Tuesday, May 31, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick

Full disclosure - I started my career at Shandwick International (through mergers it became Weber Shandwick) and worked at Weber Shandwick from February 2006 to October 2007 and where I formed some viewpoints on the industry.

Harris Diamond is chief executive officer of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, the world's leading public relations firm. He became CEO of Weber Shandwick in 2001, when Interpublic acquired his prior company, BSMG Worldwide. Weber Shandwick, which was selected as "Agency of the Year 2005" by both PRWeek and the Holmes Report, offers a full spectrum of communications services - corporate consulting, public relations, investor/financial relations, marketing communications, public affairs, government relations, attitudinal research and advocacy advertising.

Mr. Diamond also serves as CEO of the Constituency Management Group of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG). The group includes IPGs companies in the areas of public relations, public affairs, entertainment and sports marketing and corporate/brand identity. The group's companies provide services on six continents, in more than 60 major cities and have approximately 5,000 employees.

PRWeek selected Mr. Diamond as "PR Professional of the Year, 2000" and one of the "100 most influential PR people in the 20th century". He was also named "1999 CEO All Star" by Reputation Management Magazine.

Regarded as one of the industry's leading experts in corporate and industry positioning, Mr. Diamond has counseled Fortune 500 companies that were undergoing profound changes or facing intense public scrutiny. While specializing in crisis and change management, he also provides ongoing strategic communications counsel to an array of clients, including several industry and trade associations.

Mr. Diamond is a director of Caremark RX (NYSE:CMX), a leading prescription benefits manager. He is also a board member of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms, the U.S. trade association for public relations agencies. He is also a trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society. Previously, he served as a political campaign consultant, working on U.S. gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns and advising foreign governments and political parties. He has held senior positions in the public sector, including confidential assistant to the district attorney for Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Diamond holds both MBA and JD degrees, and is a member of the New York State Bar. He frequently speaks on management of corporate reputation and crises at industry and company forums.

Harris Diamond, CEO, Weber Shandwick Worldwide Posted by Hello

How did you get your start in PR?

Like a lot of people, it was more accidental than planned.

I was a political consultant working on a lot of different campaigns, and a corporate leader asked for assistance on issues they were facing, and the next thing you know I was doing corporate communications. So, I started working in the business.

Weber Shandwick was recently named PRWeek's Agency of the Year for 2005 [Opens to PDF] - what do you credit for that success?

A terrific staff, very good clients. More than anything else, it's about our people, their willingness to go the extra mile for our clients.

We also were named by Paul Holmes as Agency of the Year, and won the same accolades from Advertising Age - it's a trifecta for us. It's just recognition of where we are today. However the truth is that the next day you have to start all over again. We are honored by it, but we recognize that everyday we need to sing for our supper, prove our worth for our clients.

Which campaign - either political or PR - do you have the most pride in and see as your greatest success?

The great thing about being in my job is that I can't answer that question. I am proud of all our campaigns, proud of all the work being done for our clients.

You are part of the executive board for IPG and the CEO of Constituency Management Group for IPG. What place does PR and Weber Shandwick have in an advertising conglomerate?

It's pretty sizable. If you look at PR overall, we are important as an overall percentage of the business and the clients we have at IPG.

What advice would you give a student entering into PR right now?

It's not different today than it was in the past. The best background is to have an understanding of how people communicate and how they receive information. Public relations is about how to influence the agenda setters. We use intermediary tactics to reach a diverse audience.

Whether it is TV, traditional media, bloggers - what is going to make your information stand out is the execution and the way you reach the audience. At the end of the day, you have to have an understanding of how to influence. You have to have an understanding of how to get attention.

The offices we have are diverse. The broadest background possible is the best for public relations. We have lawyers, journalists, nutritionists, high tech - because it takes all types to run a PR firm and to run accounts. That's the great thing about our business, that there's room for all types.

IPG quickly merged many firms - Benjamin, BSMG, Weber Group, FRB - to form Weber Shandwick. How did Weber Shandwick merge all the conflicting corporate cultures into one agency mindset?

I became CEO in 2001 - responsible for BSMG and Weber Shandwick - and within those main groups we had a lot of different companies. The fundamental belief was to put clients first, understand the clients' ultimate objectives.

Weber Shandwick is a firm whose philosophy is based on the theory that success for the client will translate into success for the firm.

It is important to recognize that our one goal, one outcome, is client success. Also I like to believe that our individual offices and individual practice areas culturally are all slightly diverse. People in China are different from people in LA, and we celebrate those differences. It's about understanding and reaching the target audiences. It takes different people to reach different constituents, and that is what is good about diverse backgrounds.

But, there is one overall uniform theme for all the offices: we define success as achieving the clients' goals.

I recently spoke to many members of Weber Shandwick and everyone brought up their legacies. I'm from Miller/Shandwick, or I'm from Benjamin, or I'm from Shandwick. How do you get people to think of themselves as just from Weber Shandwick, and what affect do these legacy claims have for new hires into the agency?

We have just been honored by the trifecta - Holmes Report, Advertising Age and PRWeek. We have a very high retention rate and very senior staff. We celebrate our differences. It takes a lot of ingredients to make a good pot of soup.

Blogging has become a big issue in PR, with many firms launching practices and blogs themselves. Recent examples include the Hass MS&L Blogworks practice and blog, Richard Edelman's blog, Bite PR's blog. What are Weber Shandwick's plans for the blogosphere, or practices? Does anyone blog at the agency, and since it is getting more press, are you getting requests from clients?

We do work, and have worked with clients, on how to address issues within the blogs. We have education campaigns, and now have RSS feeds on all our clients, on all the data we put out for our agency and our clients.

e don't announce individual practices as they are just part of our internal strengths. We are a large firm that has practice groups for every specific need a client might have. We have lots of intellectual capital to apply to clients' issues.

We do a tremendous amount of education concerning blogs, on what is appropriate and inappropriate, how to utilize blogs, how to help clients with blogs. Today it's driven more in the US than overseas. Over time, we believe this will change.

The most important thing is that we focus on what our clients need.

As PR has been under fire as of late, what do you see as the biggest issues for PR in 2005 and beyond? What about the return of the dot-com mentality in the Bay Area?

I'm chair of the Council of PR Firms, and I wouldn't say public relations is under fire. There have been one or two issues that have been raised. The Annenberg Study that has just been released shows that the relationship with the C-level suite for public relations is better than it has ever been.

As a business, public relations is in very good shape, it is continuing to grow, and we will see more opportunities.

There are issues, but these are no different than other issues that have come up. I don't buy into it that there are more problems today than before. There are always spin doctor issues, issues about how PR works - it's only natural. It's similar with advertising and other marketing practices. Public relations is in the best shape it's been in since 2001.

As for the Bay Area, our business is very good right now - we have just won BEA as a client, we have Cisco as a client. We see the tech segment as growing. It's a good business and continues to come back. Not seeing the froth we saw in 1999, 2000, though.

Any final words or advice for the readers?

I am a believer and proponent of the industry.

Blogs show how the world is changing, that while the vehicles we use today to communicate are important, new communication tools are fundamental to gain new ground on how information is getting out there, how it is disbursed to the public.

It is incumbent for PR firms to recognize that the rules are changing, they are not fixed. As an agency, we are looking at that.

Product reviews? Employee communications? We all see change coming down the pike, and as an industry we have to be equipped to give advice and counsel on the answers. It's a fast moving field.

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Tracking Podcasts for PR...

I was trying to track down the phone number for another Phoenix blogger - AudioThink - as I owed him a phone call post-New York media tour, and all I could remember were "audio blog phoenix" to Google.

The second result is Adam Curry's podcast blog, which made me wonder what he was doing talking about Phoenix. Mainly, it was to bitch about the heat and being stuck at Sky Harbor Airport.

Then, he went into a two-day soliloquy about how much he hates America West Airlines, and the second day was filled with comments from people who noted how much they hate America Worst, and how bad the airline is.

It's easy to track the blogs, and I have noted that a corporation does not need to blog - and sometimes it is better that they do not blog - but they do need to track the blogosphere. And, that message has been consistent in presentations and articles I have written as of late, highlighting the great tools out there: Pubsub, Technorati, amongst others.

I figured that I would be a good Phoenician, and ask America West if they knew about Podcasting, Adam Curry or that he was blasting them on his Podcast and that his listenership is huge. I won't share the answer, but I sent the two links and the comments to the corporate communications person.

But, beyond the corporate communications team using Podscope to search for America West, how can a PR firm or group track what is being said about the clients and companies on a Podcast? This seems to be an even bigger issue, since Infinity is giving over KYouradio to Podcasts.

Usually, I like to wrap up my posts with a little ribbon, offering solutions. But, in this instance, it seems like the fire will burn first in Podcasts, where a company won't really know where the bad mojo is coming from, unless they stumble across it like I did today.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Musings from POP! PR on MarketingSherpa's Reader's Choice Awards

I just received this email from June Holaday, the Marketing Project Manager from MarketingSherpa...
Thought you'd like to know your blog Musings from POP! Public Relations was nominated for MarketingSherpa's 2nd Annual Reader's Choice Blog Awards, and the voting starts today at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=333931095143

Yes, you can post the link to your blog and ask your own fans to vote for you, but please no ballot stuffing (not that someone as reputable as you would ever stoop to such a thing.)

Voting ends Wednesday June 8th, and then we'll announce the winners.

Prizes this year include a "Winner" icon for your Blog, a special coffee mug, and your name and blog URL on our site and in a press release.

Good luck!

Well, this is very neat and cool, and I thank the people that nominated me. I like to think that my and posts helped people think of me, but I also know that I have been neglecting this blog.

I have some great stuff to write, but post-media tour work, plus contributed articles and other writing, and well, I need to clear my plate. That, plus 110+ degree weather is such a downer when trying to write.

So, as June noted, I need to blog more during the voting period. I'm up against a bunch of great PR bloggers, so read all of us, and leave comments.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Blogging Sabbatical: Booking Appointments, On Media Tour, Syndicate Conference

Yes, I have been remiss in posting on my blog - I missed a and a , but all for a good reason ... I have been booking a media tour, staffing a media tour, and booking and staffing for the Syndicate Conference.

Interestingly enough, at the conference, I had a couple great conversations with two people from PubSub's newest PR firm, PAN Communications, who just won the business a month ago. We discussed blogging, and public relations and the balance between the two.

You have to wonder if there needs to be a balance between agency blogging, agency PR work for clients, or if firms are becoming too blog-centric. It's food-for-thought, as this is not the first time I have heard of a company choosing to move beyond blog-centric PR to more balanced PR. The people I spoke to struck me as people that got it - got the balancing act between online, blog outreach and media, mainstream outreach.

One person asked how I balance blogging and PR, and whether or not I am worried about my blog overtaking publicity for my cliens. This is a growing concern, particularly as you have to explain to clients why you are getting press for your blog, but not press for them. And, it's something that we should never have to address, because at the end of the day it is about the clients.

How did I answer the question? I told them to look at my blog, and how I haven't posted in a week as I prepared for the tour. Client work comes first, and that is how it should be. If I overtake the client in PR and media, I need to begin to re-evaluate what I am doing, and whether or not I am a PR person or a blogger. Sometimes, you really just cannot be both.

The Syndicate Conference has been interesting - as I am sharing a room with my new roommate / buddy / best friend, Robert Scoble.

Thoughts on Scoble - having have met the man in person, I understand the cult of Scoble. He's a truly genuine person, a great choice for an evangelist. He was shaking his head at some of my comments, which I would expect, but he's just this personable, nice guy that brings a lot to conversations, no matter the subject. The man is just a mensch. But, the other thing is that he has no qualms about putting his thoughts on the line, and writing what he believes.

I have had a friend tell me that my blog is me, that while it is a little more over the top than my usual self, it is in my voice. I don't wait a couple weeks to write on an issue, but blog my beliefs immediately, not waiting to test the waters and jump on the bandwagon.

Beyond the media tour and Syndicate, I did attend the O'Dwyer Greatest Generation event. Just the stories on how these great PR people got into the industry was amazing, and how much things change, how little they change. I'll blog about the event this weekend...

When I am finished with the tour - and then the pre- and post-show work, I will resume blogging with Cluelesstrain and PR Face2Face, as well as other thoughts on PR.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Jerry Swerling, Principal of Swerling & Associates

Jerry Swerling has more than 30 years of experience as a senior-level communications professional and educator. Today he serves in two capacities. He is the Principal of Swerling & Associates, a consultancy he formed in 1996 that specializes in the management of agency reviews, the optimization of agency/client relationships, the evaluation of communications programs and the resolution of PR organizational issues. His consulting clients have included (among others) General Motors, Cisco Systems, Home Depot, Silicon Graphics, Toyota Motors, State Farm Insurance, Intuit, the American Cancer Society National Office, Honda North America, Symantec, Dairy Management, Inc., and Kinko’s.

He also serves as Director of Public Relations Studies at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. At USC he is responsible for the management of both the undergraduate and graduate programs in public relations, including curriculum development and the recruitment of faculty and students. At USC he also serves as Director of the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center, the mission of which is to conduct applied research aimed at advancing the study, practice and value of PR. He also teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Jerry Swerling, Principal of Swerling & Associates Posted by Hello

How did you end up providing search services for corporations looking for PR firms?

I spent a long time in the agency year - 34 years – a vast majority in senior positions on the agency side.

About eight years ago, I decided it was time for a new chapter in my life, to go on a new path.

I started with a virtual agency, as I am very into technology. I thought it would be a great opportunity, and it was a success. However, it became too much of an administrative job, the same traps that tired me of the agency work. The strategic client work is great, it is the admin work that is not so great.

Two things happened at the same time. It was kismet. I got a call from Honda Motors, whom I had known for years. They were beginning to embark on an agency search, and there were time challenges; they asked me for help in managing the search. I thought about it for five seconds, and just jumped on it.

It was the right opportunity at the right time.

And, as the car industry is a small, close-knit community, I ended up doing a lot of work with the car firms: GM, Kia, Mitsubishi, Honda, among others. Then, I expanded beyond automobiles, into Cisco Systems, Home Depot, American Cancer Society, State Farm Insurance and more.

The firm also does management consulting, helping PR firms with how they are structured, their existing client relationships. That niche part of my business has become firmer and firmer as time has gone by.

Simultaneously, I also got a call from USC when they were looking for someone to rebuild the PR masters program. I got the assignment and have been here ever since.

I am very fortunate. USC is the full-time job, for sure, but I also am able to do the consulting and it goes very well. The two things complement each other, because I hear the latest things in PR practices, which find their way back into the USC curriculum.

As a small PR shop, how can I become more involved in the RFP process?

That is a really crucial question. I know a lot of small and mid-sized agencies in the field – and had started one such shop – and have great empathy for them.

First, it is important that the agency knows itself, knows its strengths and weaknesses, and has a very clear strategy for what the agency wants to be. The agency has to recognize that as part of its identity, that they should not go after every request for proposal that they would not normally participate in. There needs to be a conscious decision in what the agency does and does not want to participate in. Just because there is an RFP, does not mean the agency should participate.

Second, when working with consultants - I get hired by large organizations to consult – I have to ask what type of agency these large organizations seek. I always carefully analyze the corporation's need, and if I believe that a small or medium firm can do the work, they are in the RFP process.

But, I realize that responding to an RFP is a time intensive process. I try not to put the smaller or medium sized agencies through the exercise process if there is not a chance. It just isn't fair. The small firms can not afford the time or money in the big review – that is going to cost a fortune – which they cannot win.

It comes back to knowing thyself – and realizing that the agency might not want to compete in these reviews.

As for getting on the radar with consultants, for Swerling Associates it is simple. Send me an email (jerry@swerling.net) and I will send you back the agency questionnaire. It's made up of 10 to 12 questions, asking about the number of people at the agency, specialties, ownership. It's the basic questions. When I get the answers, the agency goes into my database.

Every review is a clean slate. I look at the client's needs, go through the database and find what the corporation is searching for in an agency. Does the client list fit the needs and level of experience? It's a whole new process each time.

The best advice I can give a small agency? Identify your niche. Be crystal clear on who you are, and what you want to be. If you want to be the best healthcare boutique, get the staff, and promote that fact. Let the companies in your niche know about you. And, just as importantly, don't go after consumer RFPs.

Just to reiterate, here are the golden rules:
  • Know thyself, and what practice groups you do and do not want to be in
  • Get on the radar: email me at jerry@swerling.net
  • Recognize that there are certain things, for fundamental reasons, you are not qualified for
  • Don't get angry, it's all part of the game
For communications professionals, it's all about the execution. It's a pretty simple process.

While the industry - according to the latest O'Dwyer's figures - saw some great growth, hiring has been somewhat stagnant. Do you see a recovery on its way for firms and for hiring?

There is a big time recovery and it's on its way. It's happening.

USC conducts a PR GAP study, and we noted that the industry bottomed out in 2003; we are now in the midst of sifting through the data on the most recent GAP study, and it looks like a pretty significant turnaround for the industry as a whole.

It is a lot more robust. I am not sure if across the board it has improved – well, not 100 percent, but I get the sense that it is strong and robust, but there is uncertainty because of the different talk out there on the economy. Companies and firms are cautious, in this general environment.

Clients are cautious, and we will never see the free spending like we did in the past. But, graduating students are being hired left and right.

As I have many students who read my blog - and you are a professor at USC - what types of things are you telling students to be aware of in PR?

Our program at USC is a very professionally oriented program, and the students get a pretty sound feeling of what PR is in both the graduate and undergraduate program. We emphasize ethics, professionalism, transparency, and strategic thinking as opposed to tactical thinking.

In terms of expectations, they are pretty set and clear, which is a good testament. And they are getting quickly hired, and more and more job openings are out there, which is why I say a recovery is on its way.

What impact do you think blogs have on the field of public relations? Have you thought of starting a blog for the RFP process, or on your company?

Blogs are having a profound impact and effect in PR, from a full variety of standpoints. It is like what you are doing with the Musings from POP! PR blog – you are an important voice in the industry, and the more voices the better.

Communications should be two-way in nature, and that's what blogs are doing. With more voices in the profession, there are more resources, and more participation.

The impact blogs are having on strategy development? All of these corporate crises, organizational challenges, journalist challenges, these pose a new challenge to the industry, and you have to factor blogs into the strategy.

You have to monitor the channel, and these are just additional channels to get the message out there. Blogs are just part of for proactive and reactive campaigns. It's offense and defense at times.

Blogs are adding voices to the profession, and our industry is learning both the defensive strategic use of blogs in crisis communications and the such, and the offensive strategic use of blogs, to announce new products and campaigns.

As for a Swerling and Associates blog? Right now, I just don't have the time. It would be an important thing, and my blog would be not only on the firm, but on the industry as a whole. There are so many things that can be done with blogs, and it's all exciting, but I have to prioritize my time, and with the firm and USC, blogging is just too much right now.

Do you think PR firms that have a blogging practice have a better shot in the RFP process, or that it is still too new a tool?

I think it varies with the client. Some clients get blogging and its significance, and the new communications channels that are opening up. In those cases, the companies that understand the blogosphere have a leg up in those proposals.

But, the traditional clients do not see the blog as a channel. So, for them, it's not a big deal. The cautious, conservative client might not see it now, but they will see it down the road. Even the most conservative company can get dinged by a blog, and they need to be aware of it.

But, all agencies should understand and see the impact blogs are having. You have to see the blog in the overall communications context. It's part of communications, part of the whole.

It's part of the mass media, it's part of person-to-person communications.

Right now, there seems to be a lot of discussions on the differences between public relations and publicity. Is there a difference?

Among the people I know, that discussion had ended. The origins of publicity are the old days of just getting the name in the paper. The overall field has matured to the point where you are dealing with the CEO of an organization, and these folks think in more sophisticated ways than just publicity, and are able to see the whole communications system.

You have to see communications as a total network and system, with each channel working in conjunction in one network. The channels change, but it's always the same. Mass media is one part of the system. Blogs are part of the system. Interpersonal communications is part of the system. Publicity is not the end-all, be-all but is part of strategic public relations or strategic media relations.

The world is going - among corporate America, non profits, government - it's going the strategic round. Publicity is very important, especially in the entertainment world. That's a legitimate role. But, for other avenues, it is part of the strategic mix.

What are your clients looking for - media relations or strategy and counsel or a mix of the two?

None of my clients are the types that are just looking for media relations, but always asking for more.

They ask how can communications help realize organizational goals, help the company to succeed. They are open to any answer, but it has to be persuasive and strategically sound

Depending on the client and the campaign, it might be media relations. But it might not be. It might be an influencer outreach program. It might be targeting a large demographic group with six specific tactics.

Any agency that says it is best at media relations is putting itself ahead of the client. It is about what is on the client's mind, not just media relations. It's always about meeting the client's objectives.

Sometimes that is coverage, but you need to find out what the client wants and needs.

Are clients still a little gun-shy from the dot-com era, where the strategy and counsel might not have been the best from the agencies?

Things have certainly changed. The era of the celebrity CEO is over, a byproduct of the dot-com phenomenon.

Clients are not skeptical, but they really want strategically sound thinking. Clients are not looking for the silver bullet, and understand that it might be 3 small ideas working in tangent to get the desired results.

In a lot of cases, clients are more thoughtful of what they want and what they need.

The reason we saw the celebrity CEOs was because most of the dot-coms had no business plans, no business models and PR people needed to tell some story – they went for personality, not substance.

What concerns are your clients raising during the RFP process?

The concerns I see raised are about cost, about the good value of the money being spent, about the good thinking and good work that comes out of the relationship. Clients are worried about the chemistry of the team and with the team.

It's all the classic issues.

Clients have to recognize they are hiring a group of people - and we don't let the old bait and switch happen in our reviews. The people in the pitch are placed in the contract.

In general, bait and switch does not happen much. It has reached a mythic level, but it's not happening like it used to. Clients don't let it happen.

What is a sure-fire winning proposal - one that will knock the socks off the competition?

You have to recognize that when the client is looking at the proposal, it's not in an isolation chamber. The proposal that wins is the one that stands out as different. When the potential client is looking at the proposals, they are at it with five other proposals.

What can you do to win? Personalize the proposal to the client's needs, relying on thought and insight, not sizzle. A sophisticated client is not impressed by the sizzle. The agency needs to make the proposal special to the client, make the client feels special, and make sure the proposal is thoughtful.

If you do not want to win the pitch, go with a boilerplate proposal. The boilerplate is a quick death. PR firms need to get out of that mindset that they can cookie-cutter the proposals.

As the head of PR Studies at USC, have you instituted a blogging and Wiki practice so the students are adept at the latest communications tools?

Because of my own consulting work, we are aware of everything out there. I watch presentations from the best agencies in the world. And, I think that that's great for my students, and ask the agencies if I can use certain ideas for my students curriculum.

We all want to advance the field, so the agencies always say yes.

As for USC, a lot of our adjuncts are the top people in the field. We have Tom Tardio, the CEO of Rogers & Cowan, teaching here. We have Richard Kline, the head of Hill & Knowlton West Coast, teaching here. We have Paul Flug, the head of Universal Studies teaching here. We have Brenda Lynch, the head of Manning Salvage and Lee teaching here.

We rely on adjuncts for timely information and practices.

What is the process you go through when talking to clients in the initial stages of the RFP process?

It's a very rigorous process. We start with the questionnaire, meeting with the public relations/communications team.

We find out their needs, how they define conflict, their good or bad agency experiences in the past.

We meet with the internal stakeholders – HR, CEO, marketing departments – and any other persons and functions in the organization for which PR might provide services or support.

We sit with them and interview. We get a sound picture of what they need, and synthesize, and go over the report with the client lead. We develop a profile of the ideal agency.

And it always works. We have filled 35 to 40 reviews, and they have all been successes.

How do you size up the various proposals that come in from the RFP process?

First, they are all standard because the PR agencies answer the questions I provide. It is an apples to apples comparison, which is why an agency needs to make its proposal thoughtful, not sizzle.

We send out Request for Credentials, which is a very specific questionnaire. We go through the answers the agencies provide, score the answers, and then rank all of the firms.

We end up with a total, compare the rankings, and then work with the client to guide them through the decision process.

You have to think in the terms that the client is reading the same questions and answers, and literally comparing them all together. An agency needs to have their proposal stand out and be special.

Any last advice on winning RFPs?

Especially for the small and midsize firms, I think that we may go through a renaissance for the small and midsize firms. We've gone through the era of the large firms, who went out and bought a lot of small firms, and the pendulum is swinging back, with even clients open to hearing from the middle-size firm.

A recent RFP for a spirits company included two mid-sized, independent firms. Those firms fit the criteria, and were invited to send in a proposal.

Clients are open to seeing a variety of firms, and open to all prospects – from the entrepreneurial firm to the large agency.

The best advice I can give a PR is to do a good job knowing and marketing who you are.

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Red Herring ... I mean Alarm:Clock says fire your PR firm
Cluelesstrain Edition

From the ruins of Red Herring came Alarm:Clock. And, damn, it didn't take them much time to climb onto the cluelesstrain.

From Alarm:Clock comes their reasons to why you should fire your PR firm.

Alarm:Clock Crashes the Cluelesstrain Posted by Hello

I like to think that I have a different perspective on why you should or should not have a PR firm as a start-up. I worked in-house. I worked at a large, mutinational agency. I worked at a boutique, and started my own PR boutique. And, here's the best reason to have an outside firm: you need the outside perspective, someone that is detached enough to bring up various points, be the devil's advocate. When you are in-house, you are submerged in the culture, and ultimately may become drunk on the Kool Aid. Plus, having a team of PR people to brainstorm on ideas works better than being an in-house PR team of likely one at a start-up.

In the spirit of blogs - here's a step-by-step fisking of their post, which begins with:
Most startups are better served by running PR in-house. That’s our opinion. There are sound reasons for larger publicly-traded companies to bring on an agency, but for most startups the primary motivator seems to be insecurity and a desire to do as the big boys do. Here are five reasons not to hire or to fire your PR firm:
1. If PR people talk about the relationships they have with journalists to the start-ups, it's because the start-ups - and the VC firms - want to know who they know and what they have done. It's showing what you have done in the past, and do have the ability to do the work. There's nothing wrong with having clips, which I am sure journalists have for their next interview.

Alarm:Clock people once worked with a journalist that broke up with his girlfriend because she worked at a PR firm. If the journalist really broke up with his girlfriend because she worked for a PR firm, he has bigger issues, and used the PR line as an excuse. I guess that was a good "It's not you, it's me" line for the dotcom era. Have to give points for creativity, though.

2. Alarm:Clock over-generalizes the work of PR firms, claiming that everything is scripted and we never get back to reporters. If all PR was scripted, and we never got back to reporters, PR firms should be let go. It's not about having "the time" but sometimes prioritizing. And, as reporters have told me - reporters who aren't ashamed of having a PR person as a friend - the strategic call is done at the end of the day for the "no comment" kicker.

As a PR person that was at an agency, at a start-up during the dot-com era, I can tell you the benefits of having a firm as an in-house PR person.

3. With more than 200+ PR blogs out there, it's a generalization to say that PR doesn't understand blogs. Look at the largest independent PR firm in the world, and you will see the president's weekly blog. "Don't get it" doesn't hold water.

4. I am looking at start-ups that do PR well, and I see PR firms. The one example brought up is Topix. One problem, though. Topix has a PR firm: CooperKatz.

Name a start-up, and invariably the in-house person(s) are from large firms, or they are using a firm, or they are working with consultants that came from firms.

5. On the claim that PR is a waste of money for junior people, with the resurgence of boutiques, that $10K/month is getting you senior counsel - even at the large firms, you have senior people working on the account.

The other argument for having an in-house PR person is that they can "carry out other functions during PR downtime." There's downtime in PR? I would love to know when.

Hat tip to David Parmet for the head's up.

UPDATE: Sarah Lacy - please don't call her Stacy or Lucy - from BusinessWeek's DealFlow has a great take on the Alarm:Clock's PR rant. She has some valid points that PR firms need to have balls (my words, not her), and that too few PR people can stand up to clients and push back. Thanks to Tom Murphy and Constantin Basturea for the link.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

C/Net has a point ... but bloggers go on the attack

I have not always been the biggest fan of C/Net News.com - and during the dot-com days, would joke that their traffic was made up of PR firms, in-house PR people and the VC firms.

Thankfully, since the bust, I have less a jaded view of C/Net.

And this is why - when they get it right, they get it right. And, Molly Wood got it right.

Wood has valid points, such as:
Thanks to the Internet, there's a new model for controlling information--that is, a complete lack of control. Bloggers, rumor sites, and even inside sources are running the show, but tech manufacturers are still stuck in their Cold War-like product release behaviors.
Or, when she notes that because of the changing nature of journalism:
But thanks to the new model of leak, rumor, and slow-in-coming confirmation, that system is becoming increasingly untenable. And you're the ones who are missing out.
Now, I am all for grassroots journalism - heck, I think my interview with Dan Gillmor points to that, and I respect the grassroots journalists that blog with ethics. And, I disagree with Wood pointing to Weblogs, Inc or Denton's Gawker Media - having worked with them, and talked to them, I find them to be pretty above the board.

But it is more telling of the circular nature of the blogosphere that what we read is not about the valid points that Wood has, but about Jason Calacanis' response.

Wood's post has implications for public relations - and, as a leading PR blogger - I am going to put my neck on the line. This is an issue not only for mainstream press, but also for public relations firms. I, for one, support Apple in the lawsuit - because I have worked for companies that have had information leaked to Websites (what would be considered blogs today). The leaks not only hurt the PR plan and program, but hurt the company - as the competition now had a jump on the upcoming products.

Sometimes, you don't just test the waters, you go forth and take a stand.

Wood's last paragraph is a telling one for PR.
Those manufacturers need to wake up and smell the RSS feeds--the information's already out there. Quit acting like you're doling out spoonfuls of sugar to the deserving few. Your audience is getting its sugar elsewhere.
Stop and think about that one - are you going to counsel your client to work with the blogs, or push against them? This is not an area that PR can harness or control, but it is something we need to take a stance on.

The point is that we can not control "news," because someone - now, usually bloggers - is always wrecking it. When sensitive information gets out, a company has a right to say WHOAH. Was that intellectual property theft?

Think about it: how many times is the information bad? The bad information creates a PR problem, but the larger problem is credibility. Who then is a reliable source of info? In this day and age, that is critical. Look at all the misinformation that is out there - from blogs, from mainstream media - and think about who you trust nowadays. That's the issue people have not really thought through: can you trust your souce of information, whether that be a newspaper, TV news station, blog site, etc?

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PR Face2Face:
Dan Gillmor, Founder, Grassroots Media Inc.

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 ninth installment is Dan Gillmor, founder of Grassroots Media Inc.

Dan Gillmor, founder of Grassroots Media Inc., is working on a project to encourage and enable more citizen-based media. This weblog is devoted to the discussion of the issues facing grassroots journalism as it grows into an important force in society.

Dan is author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, a 2004 book that is widely credited as the first comprehensive look at way the collision of technology and journalism is transforming the media landscape.

From 1994-2004, Dan was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's daily newspaper, and wrote a weblog for SiliconValley.com. He joined the Mercury News after six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont, Dan received a Herbert Davenport fellowship in 1982 for economics and business reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During the 1986-87 academic year he was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied history, political theory and economics. He has won or shared in several regional and national journalism awards.

Before becoming a journalist he played music professionally for seven years.

Dan Gillmor, founder of Grassroots Media Inc.

Your book "We The Media" is really the first time that the mainstream media first heard about RSS feeds, the power of blogging and blog publishers and the potential of interactive media. Are there any good anecdotes of media you respect who have to come to you with questions or clarifications?

I don't mean to sound snarky, but the book seemed to be mostly ignored by mainstream media. There were some individuals who already understood some of what I wrote in the book, and I talked to them at length, but I really can't say that today's mass media – until very, very recently – even begun to get this stuff.

Some of the people I know who do want to get it have been working at it in their own ways. (The Greensboro, N.C., News & Record is planning big things, for example.) Blogging and citizen journalism has not been perceived to fit the business model or journalism model. But that is finally changing.

Anecdotally, I have had conversations with people, when speaking at events, who are very interested in how this may proceed. In a few cases, I have spent time with news organizations to further explain it.

But, not in the sense that you are speaking of.

You were noted as one of the top Silicon Valley journalists, and you gave it all up for your new venture. What was the push for "We the Media" and your blog? Do you think your influence has grown with the blogs?

I don't know about influence, and that's not really something I can possibly answer; other people would have to answer that question.

It will be obvious soon that I did not give up my technology journalism. In fact, I continue to write on technology in the current blog. The "etc." at the end of the name has covered a whole host of things, including technology commentary and other things that interest me.

Starting in early April, I started a twice a month column for the Financial Times, about the technology scene in a larger sense. I haven't stepped completely out of it, but I actually have great expectations for technology.

I haven't put this to the test, but I am sure that there is a large number of people at big corporations who would not return my phone calls now.

No journalists should ever, ever forget that the platform is a huge part of their ability to get a phone call returned. It's a mistake to equate one's own abilities with the organization one represents.

I recently sent an email to a PR person at a significant company in the tech industry, asking for an advance look at a product. I never got a response. I doubt that I would have failed to get a response - even if the answer was "No" - if I was working at the Merc.

But, at the same time, I have found that some people are more likely to talk to me than they were in the past. It goes both ways.

As for blogging for journalists, people should blog because they like to or want to. Not because they feel they have to.

You are a big proponent for citizen journalism, for grassroots journalism. How do you see it changing mainstream journalism?

My hope is that grassroots journalism becomes a part of a thriving, diverse eco-system, where we keep mass media doing what it does best, and where it gives people who want to "consume" news – but in a more interactive nature – more choices.

The chief way I hope it changes mass media is to move the whole of media to more of a conversation, and less of a lecture. That would be an incredible and wonderful outcome.

That can take a lot of forms, though. I just want to note that this is a broad statement: journalism can exist in many different forms, from listening to readers, to bringing the audience into the process as participants, to helping the community find more sources of information.

It's all wrapped into conversational medium, and not lectures.

I like to think of myself as a Z-lister – but I have written pieces, such as my one on libel, and sent it out to various A-list bloggers and was either ignored or was sent back relatively snarky responses. How is the blogosphere going to move away from an insular, A-list nature, or become more inclusive than it is right now?

I guess I just disagree with the fundamental notion. Yes, a lot of people point to each other, that is true. But, I point at a lot of stuff that does not fall into the A-list.

So does Jeff Jarvis. A lot of people do point to a lot of stuff that might not be considered A-list blogs. The way that people do this is the constant necessity of looking beyond one's comfort zone.My sense is that people are getting pretty good about it. Perhaps you would have a different response if you sent your libel post around today, as the blogosphere has changed quite a bit in just the past few months.

I do know that I do look for sources outside the mainstream, A-list blogs.

If I got your post and didn't know who you were – or didn't have a sense of pointing to a source with some experience as credible – it’s possible that I would have been reluctant to point to it. Or, I'd have to read it very carefully to think if it’s something to point out.

It's not a self-reinforcing A-list, but building credibility over time.

The talk of grassroots journalism is that there seems to be no voice for the silent majority, that the silent majority needs a voice. As more people get news and opinions from blogs, will we see a centrist view emerge, or more left and right divisiveness?

If there's nothing for the silent majority, it's not the responsibility of the bloggers who are out at the edges of politics. That's the responsibility of the reader. If there's an audience for something, in a world like the one we have, the audience will find it.

I don't think people that write blogs have any responsibility to write things that they don't want to write about. People have to actively look for things that they want to read, and if it is not there – and they want to create such a blog – then the centrists should create their own news sources.

Bloggers do have responsibilities, I believe: such as being fair. But that's not to say they have to write anything they do not want to, or that they have to write on certain subjects.

If you don't like what you see / read, do your own site or Blog. I cannot believe that there is no easy way to find centrist thinking. It happens to be that blogs reflect the polarization of our society at large, in a political sense.

I think there is a great hunger for a middle ground on many, many issues. You will begin to see very popular Websites that cater to that, if there is a demand for it.

Your view of working with public relations people is pretty well known to those of us in technology PR – no phone calls. You also noted that you’d prefer RSS to email in your SJMN blog, and in the We the Media blog, you noted that you prefer Skype to IM or calls. Do you think PR has pushed clients enough to RSS feeds like Nooked – full disclosure: I counsel Nooked – or that journalists are able to find RSS feeds for specific beats easily?

I don't know as I haven't focused on that in the last few months. But, I would guess not – PR isn't pushing the clients and agencies enough to RSS feeds.

I can reiterate my plea that PR folks focus hard – on the behalf of their clients – on putting anything that would go out to a mailing list of larger than 2 people onto an RSS feed, and making sure that the people who would want to see the information, do see it.

The big issue is helping those journalists find RSS. In a way, email is broken, and people don't have time to go through the avalanche of email that comes their way. And, it actually wastes people's time when it's not relevant to what they focus on.

Having a repository of RSS feeds [like Nooked is working on] is a good idea. The key thing is to slice and dice the information, to customize the feeds on exactly what journalists want to get. I don't believe that the traditional function of PR goes away completely, but this gives smart PR people a way to be much more efficient and focus their personal attention on people who want that personal attention, instead of making all those cold calls to people who would rather not get those phone calls.

How has your relationship with PR people changed since you started blogging? I notice PR blog trackbacks and PR blogger comments on your blog, vying for attention. Does this lead to relationships?

I haven't noticed them commenting and vying for attention – maybe I'm missing something, though. Maybe they're missing something.

I did ask folks – early on in the blog – that if they are going to comment as PR people, they identify themselves and be transparent.

But, the comment also has to be on point.

It is fine for me if people want to comment on my posts, if a PR person coming to my blog and commenting about a company they represent (it would naturally be better if it's the company itself commented). The comment could be like: here's more information, you got this wrong, thanks for the mention. As a rule for PR people, I wouldn't do it too much, but be transparent about it.

But, the purpose of comments is to amplify and extend a discussion, not to make PR points.

As for PR trackbacks, those are fine and they are great.

It's great that PR people write blogs, and comment on what they see by journalists. Why shouldn't they? It makes perfect sense to me.

What is the business model that sets you apart from other blogs and blog publishers? As noted in the BusinessWeek article, you are looking for more funding – where are you looking?

Major funding is not my top priority right now, but I am aiming at something that will be useful and raise more capital.

I'm not trying to be coy with people, but there is no magic model for this. There are a lot of different business models that will work, and I am working on several levels – including a soon-to-launch project that will incorporate a lot of different things, partly to experiment with it. Over time, we will all learn what works.

I will not copy any one else's business model. But, like everyone else, I will adapt the things that work for my own ventures.

Your blog covers a wide variety of topics – from technology to real estate to blogging. Beyond "We the Media," what is the focus of the blog? Life in Silicon Valley?

That's the reason why I added the "etc." at the end of the blog title – I have a wide set of interests, and while I do love the grassroots journalism stuff, there are lots of areas that interest me. Jeff Jarvis focuses on a lot of different things, too, and I don't think it hurts him.

If it bothers people that I write about politics, sorry. But I'm not going to stop. It's who I am.

What do you read out there that strikes your fancy, and you think – wow, they are dead-on? Not just blogs, but all of journalism.

No one is dead on every time.

We get five newspapers everyday at the house and a zillion magazines. I am a news junkie, what can I say?

We read the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal every morning.

I read lots of stuff online.

I read political blogs because I care about our society and in many ways in the negative direction it is moving. I read technology and business blogs, economic blogs, I read Boing Boing every day, which is where I go for serendipity. I read all my blogs in an aggregator because it's easier.

I'm not in the Scoble 1000 blogs a day category, but I do read a lot of blogs. I should publish my OPML file, to let people see it.

Any final words?

Just that I would encourage people to understand that this is all still fairly new, and people are starting to get it in a significant way in the news business and in the PR business.

It's going to take a lot of trial and error to get it right, but the best thing for people in traditional industries is to not try to control it – or to "harness" the power of citizen media. In the physical world, to harness means, for example, to throw a bridle over a horse's head and fight with the horse to where it's going to go. That's not what I want to do, nor what anyone else should be trying to do. It's about working with, and paying attention, to the blogs and grassroots.

It's a conversation.

We all need to learn to listen. Listening is not the most visible attribute of the traditional media or the PR industry.

This is getting interesting, and fun.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Hanging out with the Extreme Home Makeover Crew

A couple months ago, the fabulously popular Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to Phoenix. And, I had the luxury and luck to be able to get a full pass on the set, roam around wherever I wanted to go.

Plus, I helped them (the show) out by getting some outdoor patio furniture because the original company backed at that weekend. Today's Swim and Patio in Gilbert was kind enough to donate the furniture for the Okvath family.

Preston Sharp sets up the scene in Phoenix Posted by Hello

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was also back in Arizona to build a home for a family of a lost soldier - Lori Piestewa - and a new veteran's center.

But, while the national advertisers and sponsors get great PR traction from the show - look at how well Sear's has monetized it's sponsorship of the show, tying Ty into their ad campaign - how much does this really do for local companies that donate product to the show's special family? Unless the local firm has a PR firm on retainer - or knows enough about how PR works to realize that they need to hire a PR firm - how much traction can the company really get? Okay, great, you can put up some point-of-purchase materials that you donated materials for the latest and greatest home, but that has how long of a shelf-life?

Another PR practitioner in Phoenix asked me for advice on a client. The company had already donated goods for the home in Phoenix, and they were going to donate the same goods for the Piestewa house. But, the company wanted national exposure this time around, since they figured that the Piestewa story is going to be a national story. They want the agency to do a national PR Newswire release - mulitimedia - and to get as much national exposure as possible.

I asked a few simple questions to the other PR person: is the client national? No. What does the client hope to get out of the sponsorship? Increased visibility and sales. Is the national push going to help with that in Arizona, or is it a wasted money spend? Not sure.

As PR firms, we have to think the same way - is this going to be cost-effective? Are certain campaigns worth the outlay of time - in a cost/benefit analysis, do they cut the mustard? Many firms - and companies - fall into the nonprofit trap. You say yes to one non-profit, and then the word gets out that you do pro-bono work. Soon enough, that's all you are doing, and you cannot afford to stay in business. While the idea makes sense - if my firm is involved in the community, the community will take notice and hire me for paid work - it might not always pan out. A recent article in the local paper noted that a catering firm is asked to do - for gratis, naturally - chamber of commerce events. The owner noted that he was sick of the free catering, but continued to do it.

If he were my client, I'd counsel him to evaluate each instance, and what, if any, business he has received from the chamber events.

But, as PR firms, we can fall into the same trap. I took on a client - who claimed that all the money was going into R&D - to build goodwill because I thought the company had a cool product. A product that in 2003 Gizmodo noted as vaporware, and has yet to launch. So, I got stuck for the hours and the PR Newswire bill. Lesson learned from the first year with my agency.

But, sometimes local companies think that when an opportunity such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition comes their way, they need to jump on it. That's not necessarily true. If they have the marketing and PR in place already, it makes sense. If they want more publicity which may or may not translate into sales, go for it. If they think there will be long term growth and benefits, it's best to reevaluate the opportunity.

And, sometimes PR firms have to do the same: that's just some cold, hard business facts.

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