Archive for January, 2010

SHIFT Communications Opens New York Public Relations Office

At last, I can officially announce the debut of the New York City PR office of SHIFT Communications!

Why would we pick the single most saturated PR market in the country to open our 3rd office?  Where do we find the gumption to suggest our handful of startup personnel can lead & win, when it comes to Social Media and PR in NY?

Plenty of reasons.

Number one – our Consumer PR practice has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, to a point where it represents approximately 50% of our revenues.  If you’re going to be a serious player in this arena, you simply need to be in the Big Apple. Period.

Number two – real estate is cheap right now, and my business partner and I have made the strategic decision to invest in the downturn.  Our office in NYC is at 915 Broadway, just a few blocks from Union Square. In fact, just by happy coincidence, we’re in the same building, on the same floor, as Union Square Ventures, where Twitter VC star Fred Wilson works.  Primo space, right? 

Number three – and most importantly – we know what we’re up against and we have no fear.  We’ve already faced down and won against the behemoths in PR/Social Media. Not every time, of course, but enough times to know it’s not a fluke: we’ve got “the right stuff.”  We’re winning Fortune 1000 clients and just as critically, we are keeping them on the roster.

Our debut party is next week and tons of very cool people in PR, Social Media and Mainstream Media have already RSVP’d.  It’s going to be a full house and we couldn’t be more excited to get this party started.

The official Social Media Release about SHIFT – NYC is being hosted at PressLift (a cool service from the folks at that I’ll write about in coming weeks), and up above is a video of Yours Truly, making the Official announcement … and I (grudgingly) recommend you stick around for the incredibly goofy out-takes, as well – consider it a Friday Fun video.

Thanks for your support!  See ya in the Big Apple?!

Welcome, "Conversationalists"

IStock_000010090171XSmallForrester Research’s Social Technographics Ladder — which I wrote about in one of my bestest posts ever, in early ‘08 — has just been updated.  There’s a new rung on that ladder, classified as “Conversationalists,” and thus a new wrinkle for marketers to consider (though it’s been fairly well sussed-out in the marketplace already).

Paraphrasing analyst Emily Riley:

Many months ago, several of us at Forrester started monitoring emerging behaviors (represented by the very active communication style on Twitter and Facebook) … and mulling over how to represent them appropriately.

We toyed with adding tweets and status updates to the ‘Creator’ activities, but that would overshadow the more measured content contributions of bloggers and viral video creators. We thought of adding themto ‘Joiner’ behavior, but that masked the fact that this wasn’t about being part of a social graph, but rather communicating within the graph in a new and important way.

An interesting stat from Forrester’s new report: “33 % of adults are Conversationalists. In other words, they represent one third of your online target audience.”

Think about that for a sec.  One-third of ALL adults in the U.S. are engaged in a “very active communication style” online.  That’s a lot of people.  Talking to each other. A lot.

It’s only getting bigger, gang: according to a summertime survey by H&K, “Younger generations are predominantly influenced by social media channels: 27 percent of Gen Y and 19 percent of Gen X are influenced by an ‘online community or blog.’”

Next time a corporate marketer asks you whether they should be considering an approach that incorporates socnets like Twitter or Facebook or blogs (and yes, Virginia, the question does still come up), be sure to remember and cite these statistics.

Slippery Slopes

SlipperyslopeFew people inspire me to think harder than Tom Foremski at SiliconValleyWatcher (after all, he spurred me to dream up the Social Media Release).  Tom got me puzzling all over again last week with his post on “The Killer Pitch?” (and his follow-up post).  The premise:


While there are lots of bad pitches out there, there are also lots of good pitches. Even with a perfect pitch, sometimes a reporter won’t write the story because there is not enough time, there’s too much else to do.

But here’s a killer pitch. It’s one that I haven’t heard yet but it’s only a matter of time.

” … and we have the ability to drive a lot of traffic to your story.”

In a world where reporters are increasingly rewarded not on the quality of their work but on how much traffic their stories attract — this becomes the killer pitch.


In his posts Tom explores the ethical and practical challenges.  Forget about “tasteful,” would it be ethical for a PR firm to suggest such a thing to a  journalist?  Tom says yes, and he’s right to note that PR firms’ raison d’etre is to drive positive coverage for their clients.

The better question is whether the journalist has the ethical backbone to resist this siren song if the story idea is a bad/inappropriate one, or to write the article with no regard for whether it will meet the PR firm’s standards for “positive” (promotable) coverage.

From a practical standpoint, Tom suggests it’s not so easy for a PR agency to drive traffic at its whim.  Yet he also points out:


News aggregators love to pick up on “popular” or “trending” stories. A relatively small traffic boost from a PR agency can become magnified if the story makes it onto a ‘most popular’ list.


Consider what might happen if an agency like Edelman or Porter-Novelli decided to try to “move the needle” on a particular piece of client coverage.  These agencies boast THOUSANDS of account staff, some of whom have THOUSANDS of followers (e.g., Edelman’s David Armano, who runs a popular blog and has 24,000 Twitter followers) … If these thousands of employees were mandated to tweet about the client’s news article, and/or to Digg it, and/or to StumbleUpon it, etc., and those thousands of tweets were RT’d by dozens (or hundreds!) of their own followers, and so on … Well, pretty soon you’d see a needle moved.

You’d see that client article as a trending topic on Twitter, a top item on Digg, etc. — which might catch the eye of yet another mainstream journalist, who unwittingly sees this heat+light as evidence of a hot story worth yet another article.

It certainly seems like a slippery slope.  But it’s hard for me to offer an opinion on this, as my agency is far smaller than an Edelman or P-N; thus to call it “unethical” could just as easily lead to suggestions of sour-grapes on my part.  When SHIFT is over 1,000 employees, I’ll think hard on where those ethical lines must be drawn in pursuit of client satisfaction.

You think it’s cut and dry?  You think it’s unethical, period?  OK, consider this: one of your clients offers a green technology that could save the world.  Asking your 1,000+ employees to RT the article might help draw further media attention to the client’s very worthy product.  What do you do?  … See? – not so easy now, is it?

In any event, there are enough clever people at those megalithic PR organizations that I have to think they already considered — and rejected — such schemes.  For now.

What do you think?

Social Media Case Studies: Boosting the Odds of Success

OddsWe often work with startups in “stealth mode,” who want to maintain their IP and ensure they are able to get out the door to the wider world — but, on their terms.  After all, you only get one launch.

This is inordinately important to entrepreneurs who have poured everything into their projects.   They want to makes sure everything is just right.

However, the days of secret launches are harder and harder to achieve. The nature of Social Media means anything with a high interest level is harder to keep under wraps, and once it’s out, well … you know the rest.

This was the challenge presented to us by Book of Odds.

Ever ask yourself “what are the odds?”  Book of Odds exists to answer that question, while giving that answer meaning through correlating it to something easy to understand.   For example, with all the Tiger Woods news, you might wonder the odds that a married or cohabiting man has cheated during the relationship (1 in 4.76!) … The odds we face in everyday life are fascinating, and thanks to Book of Odds founders Amram Shapiro, Louise Firth Campbell & Co., now they’re also searchable and tweetable!

Being rigorous researchers, Amram and Louise were diligent about understanding how SHIFT planned to drive interest and traffic, ensuring the company was seen as both credible and entertaining.  Developing a strategy that brought key audience influencers into the mix was exciting — but what if word got out beyond the select few we invited?

SHIFT’s take — “that’s actually the point.”  Let the influencers “do their job” of influencing their own select networks … but rather than target “the usual suspects” we performed research on the leading lights in key verticals, e.g., education and health, enabling Book of Odds to custom-invite these brainiacs to an exclusive private beta that was targeted, relevant and interesting.   These first invitees were, indeed, likely to want to spread the word, and they were encouraged to offer the pre-launch log-in codes to their circle of friends.

Again, even as the outreach expanded beyond the Big Brains into more media-centric circles, it didn’t just mean “traditional media” — i.e., the Freakanomics blog of the New York Times and a local Web Innovation event audience were among the first folks to be invited to the sneak peak.  Both subsequently asked to be able to widely share the log-in info with their readers and members, all prior to the “formal launch.”

Odds1During this period Book of Odds also commenced tweeting about different odds related to daily events.  Even though the site was inaccessible to the general public, we wanted to seed the larger audience with some compelling tidbits (after all, traffic is crucial to this type of site).

The duality of this approach  — full access to a highly select group of scrupulously researched influencers alongside sneak-peeks of relevant data to the masses  — gave Book of Odds a fair bit of credibility when SHIFT made its push to the larger world on the formal launch date.

Thus we enticed a broad swath of visitors that the company would never have reached if it remained in “stealth mode” until the Big Launch Day.

Launch week itself saw over 120 articles, including brand names such as WSJ, Howard Stern (Sirius Radio), Fast Company, Mashable and NPR.  The launch day also found Book of Odds the 12th most-searched term on Google!

Book-of-odds-logoFast forward 2+ months and through the consistent feeding and customizing of odds-related material to a wide assortment of websites, radio and broadcast outlets, Book of Odds now consistently ranks in the top 5 organic results when searching for “odds” on Google — a huge win for a company whose main objective is to be the authoritative resource for anything odds-related.

Unfortunately you can’t search their website for “Odds of a Successful Company Launch,” but we like to think that this particular approach increased the chance of success for the Book of Odds!

By the way — in case you haven’t clicked the Book of Odds link yet, I assure you — it’s fun.  Collect the odds that describe you, create lists, calibrate your own risks, etc. For example, did you know that the risks of dying in January are 1 in 10.89 — the highest of any other month?  Be careful next time you grab that snow shovel!

Bad Apples in PR

IStock_000007908093XSmallLast week Next Fifteen’s Tim Dyson blogged about “Why companies should use PR agencies,” echoing many of the points I had also raised last year (and which have been solid justifications all along, in good times and bad).  In the comments of Tim’s post, he wryly noted, “funny how this issue keeps coming up.”

Except it’s not funny.  And before you suggest that the issue wouldn’t be raised if PR had a better way to demonstrate ROI, let me assure you — it’s not about ROI.

Let me say that again: the reason PR agencies feel the need to continually justify their ROI has nothing to do with Return on Investment or other forms of measurement.

No, the reason that PR agencies must continually defend their value is because there are a lot of shitty PR people.

Look at the legal profession. “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” right?  Yet lawyers are an important, valuable resource for those who have legitimate grievances.  And for every lawyer that loses a case, there’s a winning attorney, too — so the legal profession has a built-in 50/50 track record of success.  Any baseball fan will tell you, “batting .500” is pretty darned good.

Yet we hate lawyers, because there are a lot of shitty, ambulance-chasing attorneys out there, giving a bad name to the perfectly nice, helpful, talented professionals trying to earn a decent living as legal eagles.

It’s both better and worse for PR pros.

It’s better for us (i.e., we are not despised nearly so much as lawyers) because our role in society rarely leaves a lasting mark. PR pros are not going to impact case law, a.k.a. people’s lives, whereas a landmark legal case can have huge impacts on the populace.

IStock_000009447077XSmallIt’s worse for PR in that any schmuck can call themselves a PR pro.  At least lawyers need to pass the bar exam to join the ranks; there is no need for APR accreditation to join an agency.  There is no enforceable code of ethics, either.  So while PR’s rapscallions are less odious in terms of their ability to hurt people, they are also too easily minted, and have little incentive to mend their ways.

There are plenty of fantastic PR agencies whose clients rarely question the value they receive.  Their clients know that their agency provides much-needed counsel, relationship-building expertise, and unique resources.  But, most corporations get burned once or twice by bad agencies along the way.  Similarly, members of the media and blogosphere are pummelled by bad pitches, which far outweigh the good.

Is it getting better for PR?  I think so, actually.  As I noted back in April 2007:

“(Thanks to Social Media), PR pros lose the luxury of working behind the scenes.  More and more often, in these early days of the blogosphere, a bone-headed pitch will be instantly revealed/reviled.  The crappy PR firms, the dialers-for-dollars, will get smart or get out.  Those that remain will likely have faced up to the fact that more and more of their agency’s work will be disinfected by the sunlight.”

We are in an era now in which Public Relations is increasingly talked about as the core driver of Social Media — which as we know is a huge game changer for culture in general, and Marketing in particular.  We couldn’t be reasonably expected to rise to this challenge if there weren’t enough good (or rehabilitated!) PR practitioners slogging their way — through smart & successful work — to improving our industry’s own reputation…

So maybe someday we’ll see fewer of these “justification” posts.  Maybe.

Show some social media love would ya?

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