Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PR Firm, Former Client Embroiled in Spat

Unfortunately, in public relations and other professional-service environments, the client/advisor relationship doesn't always go smoothly. Most often, this results in a calm parting of ways, but occasionally things can get bitter and sometimes even go public. With the widespread proliferation of social media, going public is happening quicker than ever.

The battle started on Aug. 20 when Rafat Ali, the leader of ContentNext Media, a company that operates several Web sites providing news about the world of digital media, announced on The Business Insider that he was firing his agency, Brainerd Communications following a pitch the agency sent out with the aim of getting him interviewed as a source on the future of music startups.

A high-level Brainerd official took issue with the coverage on the site, which the agency called a "mischaracterization." Brainerd was thought to be referring to a characterization issued by Ali himself -- and not The Business Insider -- which referred to them as "morons."

Obviously it's impossible for anyone but the two parties who signed the contractual agreement governing Brainerd's representation to be able to say much with certainty about what was promised, how the relationship was supposed to work and other key elements that go into making a PR firm's counsel worthwhile.

However, the typical firestorm that each of these complaints unleashes across the Web damages not only the firm itself but the industry as a whole, pointing again to the need for a cohesive industry voice to respond. Yes, Brainerd probably should have let the issue go and allowed the public at large to decide who was right in the spat, but the fact that there were many posting comments following the issue questioning the value of PR show the industry has a lot of work to do in terms of explaining what PR is and its value.

In all honesty, the reason there's so much anger when these relationships go south is because an impossible situation was set up from the beginning. This could be because there wasn't a good personality fit between the PR firm and its client, because the client expected more than was in any way realistic and the firm didn't temper those expectations or a whole host of other reasons.

While many in the PR industry probably regard the "dot-com boom" as a shining moment, at least in terms of industry revenue, it was also a time when lots of agencies took companies with business models that would never work and that had no real innovation to speak of and tried to turn that situation into something newsworthy through some form of "spin." Fact is, most any reputable journalist decides in under a minute whether something is worthy and most of the companies that were brief stars in that era didn't qualify. Had they qualified, they would have gone on to be unparalleled successes and obviously that didn't happen.

In closing, it's important to keep in mind that there will always be unhappy clients, even when an undisputably good job is done. Focusing on clients that are a fit and explaining in realistic terms what can be expected is the best anecdote to keep this kind of venomous situation at bay.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Twitter, Facebook Attacks Show Vulnerabilities of Platform Reliance

Online and printed media outlets, as well as blogs and other social networks, were abuzz last week with news over the apparent cyber-hijacking of Twitter as part of what a blogger claims was an act of orchestrated retaliation.

While the details of the specific attacks have been well chronicled by numerous other outlets, what wasn't written about extensively was how these attacks illustrate perfectly the need to consider not only the demographics and audience that you can reach via social media, but also the technology ramifications of any campaign you launch.

With the increasing reliance on social networks, the Web has made a migration of sorts away from a collection of properties based on uniform standards ratified by international bodies to a few, select properties that, when taken offline by technical issues or some other circumstance, can cause widespread disruption. That's not to say that using Twitter or Facebook for social-media campaigns is a bad thing; however, just as you want your important computer files residing in several places including one site that's remotely managed, you want your social media presence to be planned similarly as well to avoid widespread disruption in the event of outages.

The best way to get around these attacks is to rely on platforms that you exclusively control, but are remotely maintained. Examples can include everything from Web sites to blogs. While one of your hosts may go down at any one time, if you host the different elements of your overall Web presence at different locales/services, the odds of a widespread disruption are lower.

Even if another widespread attack doesn't occur in the future, it will likely pay dividends in the event an Internet backbone provider has a widespread disruption or something similar happens. We sometimes forget that for all the redundancies that were built into the Internet, occasionally all it takes is for an errant backhoe operator to take down a big chunk of the Internet, as has happened in the past.

Just as you plan for conventional disasters at the office, planning for them in your online activity can avoid costly and time-consuming disruptions

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

WSJ Story Finds Twitter Brings Few Benefits to Financial Pros

According to a new story in The Wall Street Journal examining the impact that Twitter has had on financial advisors who've tried to use the service to build their business, the micro-blogging platform has yet to deliver any major results.

The story is just the latest in a series of articles questioning Twitter's value, its overall strategy and whether it will ever actually be able to deliver the goods when it comes to business development. And it's important to note that while the story mentions that Twitter isn't responsible for bringing the advisors who use it scads of new revenue or clients, it is having tangible benefits for many.

One advisor mentioned in the story, who focuses on individuals with particular interests and successes in charitable giving, has found Twitter to be a valuable way to form relationships with influential figures in the field, such as the heads of well-known foundations.

Another advisor has effectively used Twitter to form relationships with women entrepreneurs, a nice parallel to her goal of developing a financial practice specifically targeted to providing advice to women.

This story is yet another reason that I advise clients that while building their business through Twitter is probably something that would take a long time and might yield relatively few results, Twitter shows great promise when it comes to continually engaging with clients. The main reasons clients leave firms with whom they do business is because they feel the firm doesn't take the relationship seriously enough and is not communicative enough. This is one area where Twitter gives individuals a very easy way to continually work on this thorny issue.