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

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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

My SHIFT Team

My SHIFT Team

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.

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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.

Social Media Top 5: I Am Smart and Handsome and My Cat is Adorable

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  • Well, It’s official- Social Media is For Narcissists. That’s according to a study called The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement produced by San Diego State University and Youth Pulse. As far as I can tell, the study is some sort of knock on Genreation Y being self-centered. What about Generation X? I was so  self-centered as a youth that I wanted my own label: I was too cool for “X.” Then again, I thought Generation Y was too cool for social networking sites. Maybe that’s just in the UK, in which case I sense a new Mod revival in which virtual beach riots will supplant conventional social networks.
  • David Meerman Scott is more aligned with my way of thinking; people come to your blog (or Twitter or Facebook or, or, or…) to find out about YOU. Make sure your “about” page is loaded with good info. Yes, it’s about YOU. Even when it’s not. Hmm, I should probably check my about page.

Because, that’s not necessarily what we want. Mitch, I want to read about you because I want to learn from what you know.

The successful bloggers, influences, or, well, people, do provide value, and think of their readers/audience/friend. But the value they add is in writing about what they know best- themselves, or some part of themselves.

David Meerman Scott is an excellent self-promoter– in fact, that is quite often his topic, and he is among the first people I look to for such knowledge.

Mitch Joel is a brand in demand (and I don’t care if you hate the term “personal brand”). It’s his experience and his passing on that knowledge that makes him valuable.

Chris Penn dresses his extremely useful posts in the language of his life- and that includes comic books, World of Warcraft, and martial arts. He draws lessons from his own interests that we can all learn from.

Me? I can’t write about anything without my own viewpoint. Me, me, me! but that’s what i have to offer. Displaying a little ego (a little folks, it’s like Tabasco sauce you know) is necessary to share things you know. I don’t know a ton, but I want to start conversations, ask questions and share experiences. I can only do that from my own point of reference.

Please people, don’t stop writing about YOU. It’s what YOU know best. If you’re being obnoxious, we will avoid YOU. But I want to know what YOU know, and your blog (or what-have-you) does teach me. Keep it up, you narcissistic egomaniac pigs, you.

PR Dead? Kill Dumb PR

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First, thanks to Shel Holtz for writing more extensively on this: http://bit.ly/shelsys.

The "PR Is Dead" meme ironically lives quite heartily, but this article by Fuat Kircaali, founder of Sys-Con Media and a new service called Ulitzer, goes straight to the self-parody pile.

While Shel’s post fairly outlines the possible benefits of the Ulitzer service, Kircaali’s use of his soapbox to declare the Death of public relations at the hands of his own wonderful new service (http://bit.ly/fuatk) lacks credibility.

If you are going to kill PR, don’t announce your plans in such a blatantly hucksterish way that it would make any decent PR person blush.

Want to kill PR? Kill bad PR. I’ll buy the bullets.

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Blog readers: I am riding the Pan-Mass Challenge this summer, a 2-day bicycle trek across Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund in support of cancer research. Will you join the generous folks who have sponsored my ride? Click any part of this message or go to: http://pmc.org/DH0159 for my fundraising page– and thank you!

Two Sides of Customer Service

How far should a company go to keep its customers? It actually doesn’t take very much.

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Take Comcast for instance. all they have to do is listen and nip problems before they become big. Comcast’s presence on Twitter is already well-known, but I became the latest to benefit from their forward-thinking customer service. A casual mention on Twitter of wonky Internet service at home got an immediate response from “ComcastBill” and 2 days later (including a holiday) all was fixed.

Now, I have always had good luck simply calling Comcast directly, and their responsiveness has dampened any FIOS lust I may periodically develop, but this extra step, even with my knowledge of the Twitter service, still took me aback, in a very good way.

On the other side of the coin, an airline I won’t name (let’s just say it’s one of the American airlines) has a lot less to be proud of. since I’m not naming the airline, instead of a logo I’ll just put up a photo of my cat:

Whoopie

While the Case of the 90,000 Disappearing Frequent Flyer Miles might even be dismissed by Encyclopedia Brown as a case of customer negligence, a person who saves up miles with constantly pushing expiration dates (and previous attempts to use them stymied by insufficient airline routes) will never be pleased to find them suddenly vanished. Even less so when this is discovered on the day he is trying to book a family vacation. In this case, it is not the problem, which is common but frustrating, but the treatment by customer “service” that gets low marks.

When I tell them they have lost a customer for life: “Well sir, you obviously had been flying someone else already if you hadn’t used your miles yet.” Yes, that is Delta lipstick on my collar, and the sweet perfume of JetBlue lingering.. well never you mind. Curses! Another reason to treat me like shoe ick.

What would it have taken to keep me? They offered some solutions, but all required me spending hundreds of dollars. No thanks. I’m not asking for special treatment — ok, maybe I am, but I think everyone should get the treatment. I can be pretty loyal to companies that do a little extra for me. Just ask Comcast.

Social Media Top 5: “Concentrate” (Not a New Year’s Post)

kissI promised with heart crossed, swore up and down, and insisted to the edge of embarrassment that I would not do one of those “year end” posts, where I either list my “best blog posts of 2008” (you don’t care), make “predictions for 2009” (as if I- or anyone else who makes these predictions- know anything), or make some sort of New Year’s resolution (which I won’t keep).

My biggest temptation was just to write down my top “Social Media Pet Peeves.” Now that’s just downright grumpy of me, but I actually started to write that post. But if you know me you have already heard my big social media pet peeves, like the auto-direct message greetings from new follows on Twitter, partial blog posts displayed in Google Reader, and podcasts that don’t adhere to the most basic sound quality methods to benefit their listeners.

But that post got unwieldy, cranky, and frankly, who-caresity. So I found one word to signify what I would like to do, what I hope others to do, and that would even solve some of the things about this shiny social media world that make me occasionally grumpy.

Simplify.

By simplify I don’t mean cut down your channels. I mean, simplify how you think of it and concentrate on how you do it. Ok, that’s two words. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, don’t think of the medium, think of the message.

Ok, I know:

You are saying to yourself, “What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it.”

Right– back to what I was talking about. Since I called this a Social Media Top 5, how about Five Ways to Simplify Social Media.

Concentrate on the message; the medium is less important. Medium is dependent on the audience it reaches, and the type of content (audio, video text?) that best supports the message.

Concentrate on one conduit through which all media passes. Do you need people to watch your YouTube or Vimeo channel? I don’t but they are handy tools for reposting video to my main media channel, my blog (and then linked through my most effective channel, Twitter)

Concentrate on brief preparation. A lot of us ramble and waste each others’ time. Sometime, a minute or two to sketch out what you want to say means you can say it in a lot less time or fewer words. This is something I sorely need to work on in my Uttercasts.

Concentrate on understandability. What I mean here is don’t be afraid to repeat things in the service of the casual audience member. The line between ego and helpfulness is drawn here. For example, if a discussion about your blog post pops up on Twitter or any other message group, comment stream or series of posts, repeat the URL. This is a bit of a cousin to Guy Kawasaki’s “Repeat Your Tweets” rule (which I also agree with).

Concentrate on your audience. Whom are you trying to reach? Do you need to be all things to all people? Do you need to be uber-popular? Do you even care if anyone sees your content? Make up your mind about your audience and cultivate them. It could be like-minded careerists or hobbyists, news junkies, or your immediate family. Heck, it could even be just you. Keep your content primarily focused on topics of interest so your audience knows what to expect (not to say you can’t color outside the lines– there are no rules, after all) By the way- Jason Falls has some nice illustrative advice on keeping on topic in this interview on Mediabullseye.com with Lauren White. His point inspired this line.

Am I full of it? Do you feel the need to simplify your content?

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Must you dine at the mall during the holidays?

This what enforce shopping – e.g., Christmas – does to the human condition. A few tricks to having lunch at the mall during December, if you must:

1. Be willing to walk. Park far away, it’s much faster than circling for a primo spot. If you don’t think you can walk it and you don’t have a disability permit, you are either lazy or you have an infant, an unfortunate separate category.

2. Have nothing else to do. Clear the work schedule, maybe even set aside time to shop. This isn’t going quickly.

3. Suck it up. Even if you have no choice, what the hell are you doing in a mall on December 19? Are you nuts? Apparently I am.

Picure is Cheesecake factory at Burlngton Mall, Massachusetts

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More Hating on Olympic Mascots: Summer

It’s not fair to make fun of the winter Olympics mascots without re-posting my old Summer Olympics mascot post as well. Here is my t ake from February, 2006, when Beijing 2008 unveiled its little monsters. This time, in chronological order from 1968 – 2008:


1968, Mexico City, “The Dove of Peace” (unofficial).

The “black power salute” was also unoffical, I believe

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1972, Munich, “Waldi the Dachsund”

When I think “athletic achievement,” I think “short, stubby legs” When I think “Olga Korbut,” I think “Dachsund”

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1976, Montreal, “Amik the Beaver”

At least the dachsund had legs. This could be an eggplant with a tail..

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1980, Moscow, “Misha the Bear”

How could anyone boycott that adorable face?

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Also, “Vigri,” the Baby Seal, represented yachting events in Tallinn
— yacht–club–baby seal; I see the connection

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1984, Los Angeles, “Sam the Eagle”–

Mr. Ueberroth, there’s a Mr. Henson on the line for you, says it’s urgent. Something about copyright infringement?.

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1988, Seoul, “Hodori and Hosuni,” the Tiger Cubs

They’re Grrrrrrrreat!.

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1992, Barcelona, “Cobi,” a mountain sheep dog with human shape

See, with the eyes on both side of its face, I thought it was a flounder..

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1996, Atlanta, “Izzy,” (The original name was Whatizit)

I’ve got nothing. It’s at once too easy and too difficult to make fun of this. I weep for my country.

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2000, Sydney, “Syd,” the Platypus; “Millie,” the Echidna; “Olly,” the Kookaburra

Don the Dingo and Winston the Wallaby were apparently dejected at being passed over.

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2004, Athens, “Athena” and “Phevos,” two children of modern times, brother and sister

Because historical characters bear no meaning for an Olympics held in Athens.

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2008, Beijing, “Friendlies”:”Beibei” the Fish, “Jingjing” the Panda, “Huanhuan” the Olympic Flame, “Yingying” the Tibetan Antelope, “Nini” the Swallow

Catch ’em all! These cute little figures are what pop up if you type “democracy” into Google China.

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