Do you REALLY need a PR Manager?

Open mouth, insert foot:

I am amazed at how BIG so many SMALL companies can act. A company that's operating at under $50M does not need to spend $50 - 75K on a salaried "PR Manager." Not if they have a good PR firm to "do the driving."

We have many clients in this revenue range, and I can tell you that the best PR programs involve a tight partnership between the VP of Marketing and the Agency team.

We meet by phone 1 - 2X per week (more often during big campaigns), for 1+ hours, and in these meetings the priorities are set, the reports are delivered and discussed, the latest strategies are brainstormed, and, we're off to the races.

"Talk to you next week. Wait'll you see all the INK we're gonna get!"

When small-medium size companies have a VP-Marketing and a PR Manager and a good PR team at the agency, invariably the PR manager is either frustrated & underappreciated or, they tend to micro-manage the program because they literally have no other job but to manage the PR firm.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. I've met some kick-ass PR managers who add value through their intimate and strategic knowledge of the industry/product/company; or who take on some program elements such as "Awards" to allow the firm to focus on media & analyst relations, and/or (best of all) who spend a lot of time massaging customers (and the Sales Dept.) for those invaluable media references. These types of PR managers are worth their weight in press clippings.

So, what am I trying to say? That if you are a VP-Marketing at a mid-sized company, you might try a direct relationship with the Agency vs. hiring an internal resource to handle the relationship. Really, what's more important than your company's reputation? According to a recent SHIFT survey, your rep is of critical importance to your Sales efforts. And anyway, honest, we PR types aren't that hard to deal with - scout's honor!

But maybe you couldn't hear what I'm trying to say, since I am gagging on shoe leather?

Blogging as "Social Cartography"

So I'm listening to NPR last night. The "Marketplace" show features a "futurist" who is talking about blogging and social networking.

"Oh, goody," I think. "How very 1999: someone's figured out a way to link the 2 hottest tech trends ... The hype machine may sputter, but it never dies."

Then I remember that hype is my business, so I shut up and listen.

Seems this sharpie has figured out that the inner circle of well-known blogs, which are incestuously interlinked, have a growing measure of social influence. Blog audiences grow attuned to the opinions of their fave bloggers and come to trust their opinions as much as they'd trust the opinions of a neighbor.

The blogger, in effect, has become a link in the consumer's own social network.

Thus, according to the futurist, tomorrow's marketers need to start thinking about how to influence the blogosphere. For example, he suggested that a newly-published author might gain as much promotional heft from "guest blogging" in influential forums as they would by touring your local BORDERS store.

Further - and intriguingly - the blogs need not be "the biggies": the blogosphere is so self-referential that the splash made at a relatively inconsequential blog might create worthwhile ripples throughout the wider Web world.

The tricky part is figuring out where to throw those pebbles of personal client involvement!

Sure, a big consumer brand like Nike might have the research & resources to determine where to make such blogolicious placements, but, most companies rely on their PR firms to figure that stuff out - and this is an EMERGING idea: that means "mistakes will be made." How many mistakes are allowable, when you're asking a high-powered exec to guest-star on what will feel to them very, very much like blogging's equivalent to "Wayne's World"?

Those funky futurists. God love 'em. It's fine and dandy to ponder such concepts and even experiment from time to time, but, back here in real-time, we must also keep our focus on client satisfaction. I'll think about how to influence the blogosphere...tomorrow.

Guess What? Y-o-u Are The Future

The future success of high-tech PR will dawn with corporations’ realization that “the customer is the message.” In PR’s infancy stages, practitioners were able to talk to the “influencers” and rely on the fact that their messages would filter to the masses and take root. The elite 20% of the population would impact the other 80%.

In some ways this is till true today – witness consumer brands’ continued affection for celebrity endorsers (e.g., Tiger Woods’ omnipresent Nike swoosh) – however, in the high tech world in particular, the Internet has created a magnetic polarity shift: the masses now influence the brand makers. It started when Usenet rantings in the mid-1990’s forced Intel to acknowledge defects in earlier versions of its Pentium chip and continues today in the form of online user forums (TripAdvisor, ePinions, etc.), stock discussion sites (Motley Fool, Raging Bull), and most importantly, consumer (Ain’t It Cool News) and corporate bloggers (Gawker Media, Microsoft’s “Scobleizer,” Nike’s “Art of Speed” blog).

The net effect is a focus on unprecedented transparency to the corporation. The technology-themed PR campaigns of the future will invariably include a component of raw interaction with end-users. This can be frightening for many companies, because what this paradigm shift demands above all is “excellence.” Delivering an excellent product or service is the only way to survive the granular level of scrutiny implied by user-level participation in the PR process.

From here on out, the people have the power. All hail the 80-percenters!