What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

You wanna know why I haven’t been blogging much lately?  It’s cuz I’ve been too busy thinking.  Not working (well, barely).  Not writing.  Just reading, and thinking.

What do I want to be when I grow up?  How do I want clients and prospects and employees to think about SHIFT Communications, 3 years from now?  What can I contribute to The Conversation?

It’s been quite a while, in my opinion, since you’ve visited PR-Squared to get the most innovative thinking on Social Media How-To’s.  Back in the good ol’ days, sure.  Power hitter.  Heck, did you know that this blog was once one of the Technorati Top 100 Blogs (#99 or so, but still)?!

That’s when everything was manageable.

Nowadays you’re better off visiting Mashable or Social Media Examiner if you want “26 Tips for Using Pinterest for Business.” (Disclosure: I am a SME Advisory Board Member.)  I long ago relinquished any delusions that I could keep pace as a Social Media journalist.  For that matter, I’ve been only a fair-to-middling “essayist” lately!  Like I said, I’ve been too busy thinking.

WhichwaySeems to me the marketing industry flux that Social Media hath wrought has been pushing “PR agencies” into two potential directions: “Upstream” and “Sidestream.”

Folks like Edelman and Ogilvy have decided that this is their latest/greatest shot at nabbing a permanent “seat at the table” in the Boardroom, and have opted to move Upstream: each rolled out Social Business Consulting efforts in recent months.  For a fascinating discussion of these moves, Jay Baer’s post (and ensuing reader comments) on Edelman’s initiative is a must-read, as he asks:

Do companies want incredibly serious business advice that impacts the core of their existence from their PR firm?” 

Maybe. Certainly I know and genuinely respect guys like David Armano (Edelman) and John Bell (Ogilvy) when it comes to Social Thinking.  Maybe the Chief Logistics Officer of a Just-In-Time Manufacturing Facility will, too.

I dunno.  I do know that that’s not my game.  This is the chart that keeps me up at night:


While I’d readily and eagerly pit our squad against anyone at any communications firm when it comes to Social Media Marketing, digital communications (and straight-up PR), I would not even drive to the meeting where we were expected to match wits with McKinsey business consultants.  In my humble opinion, for our firm, that would represent an undisciplined pursuit of “more,” driven by a willful ignorance of our True North. We are super creative, social-savvy, strategic and thoughtful communicators. Period. Full stop.

So: we’re marching sidestream.  What I’ve been pondering is what a “Social Media PR Agency” like ours can and should tackle to stay ahead of the competition.  For some time now, we’ve been pitted against the Big Boys in major-league RFP pitching duels.  Sometimes we win.  Sometimes not.  The goal is to win more than we lose; to do that into the far-flung future is going to require practical, profitable innovations in our thinking and services.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about.  That’s what I’ve been testing.  That’s why you haven’t heard much from me lately.

I’m still in beta.

Posted on: February 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm By Todd Defren
19 Responses to “What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?”


  • Todd Bartlett says:

    Hey Todd,

    I was wondering if you have read The Marketing Agency Blueprint yet? If you have what were your impressions of Paul Roetzer’s model? The one thing that I disagree with is his recommendation that PR agencies need to become software developers. It seems to me like that is not within a PR firms capabilities or not even their interests.

    • Todd Defren says:

      It’s on my shelf of Books To Be Read. I am familiar with the concepts, though. I think Paul is on to something: while I might not agree on the particulars (e.g., s/w development is not on my roadmap; it is easily outsourced), broadly speaking I understand where he is coming from. I am particularly intrigued by his close affiliation with Hubspot; seems to forge a new niche, i.e., an Inbound Marketing Agency is not the same as a PR agency, though there is a ton of overlap.

  • Jessica R. says:

    Interesting take on the different angles PR firms can take. As a young professional, I am new to this field. Where public relations will stand in the future depends largely on where the digital world stands (e.g., social media, advanced technologies).It is also interesting to note how competitive the blog market is.

  • Seems to me we’re looking at the whole PR thing the wrong way.

    Isn’t the question really “Can a PR firm (or any other) create a business within a business that leverages the master brand?”.

    As for you personally Todd, I thought it was a great post. I love the way you exposed your challenges/fears while reinforcing your strengths. That’s not easily done. Best of luck to you.


    Matt Ridings – @techguerilla

  • Ella Bee says:

    I’m not so sure those “big” guys get it either.

  • jEN HOUSTON says:

    What I’m most struck with is your pause. Not just in your writing, but in your thinking. The expanse of either upwards or sideways is vast – if we give ourselves the pause to imagine it. And I’m not sure it has to be either/or. Without creativity and invention, engagements with the C-Suite turn into stale echo chambers papered with the skeletons of overused approaches. Without business impact, we run the risk of ideas for ideas sake. Perhaps it’s both – a new X Y axis with the sweet spot being at the interplay of business impact and innovation. It’s not following the existing models, but heck, that’s what happens when you find the time to pause: real change happens. Thanks Todd for suggesting, gasp, that we all have not only the permission to pause, but also the requirement if we are to be worthy of the clients we aspire to serve.

  • Andrew Levy says:

    I love “I’m in beta” final comment.

  • Jay Baer says:

    Thanks for the very kind words Todd, and for having the balls and good sense to stick to your knitting.

    As I wrote in my post, I feel the same way. Despite the fact that I co-wrote a book that’s largely about Social Business, I do not do that type of consulting, and don’t particularly want to dive into that pool. I’m a marketer. A digital marketer. A social media marketer. And a content marketer. And that’s enough for me.

    If the time comes that businesses have all of that figured out, I’ll open a tequila bar. But considering SEO has been around 12+ years in earnest, and many/most companies are still inadequate in their application of that technology (much less email marketing), I feel like we’ve got a few good years ahead of us. I’m a proud sidestreamer.

    And I hear you re: the blogging stuff. I can’t out-Mashable the guys at Mashable (or Social Media Examiner, or Social Fresh et al). That’s why we’ve reconfigured our blog to really focus on what does all of this mean, and how social media and content marketing professionals (not small biz owners) can make it work. That’s why our new podcast, Social Pros, is for/by/about social practitioners. No consultants. No talking heads. Just social media managers and community managers talking about what they really do every day. It’s not as sexy as 26 ways to use Pinterest, but I think there’s a market for it. We’ll see.

  • Todd, another (pardon the intentional pun) thoughtful piece. IMO (I had the “H” surgically removed some time ago), growing up is grossly over-rated and thinking highly under-rated. I’m intently focused on the latter but have not intention of succumbing to the former. I am always proud to be a “Work in Progress.”

  • Welcome to reality. I am pretty close to folding up the blog after the end of the year. Can’t compete with corporate social media coverage, and frankly, as you have put forth so well here, after seven years of social media blogging (which it will be at the end of 2012), I am not sure if this is the right path going forward career wise. Good to hear your words, Todd.

  • Great to see an update after a period of silence. As a young person who is just starting out in this industry, it’s interesting for me to know that a firm offering just PR and social media consulting is “no longer going to be enough”. I’m eager to see what is in store for the future when you finally figure things out. I will never stop subscribing to this blog even if the updates are less frequent for a while.

  • David Jones says:

    This is refreshingly candid, thoughtful and wise. Thanks for sharing it.


  • I think you’re selling your firm a little short, Todd. If you want to know what I think of Jay Baer’s post, look at the comments. I pretty much lambasted him.

    On the other hand, I do think it is a bit naive for the average PR firm, even the average social firm, to think they can do the job of a major, multi-faceted business consulting firm. Edelman, however, has major international resources and street cred that makes it possible for them to go upstream a bit.

    I think perhaps the answer is not to pretend you’re a business/financial/IT consulting firm. But you know what…they’re not a super-creative, results driven marketing/pr firm, either. I think the answer is not to fight each other for business but find a way to join hands and work together as a coordinated entity for clients who need to build a social business. Wouldn’t it make clients feel better to know they have an incredibly deep bench of talent on the tech and comm ends?

    The fact that we are even having this conversation is amazing, if you just stop to think about it. Just a few years ago, no one would even CONSIDER letting a pr person comment about business lines, service delivery, product acquisitions or the like. But it is social that is allowing this blurring to take place. PR might not be the quarterback of the team, but we can sure be a good running back that makes a lot of touchdowns. So please. Don’t fall off the cliff, Todd. PR is still in the game!!

    • Todd Defren says:

      LOL, Susan, I did not mean to imply, AT ALL, that I lacked confidence. Only that “PR (media relations)” is no longer going to be enough, nor will “basic” Social Media consulting. That leaves upstream options or sidestream options. It’s true that Edelman and Ogilvy (of ‘em all) have the network and resources to give Upstream Option a try. More power to ‘em, frankly: that leaves MORE greenfield for guys like me to become more adept and sophisticated digital/content marketers.

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