Archive for March, 2009

The True & Remarkable Fate of Public Relations

IStock_000005355437XSmallAbout a week ago, the famous tech blogger Robert Scoble announced that his family was expecting another joyous care package from the stork.  (Congrats, Robert!)

Shortly thereafter, he tweeted:

“State of marketing on Twitter? FAIL. Not a single company got back when we announced our pregnancy. This is a good thing but won’t last.”

Let’s ignore the weird logic of simultaneously complaining about being ignored while at the same time saying it is “a good thing” that the twitterstream was not polluted with marketers. (If P&G had quickly tweeted an offer for “free Pampers,” would you have been surprised to see Robert vilify them for cheapening his wholesome family news?)

Let’s focus instead on this possibility: Consumers may increasingly expect that their online ruminations will be monitored and responded to in real-time.

As Robert’s tweet and Jeremiah Owyang’s recent post about “community representation” suggest, the day may be coming when consumers — singly or in ad-hoc special-interest groups (SIGs) — demand instant satisfaction from corporations.

This represents a monstrous scalability problem as the hordes increasingly move online.  For the firms who figure it out, though, the karmic and revenue benefits could be equally monstrous.

Imagine this scenario:

IStock_000007411590XSmallYou bought a lightweight laptop.  Just 3lbs.!  But the powercord that the manufacturer shipped it with?  It’s another 2lbs.  So much for alleviating your achey shoulder! You blog about it.  You post a Flickr photo of the laptop and cord tipping the bathroom scales at over 5lbs.  You tweet about it.  A handful of your online buddies commiserate.

… And not long after, the manufacturer reaches out to you publicly and offers a lighter-weight powercord if you’ll just ship back the original two-pounder.

That laptop-maker just made a customer for life.  They’ve birthed a new evangelist who will sing their praises online; who will defend the manufacturer from other consumers who complain.

Now imagine you arrive at the airport only to find that the flight’s just been delayed by three hours!  You’re peeved.  You tweet about it.  Suddenly you get a tweet from a rival airline: they’re taking off for your destination in the next terminal, in 90 minutes — and they will save you a seat, including a free upgrade, if you can hustle over there.  Now that’s worth eating the change fee!  And, again: a new fan-for-life is born.

This is the new, hybridized service/marketing dynamic that ComcastCares and RichardatDELL are striving to achieve.  As such examples become less hypothetical, we’ll pity and hiss at the companies that DON’T listen and respond in real-time.

PR does have a role in this new world order.  Though, unlike Jeremiah Owyang, I don’t foresee SIGs banding together to pay PR to intermediate with brands (the brands are better off treating directly with the communities).

IStock_000008373355XSmallHowever, I do see PR sometimes serving as a stopgap between Corporation and Consumer: PR already does a ton of monitoring and analysis of both media and socialstreams.  We can vet the issues; alert clients to rising customer angst; analyze which users need to be ushered into the red-carpet service channel; defend against frustrated claimants; etc.

Isn’t this the business of Customer Service?  Not marketing or PR?

That’s more debatable than you might think, in a world in which every consumer is becoming a standalone media outlet, indexed by Google.

The stakes are too high to allow direct public interaction with online consumers to outsourced foreign workers or underpaid college kids.  PR becomes the middleman — escorting the disgruntled to the right Customer Service resource and soothing the crowds at the gate in the meantime.

(Not to mention getting hits in the mainstream media, and all that traditional stuff.  We’ll be busy.)

I can tell you that this future is coming because I’ve seen it happening with our own clients.  Not necessarily every day, but such services are on the rise, almost by necessity.  Pissy tweets must not languish unanswered.  Not anymore.

Is that the future you saw for yourself when you joined the PR industry?  Probably not.  Is it a role you want?  Is it appropriate?  Do you see an alternative path?

UPDATE: Loic LeMeur also recently wrote about a similar topic.

The Win Matters Less Than You Think

This was a banner week for SHIFT.  We netted both a huge newbiz victory and an equally big newbiz loss.

Know what?  I am equally proud of both efforts.

Wouldn’t change a thing.

Nike Leave Nothing

Whether we win or lose, when we’re in the game we leave nothing on the field.

This is a personal post, really, just for my team at SHIFT.  Thank you, guys.  You’re my inspiration.  Great work, on all counts.

Why So Sensitive?

IStock_000000517812XSmall“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

There are entire websites dedicated to jokes about the nefarious nature of lawyers.  Hatred of lawyers is a widely accepted vice in America.  Yet, enrollment in law schools is trending ever higher

The first thing people do when they’re in hot water?  Call a lawyer.  When starting an ambitious new venture?  Call a lawyer.

Calling a PR pro — whether it’s “a guy I know who knows someone at the newspaper” or a full-fledged agency — comes a close 2nd.  In hot water?  Call a lawyer, then call someone who can effectively tell your-side-of-the-story to the media.  Starting an ambitious new venture?  Call someone who can help you proclaim it to the media.

Of course, that’s not all that PR people do; it’s just what most folks THINK we do.  Just as there are all kinds of lawyers, there are many sub-disciplines to the PR industry. PR is actually not about spamming reporters.

So why do PR pros get so ruffled when someone (especially someone like a Scoble, a Jaffe, an Owyang or a Calacanis) says “PR is dead?”  Saying something negative about PR on Twitter, in a blog post or in a magazine article and you are guaranteed to get a high-volume, angst-filled response from practitioners.

IStock_000004553180XSmallHere’s my take: there are bad PR people just as there are bad lawyers.  Bad lawyers don’t care if you think they are evil.  Bad PR people probably don’t even realize that they suck, because they’re not bothering to listen for negative feedback in the first place. 

Both of these “bad pros” are blithely inept; they give no thought at all to the destruction they wreak on the reputations of their fellow practitioners.

Which means if you’re one of those people who get upset when influencers suggest that PR sucks, it probably means you care about your work; it probably means you’re doing good for your clients; it probably means that your work can stand as a bulwark against the slings and arrows of those peevish influencers. 

It probably means you shouldn’t get so worked up over all the negativity.  Do what good lawyers do: get back to doing some good.

Show Your Quirk

Sch320568_Natural-Honey_mI agree with my wife on most matters.  I am firmly in the camp of believers who enthusiastically murmur, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.”  After all, she is usually right — as I’ve learned from hard experience — and, really, she alone is most likely to be by my bedside in my old age.

Where things fall apart are my shoes.  This is where I tend to show a little quirk.

I own a pair of pointy-toed Italian leather shoes.  They look like cut-off cowboy boots and I dig ‘em.  Today I got a pair of Clark Desert Boots from our pals at Zappos.  The wife will likely hate them for their round squishiness as much as she despises the cockroach-killer business shoes.

But I think it’s cool to show a little quirk. I don’t wanna be like everybody else.  I’m not exactly flying the freak flag; I just like to put a li’l top-spin on that last 10% as I walk out the door.

I think your BRAND ought to aspire to a little quirk, too.  In this era more so than any other, taking small risks is most likely going to be rewarded.

BildeConsider Plumbing Parts and Specialties Inc. of Sarasota, FL.  This small plumbing supply house recently hosted its 2nd annual “Plumbers’ Olympics” at its warehouse. There was live music, free ribs and chicken, and vendors vying for the Golden Toilet Seat honors. 

When the plumbers of Sarasota County need plumbing supplies, who do you think they’ll call on first? The safest choice, the cheapest choice, or the gang at Plumbing Parts and Specialties Inc. who decided to get a li’l crazy with them?

Who would you call?

Twitter Rule #2: Remember That You're Being Watched

Twitter-logoTwitter Rule #1, you might recall, was “Team Before Tweet.”

Here is an excerpt from that original post, which was published almost 1 year ago:

“How much tweeting is ‘too much’ while on the clock? … For me the answer comes down to prioritization and respect.

“Your priority while on-the-job is to work through your client assignments in an efficient manner: quite simply, that’s what you’re paid to do… If your manager is waiting on a document from you before they can head home, or your client is anxious about the state of a pending editorial opportunity, they won’t be too pleased to see a spurt of carefree tweets flying through the twittersphere.  It shows a lack of awareness for (your) colleagues’ priorities, thus, a lack of respect.”

Twitter Rule #2 is “Remember that You’re Being Watched.”

If you are on Twitter, a service that is chockfull of reporters and colleagues, competitors — and now, yes, clients — you need to keep in mind that your tweets might come back to bite ya.

And not just the tweets that occur between 9am and 5pm.  Any tweet, at any time, is subject to the scrutiny, analysis and judgment of your peers, prospects, clients, etc.

It is perfectly human to kvetch about how tired or unmotivated or hung-over you are to your friends and even the clutch of co-workers in your immediate vicinity.  But do it on Twitter, and you’re casting your fate to the winds.

Maybe nothing comes of it.  But maybe your client sees it, and calls your boss at the agency.  Maybe a reporter sees it, and shares it with your client.  Maybe a competitor sees it, and forwards it to a prospect that you’re vying to win.  Pretty embarassing, eh?  Don’t let this happen to you.

In order to augment your personal brand, it is true that you need to share.  But as a professional, you do not need to over-share.

Show some social media love would ya?

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