Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Snippet: Ketchum: Contact Us ... well, at least try.

I was thinking of who to line up next for interviews for the PR Face2Face series.

Thus far, I have had some great interviews with Ronn Torossian, Howard Rubenstein, Pam Talbot and now Chris Shipley - and I have a bunch of great interviews in the hopper to be posted on subsequent Tuesdays.

I thought who would I like to also add to that list, and came up with a few great "wants," including Doug Dowie, formerly of Fleishman Hillard and Ray Kotcher of Ketchum.

So, I went to the Ketchum: Contact Us page. Go. Click on "Media Contact Information" and enjoy a good chuckle.

I guess it's true that sometimes it's the shoe cobbler's kids that go shoeless (or however that maxim goes). Yes, I know that Kotcher's bio page has his email address, and the other media contact link does work - but the link on the contact page is ... dead.

11.30 AM MST UPDATE: the page has been fixed. :)

Technorati tags: PR Public Relations

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Chris Shipley, Executive Producer,
The DEMO Conferences

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The fourth is Chris Shipley, the executive producer of The DEMO Conferences.

Who Is Chris Shipley? Can any one really answer that question? Beyond the metaphysics, however, Chris Shipley is a writer, analyst, commentator, and stategist known for her keen instincts and razor-sharp insights about technology, business, people, and the mixture of all three.

As a Technology Writer & Analyst, she has covered personal technology for nearly 20 years, and has garnered the reputation as an industry pundit. She looks at technology not with an engineer's zeal for elegant code, but with a human eye for usefulness, practical advancement, and social change. As a product analyst, she meets with companies as they are developing and bringing new products to market in order to help them position the technology in the marketplace. As a technology writer, she talks about technology at the point where it meets and impacts people.

As the Executive Producer of The DEMO Conferences, the show has earned the reputation as the premier place to launch a new information technology, product, or service. As executive producer, Shipley creates the program for DEMO, interviewing hundreds of companies each year and inviting only a handful to use the DEMO platform as a launch pad for their new products. DEMO is as much about ideas as it is products and technologies.

As one of the founders of the Guidewire Group, Shipley focuses obsessively on market-making ideas and technology products, bringing the right people together at the right time with the right information in order to accelerate market development and business opportunity. As a global media company creating events and online media, Guidewire Group helps entrepreneurs – and those who support them – navigate the challenging terrain that leads from innovation to market value.

Guidewire Group is a natural outgrowth of the focus of her career for the past decade: helping companies bring the most innovative products to market.

Chris Shipley's DEMO Posted by Hello

This year was the 15th anniversary for DEMO – was there anything different this year than past years?

It was a celebration of a 15-year anniversary, so we honoured fifteen innovators who have one way or another been associated with DEMO in the past 15 years. We highlighted their achievements, like Howard Elias who introduced the first media PC and Ben and Mena Trott who are making a significant impact with Six Apart.

These were special elements of DEMO@15, and the core of the conference remained consistent: to put the best products on stage for our audience to see.

Have you ever had any DEMOgods turn out to be DEMOdogs?

The Demogod awards are about great presentations, as well as great ideas and companies.

I don’t evaluate companies with the criteria of an investor, so I can look at a company’s idea and vision and select. Certainly, I want the companies that come to DEMO to be selective and to have long-term viability, but it is more important to me to select ideas. At the same time, I also have the liberty to choose companies based on the cool factor of the product.

Now having said that, I would not mind having a DEMO portfolio, which would seem to have a track record as good or better than some other VC portfolios. DEMO Companies – and particularly DEMOgods - are, on average, better than the average company in the marketplace.

Are there any special plans for DEMO 16 – like a sweet 16 motif?

We did miss a chance to throw Quinceanera in the Southwest, and we've got a bit of multicultural work to do.

But, we'll surely plan to do something special for the Sweet 16 - the longevity of the show itself is a reason to celebrate. The goal of each DEMO is to bring out the best technology, and that itself is the celebration, but we should have a little fun.

Although DEMO is 15 years old, there still is that aura that the show is a dot-com holdover. How do you combat that view?

I wouldn't suggest that that is true. We've been around since 1991 - and we have launched far more desktop applications than classical dot-com bombs.

DEMO is a reflection of the marketplace as it is, and not any preconceived notions of what we believe the marketplace should be. I screen 500 to 600 companies each year, and from those interviews I choose who will be at DEMO.

During the dot-com time, the Internet was what was important - a thing unto itself. So, those companies had a significant presence at the event. Today, we know the Internet is a component part of communications and computing, and that is now reflected at the event.

During 1998 - 2000, it was the era of the dot-com, and many of those companies are gone. But DEMO is still here. We are a mirror of the market, and not a market creator. If that were the case, we would not have survived groupware, pen computing - all the latest and greatest hyped products.

We transcend any singular trend, which is why DEMO has staying power.

What has launched at DEMO that you have been surprised hasn’t taken off?

There are companies and products that are truly useful that are sometimes overlooked. ActiveWords, for example, is a tremendously useful application - the company is a great fan of DEMO, and continues to push the product. Those who use the product are a great fan base. The program is not on every desktop, but it's a simple application that ought to be.

Then there have been products like Kerbango's Internet Radio. It was great technology, but possibly too soon, and got lost after its acquisition.

Sometimes the product itself might not be a success, but the concept is. ASP products were introduced at DEMO back in 1997, but it was too early. At the time, people told me no one would want to work on products through desktop applications. Now, ASP applications are clearly the dominant delivery source for products.

What has launched at DEMO that you thought was too esoteric/brainy that turned into a consumer hit?

I would not say it was a consumer hit, but an extremely successful company is VMWare. Virtual machine is not something the average bear raps his head around easily. But I found myself in Japan, and saw VMWare being advertised in a computer shop. I walked into a developer’s office, and VMWare was being used. It has become such a critical tool for developers to test applications. VMWare was acquired and is now a part of EMC, and the company has done very well in its community and marketplace.

It seems like a lot of the companies are represented by PR firms – is that one of the ways you find a lot of the companies for DEMO?

There are many channels. A lot of agencies pitch their young and new clients to DEMO. I talk a lot to VCs. I am involved in mentoring start-ups. Finding great companies for DEMO is about turning over a lot of stones.

The reputation of DEMO, and my own, have helped make DEMO an important part of the start-up process. It's not atypical to hear that a start-up has DEMO in the business plan as the launch platform.

There are company CEOs and founders that have been to the event, see the value, and come back with their next or new companies.

How much does DEMO cost? Can you justify the costs for a start-up that is trying to be scrappy and money conscious?

The list price to participate is $16,500 - no mistaking that that is a hurdle for start-ups.

We do work with companies, though. Price alone is not a deciding factor for coming to DEMO. No one comes to DEMO because they can write a check. They come because I decide that they are DEMO worthy.

The money covers the cost being there, and it is a great value. It's not hard math - if you are taking a company on a press tour, trying to reach just 1/3 of the journalists that come to DEMO, you simply couldn't do it for our price.

Plus, at DEMO, start-ups get the chance to take the product and company in front of considered investors. To do that on your own, a company would pay a finder's fee that would greatly exceed that price.

So it’s a simple cost comparison justification.

Young companies ought to be concerned on their money spends. It is about being scrappy and smart with capital. But, with my Midwest values, I am worried for those companies and would not want them to come out if it's not a good value.

DEMO is not a high pressure sale, but an opportunity for the thinking company that is going to try to succeed.

This year, it appears that DEMOmobile is going to be DEMO. How come there is no Mobile?

The business and consumer communities have adopted the mobile platform very quickly. Mobile technologies have been integrated wholly, and it's part of the business.

When we started DEMOmobile, we knew we would move it back into DEMO at some point. We thought it would be 10 years down the line, but it was just 6 years. The end of DEMOmobile is just a reflection of the marketplace.

What do you think the hottest trends for 2005/2006 going to be?

The future is the incredibly vibrant, great start-up companies who are scrappy and smart since they were founded in the past years tempered by the rough market.

It's the companies that worked in the garage, hid out and built in a smart way. They have the interesting products, and we will see more M&A activities as these companies are discovered by the larger market shareholders.

Specifically, there is a tremendous amount of activity in connectedness at home. Wireless networks have moved into the home. Digital media, new applications and devices are very exciting, but at the same time, for the consumer it's a confused marketplace.

Mobility, while now mainstream, remains exciting. A lot has to be done to make data more accessible wherever you are - from the desktop to mobile to any device in the home.

And, since we are conducting this interview fully on Skype, it's worth mentioning that VoIP is a tremendous opportunity.

It really is difficult to just say one trend or market. There is a lot of experimentation and innovation being done in a lot of markets out there.

Do you turn companies away that are too beta? Do you believe that Beta companies are launching too soon at DEMO, hurting long-term prospects?

Some companies do launch too soon. It's not uncommon for me to find companies that are in the early, early stage, and work with them over a couple of years to make them ready for DEMO.

I think of what's in the best interest for the company, and am not just looking for good ideas to see what sticks.

This year, there was buzz that it was more of a talent show rather than the best of DEMO – the usual calls of vaporware, etc. What do you do to make sure that the best are heard, not just the best presentation?

I work with the companies to help them hone their presentation skills and make the best use of their one to six minutes.

However, none of the companies would be on stage if I didn't believe that they belonged at DEMO. It's a long vetting process to make sure I have the best at DEMO.

This year, VB2S presented a tremendously interesting and important 3D CAD technology; in the format of the event and their time on stage, they might not have made their best impressions. But they have a great and important product for the market.

The brief time of the presentations is why we also have the Pavilion. I have always noted that that the real work at the event happens at the Pavilion, with face-to-face demonstrations and networking.

While DEMO is usually thought of as a place for start-ups to come, get noticed and possibly funding, there are always established companies that come and present, such as Adobe, Microsoft and Motorola. What does DEMO do for these companies, besides a big PR push?

For those companies, it is a big PR push. But, it's the before and after the event that is important for such established companies. For these companies, it's a longer relationship with DEMO, me and IDG. It's networking, relationships.

For a Motorola, it's a good place to launch a product to 80+ journalists; over time, the relationships then form over referrals on cool company introductions. It's good for the big company to find the smaller network companies, and you come back for the larger relationships that are built at the event.

This blog is targeted to PR professionals – you have any advice on how to get noticed to be chosen for DEMO?

It's not difficult - the key thing is that the fundamentals for getting to DEMO are on the Website. The thing that makes a difference in pitching for DEMO is to understand the value for the client at DEMO. Being an advocate for both the client and DEMO, being a bridge.

PR people overzealously pitch clients to DEMO, but not DEMO to the clients. Too many times, I have had companies say to me at the pitch - so, what is DEMO. The agency did not explain the value, and the client comes in blind.

The basic fundamental is to keep the client appraised of such opportunities, and understanding the event, the launch venue, the requirements - putting together the pieces for the client. Let the client understand what is done.

I value PR people that understand that DEMO is not your typical tradeshow or executive conference, but something more. There is a status and stature with being selected for DEMO - you can't put a lot of money on the table, and have someone in the industry for 20+ years - but that's what DEMO does. It brings that seal - happy clients at the end of DEMO.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Pam Talbot, President and Chief Executive Officer, Edelman US

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The third is Pam Talbot, the president and CEO of Edelman US.

Pam Talbot has dual roles for Edelman Worldwide: she serves as president and chief executive officer of Edelman U.S. and also as manager of Edelman’s worldwide Convergence Marketing Team.

With special expertise in consumer product marketing, she has led the company’s work on Microsoft, Kraft Foods, KFC, The NutraSweet Company and more, and has been recognized as a Public Relations All Star in the consumer products field by Inside PR Magazine.

The Convergence Marketing Team was established at Edelman to address the emerging needs of highly technical companies to inform, educate and motivate consumers as their products moved into the mass marketplace. By combining the skills of Edelman’s Consumer Marketing practice with its specialist skills in technology and/or healthcare, Edelman can help companies succeed in this complex task.

Pam, who joined Edelman in 1972, is based in the Chicago office. She is the winner of three Silver Anvil Awards, the highest honor in the public relations field, as well as several Golden Trumpet Awards from the Publicity Club of Chicago. She is a member of the Public Relations Society of America.

Pam Talbot, President and CEO of Edelman US (and, no, she's not related) Posted by Hello

I have some students that read my blog. So, for their edification, what are you looking for in interns and account coordinators?

We are always looking for people that are really smart. The field is changing so quickly, we have to find people that are flexible, can learn things quickly and are intensely curious.

There also needs to be an appetite for work - people that are going to be dedicated to the craft, and who put the time and energy into learning the industry and how it changes.

Overall, people that have intelligence, curiosity and an appetite for hard work.

What do you see as the difference between PR and publicity?

Publicists are a subset of public relations. Publicity is often a great tactic - a tactical expression of PR.

PR is a much broader field that is all about marketing, interacting with publicity.

However, publicity is becoming more complex than it ever was in the past. To be superb at publicity is a skill that not too many people have.

With the time cycles - media affecting media - but primarily because so much has moved online, and there are so many more outlets, more personal styles, and the adaptation to different types of outlets that are conversational in tone, the online world has changed a lot, with an explosion of new media. It is this new territory that has changed how publicists work, and why the new publicist has to be superb at their job.

Plus, the way that the media is influenced has changed a lot also, so stories and story ideas are coming from various directions.

It will only get more crazed - and the tactics that we used in the past will be under more and more scrutiny, like the recent VNR stories.

In a sense, Edelman is a family business. What is it like rising through the ranks at a family business?

It's hard to compare what it's like at other companies, since I've been here since the early stages.

Like any good companies, though, it is a meritocracy. A person will rise through the ranks based on what you bring to the company, based on abilities to get along with peers, as well as the family.

There is a control at the top, as with any company you want to influence and have respect from the top people. In this case, it just happens to be family members.

You've had a 30+ year career at Edelman, which is unheard of in today's PR world with layoffs and title jumping. What do you credit your longevity to?

There are a couple of things that I look at: the type of person I am and my loyalty to people who treat me well. Plus, things have gone well for me at the firm.

I have a relationship with the company, and with my clients. I do great things for both of them, and they do great things for me. Like any good relationship, it's built on trust.

Plus, I have the work ethic and work style of the Edelmans: serious, committed, doing a good job, and intensity. I have been able to move forward at a rapid pace as the company has grown. I have been a part of the growth, and stimulated by it.

We have a great symbiotic relationship, built on stamina. As long as that dynamic continues, I will continue at the firm.

Edelman bucks the NYC trend with having its HQ in Chicago. What it's like to be in Chicago as opposed to NYC?

Edelman actually has dual headquarters in New York and Chicago.

The benefit of having Chicago as a co-HQ, is that it balances the sensibilities a little bit.

New York is the vibrant center for communications and media, but a huge part of the country has those Midwest sensibilities that we are able to bring from Chicago. It's the Midwest values, and pace of life - a different sense of who we are talking to - that grounds the company. It makes the company earnest, a little accessible to all employees. The Chicago mindset gives us a good set of integrity and values.

When a company is driven out of a single, New York HQ, it clouds the view that everyone is like NYC.

With a lot of the independent agencies posting good, double digit growth – some close to their 2000 billing levels – how come we haven’t seen hiring levels rise back to the same level?

People are hiring, but there is still a little bit of lag. The firms are scared and we went through some hard times.

This is the first time that I can remember laying off people since I've been in such a position to provide input on layoffs. We don't want to repeat that, so we are moving much more slowly this time around.

And, while we did lay off people, we did not lay off as many people as we could have. We wanted to keep the people, and grow into the revenues. We still have capacity that isn't fully utilized with people getting back to billable.

One thing that the downturn taught the agency was about productivity. We learned how to be more productive, sending the right people to the meetings, and not everyone. It's forced us to have better time management.

We're hiring people, people have been hired away from us - the market is quite heated right now.

With all the technology hype that is coming out of Silicon Valley, do you worry about another dot-com boom and bust in PR? Do you think PR has learned from the past, or are we condemned to repeat it?

For the moment, are we going to go through another bubble period? Of course - as a whole, our industry is staffed by people and by nature, people do not remember the lessons of the past. The next bubble will not have the same hallmarks as the past, so we will not be able to predict it.

There is always a greed factor, and the money is there and you want to grow. There's a great possibility that the industry will repeat its mistakes from the dot-com era.

This time, it is different since people do acutely remember the bust. They are assessing likelihoods of client success, and being more realistic on fees. There is more care and skepticism, but as an industry, we are susceptible to getting caught up in the hype.

You have a reputation for an agency that works its people hard, a sweatshop. What is your response to that, and how do you work with your employees to make sure they have a good work/life balance?

A sweatshop is a place that people work hard, with no gratification. Or, a place that is just toiling with no forward movement.

People do work hard here, and people do work long hours.

The difference is that people at Edelman are highly motivated, are having a good time at work, are feeling fulfiled, are moving forward and enjoy what they are doing.

That is a hard thing to do - to find the work/life balance. Our employees work harder than we expect and want them to. One thing that happens is they model themselves after their bosses and their bosses' bosses - they stay late and working late, but also find that balance to make sure they have a life outside the office.

One thing we have done is built in more holidays into the calendar. In the past, we used to be open all the time. We now close down the offices and make all holidays required, so we aren't always open. In the past, people took no holidays when it was an open schedule.

A second thing - we communicate how important it is to have a life outside the company. By having a life outside the company, you bring more to the company. Looking back in life, it is important to realize the importance of personal time, family and friends.

Edelman actually has a plank in our vision, living in color. We want well-rounded people who experience life in the broader sense (theater, reading books, watching/playing with kids), then bring that knowledge and sensitivity to the company. That experience is absolutely fundamental to growing as a PR person and our agency.

How has Richard's blog, Speak Up, helped the agency in securing new business?

Indirectly, with Richard participating in this new realm, it helps make everyone more aware and sensitive to it within the firm. The blog lets Richard share some insight with companies that are interested in the blogosphere.

Richard is smart and it comes through in the blog. It shows a connectedness to the world for the company.

Are you doing more with blogs, and thinking of setting up a blogging practice for clients?

Blogging is a confusing world right now, but it's important to understand it, the impact it is having, understand who is doing what right now (to the degree you can) and whether it matters to the clients from an executive perspective.

We have a very vibrant interactive practice, and we are doing internal and client seminars. We are working to get more people educated in this new realm of communications. We want to understand the area.

We will not have a distinct practice, but have people that can counsel groups at our firm. It's another form of media, expression. A blogging practice should not be broken up entirely into its own group, but since it is new, we have to spend some time learning it.

From recruiters, I have heard that there seems to be a missing generation of PR people – the SAE level. What level do you find the hardest to find right now?

For us, it is not the AE level. It's harder to find the AS, SAS and VP levels. That was the group that was washed out during the layoffs.

If you look back, the layoffs came at 2002 - people that were at the AE levels would now be at the AS level. Those are the people that washed out.

During the layoffs, you couldn't catch the numbers by just letting go of the entry level people.

It has always been hard to find good AEs, but it's the AS to VP level that is the precious level.

When did PR shift to being just media relations, with little strategy and tactics? Are we going to see it swing back?

PR has moved away from media relations, but should swing back. For Edelman, PR has certainly become media relations at its heart, but moved beyond media relations. We have never swung to media relations, but push the definition.

We're very much part of strategy and counsel, working with clients and internal groups to develop messaging for future products.

The relationships we develop with clients are where we have a seat at the table thinking through the high-level objectives. We aren't talking about just media results, but what the marketplace outcomes are.

What are some of the proudest moments or campaigns in your career?

There are too many to name, and there's been so much that I have worked on that I am proud of.

How has technology changed public relations? Do you see people depending too much on technology? A phone phobia for the younger generation that isn’t used to cold calling?

The biggest way technology has changed our culture is face-to-face communications, the decreased interactivity. It's a negative.

Positively, technology has increased the way we can communicate with clients and medias.

Plus, there is so much more information at our fingertips that we can incorporate into our thinking - pitches, strategies - that it has made us much smarter and more educated, which only helps our clients and our firm.

It's a new thinking and education into everyday uses that we apply for our clients.

You sent two people to the New Communications Forum. Do you feel that such events are helpful to the agency as a whole, sending colleagues to events to mindshare the experience for the greater good?

Such experiences marginally help the overall firm. We need to do a better job internally to share what we learn and know within the system.

Sending people is good for the people, and we send a lot of people to a lot of different events. This does have an impact on the company, but not to the degree that it should.

Public Relations seems to be under fire right now - both internally and externally - with the different crises of late, including the latest NYT article on VNR’s. With his blog, Richard has become a spokesman for the industry, using his blog and power for the better of the industry. What do you think is the biggest issue for PR in 2005 and beyond? Can PR survive the recent spate of bad news?

Public Relations will survive the recent spate of bad news. Once you are in the spotlight, everyone finds a new story to write on, but it's the same story being written over and over again, with a slight twist.

The recent press attention is proof of the power of PR. Not too many years ago, we would have died at this amount of attention paid to us.

We do have an impact on the world, and are growing into the role we are playing. Public Relations professionals need to take our industry and ethics more seriously.

Look at most people in the industry and watch their day. Or, watch them over the month or a year, and what we do is good and ethical. Most of the people in the industry have ethics and this is a passing issue.

We do have to pay attention to the ethics - not just what is in the spotlight, but the changing nature of media and PR. It is all coming together in new ways. It is redefining the new ways to do PR.

What is PR? It is a more complex environment to define what is right and what is wrong.

Any last words or advice for PR people?

We're in a time of enormous change for PR and need to be acutely aware. We need to be on guard, but excited. There are more opportunities than even before, but we are at a crossroads of redefining the industry.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

VNRs, SMTs and ... Enron

It doesn't look like Public Relations is a favorite topic for the NY Times - or, the flip side, maybe it is too much of a favorite topic right now.

Once again, the industry comes under fire with an article by Frank Rich today - calling PR culpable for the Enron mess.

According to the article,
The enduring legacy of Enron can be summed up in one word: propaganda. Here was a corporate house of cards whose business few could explain and whose source of profits was an utter mystery - and yet it thrived, unquestioned, for years. How? As the narrator says in "The Smartest Guys in the Room," Enron "was fixated on its public relations campaigns." It churned out slick PR videos as if it were a Hollywood studio. It browbeat the press (until a young Fortune reporter, Bethany McLean, asked one question too many).
This is part of a series of unrelated PR-related articles, and Rich goes into the recent spate of pay-for-plays, and brings up the issues of VNRs (video news releases) - which was a recent front-page article for the Times. That story hit a big enough nerve that most of the letters the next day were about the VNR issue, and the Times had another editorial about it as 'counterfeit news.'

The facts are that VNRs are being used by the federal government to get out the word on programs. Has this always been done? Yes. Is there transparency between the VNR firms and the television stations? Yes. Is there transparency between the television stations and their viewers? Not at all. Therein lays the issue that NYT has brought up, and considers part of the overall story of the current administration's lack of respect for the press, and its apparent belief that the press can be bought, a la Armstrong Williams, VNRs, Jeff Gannon, etc.

To address the VNR issue, yesterday the O'Dwyer website hosted a teleconference with top broadcast PR execs on ethics questions raised by the NYT article. Those in attendance included: Doug Simon of D S Simon Productions; Stan Zeitlin, West Glen Communications; Larry Moskowitz, Medialink Worldwide; KEF Media's Kevin Foley, and Peter Wengryn of VMS.

In the spirit of blogging and PR transparency, I have bought tapes from VMS, had a few all-night SMTs with Doug Simon, and am currently in talks for a VNR for a client, and I spoke during the teleconference.

O'Dwyer's already has a transcript of the session, as well as a story. But, this is my take on the call, and what is happening with VNRs and the slippery slope we are slowly falling down. And, yes, I know slippery slopes are logical fallacies, but it can happen.
The Times has taken such a position against VNRs, but there is obviously value for public relations with VNRs. There is a responsibility and duty to communicate information that is in VNRs, and there is a public's right to know such information.

The NYT article - while we may not like what was written - has a lot of truth to the article. The legitimate practices of VNRs are being thrown together with the bad, corrupt practices. The VNR industry needs to clarify to the public that it is not in the business of fake or paid news, but in the business of helping companies and the government with video advocacy.

VNR companies produce news packages for television. The VNRs are easily cut, with suggested narrations; they also come with voice-over narrators on a separate audio track so the stations can personalize them with their own broadcasters.

VNR tapes are labeled as such. There is transparency there between the VNR companies and the media. They are labeled for the television stations, and are supposed to be a guide to the journalist on complex stories. Plus, the VNR firms provide additional b-roll, so the stations can build their own story - to use like an erector set.

Just like newspapers and magazines use press releases for stories, television producers use VNRs for stories.

This is not the first time VNRs have come under fire and the microscope. Back in the 1970's, there was an "expose" in TV Guide. The VNR firms do act responsibly, with clearly labeled VNR tapes. The fact is that the media needs the material.

But, the issue right now in the media is concentrating only on the government's use of VNRs - there's been nothing on private industry using VNRs.

It's not the fault of the television stations, but a reaction to the news stations needing video to fill the time.
The point I brought up was that one local station in Phoenix has 1/3 of the day dedicated to news, 9 1/2 hours. Then the news is re-aired on a second cable channel 24 hours a day. I can come home and sit there and watch the VNRs roll by, naturally re-edited to have their own newscasters reading the scripts.

It’s not the laziness of news producers, but the cheapness of the conglomerates that own the local TV stations. You can only do so much with a limited staff while having to put up even more news.

But, what amazed me during the call was the blinders that most of the VNR companies seemed to be wearing. While the concentration of the NYT press has been on the government's use of VNRs, it is only time before the media starts digging around for more stories and decides to dig up that VNRs are used for lots of mainstream consumer products, sometimes with no real news value.

Producers do know about VNRs, and know that they are thinly veiled "news" stories. The producers I know also admit that they just have too much time to fill, and not enough staff. It's a Catch-22 for the producers and assignment editors, and one they would rather not deal with.

The worst analogy, though, was that VNRs are just like press releases. Slight difference between press releases and VNRs is that you seldom see a press release used in its entirety. And, the majority of Americans get their news from television, not the print news. So, these VNRs have an even further reach.

The press getting outraged about things that they know are going on isn't a new thing. A few months back, I was contacted for a story on SMTs (satellite media tours) but it appears that the story was spiked. I would be surprised, though, if the reporter weren't rethinking the story in light of all the VNR stories floating around right now.

And, back in December 2003, Dan Gillmor was shocked, I say shocked, to find out that reporters sometimes go on television and are paid for it by companies. You can almost hear Foghorn Leghorn, "Now lookie here, I'm shocked, I say, shocked."

It's called a satellite media tour with an expert. Sometimes it's a toy expert, sometimes it's a consumer electronics expert, sometimes it's just a celebrity that's an expert in being a famous person.

The fact is that the producers that I have worked with in the past KNOW that such feeds are pay-for-plays, and to think otherwise is quite naive. What's the statistic, that close to 80 percent of what's read in the papers / magazines, or seen on TV news is public relations generated? This is not much different.

As an industry, we need to ensure that we are transparent in our dealings. Heck, even Richard Edelman pulled back the curtain to let people know how much Edelman is billing in DC in his latest Speak Up blog post.

But, the whole issue of VNRs, SMTs and transparency make me wonder how transparent are we supposed to be?

Are SMTs/VNRs much different than a journalist with preferential treatment from a company because the understood relationship is that if reporter A does not get the scoop, he/she will work over the company?

Or, how much different is this than giving a reporter a sneak preview because of a long-standing relationship? Should the reporter have to let his readers know that "I have had a working relationship with Company Z for a decade and they always give me product first and ask for my thoughts, and it may temper my article, etc."

For the readers, would it be best for every reporter to identify the public relations firms that pitched the story they are writing?

While the VNR issue is still being played out - and I think it will continue to be reported on, and draw in other PR tools that are common but not fully transparent - where do we have to draw the line?

Technorati tags: PR Public Relations

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Howard Rubenstein, President, Rubenstein Associates

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The second is Howard Rubenstein, the legend who founded Rubenstein Associates, Inc.

Howard J. Rubenstein has presided over the agency which bears his name since he founded it in 1954. Today the firm is one of the nation's largest independent public relations agencies with a staff of more than 180.

In addition to overseeing the agency's day-to-day activities on behalf of its hundreds of clients, he serves as a valued counselor to some of the most influential and active figures in America today. He has served as a member of numerous civic and philanthropic organizations, and currently sits on the Executive Committee of the Association for a Better New York, which he helped to found. He is a trustee of the Police Athletic League, the Central Park Conservancy, the Inner City Scholarship Fund of the Archdiocese of New York, is a member of the City University of New York Business Leadership Council, and was a member of the 1997 N.Y.C. Host Committee for the 39th Grammy Awards. He is vice-chairman of the N.Y.S.-N.Y.C. Holocaust Memorial Commission and is a special advisor to the N.Y.C. Commission on the Status of Women. He has served on the Mayor's Committee on Business & Economic Development for Mayors Beame, Dinkins and Giuliani, and is a member of the board of directors of the Center for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also served as a consultant to the United States Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and, as an attorney, he was assistant counsel to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

The legend, Howard Rubenstein Posted by Hello

You are a legend in public relations, having run your firm since the 1950's. What do you credit for the secret of your success?

When I started, I didn't think it would be as successful as it is today. I treated this as a profession from the beginning, not succumbing to the image of huckster, braggart or spin doctor.

I began in the industry by studying it, learning about it, and not just being a flack that could place a story in the paper, an item in a column.

Public relations is about understanding the client's needs, working to find the best way to help the client in an ethical way.

The fact is that we are ethical and modest at the same time, and that is the key of our success.

What are some of the proudest moments in your career?

I have many proud moments in my career, but it comes down to sticking with it.

I dropped out of Harvard Law School after 2 months, knowing I did not want to practice law. I opened my business at my mother's kitchen table with one account that billed at $100/month. My father was the Crime Reporter for New York Herald Tribune and he taught me to write in a newsworthy way, how to place articles; he set me on my career.

I stuck with it, and built my agency to what it is today.

The second important moment was finishing law school at top of the class, sticking to it and then coming back to PR.

I knew it was possible to be successful in the PR industry, but I wanted to see if I could be successful in law. I went back to St John's Law School, and graduated first in class. I became an assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Committee - a very powerful group. But, in 6 months I realized I liked working in public relations more.

The third turning point was moving my business from Brooklyn. I was first in my mother's home and then in Bensonhurst, and it wasn't prestigious. I had a small office on Court Street in Brooklyn, and when the borough started to go downhill with the economic downturn I moved across the bridge to Manhattan. I saw the broader potential in not being pigeonholed as a Brooklyn PR person.

When I moved to Manhattan, I met with the top real estate development people, about 40 years ago. And, I have stayed with these real estate developers to where we are now one of the largest real estate PR firms in the country, with extreme loyalty.

The fourth proud moment was in 1973. Abraham Beame ran for the mayor, and I represented him during the run-off election. I received a fair amount of public credit for changing his image and turning around the campaign.

We already had good clients - about 30 by then - but suddenly the agency was thrust into the NY City scene. For years, I have represented politicians - mayors, governors, congressman - where we all started together, and ended up in great State and Federal jobs.

With Mayor Beame, I helped him and the city during the fiscal crisis. Working with the city and staving off bankruptcy, I learned about how politics, banking, and finance work; I thrive off those relationships.

But, while I was working with the mayor, we turned down business so there would be no conflicts of business. When Mayor Beame left office, the business took off like a rocket and grew rapidly.

Other highlights include my 30 year business relationship with Rupert Murdoch, who first came on as a client and is now a friend. And, my 20 year relationship with George Steinbrenner. I have never had a harsh a word with George – he's a winner, and I love a guy that wants to be a winner.

What has changed in public relations for the better and worse in the past 50 years?

For the better, the status of public relations has increased and improved. When I started, public relations was looked down as a snake oil business. Now public relations is part of the highest levels of management and politics. Businesses, politics, countries, entertainment - all of them understand the enhanced value of public relations, and how important it is for image.

The downside is that there are too many people in public relations who lack a sense of diginity. These peopel will do and say anything to bring attention to themselves, and not the clients. The clients should always come first.

Public relations has been tarnished by the spin-meister phrases, back to what was wrong in the beginning when I first started.

How has technology changed public relations? Do you see people depending too much on technology?

There has been a massive increase in technology. When I started, I used to mimeograph copies of the press release and by the sixth copy, it was so blue and smeared. That's how you got out the release, instead of using email. There were no cell phones, and it was a very tough business.

Today, with the technology and instant communications, with the 24/7 news cycle, it's different and you have to be more cautious. Public relations people shouldn't just rush to do something and not pay attention to details. It's a whole different ball game. It's much more risky if you don't know what you are doing, because something you do in NY will appear everywhere instantly.

There's no such thing as a local story anymore; because of cable, blogs, the information is massively replicated.

You don't really publicize your agency, which is rare for this field. Is that a conscious effort to stay behind the scenes as much as possible?

I try to stay behind the scenes. I do not send out press releases on my agencies. We are the spokespeople for our clients, so we are in the news. Each of the divisions of Rubenstein Associates - Rubenstein Communications run by my son Steven, and Rubenstein Public Relations run by my son Richard - work very closely together.

The work speaks for itself for my agency.

Right now, there's a bit of discussion on what are the differences between public relations and publicity. Do you envision yourself as more of a PR professional or publicist?

Publicity is a tool - a narrower function of public relations. You get the name out there, the business known. Public relations is far broader with strategy created, the direction you take a client, and then using the tool of publicity, possibly, to get the message out.

I'm both - a good press agent, because I know how to publicize things. But, starting as a press agent has also taught me how to handle crisis and to advise clients on what to do. One goes with the other - a person that's good as a press agent, publicity at any cost, will hurt a client. It's not a wise idea to be just a one trick pony.

I look for people that are public relations generalists. People can manage a client, but they have to be able to function for the client. If you lose touch with that aspect of PR - the publicity - you will lose the knowledge of how it functions and what to do.

Strategy is not always executable. You need to have an interesting hook, an interesting story to move via publicity. There's a big disconnect between strategy and the promise of the execution. If they are not linked, you have a big problem on your hands.

As the PR man for a newspaper, was it sometimes difficult to deal with reporters at that paper when they wrote negatively about your other clients?

Not at all. I have an understanding with them - you do what you have to do, and I do what I have to do. Frequently the newspaper might whack a client of mine, but I have an advantage that they will listen to what I have to say. But, I have the same relationship with the other papers and the wire services.

I represent a lot of media, so I divorce my pitching from the advice I give them. But, since they respect me, they will pick up the phone when I call.

I don't use email - I pitch via phone first. Reporters don't want to be inundated with weak pitches, and email is an easy way out for pitching weak pitches.

Who do you see as the best of the next generation of public relations and publicists?

My two sons. They're really good, and they are going to run my businesses.

What advice would you give students entering public relations and publicity?

They should be as knowledgeable as they can be about current affairs - watch the news, read newspapers, read magazines. But not for just entertainment, but for the news. I look for candidates that are good at English, knowledgable about History, understand Psychology. The people need to be personable, and definitely have to be able to write. It's amazing how many people cannot write, but can pitch.

I look for people that can write and edit, as well as pitch. And, the people have to come to the standard that I value, and draw that ethical line in the sand and never cross it. Be a straight shooter, don't lie. Anyone that is devious in public relations is going to be found out, and will fail.

Public Relations seems to be under fire right now - both internally and externally - with the different crises of late, and now the fear that Lizzie Grubman's MTV Show is going to portray the industry in a bad light. What do you think is the biggest issue for PR in 2005 and beyond?

The issue is portraying ourselves as professionals who are ethical, and not looking for a quick dollar. Waive the dollar on behalf of your reputation.

Public relations is becoming a throwback to the 50's - paying reporters, doing whatever it takes.

I resent that it's the Sweet Smell of Success all over again.

Do you think the public still has a limited understanding of what PR professionals do? You've been in business for 50 years... was it always this way?

The public never understood what public relatins people do - they just see the shows and movies, and hear what the press agents are saying, and know a lot of it might be lying. The public thinks we are just flacks that bully our ways for covers, red carpets, attention.

That's not what we do.

The public has no idea on what a decent, good PR person does. Nor do they believe we have an education, and profession that works very hard.

Your company does not have a blog - what are your views on the blogosphere and pitching blogs? Any short-term or long-term plans for launching a Rubenstein blog?

So far there are no plans on launching a blog, but they have proven to be very succesful as a form of communications.

Any last words for the readers?

Join the PR field, it's great.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Customer Service IS Corporate Messaging

How many corporations know how its customer service (CS) department and personnel are interacting with the public? As customer service is usually the first human interaction that your customers have - particularly if you are an Internet-based business - shouldn't you know what your people are saying?

If you are in a public relations department, here's a suggestion: work down in customer service for a day. Answer the phones, answer the emails. Do you really know what your customers are saying, or are you too insulated in the PR department? You want to know the real issues for your company, spend a day in the trenches of customer service. Then, work with the head of CS to ensure that messaging is consistent across the board. Should the two departments be connected? Of course not, that's close to impossible. But, they should work together.

When I was at Ofoto, everyone at the company had to come down to CS to help whittle down the queue during the Holiday rush. Even prior to that, I would come down to CS to see what issues the customers were having, and what they were saying. The crew - George, Stan, Lakeisha, Michelle, Dave, Jeff, Kevin and others - were a great bunch of people, and worked magic.

Since I worked at Ofoto, I have 3 years of photos there, and I ran into a little bit of a problem trying to upload the latest photos on Sunday. For some reason, I couldn't get the drag-and-drop to work. I tried first on Firefox, then on IE. Third time was a charm, but while trying to get it to work, I called Ofoto Customer Service. The toll-free number is 800-360-9098, by the way, and not 24-7 like it used to be.

The photo I was trying to upload Posted by Hello

Avery, the CS person on the phone, was amazing - but not in a good way. I was having problems, and I was missing two photos from one of my earliest albums. I asked if Ofoto had lost photos again - the response for the past two months was "server maintanence" - and his response was about the new terms of service, where Ofoto is deleting photos if you don't purchase. I then noted that Ofoto wouldn't be randomly deleting photos, and that the TOS is crap for someone that has been using Ofoto since 2000. I vented, in other words.

Heck, I took the company through many of its paces and through the Kodak acquisition.

Avery's response - if you don't like Ofoto, leave it. We don't need customers like you anyway.

When I asked for his supervisor, he told me to call back and hung up on me. Classic.

The thing - and this is where it becomes a public relations issue - is that CS person had no idea who I am. I could have been a reporter. I could have been with a competitor. I could have been a Kodak executive. The point is he had no idea who I was.

Reporters do commonly call up customer service to test out the service, and put it into reviews. If I had been a reporter, this could have been a much worse situation.

The fact is that public relations has no oversight on customer service, nor should it. CS is a different animal, and in this instance training broke down. CS should never tell a customer to leave, and should be treating people well. Because it can cause a storm for the whole company, which then PR has to clean up.

In other words, this is about corporate messaging. Every company has a mission statement, and customer service is the vehicle for that corporate message that actually is communicated to the field. Like I noted above, PR should work with CS on messaging and work to make sure that the CS representatives are using the right message.

The happy ending? I IM'ed an engineer I know there, he fixed the two photos, and he apologized. He got it - that the customer, while not always right, is important for the long term health of any company. Plus, he's a good guy. :)

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Ronn Torossian, Founder, President & CEO, 5WPR

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The first is Ronn Torossian, the founder of 5WPR.

Ronn Torossian has made quite a name for himself in the past year. Despite a bit of controversy taking on some of the legends of public relations, Ronn has done an amazing job building his business in the past couple of years. Taking the lessons of the dotcom era, Ronn built 5WPR through organic growth and acquisition to where they have had a 311 percent growth spurt, according to the latest O'Dwyer's figures.

Torossian is the Founder, President & CEO of New York City-based 5W Public Relations. Since founding the firm, he has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion, and provided advice and counsel to hundreds of companies, global interests, high-profile individuals, regional businesses, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive matters.

Ronn Torossian and Kimberly Jones aka Lil' Kim Posted by Hello

311 percent. Any comments?

5WPR is proud to be named the fastest growing firm by O'Dwyer's.

We are the results-oriented public relations firm the corporate world, entertainment world, technology world are looking for. We are hungry, and don't take no for an answer.

Our numbers say so, our clients say so - we're just a different type of firm.

You have done an amazing job building up the agency quickly, with a wide range of clients. What do you credit for your secret of success?

The reason we have grown so quickly is simple: working harder, smarter and faster. That is the philosophy for the industry: we work smarter, harder and faster than other agencies.

And look at the diverse client list - Fortune 100, technology companies, entertainment, marketing firms. It's a testament to our working habits that we can build such a client list.

Plus, it's about deep relationships within the media.

Right now, there's a bit of discussion on what are the differences between public relations and publicity. Do you envision yourself as more of a PR professional or publicist?

I am 100 percent a PR professional. Half the job is making sure the clients are in the media, but it's also about being a spin doctor. 5WPR are spin doctors, strategic consultants, to our clients.

It is not all about getting into the press. It is more than just day-to-day publicity. It's analyzing the impact of marketing communications on sales and perception.

You noted in the NYT article that you have no formal training. What do you mean by that?

That was somewhat of a misprint - I worked at IPG, and for two of the larger firms in the country.

But, as a 30-year old CEO, I am learning as I go along. We are very confident in our abilities, we do things in a different way and a different speed. We'll stop at nothing to get the results - work harder, smarter and longer.

5WPR is looking to change the entire face of the public relations business. The 311 percent is not phenomenal for us. We look to continue to grow and change the face of the business, do great work for our clients and build upon that number.

You took on Howard Rubenstein - both in the NY Post and the NY Times. Rubenstein is seen as a stalwart in NY publicity, and he's going to be interviewed tomorrow for this blog. Do you have any comments for him direct? Have you spoken to him directly since your comments?

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Howard. He has a phenomenal list of clients and a history in public relations.

But, it is time to pass the mantel or have it taken from him. 5WPR are the new kids on the block to challenge him as the leading PR person in NYC. We're not afraid of being bold, brash and aggressive. We are the absolute best at what we do.

He has had a long time of success, but our day is here.

What advice would you give students entering public relations and publicity?

Work hard. Think like a journalist. Read every single thing that you can. Be a student of the media. Be multifaceted. Understand the media.

I like to interview people from politics and sports. If you work in politics and sports, you know if you lose you're gone tomorrow.

The most important thing is to think like a journalist.

5WPR is always recruiting, so have people email their resumes.

You have an eclectic mix of clients. How do the religious groups feel about your bling bling clients?

It's not an issue. Our clients simply care about the results we bring. We're proud of the fact that we have a diverse client list.

How do you transition your Israeli tourism experience and apply it to your Hip Hop clientele?

They are one and the same - our Hip Hop clients and the Israelis are the same. They are both misunderstood by the world, unfairly portrayed by the press.

They are exactly the same people who are misunderstood by the world. Both groups are hard, focused, smart, aggressive people with their eyes on the ball.

The dotcom era brought about a lot of title inflation in the industry. Do you see PR as suffering from a lot of junior people with senior titles?

PR suffers from a lot of things. It suffers because anyone thinks that they can be a PR person.

People believe that they can get an office and a phone, and call themselves a PR professional. It's not that easy.

A better organization is needed to serve the industry. No one does anything now to push for the industry, to be the spokespeople or looking out for the industry.

Jack O'Dwyer has been calling for a watchdog environment - and I agree with him. We need something like how lawyers have a bar association, in a formal manner to oversee public relations and make sure it's okay.

You have grown your agency through acquisition and organic growth. In the past, it was common to see a 5WPR ad looking to buy single-person practices. Are you still on that strategy, or focused mainly on organic growth?

All of the above - since I've opened the doors, we have had 3 acquisitions; some were single practitioners, while others were larger agencies.

And, we are actively looking to grow. We expect to open more offices in 12-18 months, and will continue to look at small and middle-sized firms to acquire to keep growing.

5WPR is not going to stop or slowdown. This is just the beginning for 5WPR - we are just getting started. We're actively looking for acquisitions, looking to grow organically. We keep hustling, grinding, harder than the next guy in all sectors: celebrities, technology, corporate communications.

It's all about winning.

Your company does not have a blog - what are your views on the blogosphere and pitching blogs? Any short-term or long-term plans for launching a 5WPR blog?

Long term, 5WPR is interested in launching a blog. It's an increasingly important form of communications that we are actively going to get involved with in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Who do you look to as your mentor in PR? From whom have you learned the most?

My role models are Karl Rove, who does a phenomenal job in spinning the media. Bill Clinton who knew how to work with the media. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is a master of PR. Rudy Giuliani is a master of PR.

I am a student of the media, always analyzing the messages and how it works for public relations and public perception.

During your work, whom have you met that totally blew you away - where you lost the professional composure because you just were in awe.

God awes me. My mother, my father, my sister and my wife awe me.

What are the long-term plans for 5WPR? Are you open to an acquisition/merger of the agency, or do you prefer to continue on your own?

We're very interested in growing, continuing to grow and being the best in doing what we do. We have experienced success and there are no limits to looking at what we do.

We are the best in the world at what we do, and will continue to be

The O'Dwyer's numbers speak for themselves, and wait until next year when we blow them away again.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Just a Good Ol' Boy ... CMT and Cooter Embrace Blogging

Bo, Luke, Daisy and ... Jeremy? Posted by Hello

While a lot of the blogosphere debates the nature of marketing, public relations and blogging - particularly the PR bloggers - here comes an ingenious campaign that melds marketing and blogging, and is fully transparent (you know, the big requirement in blogging that not enough corporations get).

CMT has put together a job: get paid $100K to daily blog about the Dukes of Hazzard.

Through the CMT Dukes of Hazzard Institute, the Vice President position will be responsible for spreading the gospel of all that is Dukes by watching and then blogging about the show on CMT.

This seemed too good to be true, so I spoke with both Amanda Murphy, a very charming CMT publicist and Andy Holeman, a very fun director of consumer marketing.

And, well, there is no catch. CMT is looking for a Dukes aficionado - or someone willing and able to to become a Dukes aficionado – who has a commitment to learning to what really is a well-paid dream job. What does that mean? You're a Dukes evangelist. There will be appearances at Dukesfest and some travel, but it’s mainly a blogging job. Watch the show, make appearances and blog about the show.

How cool is that?

Now, this to me is a smart PR, smart marketing, smart blogging. It was a collective CMT / Great! idea that came up during a brainstorming session.

As noted by CMT, "The Dukes of Hazzard is such a big show, and it’s a big piece of great television, and it deserved its own dedicated professional to oversee it. CMT considers itself the place for Dukes, and the campaign around the CMT Duke Institute is a way to tie a great opportunity into something exceptional."

According to Ms. Murphy, there already were a ton of calls coming in, with a lot of radio interviews and TV calls. CMT did both a video news release and full multimedia press release (where I got the fun photo above) – a great strategy for something so visual. While Ms. Murphy was doing her publicist thing - smile and dial - she had the tools that she needed to be able to get the news out. She had the photos, she had video, she had executives available to speak - which is why I was able to speak with Andy.

Other pieces of information that I got from CMT: Part of the dream job is the pay, and watching TV. It's the perfect job for a television fan. You become an expert of all things Duke, and, yes, there is a possibility that you can drive General Lee.

And, not only is Cooter the president of the CMT Dukes Institute, but he is deeply involved in the process for choosing the Vice President.

This should be fun and exciting for one Dukes of Hazzard fan. Or, for one blogger that can learn to become a Dukes of Hazzard fan. The application is on the CMT Website, and is pretty funny.And, someone coming out of college couldn't do worse highlighting their blogging skills - catch the hint, Auburn students? - which could also lead to a nice portfolio piece.

As for a PR campaign, this melds all the best of new communications and mainstream media. CMT is reaching out to bloggers for a well-paid job - because, let's be honest, how many people are making $100K to blog - and is getting massive buzz in the mainstream press. If this campaign goes as well as I think it will, I hope that Great! does a case study on how marketing can work within the blogosphere in a smart way.

Technorati tags: PR Public Relations

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Businesses Blogging ... or Not

It's always great to me one paper will publish a "businesses are adopting blogs" article - this time, WSJ - while another paper has an article a few days earlier pretty much stating the opposite. The Pioneer Press had an article that more or less said that businesses are slow to adopting blogs (requires BugMeNot) because of the legal implications, and sometimes just not understanding the value of blogs.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. In the coming year, it will seem like every company will launch a blog - just like every company launched a Website a few years back - and then half of them will die from non-use. The blog bandwagon is ready to take off, and we will see every company jumping on it.

And, yes, I am recommending to a few clients that they do adopt a blogging strategy. But, only as it fits into their overall marketing mix. Not every business needs a blog, because not every business has the time for a blog. These things are very time intensive.

Is a blog a better strategy than other ones that a company will take to get out the news? Recently, the Phoenix Business Journal had a brief on a marketing firm launching a quarterly newsletter for a client. All I could think of was "how out of date is a quarterly newsletter?" How newsworthy can a quarterly newsletter be? The marketing firm should be pushing the client to at least do a bimonthly newsletter, if not abandoning the newsletter completely for a blog.

I can relate to the Pioneer Press article, on trying to get clients to adopt a blogging strategy. That's what I am dealing with right now. Beyond the media relations, I am also working with the company on their newsletter. They, too, only wanted to do a quarterly newsletter, but I want them to abandon a quarterly newsletter and move to a combined strategy: blog and newsletter.

Why do I think they should adopt a combined strategy? Because it makes sense. Not everyone that they are currently reaching with their newsletter is going to visit the company blog, and not everyone that finds the blog is going to want the newsletter. But, the newsletter can aggregate what has been written on the blog, and be sent out to people. So, it's new content combined with other information, including invitations for product Webinar demonstrations.

Plus, the blog gives this company an opportunity to position the CTO and CEO as thought leaders in their industry. The company is up against an 8000 pound gorilla, but also works with that 8000 pound gorilla on certain products. By having a blog - written by the CTO on industry issues, and the marketing person on corporate news - the company can develop a voice.

The company's main concerns were:
  1. What impact could this blog have on the industry? I told them it's an opportunity to present company executives (in this case, the CTO) as an expert to speak on various issuesin their industry.
  2. How do we set-up a blog? I suggested Movable Type, because the guy was nice at the NewComm Forum, and it seemed to be a good fit for a corporate blog.
  3. How can we keep our competition from commenting? I let them know that IP addresses are tracked, but that in a blog you want full transparency. You post your comment policy on the front page of a blog - you listening Bob Parsons? - and you give people the freedom to post what they think, including negative comments. But, you always respond to have an open dialogue.
And, they said yes.

In April, the client is going to begin blogging on their company, on issues in their industry, on what they see as the future of their industry - all in a campaign to become a thought leader in their space. It's going to be combined with a press release - I know, how quaint - that is to inform the reporters and analysts covering them that the press room and the blog are available via RSS.

To me, this is how a company should use a blog - as a complimentary communications tool. Comment on your industry. Post case study synopses. Have an open dialogue. Post company news. Address any and all issues raised by readers, and internally.

As an aside, as Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher christened me at the NewComm Forum, I can be a cynical blogger. I explained to Tom that while I see the value of blogs for an open-ended conversation for a company's clients and customers - and that you ignore the blog at your client's peril - I don't view blogs as the end-all, be-all. Blogs are a great tool, but they are part of the communications mix for a company. They don't replace email, they don't replace press releases - Andy Lark has a snarky comment about when the SEC will accept blogs as fair disclosure - and, they don't replace newsletters. Blogs are a complimentary tool.

Technorati tags: PR Public Relations