Now that all the beardy types have paused for breath after another SXSW and Austin’s homeless people have gone back to just being homeless again, it is worth highlighting another recent initiative which had innovation at the heart – this one a little closer to home.
A couple of weekends ago, The Urgent Genius Weekender 2 kicked off. This is not, as the name may suggest, a horrific weekend of debauchery in a Butlin’s park somewhere on the coast, but a weekend of ‘spontaneous’ but somehow ‘organised’ creativity. The Urgent Genius operation is to be admired. Set up in 2010, it is an innovative off-shoot of Iris. Tasked with tracking the ‘Power of Real Time Creativity’, it collates and collects some of the most talked about and powerful content on the internet, curating it and inviting each piece to be voted on. The Urgent Genius Weekender is an open call to all creatives to join forces (in teams) to newsjack – produce a piece of content around a newsworthy or viral subject, and get that piece of content talked about, looked at, shared, commented upon etc. The content with the most views at the end of the competition in the winner. It is a real time response to existing internet memes and it is one of the new forms of communication that uses the new weapons of the comms trade – video and social media. Participants get together, pick a newsworthy topic and, within 48 hrs, produce a piece of film which reacts to that topic, hoping to add further talking points to an already popular item and get cut-through for their own piece of content – which will usually look to provide a humourous or irrevrant interpretation of that event. Teams consist of traditional and non-traditional practitioners – social media experts, creatives, data coders and beyond. The winner has not yet been announced, but here is my favourite – a re-working of the Guardian Three Little Pigs advert (which I previously blogged about) for the purposes of The Sun newspaper – ‘Tits, pedos, football’. It’s very funny.
Newsjacking is something that will be around for some time and is on the rise. It is a very relevant and clever way for a piece of content to become talked about. Unlike most traditional PR stories or campaigns, newsjacking capitalizes on an existing ground-base of momentum and exploits this awareness to get its own content looked at. Relatively speaking, content can be cheap to produce and the results can be huge – hundreds of thousands of eyeballs across the internet. At its heart is creativity, but PR’s are well placed to add value to the cause as, in this game, media nous counts for everything. Half the job is seeding the content online, amplifying it via social media and getting the mainstream media to pick up on it – something we PR’s believe ourselves experts at. The real genius comes when content can be produced not reactively in response to events, but pro-actively. Again, one of the talents of any good PR person is to predict what the media will be talking about in advance, and how they might want to talk about it. Producing content with this in mind is probably the holy grail – but then probably wouldn’t be called news-jacking (news-cracking?).
Still, if this is to become a proper client service (in PR) one of the big challenges is to get the client’s messages built into the content. Firstly it takes a brave client to actually sign off any piece of work like this. It goes against all their natural instincts – by pressing the button they effectively sign over control of the project. The brand must be right to do this – ideally it should be young, dynamic and edgy, not a lumbering, corporate giant who would have too much at stake. Generally the latter cannot relinquish control.
One of my favourite things about Urgent Genius comes from their sizzle reel video explaining what they do. Their message to potential clients is basically this: ‘once we’ve produced the content, we’ll meet you for breakfast the next day to show it to you and you had better bring your lawyers (to sign it off)’. That is pretty much the attitude that needs to exist if this type of communication is to take off within the mainstream PR trade and I don’t see why it shouldn’t. Newspapers in print will eventually die and with nearly half of all tweets containing links to content, plus the prediction by Google recently that within 4 years 80% of all internet traffic will be video, the future has to be in creative content like this – use it or lose it.