Getting the “F” out of SHIFT, and the State of Public Relations


First off, a piece of personal news: today marks my last day at SHIFT Communications. It has been a great ride and I am leaving some friends, particularly a great team, behind, What’s next? It is too early to tell tales, but my next move is sure to include explicit responsibilities relating to social media. I believe social media is only going to take more and more of our time, attention and resources- whether “we” toil in PR, marketing, advertising, or numerous other departments.  In fact, that thinking leads me to the meat of this post; rather than talk about my own moves (though I will be sure to update here once I have decided on my next step), I thought I would take a gander at where public relations is and how I think it, and its related disciplines, are changing.

Isn’t this a better idea than an “End of Year” list or “2010 Predictions” post? I



think so. Even if you don’t, let me have it in comments.

Where Public Relations Has Come in the Last Five Years and How It is Changing

I’ll start by saying that I am making no declarations or writing a manifesto here- but stating my observations. If you think that’s the same thing, cheers.

  • Public Relations as Media Relations Mill is Coming to an End

Public relations agencies have actually made progress in scaling down the mass-spamming of media targets, at least in my experience (that’s not the same as saying it’s gone, of course). However, the reliance on media relations as the backbone of PR agency work seems to be getting its oxygen only from client demands to be in this or that publication.  When clients deprive us of that oxygen, we will be freer (or forced) to pitch our talents in other areas: strategy, social media, content creation and other more creative, effective pursuits. I can say from experience that clients are already clamoring for more strategic counsel vs. more of the same ol’ media relations. That’s a great, early sign of what may come.

  • PR Agencies Must Catch Up to Each Other in Social Media Know-How

Some agencies “got it” early, and I have been lucky enough to work for two–SHIFT Communications and Topaz Partners– over the last several years. Other agencies, including larger ones, have caught up (have they?). Is the next step that the early leaders dart out ahead on the Next Big Thing? Or do larger agencies scale up their social media services to the point where it’s a standard discipline? I would love to see the former- and I think we are already seeing the latter (witness Edelman, no slouch in social media awareness anyway, and its recent hire of David Armano).

The opportunities to teach social media and create more awareness among clients, agency talent, and the industry at large is still there. If anything, the audience has increased and is hungrier.

  • We Won’t Figure Out Measurement, or Will We?

I am fond of saying that PR should own social media because we have had decades of practice in not being able to figure out measurement. Social media was made for us? Of course, we can figure out measurement- the only question is do we want to, and do we want to do it in a way that will show clear benefits to clients? I will continue to pay attention to the likes of Katie Paine to try and stay on top of this important, untamed aspect of the PR industry. I will definitely be working harder on measurement in 2010.

  • “Personal Brand” Should be Recognized for What it Is: a Networking and Reputation Boon for Companies

Here in Boston, when I go to events, I am used to the fact that typically, very few PR agencies are represented at the events. Good old-fashioned face-to-face networking is a must– and the people that use social media to build up their own “brand” or whatever you want to call it would be foolish  to squander that on online pursuits only.  I’m not talking about traveling to conferences if you don’t have the budget- but I can’t say enough about the value of that- I am talking even more about what you can do without a big budget: impromptu “Tweet-ups” and other gatherings- especially to greet visitors from out-of-town; local industry events, whether they be for PR/Marketing groups or for clients’ vertical industries.

The most visible agencies will win that battle in each city. In Boston, I would argue that mantle is up for grabs. Looking back to my earlier paragraph, many PR folks know more about PR than others know. Time to stop hiding that light under a bushel.

  • Will PR, Marketing, Advertising and other Functions Merge?

That’s a fascinating question. I watch to see if companies look at “full-service” agencies, or if social media becomes a set of tool fitting the needs of the separate disciplines (include customer service and even sales in that group), which remain distinct. I lean toward the latter. PR and advertising, in particular, want to hold on to their at times diametrically opposed views on earned vs. paid attention, and how social media serves that. I continue to be entertained and educated by the stories of PR efforts that strike a wrong chord- or even anger customers, as well as advertising efforts upended by creative that is too clever for its own good, at the expense of relevance and engagement.

Who will win? I don’t think we need a winner.

On to 2010

Will I stay in PR? I think there is a lot of unfinished work I could attend to, whether at agencies or in-house. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to redefine what I do- does it make sense to pursue positions that have more specific social media responsibilities? I think so- now is the time. What form that takes is a matter of time, people and opportunity- and there is a lot of that right now. 2010 is going to be a great and fascinating year.

Top 10 Posts for 2009

10 TenI’m not convinced you, as readers, care deeply what my top posts for the past year were– or what I consider to be the top posts.

However, for reference, I thought I would catalog the top posts by popularity. Caveat: I left some posts out, as I wanted to stick to “idea” posts. So yes, I’m cheating. My list, my rules.

Special thanks to Christopher Penn for publicizing an easy way to use Google Analytics to find your popular posts.

  1. It’s Not Just Targeting- It’s Timing: This call to add more depth to simple targeting in media relations struck a chord. The pressure for immediate results can skunk PR timing, but given room to breathe we can tell some beautiful stories
  2. Do Taglines Matter?: After seeing a Jeremiah Owyang survey that showed a lack of recognition for social media providers’ “tag lines,” I wondered if they really mattered. Not sure I ever really answered the question, but sometimes that’s the beauty of blogging.
  3. Twitter=Star Trek Facebook=Chrysler: This was such a silly post I almost left it off the list (remember: my rules), but the fact that Chris Brogan linking to it and driving a lot of traffic underscored the fact that the short, silly post actually had a point; were social media audiences beginning to diverge? They were for me back in January.
  4. Do We Agree Too Much Online? Yes We Do- I Mean, No We Don’t: I successfully defended both sides of an argument- or did I pick them both apart? Anyhow, a good, spirited discussion ensued.
  5. Social Media Top 5: Brian Solis Gives Me a Headache, Twitter Chat Advice, & Outside the Echo: I like doing my “Social Media Top 5” posts. Should I be discouraged that I have to get to #5 (really, #6- rules) to find the most popular one? Should I bother with the series?
  6. Social Media Jungle Boston; A Snapshot: An event post- Jeff Pulver’s event, actually- with lots of link love for the speakers. I hope I did them a service. One thing I recall- I was sick as a dog that day, but glad I went.
  7. Getting Impatient with Social Media: After the “Social Media Rockstars” Social CRM  event, I came away frustrated that I was hearing the same stuff over and over. Ha that really improved? Another note: for some reason, this post ha been getting spam comments. Curious, though that seems just useless to me.
  8. PR? Or Just Social Media?:  A favorite of mine. I woke up one day wondering if all my writing about social media left people unaware that I am a longtime PR guy. I don’t think I needed to worry, but it was a good topic.
  9. Social Media Top 5: Madness! Ethical PR? How to Follow 10,000? PR in Charge of Social Media?: I think overreacting to the tone of one of the posts I quoted might have helped get some attention. It’s all good.
  10. Social Media Top 5: Goodbye, D*****bags: Should I give more weight to this post because it has only been up for a month? How do you account for that regarding traffic, to try to imagine the traffic this post might get in a full year? I do note that many posts only get traffic for a little bit, then die off. Perhaps a decent reason to revisit some.

As stated above, I did this more for my own reference. However, if you like it, please give a shout in comments. Thanks.

Signal Flow and the Communications Chain

Photo Credit: Paragone on Flickr

It is common to talk about problem solving as breaking down the problem into manageable chunks and tackling them one at a time. We apply this or similar methods based on our own experiences and training.

In a recent conversation with Mike Volpe of Hubspot, I realized I was taking an approach to a problem not through my public relations training, despite that being my main industry of employment for a dozen years, but through an older discipline: audio.

I majored in radio at college (remember radio?), and on the tech side, the most important practical advice was to follow “signal flow.” Is one of the microphones not showing up in the live mix? is the sound a little fuzzy or processed when it shouldn’t be? Follow the signal through the various places it passes, for example:

  • From the origin (instrument, voice, or tape machine)
  • Through the microphone- is it on? Is it working?
  • Through the cable- is it connected properly? Is it defective?
  • Through the inputs- is the connection solid?
  • Through the mixing console- is the gain (volume) up? too high? Is the channel assigned to the correct output? Is the fader/volume on? Is the main output on?
  • Through the recording medium- are the channels assigned properly? Is the recording level correct? Did you hit “record?”

And so on- those questions may differ based on what you are recording, but even with the spread of more digital recording and simpler, more portable recording equipment, the principle is the same.

If you have a problem- marketing, technological, anything– do you follow the path the problem travels to find the answer? Do you use signal flow?

What do you think?

How My Social Media Use Changed in 2009

This summary is for the benefit of blog subscribers who might not see some of the gr eat content over at Please visit there for my full article with details on how and why I made these changes. How has your social media usage? How will it change?

  • I started using Facebook and Twitter as (mostly) distinct channels
  • I gradually stopped using Utterli for blog posts
  • I tried to use more video
  • I surrendered to the geo-tagging craze

Social Media Top 5: Faces of Death


I frequently tire of the “xxx is dead” statements that are cavalierly thrown about the social Web. Here are a few, real and imagined, that caught my eye lately, and why they may not be true.

RSS is Dead: I understand that Steve Rubel is saying in his post, “As the Decade Closes, Has RSS Faded Too?” that he is migrating away from RSS readers (like Google Reader) to get his news feeds, and more to places like Twitter and other human-curated sources. The thing is, RSS is not only not dead, I would argue it’s immortal.

RSS has morphed from some sort of tool for end-users that nobody will ever understand in that context (despite the best efforts of some smart folks) to an underlying technology that drives a lot of the easier-to-understand interfaces– basically, any content site with a news feed.

As Shel Holtz said on Twitter: “Those who proclaim RSS dead are often those who herald the arrival of the real-time Web — largely RSS-driven.”

I would call RSS the “ghost in the machine” – but ghosts are dead, so…

Marketing is Dead: Granted, Forrester Research Senior Analyst Augie Ray admitted the title of his blog post was hyperbolic (and it worked), but there were some interesting points. No, I don’t think for a minute that marketing is dead in 2010, but Augie lays bare some of the big challenges we are already seeing. First point: Augie includes advertising, PR and other related practices under “marketing” and basically takes Advertising out back for a beating. More interesting is that companies have not figured out social media yet– no kidding, right?– but more specifically, the measurement metrics they are pursuing to date are not meaningful. So is 2010 the year marketing gets lost and can;t find its way back, or is the social media riddle solved by finding more effective metrics? What do you think?

The “Twitter will Never Make Money” Meme is Dead: Apparently, all Twitter had to do to get into the black was sign a lucrative search content deal with Google (and with Microsoft). How many clients have i had in the past who started out with content syndication of some sort as a means to “real” revenues? Rarely has it led to profits, but Twitter’s insane popularity made this possible. I also believe that it’s not the long-term revenue solution– that there’s more– so, that meme will live on as we continue to guess what Twitter’s next revenue scheme will be.

Blogging is Dead: Peter Kim did not actually say that in his post, “Some Thoughts on Blogging,” but he sets a good reminder that fading in frequency of blog posting- or in any medium– can make you forgotten or irrelevant fairly quickly. And Peter, I would love to see more regular posts from you.

Technorati Tags are Dead: Aw, sugar. I got nothing. However, I was actually asked by someone recently about the Technorati Authority score of this blog.  Can someone show me that Technorati retains relevance? I’d love it if it did, but I don’t really know.

Social Media Top 5: The Dearth of Privacy


Photo Credit: rpongsaj on Flickr

Notice I didn’t say “death” of privacy. I still dislike it when people say something is “dead” when we know it isn’t. However, a number of things have been popping up recently that make me wonder if people are concerned enough about privacy; I recently read Don Tapscott’s book “Grown Up Digital,” and his main concern about Generation Y was their seeming lack of concern over their personal privacy and the data they make available. All this makes me think about how I deal with it.


Foursquare is a great application, allowing people to “check in” from locations, creating not only a gaming situation in which people become “mayors” of their favorite hangouts, but also a great geo-discovery tool when trying to plan a night out, or meet your friends. It’s also perhaps the most dangerous tool to date for those who share too much.  I’m aware of this (heck, I remember when people worried about revealing location on Twitter as an opportunity for burglars to sack their houses. Hmm) and try to be coy about location when privacy is warranted, while still using the tool quite a bit. However, I am taken aback by this list, “The Most Stalker Friendly People on the Web” (via TechCrunch). As of this writing, I’m #65 in the world (it’s only based on number of Foursquare “friends” though, so it’s more than a little misleading.

Still, do you think about how and to whom you are revealing your location?

Facebook’s new policy

Facebook made adjustments to its privacy controls this past week. Unfortunately, the new defaults may have exposed your previously private content to the world– and to Google. I’ll let Jason Calacanis tell Facebook off for screwing this up. My take? I never pay attention to the privacy controls, though I think you should. Why not me? I just don;t put up things I don;t want the whole world to see. It’s easier that way. I’m lazy; sue me. The worst that happens is that high school classmates ask me where are the pictures of my son. It never occurred me to put them up there. If I do, you bet I’ll pay attention.

Do you read privacy policies and terms of service on the sites you use? Me neither, but we should if we’re going to share anything we only want certain people to see.

Google’s real-time search

The launch of Google real-time search— what does that mean for privacy? Off the top of my head, it does mean that anything you put out there, accidentally or on purpose, is now exposed, even temporarily, to a potentially wide audience. That Twitter oopsie could appear in a Google search result. Could. I’m not too worried about that, but wonder if people have any stories yet.

Government monitoring of Twitter

Government agencies are monitoring Twitter and other social services, presumably for evil-doers. I’m not sure this is akin to phone-tapping, as Twitter, at least, is a public channel. Is there a slippery slope? I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists.

If you’re going to invade someone’s privacy, at least be creative about it

You have to give credit to “Anon Bestman” for simultaneously the best and most horrifying Twitter practical joke I can think of.

My personal privacy policy:

I hinted at it above: the simplest policy for me is threefold:

  1. Don’t post anything you don’t want exposed, even if you think it’s private
  2. Get comfortable with a certain lack of privacy. Be comforted in the fact that most people don’t actually care about the details of your life
  3. Pick and choose where you actually do want to apply privacy controls (I do so on the Flickr photo-sharing service). Guard those sites with your life and pay attention. Then, expect something to go wrong anyway.

Easy, isn’t it?

Personal Brand @ Work Panel

As a follow-up to my previous post on personal branding, I would like to ahare the first bit of the panel I was part of on December 9, at Dan Schwabel‘s Personal Brand @ Work event.

In this excerpt, I explain my approach to personal brand (or reputation) not only from a PR perspective but from a career networking point of view.  Also, we hear from Sarah Long and the HR perspective, and the “LinkedIn Lawyer,” David Barrett.

Thanks to Dan Schawbel for the excerpt

Social Media Top 5: Personal Brand (Wait, Don’t Go)

I was thinking about the concept of “personal branding” quite a bit lately, thus this Social Media Top 5.

  • I was invited to speak at one of Dan Schawbel‘s Personal Branding events, therefore I must be (or have) a personal brand: I was actually flattered to be invited to participate in a panel on “Personal Brand @ Work.” I represented PR, while others were from HR, legal and finance points of view. Lots of people had questions about the legal perspective: who owns your social media profile? What if you leave a place where you have built up connections in your company’s name? I should probably worry about that more than I do, but I have worked for employers who are pretty understanding about the division of personal and professional brand. I think of it this way, and it didn’t come up enough; think of your social networking contacts as akin to your Rolodex. If you leave a job, do you take those contacts with you? You bet you do. It’s what you do with those contacts that matters– and restrictions may apply there due to non-competes and general ethics (of course, I’m not a lawyer).

UPDATE: My colleague, Jennifer Eastman, was at the “Personal Brand @ Work” event and blogged her impressions.

  • The “Personal Brand” concept is controversial. Just ask Dan Schawbel. He has built up a meta-personal brand around “Personal Brand,” and comes under criticism. Thick skin is required (look at this angry post– apparently “Personal Brand” requires narcissism. It doesn’t). One big critic of the “Personal Brand” concept, Geoff Livingston, has written some great posts on the topic. I realize that any arguments I had with Geoff were purely semantic. “Personal Brand” can be a really lousy term if you think of it (Geoff prefers to separate that concept from “Personal Reputation” – see this post for clarification). The point, as I see it– “Personal Brand” (or “reputation”) can be exploited and done clumsily. As I mentioned, the term itself is confusing, but I think the concept is important. I don’t like the term “personal flotation device” either, but you gotta have one.
  • Why do I even care about personal brand? Well, I seem to have stumbled upon the concept, simply by being me. Social media has accelerated how people can network and be known. The point is not to become famous, but to do things and present yourself in a way that you want people to see you. That’s my approach, and I feel I have cultivated a circle of peers who know what I’m about; that’s good enough. This is not to say you should create artifice; you can’t sustain something that is false (on the Social Internet, everyone will find out if you’re a dog, right?). But you can create an ideal. Wait, create is an awful word- you can represent your own ideal- how about that?
  • So what about that whole “Personal Branding @ Work” thing? Here’s the thing; the ownership of your social networking activity is something you need to work out with your employer- please communicate with them Chicago election-style, early and often. However, the approach of a personal brand or reputation at work for me has always been that I can enhance my employer’s brand by being smart, responsible and professional. Of course, my job involves communications and social media, and my activities (like this blog post) dovetail nicely with my actual work. Your situation may be different; but show your employer the value you provide because of your reputation (see, I’m sliding into this cooler Livingston-approved language).  If you are developing a persona that is at odds with or irrelevant to your career, is that really “personal brand?” I don’t know, so I guess that’s a good topic for discussion. I tend towards the career/networking side of the topic.
  • Did I mention narcissism? Everyone who creates some sort of notoriety in this social media world gets called a “narcissist” or some other nasty term (I’ve avoided that somehow. I got called an “angry nerd” once but that’s another story). Too bad. As I wrote above, you need a thick skin. From a  career perspective, a little self-promotion is OK. It’s also OK to be confident, and speak with authority, as long as it is tempered with actual humility and frequent generosity. Name-callers, how do you answer that? Are you being generous and humble too or are you just an ankle-biting ass (great, now I’m a name-caller)? Yes, concentrating on building your reputation does carry the risk of getting carried away and looking like a true idiot. Just, um, don’t.

So, I guess I fall on the side of liking the concept of personal brand, with reservations and caveats, and room for healthy argument.

In the weeks to come, I am sure to have much more on the topics of personal brand, networking and careers. There’s always something cool happening on this front.

Puzzling it Out


Putting together a very difficult jigsaw puzzle (pictured) with my family, I experienced a lot of the feelings, frustrations, despair and elation that I equate with many tasks, including those in my work. Let’s have a look at the process:

  • BlankpageBlank Slate: Ever have to write a document and start out with that blank piece of paper? How does that feel? You don’t know where to start, you feel like every move you make gets you no closer to the finish (even though it does), and you generally feel like you will never make your goal. You also might try to do the whole thing at once, which of course doesn’t help.
  • Begin the Outline: Literally, in a puzzle, you find the edge pieces and frame out where the puzzle will fit on your table (or maybe you are lying on the floor, as in the great Rolling Stones song “Jigsaw Puzzle”), and start to see visually where different colors, shapes and images may go. I still do not feel very good at this stage– I was still frustrated I would get nowehere, and that was not helped in the case of this puzzle, which was not square. “Edge pieces” got redefined radically. But still, I was  getting somewhere.  For a project, this may be a document outline or a general plan of attack with a work team. You are attacking the edges of your project, forming what the finished work will be.
  • More Outline and Plan of Attack: With the frame in place, you can now start to herd the rest of the pieces into groups; this dragon has scales, pieces that look like rocks, others that look like branches, and some very stark red, yellow and white bits.  You can now finish the outline of your project and assign bits to team members appropriate to their role or skill level. My son is 11, and we gave him some shapes within shapes to work on, or had him assist us on whichever part we were struggling with.
  • It All Comes Together: Once you hit a certain point, you can see the finished puzzle (not just because there is a picture on the box), and the pieces which once looked lost and impossible seem to put themselves in place. Now you’re humming in your project, and you cannot be stopped. Focus is key- when we finished the puzzle, we stayed up until 1 AM because we just could not stop. You get on a roll, and you begin to see a piece of work you can be proud of. At the very least, you see the finish line and you make a sprint– hopefully, you are not staying in the office until 1 AM to get that going.

Doesn’t the puzzle look great? Now, time to put it away and start another one.