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?