them. Promote their passions. Their interests. Their loves. And your brand will eventually win. Microsoft has figured this out.
As a teenager and college kid, ESPN the Magazine was one of my favorite magazines. Sure, I loved sports, but it was the layout and format of the magazine I loved. It was easy to read. Big visuals. With well-designed graphics that helped tell the story–or pique my interest. Take a run through a few of the Microsoft Stories–you see the same thing. Take the story titled “Digital Detectives”, for example. First thing you notice: Black background. Second thing you notice is the embedded graphics (a few grafs down)–just like a magazine story! That whole story–it just FEELS like a story I’d see in ESPN the Magazine.
If you look closely at the Microsoft Stories site, what’s the one thing you DON’T see? Social share buttons, for one. And also: Comments. Hmm…strange for a corporate storytelling site, don’t you think? Not if you’re focused on one thing, and one thing only: Content. For example, this 88 Acres post that really effectively launched Microsoft Stories is really 8 different posts in one–a chapter-based blog post, if you will. And, it’s all about the story. Now, the drawback to this intense focus on “story” is the Microsoft folks lack a couple of key potential measurement signals. But, if they really are focused more on corporate reputation and sentiment (which, by the way, is what the Microsoft folks themselves say), then social signals and comments really may not matter as much as they would for other blogs/sites that look more closely at shares and impressions. And, it also allows the content team to focus on what it does best.
Now, not EVERYTHING Microsoft does on the site is perfect. For one, they still have too many employee profiles on that front page (14 of 21 to be exact). I mean, I’m on board with showcasing your employees, but if it’s me, I’d like to see a bit more balance.
I also don’t like the 3,000-plus executive message from CEO, Satya Nadella (yes, 3,000 words). Long-form content is fine, as long as it’s an interesting narrative–and we all know executive messages will never be classified as “interesting narratives.”
But, that’s nit-picking. Like I said, overall, Microsoft Stories may be one of the better corporate storytelling sites I’ve seen to date.
What do you think? Has Microsoft really hit the nail on the head here?
In a year of huge social media job moves, unquestionably the biggest was the decision of Scott Monty to leave his long-time job at Ford, then deciding to join Todd Defren, Christopher Penn and the ranks at SHIFT later in the year.
Kevin Hunt and I had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with Scott this week to discuss his new role at SHIFT, the state of content marketing, and what he sees as the future for the PR industry. As usual, Scott had some pretty interesting things to say. I hope you’ll consider giving this 20-minute interview a quick listen.
SHOW NOTES – September 25, 2014
Scott Monty http://www.scottmonty.com/
SHIFT Communications http://www.shiftcomm.com/
OK, I know what you’re thinking. He’s writing a post about a significant industry thought leader in hopes of landing a RT or share.
I would have been guilty of that charge…5 years ago. Now: I could care less if Jay reads this post (no offense Jay, if you do in fact read it).
What I do care about (and continue to be astonished by) is the way Jay creates, curates and distributes content on a daily basis–better than almost any brand.
In fact, I think brands could learn a TON from how Jay creates, curates and shares content. I mean, I’m sure he would love it if you would pay for him to tell you how to do this, but really, you could learn a whole bunch just by WATCHING what he’s doing.
More importantly, let’s look at the way Jay creates and curates content in as little time as humanly possible:
Jay’s “e-newsletter”–One Thing–is smart. He sends a daily email to subscribers that’s made up almost entirely by other people’s content. Oh sure, he sneaks in his own stuff–usually right at the top, but it’s usually full of 3-5 posts, events and reports/studies by Jay’s partners, friends or sponsors. This way, Jay is in front of you every day with useful and relevant content (sure, it’s a bit salesy sometimes, but he does a nice job of not over-playing that)–content that is mostly created by OTHER people. Many brands struggle to create content that would sustain a daily e-newsletter–but, like Jay, could you CURATE content to get that steady stream going instead?
Jay recently unveiled a new outpost to his content empire: #JayToday. It’s a short, three-minute video where he shares a quick-hitting piece of advice, and promotes a few sponsors. But, that’s not really all that ground-breaking on the surface. What IS smart about this approach though is how Jay is almost always (appears) to shoe-horn it into his day in some way, shape or form. So far, from what I can tell, he’s recorded these #JayToday videos from: a busy street in Fargo, an airport lounge, many conference rooms in whatever building he’s working in that day, and potentially his backyard. The lesson? Jay most likely didn’t have time to add ANOTHER content piece to his plate. But, he knew he could knock out these 3-minute videos no matter where he was, with the right technology (his phone). So, the next time that client tells you they just don’t have the time to create content, point them to Mr. Baer’s #JayToday series.
I’m very jealous of Jay’s “Social Pros Podcast”–mostly because I really wish I had come up with that idea first. So simple, but so brilliant (real pros doing real work in social). But, from a content creation point of view, what’s extra smart about the way he set the podcast up is his guests do most of the work. Sure, he has to find and schedule them. Sure, he has to craft a few questions for the interview itself. But, for the most part, the content the guests bring is the main attraction. I’m guessing Jay does maybe a half hour of prep for each show–that’s not all that much considering what he’s getting in return (awareness, and a chance to get to know all these guests he’s having on his show, who by the way, are all potential clients). Really, really smart.
So, I don’t want to hear that you’re too busy to create content. Everyone’s busy. The better response would be “content isn’t a priority for me.” Because believe me, if Jay Baer has the time to create a content empire like this–your client certainly has the time.