Archive for July, 2008

GUEST POST: Voice of the Intern

IStock_000006234405XSmallThis post was written by Laura Murray, a talented young intern at SHIFT.  As her tenure draws to a close, I asked her how it went, what she’d learned, etc.  She provided a written reply that we decided to turn into a blog post.

If you like what ya read here, remember that we’re still hiring at all levels.  In fact, at 3pm today we’re hosting a live chat if you’d like to interact directly with our HR folks.

Here’s Laura:

Like most PR students at Auburn University, the only thing left before graduation was my internship. After deciding to make the move from sunny Alabama to still-chilly-in-May Massachusetts, all I needed to do was send out a few applications and rock my interviews, right? Ha! I was up to my eyeballs in cover letters, resumes and agency Web sites. Some called, some e-mailed, but SHIFT did something much different.

 

I was recommended to SHIFT by one of my professors. I did my homework, too. I began following the company on Twitter and PR-Squared. Before I had even sent in my resume, SHIFT contacted me via Facebook wanting to set up an interview. Although a little disconcerted that I was being looked up on Facebook, I immediately realized the SHIFT difference.

 

After an interview, a few phone calls and a 19-hour drive, I was ready to show SHIFT how much I knew about PR.

 

Remember what it was like transitioning from the cool eighth grader to a freshman nothing? Well, it was a little like that. I went from a PR education know-it-all to a know-not-so much intern.

 

As the summer progressed, I transitioned into my role and into the company dynamic. I began attending training sessions and company meetings and started receiving projects from my teams. I enjoyed being around the happy SHIFTers, who were all eager to answer my questions and explain anything from agency lingo to database formatting.

 

There was only one problem. Where was all the glamour?

 

Most PR isn’t all that glamorous. Neither is being an intern. I wasn’t out hosting events and rubbing elbows with Boston’s finest. I was sitting at a computer researching, reading and writing. I was working on the press lists and briefing documents that no one else had time to do. I was researching blogs and publications for days on end.  It turned out that these tedious and (let’s face it) boring tasks are vital to an agency’s success. SHIFT employees who I work closely with have been great at showing me what these intern projects do for the client in the long run.

 

So, at times things can get a bit redundant for an agency intern. However, I have no doubt that my internship at SHIFT will help me in my future job search. I have learned how to pitch in ways most agencies would never think of. I have learned how to write better and pay attention to detail. I have worked under strict deadlines and time-crunches. I have juggled researching and writing for one client at the same time I am building a database for another. I have been included in team meetings, company brainstorms and have sat in on client calls and PR workshops. I’ve come in early and stayed late to get projects done. I’ve been so busy I could pull my hair out and so bored I could cry. But, hey- at least I wasn’t fetching coffee and dry cleaning.

 

My advice for any intern is to ask questions and get involved in the organization. You won’t learn anything by only doing what you’re told. At SHIFT I have already had many doors open for me and have had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest and most creative minds in PR. I look forward to my future in PR and know I will be taking a rocking portfolio and resume with me.

 

Launch Time: Who's in Charge?

IStock_000006492327XSmallI’ve been meaning to write a post about Monday’s launch of Cuil, the so-called Google-killer search engine.  But then Erick Shonfeld at TechCrunch wrote it for me.

“The hype cycle now lasts less than a day. Take yesterday’s over-hyped launch of stealth search startup Cuil, which was quickly followed by a backlash when everyone realized that it was selling a bill of goods. This was entirely the company’s own fault. It pre-briefed every blogger and tech journalist on the planet, but didn’t allow anyone to actually test the search engine before the launch.”

So I am not gonna join the hordes who have dumped on Cuil and its launch.  I wanna talk about the PR/Agency relationship in launch situations, using Cuil’s launch as a lesson plan.

First off, while Shonfeld is spot-on, it is also true that Cuil garnered some highly favorable traditional media coverage, e.g., in Reuters and Associated Press stories.  Those positive articles will get wide play in mainstream media outlets.  Most of the negative press appeared in blogs, which plenty of mainstream readers are not reading. 

Thus an Old School Marketer could look at the stack of positive and negative clips and decide, on-balance, that this was a successful outcome:

“Sure those wingnuts in the blogs demand perfection and like to get all wound up.  But most people don’t read the blogs.  They still read the newspaper (online and offline), so those AP and Reuters hits alone will outweigh the negative perceptions of those bloggers.” 

I think, however, that we can all agree that that Old School Marketer is off base.  Which leaves us not with the question of “Was this a good launch?” (it wasn’t; unless you’re one of those “all PR is good PR” types) but, “How the heck did this even happen?  Who was in charge?”

Obviously, the client is in charge.  The buck stops there.  Pulling the trigger is their call.

But what is the Agency’s responsibility?

At a high level, it’s essential for the Agency to strategize for the launch and to make honest suggestions and arguments to the client when their suggestions don’t match up to the client’s demands.  The Agency should have seen these troubles on the horizon and advised the Cuil team to snatch the reins.  Maybe they did.

The Agency should have insisted to Cuil’s management that their media contacts get a chance to play with the technology.  Within 2 meetings they’d have known they had a problem and could have re-tooled the approach.

The Agency should have insisted that Cuil slap “BETA” all over the site and any other outbound communication.  I checked lots of different sections of the Cuil site, and never saw any hint from the Company that they might not be ready for prime time.  The messaging is marked by ambition and (in retrospect) arrogance.

The Agency should have enlisted the Search community’s aid.  There are plenty of Search Algorithm experts, SEO experts, Online Marketers, etc., who might be willing to offer free advice for such an ambitious start-up.  Taking on Google is a big, hairy, audacious goal: this community could have gotten excited about collaborating on something so audacious.  This longer-term, inclusive approach could have cushioned the launch with some built-in compassion for the Cuil engine’s lapses.

It’s a complicated process, launching a company.  The entire team must be in-synch and well-coordinated on many fronts.  It doesn’t always work and it is always sad to see the rocket blow up the launching pad.

R.I.P. Randy Pausch

Sorry to have to post this video so soon after the “Friday Fun” video, but if I had to choose between the two, this would be the clear winner.

 

I’ve watched this video half-a-dozen times in the past year, and it always inspires.  Professor Pausch passed away today.  R.I.P., sir.

Friday Fun: "Gandalf the Grey – Office Manager"

Apparently the “game wizards” at Sierra Entertainment whipped up this charmer while producing a video game for the upcoming Hobbit movie.

Not All Social Media Fun & Games

IStock_000001529112XSmallToday I was honored to address the Chief Marketing Officer of a FORTUNE 500 corporation. 

In the course of the presentation, I pulled up some videos from YouTube in which the creators attacked the company by remixing the company’s slickly-produced television advertisements.

A spirited debate ensued.  “Why would we dignify this with a response?” was the CMO’s troubled question.

The core points of my response (as long-time readers will expect):

“Control of your brand is an illusion.  You might know that you’ll never, ever convince the video’s creators that you are not an evil empire.  You might know that the majority of the people who find this YouTube video are likely predisposed to agree with that negative opinion.  But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be worthwhile to engage: by humanizing the corporation with a candid response, you ensure that ‘your side of the story’ is appended to this hateful video for as long as it’s findable online.  It’s easier to abhor a faceless corporation than a helpful human.”  Etc. 

(Along with many other smart folks, I discussed this topic of so-called “brand ownership” with Chris Brogan during the 2nd Radian6 twebinar, if you care to see me bloviate in-person.)

For all of that “typical” talk about branding, I felt it was also important to note the humanity in the room.  Along with the CMO, there were about 15 additional Marketing staff in the room.  These were human beings who have largely dedicated their careers to protecting and improving the reputation of this American institution.  Quite simply, it SUCKED to watch that video with them.  They were crestfallen.  Not shocked.  Just sad.

It’s okay to acknowledge that pain, if you ask me – even online.  While I hope to make a strong case for engagement-for-engagement’s-sake, part of that “humanization” means being actually and truly human.  If I were the person tasked with responding to that video, I’d want to acknowledge, “Wow.  That video was really well done.  I know that because it actually hurt to watch.  Now, I hope you don’t mind if I share some information about some of the not-even-close-to-evil stuff that we’re doing?”

I don’t think that most corporate community relations types would feel comfortable acknowledging the sting caused by flaming comments or content.  Folks like @comcastcares and @RichardatDELL seem preternaturally patient in the face of withering criticism.  That’s good for their brands, but having had good experiences with these (very real) people, I sometimes feel a desire to stick up for them.  I secretly wait for the moment when they crack (just a little; these guys are pros) and acknowledge the “ouch.”

What do you think?  Must corporate community relations pros remain unflappable, or does showing their humanity make them – and their brands – that much stronger?




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