Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I wish everyone a fantastic, prosperous, healthy and most importantly peaceful 2009. Let's all resolve to make this world better for our family, friends, and even perfect strangers we've yet to meet.

Smile more. Laugh lots. Stress less. And inject more love in to the world in 2009.

Happy New Year all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PR Predictions for 2009

It's the end of the year which means it's time for "best of lists" and predictions.  I'm going to the later route with predictions.

FWIW here are my PR predictions for 2009:
  • Social Media and digital strategies increase in popularity.  Companies, non-profits and organizations begin to realize the true costs (time and labor) to effectively create, maintain and engage with target audiences.
  • PR goes back to its roots in building relationships with the media and with each other. Blind pitching, off-topic pitching, and spamming not only continues to incur journalists' ire, but angers members of the PR profession who are doing it well. PR Pros who can't adapt to new communication paradigms will be the most impacted. 
  • PR spammer wikis continue to grow and awareness of them outside the journalist/PR industry (read: CLIENTS) learn who's perceived to be doing shoddy work.
  • Interactive applications and UX sites are used by more brands to deliver the customer experience to address concerns before a purchase and to reinforce purchase decisions.
  • PR Pros return/reinforce their role as ADVISORS.
  • PR associations and organizations become less influential (but still important) as social media empowers tweetups and entrepreneurs to create their own seminars, conferences and seminars to discuss their interest in the industry.
  • 2009 will be the year of measurement and metrics to effectively document ROI for ANY communication initiatives.
  • More media outlets will fail and close.  Mainstream media (print and broadcast) with some trades will be the hardest hit. Media model will continue to shift.  I predict mobile applications and streaming of breaking news in real-time will become more popular.
  • There is a strong resurgence in the corporate communications position as companies struggle to effectively use social media to communicate with its audiences.  These positions will have less to do with marketing and more to do with PR.  Expect to see more VPs of Communications separate from VPs of Marketing.
  • Almost all major global brands will have Twitter accounts and will use social media and the Internet to conduct open source monitoring of its brands; monitor brand evangelists; survey the competitive landscape; and engage with customers to optimize or in some cases, rebuild customer trust.
  • Customer advisory boards make a return for companies struggling in the slumping economy.  These will be online and in stores.
  • Companies continue to spend less on traditional PR tactics and more on social media and digital strategy.
  • 2009 will be the year of mobile as next generation Google phone and advanced mobile apps are released to further increase communications between organizations/audiences.
  • Trade show budgets continue to shrink and length of shows is cut. Number of media attending is reduced. Companies expected to have something "beyond the press release" for all major announcements.
  • Push/Pull dynamic for media pitching continues. HARO increases in popularity but not all industries/news is sought after as active topics by the media.  PR pros use social media, news wires, videos and interactive strategies to tell client's stories.
  • Changes in government communications and continued government use of Web 2.0 tools will cause companies and certain federal and civilian agencies to play catch up as they stuggle to quickly implement early best practices of these tools.
  • PR will continue to evolve and will finally stop defining itself so narrowly and embrace the new technologies to become the authorities and leaders to promote brand awareness, customer engagement and competitive intelligence to best advise and counsel clients/companies/organizations/non-profits. 
We'll see how close I came at the end of next year.  What are some of your PR predictions for 2009?

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, today's my birthday! Shameless self plug!

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to Hire A PR Firm

Do you really need a PR agency? And if you think you do, what should they be doing for you?

The PR industry is changing and the faltering economy means MarComm initiatives are often the first to get cut in reduction of company budgets. There's even disagreements within the PR community over what our industry is and what it isn't. No wonder potential clients often scratch their heads when agencies come through with their capability presentations. One agency totes their strong media relations skills (a core PR component - a fact I think we can all agree upon), while others demonstrate their digital, production, and social media capabilities. For a company that is looking to establish or expand its current public relations program, trying to find an agency that fits their needs and budget can look like a daunting task. FWIW here's what I think companies looking to hire an agency should consider:

Determine Objectives/Priorities in Accordance with the Company's Business Plan : What do you hope to get out of working with an agency? Most companies tend to answer this question tactically: More media coverage? Market penetration/development? Content development? Service/product launch? Trade show support? Event planning? Figure out some core business goals and objectives that you believe PR activities can help you achieve and then give the agencies you contact a head's up on what you wish to accomplish. A good agency should help you think strategically to help you best reach any of your goals and objectives. Consider having agencies you contact sign a non-disclosure agreement so planning is based on as much information as possible.

Vetting process: Almost every agency you contact is going to come through with a capabilities presentation. It will highlight the agency history, structure, clients, awards, relevant case studies, and then overall capabilities. Any agency coming through should demonstrate that they spent some time thinking about your company. Don't expect an agency to know your business thoroughly, but most good PR firms will invest some business development time to try to learn as much as possible about your company's media presence, target audiences and overview of the competitive landscape.

As you meet with agencies, you may want to narrow your decision to two or three final choices. Send follow-up questions on how an agency would help your company address certain issues or needs. Ask for proposals or an average cost of services to get a better sense of how budget dollars will be used.

Ask for references and case studies: Don't take a PR firm's word that they're good. A PR agency should be willing to refer you to references that will be able to give you answers on what it's like to work with them and the type of successes they have had. Awards are great, but they don't give you the emotional intelligence needed to determine which agency is best for you.

Resources: Determine what resources you have to devote to your agency. This is NOT just money. Is there a point of contact in the company that will have frequent contact with the agency? This is very important as the agency will want to know who to contact in order to accomplish goals.

Meet your team: Ask who will be doing and supervising the work on behalf of your company. Ask to meet them BEFORE you sign a contract. This way, you will be able to gauge your comfort level of which team you feel will do the best job for your company. Also ask about formal reporting and account structure.

Information Overload: Once an agency is chosen, they will request a deep dive to learn as much about your company as possible. Give the agency as much information as possible. The history, structure, issues, products, services and immediate communication needs a company may have should be disclosed.

Give them your current marketing collateral and make sure they know any core messages that you want associated with the company's brand. The more information you provide, the better the agency will be at helping to develop, execute and measure an appropriate communication campaign.

Be Open: Once you hire an agency, be open to new suggestions and ideas that your agency has to help you achieve your goals and objectives. Social media, Web 2.0 communication strategies, multi-media and digital strategy tactics may be discussed. Ask the agency to justify their recommendations with studies or research to show that it is a good investment of your PR budget. Ask for how these initiatives will be measured to ensure maximum ROI.

My professional philosophy: Don't hire an agency to get you media coverage. Hire an agency to get you intelligence and then capitalize on what you learn to address your target audiences. If you do this well, you will have no problem getting the coveted press coverage and industry attention that most companies want.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

"How-To" To Continue

My apologies to anyone checking my blog recently for more "how-to" posts only to discover that I've only written one since declaring December "how-to" month. Very, very, very bad of me!

I promise a flurry of posts towards the end of the year. I have written several but work and the busy holiday season has derailed me from posting. I promise more soon so please keep checking back!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How To Get The Most From Your PR Internship

I'm making my first 'how to' post all about how to get the most from your PR internship.  When I was in college, I was very fortunate to land multiple internships to help me broaden my professional experience and my skills. 

We've all heard why internships are important. Some firms have strong structured intern programs, while others have more loose informal programs. Regardless of how an agency's program is structured, it is important that interns make the most of their experience and leave their internship feeling enriched and enlightened.

After completing a successful internship at a small communications firm during my senior year in college, I was offered my first job that turned into a 3.5 year wonderful experience in PR, public affairs and media analysis.  

During this time, I got to serve as intern coordinator for the firm's internship program.  FWIW, here are my pointers for interns on how to get the most from your PR internship:

Be Ready:  Good internships are going to expose you to a range of opportunities.  Most internships should offer you a broad range of core PR and communication skills that you will need if you decide to pursue a public relations career.  This includes a heavy emphasis on research, media list creation and vetting, editorial calendar lists, clip capture, client competitive analysis and drafting all matters of client communication materials like press releases and press kit materials.  Basic media pitching and media relations techniques will probably be taught (I hope agencies have gotten better about this compared to my first internship). Be ready to work on multiple client accounts and support multiple client projects.  While a lot of the internship work may seem administrative and rote in nature, research, writing, pitching and basic client relations is what the most basic internships should provide.  I also encourage agencies to include interns in account status meetings, client planning and brainstorming sessions.  This way, interns also get exposure to strategic counsel and planning behind specific tactics.

Find A Mentor: Some internship programs assign mentors, some don't.  Regardless, find a seasoned professional you can talk to and exchange ideas.  I'm honored that three of the interns that I had the pleasure of working with when I was the intern coordinator still seek me out for counsel and advice. I'm also blessed that I have a strong network of three mentors that I keep in touch with regularly that I am able to bounce ideas off of and talk about the next big thing. I encourage those of you who are currently looking for a mentor to work with your alumni associations to identify alumni you can meet with to discuss and learn more about the PR industry. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook also offer opportunities to discuss and follow industry influencers.  Finally, PRSA, IABC, BMA and other industry associations offer the opportunity for communication professionals to meet and exchange ideas.  These are all great venues and opportunities to find mentors.

Speak Up: You aren't "just an intern."  You are a member of the PR team and the agency.  A lot of firms rely on interns to provide them with the inside scoop on social media and other forms of communication.  Be willing to share what you know.  Your knowledge of new media; How you get your information; How you communicate with your friends, family, professors and others; How you interact with certain brands. You know more than you think and your agency and team will appreciate your insights and contributions.

Also, volunteer for assignments and ask what you can do to help. This will make you a valuable member of the team and not" just an intern." Ask questions and for clarification of assignments upfront. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help when you need it. 

Ask for Feedback: Most internships have a formal process where interns are evaluated at the beginning and end of their internship.  Ask your supervisor or internship coordinator to provide feedback on a regular basis. This could be an informal meeting over a cup of coffee or a standing weekly meeting to discuss your experiences so far.  Exchanging feedback over the course of your internship should enrich your experience and allow you to ask questions and raise issues as you encounter them.

Be Proactive: Volunteer for assignments. Ask what you can do to help out. Introduce yourself to as many people in as many departments as possible. Make yourself the liaison between departments if necessary.  This will not only broaden the activities you are exposed to, but it will make you a main point of contact and therefore essential to your team.  You will also increase your professional network and be exposed to other industries in communications such as advertising, creative, account management and digital strategy.

Professional Results: When your internship is over, talk to your supervisor about the types of experiences you have had and what you can put on your resume or use as samples of the type of work you have done.  If you helped write a press release or handled pitching activities that led to major media placements, make sure you have documentation of media clips.  If you earned any professional awards or recognition for a campaign you contributed to, make sure that is reflected on your resume. Finally, make sure that your resume not only highlights your capabilities (e.g. drafted press releases), but your results (e.g. client received coverage in major trade publication due to direct outreach efforts; coordinated the most successful Web seminar in client history leading to X business leads).  Once you update your resume ask a colleague to review what you have done to make sure it is clear and concise. Ask for a formal recommendation either in a letter or on your LinkedIn profile so your accomplishments and value are documented.

Remember, no matter how structured or loose an internship program is, interns have a great deal of control on how much they get from their experience.  Don't expect an internship  program to be perfect. Be willing to share with an agency what you enjoyed and what you feel can be improved upon in their program.  A good agency will listen to your feedback and take it into consideration.

I would love to hear from current and former PR interns about their best and worst internship experiences.  What do interns hope to get out of their PR internships?  Please post your comments/stories in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Declaring December "How To" Month

New business meetings and strategic planning for clients is taking up a lot of my time lately. That being said, I'm declaring December the "How To" month.

I noticed that my post on how to get the most from your PR firm has gotten quite a few hits (thanks google analytics). So, I'm making December a month on best practices and strategic initiatives that I've learned/encountered. This is definitely all FWIW information, but I hope you find it useful. Please feel free to comment and add your own perspective/lessons learned as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting It

Does your firm "get" social media for its clients?

Jennifer Leggio at ZDNet is trying to find out which PR firms understand and are executing successful social media campaigns for their clients. She's created a survey for companies (read: NOT PR pros/agencies) to weigh-in on what PR firms are doing and more importantly should be doing in regards to social media.

I suspect we'll see the usual suspects in terms of PR firms that are actively and successfully integrating social media campaigns as part of their larger client's strategy. Anyone know of small to mid-size PR firms that are generally overlooked in terms of their social media capabilities and execution? I would love some recommendations.

If you are a savvy marketing/communications manager for a company that is looking to hire or has hired a PR firm to help you with your social media strategy, you can take survey here. PR peeps: forward to your clients if you think they would be interested in filling it out. End submission date is Jan. 5th, 2009. Jennifer says she'll post the results in January.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to Get the Most from Your PR Agency

I've been in a lot of new business meetings lately. I've heard all kinds of stories about dealing with PR and advertising agencies when it came to account management, managing expectations and measuring results. Some are good. The majority are bad and there appears to be a lot of frustration with not knowing how to move forward internally to make sure that history does not repeat itself when it comes to poor or just plain awful account management.

Yes, there are things agencies can do to be accountable and establish strong communication with their clients. But what can clients do to make sure they are getting the most from their agencies?

For what it's worth, here are my thoughts for clients:

Get Organized: Identify a point of contact or contacts that interact with the PR agency on a regular basis. This person needs to understand the company's business goals and objectives, as well as manage priorities and requests as they come in. This person must also understand the internal approval processes and be able to route communication materials (press releases, white papers, videos, etc.) through the proper channels within an organization (corporate communications, marketing, C-Suite, Legal, etc.). This will save time and allow a company to quickly respond to opportunities as they arise.

Whoever is the point of contact for the agency, make sure they are able to cross departments (walk through walls) and get face time with the proper executives, employees and subject matter experts. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard clients say they lost an opportunity because their point of contact was unable to push something through a specific department. Give this person "executive backup" if necessary to ensure opportunities don't fall through the cracks.

Establish Goals: All communications plans should support and help achieve business goals and objectives. Know what the company or department wants to accomplish and share with your agency (this is why NDAs exist). A good PR agency will help evaluate and even create a strategy to help accomplish these objectives.

Define Success: Be open to stating what a successful PR/communication campaign looks like. A good PR agency will tell you if those expectations are reasonable and/or suggest ways to tweak a current strategy to get closer to your definition of success.

Define the success of your communication campaign upfront. It may be frequency of mentions, tone of news coverage, number of qualified leads, increased awareness in key markets, improvement in customer surveys, etc. Define success for YOUR COMPANY. What works as a measurement of success for one company may not work for another. Talk about what success means to YOU. A good PR agency can recommend ways to measure a campaign's success.

Talk to your Agency: Not all sales opportunities come from a sales department. Similarly, not all media or strategic communication opportunities come from your agency. It may come from sales, marketing, recruiters, customers or even your Web site. No matter the entry point of the opportunity, lean on your agency to find out additional information or to help create content or prepare for it. This is our job. As a strategic partner, we want to do everything possible to make you successful.

Demand Reports: Good PR agencies will provide you with regular reports. When selecting an PR agency always ask if they have a formal account management reporting structure in place. A few of the reports you should ask for are written weekly status reports, media pitch reports, monthly account activity reports and media monitoring/analysis/clip reports (if you pay for media monitoring services). Don't settle for just a weekly status phone call. Hold your agency accountable too.

Be Flexible: Not everything can be planned. There will be media opportunities and PR initiatives that "spring up" and a company will have to be reactive. Talk to you PR team on how to best handle these opportunities and make sure you have any crisis or issues management plans in place for any complicated communication issues.

Provide Access: A press release is never just a press release (and if it is, why are you spending the money?) A good PR campaign should support your marketing and sales efforts. Trolling for ink does NOT equal more sales or revenue. A good PR agency will ask to meet with and discuss business goals, products, and services with your executive team, marketing managers, sales representatives and existing customers. In doing so, they will be able to provide you with the best counsel and recommendations on how to move forward to achieve your goals.

PR Pros: What other recommendations do you have for clients to get the most from their agency?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why I Will Never Again Be A Marriott Customer

As I posted earlier, I have had some issues with Marriott in relation to establishing a block of rooms for my wedding last month. The most surprising thing is that after what I thought was a ridiculous comedy of errors, I thought everything I had been resolved.

I was wrong.

Let's start with what went wrong when I arrived at the Marriott location where my block of rooms was reserved and where I would be staying. After promising me a hospitality suite throughout my stay, the Marriott representative that checked me in at the desk told me there was no such room available and there was no record of Marriott staff authorizing the use of such a room for me.

Needless to say, I was shocked and stayed the night in the very nice King sized room they put me in. The next day, I called the Marriott representative who handled my original complaints and she very quickly sprang into action and set-up the hospitality suite I had been promised and apologized for the misunderstanding (again). She and her staff even went beyond what they had promised setting up complimentary champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, bottled water and soda for the suite. It was very nice and I was very touched. She and her staff went to great lengths to make sure the situation was rectified. I asked to speak to her manager at the time to praise her for her hard work and restoring my faith in the Marriott brand. The manager thanked me for my praise and said she would be recognized internally (NOTE: She STILL deserves to be recognized! Despite what I write below, SHE is one of Marriott's true stars!)

And then it fell apart again.

When I checked-in to the Marriott, I was asked (as all hotels require) to provide a credit card for incidentals. I provided the card (same card I reserved my room with), but asked them not to charge the card for my room stay as I would be using my soon-to-be-husband's card to pay our bill (lots of wedding charges were already on my card). They agreed.

The Marriott then TRIPLE charged us for our stay.

Yes, Triple charged.

I discovered this on our honeymoon when a $420 charge was placed on my credit card. I then asked my now husband if the $560 charge we were assessed when we checked out was on his card. He checked. It was along with ANOTHER $600+ charge. Upon further inspection, we realized that the Marriott had charged me for the one king room I had stayed in that night when they failed to check me into the hospitality suite as promised and then they charged us separately for EACH of the suite rooms (they were joined) that we were led to believe would be one charge under the discounted rate we had already negotiated because of all the other issues we had faced.

We then had to make 6 separate phone calls to the Marriott location to get the accounting department to resolve this issue. As of now, the charges on our cards are correct and we will be paying the Marriott the agreed price.

This ENTIRE experience has left me jaded and fed-up with the Marriott brand. While I appreciate and recognize that no company is perfect, I am really shocked that I received such horrible customer service management from a company that has been in the hotel business for more than 80 years. It's sad that my relationship with Marriott brand had to end in such a comedy of errors. Even their shining star event coordinator (who I still think very much of) can't make me reverse my decision to never stay in another one of their hotels again.

I don't expect anyone from Marriott to read this post. After all, I'm just a small drop in the entire Marriott universe, but for what it's worth, please, please, please review event contract management with your sales representatives. A lot of my issues with the Marriott brand stem from direct interaction with your contract managers that "passed the buck" because they either did not understand Marriott procedures or they were unwilling to help me solve my problem.

I really hope that my experience with Marriott is an anomaly and not the norm. Regardless, my experience is over and like a bad bittersweet break-up, Marriott is officially out of my life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the New Administration Means for PR

Congratulations President-Elect Obama!

Having lived in the greater D.C. metro area for most of my life, I can see where the new administration is going to have a significant impact - including how government agencies, government contractors and corporations communicate with their constituents, clients and customers.

For what it's worth, here are my projections on how the new administration will impact PR and our cousins in public affairs (Thanks to Ted McKenna (@tedmck), Washington Bureau Chief of PRWeek for Twittering about a story he's working on which inspired this blog post). 

  • Government will be expected to move faster - May not happen overnight, but the Obama campaign and several senate campaigns made such great use of social media and other technologies to disseminate information and keep their supporters informed that the populous will expect to receive information from leaders on a regular if not more frequent basis.
  • "Need to Know" mentality still present but weakened - Traditionally D.C. is a "need to know" town, meaning things are sometimes "above people's paygrade."  While this still applies to key areas of national security, expect to see a more transparent form of government and communications.
  • The dismantling/breakdown of the federal agency/corporate silos - Traditionally (but especially over the last eight years) federal agencies and even departments in corporations have become increasingly isolated.  Cooperation and sharing of information has decreased significantly across all government agencies and some companies.  Expect to see an overwhelming sentiment of cooperation in government (whether it actually happens remains to be seen) and more transparent communications and collaboration tools (think intranet wikis) so different organizations - commerical, non-profit and federal will be able to share information more easily and more timely.
  • Increased demand for communication pros (political or other) with digital/social media experience - I expect to see an increased demand for PR pros who know their digital space. To keep the electorate that elected the new administration motivated, forward-thinking government agencies, contractors and corporations will be looking to hire communication pros that understand the fundamentals of PR and PA as well as how to execute these strategies effectively in the digital world.
  • Government and corporations increase communication budgets - While it may not be on strict communications initiatives, I expect the federal government and corporations to invest more in updating/improving their infrastructure in order to implement digital communication initiatives. More money might be put towards IT capabilities (such as increased broadband for streaming videos; live coverage of government hearings, etc.) and more money spent towards the creation of content for increasing awareness of government programs or corporate marketing initiatives.  I also expect to see increased budgets for internal marketing communications at corporations.
I'll reevaluate my projections 100 days after Obama and the new members of Congress take office.  What changes (if any) do you expect to see in PR/PA with the new administration taking office?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back to PR

I'm back to PR after a fantastic wedding and wonderful honeymoon!

Thank you for all your kind e-mails and well wishes!

I'm slowly making my way through my inbox after being away for an entire week. I'll have lots of new posts soon on all things PR.

Back to sorting through e-mail....(note to self: next time develop and turn on filters when out of the office for an extended time...)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Here Comes the Bride!

And yes, the bride is ME!!!

I am getting married this weekend!

I won't be back blogging until the first week of November, but please check out some of the people on my blog roll. They are all excellent resources and have great information on PR and other aspects of our industry.

I will still be doing Twitter updates....some PR related, some not. So if you aren't following me on Twitter yet, please do so!!!

Back to PR in November! Keep those great e-mails and comments coming!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Resolution to the Marriott Saga

As I previously mentioned, I've had some issues with Marriott in regards to my upcoming wedding.

Finally, after much back and forth and many hours spent on the telephone and sending e-mails, Marriott has resolved the frustrating customer service process I have experienced to my satisfaction.

They are providing me with a hospitality suite for the five days I am staying at their location for the same price as the block room rate I secured for my guests. They also offered a heartfelt and sincere apology.

And while I did have to keep calling and following-up, Marriott did keep their word to call me back and actually took the time to listen when I called their customer service line.

While I am frustrated by the service I received initially, Marriott has redeemed themselves and I will continue to book my stays at their locations.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nightmare Clients

No, not my clients! (I love you all!)

But I do have to give a shout out and acknowledge Richard Laermer at The Bad Pitch Blog for his Oct. 5th post (rant) on difficult PR clients.

Thank you, Richard for saying what many of us sometimes feel and highlighting what several of us have encountered over the years with difficult clients.

If you are a client looking for advice on how *not* to treat your agency or are wondering what constitutes bad client behavior, check out Richard's post.

And, yes for the record: I have had similar experiences to Richard's in the past. I would love to hear from clients and my fellow PR pros on what types of behavior and actions make-up a horrible client/agency relationship.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Company Outrage Online

Clean Air Gardening in Dallas, TX, has launched a Web site alleging egregious and horrible mistakes made by its former IMC agency, Christie Communications based in Santa Barbara, CA. 

Among the allegations made by Clean Air Gardening's President, is that Christie Communications provided poor quality deliverables (press releases and media kit materials) and violations of process (company alleges press release was not reviewed or approved by Company POC for distribution and among other things, that company location was wrong). Check out the link above for more info.

Again, WE DON'T KNOW what Christie Communications side of the story is (and I doubt we will since agencies generally (really shouldn't) talk about client relationships, but let this serve as a cautionary tale to other PR professionals and agencies - if you do a bad job, companies have the option to bad-mouth you online to a global audience. Be prepared to defend yourself and your work.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Looking Inward

As I do 2009 planning for several clients, I am noticing that more and more of them are devoting resources to further development or enhancements of their internal communication programs.

Historically, most clients internal communication programs are linked closely with HR and rightfully so.  But what I'm noticing is a trend to want to develop a more robust internal program that while involves HR, isn't centered around corporate notifications and HR initiatives.

Most strategic recommendations being considered tieback to one or more of the following internal communication goals:

  • Morale - With the economy down and fear over job loss, I see some companies more actively looking for ways to boost employee confidence and attitude.
  • Retention - There are reports everyday surrounding the current layoffs and despite the current economy, several industries are still involved in a talent war.  Actively investing in employee incentive programs and other activities seem to be at the forefront of clients minds when putting together their internal comm program.
  • Recruitment - Better days are right around the corner or a large contract win is at hand. In order to attract the best people needed to do the work, clients are looking at incentives and want an aggressive WoM, social media and traditional PR strategy to attract top talent.
  • Intelligence - While arguably this may not be internal communications in the traditional sense, companies seem to be making a significant (continued) investment in internal collaboration tools (company and project wikis) as well as spending more on trade shows or hosting town hall type customer forums to gather information about their products/services and industry as a whole. 
Are any fellow PR pros seeing their clients devote more resources to internal communication programs?  What types of things are other companies considering?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How Much Time Does Social Media Take?

HUGE Thank you to Beth Kanter who just posted her analysis on how much time it takes per week for companies, non-profits and other organizations to implement a sound social media strategy.  

Beth has even made her excellent slide demonstrating the time available for download on Slideshare for all of us to review and "remix" if necessary.

Beth, YOU ROCK!  I appreciate your analysis and definition of categories that social media participation can fulfill.  Thank you so much for an excellent post! 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Do We Often Get Asked To The Party Too Late?

Richard Edelman is back to his blog after recovering from his surgery (Glad to have you back!). 

His post today lists a multitude of alternative news frames, including naming of additional spokespersons, organizations and news angles that could help explain to the American people (and the rest of the world) how on earth the U.S. ended up in this financial debacle. 

Richard makes some excellent recommendations-many of which I feel the American press has overlooked in trying to "stay ahead"or in some cases "keep up" with competing outlets.

I know all news media across the country have experienced cutbacks, newspapers are dying and the nightly news has been on the skids for years. My question is: why aren't the press covering more news frames for this economic crisis?

Richard notes, "The single-minded focus on the amount necessary to restore liquidity to the markets, without due recognition of the education process necessary to ensure acceptance, indicates that professional communications advisors were not sufficiently involved from the inception of the process." (emphasis added)

No kidding.

Richard's post points out something that I have been openly debating with my fellow PR peers for years: Do we too often get asked to the party too late?  

I fear that Richard is correct when he points out that professional communication advisers were not involved from the onset of this economic crisis.  What's even more troubling and frightening to me is that they may have never been asked to sit at the table.  That the economic "quick fix" bailout was pushed as the sure-thing agenda that left all contingent planning and discussion a waste of time.  

The amount of time it would have taken Richard or any other seasoned communicator to think through the issues and presentation of them would have been minimal. The widespread panic over the economic health of the United States would have been presented less in the election year "horse race" format (i.e. look how much the market dropped and how much people are panicking now) and in a more a "exploratory" approach (i.e. here's how we got in to this mess). My deepest fear is our fellow professional communicators tried - and failed- to convince the powers that be that this was necessary.

The current economic meltdown is just a recent example of how the news media en masse has failed to address or at least speculate to the underlying causes or factors of major issues facing the world.  Now, I appreciate and understand that a very select few journalists are trying to explain how we got in this mess (NY Times Steve Pearlstein has done a great job), but there seems to be an ongoing trend of covering what others are saying and providing very little straightforward analysis that allows the American people to digest the market issues currently facing them.

If the media is looking for alternative news frames to cover this event, they are beginning to lean on their PR brethren for help.  The past few days, HARO requests for people impacted by the slide on Wall Street as well as for psychologists who can speak to the impact this is having on the American psyche have increased.  My problem is that most of these requests seem to becoming from regional publications that don't necessarily reach a vast audience.

So do we get asked to the party too late?  Do PR pros have a seat at the executive table anymore?  Or has corporate communications fallen so much by the wayside that it has very little impact or influence on the C-Suite or government executive actions?

I hope my deepest fear isn't realized...


Just checked Google Analytics and found that 15 people from a USAA network location visited my site in the last 48 hours.

I LOVE USAA! I'm one of their biggest fans.  There's a reason that they are consistently ranked as having the best customer service in the the financial and insurance industry - they genuinely care about their members.  A lot of other companies could take a lesson from them!

A huge shout out to all the USAA people in San Antonio and across the U.S.!

Glad to see you are monitoring blogs for coverage of your company and brand! :)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Marriott Saga

I'm bummed today because what I considered a trusted and respected brand has let me down.  

Anyone following me on Twitter knows that as of last night, I have major issues with Marriott.

I'm getting married next month.  My fiancee and I contacted the Marriott near our wedding site to establish a block of rooms for our guests who required overnight accommodation.  We chose the Marriott not only for its location, but because they came highly recommended to us via word-of-mouth from friends and family.  I have always enjoyed staying in Marriott locations.  I find the staff to be friendly, accommodating and very nice.

Here's how it went downhill:

I spoke with a very nice Marriott representative in March who sent me the contract for a group block rate and even worked with me to negotiate a smaller "guarantee" number of guests who would take advantage of staying their hotel.  I was very pleased and thrilled that the Marriott representative who worked with me got this taken care of so quickly.  My fiancee and I sent out word to all of our out-of-town guests about the block of rooms we had reserved at this chosen Marriott location. 

And then strike 1 occurred.

I received a call from my good friend who was trying to book his flight and hotel in June (with the rising cost of travel, this was a smart move) and he informed me that the Marriott told him that there was no record of our room block on file.

I thanked my friend and called Marriott.  Turns out...drum roll...

The person I dealt with never entered the contract into their system. 


Now, I understand sometimes things happen. We get busy. Things fall through the cracks, but this was annoying. 

But Marriott redeemed themselves and quickly put me in the system.  They also informed me that the woman I originally spoke with was no longer at the company and I was handed over to a regional group sales manager based in Denver.  This gentleman was very nice and quickly redeemed the Marriott brand.  He listened, entered my information, and very quickly made sure to provide me with an online link I could send my guests to register for rooms and get the rate.  He also at the time (per my request) supposedly entered me into the system for the four-night stay I required at the hotel for my wedding and told me there was no charge.  He said Marriott appreciated my understanding and that he was apologetic that my guests were not able to book when they originally called. He also said if I had any more problems to call him.

Fast forward to August.  My parents in the midst of helping me plan my wedding, requested that I book their room for them at the Marriott location.  Since they are also planning an extended stay, I called the gentleman in Denver (as I was told to do) to speak with him about securing the negotiated rate for my parents.  

Get ready for strike 2.

I'm told that the gentleman who originally helped me is no longer with the company and the Marriott representative I talked to had "no idea" why I was told to call the regional sales manager in Denver when I should have been dealing with the sales manager in Chicago.  I was transferred (I'm assuming) to a sales office in Chicago only to be told that there was no need for me to talk to them as I had already negotiated a group rate and that I could just call the reservation number and make the reservation for my parents.  I then called Marriott reservations, gave them my block name and told them that I was told that my parents would receive the group rate per night across the extended stay.  The Marriott representative originally told me this wasn't the case, but later gave me the rate per night as I was promised.  I thanked her profusely.

This Tuesday, my "event coordinator" at the Marriott, who has been very nice, sent me a list of people that have currently booked rooms under our group rate.  I noticed that the reservation that I had made for myself (and my soon-to-be husband) back in April wasn't on the list.  I don't know why-but I got this feeling that I needed to call Marriott and confirm that my reservation was in the system.

Here's strike 3.

I spoke directly with the Marriott hotel where we have reserved the block of rooms.  They told me that I was nowhere in their system and they had no record of me making a reservation with them back in April.  Keep in mind I found out that they had no record of me after talking to FOUR different people including my "event coordinator" who informed me that it was a reservation issue, not an "event" and therefore I would need to talk to them.  Three people later, I was told I would have to rebook my reservation.  I received no apology.  I declined to rebook.

Now, I know how this must look from the Marriott side: There's no record indicating that the gentleman in Denver made this reservation for me in April.  Just my word he did so. I also know that I was stupid not to ask for an e-mail or confirmation number or whatever the Marriott uses to guarantee rooms (shame on me).  I also know that I didn't appreciate being passed around to three different reservation specialists last night who put me on hold only to have a different person come on the line for me to repeat the situation over and over again  (take a lesson from USAA people - if you are in customer service handing someone up the chain, provide a brief overview of the customer's problem to the next level). 

If 80% of my block of rooms weren't already booked by people attending my wedding, I would tell everyone to rebook somewhere else.

Now I know most people reading this may think I'm overreacting, but I'm actually truly annoyed with Marriott.  With economy being weak and people selectively travelling now for pleasure, you would think they would try harder to accommodate customers with better customer service - especially when you've signed a contract guaranteeing that a certain amount of people are staying at a specific hotel location for a predetermined period of time.  

I'm seriously considering booking my stay now at a neighboring hotel in the area, but then I'd be away from my guests who have travelled to our wedding.  Sigh.

Sorry for the Friday rant, but Marriott's dropped the ball multiple times here.

Anyone else encountered bad customer service in the hospitality industry lately?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Echo Chamber

I've stated that we need better rules of engagement between journalists and PR professionals when it comes to conducting media relations. One of the things I suggested is that PR pros begin recommending and demonstrating the effectiveness of alternative ways to communicate their client's core messages in today's multimedia world.

I was stoked this morning to read Robert Niles post at The Knight Digital Media Center about how journalists can begin to utilize new and social media in their coverage of stories. Specifically he looks at the partisan "echo chamber" that has emerged among political journalists/pundits and how reporters (particularly from newspapers) can learn a lot from how politics is covered across multimedia channels. Niles writes, "We need to use the power of online interactivity to build our own echo chambers, not for partisan spin, but for real reporting. Because without it, traditional news reporting is going to continue to lose readership, and influence, in a hyper-competitive media market." (No kidding!)

How do journalists do this? Niles says:
  • "Journalists must offer reporting that people actually want to tell other people -- news so compelling that people will put aside whatever version of Scrabble they're playing on Facebook at the moment to send that story to all their friends."
  • "Use the skills of a social scientist to look at what he said, and what she said, then to show readers who actually is telling the truth? That's how journalists can motivate readers to click. But better, sharper reporting won't be enough. We also need to use our reporting skills to identify what bloggers, Tweeters and discussion board leaders can help us spread the word."
  • The media business model needs to shift its attitude when it comes to proliferating the echo chamber. Niles writes, "The last thing that newsrooms ought to be doing in this media environment is punishing people who write about our work, whether it be with threats, ridiculous licensing fees or lawsuits. But that's too often been the response from news managers who are locked into a pre-Internet mindset about how intellectual property gets and keeps its value."

Niles argues that this last point is crucial if mainstream or traditional media is to thrive in today's multimedia environment. He notes, "With each repetition of our work, the echo grows louder. More readers start paying attention. Influence, and value, grows. Eventually, with enough repetition and enough penetration into enough social networks, good journalism can once again reach the ears of those readers who long ago left their local newspaper for partisan talk radio, blogs and cable news."

He concludes his article on the importance of audience engagement in today's society.

From a PR perspective, Niles article nails a lot of the issues facing newspaper and other traditional journalists today. It reinforces the need for PR pros to demonstrate the value of new social and multimedia tools to clients. It reinforces the engagement strategy that most companies are adopting for long term growth of their brands and reputations.

My only reservation after reading Niles' article is that the "echo chamber" is good for getting past the initial gatekeeping function of new social media, but does very little for long term sustainability. While applicable to the larger stories (like the financial crisis), the trouble (and perhaps the threat) with an echo chamber is that after awhile, all you hear are the same voices or messages being proliferated.

I would argue that if traditional journalism wants to stay relevant in today's multimedia world, focus on covering the continuing debate on issues. The ongoing search and addition of new content and stories is what will draw the widest audience to online newspaper formats or to the hard copy of the newspaper.

The way I read Niles' entry, he is advocating that newspapers and traditional journalism lead the way in what the social media and new media spheres are talking about.

The news cycle has changed. Depth, breadth and relevance of information (in real time) is what makes a news story popular. My message to journalists struggling to find balance in a traditional news medium: Don't be afraid to cover complex issues and certainly don't be afraid to lean on your PR peers as well as your readership to help you do so. The good sources will help you find what you need and more importantly, will listen to what will help you do your job in this new media world. The rise of citizen journalism, blogs, and social media means the gatekeeping rules have changed. If the echo chamber model becomes popular, it must be done in such a way that it not only sustain the media business models, but allows multiple points of view (not just the popular ones) to be represented in traditional print and online forums.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Customizing Twitter

Logged in to Twitter this morning to discover new themes and the ability to customize twitter page as well as options to streamline the pages.

Love it so far! Great job Twitter!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Demanding Digital? You're Not Alone...

A recent survey conducted by Sapient of CMOs and senior marketing professionals finds that agencies' digital strategy and interactive capabilities are becoming increasingly important.

Sapient surveyed over 200 CMOs to find out what's important to them in the next 12 months. Agencies capable of planning and executing digital strategies, with a heavy emphasis on leveraging emerging technologies and social networks, was prominently mentioned.

Jennifer A. Jones has listed what Sapient found to be The Top 10 Wish List for Agencies of the Future. Check out her comment on keeping up! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Media Monitoring and Analysis

This month's poll is a result of a conversation I had last week with a fellow PR pro in the D.C. area (If anyone knows how I can fix the formatting of the poll, shoot me an e-mail!). As most of you know, the end of the government's FY means lots of BD work for BtoB and BtoG clients. One of the things my colleague told me is that several of his clients are cutting back on the media monitoring and analysis services the firm he works for offers. The reasoning? He speculates with the upcoming change in administration and recession has marketing and corporate communicators saving or at least holding their budgets for new initiatives for '09 implementation. Moreover, there is increasing pressure from clients to implement Web 2.0 strategies (the late adopters are now realizing that these tools can be used effectively and strategically to achieve goals - and are measurable).

My first real "gig" in PR was collecting and analyzing media. While I can stand the political and economic arguments surrounding the need to watch budgets, not actively monitoring and analyzing coverage of a company, competitors or an entire industry means that PR campaigns are likely to less effective in the long run.

BtoB and BtoG campaigns take place in an environment where the decision making process could take months or in the case of BtoG, years. Actively monitoring issues (my public affairs cousins know what I'm talking about) as well as coverage of specific company initiatives gives you the intelligence needed to create and then change (if needed) strategic communications plans to ensure they are effective.

As I tell all my clients, you don't just hire a PR firm to get you press and measure "share of voice." You hire a PR firm to get you intelligence. Media monitoring and analysis is just one of the many ways PR firms are able to gain competitive insight into key stakeholders and industries.

Please vote in the poll and feel free to post comments on what you feel about media monitoring and analysis. Should PR firms/professionals be responsible for collecting and analyzing the data? Have we reached a point in the market where outside services (Cision, Vocus, Meltwater, Carma, etc.) are working with client's directly to provide this service? Is the majority of the industry contracting with these types of services directly to provide monitoring and analysis for our clients? Are agencies developing (or still using) proprietary systems that they have developed for this purpose? Or with the rise of news aggregators such as Google News, are the majority of PR firms relying on the Internet and news database for these services?

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Media Consumption - It's all about ME

Pew released the findings of its news audience survey last month and it continues to find that more and more Americans are turning to alternative news sources to get their latest news, but not necessarily relying on just medium or vehicle for information.

What's interesting about Pew's latest findings is that they have developed categories to classify the types of individuals that consume news. They are:
  • Integrators: individuals who get the news from both traditional sources and the Internet, are a more engaged, sophisticated and demographically sought-after audience segment than those who mostly rely on traditional news sources.
  • Net-Newsers: a smaller, younger, more Internet savvy audience segment who principally turn to the web for news, and largely eschew traditional sources.
  • Traditionalists: the oldest and largest group of the American public who continue to receive news and information through more mainstream sources.
  • The Disengaged: Those who demonstrate very low levels of interest in the news and news consumption.
When I first read this, I couldn't help but notice how Pew's categories mimic the specialization of the media business model.

Years ago, media scholars buzzed about the "Daily Me" when mass Internet connectivity became readily available to the public. The concern at the time was that individuals would only follow stories they were interested in and not pay attention to larger world and even national affairs. What's happened is that the media business model gave rise to this specialization (allowing the audience to select stories they wanted to read/hear/engage under the premise that the ability to select relevant content will keep them coming back for more) and technology leveled the playing field by allowing Americans to participate in what was once a closed system (rise of citizen journalism, blogs, podcasts, social media networking sites, YouTube, Vimeo, Flikr, etc.) Americans became (and still are) their own gatekeepers choosing not only what to focus their attention on, but how they want to receive this information.

We've come a long way from Mr. White's 1950's study of newspaper editors.

While the Pew classifications of news consumption does touch on the types of information each category is likely to consume on a given day (e.g. Integrators are much more likely to focus on national and world news), the reality of it is we would see more specific coverage of certain topics in the Net-Newsers. Will we see a growing trend in the next few years where Integrators and Net-Newsers overtake Traditionalists? I am positive that will happen. Why?

Specialization. We pay attention to what matters to us. Whether its politics, PR news, celebrities, the weather or the newest gadget or tech startup, we have the ability and the drive to learn about new and interesting subjects that don't always make it into the nightly news, daily newspaper, news aggregators, or news radio. Got something to say? Start a blog. Do a podcast. Hate what was written in the newspaper about your local politician? Leave a comment under the story online (assuming the online newspaper has that function) and then blog a post defending your politician and send it to their campaign people to post in support on their Web site. Then Twitter to everyone about what you've done and update your status on Facebook (with link to post of course), Linked-In and other social networking sites.

Like Steve Rubel mentioned on his blog last month, "self discovery" is becoming increasingly important in how we go about learning about information. As gatekeepers, we want to be aware of what's going on, but only zoom-in on what's interesting to us; as human beings we want to hone in and find what's relevant - not necessarily be "one of the masses" that finds out about it with "everyone" else (anyone who's ever been invited to beta test anything knows what I'm talking about).

From a PR perspective, it's important that we keep Pew's latest findings in mind when talking to clients about different ways to reach their target audiences. This is why content and relevance will always be the key to getting core messages across to a key stakeholders. While the traditionalists may be the bulk of the American public today, they won't be tomorrow. This is why it's crucial to examine all the ways to reach an audience - what may resonate with one person may not resonate with another. Diversification of channels for information delivery is even more crucial now than ever before.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I SWEAR I Don't Sound Like This!!!

The agency I work for has put together a series of podcasts to add our two cents about MARCOMM. You can listen to them here. Mine's entitled "PR's Role in Enhancing Marketing Efforts" (OK, so not the most creative title), but it gives an overview of what I believe to be some of the strong benefits of executing a strategic public relations campaign in conjunction with other marketing, digital and advertising efforts.

Oh, and I was still getting over some awful flu/cold/stomach bug when this was taped so I swear I don't normally sound like that!

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Perfect Pitch

"The Perfect Pitch." That's what the baseball said on the desk of my manager when I was an intern at a large PR house. I remember asking him: "What makes the perfect pitch?" He responded: "It depends."

Its been almost 11 years since then. As media relations changes, I've been thinking about my exposure to the industry and how I was "taught" to pitch. I use that term loosely because it wasn't until later in my career that I actually met people (PR professionals and journalists) who took the time to actually explain how to pitch.

I've come to a conclusion - The perfect pitch is equated with having common sense.

When I first started out in my career, no one taught me how to pitch. My first pitch assignment (when I was still an intern!) was to call a list of reporters and do what I now know to be soft soundings for an event a client was hosting.

I was SCARED to death to cold call reporters. I remember asking for guidance and being told "It's easy. Just tell them about the event and see if they would want to come."

Keep in mind that no event date had been set. No content/programming had been determined and I was handed a list by my supervisor who gave me NO background further than I've already listed.

Thank goodness my common sense kicked-in. I went through a media list of 80 reporters and did a search on each one. I determined from my own vetting of the list that only 18 reporters out of the 80 that were listed would probably be interested in hearing about the event, let alone covering it. There were some reporters (not to mention publications) on the list that didn't even cover anything anything remotely related to our client or the event they were going to sponsor.

I pitched the 18 (via e-mail) who were very appreciative and asked for more information.

My supervisor was livid.

I explained my reasoning. Showed my research. Thought he would be proud of his young intern for taking the time to learn about who we would want coming. I will never forget his words:

"When I give you a list, you contact EVERYONE."

When I asked "why?" I was told that I was "just the intern" and "needed to learn to follow directions." No further explanation provided. No additional information (e.g. "I'd already vetted the list and there are people on there who asked to be contacted"). Nothing.


I almost left PR after that internship (talk about an introduction to the industry). But I'm glad I stayed.

Throughout my career, I've sat in agency sponsored (sometimes mandated) brown bag lunches on pitching. I've attended at least five "media relations" seminars and classes held by various industry associations, and I've listened to countless conference speakers, corporate communicators, marketing managers, VPs, CEOs, editors, reporters, clients and others go on about pitching. I get at least one e-mail a month (sometimes more) about the latest pitching techniques in a seminar/webinar/class/teleconference/virtual conference/etc. sponsored by so-and-so in conjunction with such-and-such publication/company/vendor/etc.

Everyone has a take on what it means to craft and execute the perfect pitch. The reoccurring themes I have heard in all of these seminars is 1) do your homework before pitching (including reviewing the last three months of a reporter's stories) and 2) be responsive when a reporter contacts you (to find our more information or to remove them from the list). All good advice.

Too often, however, I've sat in these seminars on media relations and heard my fellow PR peers take the speaker's advice as gospel - even if it wasn't relevant to their client.

Just like the hypodermic needle theory holds very little weight in communications theory today, there is no "one-size-fits all" response when when it comes to pitching. Good practices (manners), yes, those exsist. As I've alluded to in previous posts, media relations is changing and the rules of engagement are evolving. What may work for one company or organization, may not work for another (due to the industry, client budget, target audience, relevant content, etc.)

Maybe my old supervisor got right - "It depends."

Did anyone teach you how to pitch? Did you get any guidance before your first pitch? Do you have a first pitch story that beats mine?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Slam? Or A Continuation of the Debate?

Before the long holiday, Jason Calacanis wrote an article that fired up the PR world much like Steve Rubel's musings from a few weeks ago. Entitled, "On How to Get PR For Your Startup: Fire Your PR Company," the The interesting part is the amount of response Jason's posting fired up the old guard in the PR world. Richard Edelman took to his blog to address Jason's criticism of the PR world and his general attitude towards PR people.

I've read both gentelmen's posts and for what it's worth here's my thoughts.

1) (Obvious) Jason's headline is extreme to get a reaction. It works. Good job.

2) Jason's NOT WRONG about certain things. For a STARTUP COMPANY it is essential that the CEO and other certain members of its core team do some key things. (Paraphrasing) Be visible, transparent, accessible and open. Not rocket science. I would add another observation/tactic to Jason's list: be fearless. He didn't overtly state this and while beginning a startup may automatically make one think that the CEO is out there, that's not always the case.

I personally thought Jason's article was interesting in that it provides the flip-side of the coin that so few PR people see: A former journalist, current entrepreneur and CEO, Jason's seen and been there. He built his own personal brand and linked it to his business. That's why he's successful. That's why he's liked (or hated) and that's why journalists (like the one's he mentions in his article) have sought him out.

3)Transferring Jason's notion to ALL businesses (e.g. every company should fire their PR company) is baseless. In social science that's false attribution. The leap isn't legit.

I've only ever worked with one mature startup company. The minute they were looking "for the next step" they called a PR firm. Why? They recognized the following:

1) They weren't sure what the next step was (IPO? Sell? Merger?)

2) They knew they weren't going to get the intelligence, insight and analysis of the market and mindshare from their current sources (existing relationships with journalists, blogosphere, etc.)

3) They weren't sure how to "maximize" their current existing communications to go beyond what they were already doing (and yes, there comes a point where a successful startup can no longer rest on its laurels).

4) Finally, they wanted the thought leadership beyond the C-suite that had alluded them (it's great to have a strong C-suite, but if you're known only for that one or very few people, it makes it hard to gain marketshare for products and services).

So what ended up happening? The team and I developed a 12-month thought leadership and awareness campaign to get them to the next level. In nine months they had a very successful resolution as to what the next step would be. ;) And I'm proud to say the CEO and everyone there walked away with a smile on their face and with more than a few shiny pennies for their effort.

When I read Richard Edelman's response to Jason's post, I found myself thinking that both men are right. Richard is dead on: not all journalists hate PR people (sorry, Jason - you're wrong there) and not all startups (whether they just started or are maturing) should "fire" their PR agency. In-house or professional corporate communicators can be a valuable resource to a startup. Actually, it's crucial that one person (perhaps not the CEO of the company) work with an agency to help further the startup. CEO's, especially those who have so much wrapped up in the company they helped or in some cases built, need a mediator who can manage the agency and learn the company from inside out. In doing so they can help spot "blind spots" that some CEOs miss.

Moreover, PR is NOT JUST about media relations and getting the client ink. While this will always be the staple of our industry, it is evolving where we need to change the ways we do traditional media relations and how we advise clients on the strategic use of new technologies.

Welcome to the new PR frontier my peers.

What do you think of Jason's article and Richard's response?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Slacker Luv

I noticed that my former colleague Jada Cash wrote a blog post about my blog this week! Thanks Jada!

A HUGE shout-out to my fellow Slackers in Chi-town. Be sure to check out their blog. It's written by everyone (and I do mean everyone) who works at Slack Barshinger. Hence its cool name!

Love you all! Let's grab a beverage next time I'm in town! :)

I'm back!

I am so sorry for being absent most of this week! I've spent the last six days packing, moving and not having an Internet connection. We're finally finished, so I will be back to all things PR next week! Have a great Labor Day weekend! I can't believe the summer is almost over!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Wow! I've only been blogging a short time and I've already gotten such a great response!

HUGE shout out to Jennifer A. Jones at Speak Media Blog! Jennifer blogged about my Better Rules of Engagement post on Thursday!!! I've been reading Jennifer's blog for over a year and it is a must read for anyone in the MARCOMM/IMC world. Thank you Jennifer!

I've also gotten some great comments from SCA MarCom and Kevin! It's awesome to hear from you and thank you for introducing me to your blogs/points of view as well!

Thanks also to everyone who's e-mailed me directly with questions and comments. The feedback and insight you've provided is awesome. Feel free to post your comments and questions. Some of you are raising great issues and points about the current pitching system and I encourage you to post openly to encourage the discussion on this important topic.

Again, thank you all for such awesome feedback! Now back to PR!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flip-ing Out

I'm in love with The Flip. I want one. I want my clients to get one. Simple, easy and very straightforward. Perfect for showcasing quick interviews with executives (we could have a video quality debate here, but I'm not going there) as well as for video case studies, media training and employee testimonials/discussions.

The latest flip has a rechargeable lithium ion battery or the first models allow you to record up to 60 minutes of video with replaceable AA Alkaline batteries for up to two hours of use. Storage space is 1-2 GB and the the "flip out" USB arm allows you to plug The Flip in directly to your USB port and begin editing video on its custom software which is included.

Now anyone can easily be a video editor. Definitely looking in to getting one to add video to the blog!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Better Rules of Engagement

My post earlier this week reflected on the current state of media relations and whether or not the pitching system is broken. My unwavering stance is that the current system IS broken, but it does not mean that it is not beyond repair or at least tweaking.

Recent trends (listed in my post called the Pitching System IS Broken) indicate a shift in how PR professionals and members of the media are distributing, receiving and more importantly interacting with each other. I alluded to what we need are better rules of engagement to fix or at least begin to salvage what traditionally has been a symbiotic relationship between good PR professionals and media representatives.

For what it's worth here's what I think needs to happen:

Get back to relationship building: This seems to be a universally accepted concept on both sides. Journalists don't want spam and (good) PR people don't want their reputations trashed. For PR firms and individuals that specialize in specific industries (health care, tourism, fashion, etc.) this may be easier than for others. But at the end of the day, we all represent companies with different goals, focus, and services that make it necessary for us to reach out to a wide array of target media within and outside specific industries to demonstrate different relevant aspects of a client's business.

Realize that not all media has the same needs: The media business (yes, it is a BUSINESS - not an information service) has changed. Newspapers are in trouble, ad revenues for some trade magazines are down and even with shift online and to more integrated approaches, publications, bloggers and even broadcast media appreciate good content that goes beyond the typed press release or media alert. Getting (and yes this does take convincing) clients to provide additional content resources (blogs, webinars, podcasts, twitter feed, bylines, white papers, case studies, interactive video, online games, interactive maps, photos, 3-D diagrams, videos, social media , tele and video press conferences, trade shows, mobile (SMS) updates, etc.) takes some doing. Clients aren't always willing to take the risk, but we owe it to our industry to examine some of these ways to present content and information to a wider audience, including the media.

Members of the media now often are forced to address multimedia platforms for their publication. So a newspaper columnist may now have a blog, a regular radio spot or show (with the convergence of media conglomerates this is more prevalent), as well as Flikr page, Vimeo or YouTube channel in addition to their column. The more relevant and interesting content we can provide a member of the press, the more likely and the better chances we have of helping that reporter, editor, blogger, etc. tell a good story to their audience.

Recognize the news cycle has changed: A few years ago, PR people were "jazzed" about the twenty-four hour news cycle and how that created more opportunity for their clients to be covered. Yes, we still have the perpetual news cycle, but what we have more now is an inclination to report stories more in-depth and with better tools (think CNN's use of Google Earth and touchscreens for election returns). This means that the news cycle isn't as wide open or inclusive as we would like to think. Instead it means that more resources should be devoted to exploring different angles of larger stories with a strong consideration and emphasis on how a client can be strategically positioned.

Warnings need to be given and heeded: As a reporter if you feel you are spammed, issue a very short e-mail saying you do not wish to receive this type of information and you wished to be removed from the list. If you are interested in the company, but not necessarily the current news, issue a short e-mail saying "interested in your company but not recent announcement, please keep me on list. Particularly interested in information regarding (insert relevant topic here)." This is helpful and much appreciated.

PR Peers: let's agree if you receive an e-mail from a reporter saying to take them off your list you DO IT. Even if the reporter/editor is on your client's "must get" or "short list." We may not always get (and we certainly aren't entitled to) an explanation as to why this reporter doesn't want to hear about a company, service, product, financial disclosures, corporate responsibility campaign, etc. (It would be nice, but we're not entitled). This becomes an issue of self-respect in the industry. Media are smart. If a company is purely "trolling for ink," they can tell and probably aren't interested. If we fail to heed reporters or hound them like dejected two-year olds ("But, why?") Then we deserve to be outed on PR spammer wikis and have e-mail domains blocked.

That being said, there also needs to be room for redemption. One bad pitch should not end a PR person's career (unless it meets the criteria mentioned in my previous post). There needs to be a meaningful dialogue between media and our profession to fix this problem. It means it will take work from both sides. It means as PR professionals, we need to discuss alternative types of media relations strategies with our clients, and manage their expectations. It also means that media (within their ability) needs to communicate directly to PR people about what is unwelcome. I am certainly not advocating that media respond to every irrelevant pitch (they don't have time), just respond to those individuals aren't necessarily off-topic but may be a resource (not just a source) for you down the road.

What are your thoughts on ways to reform the pitching system?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Pitching System IS Broken

Last week the PR blogosphere lit up with a debate on whether or not media pitching is now a broken system. Steve Rubel's post touched off a flurry of comments and backlinks on other blogs about how PR professionals currently contact the press. Citing many reasons, Wired's Chris Anderson and Lifehaker's Gina Trapani (creator of the official PR Spammers Wiki) gave before they outed bad PR professionals via their e-mail addresses, Rubel takes it a step further pointing out journalists and bloggers enjoy the thrill of the chase and self-discovery when it comes to finding news or information about a company, product or service and asks does it make PR professionals obsolete? Rubel points out that if we don't adapt, we may be.

Steve, I couldn't agree with you more.

This conversation though got me thinking about the nature of media relations had how the last nine months indicates a shift (if not a departure) from the traditional outreach plans and the overall state of public relations. Some observations:

1. Journalists and high-authority bloggers' inboxes are out of control. It used to be "No follow-up calls." Now it's turned into do not e-mail. The worst part of this is that the bad PR apples are spoiling the bunch. If you take the time to craft a perfectly relevant pitch only to have it never to be seen by a journalist you know would be interested because of all the "off-topic pitches" in their inbox - that's annoying. The fact there's really no way to follow-up except to call or send a follow-up e-mail is equally annoying. No one's happy here (especially if you are representing a new client and they are just trying to make introductions and send contact info so a journalist knows how to reach you or your client directly - it is about building relationships).

2. PR people (and clients) are reluctant to change old habits. Yes, let's admit this. I do see progress being made. People are using twitter to announce press releases just posted to a client's blog and in their online newsrooms. Some journalists are beginning to use Peter Shankman's (HARO) and of course there is always ProfNet for inquiries. But echoing Steve Rubel's observation about self discovery, PR professionals need to take a strong look at how we are advising clients to disseminate information. I don't believe the press release (in any form) is dead, but working at an integrated agency has taught me to consider other options. Blogging, interactive tools and even guerrilla marketing and WOM tactics are increasingly discussed when developing strategic communication plans and outreach strategies. The challenge then becomes how do we attract media and key stakeholders to experience and learn our client's business? It's about staying above or out of the noise (the creation of good, relevant content).

3. Corporate communications is having an identity crisis. How does this fit in? In my experience, agencies are rarely reporting to or working with in-house corporate communicators. This means there is a great deal of time in agencies spent trying to understand the goals of the client who may be unable or unwilling to listen to alternative methods for reaching the press. In recent years, several high-profile and Fortune 100 companies have completely restructured or done some very strange things to their corporate communications divisions. Last December, Chrysler fired the head of PR and reassigned their corporate communications division to report to their human resources department. At some companies, corporate communications is solely devoted to internal and employee communications with heavy emphasis on analyst and financial relations, while all "external press relations and communications" are left to agencies or the CMO. What has happened to corporate communications in corporate America? Do CCO's or Directors of Communications still have seats at the executive table? Or have agencies become the substitute for strong public relations initiatives outside of the marketing division?

4. The agency structure makes it hard "to get it right" every time. This is the hardest one of all. Many of the comments posted in response to Chris Anderson's blog post and open letters from PR people to Gina Trapani following the creation of the PR Spammers Wiki indicate that some of the e-mail addresses listed were young PR professionals (AAEs or ACs) who did take the time to try to learn as much as possible about the editor or blogger before pitching what they thought was relevant information. The reality of it is that very few agencies (boutique or large PR houses) take the time or have the time to review the media lists created by less experienced employees. There seems to be a perpetual "passing of the buck" on media list oversight and accountability by account directors, account supervisors and even yes, vice presidents.

The current system is an imperfect system. Mistakes are made. Repeat offenders should be outed and punished on a wiki or blog. BUT there should be room for error and more importantly redemption. One bad pitch SHOULD NOT end a PR person's career unless it is libelous or breaks other laws (dissemination of trade secrets, etc.). Keep in mind that media relations is a two-way street. PR professionals deserve one warning about potential spamming before being listed on PR blacklists. Anything less than a warning and condemning the whole profession (read: "I've had it with PR people") means that we need better rules of engagement - not diatribes (yes, like this one) that bemoans the current state of the industry.

Agencies information and quality assurance issues aside for a moment, we now live in age where virtual contact is a substitute for handshake, where vcards replace business cards, and even if a journalist is my "friend," I still must respect the rules and hopefully recognize that I should not be pitching them on Facebook (unless they say its OK), the same way I would not want to receive questions about a client on my wall (that's not OK, by the way. E-mail me).

My thoughts on what we can do to fix the pitching system later...what are your thoughts on the current state of media relations?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Technorati

Just registered my blog on technorati!
Technorati Profile

Social Media 101 2.0

Last Thursday evening I attended an IABC event in Rosslyn. The topic of discussion that evening was Social Media given by Denise Graveline, President of Don't Get Caught, a communications consulting firm in D.C.

Denise gave one of the best overviews of social media that I have ever attended to a crowd of about 100 communicators from government, private industry, non-profits and associations. Denise has summarized key points from her talk here. What stood out for me are the examples she gave about the ways social media are evolving and the next "trends" or uses. This includes more CEO blogging (if Bill Marriott can do it, no CEO has an excuse); the emergence of blogs for employee/internal communication (McDonald's Station M); the "specialization" or targeted social networks arising in the 2.o stage to address an individuals specific need or interest (Disaboom and Bakespace); and the continuing popularity and importance of online video.

While social media remains popular and more clients ask for "best practices" on how to implement such a strategy, it's important to emphasize that there is no "one size fits all" approach. A fellow IABC member at the meeting shared with us his company's recent investigation into starting their own employee social media site. He said they surveyed current associates to determine the interest and desire of a company-specific social networking site. What he found is that 100% of his associates already had Facebook accounts and almost 90% of them did not want their employer on Facebook. As one male associate he surveyed said, "Having your employer on Facebook is a lot like your parents chaperoning the high school dance." I thought that was a great analogy. Now my fellow IABC member is deciding what to do next - spend the capital for an internal (and yes, more benign) employee only networking site or focus its efforts elsewhere for employee morale and brand communications.

As companies try to make inroads to reinforce their brand, does it make sense to start a vertical social networking site for employees? Should employers be allowed to view employees social networking pages on Facebook?

Getting on my soapbox

I love the public relations industry. I am extremely happy and blessed that I get to do what I love for a living. I also recognize our industry is changing, evolving and everyone has an opinion on where it's going and what's next.

What prompted me to get on my soapbox? A few things:

1. Colleagues telling me to put my ideas out there instead of having long-winded debates in their offices.

2. The ongoing state of public relations today and the dynamic between agencies and clients in the wake of these changes.

3. The transformation of media relations.

4. The resurgence of corporate communications.

5. I need a place to vent/praise and generally discuss our industry.

I'm on my PR soapbox.

Let's start...