Tuesday, August 02, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Andy Abramson, Founder, Comunicano Inc. and Blogger, VOIPWatch

Andy Abramson is the founder of Comunicano, Inc., a boutique marketing consultancy geared to providing clients with a full service agency, Senior Advising and Marketer-In-Residence services to start-ups, companies in transition and established brands with regard to marketing, advertising, public relations, promotion, events and reputation management.

A veteran of the marketing and public relations industry, Andy has more than 31 years of experience in all facets of marketing and corporate communications. He started his career in the marketing department of a professional sports team at age 14 and has been at it ever since.

During his career he has worked with numerous clients and corporations that are traditional package goods product and manufacturing companies, developed and promoted sports and entertainment events and place based properties, worked for professional and amateur sports organizations and leading entertainment figures, launched a record label as well marketed companies in the new economy and technology sectors in both the United States and overseas. Along the way he has held positions ranging from Communications Officer to CEO. His clients have ranged from apparel, financial services, online marketplaces, meta-mediaries, telecommunications, food products to media, entertainment and sports properties including teams, athletes, celebrities and facilities.

Since 1994 Andy has also served as a Senior Marketing and Strategy Consultant to more than a dozen dot.com startups and B2B, B2C and C2C companies that sell products and services over the web. Prior to starting Comunicano in 1993, Abramson guided The Upper Deck Company’s Public Relations and Sports Marketing efforts after a two and a half year stint in Account Management with Foote, Cone & Belding’s IMPACT group. There he developed and implemented Integrated Marketing programs for a wide range of clients. His advertising and promotional agency role followed a 14 year career in sports marketing with the Philadelphia Wings, Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia Flyers where he served in a variety of capacities ranging from Group Sales Representative, Office Manager and President of the team’s youth hockey operation, Hockey Central/Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs from 1976-1988.

In addition to his daily marketing and public relations activities Andy also co-hosts "The World Technology Round Up," a daily technology webcast that is heard via KenRadio.com and its syndication partners, by more than 200,000 daily listeners around the globe. He has also served as the BBC's Consumer Electronics Market analyst in the USA at CES, and was seen in 46 countries and 45 PBS stations, by more than 11 million people. Along with Rutkowski, Abramson co-hosts the annual San Diego Telecom Council’s GadgetFest, each fall, a preview event of the newest and coolest consumer technology products around.

Often quoted both in the consumer and industry press, Abramson authors VoIPWatch, a daily web-log (blog) as well writing a weekly wine column for the Del Mar Times.




You own a marketing and public relations firm – Comunicano - but decided to go a different route and blog about VoIP and telco. Why is that?

I decided to blog about VoIP as I saw it was an upcoming news category that needed someone to make sense of it for the public and the media ... beyond the news clips we all saw from analysts. When I first launched the blog, I felt there was a news hole that needed filling and someone had to rise to be the interpreter, after the media had already spoken to Jeff Pulver (whom I consider the original poster child for VoIP).

I actually thought about a blog on PR to be called "Pitch Pitch Pitch" and realized there were a lot of so-called "PR experts" already airing their comments and views, many of whom were in NYC and London so the media would have been somewhat polarized by them. And, rather than try to go against some of the bloggers who were already in the PR blogging space, I decided to use blogging as a way to be positioned better, and to, in effect, bring some sanity to an industry [VoIP] that I saw was taking many pages out of the dot.com world of marketing.

What got you into blogging about VoIP – what lead you to start the blog?

I started the blog because of the news hole, the need to find the important stories and comments in one place if you were an executive in the VoIP sector – as a service provider, manufacturer or carrier.

What is ironic is as I meet those folks at conferences or talk to them on the phone, the "C" level and VP level types seem to read me almost all the time ... and often comment on how right my insight is, even though I might not have been briefed by them. That was what I set out to do – prove that blogging, as a positioning tool, is very useful to executives and companies.

You have won clients in the space from your blog – have you found it hard to separate client work and blog posts? Have you had to go beyond to be fully transparent about the relationship? How have you disclosed it in the past?

I disclosed when it was appropriate. In the case of Popular Telephony, I actually stopped blogging about them when they became a client, created a typelist for them on the blog so I didn't omit them, but always allowed or "positioned" the story with others and then chose to comment as appropriate. If no one bit on the story, I would give it a week or so and then blog it myself. I openly have admitted they were a client and don't mask that. Being transparent is key as it relates to integrity.

I've also worked with Parus Interactive (formally Webley Systems) for a short while and would always let other reporters or bloggers get access to the same news I would report. Now I'm helping other companies the same way.

How has it been now that you are both pitching reporters and being approached as a pundit. Do you find it makes the PR job harder?

Actually, no. First, I think being "pitched" by so many PR folks helps me relate to being a better PR person.

And I'm able to separate the two pretty well. I've always been in both worlds as far back as 1974 when I filed news accounts on radio while working for the sports teams in Philadelphia when I was 14. It's all about integrity and professionalism. So many PR folks are neither, that it makes it easier to stand out from the crowd. When I say that, I am referring to how PR people work and talk with the media … not how we compete for business, as there are basically no rules when it comes to that.

I view many competitors as friends, and even hire some "friendly competitors" from time to time … all depending on what is needed.

What are the next steps for the VoIP Watch – do you hope to turn it more into a consulting firm, as a part of Comunicano?

I'm getting into that ... a bit...

Andy Seybold is likely the best example of what I'm doing, but he's moved from the "analyst" to advisor in more ways, while still writing and moderating conferences in the wireless community. I have no problem admitting who I work for, as long as I'm not under some kind of super tight, CIA like NDA ... which from time to time we all have to sign, and then I have to be objective about how I report on the blog as well as be careful about what I write. The funny thing is of late more of the companies with the best ideas have no interest in putting me under NDA.

So, even if it's just to pitch the business or do a one day workshop on something the client has a lacking of expertise of, Comunicano is moving into that analyst/advisory direction as a natural progression of our service offerings.

You balance your blog with your work – how do you find that good blog/work/life balance?

I tend to blog early in the day, mid-afternoon and if I see anything just before I go to sleep.

My fiancée is a physician and we both are always on our laptops. We actually met while I was blogging one day in the hotel lobby of the San Francisco W. We both know that the laptops are an extension of what we do, so we work at the same time and then we log off and go to where we have to go, and live our lives. We call the laptops "the children," and seem to tote them around everywhere except to parties and dinners.

We go to coffee shops with them and she manages her patients' notes online, orders prescriptions when she's on call, so my blogging is a way to keep busy when she's working too.

I also use WiFi and EvDO to stay connected more than the average person. If T-Mobile stats are correct the average account is used twice a month, my use is about twice a day, twenty days or so a month or more. I tend to use hot spots the way people used to use pay phones in the era before cell phones.

What advice do you give new PR people looking to blog – should they go with the PR blog, or blog on another subject?

I think that PR bloging is about saturated. B.L. Ochman, Steve Rubel, you, and really O'Dwyers (even though it's not a blog), PR Week for news, all pretty much have the universe covered. And really, other than for newbies, the old guard isn't into it the right way. They see blogging as a money maker, and don't understand the real purpose: opinion, comment and revealing what's not known, what’s said, etc.

I would think it's better to be a subject matter expert, more than a generalist if you are working your way up. But hey, I'm really a strategic generalist, who knows when to specialize opportunistically.

But I also don't read the PR blogs that much, simply because I'm less into the "PR" gossip set in NY or L.A. or SF than some others who seem to worry about that. I guess if I was running a Hill and Knowlton or Edelman-type of shop I would work that way though, just for positioning

Any final comments or thoughts or advice?

Some quick thoughts:
  • Blog responsibly. If you find out you're wrong, correct the post. Don't stand by your guns if the facts are clearly against you.
  • Make friends with like minded bloggers and work with one another.
  • Don't be an island of one, as it would get lonely.
  • Know the meaning of LinkLove and use it when it really matters ... my posts about Yahoo and Dialpad are a clear example of LinkLove being done right.
For example, Om Malik sent me a note about the story he heard. He didn't have the time to dig into it enough for his blog early in the day, but he knew I had some insight. I went deeper, then spoke to Yahoo, then blogged again more info, then he picked up from there. It seemed most of the better bloggers in our space saw that, gave us both credit and applause ... that's LinkLove done right.


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