Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Suck Up Post to Jeremiah Owyang

I expect to see a lot of these posts today - some as suck-ups, some as true congratulatory posts, some just to jump on a meme. It was announced today that Jeremiah (and a couple others) have joined his old colleague, Charlene Li, at Altimeter Group after leaving Forrester.

I have known Jeremiah since he organized the Lunch 2.0 at Hitachi (I still have the T-shirt and vandalized my old office with the sticker) and probably before then. I have been lucky enough to get to know him prior to Hitachi, and was happy for him when he made the jump.

I've read his blog off and on for the past few years, when headlines have caught my eye and there's things that I know I can learn from his insight.

And, I've watched him be attacked as a fanboy of social media and Web 2.0 by people that don't know him - but can easily throw rocks.

That's the thing - Jeremiah really doesn't talk much about his past experience, and he does love social media and Web 2.0 technologies (maybe, sometimes too much). But that exuberance is real, not just some fake excitement that many people have about the technology and space because it furthers their career. Jeremiah lives in this stuff, and enjoys it.

If you know me, though, you know my stance on social media experts - it's easy to talk the talk, but being in the trenches and actually using it is QUITE different. And that is the background that he doesn't talk about. He has fought the fight that those of us that do do the work have fought, and continue to fight. He's been in the trenches at a company culture not know for pushing the envelope, but keeping pretty steady.

The man has his battle scars - I am sure - from his work in social media at Hitachi Data Systems. That is what makes his a real warrior and someone to listen to in this space: he has fought the good fight, he's lost some battles, he gets attacked by others, but he takes it all and keeps soldiering on.

Let me be one of many to congratulate both Charlene and Jeremiah. Great addition to the team, and good luck on what is likely going to be a great journey - and I'm lucky enough to call him a friend (and his wife, who cracks me up with her eye-rolls at me).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Passing the Buck and Ethics

If you've ever met me, and heard me talk about my first boss, you'll hear me wax poetically about how great a boss he is. I think I might have written about his rules before, but it's always good to rehash The Tiger's rules. He told me these one day when I was in his office, and I always remember them (with his explanations).
1. Blame up, praise down: what he meant is that he gets paid the big bucks (and I was a lowly AAE), and the buck stops with him. He would take the blame, and he would let the client know that we got the hits.

2. If I work late, you work late: No, not the scene from Scrooged but he just meant that if he left the office before me, he'd check in to see what I was working on and what could be taken off his plate. And vice versa - I would check in on him. Mainly, it came down to helping with time management, and being cognizant of what coworkers were working on that day.

3. Take responsibility and own up: While blame up was the end result - meaning he'd take the yelling from the client for a mess up - he wanted you to take responsibility with him if you made the mistake. Own up, and man up.

4. The client comes first: the client is paying your paycheck, so you look out for them. You go over the billing and invoices, and do the line item and make sure they are being fairly billed.
I try to work with the people I work with - in particular, the junior staff - with these thoughts in mine. The Tiger was one of the best bosses I had (yes, there were some bad things), but these rules have stuck with me since I worked for him. And, me and a coworker always tell him we'd work for him in a NY minute.

This seems like an era ago - not because it was 12 years ago, but because these sentiments seem to be lost at major firms nowadays. Time and time again during PR bitch sessions, I hear about senior staff throwing junior staff under the bus, or junior staff working insane hours, or interns wondering if what they're doing is actually public relations, or some bastardization - and can they say no.

So an incident this weekend with a marketing firm - Reverb Communications - brings all of this to the forefront. Thus far, the company has not fully responded to the allegations that they're astroturfing the iTunes Application Store, according to MobileCrunch. And, hey they put marketing first, so I refuse to call them public relations.

The two second version: Reverb is having its interns post comments on its clients iPhone applications to garner more downloads.

The question - and how it fits into the four golden rules - is at what point do the interns push back? Can interns push back at a job (forget the bad economy) and take a stance for what they believe is true and right? Don't the senior staff have an ethical obligation to be teaching their interns the right way to do things, the ethical way to behave in social media? (Yes, that's the rules tie-in).

I know that many public relations firms do go to their interns for brainstorming sessions, in particular for social media ideas. Hey, they're all on Facebook, so they MUST get it!!

But, well, being an intern you also tend to fashion your answers to best reflect what you think the agency wants; you want the job, you make sure your answers are right. Unless, well, you're headstrong like me.

The fact is the interns at Reverb probably should have pushed back - but it is quite easy for me to Monday Morning quarterback as someone whose internship is eons ago. Remember when you're an intern, and you don't push back because you (a) don't know better or (b) really want that job when you graduate from college. And who wouldn't want a job at Reverb? It's a hot shop for iPhone app makers, in the middle of the cool Apple environment. It's pretty much as close as working for an Apple agency as you can get.

So I asked two former interns, current and recent college students on their opinions. One went on the record, the other asked to go off the record. The off the record, of course, is the more damning and more telling.
From Monica Fineis, a Michigan State Alumna: This is sad. Third-party credibility is out the window. I don't think that anyone who represents a product should be allowed to review it, even with full disclosure. Do your advertising, do your promotions, but please don't mess with the reviews! If the reviews say your app sucks--change it! What happened to being advocates for the public? At my first internship, I might not have known better. We take transparency and honesty very seriously here (at my current firm) and theoretically if I was asked to do something like this now I would say no.

From College Student Doe, a current student: 1st incident - we were trying to promote a viral video and it was sent through the company listserv and to drive up views, employees were asked to continue watching etc. I know that this seems like a small thing but it made me feel uncomfortable because it would translate to impressions to the client and if alot of views were from employees, it seems wrong. I didn't push back because I didn't know if it was common practice done by everyone and I was just the loser intern who was behind the times. I wanted to learn; I thought I was learning. It's like looking up to adults because they were grown up and you weren't. I was an intern, these people have been working for years. What should I have said? Who would have listened? Profit is the answer, not ethics.
Nicely depressing, huh?

That is the issue in a nutshell: as senior practitioners, we have a responsibility to be as ethical as possible. But does that conflict with results for clients? As we see with Reverb, it's always inevitable that someone is going to expose your dastardly ways, and then the potential bad press may hurt business (that is a debatable point). And in this economy, we need to provide results all the time, or risk losing a client.

As an intern, you have to stop and ask if you feel comfortable doing what you are about to do. Do you feel comfortable posting reviews under a fake name? Do you feel comfortable with the directions you are being given, or fully understand what you are being asked to do? And, most importantly, do you have a good supervisor and advocate at the firm, whom you can speak to and ask for direction and help? If that supervisor and/or advocate tells you to just go along, at least you know that agency is not the right one for your long-term career path.

And, the reality is that these questions are not just ones you will grapple with as an intern, but ones you will confront throughout your career. It is a serious issue for public relations and marketing firms, and not one that is going to be solved by pointing to good PR people but by having real answers, real solutions for these situations and pushing forward for ethics in public relations ... or at least transparency.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Talib Kweli is Better at Twitter Then You ... and the new Facebook Pages with Twitter!

Talib Kweli - for those that don’t know, a groundbreaking rapper from Brooklyn – is on Twitter. As are many other rappers and DJ’s. Twitter has become the new MySpace, to the point that Twitter (plus Ning) is the big threat to MySpace, not to Facebook (that’s another post – but something to think about).

On August 5, on his Twitter account Kweli gave his top ten ways to use Twitter (or Twitter no nos!, as he put it). I have cut and pasted his full list of top ten ways to Twitter from his account (apologies to Kweli, but it was too good not to post for more people to see), and include the original time stamps.
and number 1- never overtweet. (i just broke that rule, I'm out!) 4:26 PM Aug 5th

2. I will never say something on twitter I can't say to your face. Thats for the e goons 4:25 PM Aug 5th

3. I will never jump into your convo without visiting your profile to say what has been said, this makes you seem slow 4:24 PM Aug 5th

4. I will never ask you to follow me. I'd rather direct you to my site or ask u to follow someone I admire. No messiah complex here 4:23 PM Aug 5th

5. Never repeat what someone wrote without the RT (retweet) 4:22 PM Aug 5th

6. Never send a tweet to someone who is in the same room as you. 4:21 PM Aug 5th

7. Never have someone else tweet for you. Thats missing the point 4:21 PM Aug 5th

8. don't be the twitter police. If I don't like what you say I'll ignore you. 4:20 PM Aug 5th

9. twitter personal business esp. emotional stuff. twitter is not your personal diary and you invite confusion into your life this way 4:19 PM Aug 5th

10 twitter no nos! 10. Twitter other people's business. Should go without saying. 4:18 PM Aug 5th
Despite all the advice from social media / Twitter gurus, here is a man that is doing his own promotion for his CDs, and giving real world advice from real world experience, in a B2C way. This advice is much easier to listen to than that from “experts” who use Twitter to just self promote without real world experience.

The interesting news today – which prompted me to finish this post – was Facebook announcing that you can now push your Facebook Pages updates to your corporate Twitter account.

This is good news for corporations, celebrities and others with Facebook Pages. While you are able to populate your personal Facebook page with your Twitter updates because of the Twitter application and they are tied together with the status updates, corporate Facebook Pages had nothing (or, well, I couldn’t figure out how to do it).

Now, I agree with Om Malik and Fred Vogelstein that Facebook is about Google and data, and by incorporating Twitter into Facebook Pages, Facebook is able to “see” what corporations want to integrate into Twitter - as well as what members are fans, how they interact, etc. and how that can be used for marketing and ads.

So while some companies have already integrated marketing campaigns from Twitter to Facebook (e.g. send out a contest on Twitter, tell people to go comment on your corporate Facebook Page and become a fan), this makes it easier for the internal marketing / public relations / communications person to keep a consistent message. If the internal person or agency wants to send out a message to both its fans on Facebook, as well as its Twitter followers, it does not have to worry about going to both platforms but can send the message out on Facebook.

What does this mean at the end of the day for public relations? It means easier management of two of the hotter social media platforms – which means time savings for the executives. All in all, that’s not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

YAWN: WSJ’s "New" Embargo Rules

The big PR news for today was that the Wall Street Journal is no longer going to be honoring or accepting embargoed news, according to Paid Content. They want exclusives, and not to be one of many publications and sites that is pre-briefed under embargo.

Um, so what? No, I mean I understand why some people are up in arms about this, but let’s be honest. In my experience, WSJ would agree to a verbal embargo, but if something happened, they would run the story. For the most part, that has been fine for PR people. It was and is a relationship, one built on trust and an understanding of the PR and journalism dance.

But let’s get back to reality here – it’s the Wall Street Journal. It’s the paper of record, the big kahuna. It’s the paper that is one of the few national publications – USA Today, NY Times and WSJ – and one of the few (if not the only) outlets that people pay for online. It’s a paper that wants – no, needs – exclusives, and it likely tired of being scooped by blogs that neither understand the embargo dance, nor care to partake in that dance.

Why would the WSJ continue to be one of 20+ outlets being briefed? That is the buckshot approach for some public relations executives and firms. But, well, that has never worked and that is not an embargo situation, but scattershot PR.

And in this new digital age, the embargo is dead. News moves too quickly nowadays to rely just on an embargo. Yes, you can call up a reporter prior to the announcement and say “dude, got some big news tomorrow, no I won’t tell you, but don’t be that guy and pass and then be pissed you missed the story.” Of course, too many PR people have no idea what is REAL embargoed news, and what’s just news that is not embargo worthy. I tend to get more of the former, a bit of the latter. Hint: a new social media newsroom is not embargo worthy.

The new reality is that print publications run news online (and have for the past 10 years). They will run a more in-depth article in the print version, or write up a bigger story if there is an exclusive or if they have more information that makes for a deeper, more analytical story. Just look at the Wall Street Journal today – two stories on Whole Foods: one on the blog, and an in-depth article in the paper. Interestingly enough, the article has more comments online than the blog post.

That’s all under the WSJ umbrella. As Ali pointed out on Paid Content, both AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher and WSJ’s Jessica Vascellaro (who writes for the paper and the Digits blog) both covered the new Yahoo! home page, but Kara had the fuller article. When you are in a race not only with other outlets, but a part of your own – and sorry for anyone that goes up against Kara “Woman of a Million Scoops” Swisher, as her Rolodex rocks and she’ll get the online video interview as well.

The problem is that most PR people don’t get this. They don’t understand the value of an embargo that you go to one or two trusted outlets/reporters, and then you go out big post-breaking news. They don’t understand that there have never been any real hard and fast rules on embargoes, but are by the seat of your pants. And, they don’t understand how media has really changed.

This isn’t a “media is dead” idea. This isn’t a “print is dead” perspective. This isn’t “social media” or “Web 2.0” thinking. Many of those ideas are just meme attractors, and have no real value, especially in public relations. The WSJ is still the WSJ and the NYT is still the NYT and they have the top writers and thinkers out there (as do many newspapers with national presence).

This is about how embargoes no longer work in a world where media consumption has changed, and where people are consuming media on a 24/7 platform, and the news cycle is now immediate. People find out things first online; the fast reporters and bloggers get news up immediately, and then people read print (or read print articles online) for the more in-depth analysis, the executive interview and some exclusivity for that one or two outlets. The embargo has outlived its usefulness, but relationships have not been replaced, and the pre-brief is still in existence. It is about the way you do PR in a 24/7 news cycle. And, how you can out-maneuver others in a 24/7 news cycle.

Because, at the end of the day, media is media, reporters will still talk on background and the story will get out there.