I'm at the "Cluetrain at 10" event in Palo Alto, and will be writing about it later today. In the meantime, here's my slideshow. Focus of my talk is the art of positioning -- an ancient, strategic PR service -- in the age of conversation. I look at the challenges but also some of the more interesting opportunities.
November 07, 2007
Toronto, that is, where McLuhan studied with the great Harold Innis, one of the most interesting media theorists of the last century. I am here at the request of Martin Waxman, president of Toronto-based PalettePR, a great PR boutique with a strong consumer practice. I met Martin several years ago at Counselors Academy, when social media was still a novelty. A lot has happened since, and that's the subject of a talk I gave this morning for Palette's staff and clients. I will do it again, this evening, at CPRS Toronto. We're expecting a really good crowd, and afterwards we'll retire to a special Third Tuesday organized by Joseph Thornley, another Toronto PR pro I met at Counselor's Academy.
If you are in Toronto this evening, and you want to chat about PR, social media, or Marshall McLuhan, please drop by. We'll be ready for you.
July 14, 2007
UPDATE: July 16: Amanda Chapel has a rather hilarious post about me today. Saw this coming -- to her credit, she warned me this weekend -- and I am not surprised with the tone and content. As I expected, it's over the top and selective with the facts. Example: she trims my quotes (especially the last one) for maximum effect. And then there's the headline. I had to laugh -- read my full post (below). I ask you -- am I really asking 99% of PR pros to quit? I'm just asking PR people to stop serving the role of "secret agents" -- fake actors in the social mediasphere. If secret agents make up 99% percent of the PR profession, that's Amanda's opinion, not mine.
All that aside, please note -- if it's not already obvious -- that the opinions in this blog are my own, and not those of my co-author Paul Rand or the Council of PR Firms. We have written what we believe to be a fair and balanced white paper, and we are most interested in hearing what you have to say about that white paper. If Amanda is providing a good forum for this discussion, so be it. I'll thank her for that.
My original post:
Amanda Chapel has a good post about the recent CPRF white paper. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the paper explores the impact that social media has had on the public relations industry, and the data we uncovered is likely to provoke a mixed response from the PR community. Among the key findings -- PR is competing more and more with other disciplines, not just for social media but for traditional PR services, as well. My take -- I am a co-author of the paper (Paul Rand of Zocalo/Ketchum was my partner on this project) -- is that the PR industry is undergoing an identity crisis. Amanda's take is that the industry is going to hell, and lists five good reasons why. I'll reply to Amanda here.
1. The Blogosphere hates influence. There is absolutely an expectation of autonomy of content. However, the white paper seems to overlook that fact. The PR business is looking at the online ecosystem as a place where we can not only influence conversation, but also use superior intelligence to optimize that influence.
I disagree that the blogosphere hates influence. In fact, so much of what passes for conversation in the blogosphere is all about influence; that's why bloggers revel in influence-peddling schemes like aggregating, baiting, aggressive linking, etc. But I believe that the blogosphere hates hidden influence, and that it generally distrusts corporate influence because it tends to be so undemocratic (more money = more influence). The big challenge for PR agents and their clients is to implement programs that are not just about gaming the system. And there are both mortal and venial sins that they will need to learn about (mortal = don't set up fake blogs; venial = don't set up purposeless "communities").
2. Can the target, i.e. the persons being influenced, defend themselves? That is, will amateurs be able to discriminate?
That's a good question. But again, I'd argue that real problems arise when businesses start gaming the system (yes, plenty of PR people have been advising their clients to do that). There are more effective ways to engage. E.g., if they commit to being transparent (i.e., they clearly disclose their identities and objectives), and they provide an open environment for conversation (they accept and answer comments), they are at least providing their customers with more than the basic caveat emptor, the lowly standard in other marketing approaches (advertising, "traditional" PR, etc.)
3. Does the new PR model reduce the practice to a mere Direct Marketing function vs. the traditional "organizational voice"?
Again, another good question. But I'd argue that there's nothing "mere" about an approach that advocates direct contact with your customer. And there's little that's genuine about "organizational voice." People have voices. Businesses don't.
4. Do the tenets of Social Media adhere to our fiduciary responsibility?
This is the big question, in my opinion, because it gets at the real challenge for PR consultants: the role that they play for their clients/employers. The role they traditionally have played is "agent" -- they act on behalf, and represent, the business that employs them. But in the new world, the client is the actor, and the PR pro, ideally, has more of a counselor's role ... if any role at all. Perhaps this is why Amanda is so sure that the profession is in trouble. Is counselling a good business? We'll have to see -- too early to tell.
But if the question here is about the fiduciary responsibility of the corporate blogger -- not the PR person -- to her employer, that's a separate discussion. There's nothing in the "tenets" of social media that would make it impossible to do well in the blogosphere and still respect one's fiduciary responsibilities. Still, there are some practical challenges to communicating effectively if you work in a heavily regulated
industry (e.g., pharma).
5. Do the tenets of SM include us period? Doc Searls and other Web 2.0 experts would say, "no."
Again, the question circles around the role of the PR person. That role, I submit, is being challenged. Nothing wrong about anyone participating in the SM world, as long as they are speaking for themselves. We've spent a couple of years beating up on "secret agents" -- from the world of WOM to the world of PR -- and I think we're already tired of them. They will either find something else to do in the profession, or leave altogether. How soon will this happen? No idea, but my advice to everyone in the PR biz: no sense waiting.
NOTE: If you care to comment on the five points, I recommend you go directly to Strumpette.
June 30, 2007
Google blogger Lauren Turner is causing a ruckus tonight with an odd post that offers to protect healthcare clients from Michael Moore's "Sicko." Turner, an account planner on Google's health advertising team, writes:
Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.....
Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.
There are several things that are surprising about this post. As several bloggers have pointed out, it can't help Google to take sides in a politically charged debate, whatever its obligations are to its advertisers. More surprisng is the way Turner speaks about managing reputations. It sounds exactly how PR agencies speak to their clients. Turner works for the advertising biz -- the financial engine -- at Google. I doubt that the company wants to enter the PR biz. Among other reasons: the margins aren't as good.
UPDATE: Turner writes again:
Well, I've learned a few things since I posted on Friday. For one thing, even though this is a new blog, we have readers! That's a good thing. Not so good is that some readers thought the opinion I expressed about the movie Sicko was actually Google's opinion. It's easy to understand why it might have seemed that way, because after all, this is a corporate blog. So that was my mistake -- I understand why it caused some confusion.
But the more important point, since I doubt that too many people care about my personal opinion, is that advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have. You could even argue that it's especially appropriate for a public policy issue like healthcare. Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.
That is Google's opinion, and it's unrelated to whether we support, oppose or (more likely) don't have an official position on an issue. That's the real point I was trying to make, which was less clear because I offered my personal criticism of the movie.
Fair enough, Lauren, but your original post also offers to help healthcare companies in their PR battle with Mr. Moore. It's an offer that suggests you are speaking on behalf of Google (you use the word "we" -- "Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.") And the offer goes beyond the kind of service that Google is known for, and that's why so many people are gawking.
But while we're on the topic of managing reputation, a good way to deal with this small matter is to add a comments feature to your blog (though I understand that comments are against Google blogging policy). You could then deal more directly, and effectively, with the criticism that's been levelled against you (some of which is fair, some of which is not). Instead, most of the debate is happening on TechMeme, without your participation.
Next week, PRWeek will file a story about a white paper commissioned by the Council of PR Firms. I collaborated with Paul Rand (CEO of the Zocalo Group, a Ketchum company) in drafting the paper. (To get a copy, go here.)
The paper -- based on a recent CPRF survey -- examines how the PR industry has adapted to social media. Key finding: the industry is undergoing an identity crisis, and PR agencies increasingly are competing with other disciplines for marketing dollars -- not just for social media, but for traditional PR services as well. You can imagine how that makes PR people feel. :) But as I have been saying for some time, the way to compete in the new marketing landscape is to position around general communications strategy. Good strategy (i.e., strategy that can be executed across all disciplines) continues to be the scarcest -- and most valuable -- service of all.
January 02, 2007
November 03, 2006
I had mixed feelings about travelling to Boston this week -- the week that my agency launched -- to attend the first SNCR Research Symposium. Didn't realize how good it would be for me to see old friends and colleagues like Jen McClure, Kristie Wells, Chris Heuer, Juan de Leon, and Third Thursday compadre Mike Manuel. And I got to meet some people that I've been wondering about, like David Parmet, Todd Defren, and John Cass (I spent a good two hours speaking with John, a terrifically smart communications pro who understands some of the bigger
applications for implications of social media). And the speakers were quite good, most notably Paul Gillin and I.B.M.'s Chris Barger, whose blogging project, I believe, will soon become a model for many corporate communications groups. Wasn't too long ago that I felt the PR conversation about social media was getting stale. It's gotten a lot more interesting lately, and this first SNCR symposium lived up to its name. Congrats to Jen and everyone who helped make this happen.
October 22, 2006
... which is an amazing coincidence, because on Monday 10/30 my new agency officially launches. Something in the air? We think so. Neville and Shel are already writing about the company mission, and on Tuesday so will we. Till then, all we can say is that the world of PR and marketing is gonna get a lot more interesting.
Congrats to our colleagues at Crayon.