A CMO on PR vs. Advertising

In a recent editorial in CMO Magazine, an anonymous CMO wrote about "Why advertising and PR can't - and shouldn't - get along." The author suggested that PR and Advertising mavens ought to get along, since their goals are similar, but that they can't seem to...and that this fragmentation may get worse.

But the writer didn't talk about WHY the disciplines don't get along. And when the CMO went on to advocate for a split between Corporate PR specialists and Product PR, again, there was no reason as to WHY this made sense, nor how it would impact the PR/Advertising relationship.

Ultimately it was a very well-written but unsatisfying, confusing and incomplete article. In other words - too friggin' clever for its own good. The article tried to be controversial, but never explained the root of the controversy.

It's a missed opportunity in that regard, but maybe its well-written inarticulateness helps explain the so-called turf war between the PR and Advertising worlds.

The ad guys try to boil down messages to their essence; some of the best ads can tell the brand story without a single word. The advertising guru is empowered to tell the story they want, wherever they want (with client permission). Advertisements do not influence: they emote. Strike the right chord, and you can change or motivate consumer behavior.

Meanwhile, PR guys depend on sophistry; words (and lots of them) are their art. PR relies on an ability to influence; but we are not trying to change or influence consumer behavior - we are trying to get the media to do the job for us.

Advertising IS the brand; PR is the whisper about the brand. Advertising is the grand gesture - the conclusion of the story; PR is the plotline.

That still doesn't explain why the two disciplines can't seem to get along. When faced with such an ageless question, I try to boil things down to basic human wiring: in this case I'll place my money on the Jealousy card.

PR people are jealous of Ad pros cuz the the Adfolk get to hang out with hot models and produce pretty pictures and go to MTV parties, etc. Advertising professionals are the creative jocks. Meanwhile, the Ad guys must grudgingly accept the fact that advertisements alone are not enough to move the needle; they need the PR machine to influence the influencers...

And so it goes. It ain't rocket science. Advertising and PR are the Chang and Eng of Marketing, and I am sure there were plenty of days in which P.T. Barnum's famous Siamese twins wished they could go it alone.

Bad Customer Service is Bad PR

Here's a challenge: visit SBC's website. Try to figure out how to email the tech support group. Or better yet, try to figure out how to do something simple, like "How do I forward calls?"

If your experience is like mine, you'll soon see that it's an outrageously bad example of website design. Ruined our weekend, because we were expecting an important call and thus were tethered to the house since we couldn't forward the phone.

And for the record, it was a beautiful, sunny weekend. It's not like you get those types of weekends all year long, in Boston, y'know? (It'll either be sweltering - or snowing - next weekend!)

The only legit email addresses I could find on the website led to the PR team!

Yes, I flamed them - PR guy to PR guys.

Corporate America is running out of excuses when it comes to customer service. Both in terms of web-based and automated phone support, there are now numerous examples of excellence amongst this prestigious peer group. The Web-savvy generation that's growing up today will not tolerate bad customer support. We're too impatient, because we know the power and goodness that can result from good technical design + broadband speed.

Ten years from now (probably less), a website as crappy as SBC's will be completely unacceptable. Frankly, it is unacceptable today.

Meanwhile, Vonage is lookin' better and better...

Press Releases Suck

In preparation for a new client meeting, I printed the last 5-or-so releases from their website. All of them were well-written and contained genuine bits of news.

Yet I still felt a pit of disdain yawn open in my gut. Disdain not for the client or for the releases I was reading, but rather for the way in which - as an industry - we've seemingly just given up on innovating our basic tools. All of these darned press releases are set up in pretty much the same format, and crikey! - it is boring!

Paragraph 1: "(Company), a leader in (whatever), today announced (some news)"
Paragraph 2: "Quote from company exec"
Paragraph 3: "Quote from customer or analyst"
Paragraph 4: "Blurb about product differentiation"
Paragraph 5: "Summary quote from company exec"
Paragraph 6: "Boilerplate"

From the largest Goliath-sized company to the smallest, most aggressive start-up, this is the basic formula for disseminating a message via press release.

While there is something to be said for the comforts of standardization, all around us innovation is taking hold. In consumer tech (iPods), enterprise tech (companies overturning the status quo, like Netezza), on the Web (Flikr, LinkedIn), and in other categories like architecture and the environment and industrial design, innovators are re-thinking everything.

Maybe it is time that PR practitioners began to re-think the Press Release.

  • Maybe we should limit the amount of text to what fits on a postcard. Maybe we should send the press release out ON a postcard.
  • Maybe we should send out (links to) 30-second video clips that show the product in action and allow for a little blurb-time from the company spokesman and customer.
  • Maybe we should only disseminate news via official corporate blogs, in which the client CEO can explain in more casual, laymen's terms what the news is and what it really means.
  • Maybe a press release should include an honest SWOT analysis on the caliber of the news, provided by an independent 3rd party. After all, even good reporters are often too bogged down to do their own research and when they do, they call the industry analysts; what if every single press release provided at least one genuine SWOT opinion, to minimize journalists' burdens?

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head, and I ain't no innovator. I guess I'd like to see us push ourselves a bit harder to add more value and innovation to the tradecraft. It might make our jobs (and those of our media contacts) a bit more fun, to boot.

How To Be A "Conversationista"

A few agency types have written in, asking for a bit more specificity around the "Conversationista" concept.

I am not suggesting anything radical. Creating a cadre of conversationistas is a relatively simple matter of re-thinking the responsibilities of our existing Account Services personnel, and making sure they have the technology tools and training they need to be effective in a Long Tail (i.e., fragmented and tierless) media environment.

Okay, maybe that sounds hard. Let's take it step by step. In this post I'll talk about "re-thinking responsibilities."

In the traditional agency, account teams have a hierarchical structure (VP, Acct Mgr, and so on). Each management layer handles a major function (strategy, media outreach, research, and so on). Each team handles 1 - 4 clients.

Is there room for some flexibility in this model?

To create conversationistas you do not need to change this model but you do need to allow it to bend a little. You need to align your OUTSIDE clients with the INSIDE interests of agency staff.

Example: You win a new client; they manufacture bicycles of all sorts. The account (and budget) only require 4 account pros. A couple of these assigned staffers are into cycling; their research and credibility helped win the account. But in an agency of 100 people, there are at least 10 more people who are heavy into cycling in its various permutations (mountain, road, spinning, etc.). In the current model, these extra 10 would-be evangelists are barely if ever tapped for assistance.

In a Long Tail-savvy agency, however, the bicycling manufacturer's inside account manager asks these 10 people to actively evangelize for the client, in their spare moments. No rush, no deadlines, no pressure.

Here's a script for an agency veep to approach 1 of those 10 additional agency employees who are into bikes...

"You like cycling, right? Mountain biking? Cool. Here's a list of 25 blogs that I think are pretty well-read. I found them on Technorati. Do you know of a few more? Great: do me a favor and subscribe (via RSS reader) to these 25+ blogs, and whenever you feel like participating - only when you are genuinely interested in the topic - please feel free to do so."

"Here's a list of our client's key messages; when it makes sense to drop their name and some of these themes, that would be wonderful - but, only when it makes sense in the context of what's going on in the blog. This is not about 'hits' or 'sales,' it's about being a part of the dialogue. Don't try to hide the fact that you are a PR rep. We're not looking to trick anyone. In fact, please go out of your way to solicit opinions from the outside community, and let people know that we'll report on their ideas and complaints to the bike manufacturer as often as possible."

Even the busiest account exec can find 15 minutes a week to participate in forums in which they'd like to hang-out, anyway. You're not "stealing" resources from other account teams, you are creating an ad-hoc group of cross-teamed enthusiasts.

It is a guerilla concept but only in the sense that it is based on convenience and interest, rather than on stealth. The RSS reader enables surgical strikes: when the reader pops up a post that piques the interest of one of the agency's evangelists, they can respond and move-on within 10 minutes, without breaking stride on their other client work.

At Technorati, as of this writing there are 78,739 blog posts containing the word "cycling." Probably a majority of these posts are inane and unworthy of follow-up. But if 1/10th is of-interest, that's still almot 8,000 posts to review and perhaps respond to! In our example, though, we now have 14 conversationistas to tap into (the 4 dedicated team members plus 10 evangelists from across the agency): so each of those 14 staffers need look at about 550 posts.

Keep in mind, that's just to get caught up on the state of "cycling" in the blogosphere. Once the account gets rolling, the RSS feeders will do a good job of filtering new posts as they happen, and the onerous task of culling through 550 posts will soon go to 1-5 posts a day, per person.

Easy as pie, for a conversationista!

The "Long Tail" & The Rise of the Conversationistas!

Ideas are just starting to coalesce about the potential impact of "social" Internet technologies (e.g., blogs, vlogs, wikis, search engines and recommendation engines, etc.) on the craft of PR.

In a prior post, almost a year ago now, I commented on "Blogging as Social Cartography." Here's a relevant, paraphrased passage from that Sept. 2004 entry:

"...Tomorrow's marketers need to start thinking about how to influence the blogosphere.

For example...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."

In retrospect, these types of ideas seem to presage the growing interest in the "Long Tail.”

In a nutshell (and I hope I do it justice), the Long Tail premise suggests that there is as-much or more $$$ to be made in a digital economy by the sale of "misses" as "hits." With no inventory costs or geographic limitations, a digital retailer can make plenty of money by selling the umpteen #s of obscure CDs, DVDs and books that would otherwise fade away to umpteen cult/niche consumers. In fact these retailers might make more money on the “Long Tail” titles than they could make subsisting on the sales of popular blockbusters.

Importantly, these "offbeat" audiences can be created on the fly via recommendation engines and/or niche-oriented search engines: the example given by Wired's Chris Anderson shows how a typical teenager interested in downloading a Britney Spears song can be led via recommendation engines (like Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought X Also Bought Y”) to try out more obscure but like-minded artists.

This part is intriguing to me. There are those of us who pride ourselves on being offbeat; who disdain the "keeping up with the iPods" mentality of popular culture. But the emerging social-orientation of Internet applications can reveal to each one of us how "niche" we can be, once we are exposed to what's available all along the Long Tail. And this applies not only to entertainment products but to other aspects of culture.

Since the Blogging Boom began, how many hours have you "wasted" reading the blogs of lonely housewives, American soliders posted in Iraq, Brazilian teenagers...? (If you answered "none" then I suggest you click the "Next Blog" button at the top-right of your screen and see how long you can stay disinterested.)

If you've aimlessly blog-surfed like this, you've stroked the Long Tail. And if you've checked out other PR-related blogs, you've similarly proven the premise: each of us is a micro-audience.

How will this affect PR?

A taste of what's to come can be found in places ranging from PR WEEK to Mediapost.

Still, there are more questions than answers: what's to be done about the Big Bang-sized fragmentation of our audiences? The PR industry is notoriously bad at “scaling;” it seems each new account creates the need for a new Account Exec. How the heck can we afford to keep tabs (much less influence) a 24x7 conversation with multiple millions of individual consumers?

My guess is that we’ll adopt a hybrid approach, in which account teams continue to try to influence “old world” media and “strategic” blogs, as well as those growing numbers of niche-oriented blog aggregator sites. Meanwhile, we’ll develop “contextual strike teams” … The members of this class of “conversationistas” will be culled from across the agency, tasked with participating in ongoing dialogues in blogs, wikis, vlogs, et cetera, ad infinitum, not as PR people so much as “genuinely interested consumers.”

In this brave new world, though, folks, there’s no faking it. You can’t ask a 40-something, outdoorsy VP to participate in an ongoing rant session on a discussion board devoted to massively-multiplayer online role-playing games. You’ll hire a whipsmart college intern for that.

The VP in this case will be deployed to discuss the pros-and-cons of camping gear and local campsites, across a dozen different Outdoor Enthusiast blogs, for the hiking-boot division of the agency’s footwear client. Meanwhile, the 30-something AE who runs marathons in her spare time will perform similar tasks for the footwear client’s running shoe group; she’ll discuss her training regimen and share tales of her past races in forums devoted to fitness, running, etc.

Yes, as an agency owner this gives rise to questions about efficiency and scalability: which blogs are important? How many hours can be devoted to such activities? How can we measure success?

But this is the lesson of the Long Tail: they are ALL important! Every single itty-bitty one of ‘em. You can influence a hundred “Influencers” who can in turn influence millions of consumers. So, BusinessWeek, etc., will still be important. BUT, you can simultaneously influence a few hundred more “non-influencers” (a.k.a. Joe Average) – maybe thousands! – who will in turn influence a few more Joe Averages, and so on…

And as for “scalability” – there’s a hidden beauty here.

Maybe that 40-something outdoorsman in the corner office isn’t specifically assigned to the Hiking Boots Division of the footwear client…but there’s some likelihood that he is participating in those outdoorsman forums ANYWAY. Probably feeling a li’l guilty about it.

But, if we encourage each of our employees to be conversationistas-with-a-purpose, we can LEVERAGE their EXISTING interests to influence their TRUE peers: they’ll engage as welcome participants in communities based on the context of their genuine interests! Part of their jobs will be to participate in their hobbies – they’ll love it, they'll work hard at it. And yes, mistakes will be made, but ultimately the clients will love the results.

The Thrill of the New

My old boss became a bitter curmudgeon as he approached his semi-retirement. He was only in his fifties but had become world-weary. During the Boom, it was all he could do to keep from snapping at the brash, 18-22 year-old Internet schemers & dreamers who made up much of our client base in that period.

As for me - I was of that age (well, maybe a li'l older), and thrived on all that raw potential and energy. If greed sneaked in, too - hey, we're all human.

Then the Boom turned into a Bust, and yada yada yada. I have no complaints about those darker days: when the sun stopped shining it convinced the curmudgeon to get-the-hell-out, and lo! - a new Agency was born.

But, even as I was surfing on the adrenaline of starting up a new business, what I missed out on was the entrepreneurial camaraderie that had been so much a part of the Boom. In starting a new gig, my partners and I were anomalies of the new age! I also missed the thrill of being among the first to hear about "the next big thing." There were no more "big things." Everyone was hangin' on for dear life.

Or so I thought.

In the last few months, several "5-year-old start-ups" have been waving their arms around in our conference rooms, raving (in a good way) about how they'd spent the Bust Years innovating... essentially, building and buffing-up the next wave of Big Things.

I am once again caught up in these entrepreneurs' enthusiasm. I am pounding tables again, postulating on how "this could change everything" again. I am reminded - again - of one of the most fundamental reasons why I love this friggin' job.

The thrill of the new.

I was hangin' out at Ideo's San Francisco office a few weeks ago, and got a vicarious head-rush talking to some of the world's best industrial designers. In the consumer products space, these are the folks piecing together the must-have stuff of the future. And I can admit it: between their too-cool office space in a converted pier warehouse and their well-deserved influence on "Tomorrow," I was giddy with a well-intentioned jealousy. It had been a while since I'd experienced that awe-inspiring feeling of POTENTIAL.

Thankfully, I haven't had to wait long at all to start feeling it again. The thrill of the new is new all over again. Let's hope it lasts.

Re-post 2 of 2: The 3 Faces of Google

Given Google's growing dominance, this issue just gets bigger... read on for the re-post!

As part of my firm's work in calculating Marketing ROI, it's become obvious that Google has 3 faces to the corporate marketer concerned with reputation management and lead flow. It's important to distinguish these 3 facets of Google's role in driving website traffic & sales leads.

1. Generic search.
Say your company's name is Widgetopolis, Inc. You sell widgets. A generic search on the term "widgets" brings up your URL in the "organic" search results. The prospect clicks the link, and your web analytics package captures this data, which, assuming the prospect asks for more info, ought to be qualifed in your CRM system as a "Search Engine lead."

2. Advertising (AdWord).
Say your company's name is Widgetopolis, Inc. You sell widgets. A generic search on the term "widgets" brings up your paid "Google AdWord" link. The prospect clicks the link, and your web analytics package captures this data, which, assuming the prospect asks for more info, ought to be qualifed in your CRM system as an "Advertising lead."

3. PR hit.
Say your company's name is Widgetopolis, Inc. You are well-known as a maker of widgets. A prospect searches Google for the term, "Widgetopolis." They see the URL pop up and, assuming the prospect asks for more info, ought to be qualifed in your CRM system as an "PR lead." They knew your company's name, reputation, etc. That's what "Public Relations" is all about, eh?

Note that it's incumbent on the Marketing VP to make these distinctions. For example, in scenario #3, the prospect might click on either the URL (organic search) or the AdWord (advertising) ...This is subtle but stay with me: regardless of which link is clicked, if your analytics package can capture the fact that the original search term was "Widgetopolis," then you need to label the lead source as coming from PR.

In an informal, anecdotal survey, we asked a score of Marketing VPs whether they had implemented this sort of nuanced analysis. So far, no good. These are smart folks, and they intuited the need, but they're "too busy" or yada yada... Without marketing ROI metrics, how can Marketing defend its budgets and decisions?

Re-post 1 of 2: How Did You Hear About Us?

As we start selling our LeadSensor service in earnest, several issues that have been previously covered in this blog keep cropping up. Thus, the occassional RE-POST!

"How did you hear about us?" (HDYHAU?) is one of the most important things to ask your new prospects.

An increasing number of companies get initial inquiries through their website thes days, and will often ask the question there. (Although many are still just asking prospects to send an email to "sales@company.com" - and thus losing a major opportunity to qualify their prospects and/or measure their marketing ROI!)

While HDYHAU? is a great question to ask, there is little consistency across the Web about the possible ANSWERS.

Here's one typical example:

"How Did You Hear About Us?"
Drop-down options include:

*Company Website
*Direct Mail
*Search Engine

Can you tell what's wrong with these options?

1. Article-Print vs. Article-Web?
Who cares where the article appeared, especially since most hardcopy articles are also published online? Is there a company or PR firm out there that genuinely cares anymore whether the ink was hardcopy or virtual? Is there a company or PR firm out there that would change their communications strategies based on the number of replies to "Article-Print" vs. "Article-Web"?

2. "Company Website" - If they are AT your website then the prospect has ALREADY heard of you, eh?

3. Notice that the list is ALPHABETIZED? "What's wrong with that?" you might ask. One word reply: LAZINESS. It's no surprise to learn that a certain number of prospects will simply check-off the first option to appear within the drop-down menu. Thus in the list above, "Advertisement" may edge out all the other options. That will make your ad firm plenty happy, but you'll get a more ACCURATE perspective if you program your website to dynamically mix the options for every unique visitor.

Better yet: forget about the drop-down list of options for the HDYHAU question! Instead, provide the same options in such a way that all options are visible at once (for example, in a 3X3 column - 3 options across X 3 options down), and have each option be accompanied by a radio-button. The question then becomes: "How did you hear about us? (Check all that apply)." When ALL options are visible at once and equally easy to select, the prospect is more likely to provide the ACCURATE answer.

Don't believe me? Don't think it's worth harassing your Webmaster? Think again: anecdotally, when one SHIFT client made these changes they soon realized substantial & sensible differences in their ability to determine their marketing ROI!

Marketing measurement is a great idea. Do it right. Make the commitment.

Maybe Measurement Doesn't Matter?

A recent PR WEEK survey found that over 60 percent of corporate PR budgets make no allowances for measurement of Public Relations.

Does this mean that 60 percent of marketers don't care about measurement? Or does it suggest that they haven't figured out a way to measure PR? Maybe they are big believers in PR, and want to spend every dollar on outbound services?

I was heartened to see that "Sales Data" was considered among the "most effective" measurement methods... but then I saw that this measurement stick was less popular than "Media Content Analysis" and about equal to methods like "Press Clippings." Nothing about quality or appropriateness - these marketers love ink, as long as it comes by-the-gallon. All press is good press, I guess.

Let's not kid ourselves - PR firms ought to generate coverage. All I've been arguing for is a focus on metrics that matter to the guys and gals in the Boardroom. Walk into a Board meeting with a huge clip book, and the best you'll get in response is, "Good - you've done your job." Walk into that same crowd with proof that your PR has generated scads of quality leads, and you'll hear, "Excellent. You moved the needle."

Given my druthers, I'll take the latter response. Moving forward, I swear to you, it will be the only response that matters.