This Halloween, Dress Like a Marketing Moron

•October 30, 2009 • 8 Comments

After my Fire a Client Today post, I got to thinking about the issue of “yes” people in the PR business, especially on the agency side. I hope some folks took the idea of firing their worst client seriously but I fear little actual change has been made. PR people and agencies are still desperate to keep every dollar they can attached to their bottom line. I completely get it, less than a quarter into my first foray into building a business, I sometimes feel myself slip into the mindset of more clients/more revenue equals more success. It takes me a second, but I pull out of it.

This post is to encourage companies that work with outside PR help, contractors or agencies, to test them. In the spirit of Halloween, dress like a marketing moron. Think of the wackiest, most ridiculously not-attached-to-your-business-needs idea and bring it to your team the next time you talk to them. Perhaps on a standard weekly call – or via a quick one off to the consultant you have on board. It might take you a bit of time to think of an idea that is so off base but it will be worth it to see how they react.

Once you know your idea, bring it with gusto and excitement. Show the team just how stoked you are on making it happen, make sure they know you are proud of the idea and came up with it yourself. Really push the costume to the limit. One of three things will happen.

1. They will tell you the idea is whack – perhaps they will say it in a very diplomatic way but it will be clear that they think your nutty notion will not work. Essentially, they will fight back.

2. They will fall right in line – “great idea, Jim, how exciting! We’re going to write up a plan around it next week and get started right away.”

3. They will take your steaming pile of doodie and build something awesome. They will look at the moronic thing you said and see it as a challenge to make something amazing out of the base idea no matter how ridiculous. This might take your weekly call off track a bit, but let it. You can talk through the other stuff later or via email. If your team can think on their feet and turn a bad idea into a good one, let them do it and watch the process unfold.

Now, nothing is ever completely black or white but my two cents on the reactions above. Keep the first people on board, they tell it like it is and are counselors to you and your business. Fire the second people right away, they have failed miserably. For the third group, find more money for them or at least figure out a way to allow more of their time to go into active brainstorms with you about your business. If the way they think about your business issues with this much creativity, you should really get more of that!

Alternate title: Guess the VPs better be on the weekly calls this month

Give Wea Nother Try

•October 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

After my Wea Culpa post, I got more of the same feedback from across the PR industry. It’s time for a change and everybody feels it. I’ve talked to amazing, talented, senior folks itching to get past the BS or even wondering if they’re just about done with this gig. I’ve met with junior and mid-level folks feeling underappreciated, misunderstood, burnt out and either “over-it” mentally or actually close to giving up on the business altogether.

And, the worst trend of all that I am hearing now; people are wondering if the flaws we are seeing in the industry are not fixable. They think it might be time to abandon ship. Here are three reasons I think everyone should give the public relations business another chance.

1. You’re good at this: You give good story. You bring people together around a common idea and goal. You make sure the people who want/need to buy know exactly what a company has to offer. When you do it well, business needs what you do to succeed. No matter the medium or the era, these needs are timeless. They know not what they do by dismissing them.

2. We can make a change: If we can work together, we can make some changes. It’s time to stand up for clear, concise, well-told stories. It’s time to make sure business understands why it is important to have conversations across every area: customers, sales, employees, influencers – and let them know we can help them guide the communication ship. This will take letting them know when they should do (and pay) less too, but won’t it be worth it to fix this mess?

3. It could be great again: If we can do this, PR could be a great business again. One where the value is clear and everyone can see the impact. One where you can be challenged and use your versatility. One that fosters creativity around the new tools that are available. One where there is room to fail so that bigger success can be attained in the process.

Now the rest of the business world will have to help with this too. We can’t do it alone. And if you are on the product/client side, you should want to help. You need good people to stay in this business. I know some of you think that the best product can succeed without PR but it just can’t. It doesn’t always mean an agency or a consultant but you need communicators on your team one way or another. You need people who can help get the word out there – and, if you’re lucky, they’ll have the skills and interest to help you know what it makes sense to talk about, and when, based on the needs of your business. Even if you think there are too many marketing/PR people, right now you are losing some really good ones. Even an engineer can do the math on what that means long term. Help or PR will just get worse.

And while I’m doling out my thoughts, let’s remember, social media doesn’t make it all free. There’s a cost to manage this stuff and beyond execution, ignoring communication strategy is short-sighted and foolish. Hell, give PR a chance to get involved more deeply, and it might even help you do other things better.

Maybe we can all broaden our horizons to what public relations should really mean. It’s not just media and blogger relations. It’s not just coverage. Relating to your publics means so much more than that. There are a lot of people who want to interact very directly with a story, if given the choice. We need to create an understanding of the full communication ecosystem that stands behind the much easier to say acronym of PR – I mean, come on, we are the messaging people. right?

What do you think could make pros, newer and more experienced, change their minds about giving up on PR? What do you think needs to change about the business? On the client side, what are you sick of dealing with when it comes to “PR types?” Let’s talk about it.

Fire A Client Today

•October 2, 2009 • 17 Comments

Fired_stamp

The more time I spend talking to people in the PR and marketing worlds, the more I think it is time to reconsider the way service providers find, vet and retain clients. Lately, with the state of business and the economy, agencies are holding on for dear life to any revenue they can get their hands on – without concern for the quality of the client, the product/offering they are representing and the long term impact of that work on their brand and team member reputation.

I know that much of the focus has been to stay afloat and avoid additional layoffs – and perhaps this is idealistic – but maybe as the economy begins to slowly head north again we should take this opportunity and get rid of some dead weight. Tom Foremski recently wrote a great post called Pedal to the Metal looking back to the shockwaves the Sequoia Capital presentation calling for a massive PR/marketing bloodbath sent through the Silicon Valley community. Foremski, in his forward-looking wisdom, calls for a new presentation encouraging companies to get back into the game now: “Surely it is better to have all your ducks in a row now. This is a great time to invest in people and services to make sure your startups are well positioned and well known.”

I couldn’t agree with Foremski more – and I’d like to put a call out to agencies and PR pros with the same idea in mind. You have lost a lot of clients – it hurt and required an intense reconsideration of how you managed your business. What would one more client loss mean at this point? Even if you have to not make a hire you were thinking about – or work that much harder to get another, better, client – or even make one more layoff – you should fire a client.

Get your ducks in a row – take the time now to build the right client base – stop taking anything that moves. Do the work of looking for companies that have a compelling business model, money to pay their bills and a story worth telling. Without taking these measures now, you may not be well positioned for the next wave of business that is sure to come your way – and, to Foremski’s point, you will certainly not be well known as being a savvy, smart, strategic resource that works with the right kinds of partners.

Ok, so maybe you REALLY can’t fire a client – so at least have the balls to tell a client what you really think. Why is their story so hard to tell? Is there a story there at all? Is the product just awful but you never felt able to give them the straight dirt? Do they spend way too much time worried about the wrong parts of their business making it impossible for you to do your job? Do they really not “get it” when it comes to what you do? Hell, if you tell them all this one of two things will happen: they’ll respect you more than any PR person they’ve ever met before, or they’ll fire you (in which case, you should be glad to see them go).

But I still think you should just fire the worst client you have – do it now.

Check out Mark Johnson’s counter-point on this post, The PR Blame Game. So right, Mark: “If you haven’t armed your PR firm with a great message about a killer product, you only have yourself to blame.”

Alternate Titles:

  • A hot steaming pile of crap in the hand, is not worth two in the proverbial bush
  • They would do it to you, in fact they already have

Mind the Gap

•September 28, 2009 • 2 Comments

I was recently visiting NYC and got to chatting with a friend about the signs in subway stations constantly reminding passengers of the gap between the platform and the train. My friend, a hardened New Yorker, commented that 10 years ago these signs weren’t around – and that only a moron wouldn’t realize that a gap between the train and the platform is a necessity so things don’t rip apart as trains rush passed.

Reading Mark’s Feedback Lacuna post – combined with this conversation about minding the gap – got me to thinking: while we work to bridge the gap in the feedback cycle maybe we all just need to be responsible enough to deal with it. Look up from your smartphone when you board the train and step out of your comfort zone when working with folks in different functional areas at the office. Maybe it’s time we stop looking to blame someone else for the fact that we tripped on a gap between our worlds that was so frickin’ obvious.

We tend to get tripped up by this feedback gap because of a lack of trust. We don’t trust that the other side can bring anything valuable to the table when it comes to helping us do OUR jobs. The social media/marketing team can understand that the product team makes the product come to life – but questions how their way too deep in the weeds perspective can help marketing maintain a solid dialogue with customers. The product team questions how the touchy-feely marketing people can get them any closer to something they live and breathe every day.

So, in the spirit of conversation, and building off Mark’s post, here are five thoughts on how we, the social media/marketing guys, might take the first step in building the Lacuna bridge we need:

1. Make the time and format you use to share what you learn make sense to the product team. Who wants to hear what you have to say? How can you speak their language? Find the person on your product development team who you think will give you the straight dirt, buy them a few cocktails and get down to figuring these things out.

2. Stop with all the incessant meetings – most meetings suck and are a waste of time – when you do NEED to meet, make sure only the people who need to be there are invited, have an agenda and keep it short.

3. Don’t just listen to your customers, listen to your product development team. Figure out a way to sit within earshot of them at least one day a week. What are their biggest concerns? And not the ones they tell you when you ask, the ones they bitch about to each other.

4. Get some hands on product experience (to Mark’s post, at least work with the product team on spec writing). Figure out a way to get everyone on your team into the product groove so they can walk away with a more “product-centric” perspective on how they do their job. This will let you better understand what your “social media feedback on what should change” really means to the product team and how hard is it to make the changes happen. [The natural counterpoint to this is that product folks need to better understand what the marketing team is doing and why – hopefully they will ask for this but if they don’t, find a way to give them insights as you work together.]

5. Tame the social media tidal wave for your product team. Now that you are building a better understanding of what it means to be on the product side, find a way to weed out the noise in the social media pipeline and bring the product team specific, easily digestible data about what customers who are online want/need on the product front with hard numbers on why this feedback is worth taking to heart.

While we work to bridge this gap, let’s all agree to stop whining over it. It’s natural that it should exist based on how business has evolved and, if we hope to bridge it as we move into a more socialized world, the first step will be to recognize and appreciate what our counterparts bring to the table. If you product types want to sit caressing your potentially great creation ala Golum in a lonely cave, keep alienating marketing. And if you marketing folks want to keep trying to make smoke without fire (and then proceeding to blow said smoke up any ass you can find), go ahead and keep ignoring the importance of engaging the product process. Without product, there is no story – without marketing, there is no storyteller. Now shake hands and play nice.

Relationship Reality: Stop Asking Who I Know at USA Today

•September 16, 2009 • 8 Comments

In many parts of life and business, relationships you have (and your ability to start to build new ones genuinely and quickly) will get you through the door but never seal the deal. Without a good story, a good product or a strong answer, no one if going to throw you a bone just because you are a friend.

Questions commonly come up about media relationships during the process of hiring PR help (agency, freelance, in-house)– “who do you know that can help us?” What they usually mean, when you get right down to it, is who do you know so well that they would write about the ribbon clipping ceremony of your freshly cleaned toilet just because you called them. The answer should be no one. Any good storyteller wouldn’t tell a crap story, no matter how many glasses of wine you’ve shared with them.

New media, old media, social media, word of mouth, etc. etc. – the basics remain the same. People don’t like things that suck, they quickly lose attention if things are boring. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve “partied with that TechCrunchreporter” or how well you know the guy at the New York Times’ best friend – if your product or story is no good, no amount of flawlessly executed PR will change that. Even if you somehow have a “Christmas miracle” and sneak past a media gatekeeper who’s having an off day – consumers are smart, and even the not-so-smart ones still know when something is crap. If you’re in a world where you’re trying to market to make up for product deficiencies, save the money you are considering spending on PR and focus on creating an awesome product. A bad launch is far worse than no launch at all – it’s just throwing good money after bad.

When looking for someone to help you when your product is ready for primetime, it’s fair to hope for someone with strong relationships with influencers. But don’t hinge your decisions on that. Instead of asking about reporters that a PR professional knows, ask about referrals from other companies: has someone I trust told me YOU are the right choice for this job. Also, think about your working relationship: in the time we spend together, can I see myself having a strong working relationship with you, can we brainstorm new business ideas, can we be creative.  In short, can we make things happen.

Find someone with true passion for your product, and if you feel like they might not be in the position to be honest with you about their passion or lack thereof, test them on it. Interview them like you are making a hire – figure out how they think on the fly, get to know them, talk to people you trust that really know their work, engage deeply in conversations about your space and your real business drivers. It’s not about making them do a bunch of free, busy work during the courting process – it’s about finding out if the PR professional/team has the passion for what you do, the ability to allow their understanding of your product/business to evolve as you do and the confidence to tell your story well.

If your product is really great and you work with people who have enough passion and knowledge to never say “die” and do it with panache, you’re more than halfway there. The next step is to respect each individual working part, each soloist in the room, and what it brings to the table and build a perfect symphony of product, passion, initiative, creativity and innovation.

 

Alternate titles:

A. Relationships are like assholes, everybody has one

B. I do know someone you should talk to, but you’re still going to be a douchebag

Update: Mark Johnson has posted a faboo response to this post on his blog that covers five questions you should ask a potential PR partner before you decide. You can read it here - this is part of our ongoing blog-based discussion.

Update 2: A great take on why relationships don’t matter most in PR from David Mullen.

 

 

And now for something a little different…

•September 14, 2009 • 2 Comments

Just a quick head’s up that Mark Johnson and I are starting a little blog project, details are below. Let us know what you think as we go and if you have any questions…

What are we doing?:

We’re writing a series of blog posts from two perspectives: a PR-focused marketer (Julie) and a marketing-savvy product guy (Mark).

Sometimes Mark will write a post on a more product-focused topic he finds interesting on his blog, with Julie writing about the same topic on her blog from the PR/marketing perspective. And other weeks Julie will take the lead. At the core, we are talking about marketing from two different sides of the die (don’t want to say both sides of the coin: this bad boy is certainly a many sided die). We can’t promise you a regular schedule but we will commit to write at least a point/counter-point haiku when times are busy.

Why are we doing this?:

The genesis of the idea was from our conversations about business – clearly from the perspective of the worlds we live in: Mark product, Julie PR. We think that a solid collaboration between PR/marketing and product is critical to successful products and product launches. We considered writing a book, but realized that we don’t have the answers and that we’d learn more from writing posts and getting feedback from the community. We tend to say it like it is, so forgive us in advance if we ever offend. We are just tired of seeing the marketing role continue to break as the world changes and the product role always ignoring e-mails from the marketing company. We are trying to change along with it and are looking forward to seeing where it takes us.

Who we are:

Mark Johnson is a startup addict – always looking for a new way to straddle the key roles of product management and marketing. In defiance of statistics, two out of three of his start-ups have been acquired (SideStep->Kayak and Powerset->Microsoft/Bing) so he either knows his stuff or should head to Vegas and put a Benjamin on 25. In his spare time, his activities are mostly unmentionable in a professional forum, but often include professional mixologists, neo-rave parties, taxidermy and chess.

Julie Crabill is a recently funemployed PR pro with 10 years of experience in everything from silicon chips and dildos to robotic dinosaurs and Powershots. She is ready to apologize for the mistakes of her industry and move on. Julie’s looking to partner with hot, fun startups while she thinks about ways to build the PR agency of the future. In her spare time, she likes to plan trips to Napa, maximize participation in frequent flier programs and categorize and log her wine collection.

Julie and Mark would like to thank Bach for inventing counterpoint, Socrates for inventing the dialogue and Al Gore for inventing the Internet.

Wea Culpa

•August 29, 2009 • 8 Comments

Never before have I heard more smart, talented, just plain excellent young public relations professionals say “maybe PR’s just not for me…” Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for self-examination, and I have certainly met some very smart folks who would be better served doing things other than PR, but many of the people who are saying this now are not in this group. After a short stint of three to five years, something is making them feel wrong. We’ve already lost their minds and hearts and pretty soon we are going to lose their hard work and great ideas. And that’s going to suck for the future of this business.

The system is broken, the definition of PR is broken, we have failed them and don’t even see it. They think they are in the wrong business – I hope they read this and at least question it more. Maybe they are great at some form of public relations but question their career choice because someone wrongly told them they need to do it all – and do it the way that the powers that be think it should be done.

Maybe they are great at telling a fresh, creative story to media but can’t stand the constant metrics-driven focus of pitching news. Maybe they love planning and executing valuable customer events but don’t want to manage a team. Maybe they give great strategic insight in the product planning phase but can’t stand the crap media sling at them daily. And maybe, just maybe, this is OK.

Of course, there will be times in life when you need to do things that aren’t all that fun, things that push you out of your comfort zone, but you shouldn’t be made to feel like mastering these things is the only way to be a “real PR pro.”  Why shouldn’t you be able to do those things when you need to – but know that the value you bring and the passion you have is what keeps people paying you.

Think back to the REAL impact that you have made on client businesses by doing these things you love. Remember the things they said to you about how your awesome idea and flawless execution mattered to their bottom line, their company goals. Remember how you felt doing what you loved, getting paid for it and craving more of that feeling. Now, as I said, maybe one day in your career you will be able to do this 100 percent of the time – until that day, shouldn’t you find a place where that skill you have is valued? Where that skill is fostered and grown? Where you can continue to learn new things that you might have a passion for without being made to feel like the only way to be a useful member of the team is to master a handful of other tasks that seem to be the only things that matter to your boss?

The current structure is what is wrong – step back and think about what public relations really means to you. Stop letting the areas you feel you will never love blind you to the things you are so great at doing. What do you really want to do? Would you be willing to work for it and sometimes do the things that are not in your comfort zone if you knew the people you work for supported you, helped foster your passion and saw the greatness you have inside? The public relations industry needs you. You are great at this job. Don’t quit. We are sorry we made you feel this way.

 Alternate titles:

  1. It’s us, not you… please don’t go
  2. Just because the person who told you that has 20+ years of experience doesn’t make it right
 
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