Friday, July 30, 2004

Grab that copy of AP Style Guide

From Gawker, a fun little spot on Grammar Cop.

Went to the Banterist site, and he has a bunch of examples of other misfortunate grammatcial errors, poor spelling, and just a basic lack of knowledge and AP Style Guide or EB Strunks.

I can excuse the little business, but the ad agencies don't get a free pass. The first day on my first PR job, the "welcome kit" included my very own copy of AP Style Guide, which they then let you take (unlike the stapler, which was sent on the QT to me a week later). I love that stapler. And, with POP! PR, I have two copies of AP Style Guide, and one copy of the BBC Style Guide.

If you want to see other examples, here's a whole list.

Mediabistro.com Is Gonna Buy a PR Blogger!!

According to an article in CBS Marketwatch (that I got from the Mediabistro e-letter ... come on, where's the RSS feed for that?!?), Laurel Touby of Mediabistro.com is on a mission to make blogs pay.

As a PR blogger, this means so much to me. I have a chance to become part of a great big Web site that is for the media, if I can only get her to notice my blog over the other PR blogs out there (see my side list for examples).

I read Mediabistro, I get the Mediabistro emails. There are some good articles on the site, and I find the freelancer section interesting on pitching articles to different publications. Yes, it's for journalists to pitch stories, but, hey, we're in PR - we pitch stories too.

The CBS Marketwatch article had some interesting comments on Mediabistro and bloggers in general.

Touby said Mediabistro.com will add two more media blogs in the next four to six weeks, tracking the book publishing and newspaper industries.

A not-so-attractive business fact of life to this idea is that MediaBistro's Web logs, and bloggers in general, live off the work of others. "Blogging is a cheap way to (get) great content that people are attracted to," Touby conceded. "If I had to hire a full time cable reporter, I'd be competing with all those cable trade magazines, and it would cost me three or four times as much."

She described bloggers, like Stelter, as "riffing" off the news and information that industry magazines gather. "The trade reporters, the poor souls, are doing all the work," she said.

Fitting her comment, Ms. Touby has made a point of trying to get companies to provide their services free through her site for little more than the "prestige" of having it there. But, give her credit for being crafty.

So, if approached, would I handover the wonders of the POP! PR Blog to Mediabistro? Well, it is another revenue stream ...



Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Fun with Brand Extensions!!

I'm very into creative marketing and public relations. And, I really believe in brand extension - there are some great things done for brand extension, such as all the different brands of M&Ms - first they had the peanut and plain, but in the past few years the company has also introduced the almond M&M, the peanut butter M&M, mini M&Ms, the breast cancer M&Ms ... the list goes on and on.

Brand extension is just smart business for a consumer product - personally, I always thought that Life Savers missed the boat by not coming out with a competing cereal to Froot Loops - Life Savers cereal. It'd be a bigger seller than their gross gummy Life Savers.

So, when I see some funny brand extension, I remember it. And, this has to be the most ingenious, insane, funny brand extension in a while. The "wonderful" guy that brought us Girls Gone Wild, is now bringing "girls" Boys Gone Wild. Joe Francis, the owner of the parent company, admits that the market for Boys Gone Wild will most likely be gay males. But, the brand extension, a Girls Gone Wild CD is just pure genius. He'll probably sell tons of the CDs, and it'll be another feather in his cap. The sad part ... I actually like the songs on the CD. I feel dirty, now, from writing about this.

Now, here's brand extension gone to crap, and insulting to a religion as well! From today's Gawker, Target Pimps Kabbalah. Here's the link to buy your very own Kabbalah evil spirit red string from Target!!

Discounting how much Madonna has ruined a very spiritual and religious order of Judaism, forget that Brittney is supposedly talking about getting married in a Kaballistic ceremony (hello, idiot, you're a Baptist), forget that according to the rabbis, only a learned man can learn the Kaballah (which is basically Jewish mysticism, and where numerology comes from), and that is only after he fully knows and understands the Talmud ... well, forget all of that, and just think how other religions would react if a very serious and religious part of their religion was trivialized.
Oh, and in Judaism, you cannot have a tattoo as it's desecrating the body that was a gift ... sorry Madonna and Brittney, time to get kicked to the curb.

Okay, what's this have to do with POP! Public Relations or public relations - just that brand extension is a great way to do public relations for a new consumer product. It builds upon the good will of the older brand, and the upsides are more numerous than the downsides. Then again, there is always the possibility that the new product is such a dog, that it drags down the original...

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Battle for PR

This was originally posted over at Global PR Blog Week. Check out the other postings from the past week...

Public relations is at a crossroads. The industry has weathered the bad times - downturn in economy, dot-com bubble bursting, title inflation, junior staffing to save costs - and is now ready to enter into a new era, one where public relations is going to either take the lead, or just become part of the advertising and marketing mix.

It really depends on who takes the lead, and what will bear out in the coming year. Is public relations going to be driven by the boutiques, by the seasoned practioners that branched out on their own? Or are the large independents going to continue to grow and provide better counsel and strategy - and the sense of safety of a large corporation - and beat out both the multinationals and the boutiques. Or, as The Economist recently noted, the face of advertising is changing, and the multinationals could be better positioned to serve with "below-the-line" advertising, like public relations and guerilla tactics.

For this article, instead of presenting just my views on boutiques vs large corporations, I went out to interview the pillars and pundits of public relations: Jack O'Dwyer of O'Dwyer Publications; Richard Edelman of Edelman Worldwide for a view from the big seat; Matthew Podboy from the boutique angle as a cofounder of Voce Communications; Jonathan Zaleski for the view of the small boutiques forming their own group at The PR Collective; and then Ben Silverman of PR Fuel fame from the pundit and journalist perspective and Lindsay Olson from the recruiting views at Paradigm Staffing.

While the rest of the participants responded to emailed questions, O'Dwyer was on vacation and was gracious enough to be interviewed over the phone. While he deviated from the questions, or characterized some as idiotic, he provided some good insight into the state of public relations. The rest of the participants will be presented as a Q&A for the post.

JACK O'DWYER, O'DWYER PUBLICATIONS
O'Dwyer went to the University of Connecticut, and was the former business reporter for the Journal American, then marketing columnist for the Chicago Tribune, then founded O'Dwyer Company 36 years ago. The O’Dwyer Company has been recognized as the leading publisher about the public relations industry, and provides the latest news and information about public relations firms and professionals, the media, corporations, legal issues, jobs, technology, and much more through its website, newsletters, directories, and guides (O'Dwyer Publications).

With the $13B debt hanging over the heads of the multinational conglomerates, all that the large agencies care about is tracking the time to the second, squeezing out as much money from the clients as possible.

But, for a corporation, if the choice is between a large independent or multinational and a boutique, the corporation would be better off going to a larger firm. By going with the large firms, the company gets worldwide presence. Right now, 48 countries are being served by the large agencies.

With the smaller boutiques, corporation has to worry about "virtual particles" - the problem is that the boutique can be here today, but gone tomorrow. With the boutique, there is a higher risk factor.

In regards to measuring public relations, it is just idiotic. Public relations is about winning good will, it's an honest job that is not measurable because you cannot price the truth. Public relations is not about marketing, public relations should not be sold by time as it's not measurable by time. How can you measure good will with the public? How can you measure creativity?

The biggest problem with the conglomerates is that it has become about time measurement, a stopwatch mentality, which has translated into public relations becoming research-focused, which takes an immense amount of time and can be immensely billed.

An agency can come in with reams of research, but there's no creativity there, and public relations is about creativity, about the spin. Public relations is about hits, it's about getting ink and notorierty and targeting the public. Our job is to get the message across, effectively, and there is no measurement for beyond clips and being on message.

Right now, there are very bad forces affecting public relations. We are supposed to be a bridge for the press to get to CEOs, not a barrier, but the industry has fallen into the trap of blocking access for the press. There is this tremendous force that is trying to convert public relations into advertising, especially at the conglomerates, and that will be the downfall of public relations.

(Breaking News Part ...) To help combat such thinking, O'Dwyer Publications is going to begin the O'Dwyer Awards, which will focus on the quality and quantity of press and the press' access to the CEO. The O'Dwyer Awards will be for firms that get press, and are a bridge for the company, not an impediment.

RICHARD EDELMAN, EDELMAN WORDLDWIDE
Richard Edelman is the president and CEO of the world’s largest public relations firm with 1800 employees in 39 offices worldwide. Edelman, named 2003 Agency of the Year by The Holmes Group, has been a leader in public relations since it was founded in 1952.

Richard Edelman was named president and CEO in September 1996. Prior to that, he served as president of Edelman’s U.S. operations, regional manager of Europe and manager of the firm’s New York office.

Richard won the Silver Anvil, the highest award in the public relations industry, in 1981. He was named ‘Best Manager of the Year’ by Inside PR magazine in 1995. He serves on the board of directors of the New York Historical Society and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum, the Arthur Page Society, PR Seminar, the International Council of the Field Museum, and the World Corporate Ethics’ Council. He has worked on several political campaigns including “Jim Thompson for Governor” and “Ed Koch for Mayor.”

With the current state of public relations – with purchasing departments coming into the equation, influencing the agency choice – how does your firm position itself and its costs to the client?

We need to provide a cost effective, cost justified solution to clients. We can be transparent on our cost structure, and build in suitable profit on top of cost and suggest some means of sharing in the success, such as bonuses or more fees.

What accounts and situations do you feel are better suited for a boutique? For a large multinational agency?

Clients best for Edelman are those with complex problems, cross border, requiring multiple practices skills or those requiring immediate scale with lots of resources applied.

How is your agency able to justify the costs of a multinational conglomerate to the clients – paying for all levels of talent, and offices?

We justify our prices on basis of excellence of personnel, unique products such as brand care, great intellectual capital such as our trust barometer, and of course, great results. We also try to be reasonably priced.

What differentiates your agency and experience?

Our 52 year heritage in marketing to consumers. Our global reach. Our creatvity and our independence of ad agency ownership. Our specialist abilities in public affairs, financial PR and crisis communications.

Are corporations demanding more return on their public relations dollars? Are you seeing a push for less money, but more results?

Companies are demanding more ROI statistics. We have developed a relationship index to measure quality of connection to stakeholders, and now have an advertising equivalent called PR GRP that can be adopted by all agencies to help measure public relations. Edelman is encouraging other agencies to use PR GRP, to use the metrics and language, to help corporations relate to the measurement. More information will be forthcoming on the Edelman Web site, and we are meeting with various organizations to bring them on board.

According to a recent article in the Economist, advertising budgets are being shifted away from advertising to public relations, and other “below-the-line” efforts. Have you seen your clients transfer budgets away from advertising into public relations?

Money is definitely coming our way out of advertising. Examples include Unilever campaigns on Dove and Axe. Technology and health have been big spenders on public relations for years, and consumer products are beginning to transfer monies from advertising to public relations. And, Edelman is very nimble on guerrilla tactics with such examples as the KFC promotion with The Apprentice and Donald Trump.

One of the complaints against large, multi-national conglomerates is that accounts are being used to teach junior staff – how do you respond to this?

Yes, we have junior staff. And, that is a good thing. They live in the fast changing real world with different media choices, are more open to new ideas, more tolerant of new ideas. They are less reliant on establishment media and bring more creativity to the accounts. For our work, we have mix of junior and senior folks. Now that I am 50, I am in latter group. But, we don't put untrained folks forward. We take training very seriously to provide for our clients.

During the technology boom, the industry saw the large conglomerates either start boutique shops or buy them – such examples are PR21, Red Whistle, Simon/McGarry. Do we see that trend returning, with more skilled and targeted teams able to provide more counsel and work for clients? Will we see the boutiques again being acquired by the large agencies?

I do not see another crop of boutiques springing up. Those that survived the recession did so on basis of specialization, a clear focus on a given business area and great service. Clients are moving to firms that have scale, depth of resource, and are priced competitively.

Essentially, Edelman started out as a boutique, and has expanded since then. How has the culture changed since the founding of the firm, and is there still elements of the boutique mindset?

We still operate mentally as if we are a small business. My dad does not take the wins for granted, and beats himself up on each account or pitch lost. Happily, I celebrate the wins but suffer in defeat.

We are still private, family owned business, so we take it all pretty seriously. Come to a family dinner some time. The main topic is usually business. I love being an entrepreneur, and we are now moving into India

The Edelman family built this business with our own hands, and can appreciate what each boutique owner is going through daily. We are a success story, but we never take anything for granted.

The Edelman motto is "relentless pursuit of excellence" and "never surrender."

Do you have any closing thoughts for the readers on your views on the state of public relations?

PR has to get beyond the perception that we are simply media relations. We are also counsel. We can do promotions. In short, we need to compete with both ad agencies and management consultants for budget, not simply our fellow PR firms.

MATTHEW PODBOY, VOCE COMMUNICATIONS
Matthew Podboy co-founded Voce Communications with Richard Cline and David Black in June 1999, coming from Miller/Shandwick Technologies (now Weber Shandwick). The three set out to build an agency incorporating the best of the large PR conglomerates into a consultant model. Before Miller/Shandwick Technologies, he worked in-house for several non-tech companies in Santa Barbara, California.

Voce Communications is a mid-size firm with 31 employees in Palo Alto and Boston. We focus on five communication disciplines: public relations (including micro media/influencer campaigns), analyst relations, investor relations, customer acquisition and public affairs. Our largest footprint is PR and within PR, our present focus is on the technology market. The other disciplines are growing and diversifying our client portfolio.

With the current state of public relations – with purchasing departments coming into the equation, influencing the agency choice – how does your firm position itself and its costs to the client?

PR programs seem to be in a good corporate position - meaning the budgets are appearing if they were cut or growing if they were cut down. Your question does bring up an interesting point. We've seen the finance departments and CFOs much more involved in the selection process. Voce offers modest billable rates for some of the best tech PR consultants in the industry so we are rarely challenged on cost.

So how do we differentiate the firm? To put it frankly - we offer a healthy alternative to the multi-national conglomerates. We're hungry. We're fast and lean. When we engage in a dialogue with a new prospect, it's because we want the business and we believe in the story. We aren't winning "accounts" and staffing them with "bodies." We are PR consultants. When we find the right match with a new client, we believe that our counsel will help the organization meets its communication goals. It sounds cliché but focusing on doing a lot of little things differently, in the end, will create a new model for PR.

What accounts and situations do you feel are better suited for a boutique? For a large multinational agency?

Maybe this should be answered by ruling out some of the common opinions. In my experience, the size of the vendor has no bearing on whether or not a large or boutique firm should assist the PR program. We can all list large and small companies that have various "size" PR firms. How about the need to have an "international" program. We challenge that notion at Voce quite often. I don't think the industry is quite ready to concede that international PR programs have nothing to do with international firms - but we are getting close.

For one particular client, Voce manages international coordination responsibilities for the entire Asia Pacific region consisting of: Australia and New Zealand, Greater China (PRC/HKSAR), Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, and India. Voce managed the agency RFI process for the selection of each agency and manages the contract and budget process for each along with local country management. Each agency directly reports to Voce for day-to-day tactical items as well as long term strategic objectives. Voce, in turn, reports the worldwide corporate PR team. Voce also held international coordination responsibilities for other South America and Mexico. One thing we have learned is that there are terrific boutique and mid-size PR firms all over the world. Can we take all the credit? No. Our client has built a terrific model to make it work. The point is, the need for an international program does not require an international agency. Those are the common situations. In the end, it depends on the internal team working with the agency. Past experience and personal/professional relationships will push many vendors to one side or the other. Some folks are going to take a long time to trust a hungry boutique or mid-size firm because of a bad past experience. The same is true for the large conglomerates.

My point here is that the old opinions that big vendors should have big firms or that firms wanting an international presence should hire an international firm should not factor into the equation. Let the firm's expertise and the value of their counsel drive the decision. Factor team chemistry into the equation. Don't look at the number of cities listed on the business card - look at the team across the table.

How is your agency able to qualm fears of your small size, limited localities to prospective clients?

Our experience, our team and our clients have to smash those misconceptions. If they can't be torn - or if it doesn't look like they can be torn down - it's best if we don't work with that firm. More often that not, however, the vendors we meet give us a fair chance to explain why our model for PR supercedes size and location.

What differentiates your agency or experience?

Our people. That is the only true currency for a PR firm. Great people build a great culture. A good culture keeps people happy and excited about their job and their career path. A good culture creates opportunity and growth for everyone. And the result is great client service. The people have to come first. We believe this to the core and our clients benefit from it each day.

Are corporations demanding more return on their public relations dollars? Are you seeing a push for less money, but more results?

This is a good question. On one hand I tend to believe that everyone should try and get the most out of their vendors - be it PR firms, mortgage brokers, appliance vendors or copy machine technicians. The PR industry should not be immune to pressure for results. Can it go too far and exploit good PR consultants? Sure - and I'm sure it happens in every industry. There was certainly more pressure on PR firms to perform during the downtown. Budgets came down and expectations stayed high. For the most part I think that situation has been corrected and things are “normal” again – you can define that for yourself….

According to a recent article in the Economist, advertising budgets are being shifted away from advertising to public relations, and other “below-the-line” efforts. Have you seen your clients transfer budgets away from advertising into public relations?

Not nearly enough! All joking aside, we have seen some instances where advertising budgets are being redirected to PR but I don’t have the data to confirm if it’s an industry wide trend. What I assume from the term “below-the-line” is that micro media and influencer campaigns conducted by PR firms are pulling advertising budgets. If that’s the case, it’ll be important to measure below-the-line programs or they’ll quickly turn into advertising dollars again.

The industry seems to be moving away from strict press relations to more integrated relations, with guerilla marketing, event marketing, and community relations. How is your agency nimble enough to handle the new demands from clients?

This is precisely why our consultant model works. We have the experts in place to handle emerging communication trends. Our model is built upon being nimble. We must be at the forefront of the PR industry if we are to effectively counsel our clients. Our consultant-minded culture breeds this type of integrated marketing expertise. Our people are empowered to develop their counsel for the benefit of their colleagues and clients.

One of the complaints against large, multi-national conglomerates is that accounts are being used to teach junior staff – how do you respond to this?

I tend to believe that this is an eroding stereotype similar to the notion that smaller agencies can’t handle large, international brands. I began my career at a large firm and learned a lot from my colleagues. My teammates became mentors – and a few became business partners in addition to mentors. There are good PR consultants in large firms - young and old.

One of the complaints against boutiques is that low-level task work is being performed by senior level people, using precious account time. How do boutiques address such an issue?

We believe that there is a room for strategic value at every “level” of the account. Smaller firms do require a bit more scale from their employees and that offers terrific upside potential too. A properly structured account team should have folks performing work that meets their ability and challenges them to improve. The small to mid-size firms I’m familiar with provide this opportunity as well as the large agencies.

During the technology boom, the industry saw the large conglomerates either start boutique shops or buy them – such examples are PR21, Red Whistle, Simon/McGarry. Do we see that trend returning, with more skilled and targeted teams able to provide more counsel and work for clients? Will we see the boutiques being acquired by the large agencies?

Is there room for consolidation in the PR market? Perhaps, but that should not be the focus of small and mid-size firms. It’s a byproduct of building great teams and providing outstanding client service.

When pitching against a boutique / large agency, how do you position the company as better-suited to serve the client’s interests?

If we enter into a discussion with a prospect due diligence has already suggested that the relationship could work. From there, we focus on their objectives and our strengths. We certainly put our team in a position to communicate their experience and recommendations – we want the team to be tested. We present the account team – not a cloak of senior advisors that’ll drift away over time. By exposing the team, the client is in a better position to appreciate our strengths and make a decision.

Currently, Voce has two offices. Do you see Voce as one day being the next Ruder Finn or Edelman, growing into a national or international presence?

We are shooting a bit higher than yet. We’d like to take down Omnicom or IPG. I’m kidding…We are looking at new markets to establish a presence and some of those markets are oversees. My vote is for an Olive Oil PR office on Italy’s Amalfi Coast but I haven’t found the right business model to pull it off – yet. We are committed to no more than 25-30 employees in one office. If we have enough business in a particular region to justify a larger team, we will start another office. We are fanatics about people and culture and believe that it can be lost in offices with more than 30 employees.

In what sense or instances do you feel that clients would be better served by a large, multinational firm?

Small to mid-size firms will have a tough time with companies that have limited internal resources and limitless egos. Internal folks with limited experience may gravitate toward a large firm – to find a false sense of security. It’s similar to what some of our technology clients face – “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco or IBM.” Savvy PR professionals will evaluate agencies with a set of criteria that tests small, medium and large firms on their level of counsel.

In what types of accounts do you think that boutique firms are better suited for?

I’m painting with a broad brush here, but typically, internal folks who have experienced diverse PR relationships – in house teams, agencies, contractors – will appreciate the fact that they are hiring counsel and experience that can be found at a variety of firms. The key is equal opportunity.

How has the request for international (or region specific, i.e. Asia, Europe) affected your firm's odds of receiving an RFP?

We have relationships with the best firms in each of the top international regions. In many cases we have helped our clients conduct the RFPs in those regions. We thrive on the request for regional specific programs and our experience in this area has kept the pipeline full of prospects.

If you have global capabilities, how do you market that? Or are you content in working within only the North American market?

Our global capabilities are based on a network of experts in the top international markets. We work with these folks daily and often serve as the North American point of contact for our clients. International programs are exciting and teach PR consultants important lessons about how to spin messages to serve a specific culture or region. Over time, we plan to have our own presence in some of these regions but we will always have a network of experts to best serve our clients.

Do you have any closing thoughts for the readers on your views on the state of public relations?

I think PR people have to be optimists. I’m certainly a glass is half-full type when it comes to PR and I’m inclined to say that the PR industry (read: the technology PR industry) looks great. New companies are being funded with the promise of exciting new technology. That also forces the established players to become more agile and focus on innovation. These are all good indicators for PR. Raising it up a notch, we do believe the PR model is changing. We must gravitate toward a consultant model. I don’t mean that everyone should venture out and become a lone practitioner. The focus is on counsel and expertise. The trick for the industry is that counsel and expertise is the result of hard work and dedication to the profession. It requires us to be “students” of the profession. Learning from one another and taking the best ideas, experiences and tactics to elevate the profession as a whole. This is the path we walk with a focus on the journey and not the destination.

JONATHAN ZALESKI, THE PR COLLECTIVE
The PR Collective is a national public relations company based in Santa Monica, California, with 40 Affiliate offices comprised of boutique agencies. The innovative company can connect clients with the best matched executive for their communications needs or create a centrally-coordinated team of communications experts handpicked from multiple offices. The PR Collective crafts and implements expert public relations campaigns for clients in all industries. The company's president, Jonathan Zaleski, is a PR veteran and former Director at Weber Shandwick's Rogers & Cowan.

With the current state of public relations – with purchasing departments coming into the equation, influencing the agency choice – how does the PR Collective position itself and its costs to the client?

Boutique agencies are small businesses and few entities on the economic landscape are more cost conscious that small businesses. I am always happy to point out the our Affiliate offices are run by publicists who are also entrepreneurs. They know about keeping costs down and understand that every dollar spent as on PR was hard earned by the client. It is our mission to control costs as much as possible without impinging on the effectiveness of the outreach.

On a more obvious level, boutique agencies operate with way less overhead. This makes it that much easier to avoid having to keep retainer fees high to support overhead and other costs completely unrelated to the outreach.

How is your agency able to qualm fears of your small size, limited localities to prospective clients?

The PR Collective has a unique business model that negates these fears. Since we are a centrally coordinated network of hand-picked boutique agencies located all over the country, we can build a team of any size and can craft an outreach targeting a single region or the entire country. We can also combine areas of expertise to handle companies with even the broadest focus.


Are corporations demanding more return on their public relations dollars? Are you seeing a push for less money, but more results?

The phrase I hear most often from potential clients is something along the lines of "we are idea rich but cash poor." These companies want more results from all dollars they spend whether it is for PR or not. With a rough economy, increased competition and scars still showing from the dot-com crash, every expenditure can be a make or break decision.

According to a recent article in the Economist, advertising budgets are being shifted away from advertising to public relations, and other “below-the-line” efforts. Have you seen your clients transfer budgets away from advertising into public relations?

Not only have we seen budgets in established companies move away from advertising, we are seeing start-ups passing up advertising and going straight to PR. Advertising has become so pervasive that the amount of money to make a dent with an ad campaign can be crippling.

We received a call the other day from a company that had been manufacturing designer clothes for years for other labels, and now was interested in launching their own label. They were quoted $880,000 for the first year by an ad agency. After that they simply crossed advertising off their list and turned to PR. Just about any PR agency would gladly get results for small portion of that. Public relations, when executed properly, is just too cost effective to not be considered an option.

The industry seems to be moving away from strict press relations to more integrated relations, with guerilla marketing, event marketing, and community relations. How is the PR Collective nimble enough to handle the new demands from clients?

Many of our Affiliates go beyond PR to be "marketing communications" agencies that can also build websites, create and implement direct marketing campaigns, handle events, and create advertising. The best part about this approach is that the client's message is integrated literally into all of their communications with the public. There is no interference or mixed messages to worry about.

One of the complaints against boutiques is that low-level taskwork is being performed by senior level people, using precious account time. How do boutiques address such an issue?

When I was in the large agency environment, I was expected to hold down six or more clients myself to help contribute to the overhead. Most boutique agencies can pull the same profit from three accounts. So if you were a company, how would you prefer your PR rep to be dividing their time? I would prefer mine was working on only two other accounts and taking a few hours a week to handle some administrative tasks as opposed to fighting with five other accounts for attention.

Plus I believe the best executives are the ones who participate in an account down to the nitty gritty details. The same person should be developing your message points, building your press kit, selecting your target media, crafting the pitch, writing your releases and bringing it to the media. That is the boutique approach in a nutshell. In larger companies, the person working on your account is often not the same senior executive you met with during the pitch. In a boutique you meet with the person who will be on the front lines with you, and you have constant access to them through the length of your outreach.

During the technology boom, the industry saw the large conglomerates either start boutique shops or buy them – such examples are PR21, Red Whistle, Simon/McGarry. Do we see that trend returning, with more skilled and targeted teams able to provide more counsel and work for clients? Will we see the boutiques being acquired by the large agencies?

I hope not. A big word on the business landscape used to be "corporate culture." It was often applied to large companies but it exists in small companies too. In a small PR shop, corporate culture is a creative essence that gives the firm its character and fuels unique and effective approached to getting the word out on behalf of their clients. Getting gobbled up by a larger company, no matter how well intentioned, is going to trample some flowers in the garden. Small agencies come from a completely different mindset..one that rarely meshes well with the overhead-driven mindset of large PR entities. It is for that reason that we coordinate our Affiliate Offices, but we do not mettle with their formulas.

When pitching against a boutique / large agency, how do you position the company as better-suited to serve the client’s interests?

The PR Collective's business model, and approach to PR, is a blending of boutique and large agency boutique We really did stumble onto the perfect formula that is flexible enough to bring the creative pizzazz and small client fees of a smaller shop but with the resources and reach of a large conglomerate.

Currently, the PR Collective has a group of approximately 40 offices. Do you see the Collective as one day being the next Ruder Finn or Edelman, growing into a national or international presence?

The PR Collective already has a national presence. We have gaps in some of the less populated states that we are planning on filling over the next 12 months or so. However, we feel that somewhere around 80 Affiliates is the most we would want domestically. This is a comfortable number that allows us to cover all markets and all industries without having to push up our administrative costs or lose touch with our executives in the field. This is how we differ from a standard agency network. We all really do keep in touch with each other and the central office.

Synergy is not a buzzword over here, but a promise fulfilled. When a client calls and says they need some PR support for an educational product with an adventure angle, I know one of my two Connecticut Affiliate Offices is headed up by a pro who not only specializes in educational PR, but also is an explorer at heart who has traveled the world. He is a perfect match, but would I have known that if I was tracking 150 offices at once?

On the international side, we do plan on developing an International component of The PR Collective, but we are more focused on developing our domestic strategy and services first before we look in that direction. We would want a dedicated staff working with those Affiliates, so we again could develop strong relationships with our executives to best apply those resources to the right clients.

In what sense or instances do you feel that clients would be better served by a large, multinational firm?

If a company needs an outreach that truly requires different approaches in different countries, then a large multinational firm MAY be the way to go. However I would warn companies not to be lured in by overhyped promises of synergy between the PR agencies' various offices. Is the account being overseen by someone who has directly coordinated the offices in the various countries the potential client operates in? Maybe, but probably not. What these clients are paying for is the local cultural knowledge each office can apply to crafting a campaign in their home country, but the value really comes if someone who has a strong understanding of all pieces of the puzzle is bringing it all together into a cohesive cost-effective strategy.

In what types of accounts do you think that boutique firms are better suited for?

I think small to midsized companies in growth positions are best suited for boutique agencies because the mindset of the agency and client are usually the same. These type of companies also are stretched thin and are not often very sure exactly what they need from their PR company. They can really benefit from the self-starting approach that boutique agencies bring to the mix.

In a way, you have started a collective to mirror the conglomerates reach with the skill-set of boutiques. How do you ensure the PR Collective clients that the quality of work stays the same across the board?

We provide consistant service by centrally coordinating the accounts. When we build a Collective Team, the central office stays on board to administrate or participate in the team. This not only ensures a cohesive strategy, but also facilitates communications with the client by providing a senior executive as a point person who is involved and available.

Also, we built The PR Collective by gathering up some superb boutique PR shops then providing them access to resources that make them even stronger. Not any boutique agency can be an Affiliate. We limit the number of Affiliate Offices we have so we make sure we bring only strong PR talent into The PR Collective.

How has the request for international (or region specific, i.e. Asia, Europe) affected your firm's odds of receiving an RFP?

Until we expand into international markets we are not interested in receiving these types of RFPs. There is enough business to go around here domestically. Despite what you see in FedEx commercials, not every company has to target the entire world to be successful. A chain of restaurants in the northeast does not need to be big in Croatia. We do not feel the need to over extend ourselves or go after accounts we are not a strong candidate to perform well for.

Do you have any closing thoughts for the readers on your views on the state of public relations?

I believe that PR companies really have to look at what they are promising their clients, and start sorting out what is rhetoric and what is reality. It is a very competitive environment and agencies almost have to overpromise results in order to land a client these days. This is a dangerous practice that can sour the way the business community views our industry in a very short period of time. If a client has an aspect or strategy to their business that is going to make the PR effort difficult to sell the press, I would like to see agencies point out those challenges and suggest how the client can change that aspect to be more media friendly instead of promising them the world. It demonstrates that the agency cares more about seeing the outreach and the business succeed as opposed to juicing them for the length of the contract then moving on when the client is unsatisfied. A stronger company is a stronger client. This approach benefits the client, the agency, and our industry.

BEN SILVERMAN, PR FUEL / FINDPROFIT.COM
Silverman is a Contributing Editor for FindProfit.com, an investment research firm. He also handles public/media relations for the company. In his spare time, he writes PR Fuel, a weekly email newsletter aimed at public relations professional and PRFuel.com, a weblog covering PR-related topics. These are both products of eReleases.com, a press release distribution service. Previously, Silverman was a business news columnist for The New York Post and the publisher of DotcomScoop.com, an independent business news service. Prior to this, he was an executive at two privately-held online media and technology companies and he spent about five years working in the music business as an artist manager, independent record label owner and consultant for major recording labels.

You have worked as a reporter at the NY Post, as a Web journalist with Dotcomscoop.com, and now are working internal PR and as a columnist for FindProfit.com and have dealt with many PR people. When working with the large agency versus the boutique, which practitioners did you feel provided better access and help for you?

I've always felt more comfortable dealing with boutique agencies for one simple reason; I feel that the people at boutiques are more involved with the client and have a better understanding of the needs of the client. By and large, my dealings with boutiques were much smoother than my dealings with large agencies. I felt the boutiques offered better and faster access to client sources, information and material. When it came to writing about a company that employed a large agency, I always tried to side-step the agency and deal directly with someone at the company. If a company employed a boutique agency, I had no qualms about going through the outside PR firm to help accomplish my task.

What accounts and situations do you feel are better suited for a boutique? For a large multinational agency?

I think multinational agencies are obviously appropriate for multinational companies such as Microsoft and General Electric. For small companies, obviously a boutique is the way to go. A boutique will generally be more cost-effective and a small business does not have to compete with larger companies for the time and resources of the agency. I've found that large companies often employ boutique agencies for special products, certain units or simply specific public relations campaign. I think this is effective and is a good way to break up the staleness that comes from large agencies. There will be times when a company simply needs the power of a large agency - be it resources, "muscle," or contacts - but by and large, I see no reason why a well-staffed boutique agency couldn't be able to handle all but the largest accounts.

With that said, I think it's also important for all companies, once they reach a certain scale, to have in-house public relations people who can work with outside agencies to maximize the total PR effort.

During the technology boom, the industry saw the large conglomerates either start boutique shops or buy them - such examples are PR21, Red Whistle, Simon/McGarry. Do we see that trend returning, with more skilled and targeted teams able to provide more counsel and work for clients? Will we see the boutiques being acquired by the large agencies?

I'll be honest, I'm not that familiar with the consolidation trends that have taken place in the PR industry. However, I do believe that if the economy can reach a point of sustained recovery, that we will see consolidation across most industries. I do know that a lot of good PR firms have been ruined after being acquired. This is just a fact of businesslife when a larger company acquires a smaller company that has established itself as a niche player. My hope is that, like with the tech boom, people have learned their lesson and realize that if you're going to acquire a company to help your top- or bottomline, you'll take advantage of the inherent strengths of that company.

Are you seeing an improvement in the overall state of public relations?

The improvement I've seen from the industry has come through the eyes of a former journalist, so you'll have to take what I say with a grain of salt. But I did notice a somewhat quiet shift over the past few years in the industry and I've wondered if it had to the with the weak economy weeding out some people who simply should not be working in the industry. I should note that I feel this has also taken place in the media and many other industries and I certainly don't mean to say that anyone who has lost a job deserved to do so. Nonetheless, I think the public relations industry improves everyday because of new communication channels and more public scrutiny of the industry.

Events like The Global PR Week Blog are very important because they bring PR professionals together via a learning experience - and it's one that can extend to the general public. I think more improvement will come in the industry through two things: better training and a better understand within the business community of the role that public relations can and should play for a business.

Do you have any closing thoughts for the readers on your views on the state of public relations?

There are a lot of unfortunate misperceptions about public relations, the role of public relations and the media, and, public relations professionals in general. The media has, obviously, had a hand in perpetrating these misperceptions, but the industry itself hasn't helped much. I think most people equate public relations professionals to publicists, and we know there's a huge difference between the two. I think the focus on the industry now should be in coming up with better ways to quantify the work that public relations professionals do and working with the other cogs in the business machine so there's a clear understanding of the need for public relations beyond "getting some ink."

Oh, and if you still have me on your media list, please remove me.

LINDSAY OLSON, PARADIGM STAFFING
Paradigm Staffing Solutions was founded in 2001 to service the Public Relations and Marketing industries nationwide. Paradigm Staffing Solutions currently operates offices in California and New York City. Lindsay Olson is Founder and Executive Search Consultant and has been recruiting in the public relations and marketing industry since 1997. She currently manages the New York office and business development efforts nationwide. Jolie Downs, Director of Recruiting Services, manages our Bay area office and supports the search efforts for all of our customers requirements. Both Lindsay and Jolie are award winning executive recruiters who have been recognized in the top 25 executive recruiters in United States in a MRI network of over 1000 offices.

What accounts and situations do you feel are better suited for a boutique? For a large multinational agency?

We typically see the boutique agencies better suited to service and retain the smaller early stage startup and public companies. Not to say they don't service larger accounts well, but generally it seems earlier stage companies are more satisfied with the level of service and coverage that a boutique agency can provide. A boutique agency also seems to have less employee turnover allowing the client to build a long-term relationship with the account team members.

During the technology boom, the industry saw the large conglomerates either start boutique shops or buy them – such examples are PR21, Red Whistle, Simon/McGarry. Do we see that trend returning, with more skilled and targeted teams able to provide more counsel and work for clients? Will we see the boutiques being acquired by the large agencies?

In business, conglomerates will always swallow smaller firms to acquire clients, skilled team members, more market share, etc. - however, there is a place for boutiques in the PR field, especially when it comes to the intimate attention a client may need.

During your recruiting efforts, do you see a preference from your placements to be either at a boutique or at a large multinational? Or, a large-sized independent?

In the current market, a large sized independent seems to be preferred. Between a boutique and large multinational it truly varies from candidate to candidate in what specifically they are looking for in their next position. With the downturn of the tech boom more people are concerned with the environment and candidates choosing the boutique route are generally more concerned about their day to day environment, working with less bureaucracy, more autonomy, and a wider variety of responsibilities. Candidates looking to build their resume and gain international exposure with Fortune 100 accounts tend to market themselves to the large multinational conglomerates. Preference is individual.

Does your agency get most of its work from the independent shops?

Yes, independent shops tend to retain our services more often, especially recently. A current client with a very small office in the Bay area recently mentioned how before using us to fill their Sr. Account Executive role, they were losing a majority of the candidates for this position on offers to the larger firms. I attribute this to the difference between interviewing and hiring passive candidates vs. active candidates. Passive candidates are not actively seeking employment, responding to the newest job advertisement, or shopping themselves around. They are only open to making a change when approached with the right opportunity. Sourcing these candidates and matching with the right company typically takes a recruiters touch.

Are you seeing an improvement in the overall state of public relations?
Absolutely. Agency and corporate opportunities are steadily on the rise. 2004 has been the busiest year we've had since late 2001.


Closing thoughts: As the founder of my own boutique, POP! Public Relations, I have an interesting seat to view all that is going on. The firm is located in a non-traditional PR city, I have worked at the large multinational, the boutique and in-house, and I have seen both the positives and negatives of all three. With the recent news of Fleishman Hillard in the Los Angeles Times on overbilling, and then the Los Angeles Daily News about the impending fraud lawsuit, our industry really needs to make the right decision for the future of our profession.

By providing the best possible public relations strategy and then execution (whether the boutique, the conglomerate or the independent), we can only hope that we prove our worth to a corporate world that just doesn't get public relations.

NB: if you are not registered with any of the news sites within the article, visit BugMeNot.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Global PR Week

A little belatedly, partially because of my own lateness, POP! Public Relations will be participating in the Global PR Week blog.

What topic did I choose to post on? Naturally, the state of public relations and the emergence (or re-emergence) of the boutique shop.

So, go on over and check out the site....

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Finding Employees the Google Way

As noted by the post below, Matthew Podboy from Voce Communications has a blog and he has a pretty interesting post about the funky billboard that Google is using to find people.

He put out a call to arms, on how to find the very best PR talent in an interesting way for Voce.

So, I started to write a response on his blog, but then thought it might also be good for the readers of my site to know what I think of hiring for POP! Public Relations, and what it entails.

I think interns are one of the best way to find good talent, but then again, I'm biased because I had such a great internship. But, you know how the person works, you know if they fit into the company environment and philosophy, you know their work ethic. Plus, by transferring from internship to full-time employment, I think there's a little bit more loyalty.

But, I also find it's best to use the network you have, the people you trust, to find more talent for an agency. We all have worked with talent in the past, that we would work with again in a heartbeat. My old boss at Shandwick, I have gone on record to him that I would go work with him again in a heartbeat. While we all worked very, very hard, he was a great boss. It works the other way, though, also. I know which PR people I would hire while in expansion stage for POP!, and who I would go after, no matter where they are working. It's the known qoutient, knowing that the person is a PR rock star, not a wanna be.

A great way to weed out people is to do what an agency I worked with did - they had telephone interviews that were pitching scenarios. It's amazing how many phone phobic PR people there are out there, that rely only on email and are scared to use the phone.

Either way, if Matthew is looking for people in the Bay, I have a couple people that I have worked with that are rockstars....

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Beyblade Powers Activate!!

From a recent article on O’Dwyer’s:

Interpublic's Rogers & Cowan beat four other firms to handle global PR for this summer's Beyblade World Championship, an event for fans of the toy fad to compete in New York. Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Edelman and Porter Novelli also vied for the work, which was awarded after a two-step RFP process.

One hundred million Beyblades have been sold around the world, by R&C's estimate. The toys resemble spinning tops and players compete in miniature "stadiums" to see which device can knock the other out.

R&C is charged with drumming up international support of the event, as well as coordinating with licensees like Hasbro and ABC Family. Matt Losordo and Fran Curtis, EVP's for R&C in New York, headed the pitch.

Hasbro, which began marketing the toys last year under an agreement with Takara Corp. of Japan, credited strong sales of the $7 plastic and metal devices for its strong earnings in 2003.


IMHO, this is the type of account that should have been handed off to a few boutique firms - boutique firms like POP! Public Relations that understand the audience, has some street sense and skillz. Not a big corporate firm, but cool boutiques that have some geeks that have actually played with Beyblades, not just watched their kids play with them fandangled new top thingies. And, while it might be more expensive to have a few different boutiques regionally, it might have helped keep a grass roots feel for the games.

Now, if you are an old, non-hep cat, let’s explain what Beyblades are. They are tops. Well decorated tops, that kids put into a little arena and try to knock each other out of the arena. Sounds vaguely familar with what kids in the 1950's did with, oh, marbles and tops (we've all read Jean Sheppard's stories - or at least seen A Christmas Story). But, Beyblades have characters and a great cartoon to go along with the marketing.

So Rogers & Cowan won the account. When I think of R&C, I do not think of the children's market and the tween cool/hip factor. I think of great entertainment publicity, some great book publicity, but, well, not toys. I'm sure they have done toys, but how plugged in to the kid market are they?

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for the pitch meetings from any of the agencies that pitched the business, with button-down old white men trying to be hip and pretending they know what Beyblades are, and how best to put on a tournament. Going out on a limb on this one, but how many of those executives have ever set foot in a comic book store, where local tourneys take place? Or, how many of them had actually seen a Beyblade, or watched one of the cartoons before the RFP came across their desks?

Hasbro has a winning toy right now - it has generated amazing buzz through kids and the cartoon (give credit where credit is due). But, what is going to happen when you take the regional tournaments, hand over the planning and execution to a PR firm, which will indubitable make the tournament too corporate and commercial, which will in turn possibly lose street cred for Beyblades.

Then again, how much longer before Beyblades become the next Magic or Hero Clix or Pokemon, or whatever was hot last week that's already dying down?

More PR Bloggers

Media Guerrilla, who is written by Mike Manuel at Voce Communications. My odd connection to Voce is that I know most of the principals from when I worked at Miller/Shandwick Technologies in Mountain View. All a great bunch of guys, all really great PR people. Small world, especially in public relations. If you use them, tell Kevin I said hello.

Okay, just was reading the PR Blog aggregator sites, and found that another Voce person - one of the founders - is also blogging. I have many found memories of Podboy and his wife while working at M/ST, as they are both great people. I still think his wife thinks I'm totally goofy. Read Matthew's blog, as he has some great points as well. His blog is Active Voice.

The other blog is from Pierce Mattie, and its Beauty, Health, Medical and Fitness PR Blog. It's one of the first PR blogs that I have read that is not about technology or technology related. PMPR is about publicity, specifically beauty, health and fitness.

Already, I have read in some PR blogs that other PR firms are going to jump on the blogging bandwagon because it's the next hot thing. While this might be true, what is wrong with some different PR perspectives in the blogosphere?

When I was in LA, there was a beauty client in the office, and I got to learn alot from the account, ranging from guerilla tactics that could be applied to consumer technology, working with the mainstream press, working with television personalities. It goes back to old skool PR - at the end of the day, it's about building and maintaining relationships.

Oh, the small worldness of this posting is that the Pierce Mattie blog was put together by a consultant working with the firm, as well as with Lizzie Grubman PR. Yay!! It's more Lizzie!!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Al-Qaeda Hires Public-Relations Consultant

Not from PR Week or O'Dwyer's, but in The Onion today ...

Al-Qaeda Hires Public-Relations Consultant Just To Shoot Him

BAGHDAD—Al-Qaeda operative Mullah Hashem hired Elliot Dobin, a consultant for the Boston public-relations firm Schneider & Koff, for the sole purpose of murdering him, sources reported Monday. "The al-Qaeda have taken such a beating in the press that we figured they wanted to clean up their media image, so we sent our best guy," firm partner Jerry Koff said. "But Elliot had barely shaken everyone's hand when Hashem and his guards shoved him up against the wall and shot him in the back of the head. He didn't even get to show them his PowerPoint presentation." Bergman said he'll confront Hashem about the incident as soon as he figures out a way to spin Dobin's shooting into a positive.


I think the scariest part about the story is that it isn't too far from the truth. There are agencies that take on the less-than-popular clients, and it's something that I have had to weigh for POP! Public Relations before when reached for new business.

DPReview and its cool RSS site

From the wonderfully charming Elizabeth Albrycht, comes an article that is about blogs that are cleverly used. Congrats to Albrycht, as her client is one that is profiled.

One of the blogs highlighted in the article is DP Review. Now, I've worked with Phil and DPReview for a long time, and have worked with him on one POP! Public Relations client.

Even before the RSS feeds, DPReview and Phil was a must read for anyone in the digital imaging space. Beyond being a nice guy, his site always had breaking news on digital cameras, had whispers of what was coming out, and was a great resource for all that's digital.

He has done a great job by adding RSS feeds, and because of the feeds, I continue to read his site more than the other photo Web sites. For a site like that, it was a genius move that probably opened his site to more than just the die hard enthusiasts, but to people that wanted the information without visiting his site (instead, just visiting their reader).

Now, if The Onion ever started an RSS feed, I would never need to go Web sites.

It's gotta be RSS or nothing ...

Over at Micropersuasion, Steve Rubel has the full Bulldog interview with The Merc's Dan Gillmor.

I really like the end of the interview, when Gillmor goes on about how the PR industry cannot ignore the blogosphere, and that we need to pitch to blogs but to understand how to pitch to blogs. For a few POP! Public Relations clients, I have pitched blogs and have included blog relations in new business pitches.

The first part of the interview - where Gillmor talks about his letter to PR people - I disagree with some of his comments. Do I think it would behoove corpations to set-up RSS feeds in their newsrooms? Definitely, and I work with a company that has a product to do that (check out OnePress). And, I know I am in the PR blogosphere minority on this, but I think RSS only feeds are a bad thing, but here I go again ...

Email is never going to die in public relations, just like the phone has never died in PR. It's a mere fact of life.

The wonderfully great thing of RSS is that you subscribe to the feeds. With an unknown company, you really don't have that luxury to offer the RSS feed to reporters. And, beyond technology reporters, how many consumer reporters are using RSS? Geez, most entertainment PR is still done by fax, and you want to stop the email process now? It's not going to happen.

There are always going to be these early adopters, like Gillmor, that you are going to either have to cater to or ignore at your own peril, but to stop using email is something I don't see in the near future. What I do see is better email control, better PR targeting, better relationship building, better SPAM filters ... but not less email.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I'm not ignoring you ... I'm just not posting ;-)

The headline is somewhat of a joke, but will make sense in this post.

Like every weekday morning, I wake up and watch Bloomberg Television. It's a great way to start the morning, it's got a great balance of news, market news and a little, little bit of fluff (usually the weekend movie grosses, but that usually does it for me).

This morning, though, because of the John Kerry/John Edwards announcement, I switched over to Fox News, because, well, we all know it'd be more amusing to watch the announcement on Fox.

Now, I'm in public relations. I started my own agency, POP! Public Relations. I'm not naive about the news, and know that no person is able to keep their own personal views from their reporting, despite how much (or how little) they try.

So, watching Neil Cavuoto, waiting for his repartee on the events that had unfolded. So, Cavuoto goes right to how the market opened and gauges his comments with "not that I'm being partisan, but this is historically true" that the market drops because of Democrats. Okay, the market opens lower today, and three more times Cavuoto says that he's not being partisan, but ...

Okay, the market could have opened lower today because: three Marines were killed, oil is at $40 / barrel, it's earnings week for a few companies. Any of these are pretty good indications for a drop in the market.

The "not being partisan" was said about two many times, bringing it to a total of oh, about 20 times he said it (exaggeration). It's like the great joke, "I'm not a racist, but I hate (any ethnic minority will work)." He protested too much.

It's a simple media relations skill - if I want to reach a more conservative market, I'll pitch Fox morning. If I want more fuzzy and loving press, I'll pitch the Today show. If I want a certain demographic, I'll pitch Oprah and Ellen Degeneres ... it's pretty cut and dry.

But, come on, don't pretend to be non-partisan or that you aren't balanced toward a certain demographic. It was just kooky this morning.