Why I quit PR and started a digital agency (or, To hell with swim lanes)

Three years ago I quit PR after 20 years and started a digital agency, Daylight (this one, yep.)

I did it because I was tired of head-butting this perception that PR is just writing press releases and media relations. I did it because I was tired of being excluded from creative pitches because we were a PR agency, or coming up with great Big Ideas that were given to advertising agencies to execute because clients said we hadn’t done it before. I did it because PR as a descriptor is archaic anyway. (Who is the Public? What Relations are we having?)

Recruiting digital talent (or what I call, talent) was an uphill battle because digitally experienced marketers want to work for “digital” agencies, not PR. This even though many experienced PR practitioners are skilled storytellers and masters of messaging, regardless of channel.

Brands tend to confine agencies to swim lanes labeled PR, Advertising, Media, Creative, and Digital. We’ve done ourselves no favors by inventing new labels such as Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Sensory Marketing, ad nauseam. These swim lanes are a holdover from pre-Internet days before it totally disrupted the marketing and media industries.

Clients know agencies don’t like to be boxed in, and over the years we’ve met enlightened clients that bring agencies in for “agency days” where the team with the best idea gets to lead the campaign, regardless of discipline. That’s great, until the client has to decide how much each agency should be paid. Then the Media people scream bloody murder. Or the advertising agency.

It’s time for CMOs to lead the charge, break down the silos, cultivate cross-discipline synergies and make a paradigm shift into a world without swim lanes (Us marketing folks also like our buzzwords.)

Simply said, clients need to be daring, to put their money where their mouth is when they say the Best Idea Wins. They need to nurture the flame of invention from smaller agencies (especially when it’s hard), and challenge their larger agencies to be more inventive.

I founded Daylight because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a PR agency, because digital agencies are granted more flexibility in the sandbox these days. But isn’t Digital just another swim lane you say? This is where it gets interesting, because Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Let me repeat that: Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know with a comment below or send mail to David@Daylightpartnership.com

Social Media isn’t making the world worse, Advertising is

The news that Instagram will join Facebook to impose an algorithm-curated feed is causing all sorts of hand-wringing, but of course the writing was on the wall the day Facebook acquired Instagram. Why else but to monetize all that Attention from their users, and maintain Facebook’s dominance? (Or prepare for eventual irrelevance, if certain pundits are to be believed.)

The real danger is more insidious, and there is no broad-based solution in sight, at least that I know of. It’s the societal impact of Social Media in our lives, but not for the reason you think.

If you’re a TED talk fan like me, you might have heard that social media networks have created a “filter bubble” that has led to polarization of views and a general decline in civility online (YouTube comments, anyone?) Search engines are guilty of this too: Google searches are highly personalized. Don’t believe me? Have a friend (preferably with a different demographic or cultural background) google the same keyword and compare your results.

This bubble enslaves you in an online echo chamber where you only see content by people that agree with you.  How did this happen? You.

  1. In order to serve ads that are highly targeted and effective, Facebook and other networks must know your interests, political views, travel habits, preferred news sources, and so on.
  2. They know what you like by tracking what content you engage with the most, from tracking your Likes and Shares, to measuring how much time you spend on each post.
  3. In order to keep you on their platform so that you can be available to be targeted by advertisers, Facebook (and Instagram, and Google) must create a content stream/newsfeed that is finely tuned to what you like to see. You stay because your natural desire is to keep consuming content that YOU want to see.

This bubble effectively hides dissonant content from you.

Exposure to diverse points of view is critical to developing a balanced, largely unbiased view of the world, so this filtering of what you see, can polarise you. When the online world meets offline though, people with extremely different POVs can clash, often with severe consequences.

While the social networks are not going to change this state of affairs anytime soon, there are a few things you can do as an individual:

  • Switch your Facebook newsfeed setting from “Top Stories” to “Most Recent” (Find out the settings in other social networks that allow you to do this. Warning: It’s not always possible.)
  • Actively subscribe to news sources with a different viewpoint from yours. If you’re liberal, make sure you include a few conservative news sources in your feed.
  • Spend less time consuming your news online, and more time cultivating a natural curiosity by speaking to people you meet offline. Take an open, non-judgemental stance when listening.
  • Ask lots of questions. Question everything you read.



Picture credit: NYT

Wrangling Facebook content marketing

Facebook has incredibly high penetration across most parts of Asia, so wrestling with this beast is a fact of life for digital marketers. But their dominant market position also means they don’t always have to listen to you, as any marketer who has opened a customer service ticket with them will know.

Here are some common questions about working with Facebook, and how you can make them work for you.

Understand how Facebook works. This is a massive platform that is tweaked daily, with reams of data in their Insights module that tells you everything you need to know about how your fans interact with your page. Engagement is measured not just by social actions (Likes, Comments, Shares) but by how long they view your post, how long it takes them away from Facebook, and so on.  Video engagement is measured arbitrarily, learn how Facebook defines it. Learn how to interpret the data, and you will have answers to all the common questions you as a marketer need to ask, such as Who is my audience? When is the best time to reach them? What kind of content do they like/dislike? Where are they located?

Accept that you have to pay for exposure. Marketers often forget that Facebook doesn’t work for you. They are not here to help you sell, they are here to benefit from the eyeballs that the Facebook experience delivers, so they can sell ads. For brands, Facebook offers a variety of advertising tools that increase your reach, but at the end of the day, if your content is uninspiring or overly self-serving, no amount of post boosting is going to help you. Therefore…

There’s only one best way to increase Reach. Make better content. It’s that simple. Sometimes I tell people our agency is not really a social agency, we are a content publisher. Want better SEO? Create better content. Want more eyeballs on Facebook? Create compelling content. Want more engagement? Create content that consumers want to share. Hire people that understand how to deliver clickworthy (not clickbait) content. Hire ex-journalists that know how to tell a story. Forget about gaming Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, instead focus on making content that your audience wants to share, like and comment on. Reach and engagement will take care of themselves. (Mostly, but you still got to pay for advertising, unfortunately, because they have to keep NASDAQ:FB up there!)


Photo credit: Brian Taylor for AdWeek

Five Ways to Make WeChat Work for YOU

WeChat is big. With over 400 million monthly active users, it’s a juggernaut that’s crushing all other social apps in China (at least until the next big shiny thing comes along).

Marketers are already devising creative ways to build on what started out as a messaging app, but is now a platform that encompassing gaming, e-commerce, post-sales service, brand communication, universal ID, and who knows what next.

How do you make the most of it?

Let’s start with the basics: five tips to remember.

Be compelling. WeChat is not Weibo, it’s even more of an interactive, two-way conversation and that’s what your friends expect, or they will drop you very quickly. To attract and keep them, you have to sustain their interest with compelling, relevant content. You must make it their loss if they unfollow you. Your friends cannot tell how popular you are, unlike Weibo, so their only reason to follow you is your content stream, past and future. Earn their trust and don’t lose it. Compelling content means useful, multi-channel, and personal. Don’t be afraid to go long if you have to, in fact it’s appreciated when done right.

Be informed. WeChat changes all the time. New services are constantly being added, new rules installed. For example, recently Tencent announced that personal accounts now have a limit of 5000 friends. If you have already have more, your Moments will only be seen by a random subset of your friends. Rules change all the time. Service accounts used to be allowed to post once a month, now it’s once a week. Make sure you are always up to speed.

Be creative. Tencent wants you to succeed. Why? Because the more ways marketers can find to use WeChat, the longer they’ll stay with the platform. So with every new feature, such as WeChat Login or additions to the API, don’t be afraid to push the envelope. I’m firmly convinced that the ultimate WeChat marketing case study is yet to appear.

Be careful. China is no slacker when it comes to enforcing against what it considers unsavory content on the Internet. This means you can push the envelope, but stay away from content that even remotely touches politics, or any other topic that the government considers sensitive. I know, it’s a moving target, but nobody said it would be easy.

Be trustworthy. Tencent wants WeChat to avoid the fate of Weibo and similar platforms that have lost their momentum, so they work hard to clamp down on over-aggressive marketing tactics, unscrupulous actions, and misleading claims. They also routinely sweep their user base for fake accounts, which can account for those sudden drops in friend numbers within a day. Help WeChat help you.