Online PR: what’s it all about? An interview with Jonny Stark of immediate future

For this month’s interview I’ve managed to pin down the ridiculously busy Jonny Stark, an Account Director from online PR agency immediate future, to talk about online PR, using Social Media and, of course, Twitter.

Turner Ink: Hey Jonny, thanks for stopping by. Ok, tell us a bit about online PR. How does it differ from traditional PR?

Jonny Stark: People get hung up about the differences between online PR and traditional PR. But at their core they’re very much the same: it’s all about relationships. In the old world those relationships are with journalists and analysts. In the new world those relationships are with Facebook users, Tweeps, and bloggers – those with influence.

TI: So how do online press releases differ from offline press releases?
JS: The important thing with any press release is that it tells an interesting story. And that goes across the board, whether it’s online or offline.

The main difference is the issue of search engine optimisation (SEO). A press release for online use will be optimised for keywords or keyphrases appropriate for the campaign. We want anybody searching online for our clients’ products or services to be able to find relevant, positive articles as easily as possible. And you can embed video and images too, which bring the story to life.

TI: So that’s what’s often referred to as SEO PR?
JS: It’s one part of SEO PR: any news releases, blog content, or articles will be optimised with keywords. The other is the proactive influencer relations that go along with it!

TI: So is the aim to drive more traffic to a client’s website?
JS: The aim is to have the first few pages of Google full of positive, relevant articles, reviews or comments about our clients’ products of services. These include not only the press releases and official articles, but also features and posts written by third party influencers because they are interested in what we have to share or say. That can result in increased traffic, but it’s really about building a brand’s reputation…

TI: And how measurable is online PR?
JS: Well, there’s a lot of talk about this. It is measurable of course. There are tools like Google Analytics which measure the increased traffic to your site and the source of the traffic. But that’s only useful if increasing traffic was the aim of the campaign. If it’s about improving brand perception then it becomes a question of sentiment. There are various bits of software that claim to measure sentiment. But the best way is still to use real people! So we take a snapshot of a client’s online reputation at the beginning of a campaign and then we monitor it throughout. There is a ream of data available. The trick is knowing what data to choose and how to analyse it properly.

TI: How is Social Media used in online PR?
JS: Social Media is all about networks. Multiple communication channels which are all interlinked. And we simply use whatever’s the right medium for getting our message across to the right people. So it may mean focusing on blogs, YouTube videos, Twitter or Flickr. But the great thing is, as they are all networked, your campaigns spread out and kickstart conversations all over the place! Interaction is crucial. It’s what makes Social Media so powerful.

TI: Ok, talking of Twitter. How are your clients using it?
JS: BMI Baby, Sony and Total Jobs Group are just some of our clients that are using Twitter. And they’re using it in different ways which are right for their brands. For instance, BMI Baby uses it to let their customers know about the latest deals. While Sony uses it for targeting key media and technology influencers in Europe.

TI: So how involved are you with the tweets? Do you write them?
JS: No we don’t. We encourage our clients to write their own tweets. But we will advise them on relevant trending topics. And we monitor mentions and retweets using tools like TweetBeep.

TI: So why do you encourage clients to write their own tweets?
JS: Well, the whole point about Social Media is that it’s a way to be authentic and transparent with your customers. So whether that’s a Facebook page, Twitter, or blogging, it’s a way of adding a human element to the brand. For me, it’s about enabling a company to reveal itself and build a rapport with its customers. If a PR company writes tweets and blog posts then you lose that authenticity.

TI: How are brands getting onboard with Twitter?
JS: Some are using Twitter very well. Others are not as successful. There are numerous examples where a Twitter account has been set up but there have been no tweets for 6 months. This is actually brand damaging. You’re better off with nothing at all. I think a lot of companies underestimate the time that’s needed to manage their Social Media activity.

With Twitter no one size fits all. It’s really important a company has a clear idea of who they’re trying to reach – whether that’s industry people or customers – before they start using Social Media, and not the other way round. You can read more about brands using Twitter in immediate future’s white paper.

TI: What sort of clients does immediate future work with?
JS: When we started out, we were a traditional B2B PR agency. But in the last few years we’ve become well known for our online PR work for big brands such as Sony Europe, Bailey’s, BMI Baby, Hotel Chocolat and the BBC.

TI: So do you work alongside traditional PR companies? Or instead of?
JS: Some of our clients only run online PR campaigns. But most will do both. So we’ll often work alongside a traditional PR agency or we’ll do the offline PR as well.

TI: How will online PR develop in the next few years?
JS: I think that the digital discipline as a whole will change. Digital teams from CRM, marcomms and PR are beginning to converge already; in my opinion the future will see a full merger.

TI: And how do you see Social Media changing or developing in the next few years?
JS: Well, with regards to Social Media, it’s all about upcoming technological advances – semantic web; faster access including anytime, anywhere access; increased web personalisation etc. and the impact that they will have on our behaviour.

TI: And finally, how did you get into online PR Jonny? Do you come from a traditional PR background?
JS: Well I started out at the London School of Journalism, before getting in to freelance publishing and working for a number of traditional PR agencies. But with online PR the core skills are the same – being able to spot a story, building relationships… I think the best online PRs come from a traditional PR background, although I would say that!

TI: Thanks Jonny for your time. 


Jonny Starck, immediate futureJonny Stark, Account Director at immediate future, has worked across a number of on (and off) line campaigns for a wide variety of immediate future’s clients. From conversations about Hotel Chocolat’s luxurious chocolate treats, to talking about the new must-have TV from Sony, he has gained valuable experience as a digital implementer, not just a digital theorist.

As a result, he has seen firsthand what works and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t.




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