Archive for August, 2008

The Value of PR Agencies, Part II of ???

IStock_000006578407XSmallYea, I was in a lather over the PR bashing meme from last week.  So I put out the call to a handful of happy clients re: “What value do you get from a PR agency?”

Fortuitously, Mike Volpe of Hubspot was in the SHIFT HQ as I was drafting my original “Why Hire a PR Firm?” post.  But several other clients offered to step-up in the PR industry’s defense – some via video, as in the example below, and some by offering to draft future guest posts for PR-Squared.

For what it’s worth, in all cases, you’ll be hearing from happy clients of our agency.  But, we specifically noted that we were not looking for an endorsement of SHIFT.  Rather, we asked our clients to talk in broad strokes about what value they get and/or expect from their big investments in outside PR agencies.

For as much as the bloggers like to vent (rightfully so) at bad PR practices, there’s plenty of great work going on, too.  More to the point: companies of all sizes continue to invest significant portions of their Marketing budget to PR agencies, and they expect a Return on that Investment.  These are the folks who deserve to demand excellence of PR.  Let’s hear from them.

Samantha Stone, VP Marketing, Dataupia – Value of a PR Firm.

Once I’ve exhausted the guest posts and videos, I’ll recap the most common themes re: the value of PR agencies, from the clients’ perspective, in a future entry.

Meanwhile, this post provides yet another rousing defense of the industry.  Press on!

Produce, Propagate, Promote: Grease the Skids for Your Content

IStock_000005515513XSmallIn this space I’ve talked about the Social Media Release (SMR) a fair bit.  I’ve talked (half-jokingly) about the “TwitRelease.”  I’ve talked (very seriously) about the need to atomize content.  I’ve made dramatic turnarounds in my thinking re: SMR distribution.

Now I wanna talk about the issue marketers care most about: results.

In my opinion there are two major benefits to the SMR approach.  The first is related to Conversation.  If your SMR is powered by a blogging engine, you can enable Comments and Trackbacks and thus allow for a.) direct dialog and, b.) aggregation of external, in-context conversations, respectively.  

The second major benefit is related to the propagation of content.  By atomizing the content elements (graphics, video, podcasts, etc.), you empower people to appropriate and re-use that content as they see fit.  Ideally this leads people to see your content in their own online hang-outs, “socialized” by the fact that their friends and/or favorite sites are making the introductions. 

But, they’re not always going to do that, folks: so it is entirely conceivable that you’ll spend a boatload of time and $$$ creating content that stalls out in your online newsroom.  (Which would suck.)

That means it’s up to the Marketers to spread the word by spreading the content.

Some principles and ideas to consider:

Make sure the “Summary” section of your SMR is 140–characters or less. 

That way, you can get the full news out in a Twitter-friendly mode.  Since you are hoping for “re-tweets” of the news, keeping that summary to well-under 140–characters is advisable.  Including a link to the SMR is also a must-have. 

Twitter logo-keepWhen you tweet: XYZ Corp announced that it was acquiring ABC Inc. for $10 million. This makes XZY Corp the largest swizzle-stick maker. (137–characters) you leave no room for re-tweeters, whose aid invariably takes the form of, “RT XYZ_Corp:” – they’ll “waste” several character spaces in order to delineate their tweet as a re-tweet of your news… and with so few characters to spare, the essence could get lost.

Keeping the Summary this tight is also an exquisitely painful editing exercise.  The process of forcing press release writers to distill “what’s important” in roughly 125 characters (leaving room for the RT & @sender) compels them to re-evaluate the original package of news!  The “twitpitch” produces clarity through brevity.

<Make sure your content is not solely posted in your Newsroom. 

  • If you are including photos or short videos in your SMR, why not post them to Flickr, as well, with tags that may make the content readily discoverable? 
  • If the videos are longer-form, how about posting them to your corporate YouTube channel? 
  • Might some of the photos also be worthy of sharing with your Twitter followers? – Twitpic ‘em! 
  • Is your podcast series syndicated via iTunes
  • Have you saved the SMR itself – along with each of the content elements shared across other social networks – to
  • Did you “stumble” and digg the SMR, and describe why it’s of interest to these communities’ members? 
  • Don’t forget the Creative Commons licensing: you don’t want to inadvertently block someone from sharing the content on their own blog (and likewise it’s nice to be able to guarantee a li’l credit for the source material).
  • If the news relayed in the SMR is super important, maybe consider using NewsAds to drive relevant traffic?  A little SEM never hurts.

Your content may be lively, but it’s not alive.  Help it along.  Evangelize.

IStock_000005739067XSmallUnless your company/client already possesses a base of rabid, highly-networked and vociferous fans, then simply publishing the SMR to the website and/or via the newswires is just not enough to get any attention, just as issuing a traditional press release over the wire doesn’t cinch press coverage. Your fabulous content will lie fallow.  A corporate RSS feed with paltry subscriber numbers ain’t gonna bring the fame. 

As in anything, actively sharing content through the cultivation of relationships is instrumental for SMRs and social objects, through very different and unique processes of dialog.  Despite the misplaced howls of protest from tech bloggers, PR can help ensure that the news – including the carefully crafted content that attends the news – is seen and shared.  Outreach through the PR pro’s network of relationships can (at least) spur just-enough discussion and sharing of the content to allow the news to gain traction. 

Produce. Propagate. Promote. (Party.)

Special thanks to Doug Haslam and Brian Solis for their help on this post.

The Inevitable "Brandsmack"

IStock_000005863775XSmallOne of the more popular posts at PR-Squared this year was the “Got Some Personal Branding I Can Borrow?” article, which talked about the respective responsibilities of the Company and of the Social Media Rockstars employed by the company.

But I left something out.

What happens when the Social Media Rockstar moves on?  How does the Company analyze the potential impact?  How should the Rockstar evaluate potential career moves, and how should they make their exit on the inevitable day?

After all, the brand of the company and the personal brand of the employee have been intermingled and mutually beneficial.  These questions – fairly simple when dealing with behind-the-scenes employees – are made more complex by the public nature of the Employer/Employee relationship.

I should know.  Cuz one of our rockstars recently informed me that he’s moving on.

Chris Lynn of SocialTNT made tremendous strides while at SHIFT.  He went from “no-blog-at-all” to top-notch blogger in a matter of months.  He wrote insightful posts on his own, and more impressively snared interviews with esteemed West Coast media/web personalities like Kara Swisher (WSJ), Sarah Lacy (BusinessWeek), Jon Swartz (USA TODAY), Marshall Kirkpatrick (RWW) and Loic Lemeur (Seesmic CEO), etc.

In other words, Chris lived up to the responsibility I described in my “Personal Branding” post:

While their brand is on-loan to the Company, it is the responsibility of the Personality to ensure that the Company derives substantial and long-lasting business benefits from the affiliation.

There’s no question that Chris was an asset for the time he was with us.  And I’d like to think that SHIFT lived up to its part of the bargain, too: in addition to providing a supportive work environment where “Chris could be Chris,” I also linked to or tweeted about Chris’s posts frequently, alerting my own audience to the presence of a bright star.

Now, our collaboration is coming to an end.  A monolithic PR agency with offices across the freakin’ planet made Chris an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Speaking as SHIFT’s “brand manager,” of course I was upset.  Chris wasn’t even allowed to blog at his last gig; we encouraged and (literally) promoted his passions.  Yes, this served his needs as well as ours – but in the end, it is the Personality who gets to decide where to put their personal brand to use.  It doesn’t matter how much TLC the Company invested in helping to build that Rockstar’s brand.  You’re still dealing with people.  People who have desires & ambitions that very likely extend beyond what the Company can offer them.

If that TLC matters at all, I guess it’s shown in how the Company and the Rockstar part ways.  If each side’s done their part; grappled honestly with the decisions and ramifications and angst; then, at the very end, you sever those final ties with fortitude and grace and a sincere benediction.

Good luck, Chris.

Why Hire a PR Firm?

IStock_000005464638XSmallThe perennial “bash on PR” meme started up again this week.

First Scoble knocked us.  Then Arrington took aim.  Even Steve Rubel, “one of our own,” took a potshot.  Thankfully, both Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb and Mark Hopkins at Mashable stood up for PR pros (thanks guys! – much appreciated, believe me) …

Scoble, Rubel and Arrington basically made the point that PR firms are unnecessary if you have a great product and are willing to spend a lot of time engaging in the blogosphere.

I started drafting a lengthy rebuttal … but was gladly interrupted by a client meeting.  It was a get-together with Mike Volpe, the marketing chief at Hubspot – and arguably one of the most Social Media-savvy marketers I’ve ever met, period.  And, in fact, Mike is the first to wonder aloud about the themes espoused by Scoble, et al.: he definitely understands the merits of their arguments.  After all, Mike is one of many Hubspot bloggers; he is active on Twitter; he’s a prolific content creator; he’s a guy with strong media relationships in his own right.

Yet in the course of our chat, without prompting, Mike started promoting the value of PR agencies!  I was verklempt, as my Gramma used to say. 

Mike was kind enough to sit down for a few minutes after our meeting, in front of a video camera, to capture his Pro-Agency feelings for posterity. 

Mike Volpe, VP Marketing HubSpot – Value of PR Firms.

What better rebuttal to The Media’s PR gripes than to hear from an Actual Customer?


Astroturfing in Political Wars

MccainAs noted in the Washington Post last week, the presidential campaign of John McCain has rolled out a new program designed to reward supporters for placing the campaign’s official “Talking Points” in the Comments sections of various blogs.

I don’t have a problem with the concept of spurring supporters to be active in the blogosphere.  The more the merrier! 

I don’t have a problem with a campaign pointing subscribers to some of the most influential blogs, either.  That’s just PR 101, and, it’s being done in the open.

I don’t even have a problem with the McCain campaign’s willingness to offer “reward points” for active blog participants.  I think it’s kind of sad and lame, and treads a fine ethical line – but okay, try it.

But I do think that we should all be concerned by a campaign that actively supplies its supporters with official “Talking Points” and cynically disregards any talk of disclosure. 

When you add-up the lack of disclosure + reward points + proactive targeting, it doesn’t take long to wonder where this is headed, and to be troubled by the trends.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition of Astroturfing:

“…Formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising which seek to create the impression of being spontaneous ‘grassroots’ behavior … The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity — a politician, political group, product, service or event.  Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (‘outreach’, ‘awareness’, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means.”

Mccain astroturfImagine the scenario: a McCain supporter reads an independent blog post about the candidates’ plans for the U.S. Economy.  They then zip over to the McCain site to copy & paste the “official talking points” into the independent blog’s Comment section.  But they don’t disclose that they are a McCain supporter (though it’s probably obvious).  They don’t use their real name; they’re using their online “handle,” and for all anyone else knows they’re an active campaign worker. 

Most egregiously, of course, they don’t disclose that their words are direct quotations from the McCain website.  They are parroting the words: they are “disguising the efforts of a political entity as an independent (and ‘apparently diverse and geographically distributed’) public reaction.”

It could get worse.  Imagine further that some sloppy mainstream reporter is on deadline for yet-another of their never-ending articles about the 2008 election.  Harried by their managing editor, they pluck the McCain supporter’s online comments to add color to their article, implying that these are “direct quotes” from blog readers.  Doing the McCain campaign’s rallying job for them. 

Meanwhile, the McCain supporter wins McPoints for their deception.  Yay!  A free bumper sticker!

What fun would it be if the Comments section of the nation’s most popular political blogs merely became dueling versions of each campaign’s official talking points?

Mashable’s Mark Hopkins totally mangled this story when he suggested that the left-wing of the blogosphere would be disingenuous to object to these tactics.  Hopkins believes that the Democrats are upset because “McCain is providing a rewards system for those interested in promoting his message, whereas the Obama campaign tries to (get) folks involved in spreading the message based on idealism … Sure, none of (the Democratic social media) campaigns explicitly incentivized their campaign messages, but they encouraged users to go forth into the blogosphere and spread the word.  What is the McCain campaign really doing here?”

What the McCain campaign is really doing here is asking people to lie.  What they are doing is trying to dupe us.  What they are doing is using innocent pawns to covertly spread their official talking points.

Let the McCainiacs rack-up as many points as they want.  If that’s the motivation that Republican supporters need to get involved, they can have their free schwag.  (After all, Obama’s campaign is not above offering incentives, either: they often reward active supporters with “lunch with the candidate,” etc.)  The issue is the lack of disclosure, plain and simple. 

When a campaign that’s running for the highest elected public office in the U.S.A. says, “Go to these blogs, use these messages, and don’t bother telling anyone where the messages came from,” then we have reason to wonder how these same campaigners will operate once they’re in power.

Mel1Update: A Twitter debate with @MelWebster raised this important distinction: Mel noted that when he was a reporter, he and his colleagues saw similar tactics employed in faux Letters to the Editor, i.e., the letters were written by the campaigns for their supporters to sign and mail.  As Mel noted, these tactics were pretty transparent to the experienced reporters (“We would toss them”)… 

And that’s a perfect opportunity to expand my point.  Reporters glean the plot but typical blog readers more often will not: that’s the big lie. The blogs’ readers become victims of the astroturf campaign.  Instead of listening to “Someone like me,” the blog readers are being fooled by someone like them, using someone else’s words.

Disclosure:  I am for Obama in this year’s election.  But if the Obama campaign’s own Social Media efforts devolve into astroturfing, I’ll actively denounce it here.  (Also, on most days I “heart” Mashable.)

UPDATE 2:  All’s fair I guess?

Show some social media love would ya?

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