As with all complex industries, public relations and marketing within the oil and gas sector requires comprehensive knowledge and a detailed technical understanding. Choosing the right agency or team to drive your marketing and PR activities can help you avoid many of the pit falls and can produce spectacular results.
The ‘majors’ may define the oil and gas industry to the typical forecourt consumer but in reality they account for only a small percentage of the companies involved in this market. There are literally thousands of small-to-medium sized businesses, operating at a national or international level – all of which are vital to the global oil and gas supply chain. However, the issue for many of these companies is how to increase awareness of their product or service offering and how to create the appearance of parity with larger competitors. Marketing can and should play an integral role in meeting these objectives, and what’s more, through the use of the latest PR, digital and social media channels, it can do so in a highly cost-effective manner.
Marketing and public relations are broad disciplines and as such it is impossible to convey all the required information in one article – especially considering each business has it’s own set of unique challenges and opportunities. However, it is possible to explain some of the essential elements that form the core of almost all marketing activity within this industry today. In a relatively short space of time, digital channels have caused a dramatic evolution of marketing and a remarkable shift in the tools used by industry specialists and PR professionals. Today, activity is largely focused on the use of digital or online channels to provide timely access to customers around the world, with the fundamental elements of a strong online presence, search engine optimisation, social media and outbound communications all being utilised on a regular basis. This transition has provided an incredible opportunity, especially for smaller businesses with little defined marketing budget, to compete on a far more equal footing with the biggest names in the industry.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
When looking to attract a larger audience of perspective buyers, your own online presence is, without question, the most important element. It represents your public face and anyone just discovering you will judge your operation based on his or her impression of your site.
We work with a varied range of oil and gas organisations. Each has different objectives, both for their website and their business, but all understand the value of putting their best foot forward, so to speak. We regularly hear people say ‘no-one ever visits our site’ or ‘we do all our business face-to-face’. Both statements could well be true but that still doesn’t negate the need to have a strong digital offering. Your website is likely to be the first place someone interacts with you and your business so a tired, out-dated or overly complicated site WILL have a negative impact on their perception of your company.
Take a look at the Airbus’ Oil, Gas and Mining website we built. It delivers an incredible first impression.
Merchant was recently asked to create a new digital web presence to support the launch of a client’s new fuel production facility in North America. The purpose of the site was to explain the emerging technology and to help assist lobbying and investment activity, as well as helping the client explain the project’s implications on the local economy. The website became the centre of all marketing activity regarding the venture, with news and latest developments being published first on the site, as well as hosting a technical document management facility. The site also featured an animated video which explained the technical process in a way which was easy for non-technical people to comprehend. The result was 24,600 unique visitors in the first year and positive coverage to the value of £400,000 – representing a return on investment of over ten to one and significantly broadening the project’s global reach.
SOCIAL MEDIA ISN’T ONLY FOR A CRISIS!
Everyone in this industry is only too aware of the Deep Horizon oil spill and how BP managed to turn a crisis into a seemingly self-perpetuating reputational disaster, but understanding how it did and didn’t use social media is still a very relevant case study.
Social media wise, BP was not new to the arena before the crisis and had set up its own social media profiles, including a Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account prior to the event. In addition, a Flickr account was set up early on following the incident. However, despite it’s experience and third party support, BP failed to harness the positive potential of these platforms and instead decided to use them solely on their terms. That was a terrible idea. During the crisis, BP constantly updated its social media profiles and feeds to provide the latest information about developments in the Gulf. Unfortunately, what it didn’t seem to do was form any level of engagement with its audience. Instead it is reported that it tried to have detractors removed from Twitter. The result was a snowball effect, where insensitive remarks, a lack of engagement within social media platforms and the company’s attempt to control information about the oil spill, meant negative feeling wasn’t dealt with – only reinforced.
Social media works when it is used to help an organisation build a relationship between itself and its audience. It is a two-way communication model and requires both parties to participate. To ensure you don’t fall foul of the same issues as BP or countless others, it is important to start forming relationships with your publics as soon as possible. This form of relationship building has multiple benefits, not least the fact that your audience is far more likely to forgive you or believe your response following a crisis if a positive relationship already exists. If you don’t invest the necessary time to develop this bond, your audience is likely to be more sceptical of everything you say. Having this relationship also means that your organisation is viewed as being more honest and transparent – both characteristics buyers look for when selecting a new supplier.
If you already or wish to generate a proportion of sales through your website directly or if you want your site to become a source of lead generation, SEO, or search engine optimisation, is one of the most cost effective ways to increase visitor numbers and relevant enquiries. SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website in search engines’ natural or un-paid search results. Unpaid search results receive up to 70 per cent of users clicks, making it a far more efficient use of budget than paid search advertising, such as PPC (pay per click).
But how do you achieve success with SEO? If you ask any reputable SEO expert what’s the secret for getting a site ranked highly by search engines, you will most probably get the answer ‘content is king’. There are countless elements to SEO but the one essential component is well written, regularly updated, keyword optimised content.
Search engines and visitors alike love good, relevant, content-driven sites. Sites that contain only marketing fluff, with little informative information, which are not updated regularly and that do not include many key terms within the site’s readable text tend not to rank highly in search results compared with more professionally developed sites. Therefore, as you develop or refine your website, here are some things to take into consideration with your content:
Make sure your digital presence reflects your business: Think about those who will be visiting your site, then make sure its content reflects your business in both tone and use of language. Your website and other digital channels, such as social media, are an extension of your brand’s personality so make sure all those inputting to the site are on the same page and understand your objectives. Many businesses also operate in regions where potential customers prefer to read content in their own or native language. With that in mind, if you work within the Chinese, Russian or Middle Eastern markets, it could be worth invested in multiple language options for your website.
Populate your site with relevant industry information: Listing basic information about your product or service is great, but providing detailed, additional data, specific to the oil and gas industry, will help create an even better site. By making the information as topical and accurate as possible, you position your business as an expert within the field – which can help generate some reciprocal links to back your site. In addition, you will be ranked higher within search engines such as Google – further helping new visitors to find you.
Update content regularly: Not only do search engines like this, but it also helps you generate more repeat visits if visitors know there will be something new to see on your site regularly. Examples of ways to do this include regularly featuring a special rotating product or offer on your site; keeping your portfolio or photo galleries updated; or adding listings to upcoming conventions you’ll be attending, classes you are presenting, or press links. You should also feature a news page or column on the site.
Know your key industry terms…and use them: Search engines want to know that your site is relevant to a particular term so, if you sell Dyneema cables for offshore drilling, make sure it mentions the term ‘Dyneema’ in your copy as often as is appropriate. Ensuring the use of a keyword or term is ‘appropriate’ is important because overly saturating your site with the same key word will not only decrease your site’s readability to visitors, it can also damage how search engines value your content and could result in your site being wrongly considered a spam site. So make sure your site has good keyword usage, but keep it sounding natural and don’t over do it.
Once your site is truly maximized with good, regularly updated content then you are ready to move on to other SEO strategies to help peak the search engines’ interest on what your site has to offer.
THE SECRETS TO PR SUCCESS
PR and media relations are all about creating content that has genuine news value to your immediate audience or the wider oil and gas industry. It needs to be new, informative and relevant. The media has little interest in talking about a widget that has been around for a while or even a new product which doesn’t stand out against its competition. Before releasing anything into the media, ask yourself who would be interested in hearing about this? If you can’t answer that question, you should probably go back to the drawing board. That is not to say you shouldn’t promote a new development, even if it is a ‘me too’ product or service – you simply need to use different tactics. If a new product doesn’t stand out against your competitor’s offering, promote it through your own channels, to your own audience. Use email distribution, your own website or paid for distributions to registered media contacts to make sure the market hears about it.
One of the biggest challenges we have with oil and gas clients is extracting news out of large, complex businesses. As an example, one Merchant client is actually made up of 20 or so different businesses. Each business within the organisation is making regular developments but they often don’t realise it is of interest to those outside the business. It is vital to put in place a system where new developments, projects and the latest contract wins are communicated up the chain so marketing managers can decided if it should be used for PR purposes, both internally and externally.
The need to develop strong relationships with the media is true of any PR activity and the oil and gas arena is no different. Understandably this can be difficult to do if it is not your full time occupation so consider using an oil and gas specialist PR or marketing agency which will already have these relationships in place and will be able to get your product or service in front of the right, industry specific editors, from day one.
Effective marketing and PR relies on understanding your segment of the industry and your key objectives. By creating a programme which is focused on achieving the business’ goals, and by using the most appropriate marketing tools and channels available, you can achieve a significant and genuine return on your investment. This can be accomplished by an internal team or through the use of an experienced external resource, but regardless of who is responsible for delivery, knowing exactly what you want to achieve and identifying how you intend to get there is key to a successful campaign and long-term growth.