Tuesday, July 19, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Adam Brown, Director, eKetchum / Ketchum Personalized Media

Adam Brown is Director of eKetchum, Ketchum's digital media development group. Adam is responsible for managing the new media development teams and planning strategy and concept direction for eKetchum’s numerous projects.

Adam has over a decade of experience in managing and developing Web-based and other digital media interactive projects. Joining Ketchum in 1998, he was originally Creative Director at What's Up Interactive in Atlanta for three years. Before that, Adam was an Associate Director at Bright House, an ideation firm in Atlanta where he had the opportunity to concept experiential marketing ideas for companies like The Coca-Cola Company, and The Home Depot.

Through his experience, Adam has helped design and develop interactive solutions for firms including Visa, Nokia, Fox Broadcasting, Proctor & Gamble, BellSouth, Johnson & Johnson, Miller Brewing and Cingular Wireless.

Adam graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Communication, where he majored in Advertising.

You run the eKetchum practice at Ketchum - what is your involvement with PR from the eKetchum side? Or, in other words, what is eKetchum?

Our goal at eKetchum is to make sure what we are doing online for our clients looks, smells and feels like what we are doing for our client offline in public relations. It should be a seamless campaign, ensuring that the message is the same across the board.

We have clients that do hire outside Web firms to assist them with Websites, micro sites, or online marketing – but usually that does not have the same tone and messages that the traditional campaign does. We are here to support Ketchum clients in their offline and online campaigns.

We are PR professionals first, Web professionals second. We try to make the PR and marketing cohabitate. If you look back, PR was slow getting out of the gates when the Web came along, and advertising quickly took advantage of the internet. And, owned it. Even in non-ecommerce companies, Websites are owned by the marketing and advertising departments, not the PR departments, even though the sites are usually PR driven with information for the public. There are very few Websites that are true calls to actions or commerce (unless it's an e-commerce site), so it makes more sense for PR to have ownership of the sites.

Ketchum just launched its personalized media service (KPM) – and you are the head of two of the five service offerings (blogs and SEO). What are your goals and plans for the practice?

KPM is not just a US-based initiative, but a worldwide program for Ketchum with five service offerings. There are a few different people involved in KPM. Podcasts and RSS are being run by Aaron Heinrich, who is the technology practice head in San Francisco. The mobile marketing is being run out of the European Union by Tony Noel, as the EU is ahead of the US in mobile marketing. I head up Blogs and SEO. And Paul Rand, head of Ketchum's technology practice and Jon Higgins, head of Ketchum's European operation, lead our Ketchum Personalized Media division.

The whole idea with these five service offerings, or "buckets," is that the buckets will evolve – in a year from now, those buckets might change, but we will evolve with them, offering our clients what they need.

There are so many other technologies and ways that people are going to be communicating that we haven't thought of. There are so many flavors – for example just in blogs, we have Vlogs, Moblogs, Audioblogs, and others. Blogs are unique in the ways that they operate, but the online dialogue and conversation is pretty consistent with message boards and forums. But, it's more opinionated, more conversational. Just look at the wider swath of online communities as well.

Blogs are the cool and sexy thing right now – for good reason – but there is going to be something cooler and sexier soon, and we need to be aware of that.

The goals and plans – if you look at all of KPM – we are trying to be pioneers next to the larger global firms. Without a doubt, there are other PR and marketing firms that are very engaged in their use and knowledge of these new tools. We wanted to demonstrate that a large, multinational firm like Ketchum gets it, and will continue to stay at the forefront of new technologies.

With blogs, we want to help our clients do three things: monitor the blogosphere (and other online communities), which we are doing with a partnership with Intelliseek (creator of Blogpulse and other great reporting and measurement tools).

Second, KPM will counsel the clients on how and when to respond to the online communities. We are looking at ways we can work with participants in the blogosphere, which is an area that is controversial and risky. Right now, the blogosphere is risk-averse to working with marketing and PR firms, and the past year has seen several marketing firms try to work with bloggers with varying degrees of success. In many instances, these firms didn't disclose their identity or relationship with a product/service they were promoting.

That's wrong. At Ketchum, we are adamant about transparency issues. We work with bloggers, and realize that the ways we as PR people have worked with journalists is not the way we work with bloggers. We need to be cognizant that they are different audiences. And we're going to have to realize that in this new communications arena, we're going to have to relinquish some message control – something we in PR have never been comfortable with.

Third, KPM will help our clients develop and maintain blogs. Now, we are of the opinion that the majority of the times that a client wants to do a blog are not appropriate. They're better ways to communicate online, even with other types of two-way, online communities. We can ensure the appropriate message gets out there, and control the message (a foundation of PR). A corporate blog sometimes is appropriate, other times it is not the right tool for communications.

We are currently working with several clients whose entry into the blogosphere is a good thing. There, the participation is disclosed, and we are either developing blog posts, blog comments or the entire blog – nothing funny is going on.

My personal opinion is that for public relations, RSS is as big, if not bigger, than blogs. RSS will change how we share information, as we are seeing already with Podcasts. It's what we were talking about with XML five or six years ago, the ability to parse the data and metadata and package information in new ways. RSS is the realization of that. It allows us to "push" online information rather than always "pulling."

When Ketchum did launch the practice, the PR blogosphere went into overdrive – some said welcome and mentioned the kool-aid, while others went onto the attack that no one blogs at Ketchum. While you have blogged since 2002, no one else has at Ketchum. Why not? What are the Ketchum plans on a Ketcum blog or podcast?

What we all saw when we launched KPM, a lot of bloggers welcoming us to the blogosphere, but there was criticism directed at Ketchum for not practicing what we preach. I tried to respond to some of the posts. The first thing you are going to see – and I look forward to talking more to the PR bloggers after this interview is published – is that we are launching a KPM blog soon, one that is going to be focused on KPM, the things that interest us, as it relates to PR and the new landscape. We hope to announce that very soon.

We made the choice not to launch KPM with a blog. We wanted to get the message and the news out worldwide – we launched in the EU, Asia and the US. We will continue to use the other online sites that we have: Kethum.com, KetchumPerspectives.com and KetchumIdeas.com.

One of the complaints that was raised in the blogosphhere was that no one at Ketchum blogged. You had responded to that issue – that there are bloggers there. There are a few people that are out there. On my personal blog, GumpRants.com, I doesn't mention my affiliation to Ketchum, but that is a personal choice. My blog does talk about PR and marketing, but also talks about books and cars and gadgets – what interests me. It's a separate blog, my personal one, that wasn't supposed to be about work. And I plan on keeping it that way.

The coming month or so will be exciting as we announce our other Ketchum Personalized Media initiatives, that build on the podcast we have started and put up on Ketchum.com. One of the tenets we hope to adhere to is to podcast and share ideas.

Your blog is Gump Rants, and has been only about you – are there plans to transfer it as a part of Ketchum Personalized Media to start blogging on eKetchum?

No – that is what I do on my own time. That is Adam Brown's blog, and will continue to be Adam Brown's blog. No different than any other person's personal blog.

What we are planning to do with the KMP blog is keep it’s focus very narrow, to focus on our field of view on what personalized media is, and how it is affecting PR. We don't want to venture far off that main mission, one that allows us to share our opinions and insights on how all this is changing the communications landscape.

We have an interesting position here at Ketchum, and our interaction in the blogosphere is interesting. We want to create and be part of the PR conversation in blogs, to share our ideas and thoughts with current and potential clients. We're a global PR agency, to this point Ketchum and our other peers have not been very participatory in the blogosphere beyond Richard Edelman and H&K.

Right after the launch of Ketchum PM, KetchumIdeas was found – and it turns out that that was a Chicago office initiative (full disclosure, I suggested to Ms. Bernhardt to add the disclaimer, and got a mini iPod for my suggestion). What can you do to keep other offices in line and aligned in your worldwide initiatives to make sure things like this don't happen again?

The KetchumIdeas is in line with what KPM and Ketchum are going to do. The objective of KetchumIdeas was to be a 30-day site to help promote and market the thought leaders and activities in Ketchum Chicago's corporate practice. It was like an Op-Ed site with the various members of the Chicago office. The program is now over, and it was a great success for its participants.

It just happened to launch at the same time as KPM – and people assumed it was the Ketchum blog. KetchumIdeas.com really had nothing to do with KPM, and admittedly it wasn't a blog, but a one-way communications micro-site. While it was built quickly on the Wordpress engine, it's similarities to a blog ended there. When we plan to launch the KPM blog, it will be a true blog.

My opinion is that blogs without comments are "flogs" – fake blogs. A blog is about dialogue, an online conversation. To be a blog – instead of an online diary or Website – you have to solicit and respond to comments. That doesn't mean that you can't have a blog policy or procedures when developing and managing a blog. That doesn't mean you won't moderate any inappropriate comments. You need to follow a blog comment policy – like deleting off topic comment posts – and you have to be consistent.

You can't change policy midstream. Some blogs have recently done that – started a comment moderation policy or blog post editing that isn’t consistent with the initial site policies. If you are open to comments, you need to think ahead. My opinion is that there are no issues with moderating comments (it's your blog, you can do whatever you want with it), but be consistent, and be ready for the ridicule you'll hear.

Now that the month is over, is KetchumIdeas going to be scrapped, or are you going to build off of that and convert it into a fully-operational blog?

KetchumIdeas was a successful one-month campaign, and it is likely going to be converted into an information piece, converted into a PDF. But right now, that is just speculation, beyond a compilation for what's been there for the full month.

Are we going to forward the URL to the KPM blog? I don't think so - KetchumIdeas.com has served its purpose. A more appropriate guess is that it will be an annual program, and be brought back from time to time.

Why did Ketchum decide to launch a personalized media service? It seems to be late to the game, but is the first large agency to launch a practice – does this give you an early adapter advantage albeit late?

The unique thing about KPM – we didn't come out with saying we had a blog service, or the SEO expertise (which we had been doing for four years) – we combined the services into one program. They all work with each other. RSS and blogs and podcasts and SEO – those are all tied into together. SEO is a great tactic and strategy to drive people to the other three. KPM is new, but we've been doing parts of KPM for some time.

Mobile communications is cutting edge – the latest in marketing communications, which fits into how there are now new avenues for communications.

KPM is about letting people get the information where they want, when they want and how they want it. Blogs are doing that, like getting news from the blogosphere – even going to the MSNBC or ABC blogs or podcasts – and seeing the time shifting, people liking to get their information form sources more in line with them, rather than the mainstream message. People find a blogger or Website that is more in tune with their particular thinking.

RSS is just another pipe. The way I explain RSS to people unfamiliar with it is that the first pipe we had coming in was the email pipe, around the same time as newsgroups. The second big pipe was the World Wide Web – rich graphic pages through Web pages. The third pipe is RSS – it’s really going to change how people get their information.

Ketchum has an early mover advantage that we combined and see the advantage. Our whole industry has a great opportunity with this, but we need to realize the potential we have here. This changes the way we share information with reporters, with the public. This changes the way we can go to the public, in a timely fashion.

What we are talking about here – blogs and RSS and all these things in creating dialogue and fostering relationships with people – that's what we are doing with the public. It's a change for PR, but one that our industry can capitalize upon.

Have you launched any client blogs or podcasts as of yet?

Yes – we had a blog program that is no longer up, for Staples. And, we are working on a couple of blog projects for other clients. Stay tuned for those launches. So far, there are no podcasts … as of yet. We have pitched and shared ideas with prospective clients, but Podcasting is going to be very big.

Anything to add?

The whole industry is at a crossroad – anyone can jump on board, and realize that everything is changing. We as individuals, as PR firms, we are going to make missteps. It is the wild frontier, but we need to focus on using the new medium, and less on pointing fingers at each other.

We need to use our collective energies to own this, and we need to see PRSA and IABC take the big step and embrace these new tools, and own them for public relations and communications. We haven't seen them take that step yet. The organizations need to step up.

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