PR Interview with Paul Sutton, Head of Social Communications, BOTTLE

Paul Sutton is head of social communications at BOTTLE PR. Having just completed a two month challenge to not use search engines, Paul shares his views on the future of social media, explains the HISTORY campaign with fourquare, and suggests why Microsoft could be falling behind with the competition.

About the agency

What areas of PR does BOTTLE specialise in?
BOTTLE’s focus is intentionally pretty broad, with a good mix of consumer and business-facing clients. We offer the full PR mix, from corporate communications through to social media activity, each of which is run by a specialist consultant. Our client base is split into three areas. First, our consumer team works with clients such as Poundland, a BOTTLE client of five years, targeting everyday people. Second, our business-to-business team works with organisations targeting SMEs, such as Macintyre Hudson, a top 20 accountancy firm. And third, our corporate team works with organisations targeting corporates and government.

What is different about the agency’s approach to PR?
Pretty much every other agency I’ve encountered is primarily concerned with what sector potential clients’ businesses operate in. We take a different approach and ask them who they want to reach, not what they do. PR is all about knowing who the audience is, where they are and how to reach them, so we focus on understanding the behaviour of specific consumer groups and influencing that behaviour.

As head of social communications at BOTTLE, how do you integrate social media into a wider PR strategy for clients?
This links heavily with how we approach PR in general. We start with the audience and identifying where we can influence them. In some cases that’s online, in some cases it’s not. So we never introduce a social element to any campaign if we think we can achieve better results from more traditional elements. With campaigns that do contain social communications, we devise our overall creative PR strategy first and then look at how we can roll that out across both traditional and social channels so that all activity is complementary. In this way, you get an integrated campaign rather than activity that sits in a digital silo.

About clients

Tell us about a campaign you are working on right now for one of your clients. How are they achieving the right coverage through social media channels?
We’ve got a few exciting things in the pipeline at the moment, but one that we’re currently working on is the UKWaspWatch campaign for Rentokil Pest Control. It’s based around an interactive web map onto which people can plot wasps’ nest sightings, stings etc. The technical aspect relies on an integration of the Google Maps API and the Twitter API, but the concept is that we can engage people both through social media as well as create news hooks for the traditional media, so it’s completely integrated. From a social perspective, we’re using Twitter and Facebook, and an important part of the campaign is blogger outreach to various target sectors (eg gardening, outdoor sports, mums) to drive brand awareness and enquiries.

What are the dangers of a client ignoring social media completely? Is it still ok to use traditional PR only?
Absolutely it is. Social media is a channel, that’s all. There are many reasons why it isn’t suitable for all organisations, from target audiences being difficult to reach or influence, to a company culture that isn’t open or receptive enough, to budgetary constraints, to resourcing issues. In an ideal world I’d encourage every company to get involved in the social web in one way or another as the benefits can be huge. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Which BOTTLE social media campaign stands out for you the most?
We recently won a CorpComms Digi Award for our work with HISTORY, the TV channel. The campaign is a partnership with foursquare whereby HISTORY is offering unique historical tips to users for checking in to over 600 locations around London. If someone checks in to any four locations they unlock a special, limited edition badge, and they’re also offered discounts at over 20 partner locations. The partnership is the first of its kind in the UK and achieved fantastic results across blogs and Twitter when it launched. More importantly, however, it’s helping HISTORY to change the perceptions of its brand and to appeal to a younger and more tech-savvy audience.

About you

The #NoSearch project involved you not using search engines for two months. Has it changed your view on the importance of search engines?
This experiment has been a minor revelation, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s made me think in very different ways about search engines, online communities and the web as a whole; how they operate, how much we’ve come to blindly trust technology; and how valuable personal networks are.

Search engines definitely make us lazy and so it was a struggle for the first few weeks. There was some interesting research in the Telegraph recently which suggested that the way our memories work are changing (evolving?) due to their influence, and this would seem to back up my own experiences as, once I’d adjusted to the lack of search, I’ve not found it that difficult other than the odd occasion where my networks haven’t had the answers I needed.

And not being able to use a search engine for two months has opened my eyes to the way search itself is changing. Advances such as Google Instant (where search results are suggested to you as you type) put a lot of power over what we see and how we perceive the world in the search engine’s hands. Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.

How do you use social media?
I’m a bit of a geek, I have to admit, and definitely what you’d class as a heavy user. My basics are Twitter, Facebook and now Google+, all of which I use on a daily basis. I also subscribe to many different blogs, and so have daily contact with those as well, and post on my own PR 2.0 blog, TheSocialWeb, a couple of times a week. And then around that I use sites such as Diigo, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, foursquare, PicPlz, Spotify and Audioboo periodically, among others. My use tends to be based mostly around my professional interest in social communications – I’ve made numerous friends who I’ve met offline and even more acquaintances who I’ve yet to meet in person through social media, and it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now career-wise without them.

What’s next on the social media horizon?
If I knew that I’d be a millionaire! But my gut feel is that we’re headed toward an evolution in how and perhaps even why we use social media platforms. The launch of Google+ recently gives huge clues about this from one of the web’s main players. While most commentary has focused on whether it’ll eclipse Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, I think this is a red herring.

My belief is that Google’s going after Microsoft, not the other social networks. What Google+ has done is introduce some ‘missing pieces’ to the Google puzzle that now means it can offer a virtually complete set of cloud-based services. Google’s strategy is all about online collaboration and integration as that’s how technology is moving – it wants to own the cloud. Only Apple, thus far, is showing any signs of competing with this and Microsoft, which is already starting to look like a dinosaur, could be in big, big trouble in a very short space of time.

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