Archive for February, 2010

Aligning for Client Satisfaction

IStock_000009613557XSmallNext Monday I am moderating a panel on “Entrepreneurship” at RSA Conference, the world’s largest IT Security tradeshow (and a long-time client).  In preparation for the session, I’ve been having some brief 1:1 meetings with the panelists, all of whom are successful company founders.

One theme has threaded across all these calls: the need for ongoing customer validation.

As an entrepreneur, it is easy to get “stuck in the weeds” of running the business.  For as many decisions you may need to make about the company’s strategy, there could easily be a dozen small-bore decisions, e.g., “We’re running out of offices — where are we going to put that new exec’s desk?”

It’s important to rise above all that.  You don’t become an entrepreneur to play small ball.

As an entrepreneur myself, I try to continually raise the question, “What do MOST clients care the MOST about?” Invariably, as a PR agency, the answer has been “Media Coverage” although in recent years the meaning of “media coverage” has morphed due to Social Media: for some clients, “tweets count as coverage.”

So if MOST clients care MOST about “coverage,” we must ask ourselves: are we providing stellar training to the SHIFTers responsible for garnering the coverage?  are we scheduling specific blocks of time for each of these employees to work the phones/email?  are our pitching practices consistent across all teams?  are our monitoring systems up to snuff?  are our measurement guidelines properly aligned across all programs?  etc.

It’s not enough to ask these questions once, or even once per year.  Because “coverage” is so important to our clients, these are questions we really need to ask ourselves every month.

IStock_000003039589XSmallAnd it gets pretty tactical (because it needs to).  For example, on a semi-regular basis, I will gather the junior staff in a conference room and have them “Pitch the Principal.” I act as a jerky reporter/blogger and challenge each person in the room to pitch me on one of their clients, in front of their peers.  Each account pro is then “coached in the moment” by me, and by their colleagues, about how they can be more relevant and impactful.

Such sessions can be harrowing for newbies, yet we keep it positive and by the end, most folks agree it’s been invaluable.  Everybody wins in the end — especially the clients, who can be confident that the SHIFTers charged with carrying their banner to the media have been through the wringer!

I offer this as just one example of how agencies must keep a pulse on what’s important to clients.  Just as we abhor it when clients chase after shiny objects, we can’t make the same mistake; we must stay focused on what counts most, to most clients, and align our processes towards successful outcomes.

Meanwhile, yea, I’ve got to find a place to put that desk…

Social Media in St. John

4376295772_e64d957b1b_mI was in St. John last week. Glorious. Recommended.  (That’s no postcard or Google Image Search Result attending this blog post – it’s a photo from my very own Flickr stream. Blissful!)

Although we headed to the Virgin Islands to escape our work and daily routines, I am so glad I brought my iPhone with me.  I can’t tell you how often we wound up consulting the Web to decide on restaurants (“did you check Yelp?”) … excursions (“did you check TripAdvisor?”) … beaches (“how early do we need to get up to nab a parking spot at Trunk Bay?”) … and basic travel tips about everything from buying groceries to feeding the island’s wild donkeys (don’t).

If you’d told me before our departure that I’d be “on the web” that often, I would have grimaced.  I was looking to disconnect!

Yet I realized that the Web (in general) and Social Media (in particular) are now so interwoven in the fabric of our lives and decision-making that it really only made our vacation more enjoyable.  We didn’t lose any of that sense of discovery you search for when visiting a new place; rather, we had a chance to learn from others’ experiences and steer our course toward the most worthwhile adventures, which we “made our own” once we got underway.

Apple_iphoneI’ve been on planes, trains and automobiles ever since our return.  Not only haven’t I been able to simmer in that post-tropical zen-like state that typically comes after a vacation, I’ve barely been able to sit at my desk (much less blog)!  Yet I’ve made a promise to myself to “give back” to the Web community.

As soon as I have some free time, I’ll draft our family’s Yelp reviews of the kick-ass egg scramble and gracious hosts at the Donkey Diner … I’ll tell eager beachgoers on TripAdvisor to get to Trunk Bay before 9am if they want a parking spot … etc.  I’ll add our voice of experience to aid the next wave of visitors to that lovely Carribean jewel, with thanks to those who went before and did the same.

It wasn’t just the much-needed dose of sunshine that made me feel optimistic about the future. I was truly inspired by the wealth of shared knowledge I held at my fingertips.

A Pitching Lesson

A guest post by C.C. Chapman.

While Todd is away playing on the beach with his family, he asked me to write something to tide you over while he was away. Of course allowing me to step up on the PR-Squared Soapbox means that I’ve got to school some of you Public Relations “Professionals” out there who are driving me nuts!

If you don’t know me, my name is C.C. Chapman and I’m a Creative Director at Campfire and the Founder of Digital Dads. I also create a ton of content online including the podcasts Accident Hash, Managing the Gray, Media Hacks and Cast of Dads. I’m also an avid photographer, outdoors man and all around family guy.

Now, I’m not laying all of those out there for you to click on them and become my latest fan (although I won’t argue with that), but rather to illustrate that I’ve got a lot of passions and I share those very openly online. Because of this you can bet that I get pitched non stop from every angle.

I should also say that for the past four years, I’ve developed and executed numerous successful influencer outreach campaigns so I know what it is like on both sides of the pitch. I’m writing this post in the hopes of helping you do better at your job and make my inbox a little more relevant.

Here are a few things not to do:

  • Dear _______
    It doesn’t matter what it says after that. NO ONE but people pitching things start e-mail with something like that. If you want to make it personal then use my name and move on. Think about it. When was the last time you started an e-mail to anyone like that? For bonus points, put the wrong name in there or forget how to use mail merge and leave some variation of <first_name>.
  • 100% Form Letter
    I understand that we’ve all got boiler plate copy to use, but don’t make the entire e-mail one big piece of boiled crap. Take at least a the first introduction to show me that you are writing this to ME. You’d be amazed what 15 minutes on a bloggers site, Facebook profile or Twitter stream will do to allow you to get to know them a little bit better.
  • Send it more then once
    gMail is my main e-mail program and it does a great job of threading messages with the same subject line from the same people. If I see 3 new messages from the same person grouped together I don’t even open the e-mail since it is obvious a sloppy pitch.
  • Pretend the pitch isn’t a pitch
    Don’t you dare send me a note talking about “this amazing link I found online that I thought you’d like” acting as if you are nothing more then a reader and trying to show me something cool. Thankfully these types have become rare, but I had it happen just last week so I know some of you are still doing it.

I could probably rant forever on this topic, but I want this to be a learning experience for everyone, so let me give you a few tips that will improve your pitches and thus lead to more coverage for your clients.

  • Show that you’ve taken the time to at least get to know each person a little. This means after you’ve put together your target list that you go out to each of their sites and online profiles and let them know why you are reaching out to them. Did they blog about a competitor? Do they write about your industry on a regular basis? Whatever the reason, let them know.
  • Choose your words carefully. Try to avoid using things like Miss & Mrs. as some people don’t appreciate them. If you are reaching out to parents be sure to use that word. Too often these days I am getting pitched as a mom, but I’m a Dad. When in doubt go overly general.
  • Get to the point as soon as possible because if I don’t know you then I’m going to scan and decide what action to take very quickly. Whenever possible put a link to what you want me to look at, review or interact with as up front as possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to be overly direct in what you would like to get out of me, but always remain courteous. Consider saying something along the lines of “If you liked what you saw/heard/read please consider sharing this with your community.”
  • If you are going to send an item for review, go the extra mile and upfront say that you will expect the blogger to disclose this when they post their review. This shows that you and your client has a certain level of integrity and goes a long way. Personally I’m big fan of using for my disclosures.

Each one of us fights the demons of staying on top of our inbox daily and when it comes down to choosing between a pitch from a stranger and a note from a friend, the pitch will always lose.

Take my advice to heart the next time you begin telling the world about your client and I guarantee you that more people will read it then before. I promise you that I will. Feel free to e-mail me the next time I’m a match for one of your pitches.

Can We Calculate "Community Equity?"

A guest post by Radian6‘s David Alston.

For me, like a brand, a community is an asset.  Here’s how Wikipedia defines ‘brand equity’:

Brand equity refers to the marketing effects or outcomes that accrue to a product with its brand name compared with those that would accrue if the same product did not have the brand name.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to say, “The study of brand equity is increasingly popular as some marketing researchers have concluded that brands are one of the most valuable assets that a company has.”


But isn’t there another valuable corporate asset to consider?  What about a brand’s community equity?

What if we tried to define community equity in a similar way?  What if the definition went something like this:

Community equity refers to the marketing, public relations, sales, recruitment and customer service effects and outcomes that accrue to company that engages in community building compared to what would accrue if the same brand did not invest in efforts to find, build & care for their community.

Traditional marketing professionals have been using brand equity or brand value as way to demonstrate ROI for years.  So why can’t community equity emerge as the basis for evaluating the community building efforts of a new breed of PR, marketing and customer service professionals?

Communities gathered around brands have always existed but in the past finding and nurturing them has been difficult on a large scale.  But with the advent of the social web all of this has changed.  It finding and nurturing becomes entiring possible and cost effective.

  • They can listen to find and connect with others in their industry space.
  • They can easily see trends, share ideas, and easily collaborate with community members.
  • And because of the digital nature of the social web, they can track and measure their efforts.

And from the number of discussions I’ve had recently with brands, the concept of building community equity helps them see where social media fits into the overall context of their business strategies.  It becomes clear why 500 passionate community members on Facebook or Twitter are no comparison to the 500 eyeballs or even 1 million eyeballs purchased in a media buy.

It becomes evident that community building goes in the investment column while buying media buy goes in the expense side.  After all, audiences of media pay attention to your brand as long as it is paying for that attention while communities have the potential to stick with you for a lifetime since the focus is on building and maintaining relationships over the long haul.

So does the concept of community equity resonate with you?

If so, then how should we calculate it?

What would various formulae be?

What elements should be included?

David is the VP Marketing & Community with Radian6 (, a social media monitoring, measurement and engagement platform used by PR, marketing and customer service professionals.  David blogs at Community Instinct ( and can be found on Twitter at @davidalston (

Corporate PR Breaks Barriers Between Company & Customer

A guest post by Scott Gulbransen, Senior Manager of Public Relations/Social Media at TurboTax.

When Todd Defren asked me to hammer out a post for his blog while he’s basking on a sun-drenched beach somewhere, I was honored … and also disturbed that an image of him running down a beach in a Speedo popped into my head. I am not sure what that means, but, please trust that our relationship is purely platonic!

Being a corporate PR professional, the use of social media has changed our day-to-day job in a way that is transformational. If you had asked me five years ago about dealing with customers everyday on Twitter, I would have scoffed at the notion. But here I am, engaged in helping customers understand what we do, helping them solve problems and thanking them personally for being our customer.

While many large companies get heaps of praise for spending millions of dollars on “social media campaigns,” public relations professionals have a much different and, in my opinion, important role in shaping the future of social media.

We live in a time when customers demand more from us. No longer are monolithic corporations and the products they produce enough. Consumers today demand more attention, more of a voice and clear action when demanded. Companies and their PR staffs – and agencies – can no longer hide behind the media or behind closed doors in a high-rise.

The customer is knocking at the door and they demand real, one-on-one conversations.

In my view, there is no one better than in-house corporate PR staff to help drive culture change and remove the barrier between the company and the customer. It’s not just a function of customer services reps or phone centers to deal with customer complaints or issues. It’s not enough to have an email link where customers can send suggestions and comments that get lost in the bureaucracy. As professional communicators, we have to step up and lead the way.

It’s the role of PR in today’s socially minded companies to push the business toward change and open itself to more transparency and interaction with the consumer. As many a social PR guru has said in the past two years, it’s about putting the public back in public relations.

Companies and agencies that are doing social well, and in a deeply meaningful way, understand this and it’s producing bottom-line business results.

The question is: do you work for one of them? If not, how will you make your business become one?

Scott Gulbransen, when not listening to Van Halen or AC/DC loudly on his iPhone, is the Senior Manager of Public Relations/Social Media for Intuit’s TurboTax. In his role, he doesn’t get to live out his inner Eddie Van Halen much but he does lead social media and other communications efforts for the brand. You can follow him on Twitter @prgully, and his personal blog is found at

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