An Evolving PR Industry Gathers at the PRSA International Conference

As you might have seen on twitter, I spent the last few days in Washington D.C. at the PRSA International Conference.  You might remember another PRSA conference that I covered in NYC.  Well for some reason, they actually enjoyed my writing and invited me to cover another conference.

It hasn’t even been a year since the last PRSA conference that I attended, and it quickly became apparent here in D.C. that the PR world is evolving.  It’s growing and it’s learning.  While many of the speakers seem to be at the same point they were a year ago, the attendees are clearly more knowledgeable, asking better, harder questions, and seem to have begun to grasp how this whole social media thing plays into PR and communications.

Overall the speakers ranged from really insightful to the bare bones basics to pretty useless.  Keep in mind that, as is the issue in any conference, the range of experience amongst the attendees makes it difficult for speakers to please everyone.  I’ll give you a quick summary of the panels that I attended.

Keynote by Jim VandeHei – POLITICO

I really enjoyed Jim’s talk.  He’s someone who’s personally experienced the changing world of online media.

His best points:

  • People are going to 25-30 different news sites on a given work day.
  • People start their web consumption when they get into work and stop when they get home.
  • It’s the “age of niche”.

Jim has experienced first hand the massive destruction of the news industry.  He explained that today is the “age of niche” where people are looking for specific expertise.  They’re looking for what they really need to know, not the clutter.

It’s because of this that we’re seeing niche publications filling in the gaps and big overall media sources are losing traction. You can now deliver a message or ad to a niche audience with direct precision.

Jim then touched on people’s changing reading habits.  People are fickle, constantly changing their resources for information, their mobile devices, and their expectations.  What someone expected 3 months ago might not be what they expect today.

Companies and information sources have to be in a constant state of evolution to survive. Smaller, agile companies and minds will thrive.

Shake and stir: Combining Social Media and Traditional PR Techniques for High-Impact Results

Speakers: Michael L. McDougall, Catherine Dunkin, Nicole Ravlin

This was a panel that I have to say, I was pretty disappointed with.  They did have a unique method of selecting content, by having the audience vote on which case studies they wanted to see.  While the panel was somewhat entertaining, it wasn’t very useful in the end.

They only gave 2 minutes per case study and pretty much just explained what happened without providing a lot of information around the case studies which is really what people need to know.  I can look up the videos on youtube.

They discussed some obstacles that they faced in bringing in employees and CEO’s to participate spoke about everything from the southwest rapping flight attendant to the old spice campaign.

Lethal Generosity: How to Do Big Business by Doing Good

Speaker: Kami Huyse @Kamichat

I’ve heard Kami speak before and so I knew this would be a good session.  She broke down different types of cause marketing based on a number of criteria.

Cause marketing can be linked. When brands just choose a cause to support because it’s convenient or popular, without it actually being aligned with the company’s mission and brand, it is the least effective.

A brand can contribute resources to help a cause.  For example, Ford donated a car to Mark at Invisible People (who does some amazing stuff…you have to watch his videos)

A brand can be connected to a cause.  Take up a cause that’s aligned with your goals and also shows a positive ROI at the end.  Yahoo used the “You in?” campaign to encourage people to post status updates to report acts of kindness in social networks.  It also drove users to their new status update tool.

A campaign can also be synergized when it is aligned with your business goal but resides in your CSR program.  Kami gave Pepsico’s Pepsi Refresh Project as an example.

Advance Your SEO skills

Speaker – Lee Odden

I was able to catch the last half of Lee’s talk, which I didn’t want to miss because Lee and his SEO blog is THE resource when it comes to SEO in my mind.  I’ve been following Lee’s work for as long as I’ve tweeted…and he promised me he’d add me to his marketers with beards facebook group if I went to his session.

Here are some key takeaways.

Blogs are search magnets.

Basic SEO tips:
– Optimize readers first
– When you create a blog post, use keywords in the url.
– The title might be 15 words long but shorten up the url to the essence of the keywords.
– Use synonyms in your posts…but don’t focus on this too much as it often occurs naturally.
– Link to older blog posts using keywords.
– Encourage inbound links wherever possible.
– When you can access the same content from two different links, it’s possible that both won’t be ranked so only have the content on one page within your site.

Facebook SEO:
– It’s all about the number of “likes”
– Name of your fan page can include keywords

Twitter SEO:

– Name bio and url are really the only things you can optimize. The links are no-follow.

Become a PR Influencer to Drive Business Value

Speakers: Deirdre Breakenridge, Geoff Livingston, Sarah Evans, Mark Drapeau

This was an interesting panel, action packed with some of my favorite PR leaders.  Usually, people complain when speakers comment on their own “influence”, as it can come off as bragging.  On this panel however, it was the topic of discussion.

Can personal influence be used to drive business results for your company?  How can you become more “influential”?  These are the types of questions that the panel set off to answer.

It was a long panel and lots of information, but I’m just going to quote each one of the panelists with their best insight:

  • “Your role [in building community] isn’t to dominate the conversation, it’s to inspire it.” – Geoff Livingston
  • “When the person becomes too big for their own community, you lose touch and you’re not longer able to help them.” – Mark Cheeky_Geeky
  • “Make sure you’re thinking about what you can give to the community before what you can get out of it.” – Sarah Evans
  • “There are influential people who are brilliant, who don’t have thousands of followers.  They’re brilliant because they’re still listening and providing value.  They’re staying close knit with their community.” – Deidre Breakenridge

Overall it was a really interesting discussion and the audience asked a lot of great questions.  So is influence something you should seek out in your career?  It sure seems to be playing a bigger role in where opportunities arise.

The Re-Emerging Trend for Integrated Communications

Speaker: Kyle Strance

I watched Kyle of Vocus speak about a lot of really basic social media stuff.  Most of it was pretty dry and lacked any real focus.  He went through random areas of social media from ranking high on Google to pitching journalists to keyword clouds and sentiment analysis.

The content didn’t have much meat to it and there really wasn’t much you could take away.

Here are some of the main points from the talk:

  • You no longer have control over your brand.
  • Social Media hasn’t replaced Google search.  If you make someone scroll down on google, they won’t find you.
  • Journalists aren’t reading your emails anymore.  They’re getting around 300 press releases a day.  They’re finding their next stories by searching Google and reading twitter.
  • Your news release can also help consumers make a decision.
  • Sentiment technology is 80% accurate

I actually disagree with a lot of what he said.  Things like, “all journalists aren’t reading your emails and that they’re finding their stories on Google and twitter” just aren’t true…as you’ll learn in the next speaker review.

He made a big case for the accuracy of sentiment analysis, which to me is still way too inaccurate to be considered a worthwhile business tool.  It’s definitely interesting and has a lot of potential.  To say it’s something that you have to be using today just doesn’t seem on point.

I’d like to see more actual applications with these concepts and ideas next time.  The talk was very based on his personal observations.  As someone representing a media outreach platform, it would have been great to hear about the new media space and how to adapt your integrated communications strategy.

The New Rules of Media Relations

Speaker – Michael Smart

I finished my conference with a talk from Michael Smart and I have to say, it was the best presentation I’ve seen in a while.  If I wrote down all the gold that he was spitting out, this would be a blog post in its own.  I’ll try to summarize as best I can.

Michael was a great presenter with entertaining content, a smooth flow, and really smart ideas that were easy to grasp and apply to your own situations.

The talk was pretty much all about pitching media.  I would have liked to see more on the blogger end of things, but he ran out of time and didn’t get to dig into blogger outreach too heavily.

Either way, his insights into how to effectively get coverage for your company was truly helpful.  He constantly supported his ideas with examples, and even specific subject lines that we could try ourselves.

Here were the key takeaways:

  • It’s not always possible to build relationships with journalists, as you’ll often be advised.  So you’ll usually have to rely on the quality of your stories.
  • What is a journalists’ favorite topic?  Themselves (same with bloggers)
  • It’s all about personalization.  The message has to show that it was written for that specific journalist and no one else.
  • If you do you’re job right, you’ll be a regular asset to them.
  • The most important thing that an email must show is the end. Keep it to 304 paragraphs tops so when the journalist previews it, they can see the bottom.

The only purpose of a subject line is to get them to open the email

  • When writing subject lines, you should still be honest and consistent.
  • Think about magazine covers.  They use numbers lists, tell stories, and ask questions to draw readers in.
  • Create curiosity.

Tie your story to a trend.  To journalists, three examples make a trend.

How have journalists professional lives changes over the last five years?

  • Fewer reporters covering more beats that they’re not familiar with.
  • Have to write stories in new and more formats.
  • Overworked and too busy.
  • Hard to get a hold of them but more receptive to new materials.
  • Barrier to entry it higher but it’s easier to get coverage.

DIFT – Do It For Them

Gather for them everything they’ll have to end up getting themselves.

  • Videos
  • Pictures
  • Quotes

How to reach bloggers

  • They’re all about the conversation
  • They want to be the last word
  • Comment on their blog but disclose that you’re a PR rep
  • RT their tweets
  • After a while, email a more pointed thought or question directly to blogger
  • Casually and comfortably propose an idea.  Less formally then mainstream media.
  • They’re not really as interested in what’s in it for their readers…it’s all about them.
  • Prove you’ve read the blog.

So that is my full recap of the PRSA International Conference.  As far as the content goes, it was actually really useful.  As far as the networking goes, I would like to see more focus put on this in the future.  They did one mixer in the exhibit hall that was great.  More things like that to bring the attendees together would really be valuable.

Did you go to PRSA?  What did you think?

View all the photos in this post and more on flickr.

Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 2

As promised, here is the recap of Day 2, of the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  I was invited to cover the 2 day conference, and was happy to join the discussion with all the bright and interesting professionals that it brought together.

Unfortunately, I missed Jennifer Preston’s talk but fortunately for you, Eric Schwartzman has you covered.  You can watch the whole talk here. I heard it was really good.

The first speaker I caught on Day 2 was Carlos Dominguez.

He said that people don’t want to change, which makes it hard to change a process within a company. It usually isn’t the system that’s the problem, it’s the people in it. Once they become comfortable with a system, they don’t want to change it.

He went over a lot of the stuff you hear all the time.  Know your goals and objectives.  Measure…etc.

He mentioned that Cisco does a lot of reverse mentoring with their employees.  They host meetings and create an environment where the younger (Gen-Y) employees mentor the older employees on how to use the new tools.

You guys know where I stand on that one.  Reverse mentoring is great, and needed…but to assume that a young professional is more knowledgeable on how to use social tools for business than an older professional, is a mistake.  Gen-Yers grew up using these tools recreationally.  It’s very different than how businesses approach it.

Carlos also said, “Video is going to be the killer application”.  I think it already is.  Either way, he’s right, and he spoke a lot about how cisco is embracing video.

Next, I listened to Rishi Dave (Dell) speak.

"Forget the numbers. The impact of SM is this big"

Rishi had some good stuff.  Here are some gems:

“It’s all about who and how many you follow, not how many follow you”.  On twitter, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.  What’s important is that you’re following the right people.  This way:

  • You can gather the best viewpoints in that space, and organize it for potential and current customers to consume.
  • The followers will come.

He broke down the growth of the web, and it’s purpose in terms of information, into 3 stages:

  • Internet Age: Used to send information (ie. Yahoo)
  • Information Age:  Used to find, or search for information (ie. Google)
  • Connected Age:  Used to follow, as in a stream of information (ie. Twitter)

Towards the end, I appreciated this line: “Successful companies in social media act like party planners aggregators and content creators.”

Next I watched Kevin Roderick – UCLA Newsroom

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with this talk.  I really don’t have points to share with you because he didn’t say much.  He had great content, with a timeline of videos and images from the crisis they faced when Michael Jackson passed away, and mobs formed around the hospital.  In the end, it just sounded like they were in a tough situation, and had no idea what to do.

The talk was supposed to use this situation as a learning experience,  and show us how we can apply UCLA’s insights to developing a social media program that’s nimble and ready for anything.  It really didn’t.

Or maybe I’m just a bad listener.

Finally, I truly enjoyed a panel about “Where is PR headed?” with Kami Huyse, Clay Hebert and Jonathan Kopp.

The responses were a bit scattered so I’ll try to just list out a few key points from the panel as a whole.

Trends to look for:

  • Augmented reality is going to be huge.
  • Location is also going to be huge.
  • Social media overload is only getting worse.
  • Mobile will continue to grow and will probably be the most important platform for business.
  • End of privacy as we know it.  (The hot topic as of late)

Overall I really enjoyed this conference.  The speakers were pretty insightful and the crowd seemed to genuinely find value in the content.  Everything ran on time, the people were great, the food was awesome, the Day 1 networking after party was done really well and the location got the job done.

I’d like to thank the fine folks of PRSA for inviting me to cover the conference.

You can find all of the photos from this event here.

You can find the Day 1 recap of this event here.

Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 1

I was invited to attend and cover the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  It was packed with PR professionals and business owners looking to wrap their heads around the digital innovations that have warped the traditional field of PR in the past year.

The speakers that I listened to provided content that ranged from beginner level basics, to a sort of “mid-level” understanding of the social space.

Jeremiah Owyang kicked it off.

He covered 4 main points:

  1. Understand customers and focus on objectives
  2. This is a movement, get your company ready.
  3. Invest in Social CRM systems
  4. Develop an advocacy program

He was as helpful as always, and set the conference off right, as many speakers that followed him referred back to his talk.  I loved his idea in “Love yourself first then love your customers – get your company ready for social engagement”.  If you and your employees aren’t proud of your company, how can you expect your customers to be?

Next came Paul Gillen and Dave Balter, two guys who really know how to work a crowd.

They were witty, to the point, and actually pretty damn insightful.

Paul went first, sharing his thoughts on the term “ambassador”.  He explained, “An ambassador can be a friend, a relative, a blogger…” making the point that really, anyone can be an ambassador for you or your brand.  Start by looking around you at the people you’re close with.

Paul also made the point that you don’t have to pay someone to be an ambassador.  In fact, it’s probably best you don’t.  Dave then drove that point home with an example that I loved.

He asked, “If you were my good friend, and I offered you 5 dollars to come help me move my couch, would you help me?”  A few hands went up.

Then he asked, “Now what if I made this awesome pizza with all this good stuff on it, and asked you to come over to help me move my couch, while we hang out and eat pizza?”.  Almost all the hands went up. (probably some veggies in the crowd).

It really nailed a huge concept in social media.  People don’t want to be bribed or manipulated into doing something.  Give them something they can appreciate, act like a person, and they’ll be happy to help out.

A few more gems from Dave:

  • If you get one person to share content in the best places possible, that’s better than 50,000.
  • Influence is a “topic state”. You can be influential in coffee, and not influential in sneakers.
  • Seek out ordinary influencers, not just the “influentials”.

Next I sat down to watch Heidi Sullivan and Shashi Bellamkomda speak about crisis management on the social web.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Be active and be present so that when a crisis hits, you’re there, and you’re ready.
  • Try to spot a “crisis” situation early.  If you see several tweets come in at once about a particular issue, look into it immediately.  It can spread like wild fire on the social web.
  • Respond to every single complaint.  If there are too many complaints, you’re probably facing a crisis.  Put up an official statement that will answer a lot of questions, and make sure that it’s clear for your customers.
  • You can manage your online reputation, with offline events.

And now we arrive at the second keynote with Google’s communication manager, Gabriel Stricker.

The talk didn’t really give you much actionable content, but it really did give you a lot to chew on.  He touched on the concept of crisis management as well, acting as a good follow up to the previous panel.

Using a blog post from Jet Blue as an example, he explained how effective it can be, in a crisis situation, to just get out a message that speaks to your customers on their level.  Don’t put out an over-worked, dry press release.  Speak like a human, because humans are the ones that you have to convince.

Stricker also spoke about Google’s “launch and iterate” process of doing things.  It’s how they launch their products, and also how they approach their communications projects.  Everything doesn’t have to be perfect when you launch it.  It’s better to get something out there, and rework it based on customer feedback and testing.

Next I watched Deborah Schultz (Altimeter group) speak.

Her message was simple…

Like the tagline on her blog says: “Technology changes, people don’t”.

Be present consistently, and be genuine.  Don’t “ignore ignore ignore” and then reach out when you need something.  To build a connected, and strong community, you have to create an “ongoing experience”.

And finally, I watched the wonderful Deirdre Breakenridge

She rocked out for an hour on the topic of “Building a Social Media Strategy”.  Certainly a tough topic to cover thoroughly in an hour…or at all.

I won’t get into the whole strategy that she lays out.  You can find her slides online.  I did want to touch on one aspect of her talk and that’s research.  She put A LOT of emphasis on doing research before hand, and I couldn’t agree more.

The term “social media SWOT analysis” is something that anyone looking to get involved on social platforms should get to know well.  Understanding the environment internally and externally will really help you understand what you need to do.

Do research before you start a facebook fan page “just because”.

You can check out all the pictures from the event here.

Stay tuned for the Day 2 recap.

Journchat Live Philly Event Recap

j_twitter_avatar_biggerThe first ever LIVE #journchat event has now been completed.  It proved to be extremely interesting and left me with a lot of lessons learned about the future of organized events and discussions.

The idea behind these live events is compelling:  Drive a conversation that integrates the face-to-face with the social web.  It’s a tough feat to accomplish, and definitely one that will take a few times to get right.

The Philly event brought in some of Philly’s best and brightest, although the numbers were certainly much less than that of other locations like Chicago.  Essentially, we were able to form one smaller group of highly insightful and active individuals, including journalists, bloggers, PR and social media professionals, that drove a lively discussion.

Thanks to Gloria Bell, Valeria Maltoni, Eileen O’Brien, Brian Courtney, Steve Lubetkin and more for attending and driving a great discussion…

A few things that I learned…

  • When online, if a question comes up that doesn’t apply to you, it’s easy to just do something else for 10 minutes until the next question comes up.  During a live discussion, you’re only focus is the discussions, and so if you don’t relate, you can’t participate.  It may be better to keep the questions very general.
  • When a conversation online takes a life of it’s own, that’s okay, because everyone is looking at the same conversation.  In the live event, every group is going to approach the discussion a little bit differently.  This causes a disconnect between the online conversation and the offline.
  • More collaboration is needed between the “Champions” and the Moderator (Sarah Evans) throughout the chat.  It proved to be difficult to remain in contact and discuss issues, questions, or suggestions.  I think that Sarah is better off letting someone else champion her location’s event and she should just focus on working with all the champions, and choosing questions.
  • At our location, there were only a couple laptops.  I think this is better.  I tweeted out good points, comments, and questions that came up, and others used their phones if they had something specific to tweet.  The interesting part here, is that for the most part, the live events won’t take part in the conversation online.  They’ll watch the live feed (we had it on a projector screen) and take the conversation live.  Is it possible to have a live discussion while also effectively taking part in the conversation online?  I’m not sure it is.

Those are a few of the things I noticed.  I agree that there needs to be more face-to-face discussions going on…and not panel based, speaker series discussions.  I mean a mutual conversation, where everyone listens and everyone is listened to. (Philly Social Media Club does a great job with this)

Do you think it’s possible to have these kind of offline discussions closely integrated and kept consistent with online conversations?

Share your thoughts, whether you were at the event, or not.

You can check out the recap of the entire #journchat LIVE event at Sarah’s blog here.

Journchat Philly LIVE Event Aug 17th

PhillyJoin us!

For those who don’t already know about #journchat, it is a weekly twitter chat that takes place every Monday night, where journalists, public relations professionals, bloggers, social media professionals and anyone else interested comes together for a lively, open discussion on industry issues and trends.  In the words of the wonderful Sarah Evans,

“The mission of #journchat has always been to improve the relationships between public relations professionals, journalists and bloggers. Together we’ve created a safe environment to explore each industry and ultimately how social media is influencing all of us.”

j_twitter_avatar_biggerOn August 17th (one week from the day of this post) at 7:30est, SIX cities will be hosting a live event during the chat where participants will be able to join the conversation IN PERSON as well as online.

The cities are: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Chicago.

You can find links to all the different events here.

Philly Location: 3711 Market St. (The Science Center)

You can find more info and sign up for the Philly Journchat event HERE. All are welcome. SPOTS ARE LIMITED!

Not good enough? Well Rustica Philly is totally awesome, and is providing pizza for the event! If you’re still not excited, it’s probably because you haven’t had Rustica pizza before.

Also, all professionals are invited for a pre-event to sit down with the start-up teams of DreamIt Ventures to learn about their entrpreneurial projects and shoot them some advice on your specialties.

If you’d like to attend the pre-event to sit with a start-up team, you have any questions or you’re interested in providing any SWAG from your brand or interested in sponsoring the event, email me at DSpinks5 at gmail dot com.

Hope to see you all there and get ready for an awesome discussion!