Thursday, August 28, 2008

Calcanis Provokes Ire of PR Blogosphere

PR blogs were abuzz this week with missives in the wake of a posting by Jason Calacanis, the entrepreneur responsible for Silicon Alley Insider and Weblogs, the latter of which was sold for a hefty profit.

In the post, Calacanis basically suggests the best PR strategy involves not retaining a PR firm; instead, he opines that CEOs take on this task themselves. His exact prescription: "be amazing, be everywhere, be real." Now, imagine for a moment that some unknown entrepreneur went into a meeting with a VC. Next envision a managing partner asking the entrepreneur their strategy for success. Finally, picture the look on the partner's face is the entrepreneur used Calacanis answer for a PR strategy as a response to that question.

My point is I've never understood why simple answers to questions that involve complex matters are supposed to be OK when it comes to PR when they would never work in the real world. I think it's safe to say Calacanis is glossing over some things when he relays the success he's had without a PR agency. Chiefly, he was able to get a lot of free publicity when his company Weblogs was sold to AOL for $25 million. Reports are that he gets very annoyed when people discuss the collapse of his first company, Silicon Alley Reporter.

Don't get me wrong, every good entrepreneur fails and sometimes on multiple occasions. But if the strategy he speaks about were as bullet proof as he makes it out to be in his latest missive, he should have been able to generate so much buzz about SAR that no mainstream publishing house could have seen how their world would function without it as part of their collection.

Just as that didn't happen and can't be expected to happen in every case, even when it's justified, these "cut and paste" prescriptions for PR don't always work either.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Announcing The PR Tipsheet

As I alluded to last week, one of the issues that has always concerned me with public relations is how there's a dearth of quality, educational information aimed at entry- and mid-level professionals.

Given that those two groups do much of the actual, hands-on tactical work of the profession, it would seem to me that providing quality, educational information concerning effectively media relations practices and tactics would be a no-brainer. While there are courses offered by both PRSA and companies like InfoComm, most of them aren't aimed at these two groups of professionals; secondly, since these are the folks that actually do most of the profession's tactical work, agencies usually don't send them to continuing education seminars.

In an effort to address this issue, I'm announcing the launch of The PR Tipsheet, a weekly e-zine that will feature topics that will help entry and mid-level professionals succeed in the business. The goal is two-fold: 1) Increase the quality of media relations practices in the industry and 2) Increase the retention rate of professionals in the business, and by extension, hopefully address the abysmal client turnover rate that's endemic in PR.

While the publication will be subscription based, which will support content of a higher quality level, the fee will be reasonable, since I realize there will be many who might be footing the bill out of their own pocket. As soon as details on this front are finalized, everything will be announced in a more formal release, so please stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Blogosphere and PR; Defining the Tail and the Dog

Ever since blogs came on the scene -- and yes, even before the whole movement was defined as social media -- perhaps no topic has raged on as much as how this will impact PR.

There have been blogs launched to out poor PR practices, blogs and wikis devoted merely to publishing e-mails and domains of PR firms that send misdirected e-mails and scads of predictions that only those who succeed at understanding social media will make it in PR.

The latest "smack down" of sorts came this week when Edelman blogger Steve Rubel opined that the future of PR is in peril because most bloggers feel no need to work with PR firms and because most PR practitioners who correspond with social-media writers send them mistargeted e-mails and unwanted information.

As Jeremy Pepper wrote, it's almost as Rubel forgot he works in PR, let alone at the biggest independent firm in the business. Surely the firm has the resources to devote to turning this trend around, at least when it comes to its own associates.

Whether or not you agree with any of these predictions on the future of PR, one thing is terribly clear: Despite internal efforts to educate, often with clever names evoking an educational mission, there's very little educating being done in PR. Why? The people who need the most educating are also the most profitable, since the ratio between their billing rate and annual salaries mean it's to an agency's advantage to keep them as busy billing as possible.

That's not to say there aren't others offering bona fide education programs. The Public Relations Society of America offers them to their members at discounted rates and numerous other private providers, such as Ragan Communications and its publications do as well.

That said, given the large number of people who work for small firms that likely can't/won't either make the investment or can't spare their staffers for the time it would take to complete the programs, this isn't likely going to cut it. As a profession, we simply have to do better, but the best way to do that is to offer solutions, not just scathing criticisms of the status quo.

To that end, I'm in the process of developing a new platform specifically developed for entry-level professionals. More on that soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Recessions and Their Relationship to Marketing

While a debate rages on as to whether the U.S. is currently in a recession, to a large extent that debate is a moot point if you're in and/or serve clients in one of the areas that are customarily impacted by a recession.

Along with finance and most other industries except consumer staples (e.g. the things that you need to live on a daily basis), marketing and PR certainly sees a big impact from recessions. Most notably, the industry contracted for a multi-year period following the 2001 recession that was exacerbated by the terrorist attacks.

Generally speaking, the reason marketing tends to suffer during a downturn is businesses tend to take the view that it makes sense to cut every cost possible that's not essential to the daily running of the business. In some cases, this allows them to avoid layoffs or taking other painful steps -- at least for a period of time. While this strategy may make some sense from that standpoint, in the long run, it may cause substantial damage and/or delay a recovery.

To fully understand why, perhaps putting things in simple terms may fit the bill. While effective marketing almost always delivers results, people tend to associate marketing with success during good times but view it only as a cost item in bad times. This mentality was summarized in a good quote I saw recently that said "Go ahead and cut your marketing budget. That's like saying I'll put some logs on the fire when it warms up in here."

That may be simplifying things a bit, but the attitude the quote conveys makes a lot of sense. Broadly speaking, if a business isn't getting returns from its marketing program, it's not marketing and the expense of it that's to blame, but rather the design and/or implementation of the plan.

These factors can be alleviated by picking strategic partners that are good fit, both from a tactical and personal standpoint. Make sure both sides agree on the scope of the program, its goals, cost and other important factors. Next, companies need to realize that a marketing effort is in some ways like a living organism; it's something that will take different forms as a company reaches different stages and/or has changing needs. A good consultant will help you reshape your plan as needs require.

In closing, since PR firms are a vital portion of the marketing equation, we've got to do a better job of thinking of and properly positioning ourselves as strategic partners that deliver value. Firms that can successfully do that won't just be seen as a cost item when things get tough; rather, they'll be seen as a value-added partner that can help a business improve its recognition, generate valuable sales leads and stand out from the competition. These are all vitally important to any business, especially in a tough economic climate.