"Pitching, 2.0"

Here's one idea on how Social Media might impact the editorial pitch process...

Among the newfangled tools that's most intriguing for its potential to impact Public Relations practices is "social bookmarking." Putting together the custom del.icio.us page for our template helped enlighten me to the fact that social bookmarks could literally help salvage PR from its critics. This is a place where PR can add legitimate value to the journalist.

"Looks like a bunch of random links to me," you say? Au contraire. Done right, these tools will make the PR pro more strategic, more subtle and invaluable. Let's examine The Old Way & The Social Media Way to pitch the press.

Old Way:
  • Craft a clever, custom pitch.
  • Convince journalist to take a meeting (and do the bulk of the pre-interview research on their own).
  • Offer to help-out with additional materials and "anything else you need..."
  • Maybe send a god-awful press-kit in advance of the meeting, knowing full well that there were, maybe, 2 worthwhile paragraphs in the whole kaboodle.
  • Follow-up too diligently, until article breaks.
  • Ask journalist's editor for an after-the-fact clarification to soothe pissy client CEO.
New Way:
  • Craft a custom del.icio.us page with lotsa links to relevant background info about client execs, market, products, previous coverage.
  • Annotate these links with the all-important "WHY," e.g., "this article from 6 months ago did a good job of summing up the market factors that spawned (client's) idea."
  • Craft a clever, custom pitch.
  • Convince journalist to preview del.icio.us page and get back to you with questions.
  • (Convince journalist that the best person to answer these questions is your client.)
  • Suggest journalist subscribe to the custom del.icio.us page's RSS feed, until the editorial process concludes, so that they can have 24/7 access to any relevant info that pops up in the meantime (courtesy of the PR pro's diligent, on-going research. ...More strategic!)
  • Conduct client interview & follow-up diligently.
    • But now, use updates (and associated notes) to the del.icio.us page to tap journalist via their RSS reader --- which means fewer of those intrusive, unhelpful "anything else you need?" emails. ... More subtle!
    • The PR pro is now as attuned to the story's nuances as the journalist, and ultimately is far better equipped to pitch new angles on the same story, to additional reporters. ...Invaluable!
  • If story sucks, reach out to journalist; but if all else fails and these inaccuracies could hurt the client's business, help the client to blog about the errors --- very, very diplomatically.
Again, I must add the caveat: this is bleeding-edge stuff and not right for 95% of your clients. It's also too advanced for 98% of the media, I'd wager. "Too new, too funky, what's an RSS feed, this del.icio.us thing sounds kind've dirty...blah blah blah." Lastly, this New Way will never, ever replace great writing nor a strong personal rapport with the media.

But caveats aside - NEW does not equal BAD. NEW is the future. Today, we just get to peek at it. And prepare.

How Many Downloads of the Social Media Press Release Template So Far?

2 5 3 7

Back at the house but not "officially" back from vacation yet...but I got a few questions on this particular topic, so I wanted to share. Over 2,500 downloads so far.

Lessons Learned

I am leaving for a quick vacation tomorrow --- without laptop, without Treo --- but couldn't say "good-bye" for the long weekend without a quick post on some of the "lessons learned" via this week's excitement about the debut of the "Social Media Press Release."

The PR blogosphere is very generous. The wisdom and enthusiasm, good wishes and constructive criticisms were amazing.

Most people could care less about "the press release." What they all truly hate is "bad storytelling." I agree. Part of the "Big Idea" is to get rid of some of the PRspeak that has come to take the place of good storytelling, by stripping the news to its core facts. Having said that, I do want to clarify, again: the "Social Media Press Release" was never intended to replace a narrative pitch, nor is it intended to replace a journalist's responsibility to do their own research and write their own version of the news.

The "Social Media Press Release" is more about making the media's job easier than it is about "being social." It makes their job easier by:
  • providing multimedia content that they can view (for education) or post (to generate more reader enthusiasm).
  • putting the basic facts on display, without extraneous hoo-ha.
  • enabling them to keep tabs on related news updates (via RSS).
  • putting all speakers' contact info front¢er.
  • putting lots of relevant content, in context, and with helpful notes, all in one place (del.icio.us).
I am particularly keen on the ability to use a del.icio.us page to "guide" journalists through a narrative trail. "Click this link to learn more about latest industry happenings... Click this link to see GartnerGroup's 'magic quadrant' about this space... Click this link to listen to a podcast by our CEO... Click this link if you want to check out our customer list and case studies... etc." Just as the Social Media Press Release provides remixable content, the del.icio.us page provides remixable research as well as access to on-going reaction.

It's (not necessarily) too soon for the "Social Media Press Release." Yes, it is bleeding edge; maybe too much so, for many folks in the media, among clients and in the PR world. Yet, as I noted in my last post, bits & pieces of this concept are already working their way into the PR world. I was contacted numerous times this week by corporate marketers and PR agency pros who are keen to try this. It won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen.

No matter how often I tell folks it's spelled "SHIFT," all caps, they'll still use "Shift." Oh well.

It's been an exciting ride. Thanks to everyone at SHIFT and in the PR/marketing arena who helped out with this effort. Time to take a li'l time off to re-connect with the wife & kids.

After a week like this, there's only one place to go. Can you guess?

A Swift Kick into "PR 2.0"

Among the challenges raised among the voices who reacted to the debut of the Social Media Press Release template: the sense of "unreadiness" among media, PR, clients, and the wire services themselves. Jeremy Pepper probably said it best: "it's all about baby steps, and I think this is too big a step for a lot of consumer companies."

I admitted at the start that this template may well be too bleeding-edge (for now), but frankly I've been blown away by the positive reactions among clients, media and PR pros; the positives far outweigh the negatives so far (and even the so-called negatives have been constructive). My in-box is flooded.
  • One journalist told me, "This is cool; there are less things for me to ignore!"
  • The director of PR at a billion+ dollar company (not a client) reached out to say, "This is just the kind of thinking that we need."
  • The prez @ bitePR let me know they were working on similar projects for their clients.
And that's just a sampling. Wow. Thank you, all! We'll see what happens...

A key lesson learned from this effort is that if anyone seems truly "unready" for the next-gen press release, it's the wire services. Despite their claims, it seems it's still "horse & buggy" time.
  • 24+ hours turnaround, and only during business hours? Responsiveness? - slug-like.
  • Very poor knowledge or utility when it comes to Web 2.0 stuff like del.icio.us, Technorati, etc.
  • Formatting nightmares.
  • The multimedia nature of these Social Media Press Releases = more $$$. This will be a deal-breaker for some clients.
Interestingly, Mr. Buffett's pet, BusinessWire --- with whom we've enjoyed a warm relationship for years --- was worst of all. PRWeb was pretty good, but clearly not as up-to-snuff as they'd have you believe. Ultimately, PR Newswire was the acceptable middle ground in terms of functionality and breadth. Their MultiVu version of our release was the best of the bunch. I wouldn't hold them up as a shining example, though (mostly due to their pricing, and their 24-hour, business-hours-only policies, which seem out of step with today's 24/7 culture).

You can argue that this is "bleeding edge" stuff; you can argue that no one's touched the press release format in 50 years ... but, c'mon --- it also ain't rocket science.

Everyone has some hard work to do in this arena, and --- based on the reactions so far --- it seems to be work that's worth doing. Giddyap!

The "Social Media Press Release" Debuts - Download the Template Today!

Today we debuted the first-ever template of the "Social Media Press Release."

This newfangled press release format has been baking since late February, thanks to the rantings of Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher. You can get the template in PDF form here, or at our website.

The template is 100% open to the PR/marketing community. No copyright baloney. We hope it can serve as a helpful guide to kickstart thinking about how we can evolve the PR sector. Maybe it can serve as a talking points memo to show to clients, to convince them to give it a try? Maybe you hate it? Maybe you've got some ideas on how to improve it? Let me know.

Love it or hate it, what is important is that the banal, unhelpful, cookie-cutter press releases of yore have outlived their pre-Internet usefulness.

So, t
o announce the "Social Media Press Release template" (and to show how it might look in the real world) we also put out what may be the first ever press release to use this next-generation format, via PR Newswire.

As noted last week, Edelman has their own plans in this vein (also inspired by Foremski). We look forward to seeing how their version differs from our template. No doubt that with Edelman's deeper pockets, it will at least have more multimedia components.

For now, we're not so much hoping to impress, as to help. "Victory" will be achieved if our peers in the PR sphere start to download the PDF and tack it to their walls for future reference.

As this concept evolves, it will be tracked at a purpose-built del.icio.us site. Please pay a visit, or subscribe to the del.icio.us RSS feed for the "Social Media Press Release."

UPDATE: Some kind words so far, from the PR blogosphere (thanks)! If you can, please do take a moment to look at the del.icio.us site ... not just to keep tabs on the concept but, more importantly, in order to spur some thought about how a similar strategy might work for your own clients' PR efforts.

Meanwhile, if you want to see how the first official Social Media Press Release looks in practice, click this link to the PR Newswire version.

Edelman + Technorati, Sitting in a Tree

Edelman & Technorati are teaming up to better localize, track & translate the global blogosphere. The intimacy of the relationship between a major PR firm and a major search engine raises fascinating issues. Here's the official word according to the Technorati blog:
"Technorati and Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm, are announcing a relationship that's all about supporting the international growth of the blogosphere.

"Technorati is accelerating the development of fully localized versions of our service in Chinese, Korean, German, Italian and French. These will be moving through development and testing over the coming months and will be complete, public products in early 2007. (Technorati today can show posts in 20 languages, but so far we've only done completely localized versions in English and Japanese).

"Edelman is providing support for this accelerated development effort and will have access to these new sites as they are in development and testing this year. They will be working with their international clients on how to listen to and engage the blogosphere. How to move away from one-way, command and control marketing towards the conversational era we've entered."
Certainly, Edelman is to be applauded - imagine the competitive advantage that this brings to the table when they are pitching for a global brand! Large consumer brands operate in a real-time, 24/7, global communications environment, and --- at least until 2007 --- only Edelman can now compete at that level.

I am a li'l troubled by this move on Technorati's part, though. Aren't all PR firms and corporate marketers currently "working with clients on how to listen and engage the blogosphere"?

Giving one agency an early, proprietary lead --- if that's what is happening (it is unclear just now) --- seems to go against the grain of our open movement...

Imagine if the recently-unveiled Google Trends had been exclusively available to Fleishman-Hillard, for a year before its public debut. How would that have made you feel?

UPDATE: More troubling questions about this issue raised at the LooseWire blog, by WSJ columnist Jeremy Wagstaff. Edelman's been keeping tabs on this conversation. But it's Technorati that has some 'splainin' to do, if you ask me. When will the Technorati folks respond to all this, I wonder?

Friday Fun: Insignificant 'R' Us

Next time you find yourself frowning because your blog's comments are whisper-quiet, or your "Technorati This" button reveals no new links (kinda like the forlorn-sounding "No New Messages" on v-mail, ain't it?), just check out this link. Or this one.

It will make you feel much, much worse.

Don't have time to check the links? Lemme net it out for you (courtesy of this site):
...By means of analogy, we can see that our earth is but a speck of dust on the side of a grain of sand, in a sandbox that is about 20 feet diameter, with the closest sandbox being about 1/3 mile away, and our local group of galaxies would be but a collection of sandboxes in a space about the size of a small city, and that there are other cities with groups of sandboxes as well, expanding out to the whole earth, with billions of other sandboxes each representing other galaxies, each containing billions of stars.
Pretty humbling, eh, my fellow bloggers? Perspective is good.

But before you spin into the weekend feeling lost & lonely, alone & insignificant, here's a thought (from the same sitelink above) that may inspire us all:
(Humankind has) been given the ability to attempt to comprehend the scale of it all.

Edelman Pinches The "Press Release of Tomorrow"

This is kinda' exciting. Earlier this week at the Syndicate conference, according to PR WEEK, Richard Edelman talked about...
releasing a "physical manifestation" of the reinvention of the press release in June. "It’s better to say, 'We’re going to give you a set of info with tags and you organize it as you wish,'" Edelman said. “We’d rather have it in pieces as if it’s a b-roll and let bloggers make the news judgment.”
If you just can't wait til June; if you want a physical manifestation of the Press Release of Tomorrow, today, just click this link and then hit "print" on your browser. ;)

I wonder what Edelman's version will look like. I wonder if it will become a new standard for our industry. I wonder what the clients will think.

Seriously, all self-aggrandizing bias aside (it was Foremski who inspired us, anyway), I applaud Edelman's move. I love it that a Big Agency is taking up the cause, and I love it that that Big Agency is an independent firm, not one of the intergalactic "marcomglomerates." If I could pick anyone (besides me) to be the 1st to pinch the cheeks of the "Press Release of Tomorrow" in the delivery room, it would be our industry's leading independent.

Hat-tip to Mike Manuel, and Josh Hallett, where I caught wind of these developments.

When Clients Want Out

The idea for this post came from John Wagner. A few weeks ago, he was curious about other PR agencies' policies when "a client either wants out of a contract or doesn't want to pay for work that's been provided."

It boggles my mind when a client thinks they can disregard the contract. I don't understand how the question even comes up. I somehow doubt that our clients ever ask their lawyers if they "need to actually pay their legal bills?"

When a client doesn't pay their bill for 90 days, we stop work. To many folks, 90 days sounds like too long a time to wait, but, we work with a lot of start-ups, so it happens. We try to be flexible if there is a good faith effort to handle the A/P on the client's side.

On the rare occassion when a client simply refuses to pay, we send them to a collections agency, and usually to court. There's a clause in our contracts that provides a reasonable time period in which the client can dispute a bill for any reason, including (gasp!?) dissatisfaction. If they are not on record within that timeframe (which they signed off on originally, after all), we assume payment is forthcoming.

All of our contracts include a 60 day exit clause, so we assume that we are "always 60 days from being fired." Paranoia is bad for the soul, good for client retention.

In any case, a 60-day clause is seen by most clients as a reasonable compromise: "Let's wrap this up in 60 days." You need that time to tie up loose ends and transition things properly to a new firm or in-house contact.

Thankfully, our retention rate is upwards of 2 years (some clients have worked with us in some form or fashion for 8 years), so these issues come up fairly rarely.

Presumptions of Freedom

In earlier blog posts I've speculated on how Consumer-Generated Media may impact journalism. But up above I do promise the "occasional rant," and reading articles like this one from ABC News' blog, "The Blotter," forced me to wonder (and fume) about the longer-term fate of the freedom of the press.

The domestic security czars have been using their newfound powers under the Patriot Act to spy on The Fourth Estate, specifically re: the CIA leaks/Plame investigation. But I thought we were ONLY targeting terrorists? (Dana Perino, deputy press secretary: all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.")

From The Blotter:
"FBI officials did not deny that phone records of ABC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post had been sought as part of a investigation of leaks at the CIA... Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information ...(via)... an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving (such a subpeona) for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government."
I've scrupulously avoided political musings on this blog, but when journalism is at risk, then PR is at risk, eh? Much more importantly, when a chill wind is allowed to blow across the freedom of the press (liberal, conservative or bone-headed), it does not bode well for the entire American ethos.

It boggles my mind when someone says, "If you aren't doing anything wrong, why would you care if they are spying on you?" It's BECAUSE I am not doing anything wrong that I DO care if the government is spying on me. Does the phrase, "presumed innocent" mean anything to you, My Fellow Americans, my fellow lovers of the U.S. Constitution?

From Daily Kos:
"The terrorists' most dangerous weapon isn't anthrax or planes or dirty bombs; it's fear. Fear is their most destructive weapon because it operates in a stealth manner. Fear is what has caused our government to turn on its citizens and brag that it does so out of courage in the fight against evil. And in that sense, by goading the greatest democracy on earth to view 300 million citizens as the potential enemy, fear has proved to be the most effective weapon of mass destruction of all."

PR Students: Read This Book

A guy I like a lot also happens to be a client, Joe Chernov from BzzAgent. Last year he wrote a book that I consider a must-read for anyone new to PR.

I read through some of the reader comments on Amazon (rave reviews), and this one summed up my own feelings best:
"As a PR professional and former journalist, I've heard the old adage 'good, fast, cheap -- pick any two, many times.' With this book, you can get all three. The beauty of these tips is that the author has managed to condense what would normally take years to learn through experience and gives a consise and well written summary of pr fundementals. Not only would I encourage business people to read it, but for students interested in pursuing a pr career, it could help put you on the fast track."
I heartily agree. This is a quick read that will make any PR newbie sound like a legitimate pro. As Joe himself says in the book: "PR is not magic. It's a trade." If so, he's written a first-class instruction book. (For less than $10, even!)

There are No PR Pros at the End of the Rainbow

I wish I had a nickel for every time a client or prospect told us: "If you do our PR for cheap, we'll increase the budget as-soon-as we get acquired or get the VC $$$."

Almost. Never. Happens.

Correction: Never Happens.

"YOU will get rich when the acquisition/funding comes through," I say. "And that's great; we're happy to help make that happen...
  • "But, WE don't make money when the 'lucky strike' happens...
  • What guarantees can you possibly make to us about this event?
    • "What if the CEO/VC decides to NOT increase the PR budget when the warchest fills-up?
    • "What if an acquirer decides to suspend all vendor contracts? - will you go to bat for us?
    • "When you hired us you suggested that you wanted to be primed for an acquisition/VC infusion - so, why should we expect a big retainer increase once that motivation is gone?"
Have you ever seen the polite grimace on a PR pro's face, as they listen to the delighted tale of their client's new-found riches? Have you ever seen a PR pro's jaws clench, as the client goes on to suggest that maybe, just maybe, "the great PR helped increase the valuation"?

Don't succumb to the client's pitch. PR agencies work very, very hard to promote their clients' successes, with no expectations of life-changing wealth as a result. Get paid for today's work today. "Tomorrow" will take care of itself.

The Press Release "Remix"

From Shel Hotz's blog last week:

In (the May 9) edition of For Immediate Release podcast interviews, Neville and Shel enjoyed a 28-minute conversation with Tom Foremski, editor of Silicon Valley Watcher, about online journalism, public relations, the relationships between the two, the future of the press release, and the impacts of change in these professions being brought about by social media.

This was a great chat, and yep, the "Press Release of Tomorrow" topic came up (yay!). Stuart Bruce subsequently responded, "The world - specifically, mainstream reporters - ain't ready yet."

I respectfully disagree.

Consider this: among the reader-submitted ideas that most intrigued the WSJ's editors, when they asked readers "to look ahead and describe for us the perfect news site, circa 2016," was this gem:
"Reporters … find out all sorts of things when writing an article or cover a business, but these don't always fit into the form of a news article. They should be dumped into an encyclopedia."
You know where that additional research/content/context/link fodder would come from?
From the PR community! From the Press Release of the Future!

Here's the thing: the "Press Release of Tomorrow" (PROT) will still contain NEWS CONTENT, and arguably in a more digestible format.

The only "Big Change" is the recognition that all Internet users --- including journalists, as the graphic implies --- are now comfortable researching & working online, across many types of "remixable media"
(hyperlinks, text, photos, videos, pdf, etc.) ...

At its essence, the PROT merely facilitates the journalist's job, by amplifying prospective source materials. "Here is the basic NEWS item. Here are some QUOTES from execs, users, etc. And, here are links to alternative news sources that provide CONTEXT and ADDITIONAL CONTENT for your consideration."

The PROT does not replace a well-crafted pitch. It does not replace the need to provide basic, factual news. And --- contrary to the opinions of the PR contrarians --- the format of the PROT is arguably as familiar to the journalist as the Tradition Press Release: it basically looks like a webpage!

It's a custom-built mini-site... that we can humbly call the Press Release of Tomorrow.

What Should Dan Blog About?

Earthlink's Earthling blog caught some nice buzz when it launched back in December. This week, some PR bloggers have been invited to preview a new blogging effort by Dan Greenfield, Earthlink's vp of corp comms.

I am hoping Dan steps up to do some interesting things with his blog. Earthlink is a big company and if Dan thinks big, it wouldn't be hard for him to get some good Googlejuice flowing his way.

I'd like to hear about Dan's day. Maybe see a bunch of photos of Earthlink execs in their offices, at the coffee machine, in the Boardroom. Behind the scenes stuff. (He's a photo buff, after all.)

I'd like Dan to address Earthlink's own blog software futures. Will there be an Earthlink blogging platform? Why or why not?

I'd like to see Dan call in to Earthlink tech support as a "typical customer" and report back on the experience - how he felt as a user, and subsequently as an exec. (I used to be an Earthlink customer, and - sorry Dan - the customer service sucked.) I wonder if Dan considers customer service to even be a PR issue? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Can he make an impact?

Of course, I'd also love to see Dan blog about his interactions with the press and his internal PR staff and external agencies. It would be very interesting to hear Dan's thoughts about the competition.

Notice that few of these issues raise SOX issues. I am sensitive to the need of an exec within a public company to tread carefully. My point to Dan, and to any would-be FORTUNE-level blogger, is to add unique value to the blogosphere. What can Dan teach us that a typical PR agency blogmeister would never know? What can Dan teach other execs within other big companies about how to manage their perceptions, and even how to manage their agencies?

Re-reading this post, it sounds snarky to me. It's not meant that way. Honestly, I am rooting for this latest entrant to the blogosphere. It's a good & important sign when a Big Company exec takes this plunge. Good luck!

Germany "Hearts" Online Media

This Google Trends stuff is neat. Not sure how valid this trendsearch really is, but what was fascinating was how much the Germans seem to looooove the "online media" theme.

Journalism's Forced March

Early on, "Journalism" adopted this mantra: “Give comfort to the afflicted by afflicting the comfortable.” Journalism has been democracy’s watchdog.
You could argue that they fell down on the job during the run-up to the Iraq War, but that’s for DailyKos and others to debate. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that trust in the Mainstream Media (MSM) is at an all time low. Meanwhile, as has been discussed, traditional journalism is coming under siege from ever-more-qualified producers from the world of Consumer Generated Content (CGM).

If CGM supplants the traditional news media, it will likely start with the “soft stuff” – highly localized news; celebrity spotting and gossip; sports reporting – the content that is accessible to the layman.

One unassailable strategy for MSM's survival will come via a “forced march” to its Revolutionary-era roots as the gadflies to the powerbrokers. While “citizen journalists” assume responsibility for fluffy and micro-targeted editorial, MSM can once again become “journalists for the citizenry.” Think about it: Joe Blogger ain’t getting invited to no White House Press Conference. He isn’t going to lobby the CIA for documents via the Freedom of Information Act. If he is like most Americans, he doesn’t know the name of his mayor, much less his Congressman.

Meanwhile, the MSM's reporters have the credentials, resources, and privileged access required to bring us investigative reporting that must not only be HIGH VALUE (exclusive) but also LEGITIMATE (reputation is everything) and, CONTROVERSIAL (to sell advertising).
High value, legitimate, controversial reporting in the service of the citizenry will drive more traffic and trackbacks to their sites (profit); it will help MSM continue to drive the conversation (clout); and, it will hopefully produce a more ethical ruling class.

Benjamin Franklin would have been a great blogger.

OhMy! CGM’s Long-Term Impact on PR

is a very popular South Korean news website with as many readers (700K
per day) as any large
news outlet. It relies 100% on citizen journalists to report the news; OhMy’s only
staff is comprised of a handful of professional copyeditors.
Articles reach prominence digg-style, via
a user voting system.

To date, Consumer Generated Content (CGM) has been seen as
a wave of craptastic YouTube videos, easy-come/easy-go blogs, inane MySpace chatter,
podcasts, etc. Revere it or revile it, CGM is
a BIG wave; it cannot be ignored; its “wavelets” (content, producers, mediatypes)
will get ever-more sophisticated… But so far, CGM has not posed an outsized threat
to mainstream content sources (Hollywood,
MSM, MTV, etc.).

Except for OhMy News.
It’s as good as it needs to be.
It’s accurate, timely, popular, profitable. It’s
probably what the BBC 2.0 project strives to be; a model for journalism in the dawning
CGM era.

So here’s the

Question of the Millennium
for PR types:
what if every journalism outlet in the
U.S. morphed into an OhMy clone?

First off, we’ll end our subscriptions to journalist-tracking
services like
You’re on your own, kid. There will always
be “professional citizen journalists” like

and a cadre of A-List bloggers to impress, but their ranks are likely
to thin out. The reporter you’ll need to impress
could be your dog-walker, or your pesky kid-sister, or the butcher...you won’t know
til it’s too late; the article is posted, amigo.

So what can we do to supplement PR's traditional capabilities?

A few ideas spring to mind, but we’ll need more:

  • Event planning – manufacture a buzzworthy gig

  • Word-of-Mouth Marketing
    – tell your friends! (And your dog-walker, butcher,

  • Blogger Relations –

    already underway

  • Blog Monitoring -

    already underway

  • Purpose-Built Blogs
    (CEO, news-based, crisis-made, etc.)

  • Press Release-As-Content
    – for the media remixing needs of the media- and

  • Podcasts
    – “timeshift your content”

  • Remixable
    – it’s not just the press release; we can produce scads of cool content

  • Psychological Counseling – I am only half-joking; it will
    not be easy for the clients to offer up their content in an easily remixable
    format (to "set
    it free
    "), only to watch their message and content get hacked & contorted
    by legions of amateur journalists and bloggers!

What do you think YOU’LL be doing, 5 years from now?

CGM Ends the Symbiotic Relationship Between PR and Journalism

Today the blogosphere – a subset of Consumer Generated Content (CGM) – regularly scavenges the Mainstream Media (MSM) for ideas on “what to write about.”

This is a testament to the influence and power of MSM, which for a hundred-plus years has served as the “official record” of our lives. MSM had the resources and the captive audience to cement its dominance. Until the advent of broadband and blogs (and, more recently, “social voting” systems like digg), consumers did not have the tools to crack open “broadcasting” through the power of “conversation.”

As our relationship to MSM evolves, we can predict a “paradigm shift” in terms of News Generation.

Today, in addition to coming up with their own ideas, journalists listen to PR pros “pitch” them, along the lines of, “This would be a great story for your readers because (fill in the blank).”

Because we do our research in advance, because we can tie a ribbon on a story by providing everything from statistics to alternate story angles to user references, PR folks have become pretty good at this aspect of News Generation. For the past 50 years, there has been a symbiotic relationship between Journalism and PR: we help develop the stories that we need them to write; they need something to write about.

But at its core, Journalism’s chief responsibility is to its audience. Journalism must report on what is of-interest to its consumers.

And this audience for the first time has the power to create and communicate their interests through their own content, their own news, their own likes&dislikes. More so than ever, the funnel has flipped: because this consumer audience is engaged in an on-going, real-time conversation, trends can develop much faster, and, importantly, these trends can be tracked.

Which means that as a meme filters from “wide/dispersed/unimportant” to “trendy” to “controversial,” journalists will be forced to report on it. No PR intervention required.

We’ve been trying to start trends by getting mainstream reporters to broadcast our concepts, and we hope the message resonates with consumers. While that’s still worth doing (for now), journalists are now looking OUTSIDE traditional symbiotic relationships, to the Blogosphere, to source ideas. They’re cutting out the middlemen.

We must widen our lens to make sure that the conversation about our clients starts in the wider world. We can no longer solely rely on the benevolence of the professional journalist.

Eternal Sunshine of the Blogosphere

One of our more interesting clients is BzzAgent. BzzAgent is an acknowledged leader in the Word Of Mouth (WOM) industry. And that's the problem.

As part of our work with BzzAgent, we've discussed the fact that sometimes it's not easy being the media darling of a nascent sector: at this early stage of the WOM industry, there are many players scrapping for a leadership spot. Anyone who shows signs of gaining an "early lead" is going to get sniped at on occassion.

A positive review in the Holmes Report of BzzAgent CEO Dave Balter's Grapevine book led to just this sort of grumbling. (Paul Holmes responds, zingily, here.) Apparently the CEO of the year-old WOM industry group heard the grumbling and - as is natural for a guy in his role - engaged BzzAgent in a dialogue that (not so naturally) became quite public.

(In case you think that you don't have time to click the link, the phrase "Andy Sernovitz Thinks I'm a Dick" is part of the subject line. Now do you want to read it?)

This post isn't about the brouhaha, but about the way it was handled.

BzzAgent chose the transparency route: they had a tough conversation with the WOMMA CEO and (after reflecting on it all) subsequently told the world about it.

Negatives to this approach? Despite the candid good-will that is evident, the blog post could stir the pot even more, which is not necessarily a good thing in an industry that, as AdRants noted, has its fair share of critics.

Positives? Now that the issues have been exposed to the sunlight, any future fall-out in the relationship between WOMMA and BzzAgent will reveal that one short, tough conversation about a relatively trivial issue was a possible cause. As Forrester's Peter Kim noted, "It's strange yet entirely appropriate that this dirty laundry about WOM would be aired by WOM in a WOM channel."

Just one more example of how the blogosphere serves us all by being the "people's public record?"

Skype Continues To Change The World

I know, I am a laggard, a luddite. I don't use Skype, yet. But, I know millions of people do, and I know that it is changing the world, and I know that "changing the world" is cool.

Skype is now previewing a new service, Skypecast. Also, very cool.
"Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another."
Why should we pay for expensive teleconferencing solutions anymore? This could change everything from "earnings calls" to run-of-the-mill press briefings.

I can't wait for some wise-ass financial analyst to ask a CFO, "You've spent much of this earnings call discussing how you are trimming expenses - how much did you spend with AT&T on this hour-long teleconference line? Why not just Skypecast it?"

Has it been long enough, yet? --- has the phrase "paradigm shift" been in the penalty box long enough that we can now dust it off again for the Web 2.0 era?

Hat-tip to B.L. Ochman.

The 5 Evils of Agency PR: #5 - Team Fatigue

This is 5th and final post in a series that discuss the "Five Evils of Agency PR."

#1 - Employee Churn.

- Measurement Misunderstanding

#3 - Budget Flux

#4 - "Small Fish Syndrome"

#5 - Team Fatigue

It happens. You’re sick of your PR team. They are sick of you. There’s a sense of restless desperation on the weekly calls. There’s too much idle, friendly chit-chat and not enough hunger on the agency side. The team started out strong... but now you feel like you’re the one with all the ideas: your creative whiz-kids have become little more than arms and legs. The ink’s harder to come by, too.

Meanwhile, of course, Agency management is trying to goad and wheedle the account lead to "keep it going for a few more months." This grows tiresome to the account leader, whose weariness and angst start to rub off on the rest of the team.

Now re-visit Evil Post #1, re: Churn. The cycle begins anew!

*** *** ***

Y'know what bugs me about these so-called "5 Evils?" That they're not new. These problems have existed for a long time. I hate to sound bleak & bitter on a Friday morning, but ...

  • Too many agencies have given up on improving the high-pressure, "churn & burn" mindset that wipes out staff morale. (Not everyone, of course - I loved this post, and this one.)
  • Too many agencies have allowed other vendors to decide the fate of PR measurement.
  • Too many agencies have given up on the idea of retaining clients for more than 12 months.
  • Or, worse, they've decided to put as much attention as possible on keeping a select few "anchor" accounts, and give short shrift to the remainder of their clients.
These bad practices have been bad for the reputation of the reputation industry. (Say that 5-times fast!)

I think it is important to note that hardly any of these "evils" related to "Ethics." I've found most PR folks to be highly ethical (breaches occur in every industry). These evils are sins of laziness and of mis-directed focus. We could better help clients if we could improve our business models and training practices.

To me, it's all about the flywheel concept promoted in Jim Collins's classic Good To Great. We know what our problems are... if each of us applied a bit of pressure to each of these challenges, slowly but surely we'd build an industry that deserved true acclaim.

The 5 Evils of Agency PR: #4 - "Small Fish Syndrome"

This is #4 in a 5-part series of posts that discuss the "Five Evils of Agency PR." Specifically, the 5 prevailing reasons (in no particular order) for firing a PR agency.

#1 - Employee Churn.

- Measurement Misunderstanding

#3 - Budget Flux

#4 - "Small Fish Syndrome"

You know the old saw, “If you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it”? The same is true of clients that wonder whether they’re getting their agency’s “A-Team.”

It’s fine to ask that question if you are a prospective client, as long as you know the right follow-up questions to ask:

“Wouldn’t the A-Team also be assigned to the agency’s biggest accounts?”

And, “If the A-Team is also assigned to the agency’s biggest accounts, how could we possibly get their attention & best work?”

If you know enough to ask such questions, than you don't ask 'em, cuz you know the answers...

What a horrible feeling for the client. Whatever budget they have to spend, it’s a lot to them.

The 5 Evils of Agency PR: #3 - Budget Flux

This is #3 in a 5-part series of posts that discuss the "Five Evils of Agency PR." Specifically, the 5 prevailing reasons (in no particular order) for firing a PR agency.

#1 - Employee Churn.

- Measurement Misunderstanding

#3 - Budget Flux

Most agencies prefer what’s known as the "Time & Materials" model (T&M). Simply put, clients are paying for the agency’s time and expenses. This model motivates the agency to load-up on time-consuming tactics regardless of what the client may really need.

Even if an agency has rock-solid ethical standards, the variability of month-to-month budgeting leads to disheartening discussions about $$$ every few weeks, and, the inconsistency of this system makes it hard for clients to create realistic budget forecasts.

SHIFT offers only one financial model: a flat-rate, expenses-included retainer. Clients get the same bill, every month. No surprises, no monthly chit-chats about money.

Yes, we often lose money on this arrangement, but yes, we keep our clients for a long, long time. It evens out over time.

The 5 Evils of Agency PR: #2 - Measurement

This is #2 in a 5-part series of posts that discuss the "Five Evils of Agency PR." Specifically, we're talkin' about the 5 prevailing reasons for firing a PR agency.

#1 - Employee Churn.

- Measurement Misunderstanding

Unfortunately everyone seems to have a different opinion about how to measure Public Relations success. When the client asks the PR firm, “How do we know if we are moving the needle?” they are probably frustrated by an answer that leads to a forlorn-looking clip-book.

What do you think about PR measurement?

Do you like the Ad-Value Equivalency approach? Do you like Share of Voice? Do you think that the Share of Voice model will gain more clout and sophistication, thanks to the rise of blogs? Do you think it is possible to help clients ascertain how PR impacted their inbound lead flow? Do you think that a fat clip book is enough? Do you think that the CMO will feel increased pressure to quantify the revenue impacts of each & every marketing program?

I will not use this post to go off on yet-another toot about tying PR to Sales. But I'll have a lot more to say on that subject, soon. Will you?

The 5 Evils of Agency PR: #1 - Churn

This will be a 5-part series of posts that discuss the "Five Evils of Agency PR." ... Specifically, the 5 prevailing reasons (in no particular order) that clients use for firing their PR firm.

#1 Employee Churn.

After investing time and money getting a new agency up to speed, clients find it off-putting when one or more of the key people leaves the Agency.

They need to "start over" with a new team. Momentum is lost. Maybe it works out with a new team, maybe it doesn't. It begs the question, though: "If we need to invest our time and money in evaluating and ramping-up with a new team, we might as well review other agencies."”

Can you blame them?

If you run a PR agency, and this issue resonates, then you might need to think differently about how to run things. You've probably heard the apocryphal Marketing 101 story: "The railroad barons lost the war against the automobile because they failed to realize that they were NOT in the railroad business, they were actually in the TRANSPORTATION business. If they'd realized that early on, they might have had a chance at re-architecting their business."

Here's how the lesson applies, at least at our shop:

SHIFT is not a PR agency. SHIFT is a TALENT MANAGEMENT AGENCY - whose talents just happen to be focused on Public Relations. It makes all the difference.