Thursday, June 30, 2005

FEC Cracks Down

It has never been a secret what this blog is about - public relations - and what it is not about - blogging.

When I started this blog two years ago, I made a concentrated effort not to blog on blogs. I don't like navel gazing, I don't like name dropping, which is needed for the link love and Google juicing, and there are many more qualified people to speak on technology and blogging than me. Like Robert Scoble (hee - name dropping fun!!).

But, in PR there are other bloggers that have set themselves up as the experts on blogging and PR.

And, today, the FEC is holding hearings on blogs - with great implications. Besides cursory mentions, neither has chimed in on what this does for public relations, and what the implications are for blogging.

I can hear it now - I'm not a political blogger. DailyKos covers that already. Eschaton is covering that.

Well, this is more than a political issue, particularly when you have one political blogger throw in the towel ... and relaunching as an "online magazine." And, if you are going to position yourself as the leading PR blogging expert, you have to chime in when such issues come up.

I don't position myself as that - I'm just a guy that blogs on PR and practices PR. Wait, switch that. I'm a guy that practices PR and blogs on PR - in that order.Work comes first, baby.

What are the implications - too far and widereaching for me to think of after a full day of travel. This is foreboding, though, for blogs and for public relations. For PR - we are adjusting to this new medium, and if it's regulated, what affect is that going to have on us? For blogs - this might be as bad as being sued or investigated.

Even Megan, one of the Auburn students, put forth her opinion on the subject ...

Now, for I look forward to reading a tech policy/PA blogger's take on this ... 463, I'm waiting on you!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Sabrina Horn, President, Horn Group

Sabrina Horn has 20 years management and public relations experience working with both start-up and Fortune 1000 technology companies. At Horn Group, Inc., she provides strategic consulting to select clients and guides the firm's operations, business development and long-term vision. She also currently runs the firm's New York office. Previously, Sabrina held senior management positions at Blanc & Otus and Edelman Public Relations, both in San Francisco. She holds a MS in Public Relations from Boston University and a BA in American Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Sabrina has authored several research papers including "Public Relations for Emerging Growth Technology Companies," and "Advertising in the People's Republic of China." Sabrina is accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and is a frequent speaker at technology and marketing industry conferences. Sabrina was named to the Silicon Valley Hall of Fame in 1997 and received the award for Best Employer in the US by Working Woman in 1999. She was also recognized as one of the PR industry's most successful entrepreneurs by Inside PR magazine and she was recently named to the SIIA Board of Directors. Sabrina enjoys painting and playing with her two daughters.

You have been in the business for close to 15 years – what do you owe to your success? What part of that leading edge do you credit for winning the Novell pitch?

There are three things that I credit for winning Novell: number one, a passion to win and to succeed in business. There have been upswings and downswings, but there's a passion to win that my team embraces. Secondly, we are a very thoughtful culture. We did our homework with pertinent and excellent content. We had the last slot of the day for the pitch, and we knew we needed to have a creative pitch to spark the IR interest. Our pitch had the passion and creative ideas that Novell was looking for. We even rewrote a book for them!

Horn Group has always had that passion to win - a passion to be the best. I got that from my parents, both of whom are entrepreneurs. My father has 48 US patents, and has started about 5 or 6 companies. It's in my bloodstream to be entrepreneurial and take calculated risks.

I also have a mission to set a new PR industry standard with regard to how we treat our people, the employee experience, our benefits and so on. I wanted to create a better environment for our people, to foster greater loyalty and lower turnover.

You have recently opened up offices in Washington, DC and Chicago, which come after the opening of the New York office less than 2 years ago. What was the impetus for the East Coast and Midwest moves?

The impetus for New York office was to diversify our business in a city where there are opportunities beyond our core expertise of enterprise software into the telecom and consumer technology markets, as well as to be more engaged with the media and financial activites centered here.

In Washington, DC, we relocated a longtime San Francisco employee who wanted to move closer to his family there. After doing our homework, we saw that there was not much competition for us among boutique PR firms specializing in enterprise software. He now has two clients and two employees. Chicago is a satellite office, run by another senior professional who relocated from our San Francisco office. We are supporting companies between Minnesota and Michigan there, including Novell.

Why did you decide to personally lead the opening of the New York office? Have you found New York PR to be different than San Francisco / Silicon Valley PR?

Geographic expansion is a key growth strategy for us. It was the right time to strike out, do something different, that was also high profile. Our San Francisco and Boston offices were being well managed by others on my team, so I took it upon myself to go and build something new. I wanted the challenge of creating a whole new network, winning new business, and relocating existing employees from our Boston and San Francisco offices to New York. We were profitable from day one.

I don't think that PR in New York is any different than PR in San Francisco – technology PR is technology PR. The budgets are a bit smaller here, but the dynamics and basics – how you go about it – are not any different from the Bay Area.

You have been growing at a nice clip. With the recent acquisition of Outcast, have you given thought to being acquired or acquiring other firms to complement your organic growth?

I am regularly approached by other firms, and every agency has some kind of exit strategy. I am just still having too much fun. Acquiring another agency or specialty boutique that would strengthen our presence in an existing market or give us an added capability is definitely appealing to me, but I am not looking at any acquisitions right now.

You have recently set-up a blog for the firm as a whole, as well as you have a junior staffer blog on his own. Are you setting up a blogging practice for clients? What place do you see blogs taking in the communications mix?

This is a huge, huge new way of communicating. The power of the self-publisher is a little scary. It changes the dynamics of media relations and magazine publishing entirely.

There will be new influencers that PR people will need to learn how to reach. And we have to be thoughtful of what we are saying, and how it will be interpreted by others. Being a good blogger is a big responsibility.

For clients, I think it depends largely on the business. With a disruptive technology, the opportunity to discuss what you are doing on a blog is great. If it's a mainstream product or a commodity, there's less of an opportunity to blaze new ground unless you can find something novel or interesting to write about.

Blogs are definitely a part of our ongoing strategy, discussions, suggestions, and counsel with clients The greatest key to a successful blog, and blogging in general, is maintaining high-quality content.

The blog is also a time intensive matter. We all have full-time jobs. Who actually has time to respond quickly every day? Who is going to be the chief "spokesblogger" at your company? Will you have an editor? What topics are you going to choose? These are some of the issues that still need to be dealt with.

What advice would you give PR students entering the field? What do you look for in your people? Does the Boston University Terrier Network carry a lot of weight for you?

PR students should position themselves as having a diversity of skills that are not just PR oriented. If they can manage Web sites, have written content for brochures, have done marketing communications – those are skills that will help them find more opportunities.

I look for entry level folks that have more of a diverse background. Someone that worked at a TV station, or written for a newspaper, but also might have done an in-house internship in a marketing department or an internship at a PR firm – those are all good things for the resume.

I look for people who are gregarious, articulate, polished, smart, and people who have a sense of humor . I hire people who are confident, but who also know what they don't know. And, I will look at any great resume, whether they are from BU or SJSU. Being an alumnus, I would look at the BU resume first – the network DOES work, but I am not partial to it, or favor it in any way.

What have you seen changing in the last 20 years in PR? Do you think that PR practitioners are relying too much on technology, or is there a good balance with high-tech and high-touch?

Our business will always be high-touch. The second we forget about that, is the second we have lost a part of the secret sauce of our profession. Clients want to be "touched," and some of the best media relations come s from personal connections and human interaction. If you are very uncomfortable in a social situation, PR won't be the right fit for you.

Because of the Internet, our business is evolving from a more traditional publicity-oriented, media centric field, to a more well-rounded communications field. We help clients communicate to the press, as well as their business partners, employees, investors, and customers using new forms available for communications.

Technology has given us great platforms to communicate – email, blogs, extranet, Web sites – but it should absolutely not replace the personal touch.

As a prominent woman in PR, do you ever have trouble with the boy’s club mentalities in technology and public relations?

Never. And I don't let it get in my way. I think that in the technology industry – which is by nature very entrepreneurial - there is a greater acceptance of women in senior levels. It doesn't matter what sex you are, but how great your ideas are. It's the last thing on my mind.

Any final words or advice for the readers?

I have always thought that PR can be the secret sauce of a CEO, and the profession is working its way up the chain of command to earn more credibility in the C-suite. We are beginning to see Chief Communications Officers at corporations.

I think this is a wonderful trend and the beginning of a new era in our field.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Thought for the day....

Just like the twinkie has a long shelf life, fresh bread has a short shelf life. Just like PR will have a long shelf life, blogging consultancies will have a short shelf life. Blogging consultancies are like twinkies - nice and airy and fun - but they have the shelf life of fresh bread.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blogging at IABC ....

But, not on this blog - I am part of Warren Bickford's blogging crew at the conference, as noted in this first post.

So, come visit the IABC Blog and read the people that are at the show ... however, I am going to use my blog to write more about a post from tonight.

Shel Holtz has a post about Steve Rubel saying the press release is dead. CooperKatz must love having clients read that, as now they can come back and say that they do not want to pay for press releases anymore, and if they can get refunds.

I have a comment there already, and touched base about it on the IABC blog, but wanted to expand on it per an IM conversation I had with Drew Olanoff, the man behind Blogs4Troops and GMail4Troops.

Press releases are more than just words. They are content that is used to support an idea, support a position. Yes, blogs are great ways to disburse information, but the press release is still king of content in public relations.

And, why? Because public relations is still about people and networking and personal relationships. With a blog, you have a vague idea of who is reading the blog. That's part of the nice thing about Nooked (NB: client) and RSS for press releases, public relations - the tracking and measurement that is the key.

Blogs are good, but it's where everyone is always trying to find a shortcut. Here at the IABC conference, it's interesting to see that this organization and others - while slow - are adapting and changing with the change in technology. They see that communications is changing, and are addressing that with certain tracks at the conference.

Blogs are a temporary shortcut for not having the skills to build networks and relationships in public relations. By the time blogs kind of balance out - and are an ok tool but not the end-all, be-all - the regular PR contacts that people have will disappear because PR people become too obsessed with blogs and not the media relationships.

Good PR people realize that PR is fluid, that we need to embrace change, but change sometimes is just a temporary solution. Blogging for a corporation doesn't always work, where a great press release will always be effective. Blogs are useful for most companies and industries, but just like tonight I advised the person not to blog for the company, I would never advise someone to drop everything - public relations, media relations, press releases - for blogging.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Junior Blogging

Okay, so the title is meant to imply that junior staff has taking up blogging as well - whether as students in public relations, those beginning their careers, or those that have targeted their blog to entry-level PR people.

So, I'm highlighting five today.

First, is Wet Feet PR, written by Blake Barbera. Blake's blog is about what he is learning as he goes through the first year in public relations at his agency. I'll be interviewing his boss for an upcoming PR Face2Face, as was facilitated by Blake. Not only is he learning the blogosphere and PR, but he's pitching bloggers.

Second is PR Journal. This is a new one on the scene, and is written by Konstantin, a student at St. Mary's College of Maryland and currently an intern at ACNM in Silver Spring, MD. His reason for for going into PR is his interest in writing, and if can write well, he'll have people pounding on his door. So, K, write more on the blog to highlight your ability! One thing I've learned from PR Face2Face is everyone is looking for competent writers.

Third is Beginning a Career in PR, written by Kelly Papinchak. Kelly has some great interviews and great insight in beginning your PR career. I haven't spoken or corresponded with her, but the site is worth checking out.

Fourth and fifth are from the crew at Auburn. There's a new class at the Auburn PR Blog - a summer session of six - who are slowly building steam to begin blogging. We've all done summer session, and it's a total pain, and I can totally empathize. But, they have some great posts and insight - like this one on Yahoo (okay, I like Megan's title).

Plus, my two favorite Auburn students are - well, were - blogging their InternQuest. I was hoping for more during the summer from them, for them to talk about what they are learning, but I also do not know if they were able to get permission from their firms, and, well, it is summer. I look forward to the blog next semester.

These are just ones I know, and I am sure there are others, so ping me in the comments about those blogs.

But, go read the blogs, offer encouragement, make comments, let them know that people are reading them. Go on. Go.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Alarm:Clock Does it Again

One blogger I know comments that he does not need to verify what he writes, because it's a blog, and blogs aren't copyedited like real journalism.

I wrote that two weeks ago, but wasn't referring to alarm:clock.

Maybe I should have, though. As former Red Herring reporters, and people who obviously consider themselves journalists, this post: Is BuySafe Evil? smacks of sensationalism and laziness. Have they spoken to BuySafe? Have they tried to get BuySafe's view and response?

A few comments - which look anonymous and very suspicious - are sources and make a story? Woodward and Bernstein are turning over in their graves (if they were dead).

I guess they are just content with adding this one line, and washing their hands of the whole thing: Well, we're not exactly sure what's going on here, but we're staying out of this one... Happy ranting!

Hmmm, somewhat like how they dealt with the seeded storm on their PR post. They put up a post, had a bunch of comments and other blogs comment on it, and, well, never responded! The elitism of journalism crosses over into the elitism of blogs. How quaint.

The wonderful world of blog journalism: showing why without copyediting and journalistic integrity, some blogs should never fully be trusted.


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Whatever Scoble Says

I've decided to blog in a new way - copy whatever Robert Scoble does, but twist it for PR. He's not an A-lister - he refutes the title, responding with "A stands for ..." But, he does blog with certain criteria that are admirable.
And, while I never have gotten the clearance to call him "my good friend" like other PR bloggers, I still think he's a mensch. Or one helluva good actor.

So, today he posted about PDC05, and how tickets are selling quickly.

I had to click over to the site, look at the little Channel 9 guy, and then see that it's a Professional Developer Community event. These things rock. I used to help organize developer relationship group activities down in San Jose. They are great for the developer community, great for the corporation to build the community and showcase its technology and position the company as a leader. DRG/PDC are great public relatoins tools.

Not that Microsoft needs to do that, but you know.

Then, I saw that they are having a contest! I like contests!!

So, here you go:

blogging my way to pdc

And, since I type quickly, I would totally share the information with the community at large and blog the whole event.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

AO/Technorati Top 100!!

Woohoo!! It's out! Check it out here!!

And, sad to say but, this isn't much different than what has been written before, even on the hoax site Blogebrity. Plus, is the blogosphere about the caste system or about egalitarianism and a revolt against the mainstream?

The difficult list to make would be the 'next' 100 after this list and honorable mentions ... now that would actually show some good writers that might not be known, but are changing the world.

One interesting thing to note - this is very heavy on English blogs, even North American based. Where's the Chinese blogger that risks his/her life to write about democracy? Where's the Iranian or Iraqi blogger that are writing about their dreams of freedom

Of course, as pointed out by David Parmet, the greatest irony of ironies is that you have to be an insider to comment. So much for trackbacks and open comments.

Thankfully, I'm just an early adopter and am a member ... but I don't have the need to post a "look at me, look at me" comment there.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Cluelesstrain: PR newsletters, Profnet Whoring, Ketchum Ideas, Misquotes, Homestead, and Golden Palace

Okay, sometimes things just pop out at you that scream to be mocked or questioned. One came across Skype IM today, and well, it really got me thinking.

But, hey, with one of the posts today, you can win an iPod mini!!

How fitting - photo by Jem Posted by Hello

Trylon Communications must really like my blog - despite hearsay that the founder is skeptical blogs - to keep resubscribing me to their newsletter. I tried once to unsubscribe via the form, and gave up and just called and was unsubscribed, hopefully. And, if you ask how do I know I have been subscribed to it, rather than me subscribing? Well, I dont use my email address for anything. And, yep, that's the email they are using. Come on Trylon, get with the program and at least offer this newsletter via an RSS feed and I'll be happy to subscribe to it. Update: I stand corrected, Trylon does have an RSS feed (thanks Constantin).

Are PR people like cockroaches? Apparently so, if this Profnet Experts Round-Up is any proof. The attorneys make sense. The professors make sense. The PR executives? Um, give me a break. Or, as a friend put it: I am appalled, and damn PR sucks. Is this what we have become? I'm just shocked that I didn't see a "blogging expert" chime in via Profnet that Michael Jackson should have set up a blog.

Ketchum recently launched a blogging practice. Yes, I have mocked blogging practices before, and did not jump in on the Ketchum thing because it was covered enough. One of the bigger complaints was that Ketchum did not have a corporate blog. Now, they do, if you can call it a blog: no comments, no links, no trackbacks. Well, at least it has RSS. In essence, it is just a soapbox for them to talk to clients. The worst part is that the contact and apparent lead is the vice president of business development of Ketchum - not the eKetchum team that does independently blog - but someone fishing for new business. The site notes that it's "One Good Idea a Day. One Valuable Month." We can only hope that it does end June 30, and that this isn't for the blogging practice because it is embarassing. But, hey go check out the blog and win a chance at an iPod mini! And, then go read David Parmet's take on it.

Update on June 22: The site has been updated, and it notes that KetchumIdeas is a service from the Chicago office, and is a month-long project on explaining the blogosphere and other offshoots to clients and the public that might not be involved in it yet.

If you are in PR, you know the pitfalls of being misquoted. Peter Shankman was qouted in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and as noted on his statement on his Website, he was misquoted. That's fine - one misquote, in a paper, stays there. The bad thing is that there are now bloggers that can find such a thing, jump on it, and republish it - particularly if they are John Paczkowski, who looks for fun quotes for his newsletter nee blog, Good Morning Silicon Valley. What I don't understand is why Peter hasn't addressed the issue on his blog - welcome to the bandwagon - where it could have been trackbacked to the post on GMSV.

Homestead has a job posted on HotJobs right now for a PR Manager. Part of the requirements to apply to the job is to setup a site on Homestead. Yes, that's a good idea for PR people or PR firms: get to know the product and use the product. But, in the process of PR people looking for a job, and then asking them to pay money - because, well, you would want to keep the site up longer than the one-week free trial - seems like a money making venture on the hopes and dreams of job hunters. One idea, though, is to just make the Homestead site your portfolio and resume, so it would have some value post-Homestead job application.

And, last but not least: Golden Palace. I have written in the past about the online casino, wondering if stunts translate to sales. And, well, there is one doozy of a comment there now, which makes me wonder how closely the online casino is tracking blogs. But, they did launch the Golden Palace Blog, initially with the help of InsideBlogging, who soon parted ways as noted on InfOpinions. To quote Simpsons Comic Book Guy, Golden Palace Blog has to be the worst blog ever. It is poorly written. It has no photos - come on, the casino buys crap that is photo-cenric, and no photos. It's just plain not interesting. This is a great example of how not to do a corporate blog.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Snippets: Good PR for the lottery, Picnicking Bloggers, Who can do PR? and Satisfaction Survey

Yes, it's the return of the Snippets, and, well the somewhat early demise of Cluelesstrain. The Cluelesstrain will be back, but it will be an occasional series, not every week. I do have some great photos, though, for the return of Cluelesstrain ...

In Pennsylvania, a woman has won two $1M scratch-off tickets this year. If that is not going to bring in the scratch-off ticket buyers, nothing will. Earlier this year, she won $1 million playing a Pennsylvania Lottery scratch-off ticket, then turned around and won another million-dollar jackpot last week. Think about the dreams and hopes of people that play those games - here's a woman that has won it twice, it has to be my turn next. Or, there will be a terrible lashback, and people will stop playing those games. Likely, it'll be the former.

MS&L Blogworks is giving away Hefty Plates. Now, I don't picnic much, but I have seen the television commercials, and thought it was a really cool concept. People always lose the tupperware tops, so now here's a plate that doubles as a cover and can be tossed right into the microwave. And, MS&L has gone out and invited bloggers to partake and review the products, and I thought I'd take them up on it, if they also would send me a Bill Knapp's chocolate cake. It's a Detroit thing. The only setback thus far is that the team fell into the old PR trap of cut and paste pitches and too long pitches. But, hey, I'm getting plates!

Over at PR Studies, Professor Richard Bailey has put forth a question that deserves more responses than it has right now: who can do PR, since anyone can study PR? He has his opinions which he has yet to put out there, and I and a few others already chimed in, but let's have more thoughts from both the US and the UK - what does it take to practice PR? Who can practice PR?

Ian Lipner is conducting a PR salary and satisfaction survey. I have some opinions on this one as well - too many junior people with inflated titles, too much sense of entitlement - but I am interested in seeing what the final results will be. Head over to the survey, and participate - it's really short and quick. Let's make it a sample of 10K or more, to give it a real database of answers. Then again, how many PR people are there out there?

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Yahoo Search Subscriptions: the unintentional PR tool

As noted in SiliconBeat and Micropersuasion, Yahoo has launched Yahoo Search Subscriptions.

I also received an email from Factiva giving me notice that they are going to be part of the service. Factiva, along with the WSJ, Forrester and LexisNexis among others is a great tool for public relations folks.

Think about this: in PR, we do a lot of research. We do research for new business proposals. We do research for press releases. We do research for media pitches, or we should at least be doing research on the product and its competitors to be able to speak intelligibly to reporters. A cornerstone of PR is research.

Now think about this: Yahoo Search Subscriptions has many of the tools that PR people use for research in one place. We use Forrester for the analyst reports. We use Factiva and LexisNexis for background dating to the stone age (okay, it just seems that is how big the databases are). We use the WSJ to get the take from the business world. Yes, the blogosphere has made research even easier than it used to be, but sometimes we want to go back and find deep analysis or research, and these are the best tools. And, now they are in one easy search engine.

There are a couple of drawbacks. One is the reality that not all content is free. While the large agencies might have subscriptions to all these tools, the smaller boutiques like POP! PR has subscriptions to a few. Another drawback is noted by John Battelle, that the publishers should use Yahoo as "central clearinghouse for transactions and subscription fulfillment/services" so people can subscribe and pay in one location. I like Battelle's suggestion that there should be a pay-for-click model as well.

It's still a great tool, and one that should be highly used by PR professionals.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Julia Hood, Editor in Chief, PR Week

Julia Hood is editor-in-chief of PRWeek, the leading publication for PR and communications professionals. She began her career in publishing, and subsequently held positions in corporate communications for such companies as Mobil and BAT Industries. Hood has been at PRWeek for four years, first as a reporter, then as Bay Area Bureau Chief. She was promoted to her current position in September of 2002. Hood has an MA in journalism from New York University.

What changes are in plan for 2005 for PRW US?

Well, we are actually going to be conducting readership outreach to find and address the needs of readers. We are looking at becoming more of a mix of marketing, public relations, communications content. There are no plans for layout changes, no specific changes this point.

The main focus for us is to continue to use our Website to amplify and increase coverage as a whole. We do have Web exclusives, new daily content. And, while the Website has had some technical issues in the past, it is part of the rebuild of the site and being taken care of.

As PR seems to be under the microscope more and more to provide results – especially from the CFO perspective – how do you believe that PR should be measuring its results for companies?

There are a number of different methodologies that agencies and independent companies are developing. The biggest bar for methodology measurement is setting specific parameters with the client. If you don't know what you are measuring when you start the campaign, it is hard to agree what measurement tools should be used.

For public relations, education has to come in the front end. The client and the agency should start with what the client wants to measure, then figure out how to measure it. Too often, the decision of measurement comes at the end of the campaign. Sales figures, media – both can be used for measurement, but there is no idea how to measure that against PR. It's hard to find that middle ground.

Measurement is a function that is a result of not understanding PR, and agencies need to set goals before the campaign starts.

What do you see changing with public relations, as marketing and new communication forms push to the forefront?

There is an opportunity and a challenge for marketing and PR people with new communications.

Companies and reputations need to be protected. There needs to be an understanding of where the reputation is at risk - citizen journalism, blogs. PR needs to have astute measurement and tracking, in the real world and in the online, blogosphere world.

It is just getting to grips on the fragmentation of the universe. It's about reaching the diverse communities.

The goals and expectation settings are now more critical than ever. It is not just mainstream media, but the impact for the company and clients on all the different platforms.

By setting the goals first and foremost, a potentially neglected part of the planning process, agencies can help clients

With the issues that have affected PR in the past year, do you think the PoweR Girls program on MTV is getting an undue amount of attention?

I have not watched it, I don't know who has. It doesn't cross into my life, and people getting too wound about the program are wasting their time.

What it's like covering a notoriously press-shy industry, an industry that does not like to be interviewed or profiled?

I haven't found that to be true. It's not that shy, but it's recently learning because of bloggers, PRW, and the media to become more articulate in what it does.

That's the most difficult part of covering the industry. Agencies are restricted by clients, but the whole industry has suffered from talking about itself in general terms, not the value it brings to organizations.

It is improving, though.

Does your publication differentiate between public relations and publicity? What do you think are the differences?

Publicity is a tool of PR, it's one tool among many. We don't denigrate, nor do we give it undue significance. There are people that do amazing publicity work, and that's important for the particular segment, such as entertainment.

It's not giving a greater or less significant exposure than it needs in the publication.

What suggestions and advice would you give students that are going into PR?

Follow your passion, in terms of which career path you take. If you are interested in a particular area in your life, follow that passion and apply the PR training to working within that world. Public relations is always best employed by people that are passionate and care about what they are doing.

Starting out, you don't have to be pushed into what is considered PR. If you are passionate about non-profits, the theater, surfing, go with that passion, and go down that path.

PR does allow you a lot of freedom to learn and do a lot of things.

Particularly to those new in the industry, the best advice is to keep with that passion because people will respond.

Other publications have picked up the mantle on PRSA and decoupling - do you have any views on APR and should PRW take a stand on such an issue?

I don't really have a point of view on that. It's an issue for PRSA membership, and not something we take a stance on.

I know that the re-launch of is a recent venture, but are there plans to convert it into more of an interactive blog - or to allow the PRW writers to blog on their articles to create an interactive, open forum with the readers?

Potentially. We are exploring that, and there is interest in it, we just need to make sure that what we are doing adds value. That's our litmus test - a fresh voice with the platform.

But we want to make sure that it's something that wouldn't detract from our main function: reporting on industry trends and news.

It's also a limited bandwidth, and we wouldn't want to take anything away from the core function.

The biggest story in the year has been the NYT series of articles on PR, including VNRs. IABC and PRSA have taken less of a pundit roll, while Jack O'Dwyer has been happy to pick up that ball. As EIC of PRW US, what's your role in the future of PR / your opinion of the future of PR?

The industry will survive these crises. PR is resilient and a function of modern, contemporary companies and government. PR gets stronger and robust, but it needs to grow up and realize that it will be scrutinized.

There is a maturity and relevancy need for public relations.

PR Week's role is to be a critical, and somewhat advocate, of the industry. We are an independent publication. We don't consult in the industry. We don't work in the industry.

We are an independent and credible voice, and my role as EIC is to push that agenda forward.

You have given Ray Kotcher of Ketchum a pretty open forum to address the issues. First, he had that Op-Ed piece, and now you have an email Q&A. Congrats on getting him to "talk" with you, but in an email interview he had too much an opportunity to craft and spin. Why wasn't there a phone interview or an in-person interview?

We discussed the options, and this was the one they were most comfortable with, and we were comfortable with it.

Obviously, you always prefer the face-to-face interview, and encourage and hope they will do so. But, we were given the option of having an email interview with him, and that is what we took.

It's been said that PRW has weighted coverage of the larger agencies. As the small and medium-sized boutiques seem to be making in-roads for business, what are you doing to make sure you have a balanced coverage?

We always strive for balanced coverage, and I know we reflect a balanced coverage. In fact, you will see nice features on the mid-sized agencies in past and future issues.

PRW recently wrote about publicists, and had a few letters come back a forth over the article. What kind of an effect do you think publicity-hungry or, say, PR people that are in the press a lot have on an industry where many of the top players agree that PR's best work is done behind the scenes and out of the spotlight?

PR is like any industry, full of individuals that make the decision on how they want to promote themselves. It's neither right nor wrong. If they want to do that, it's perfectly fine.

Your 2005 editorial included a line that you would no longer disparage the industry – that you wouldn't write negatively on the industry. How hard has that been to keep up? Aren't there times that the industry DOES need to be called out for stupidity, flaws or errors? Do you think this policy has hurt your publication's standing in the PR community?

The industry has matured to where we don't need to have that discussion anymore. There's a critical role that PRW plays in both promoting the good that PR does, and condemning the bad things that PR practitioners do. It's mostly about reporting the news that happens.

You went to NYU - what did you think of Jay Rosen's blog post on calling out the PR industry, or that it's more of a ivory castle mentality that's prevalent in education - dealing in theory, not real world situations?

I wrote an editorial about that. He's a journalism professor. He's not an ivory tower PR guy, he's a journalism professor.

Any last minute advice on pitching PRW? Any final thoughts?

My advice is to read the masthead, and know which reporter to go to.

Take the time to get to know the people that are in the bureaus, as well the local reporters. Read the publication. Make sure you know what we are interested in, and know the basic rules for the roadmap of any publication.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Handling the PR for Aruba

In a recent article in O'Dwyer PR Website, it's noted that the NY-based PR firm Quinn & Company - who has handled the Aruba tourism account for the past few years - is also working with the island on the missing Alabama teen, Natalee Holloway.
New York firm Quinn & Co. has dispatched PR staffers to the Caribbean Island of Aruba, where the disappearance of an 18-year-old Alabama student has captivated media.

Q&C won a three-year pact in 2003 to handle PR for the Dutch island, which uses the tagline "where happiness lives."

Natalee Holloway, a native of Mountain Brook, Ala., disappeared while on a five-day graduation trip with her high school class. Island authorities arrested three men today who said they gave Holloway a ride the night she disappeared.

The Aruban government has offered a $20K reward for information about the disappearance and her family has offered up another $30K. A bar Holloway visited that night has also posted a $5K reward.

Carla Caccavale, partner for Q&C, heads the Aruba account and has traveled to the Caribbean with other staff to handle PR for the crisis. She has not yet been reached by O'Dwyer's.

Seventy-five percent of tourists that travel to the tropical island – which is about the size of Washington, D.C. and known for its white sand beaches – are from the U.S.
Quinn did have an official statement on the disappearance of Holloway (as of June 9):
In response to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, the Government of Aruba and the Aruba Tourism Authority pledge their full support and cooperation to Ms. Holloway's family.

A thorough investigation is has been underway for over a week now with the support of both local and international authorities. Hundreds of concerned Aruban citizens have also joined the national search efforts along with Americans residing on island and tourists. The massive island-wide search is taking place on land and sea. Aruba Search and Rescue Teams, Dutch Marines, and Coast Guard, who have provided helicopters to assist in the search from the air, are aiding efforts.

Everyday approximately 50 to 250 search volunteers including locals, Americans living in Aruba, along with visitors, comb different areas of the island. This comes as a shock to Aruba where crime against tourist is almost non-existent. Aruba is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean and a favorite amongst travelers with a repeat visitor rate of 40%, the highest of any Caribbean destination.

The island extends its sincerest thoughts and prayers to Ms. Holloway's family and friends for a positive outcome.
In the past, there has been much written about using blogs for crisis communications; the disappearance of would have been a good example of how Aruba could have used a blog to keep press, and public, up to date on everything that the island nation had been doing.

I sent Quinn a few questions via email, and follows are the questions and answers...
Thus far, Aruba has only put up $20,000 of the $50,000 reward, with the bulk put up by the family. Does the island plan on putting in more? How is Quinn & Company combating what may be viewed as the island being cheap?

Following is the breakdown for the reward: $10,000 from the government of Aruba, $10,000 from the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association, $10,000 from the family and $20,000 from anonymous investors in Birmingham, Alabama.

Are there any estimates on how much in US tourism dollars Aruba might lose from this disappearance?

We do not have that information.

In the age of open communications and up-to-date news, did Quinn and Company or Aruba think of setting up a crisis communications blog to be constantly updated with news of what the island is doing, and news updates?

Aruba has a message board on the Web site and Quinn & Co. has made sure that all of Aruba's travel partners are kept up to date at all times as more information becomes available.

What are the post-crisis plans, to try to alleviate any fears and convince people to vacation on the island?

Currently we are completely focused on supporting the Holloway family and bringing the situation to closure.
A few thougths about this: with a country that relies heavily on tourism, to only pony up $20,000 while the family and friends in Alabama brought in $30,000 seems like an inbalance. The island relies on American and international tourism, and should have brought more to the table than just $20,000 - it's almost insulting. The PR firm should have pushed the client to put in more than the family and friends. A lot more.

In regards to a message board on reaching out to the island's travel partners, those are not the people that need to be reached with up-to-date information, but rather people that were thinking of traveling to Aruba and now have concerns. Update: Q&C did call me to let me know that they are also responding to all consumer questions and concerns personally - each email is personally addressed, not automated.

A blog - separate from the Aruba Website - could have been an interactive press room, where members of the press could get the latest updates via RSS feeds and the public could have come to find information and post questions and comments. While not every company needs to blog, blogs are tools that should be used in crisis situations.

In this instance, you want the island government ot be proactive, out in front of all the others, and in full control of the investigation - a blog could have helped with that.

In situations like these, no amount of crisis planning is going to help, but having certain communications tools in place can at least get information out to the public.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

New Blogs of Interest

It appears that Richard Edelman's blog was just the first for the Edelman Worldwide firm, which explains why the "Speak Up" tab was not just hotlinked to Edelman's 6AM blog.

Joining him from Chicago is Christopher Hannegan, Senior Vice President and Director
Employee Engagement Practice. I think that means he is an internal employee communications guru. And, yes, the blog is titled Employee Engagement. The blog is to extend the firm's thought leadership in the areas of employee engagement and communications, with news in these areas, tips for communicators and other perspectives.

My one caveat on the blog is I cannot tell if the companies cited are clients, or just examples. I am hoping that Hannegan will note when he writes on current and past clients.


VNU Media has launched a news aggregated, blog-esque Website with Inside Branded Entertainment. The stories are pulled from other VNU magazines, such as the "Weeks" of AdWeek, Brandweek and Mediaweek, as well as Billboard and Hollywood Reporter.

According to the press release I was sent,
"Sixty-three percent of Association of National Advertisers members are presently pursuing Branded Entertainment deals. VNU’s brands and expertise in the core industries surrounding branded entertainment allow us to deliver compelling information and tools to these professionals in order for them to succeed in their day-to-day activities.” says John Lerner, Vice President/General Manager of VNU eMedia.
That's quite a mouthful, but it's a great read with free access to those stories from VNU media. The thing that I noticed at OMMA West is that the convergence of public relations and marketing is moving faster and faster, with the need for the two to work in concert and not against each other. And, one arena that that is happening in is branded entertainment, product placement. It used to be part of PR, but now it's part of advertising.

My one complaint is that while there are RSS feeds, there's not one for the whole site. There are RSS feeds for stories, and they are provided by Clickability, and the choices are: most viewed, most emailed, most printed and most saved.

Um, I'm different than most people, so what they might want, I likely do not. Another beef with the Clickability RSS feeds are that they are not recognized by Firefox. Come on - if it's not being recognized in Firefox, what happens when the next version of IE with the built-in RSS reader comes out....

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Growth of Grassroots and the Need to Change Papers

Last month, Steve Rubel and Pete Shankman both pontificated that a major newspaper would fold. Shankman went for 2007, while Rubel went for 20 to 30 years down the line, as the baby boomers die out, and the GenY group was the driving force. Yes, some papers will disappear, but the big ones will continue on. If you look at the past, of course papers go under. It's just part of business.

Rubel's post drew a lot more comments, mainly that newspapers will not disappear, but will change with the times.

But, let's deal in reality: newspapers are not going to die, and while it appears that the publishers are going to try to squeeze as much profit as possible, they will adapt. Which, well, is pretty much what has been happening already. Proof points: newspapers have adopted blogs for certain journalists, such as San Jose Mercury News' GMSV blog or SiliconBeat. Newspapers have begun adopting podcasting, for another revenue stream. Newspapers are adopting RSS, and finding ways to embed advertisements. Yes, the subscription model of home delivery seems to be dwindling, but the publishers are finding new revenue streams and hoping to keep the model alive. But, likely that will not be enough to stop the loss of subscribers.

This past Monday, I was in SF and the Chronicle had two big stories plastered above the fold in the Business section: Current TV and Citizen Journalism. Current TV is all about viewer-submitted content, while the citizen journalism article was all about how various bloggers-slash-citizen journalists have started to break news on their blogs, going out of their way to beat local press. So, here's another medium that is trying to kill the media - or at least give another voice for the public, since the public seems to not trust the mainstream media. And, grassroots journalism will continue to grow - albeit, likely with a few libel lawsuits thrown in here and there. One blogger I know comments that he does not need to verify what he writes, because it's a blog, and blogs aren't copyedited like real journalism.

In his PR Face2Face Dan Gillmor interview, Gillmor noted that grassroots journalism will coexist with mainstream media, just offering more choices. Separately, Dan Gillmor noted in his blog that consumer reporting is best done by newspapers with a large budget, that have the time and resources to carry out investigations. And, that's what can "save" newspapers: interesting pieces that draw in the audience.

What really drove this home to me is a current series in the San Francisco Chronicle. I went to the homepage looking for some information, and saw the link of Alicia's Story. Here is a seven-part series that has brought me back to the Website every day - and when I was in SF, it pushed me to buy the paper.

But, the same cannot be said for other newspapers out there. With the continued dwindling of the staff, local newspapers (owned by the large conglomerates) are homogenized with just wire story after wire story, somewhat like radio being the same across the country.

If you cannot rely on the local newspaper for local news, you are naturally going to find local sources that can satisfy the desire to read about the city and businesses in the city. It's why I read the local business journal - so I do know what is happening in local business. That might be a way to keep the subscribers: adopt some of the forms of blogging, by becoming more involved in local news and adding to the staff to cover local events that would be of interest. Everyone can get national news online or on cable - it's the local spin that is usually not covered.

As for the implications on PR, it will be interesting to see which firms can adapt to the new lay of the land. With the continuing growth and influence of blogs and grassroots/citizen journalism, and the continued importance of mainstream media to reach the larger audience, it will be the firms that can walk the tightrope and balance both blog outreach and media outreach, with strong consulting, strategy and counsel.

But, don't get out your shovels and pick-axes yet for a newspaper's funeral. The medium might change, but the concept will stick around for a bit.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

John Battelle at OMMA Conference

While I have been attending the OMMA West Conference, I was able to go see John Battelle's keynote speech.

Prior to the speech, I was able to speak a little bit with him, helping him put a face to a name that he said he's read before in the blogosphere. Nice man, and we were able to speak a little bit about his presentation and he foreshadowed a bit about his presentation and FM Publishing.

So, on to my notes from the presentation - and, yes, I left my digital camera in the other room, so no photo...

  • Battelle took full blame for the dotcom bust, which got a nice laugh from the audience. He did go on to speak about Web 1.0 - long on vision, short on execution and shorter on profits, immature tech - and Web 2.0, which is about content and services, a robust development and delivery platform.
  • Search and digital distribution is the power of the tail - blogging is where media and advertisement see the longtail.
  • New Media isn't that new - search has changed media and online media, but it isn't new media. It's changed because through search, audience declares intent, then content finds the audience.
  • The marketing to and of blogs: publisher, marketer and audience - all in robust conversations, that can be supported by commercial interests.
  • Federated Media - federation of authors, a label or imprint (like Penguin Books), and facilitate between marketing and the blog authors. Advertising can be more efficient with blogs. Don't own sites, don't hire/fire, bloggers can do what they want.
  • FM is like a bundle of sticks - 10-20 catagories, each site vetted for quality and content and audience. Blogs of influence.
  • FM will aggregate audience, help focus advertising, messaging for each site.
  • Blogs are publications - and represent marketing opportunities. The rise of the author-driven sites is a good thing. It's about trust and relationships
Since I couldn't find a connection for public relations, I touched base with Battelle on how I could tie the keynote into public relations. He had some interesting comments, that really solidified how PR works in the new media:

Public relations is the connective tissue, the connective media between marketing, the publisher and the audience (of his diagram on the relationship between marketing, the audience and the publishers). Public relations is an important part of marketing, the part of the conversation that talk to people.

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PR Face2Face:
Clive Armitage, CEO, Bite Communications

Clive Armitage oversees the management of Bite Communications and the development of its different business divisions. This involves managing the Bite brand across three countries, as well as being closely involved in the running of Bullet, Bite’s award-winning new media division.

Clive was a co-founder of Bite back in May 1995 and has 15 years industry experience working across a variety of technology and telecommunications clients including Microsoft, Oracle, Sun and BT.

Clive's particular passion is developing creative communications campaigns for corporate brands that have a resonance beyond just PR. He strongly believes that creativity is an all too undervalued tool in the business-to-business arena and regards it as an essential ingredient for developing powerful and compelling communications.

Clive Armitage, CEO, Bite Communications Posted by Hello

Bite PR has a reputation for being an expert on open source technology. With no overt ownership in open source, how do you go about getting press for what might be a free product?

A product stands or falls not because it is free but because it delivers benefit/advantage to the user. Sure, the cost model for a technology is of certain interest but it's really the feature functionality that grabs the attention.

You just won Sun – and that day, put out a job listing for all levels on the KIT List. What do you think it was about Bite that lead Sun to say – yep, that's the firm for us? How did you feel about the reverse auction set-up – do you think that more corporations will be going that route?

The key piece of feedback we got was that the chemistry was right. That is crucial for any pitch - you want that chemistry with the potential client. Sun might have been looking for a change of emphasis and some new blood, but they also knew us from our other work for them and appreciated the results from the other work we had been doing for them.

Plus, we emphasized that we would bring a touch of creativity to them – we constantly look for creative solutions for all our clients, for all our campaigns. Our mission at Bite Communications is to be fearless and boundless in everything we do and we specifically referenced that in our response. For us, it's about taking risks to get big rewards and Sun felt very comfortable with that.

The dynamic bidding process was an interesting experience, not nearly as forbidding as I thought it would be. Is that process put in place to make sure they got the cheapest deal? I don't think that's the way it was meant to be at all. And, they didn't choose the cheapest bid. That was my greatest fear but they made sure to reassure us that the process would not be that way. They lived up to their promise.

The fact is that the rise of the procurement department in large organizations is inevitable. It is the drive to transparency for the best price. While the best price does not necessarily mean best quality, some companies will shoot themselves in the foot by just shopping by price and not quality.

With your involvement in the open source community, do you think that there will be open source public relations, like there is a push for open source marketing?

There is a socialist aspect to the open source community, and until you work out a process to monetize the working together and how different organizations and people can work it effectively, it is hard to judge whether or not there will be an open source public relations movement.

I don't see anything changing anytime soon. The structures currently in place are working well for organizations.

You started with NextFifteen at Text 100 in 1990, and were there when Bite was spun off. What was the impetus to spin off Bite, and how has being the "smaller" agency helped Bite?

I began my career in 1990 in London at Text 100, and had a great career there. There was an opportunity to pitch Apple in 1995 and Text could not work with Apple because of its work with Microsoft.

We saw the opportunity to go to the board of Text 100, and suggested, with their backing, to start this agency. It was essentially a conflict brand to Text 100, and we then pitched Apple in 1995, and Apple took a chance with us. It has worked for us and Apple - the relationship still exists 10 years later.

At the same time, the Internet was starting to become part of the lexicon, and we wanted to create an agency that was in tune with the times. The persona for the agency was relaxed, more nimble, and we have had a lot of great success and won great brands with that philosophy.

We then expanded to broader technology – B2B and B2C. Bite picked up BT, Toshiba, Oracle – big clients that put us on the map quickly. From the get go we were about making sure that we had a good firm in the UK but quickly appreciated that we needed to be more than just the UK, and the natural move was to come to the US.

In 1999, rather like The Beatles or any British music act, we knew we had to crack America if we wanted to be big worldwide! So we moved here in 2000, and didn't get a chance to establish right away because of the downturn. But that was also good for us because we didn't take out a big lease or hire in lots of staff. We kept a small but strong presence in the Bay Area for the next three years, waiting for the recovery. We decided to get to critical mass by acquiring someone, saw Applied Communications and developed the presence from five to 40 people overnight. In September 2003 that acquisition went through, and since then it is about expanding in the US – creating a market, cementing our reputation, and opening in NY this year.

When did you move to the US? Did you find US PR different from UK PR? What were the hardest adjustments, in terms of PR?

At the time of the acquisition of Applied Communications, we appreciated the failure rate of agency mergers, so we took the decision to put as much management bandwidth on the ground as we could. It was a strategic basis to make the merger successful, to spearhead the drive, and that was the impetus for me moving to the States.

There are subtle differences between the US and UK PR scene. The US PR market I have experienced is very tech focused, and is more reactive and news driven. There are large corporations with news every day, and PR is constantly having to handle the generation of the news.

In the UK clients offices are not often the company HQ so generating awareness for the clients can sometimes mean more creativity, focusing on the issues more than the US counterparts.

The challenges for me were coming over and leading a business, and proving to the people that I could add value to their job. It was about helping the people do their job better. We'd acquired a great set of people from Applied – we just needed to re-energize them and give them some belief in themselves. I'm delighted to say they rose to the challenge.

You swallowed up Applied Communications, to build the San Francisco practice. PR Week had a piece on how you handled the integration – and how it was done well – but was there a difference in corporate cultures that you had to merge? How hard was it, and did it just not turn out well for some people?

The key point was that Alan Kelly, the CEO – a charismatic, singular guy – wanted to move on. He appreciated that, for the business to change, he needed to allow new management the opportunity to do the things they believed in. So, once he had moved on, there were no senior people holding back the changes.

The people on the ground embraced the change. We only lost 2 people, who were relocations away from California. I think the people we inherited were looking for something different and they embraced the Bite culture very quickly. They looked at it as something that would be good for them, and put their noses to the grindstones to make Bite a great agency.

Plus, the European practice of five weeks vacation time didn't hurt!

Text 100 and Bite are known for their open bullpen setting. While that is seen as building team camaraderie, it also inhibits any sense of privacy. Why is it open bullpen, and have you had people balking at such a situation? Or is there a discrimination against walls at NextFifteen?

When we bought Applied, it was a classic cubicle environment. When I first went into there, I had no idea how many people were there, and then 40 people appeared for our first meeting. It was like watching groundhogs pop their heads up out of their holes.

The classic cubicle environment is alien to me, as I had always "grown up" in the open, more European way of working. Privacy is not usually given, but it does foster a feeling of teamwork and the newsroom feeling.

When we first said we were tearing down the walls, there were undoubtedly people who were concerned about the change. If you ask them now, they would say they like the open environment, the team feeling of the place. But there are meeting rooms for those private meetings, private phone calls.

I guess you could say an open environment is also a great training tool. When I first started in 1990, I did listen to the people on how to pitch media. People sometimes hide in cubicles, because they do not want to be heard, or didn't want others to hear how they pitch to the media. How they talked, how they were prepared – that's something that the junior people can learn from. It is a chance for people to learn from talented people in an open office environment.

Your agency was just named Technology Agency of the Year by Holmes Report, and was runner up in PRW's Mid-Size Agency award. What do you owe your success to, considering you are relative newcomers to the States?

I think it's a combination of factors including luck.

We have had a presence since early 2000, and have been in touch with the marketplace, and appreciated that the downturn knocked confidence and energy levels at many firms. When we bought Applied, it was an exciting time for us because we were focused on growth and this was in marked contrast to many of the other agencies in the Valley because of their experiences over the last few years. What people were looking for coming out of the downturn was a new, fresh agency. And we have tapped into that mindset, offering a new, fresh approach. We focus on culture, retaining talent, recruiting and molding talent. We focus on happy, motivated teams, and delivering good service. And I think we have had the recognition with some of the awards we won.

You have recently set-up a blog for the firm as a whole, post NewComm Forum. Did the NewComm forum attendance convince Bite to set up a corporate blog? Are you setting up a blogging practice for clients? What place do you see blogs taking in the communications mix? And, how does the blog fit into billability?

We have been watching blogging with real interest for the past 12 months. For me, it was a question of looking at some of the things happening in Iraq, and what was happening on the ground, and then the presidential race showed that it was a communications form that would have a great impact on our industry.

It's difficult to control and use – in PR, we are typically a gatekeeper for information. With blogs and the impact of the Internet, transparency is king. Clearly, the blog is impacting the ways we do our job and new practices are emerging.

We recognize that if we wanted to talk to clients about the way blogging is going to affect communications, we had to set up our own blog. To understand it, we needed to live it. We opened up the blog to everyone in the office. We really don't have much control regarding the content on the blog – if it is something you would say in the office, then you can write it on the blog. Thus far, we have certain individuals like Trevor Jonas who loves to write, while others are more passive. It's open to all.

We will look to replicate the seminar on blogging we had here in Europe in June. We expect to find Europe will not be quite as up to speed, but that will likely change by the end of the year.

What advice would you give PR students entering the field? What do you look for in your people?

Never give up wanting to learn. Anyone going into the industry, they have to have a voracious appetite to learn. PR is fast moving, and the rules are changing rapidly, and you must be able to soak up information quickly. People going into the industry need to be open minded.

My advice is to get into the industry, submerge yourself, and then find the sections you want to work in.

Look for the kind of culture you can identify with, express yourself. At Bite, we have a culture where you are comfortable to put forth ideas. We have an environment that encourages interaction, no matter the level.

There are certain maxims for Bite people: smart, fit into our culture, get along with others, exhibit positive energy and have the ability to interface with clients, whatever the level.

In the past, a lot of the dot-com PR was personality based. What are the pros and cons of personality PR for a technology firm?

Personality has always played a part in PR. If you have a larger than life character, with great vision, you use them. I have heard that argument that dotcom was all about personality but I don't have a problem with that.

Personality PR brings color and interest to the company, creates debate. Hearing from people like Larry Ellison or Jonathan Schwartz brings something to the table that people want to read about, something interesting.

There is no problem focusing on personality.

Have you done PR in non-tech industries in your earlier days? Since Bite is tech, how do the two industries compare, and how do you deal with the different mindsets?

I did go into tech PR thinking I would get out quickly, but I soon realized the industry was so fast moving, and came to appreciate that innovation makes for an interesting life. Fifteen years later I'm still doing tech PR!

At Bite we have clients who span a broad spectrum of technologies – some focus on business audiences, some on consumers. The key point they share is the need to translate the benefits of the technology into a language that the end user will understand and that's what is firstly, most interesting to us and, secondly, what we excel at.

Any last words of advice?

I have a cartoon near my desk of a heron attempting to swallow a frog but is failing because the frog has reached out from the heron's beak and has its hands around the neck of the heron. The caption is "don't ever give up." That's my belief for public relations and also for business, that you should never give up and always enjoy what you are doing.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Building Rock Star Teams

One of the most interesting things that I encounter in public relations is team building. Not the touchy-feely stuff that you go on goofy retreats for, the team camaraderie building stuff, but on how you build a great team. While I get more and more resumes – and think about moving beyond freelancers to hiring people – it makes me wonder how someone puts together a great team.

I always look at the first two teams I was on, and try to replicate those in any situation I am in. While I realize that might be impossible, there are certain things that made those two teams great, that it would be stupid to not try to replicate those. And, it makes me wonder what the people saw in me that made me part of those teams.

Well, actually, a good friend put in into perspective. Before I founded POP! Public Relations, I was out on the interview circuit. I was flying myself out to New York and sometimes San Francisco to interview with firms. Since we were in the economic doldrums, I wouldn’t fly out unless I had interviews set-up, but I was always able to set-up at least 3 interviews a day, a testament to my pugnacity and my portfolio/resume.

But, as my friend pointed out – I’m a so-so interviewee, the exact opposite of him. He’s the ultimate interview, the perfect combination of suck-up and professionalism. But, he notes that when I do get into the job, I am the ultimate employee who works hard, and works for the team doing whatever it takes to get the project / work done, while he is the middling employee that does just what it takes, only takes on projects that will further his career and sloughs off projects that he does not see long term value (for himself).

So, from my experiences as entry-level, I worked with some great people (nicknames only, which some still hate): Tony the Tiger, Skippy, Super Punk Ass, Genius Boy Wonder. Tony the Tiger was the one that hired me, and saw something when I was an intern in Mountain View, where I worked with a great group of people, most who went on to found Voce Communications as well as one of the greatest legends in PR, Fred Hoar.

Tony the Tiger ran the team, but treated the team as if he were the client. It was a great learning experience, and the one thing that I will always love/hate Tony the Tiger for was that he was the penultimate boss that spoiled me for jobs thereafter; he took the blame for any mistakes we made, and pass the credit down for the great work we did. Let me reiterate that: when we done good, he made sure the client knew it was US. When we screwed up, he protected us from the client (as he noted to me one day, you’re junior level and don’t need to deal with being yelled at yet). That's a rarity and the sign of a good boss.

SPA was my senior level mentor, the AS whom I reported to – remember, the VP was the client. The AS was, and still is, someone I could bounce ideas off of, ping for feedback on pitches and press releases, go into the office if I was having a problem and work it out. The epitome of the type of supervisor you want, as pulling no punches and let you know where you stood with her and the account. It was a put up or shut-up type of work, where you either succeeded and were rewarded, or failed and asked off the account – the way PR really is.

Skippy was the head intern, as he called himself, but was the lead on the full account. Based in NY, he was and is the smoothest PR person I have worked with, and has great stories that made me cry with laughter. He’s just a great story teller, which is what is needed in PR. It’s amazing the inability to pitch a story, to tell the full story that is the basic tenet of PR. And, let’s not forget the inability to write, that I hear from every PR executive and reporters. Skippy was just great, though. He knew how to work the team, knew how to work with the client, and helped deliver great results with the budget at hand.

One of the things about public relations is – as noted by Edelman’s Pam Talbot in her PR Face2Face interview – is that it is a meritocracy. If you work hard, you likely will do well. Public relations is very results oriented, but there are exceptions – we can all name a 6 year dotcom PR Vice President, or a 4 year dotcom PR account directors, or even more senior level people who are merely senior in title, but junior in experience. These people weren’t promoted due to meritocracy, but were promoted due to fill basic need of a senior title or due to the non-stop title inflation of the dotcom era that still exists (along with the entitlement mentality, unfortunately). Or, just the special PR people that are favorites of VPs and GMs that get cushy assignments, but are less than rock star quality. Unfortunately, that IS part of working well, working hard. Working hard is not just about client work, but smart and good office politicking.

How do you empower everyone to perfect their work, so they can train junior staff and move up the chain of command? How do you prepare people to grow, helping clients and demonstrate to all constituents that the work done is to facilitate growth? How, in a catchphrase, do you build a team of rock stars? I have my ideas, but wanted to hit up other PR professionals and get their view points – below you will read those persons’ views.

Rock star teams, like the Warriors, take down anything in their way to get it right.... Posted by Hello

It pretty much boils down to two things...chemistry and leadership. Chemistry will ensure the effectiveness of the team leader in not only managing the team, but creating a comfortable atmosphere. Everyone on the team needs to have the same goals and ethics, both moral and work, for both the company they work at and/or the client they work for. The team leader is in charge of creating this environment. He/she is in charge of both emotional and physical well-being, being both encouraging for good work or frustrating situations, but also knowing where to draw the line and making sure everyone is focused on the short and long-term goals. You can have the best PR people in the world on your team, but if there's no leadership, that will lead to poor chemistry among team members, and you cannot and will not be effective.

-Joey Lee, Director, Corporate Communications, Optoma Technology

Great people make a great company and we believe in hiring the best. Bite has a thorough interview process where candidates are interviewed by a variety of employees at different levels so that the candidate gets a deep understanding of the actual position and where it fits into the organization. We have maintained very high standards in our interview process and make hiring decisions on a consensus basis to ensure that the interview team believes the candidate would be a good fit for the company and the culture. Once hired the senior management team manages the team resourcing process and ensures that each account team is staffed appropriately for the client's needs. Bite also ensures that the team members' expertise and experience is relevant to the clients' industry and product. For specific client projects we also have invited the whole company to participate and contribute in creative brainstorming sessions. This has proven to be successful, since recently our "wacky IT guy" was quoted by the Wall Street Journal for coming up with a creative media campaign idea for one of our clients.

-Burghardt Tenderich, GM and Marisa Ramans, HR Director and the brain behind Bite's recruiting success, Bite Communications

Sometimes the difficulty in building "rock star teams" comes not finding great talent, but in avoiding ending up with four lead singers and a trombone player. Regardless of talent, the output won't sound right. And, the best PR people sometimes seem to be the ones who have Axl Rose tendencies. Relatively few do the quiet, but studiously reflective Bill Wyman-thing well. Therefore, instead of making rash hiring decisions the minute you land a big account or find yourself on the rebound from a departure (and perhaps 75 percent of PR hires are done this way according to my unscientific, but experienced guess), management needs to refer to any already established profile of an effective team that perhaps includes a wildly creative-type, a bottom-line focused person, a team-builder, and a charismatic leader.

Those who complement each other, play well together. That is, unless they have too many Sunset-Strip-Brazillian-models-in-the-hot-tub- and-haymaker-punches-at-the-wind parties resulting in stomach-pumpings and missed recording deadlines. Wait. Were we talking about PR?

- Sean Garrett, Partner, 463 Communications

The team doesn't matter as much as the strategy and project-management processes. Rock-star teams grow out of a shared sense of mission (What's the client's business goal? How does that translate into our strategy? How do we turn that strategy into a series of objectives and executable steps?), as well as a clear set of "house rules" for getting the job done (How do we track success? How do we handle intra-team and team-client communications? What's the process for resolving uncertainty or disputes?).

The world is full of C students; management's challenge isn't just to cherry-pick the best people for our teams, but to provide a framework that gets the best from everyone whether they’re a born rock star or not.

- Greg Brooks, Principal, West Third Group

To have the best teams you have to scout for talent constantly. I interviewed someone I first met on a ski lift last week, and recruited another consultant who I met at a show. It's often best to look beyond the industry to get a more rounded team of people with a variety of backgrounds. But strong teams aren't just about selection, they also need consistency, so each member learns about the others' capabilities and builds an innate level of trust. The coordination needs to become second-nature. Really good teams are familiar with each other, surpassing the professional to become personal friends. That's why the best teams are the ones found in the agencies with consistent growth and the best staff retention rates. Building 'rock star' teams is as much about retention as it is selection.

- Morgan McLintic, Vice President, Lewis Public Relations

I had also reached out to other PR people, but some passed due to lack of time and others I am still waiting on. But, this has been on my mind for awhile, and I wanted to post it finally.

But, to me this is a living post – if you have your own views and ideas about team building, please add them to the comments. It will be interesting to see the different views out there.

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