Archive for January, 2009

"I'm Just the PR Person"

JafarPublic Relations has often been portrayed as “the power behind the throne.”  The voice that whispers sage counsel to those in leadership positions.

In part this makes sense: “power” in the raw sense depends on the willingness of underlings to obey their marching orders.  Revolutions occur when the masses (including employees, Boards of Directors, etc.) decide that their leaders are incompetent or untrustworthy. 

Thus, “public relations” is a way to ensure that powerful forces bend to the will of the people … or at least come across that way!

But as the era of socialized communications dawns, it’s no longer acceptable for PR pros to shrug their way out of troubling situations with the lame excuse that, “I’m just the PR person.”

We’re out in the open. The advice of the “grand vizier” is no longer a whisper but is essentially shouted with a bullhorn.  Journalists and bloggers will publish our pitches, our names, our mistakes, without hesitation.  Our case studies are critiqued in public.  Our agency/client affiliations are increasingly hard to keep under wraps … which means that every client communications flap now reflects on the PR counsel, fairly or not.

Embrace this, fellow PR professional.  Do not despair!  We’re actually pretty darned smart.  There may be some clueless flacks among us, but let’s be honest: there are a fair number of clueless people in all corporate job functions.  In the main, we know our stuff; it is okay if the world knows and appreciates this, so long as the majority of the benefits acccrue to our clients.

You’re not “just” the PR person, not anymore.  More and more, you are the proud & public standard-bearer for the brands you serve, even while working agency-side.  Knowing this, yes, you must train harder.  Then you can jump fearlessly into the sunlight of Social Media.

Blogger Relations: Will Personal Branding Change the Game?

IStock_000008025420XSmallOne of the central tenets of Blogger Relations is that the PR pro should develop a relationship with their so-called “target.”  Bloggers (and mainstream journalists, for that matter!) generally don’t care for cold-calls, particularly if the pitch is irrelevant to their beat.  Remember, most bloggers are “passionate experts,” and that passion leads them to think that you really ought to care about their brilliant musings!

As I’ve written before, this relationship-building is both tough to scale and to maintain, but is still mandatory practice.

But how long must you cultivate relationships with bloggers before you get up the gumption to make your pitch?

Quick answer: it depends.  It depends on the blogger, it depends on the pitch.  A brilliant and spot-on pitch might be enough to convince a blogger to give the PR pro a pass on the whole relationship-building thing.  And anyway, some bloggers are still so pumped to be noticed (and pitched) in the 1st place, they don’t think twice about the fact that they’d never heard from the PR pro before.  It depends, it depends.

Given this unchanging level of uncertainty about “how long is long enough,” it’s worth wondering if the ever-changing dynamics of PR, personal branding, and social interaction might evolve the concept of Blogger Relations. 

IStock_000008025810XSmallAs a reader of PR-Squared recently commented, “In today’s world of instant access to information, the relationship-building process doesn’t have to take as long as it used to…”

In other words, maybe it is becoming a little bit less important that the PR pro develop a day-to-day relationship with the blogger, and more important that they establish a personal brand that suggests to the targeted blogger that “this is someone I can trust.”

Think about it: the blogger gets a pitch.  “Who is this person?  Why are they pitching me?  What’s their agenda?”  A Google search reveals the PR person’s blog, their agency affiliation, their Twitter handle.  “Hmm, she looks like a decent sort, actually; I can tell she means well, by looking at her interactions online.  OK – now, what did she pitch me about, again?”

This personal brand potency is NOT an excuse to NOT develop a relationship: in all cases, a realtionship-building approach is absolutely, positively preferred!!  After all, the PR pro can’t presume that the blogger will perform that Google search.  And, dammit, the pitch better be dead-on relevant! 

But, in our hustle-bustle to get results, a strong online presence for the PR person might short-circuit the need for a strong and lasting bond with every single blogger.

Before you suggest that this post (potentially) sends the message to some numbskull that they don’t have to develop a relationship so long as they “tweet a lot,” keep in mind that a.) I’m assaying some bleeding-edge thinking here, about how personal branding might change the nature of PR tactics … and b.) numbskulls don’t read this blog.

4 Ways to Relinquish Control

This is post #4 of 4 inspired by Chris Brogan.

IStock_000004628405XSmallThe cluetrain is chugging into the station.  Smart companies are embracing empowered end-users. 

Intuit is crowdsourcing customer support.  And Procter & Gamble has officially moved away from focusing on internal “Research & Development.”

“P&G’s effort … (represents) a seismic shift in strategy, moving the consumer products goods company away from an ‘only invented here’ mentality to an outside-in approach that actively seeks to import good ideas.” 

Those are great examples from Customer Support and R&D.  What about Marketing?

Perhaps because Marketing is too-often considered a cost center — always in “prove-it” mode — its adherents have historically focused on control.  Control provides a sense of safety.  But it’s a false security. 

Even before Social Media’s rise, a corporate behemoth could quickly lose all semblence of message control.  Remember the Tylenol Poisonings?  The Ford/Firestone Rollovers?  Any one of the PR chiefs at those companies would have swept the news under the rug, if they could.  They couldn’t then — and as we learned via the Motrin Moms flap — it will only get harder in the Social Web era.

So let’s embrace it.  Here are some ideas on relinquishing control.

Having a crisis?  If you don’t already have a corporate blog, create one immediately and hold forth on what’s going on.  But take it a step further: enable comments, and encourage both customers and employees to comment publicly.  You can also ask employees to leave their ideas and concerns on an in-house wiki throughout the crisis.  Make the commitment to have a C-suite executive review and comment on a regular basis.  You never know where a good idea — or unforseen threat — might come from.

Holding an event? Randomly select a dozen attendees and arm them with Flipcams and cheap digital cameras (put an irremovable barcode on each device, so you know who’s packing each piece of equipment).  Ask these multimedia-powered attendees to take videos & pictures from their own perspective: ask their colleagues on the floor what’s good or not-so-good about the event; tape a speech or a booth demo; etc.  Maybe turn it into a fun (optional) scavenger hunt. 

When the event is over, tag and post the media assets to both corporate websites and to other Social Media channels (e.g., pics on Flickr and TwitPic).

IStock_000005857420XSmallFeeling ballsy?  Let everyone in the company blog and tweet, with full disclosure as to their place of employment, their role, etc.  Obviously, these activities must not detract from their office productivity, and obviously you’d want to publish and educate the staff on some basic “rules of engagement.” 

But if you can get past those bugbears, try to imagine the consequences of such a ballsy move.  Your entire company just became your PR department.

Out of ideas?  Ask Chris Brogan for some. 

OK, that’s a cop-out.  Instead of asking Brogan, try asking your customers.  Don’t be afraid of them; they might like you; they might want to be helpful. 

“What other services can we provide?  What do you like least about our products?  Knowing what you know now, how much more — or less! — would you have paid?”  This concept is bearing fruit for Dell, Starbucks, and even Barack Obama.

Remember that everyone wears an invisible sign that reads, “Make me feel important.”  When you acknowledge that message, your employees, customers and prospects will rise to the challenge. 

It’s okay to relinquish control when your brand is in their good hands.

Your Next Gamble

This is post #3 of 4 inspired by Chris Brogan.

IStock_000007077728XSmallWe are living through the best and worst of times, for sure.  Everyone’s enthused and hopeful that our new president will lift us up from the mire — but meanwhile, we’re hip-deep in horror.

You know what that means?  It means now is the time.  Now is the time to take your next gamble.

Sure, you might fail.  But, what safer time to fail than when everyone else is failing, too?  You can always blame the economy.  Everyone else does.  Rather than judge, your friends and colleagues will commiserate with their own tales of woe.

And, hey — you might succeed.

Think about it: a rising tide will lift all boats.  If a rising tide is coming, are you in the right boat?  Are you in the boat that will sail you on your way to your greatest achievement?  Or are you in a dead-end job, living hand-to-mouth, hoping to simply stay afloat?

In the last 2 years, I watched as a friend died of cancer at age 39.  This month, my mom died of breast cancer, at the too-young age of 62.  In both cases, these remarkable women lived and loved well; they left behind few regrets.  This fact was an amazing source of solace to those they left behind. 

“Regret” is a nightmare worse than failure.  Life is short.  The time is now.  Take your next gamble, while you can!

Taking Your Company Off-Script

This is post #2 of 4 inspired by Chris Brogan.

Think_different_montageThere’s much to be said for brand consistency.  There are good reasons for rigid rules regarding standard imagery (logos, fonts), core messages, user interfaces.  There’s a calming sense of professionalism that comes from suit-and-tie executive headshots.

But it’s also kind of boring.  Why would you want to bore your customers?

Think about every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen (or been forced to sit through).  Without fail, a female protagonist mourns the loss of spontaneity in a loving relationship.  There are no surprises anymore.

Every company must resist this stasis. 

It can come from little things — like the Obama campaign’s “logos for every interest group” or the funky stuff Google does with its own eponymous logo to mark each holiday. 

It can come from weird things — like Coca-Cola’s Second Life experiments

It can come from delightful things — like when upstart treatmaker Tasti D-Lite saw that one of its customers (Rick Liebling) was tweeting from the Empire State Building … and sent up a huge cake, a box of flying saucers, preloaded $5 giftcards and other treats.  This made Liebling and his co-workers everlasting fans.

It can come from revolutionary things — like Apple’s decision to enter the mobile phone market.  (You can pretend like it was a forgone conclusion, but think back 10 years: 1998 marked the introduction of the iMac. The wondrous iPod was still 3 years away.  You can’t tell me you always expected Apple to make cell phones!)

These are examples of going off-script.  Of trying something out of the ordinary, for the sake of being extraordinary — if only for a day.  To see what happens.

America itself seems to have gone off-script, with the historic election of Barack Obama.  Everybody noticed.  Nearly everyone approves.

Think different.

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