What is an Agency? Social Media and Corporate Voice

"Secret Agent", 1936For the last 15 years, I have spent most of my working time with agencies (PR, social media, communications). While in the PR world it was expressly the job, or so I believed, to stay in the background and “make the client famous,” the agency/client relationship has been more than that.

Let me back up a bit: the thing I, and I believe many others in my place, have struggled with over the years is the true definition of “agency.” The most important “feeling out” bit in agency life is figuring out where your authority as an external agent to act on the behalf of the client ends, and where the internal client needs to take over. In my early PR agency days, that tended to take the shape of setting up a relationship with a reporter, then fading back in the role of facilitator. Being an actual spokesperson was not only rare, but being quoted in a publication on behalf of a client was high on the list of work nightmares.

Social media comes along, bringing the role of the agency into question once again – how far to go in being an actual “agent?”  The early fights were over “ghost-blogging” which, put simply, was hiring someone to write blog posts for you , in your voice, just as you would hire a speechwriter. Much of the disapproval was misplaced, as the crimes in these instances were not in actually doing it but doing it poorly. No matter who puts finger to keyboard, the voice has to be accurate. This was true back in my journalism career; a bullpen of producers would write copy for anchors to read and the copy had damn well better be in the voice of that day’s anchor (heaven help you if you wrote the word “particularly” for Steve or used too folksy a style for Bob). In other words, yes you can write words on behalf of someone else.

As social media platforms took various forms, managing the content for companies has become an industry. People expect companies to be “human” now and respond, or at least communicate, one-to-one and in real time (that expectation could be its own topic). That raises the stakes of the conundrum; when you speak to a company online, to whom are you really speaking. Of course, that’s where things get complicated – and is the source of the Twitter conversation captured below.

My take; an agency can certainly help perform the voice of the client when it comes to executing a social media program. The idea of agency as counsel is important and vital – helping a client define and express its voice, instructing it how to use it – but many still need help delivering on that promise. And with the strict proviso that it is done within parameters and mistake-free, then the public shouldn’t care where the social media “voice” they are talking to on a particular day is drawing their paycheck from.

One last thing: The Merriam-Webster definition of agent, as applied here, is thus: “One who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” This is a great reminder of the fact that an agency’s role isn’t merely counsel, as important as that is. The role of an agent is based on trust to act on the client’s behalf. If you have that trust, there are a lot of things you can do.

Here is the conversation referenced above. Chris’ issue is a valid one; if the person representing the company is not doing their job, then it is a bad experience all around, and his impressions are probably common to many average “consumers.” However, the person doing their job poorly could just as easily be an internal person as an agency rep: and the lack of results could be the result of a larger problem: a poor business and communications philosophy.


The Facebook Password Conundrum, or Why I Shouldn’t be an Eagle Scout

There's No Place To Go But Up! - Boy Scout LawI have been reading lately about employers asking for job prospects’ (or even employees’) Facebook passwords as a part of the interview process. I’m not going to try to judge the legalities or ethical implications of all this, but I will put myself into the position of someone being asked to do so. What would I do? I want this job, I want to work for this employer, and I get asked this. Would I do it?

Turns out this whole thing reminds me of something that happened when I was 17 and 18 years old. I shouldn’t be an Eagle Scout, but the way things went down, I am.

When an older friend in my Scout Troop went for his Eagle Scout Board of Review (the Troop and local Council representatives interview the prospective Eagle Scout upon completion of merit badges and other requirements), he reported back that they asked him the following question: “since part of the “Scout Law” is “A Scout is Reverent,” should a Scout who doesn’t believe in God- an atheist- be allowed to be an Eagle Scout? His natural answer was to say “of course,” but a well-placed kick under the table from a well-meaning parent got him to change his answer to the BSA-accepted “no.”

I couldn’t believe this. I determined “reverent” to mean not only “respectful of your own beliefs” but also respectful of others.” Apparently some folks thought the Powers that Be in the Boy Scouts of America begged to differ. I swore that if I were asked the same question at my Board of Review, I would answer it my way, even if it meant giving up the Eagle award. I could live with that.

I steeled myself for my review a year or so later, and… they never asked the question. Or any other question I was uncomfortable with. Damn you, Boy Scouts, for robbing me of the chance to take a moral stand. I shouldn’t be an Eagle Scout- by the standard set forth in that question- but I am. Just as well, I would make more nuanced decisions as an adult, weighing my disgust of the BSA’s ban on homosexuals with setting a more practical example for local youth. Everything’s a choice.

But back to the point- what would you do if an employer demanded access to your social networking passwords?

Photo Credit: StarrGazr (thanks Tracy!)

Finding Influencers and Collecting Data? Tools Help, But It’s Nothing Without Hard Work

Cross-posted from Voce Nation

Recently, I had a discussion with a local (Boston) technology professional about finding influencers via social media. Additionally, I constantly have discussions with clients, colleagues and peers about measurement. Why mention these two facts together? These two topics have a lot more in common than they might seem to on the surface, at least when it comes to the practical applications in social media programs.

Tractors & Shovel Truck

Photo by Martijn vdS on Flickr

First, both “influence” and measurement come with a variety of tools designed to help us find and analyze. These tools, whether they be KloutPeerIndex or Traackr on the influence side, or Radian6SysomosSpredfast and any number of tools on the monitoring/metrics/analytics side, all have their plusses. They all have their minuses too. Are they too unsophisticated or broad, too complicated to use, missing pieces, too expensive, lacking tech support? There’s always something.

Which tool a given program uses isn’t all that important, it turns out. However, let’s assume that having some tools to help you harvest information is necessary. The reality is that most social media professionals have to have at least some familiarity with a variety of the tools, as different clients, or even departments within a company (probably a separate discussion there), use different tools.

OK- we have established that we need tools, but we are limited. That sounds like a nightmare, no?

Well, yes and no. I believe it’s healthy to believe that the “magic bullet” tool that finds the best influencers for any specific program, or covers all your metrics needs, will never exist. It’s also healthy to believe that just about any tool, despite any public criticism, will help you in some way.

Great; so what?  

Even as these tools become simultaneously more sophisticated and easier to use (good luck with that) the need for what I like to call spade work does not go away. The spade work is divided into two categories:

  • Figuring out what to ignore: Good tools mine everything. That’s almost as bad as having nothing, as a large chunk of the work in analyzing info is figuring out what not to include. How do you sort for the things that only affect your goals? How do you find people who are not merely “influential,” but are specifically relevant to your program? How do you filter monitoring data only for the things you need to see- and how do you determine which metrics are the one you need to see? Great tools filter further. Klout does offer some categories of influence, for example, and most monitoring tools allow you to tweak and adjust search terms. However no matter how good or great the tool manual sorting is necessary; not just due to a lack of complete trust in tools (Klout categories, to keep using that example, can yield some head-scratching results, such as the marketing expert who was, hilariously, deemed to be influential about “sheep”), but because every program, every campaign- and every data source- is unique
  • Goals: Actually that should be first, but I’m being counter-intuitive. I was also tempted to write “Program goals” to distinguish from campaign oriented goals, but it is important to find influencers for and measure campaigns as well as the ongoing program. As hinted at in the previous paragraph, your goals determine which of the endless metrics and influencer types you need to focus on, to the exclusion of all else that lacks relevance, beyond the limited extent of any tools.
  • Analysis: The value any social media professional brings to a program is in the analysis- I don’t mean sifting and sorting data, as anyone can learn to do with the tools, but in figuring out what it all means. At the beginning, it’s applying thought to the types of influencers that matter and what criteria count most. In the end, it’s applying meaning to the program data. For example, what does that decline in Facebook Page comments mean? Why were there fewer clicks to the Website from Twitter vs Facebook? How did a surge in blog publishing frequency this month affect subscriber numbers- or even product sales?

Tools are necessary. But making them worthwhile is hard work. Anyone who thinks differently is not using them (or their social media team’s brainpower) to their full capabilities.

Help a PR Pro Out Day: Profiles in HAPPO (Boston)

It has been fun being involved with Help a PR Pro Out Day, and now the day, February 19, is upon us. Be on the lookout for the “#happo” hash tag on Twitter (and the #happobo tag for Boston) particularly between 11 am and 3 pm ET, as well as a number of blog posts like this one. Also, here in Boston we are holding an informal HAPPO networking lunch, with space and pizza generously provided by CHEN PR.

The purpose of HAPPO is to connect job-seeking PR professionals with potential employers, and to that end I have let some Boston-area participants take some space here with brief profiles. Also, employers that are hiring have provided me with links to their openings (please scroll to the bottom to see the employers).

If anyone, employer or PR pro, wants to connect and hasn’t done so directly, I am certainly happy to help. I can be reached at doughaslam (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter at “DougH.” If you are a PR Pro or employer who would like to add your name to this group, just jump in in comments. I’ll also add any employers who jump in over the course of the day; and again, don’t forget the Twitter stream!

*I should note that there are some PR pros who do not wish to be so public for various reasons, but are still looking for opportunities and have stories every bit as good as the ones outlined here.


Amy Bernstein


Amy is an energetic young professional who hopes to “hit the ground running” when she finds a full-time job in Public Relations and Marketing. She is results-oriented and has held several positions in the PR arena where she can show proven results. Amy’s biggest desire when she finds a new position is to learn and absorb as much as she can. She is interested in working for an agency or a private company where she can learn from the best.

Bonus– Amy has her own HAPPO blog post here.

Kristin Grages


Diverse experience, singular dedication.  With my depth of agency experience, I have the background to handle the varied needs of clients from any vertical market.  As a former in-house marketer, I know what the client needs and how to manage and exceed their expectations. These has taught me one thing, PR is there to grow business, to boost sales and to increase positive experiences with our clients’ businesses. A team player with a unique perspective.  As the goalie for my hockey team I have learned that you can’t win a game by yourself but you can lose it all on your own.  Being a team player means trusting the people around you and ensuring they have put their trust in the right person as well.  Whether it is training junior staff in best practices or merely setting a good example with my own hard work, I strive to create an environment of positive productivity. A multitasker with an organizational system all her own.  Managing up to eight accounts during my agency days, and a multimillion dollar company’s entire marketing and pr strategy during my in-house days, I learned very quickly to prioritize and be flexible.  Concise recordkeeping and deadline management were critical to my sanity and workload.  Just as important was the ability to put both of those aside when something changed.  Whether it was a service malfunction or a CEO’s whim to submit for an opportunity she passed on months ago, flexibility is just as crucial as prioritization when it comes to successful PR.

(Note: Kristin is a former colleague of mine at Topaz Partners)

Jenna Glynn


Junior at Boston University majoring in Public Relations. Currently spending the Spring 2010 semester in Los Angeles “studying abroad” and interning. Open to all aspects of PR though mostly drawn to consumer PR, brand building and corporate public relations.Loves to tweet, blog and Facebook. Eternal Boston sports fan! What I’m looking for: Summer internship (preferably paid) in Boston area. Willing and eager to get my hands into anything PR and soak up as much experience as possible before graduating in Spring 2011.

Cassie Goldstein

http://joninathelittledove.blogspot.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/cassiegoldstein

I am a senior at Indiana University majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. My concentration in my degree is public relations. Although I have been living in Bloomington for the past four years, I originally hail from Newton, MA just outside of Boston. I am eager to get back to city life! I am a passionate dancer, sushi lover (I am travelling to Japan in March with an International Public Relations Course), big sister and friend. For after graduation I am seeking an entry-level position or internship in public relations. I have a particular interest in the corporate, consumer and healthcare sectors. I would like to be heavily invested in social media outreach as well.

Nelly Liu


I am a recent grad from Boston University with an MS in Public Relations and am a native Chinese speaker. I am looking for job opportunities in social media/Asian relations/communication strategy consulting/integrated marketing/PR in the Greater-Boston area.

Expert in Asian Relations Grew up in Shanghai, China, I have excellent communicational skills in English, Mandarin and Shanghainese. I am extremely familiar with the Asian culture and have huge networks in China. Those qualities have helped my previous employer establish the first proprietary panel of mainland China luxury consumers to analyze the attitudes and consumer habits of Chinese luxury buyers and develop business strategies for luxury companies. I want to continue being the liaison between China/Asia and the US. I can help international corporations/agencies that have Chinese clients/are interested in the China market/want to boost its business in China.

Passionate about Social Media I believe that social media is more than simply using Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. The true power of social media is in using those tools to engage in conversations with a target group to help a company meet its business goals. I have worked on a variety of social media projects including social media strategy development, viral video/Web site content production, a white paper on crisis communication in social media, social media campaign design and management, and the planning and management of an online video contest.

Positive Attitude Towards Work I am a fast-learner and always bring to the team my energy and enthusiasm. I am not afraid of taking risks or seeking new challenges, and I always do what it takes to make my project succeed. Never never give up!

Chet Murray


Having been laid off from my prior agency due to the turbulent economy, I am excited for what lies ahead in my career.  I am a seasoned PR pro with multiple years of experience representing a vast array of clients in technology and financial services.  Working at Nicoll Public Relations for more than two years, I was responsible for developing strategic media relations campaigns for upper echelon consumer electronic manufacturers.  I spent considerable time crafting carefully targeted pitches for varying media outlets from the New York Times to WWE Magazine to influential bloggers.  I had the pleasure of planning and executing trade shows including the International CES, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. Eaton Vance Corp., a mutual funds firm, is where I started in PR.  As a member of the corporate communications team, I was responsible for drafting press releases, fact sheets, articles, media advisories and other documents on behalf of the company.  I also contributed content for the monthly newsletter and participated with other forms of cross-company communications. I am looking to build upon my experience and utilize my skills with either an innovative agency or a company that is striving to enhance its communications team.  My consistent work ethic with a proven ability to get results will be an asset for my next employer.

Summer Walker


Looking for: AE position at a Boston-area agency As a Senior Account Executive at a full-service public relations agency, I’ve spent the last four years monitoring industry trends, writing press releases, pitching media, and developing talking points, key messages and media lists. I believe truly effective PR is born out of thorough research. Whether it be for marketing plans or RFPs, analyzing industry trends or building blogger relationships, I specialize in producing quality research that helps exceed my client’s PR goals. I have worked with clients in a variety of industries from non-profit to hospitality. I have won Awards of Distinction and Judges Awards in both local and state level Florida Public Relations Association’s Image Award competitions. In 2007, I was honored with the Jefferson Award for Public Service for work with BETA Center, a Central Florida non-profit.


The following employers have explicitly told me they are keeping an eye on HAPPO and have openings. I’m sure (I know) there are more!)


Careers link: http://www.chenpr.com/careers.htm

Cone Communications

Careers link: http://www.coneinc.com/careers/index.php

Manning Selvage and Lee

Careers link: http://www.facebook.com/mslboston?v=feed&story_fbid=303891977229&ref=mf

HAPPO shouldn’t end on HAPPO Day. build your networks to last!

Do Journalists Make Bad PR People?

Photo: RogueSun Media on Flickr

I read this short piece, “The Great Journalism Exodus,” by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. In it, he discusses the fact that many journalists are switching over to public relations jobs. That’s nothing new, but we’re definitely seeing more of it in this economy, and with the “traditional” media changing and shedding jobs in the process.

But Goldberg also wrote a couple of things that irked me. First, on whom PR flacks will pitch if the “media” are shrinking:

“…they’ll flack to underpaid, undertrained bloggers.”

Well, yes, in a sense there is some truth to that. But they’ll also flack to passionate people who happen to blog- those bloggers not only are closer to the audience than mainstream media– they are the audience, in a way traditional media tries not to be.  That’s just another short-sighted disdainful slap at those “amateur bloggers” from the ivory tower of print media.

It also gets to another pet peeve, which is frankly perpetuated by many PR agencies and some of their clients: that PR is all about media (including blogger) relations. Of course, that would be a journalist or columnist’s view of the world, and I have certainly seen this point of view played out in a skewed manner too many times. PR is so much more than that- messaging and strategy, crisis counsel (wouldn’t a seasoned reporter be good at that?), and, becoming more important, content creation (I think journalists know a thing or two there as well) are equally important parts of the PR mix.

Goldberg also quotes Richard Mintz of the DC-based Barbour Group:

“Journalists by their nature don’t make great advocates or public relations people because they’re trained to be objective rather than to take sides,” he said. “They also tend to work alone, and they have no business experience.”

Journalists don’t make great advocates? Two things wrong with that: first, a balanced story, even if sponsored (and disclosed as such) by a client, is a better sell to media and the public. It’s more interesting, and gains trust with the media and the audience. Second, while journalism strives to be objective, every outlet, every reporter and editor, every story has a pint of view that affects the outcome, even if only in the slightest. I’ve been a journalist, and I never pretended otherwise. Furthermore, Goldberg’s example of hack-turned-flack is a reporter from the right-leaning (some friends will say I’m being kind)  Washington Times going to work for BGR Group, a PR firm founded by Republican lobbyist and now Governor Haley Barbour. Sounds like a natural fit to me. Taking sides? Believe me, that’s an easy transition, and it was easier for me than I thought it would be 12 years ago.

As for no business experience, point taken. I guess hacks turned flacks will have to compare their business experience to 22 year olds right out of university PR schools (no offense, best and brightest students!).

Most reporters who want to pursue PR jobs will be just fine, as long as there are the jobs for them. I have seen many make the adjustment just fine over the years.

Which side of The Atlantic are you on?

Exit: Stage 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.

Social Media Top 5: Goodbye, D*****bags

BusinessWeek Editorial Layoffs; Just…Sad

Let’s pretend that Bloomberg has a master plan for a leaner, stronger, BusinessWeek after buying the troubled magazine recently. They probably do, right? It still boggled the mind to see the parade of high-profile pink slips given out this week: Stephen Baker, Heather Green, Jon Fine, Robert Hof, etc. (the RaceTalk* blog from RacePoint live-blogged the carnage for our…pleasure).  What struck me was that PR people felt genuinely bad. not that we shouldn’t, but one friend asked how we felt about the demise of the Industry Standard. I don’t remember PR people feeling so bad about those layoffs. Why? The Standard was notoriously hostile to PR people. businessWeek, besides being more practical, cuts stafff in a time where both flack and hacks alike share more conversations via social media. We know them a little better, and they are people to us, more so than in the past.

I wish every last one of them the best and have no doubt we will see big and interesting things soon.

Twitter to Users: Tell Everyone Where You Are: Yes, You in the Starbucks on Centre Street: You Too

Twitter has enabled geotagging. It’s interesting in that, in addition to other tools like FourSquare (of which I have become a big fan),  showing the world where you are is really coming into style. Cool? yes, for those activities whee you want it. Scary, too, though. Stalking should be a real concern, and I wonder if, as Don Tapscott wonders in his book “Grown Up Digital,” Generation Y-ers in particular don’t take enough care in protecting privacy. I’m curious to see how these tools will be used.

I’m Using Posterous

I have finally broken down and started using Posterous. No, I won’t use it for “Lifestreaming.” I have Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Friendfeed, etc, all making up a lifestream (except I still hate using that word). I will use it to post via mobile though, and from there distribute the content to the blog, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc. Stay tuned, I hope make it an effective use of content channels, though I don’t expect it to be a standalone blog in itself.


Yes Terry, you do slay you.

On the Internet, If You Are a Dog, Someone Will find Out

Wowee wow-wow stupid: person makes anonymous offensive remark on a newspaper newspaper Web site. Web site person tracks IP address and lets employer know (privacy violation? Maybe). IP address is at a school, and an employee posted the offending comment- from the school! Incredible. The employee resigned; with any luck there was a lesson learned.

Let’s Get Rid of the Term “Social Media D*****bag”

Ok, the term is “douchebag” but I try to keep this blog as PG-rated is I can. On the other hand, I’m not normally such a prude, and have even uttered the term myself, but it strikes me as misogynist, offensive, and pretty nauseating if you think about it. I even hear women proudly saying it. Maybe I am just a prude.

What would you think if we changed it to “social media colostomy bag?” I thought so. Some friends have offered alternatives- a personal favorite is “social media blackguard” from David Jones. Call me old-fashioned.

*Idle thought: As good as it is, is “RaceTalk” the most unfortunately-named PR blog, ever? Maybe “RaceBaiting” was taken. As Clarence would say, marinate.

SIPA Online: PR Stranger Wanders into the World of Publishers and ROI

This was originally published on the SHIFT Communications “Slice” Blog

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the SIPA (Specialized Information Publishers Association) Marketing Conference in gorgeous Miami Beach, Florida (I know, the life of a PR flack is tough). I was asked to do a little work (the nerve) and present on social media news releases.

In our world- especially here at SHIFT, home of the Social Media Press Release Template, this can be an “old hat” subject (dirty secret; it’s not old hat– still much to do and learn). At this conference, I was very interested to present in front of a different crowd- which, to my surprise, was very eager to learn and came armed with questions. I was also pleased and flattered to find SIPA board members in the audience.

Below is the presentation I gave, with slides synced to audio. Special thanks to Todd Defren, without whom I would not have been able to sharpen my plagiarism skills to present on his and SHIFT’s behalf:

Why did I consider myself a “stranger” at this conference? SIPA is very ROI-focused, and PR is notoriously, well, not ROI-focused (more dirty secrets!). One basic presenting tenet that was proved at my session? Bring data. People were very interested in the ins and outs of press releases and new social media formats, but the takeaway that was re-broadcast at the conference? The statistics on social media release vs traditional release performance from Andrew Parker (see slide 18). I provided context and caveats, and this was not what I considered the lynch pin of the presentation, but numbers rule.

That was more true at the next day’s panel on “Social Media Success Stories,” with Hunter Boyle of Marketing Experiments and Matt Bailey of Sitelogic. Hunter and, particularly, Matt were quite at home from the analytical side, but I was able to answer a pointed question about the ROI of Twitter with two points: Dell Outlet’s $3 million Twitter account (thanks to Jay Berkowitz for serving up the exact number from the audience), and was able to recount revenues realized from Twitter networking in my PR work. Numbers from a PR guy? I astonished myself.

What are you doing to get outside your normal comfort zone (for me, that’s the “social media” crowd, such as the one at BlogWorld Expo)? And what do you need to present to them to make sure you, as a stranger, can get your message across?

Also: a quick thanks to Mike McKinney and the folks at Comhaus, who worked diligently during the SIPA Marketing Conference to capture the sessions on audio and/or video. I hope to have access to the panel soon, and will share a link to other sessions when it is available.

Blog with Integrity Not a Shot at PR (in case you wondered)

BlogWithIntegrity.com When marketing blogger and fellow social media Bostonian Susan Getgood alerted me to “blog With Integrity,” (www.blogwithintegrity.com), I was intrigued, for a few reasons;

  • There has been a lot of talk among bloggers (especially but not limited to  “Mommy Bloggers”), about attempts by the government to regulate sponsored blog posts. an “Integrity” badge nominally serves to signify some sort of ethics compliance.
  • The proposed “PR Blackout” is supposed to take place this week (Susan told me about Blog with Integrity a week ago).
  • I inherently trust Susan- and by extension her three BwI co-founders- because of our friendship and the professional trust she has earned over the years. I ‘m happy to sniff out agendas in these types of efforts, and see none here.

As a PR person, I otherwise had reason to be concerned about the PR Blackout and Blog with Integrity. Is this an attack on the PR profession? A rejection of our outreach methods? As it turns out, no.

I listened to a podcast interview that Susan and BwI co-founder Liz Gumbinner did with For Immediate Release’s Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz (Liz blogs at Mom-101, by the way). I recommend listening to the podcast, it’s illuminating. What did I think about after listening, as a PR person?

  • The PR Blackout idea, whether or not you think  it’s a good idea, is more an attempt at a cleansing exercise than a flip-off of PR.
  • I often say that blogger relations is not a lot different from mainstream media relations. We need to “relate” and deal with writers/editors/bloggers as individual. Where that breaks down, however, is that most bloggers do not have training as journalists. That does not mean they aren’t ethical, but it does mean they may be naive in how to deal with PR promotions, and when they should disclose relationships with companies. You can say it’s common sense, but if you have spent two decades in journalism in PR, it’s hard to remember the days before you knew how to sort out the flacks from the genuine rep’s.
  • (ADDED 8/13); I was reminded via a question from Eden Spodek- Susan made a great point in the podcast: the badge is not so much a signifier to PR people that the blogger is ethical, but a reminder for the bloggers about their own values. We don;t need badges, unless we do.

We in PR are defensive, used to getting attacked because of bad practices and the unethical few (this didn’t start with bloggers, by the way). It’s nice to think that a move to  “ethical” blogging, and even a break from PR, is not an attack no our industry, but a way to educate bloggers and rally the community behind ethics and common sense.

By the way, I signed the petition, and sport the “Blog with Integrity” badge. Not that I get pitched often (don’t get any ideas).

Social Media Top 5: Twankruptcy, Twitter DDoS, Paid Tweetups (You Bet!)

Scoble Declares Twankruptcy

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that some words shouldn’t be “Twitterized with a “tw” in front; by “twankruptcy” I am talking to something akin to “RSS bankruptcy” or “inbox bankruptcy” where people xapp all their unread items because there are simply too many. Well, Robert Scoble did that to this 100,000-plus followers on Twitter this week.

Why? reading the stream became unworkable. too much spam, too much “who cares?” My numbers are nowhere near Scoble’s, but I can sympathize. I’m just not sure i want to drop the people I actually I care to follow and rebuild from scratch. It’s a choice- I didn’t see too much of an uproar, probably because Twitter went down the day he announced it.

twitter-deadThat’s Right, Twitter Went down So Fast That the Fail Whale Slept Through It
Apparently, the denial-of-serivce of attack that brought down Twitter and affected Facebook, LiveJournal and other sites was politically motivated (no, I don’t understand it and won’t try). what was interesting to me was that frequent Twitter outages seemed to be a thing of the past- the last time I really had a problem I think I went to Jaiku or Pownce for my conversations. This time, people piled onto Facebook, and some to Friendfeed. Others enjoyed human company and fresh air.

If Stanley Bing knew what “PWNed” meant he could say he did it to Jeff Jarvis
In short, he took apart Jarvis’ argument that the “press release is dead” and that no journalists use them. Not so. And PR people, perhaps to Bing’s expected horror, are thanking him for coming to their defense.

Who Owns the Word Tweet-Up?
Seems some people were cheesed off that the Phoenix PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) chapter held a meeting for members that charged admission and called it a “Tweetup.” What? Outrage! Or, so what? “Tweetup” only signifies Twitter. People applying rules to things that have no rules need to step back a a bit. If there is a real problem here, maybe it’s some PRSA chapters could have more free events. But this made-up flapdoodle reeks of the old “it’s not a blog/yes it is” battles. Whatever.

The Wall Street Journal Has Changed Its Embargo Policy

According to paidcontent.org, “it will not accept embargoes for stories, but will take exclusives if handed to them.” I’m not sure that’s much different than the way intelligent PR people handled handled the Journal anyway, is it? Jeremy Pepper had (I think) a similar reaction. Hey, at least overreaction to non-news gives me material.