The Future is Knocking Too Loudly to be Ignored: Or, what I learned from one Amazing Social Media PR Campaign

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the sense of a departure from what we are now doing at Sarum and what more traditional B2B PR has been about – that we, as a consultancy, are starting to put clear water between what we do for clients and what most hi-tech agencies offer. This all came to a head recently with some really amazing work that we did for our client AIIM, the global information managers’ professional body, and its ‘World Paper Free Day’ campaign (and which I have previously flagged up here).

WPFD-Twitter_81x81‘World Paper Free Day’ – which I will now, deliberately, call by its hashtag #WPFD, for reasons that will soon become pretty obvious – is an annual push by AIIM to make people and businesses alike think about their possible over-reliance on paper. If you think about it, we can end up producing, consuming and generally pushing around lots and lots of the stuff, even in this supposedly electronic and digital age.

#WPFD is all about getting us to reflect on that, for just 24 hours, and to think about redesigning processes to make better use of IT to increase efficiency and generally be ‘greener’ too (the campaign is tied to a well-known US tree-planting charity, The Arbor Day Foundation.

There are a lot of issues and values here that I personally respond to, so I was interested in this from the start. I became a lot more interested and focused when I started to think about how this could be a project that didn’t just use the usual tools of PR – the content, the press outreach, the traditional metrics of success – but really embrace social. I’ve been banging on long enough about how social media often gets misused and turned into a blunt instrument by conventional marcomms folks… maybe it was time to take a bit of my own medicine and put my money where my mouth was?

Real buzz

Well, the long and the short of it was that we did just that: we, the Sarum team, working with the client, really put some energy and purpose into #WPFD. And did we get anywhere?

I think the results speak for themselves: in just under four weeks we turned what had previously been a fairly low key activity into one that garnered real online traction and which is being classed as a major success by the client.

To be more specific, we got #WPFD attention across Google+, LinkedIn, FaceBook and most especially Twitter – getting real buzz, with people all across the world responding hugely to our collateral, which ranged from some witty imagery that got picked up (my fave is the security guard blocking use of the office photocopier, but there were a whole bunch of other funny/thought-provoking images, blogs and videos out of this) to huge amounts of chatter, campaign website visiting, sharing of ideas and best practice… all culminating, right at the last minute, which a great pick-up by online collaboration and productivity outfit Evernote , which ran with the campaign almost at its end and helped generate truly global activity to bring it to a triumphant climax.

legsSo, great work there. But much as I like to flatter myself, I suspect you don’t necessarily read GUARDIAN OF YOUR VOICE just to read of my triumphs! You are more likely to come to debate best practice and think about some of the issues we talk about here in terms of the evolution of business communications and PR in the business-to-business space. Well then, what are the real takeaways for the community (of PRs, communicators and clients) I write about that on here for?

What does #WPFD mean for us as communicators?

I think there are two main lessons, not counting the overall thrust of the need to really embrace social in your marcomms mix, not as a tick-box item but as a creative, defining centre. The first is, and this may not totally surprise you,  to really take off social really does need the help of those to whom it is a natural part of their mental landscape: by which I mean young people, Millennials. A couple of times in that busy four weeks a decisive intervention came when someone under 25 looked at what we were proposing and said, ‘Nah. Try this instead.’ And they were right.

That was an eye opener for me, to be honest: I’ve talked before about the lack of ‘juniors’ in the Sarum team, a deliberate strategy as we get more value from having in-depth experience… but the simple truth is, social wasn’t around 15-20 years ago when we were learning the ropes – so the really experienced people around are the ones growing up with it! Be aware of that; it really is a factor, I think, for any social campaign work.

The second is that my conviction that B2B social success is about blending old and new was reinforced once again by the whole #WPFD experience. We still had the kind of assets a traditional campaign would have, like new market research, interviews with spokespeople, bylined articles; and they all played a definite part in the campaign’s success and its ongoing reach, no doubt about it. But what let them come to the fore and really have impact was the pull our social work had on the audience that drew them to the collateral. Journalists were part of the audience, in other words, but only part; whereas we typically see them as the only way to get to the market, this time they were part of the market we addressed, amplifying the message but not constituting the sole medium for that message.

REMEMBERI think there were a number of real eye-openers, and we’ll will be doing some work in the next few weeks consolidating what we learned here. (One of them I already know is that you can’t do all this great audience contact then let it go stale; we need to maintain the momentum here somehow, not put #WPFD into the fridge and bring it out again next November, that won’t work.)

Oh bring on the Infographic!

One thing I am certain of: that big knocking sound you hear? It’s the Future. And it’s social and it’s milennials.  Now who’d a thought you’d hear me say that 🙂


Founder of Digital PR & Brand Journalism agency, Sarum

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