Archive for August, 2006

Accreditation: How-To Stifle PR Industry's Bright Future

I am a fan of Kami Huyse, so when she forms a strong opinion on something, I give it serious consideration (or more often, I’ll just blindly follow her lead; it is easier). Kami recently blogged about the benefits of accreditation for PR pros, and on this front I’ll politely disagree.

PLEASE NOTE that I have tons of respect for many, many folks who did go through the trouble of getting their APR credentials. I also want to say that I agree with Kami (and Scott Baradell, and Richard Edelman) that PR has a PR problem.

But I don’t think that accreditation will improve the perception of PR pros — does a law degree convince us that lawyers are honest? More importantly I think that:

  • Accreditation only legitimizes one organization’s (the PRSA) view of what is entailed by "Public Relations." In this dawning era of new media, the PR person’s role is (thankfully!) more fluid and unknown than ever. This fluidity is an opportunity, one that would be quashed by force-fitting PR pros into the required learning & roles defined by a standards body. (I also think that the "institutional thinking" of the PRSA has made the organization woefully slow to consider the ramifications of the 2.0 phenomenon, but, that’s fodder for another post.)
  • Mandatory accreditation would raise unnecessary barriers to young people interested in "trying out" the PR profession. Lots of new graduates are ambitious about their career path, but not necessarily eager to think about studying for a huge exam that will need to be taken 5 years later to prove that they "get it." We need to motivate more entrants, if anything: I’d rather grease the skids than raise unnecessary barriers. (Besides, anyone got any stats on how gaining your APR credential impacts your salary or employment prospects?)

I look across the landscape of my own agency, which employs 75-odd (truly odd) PR people nationwide, all of ‘em stars that I admire. None have "APR" affixed to their business cards, yet there’s not a single one whom I wouldn’t trust to give solid PR counsel to a client. I think it is up to each agency to train its people to show "competency in the knowledge, skills and abilities required to practice public relations effectively in today’s business arena."

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Which Would You Rather Have?

Let’s say you run a PR agency.

You have two newbiz pitches coming up.

One is a hot start-up in a hot space, with big expectations.

The other is an established "name brand" company with some tough challenges, but, realistic ambitions.

Winning either one will help your firm’s overall reputation.

Winning the start-up will help set-you-up for more hot leads in that hot space — with prospects who have similarly outsized expectations.

Meanwhile, winning the established company’s business could not only boost revenues more substantially, but, could also assure other big companies that your agency is capable of handling their needs, and, could earn you bragging rights to a "turnaround" tale, if you are successful.

Which one do you want?

Your Reputation: Create a Permalink

What do you think of my new "About Me" idea? — rather than link to a bio page, I’m directing folks to my LinkedIn profile. Why? To integrate my "dual lives."

I run a PR firm; that is my professional life — after my family, the agency is my true passion: our work, our staff, our clients, are the lifeblood of my reputation.

I am also a blogger. It is my hobby. In addition to meeting scores of interesting people, the simple act of capturing and communicating some of my business/PR philosophies in a public forum (and trying to be consistently relevant & interesting, to boot) has reinvigorated my interest in the trade.

While the agency is my "professional persona," this blog is my "true voice." They complement one another; both are important; both impact my professional reputation … but they aren’t always meant to be mixed.

I don’t think I am the only blogger to wonder about this gray area: I see a need for a place to tell my "total" story; a place online that can integrate all the diverse fragments of my work, the sum of which = my professional reputation.

I think LinkedIn is a good spot for that: it allows people to provide their employment history, with endorsements from colleagues about their work across each career milestone. It provides for web and blog links. It gives folks a sense for how "well-connected" you are, i.e., how much time you invest in the important work of relationship-building.

You could do something similar with a Squidoo lens, but, Squidoo is not known as a place for professional advancement; it’s more jack-of-all-trades. Meanwhile, critically, LinkedIn allows you to create and cultivate business relationships with friends and friends-of-friends, if you put the time in to building and nurturing your connections. (It would be great if you could combine the customization options of Squidoo with the professionalism and networking functions of LinkedIn!)

The LinkedIn profile could be like a permalink for your career. That idea won’t work for all bloggers, but I can’t think of why it would be a bad thing for a PR blogger.

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Social Media Optimization: Search Will Lead to Sociability

Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy recently posted on "5 Rules of Social Media Optimization" and his effort was further riffed on by folks like Jeremiah Owyang and Lee Odden.

With nearly 2 weeks now passed (sorry, Rohit!), I would not try to add further value in the form of additional "rules" to consider for Social Media Optimization. I’d be out of my depth compared to Rohit, Jeremiah and Lee, anyway. But, I was struck by how "simple" many of these rules sounded — not simple as in, "Anyone could think of that!" but simple in terms of deployment.

It shouldn’t be all that hard to "increase linkability", "make tagging and bookmarking easy", "encourage the mashup", etc., yet, as I was explaining these concepts to a colleague, she sighed and reminded me that many of our clients have (her words), "lame-ass websites and cruddy online pressrooms."

In other words, the majority of companies still aren’t doing the basic stuff very well.

Still, as a "Bleeding Edger" myself, far be it from me to suggest that this lack of savvy is a deal-breaker for SMO. Actually, I think that SMO may become one of the leading reasons that corporations adopt Social Media’s tenets and tools. Why?

Even though many websites are still "lame-ass," the Corporate Marketer is now awake to the fact that SEARCH is the key to successful dealflow online. They now spend Big Money on SEO and SEM. Thus, if SMO is positioned as yet-another-way to guarantee that the greatest number of eyeballs find their corporate site, I think most marketers will embrace and allocate budget to SMO principles. In the process, they may even discover that "del.icio.us is not a porn site", "Technorati is not a gadget blog" and "Second Life is not about your midlife crisis." If the work of Social Media Optimization leads clients to such basic revelations, things will get really interesting.

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Could Industry Analysts Survive Total Transparency?

A former client of ours recently contacted me, mourning their lower-than-usual placement on the Gartner Magic Quadrant report for their industry. The marketer had spent bazillions of dollars with GartnerGroup (GG) over the years, because they felt, as too many clients do, that being a paying client might ensure — if not a better placement — then at least a fair hearing. They ran out of luck, this year (and I predict that this ranking fiasco will torpedo the company’s "analyst relations" budget for 2007).

I wrote about the infamous Quadrant reports way-back-when (apologies for the formatting, if you’re brave enough to click the link). Nothing’s changed, when it comes to these reports’ influence.

But I wonder if it will start to change in the dawning PR 2.0 era, as marketers get savvy about fighting back vs. "lower-left quadrant" results.

For example, I suggested to this former client that they might consider:

  • Blogging about the report, and where they think the GG analysts got it wrong. Follow-on posts might also offer up notes, PowerPoint slides, etc., from meetings that the former client had had with the analysts, i.e., give readers an insider’s view of the "sucking-up" process.
  • Buy a URL like www.quadrantcomplaints.com or www.gartnergrievances.com and invite other "slighted" companies to air their dirty laundry re: Gartner’s processes in an open forum. I can only imagine the firestorm that this might whip up! The combined voices of all those jilted "Lower Lefters" might actually wield some power — by asking legitimate questions and/or by identifying troublesome trends…
  • Issue a formal response to Gartner’s opinion on the company website. Then, pour some money into Google keyword buys for phrases like "magic quadrant", "Gartner", etc., so anyone who did a search would see an ad from a disgruntled GG client that could link to the company’s formal grievances. That’s not the kind of linklove that GG would appreciate…but this former client has nothing left to lose.

You’re certainly free to argue that these ideas are whiney and unprofessional. Maybe so. But I can’t help but think that these total-transparency approaches are ultimately good for the industry.

In the PR 1.0 era, those who wielded influence were able to bully others into quiescence. In the new period now dawning, the democratization of media not only empowers the li’l guy, it also disenfranchises the powerful. For mainstream media & industry analysts to sustain their power, they will need to be able to thrive in a world continuously disinfected by the sunlight of the blogosphere.

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