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 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.

Too Much Networking Makes Bad Marketers

Photo cred: Andy Beal

A marketer’s ability to do their job relies on how well they understand their audience…

Same goes for you PR professionals. You too advertising pros!

…so unless your audience (the one you were hired to understand) consists of mostly marketers, focusing so much time and effort on them will not make you much better at your job.

One could argue that lately, many professionals are equally (or more) concerned with building their personal network as they are with being good at their job.

This is especially an issue for young communications professionals and students.

We’re just starting out, and the first thing we now learn isn’t to start studying people and marketing, it’s to use social media to network and build a personal brand.

When you focus on interacting with other communications professionals all the time, you lose touch with the people that you’re supposed to understand…the ones you’re getting paid to understand.

Learning how to reach out and engage with communications professionals will usually be very different from engaging with other people.  If you’re focusing too much on the former, you’ll quickly find yourself failing at the latter.

A communications professionals has to understand what people want, what triggers them, what turns them off, how to reach them, how to build trust with them, etc… and strictly communicating with other marketing professionals will only take you so far.

Is the value of a professional’s network starting to outweigh the value of their ability as a professional?

What happens when we focus more on meeting communications professionals than on becoming a better communications professionals?

Interview with Lauren Fernandez: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa
Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa, is an enthusiastic PR Professional, who is always willing to help out students looking to become PR professionals.  Lauren was kind enough to provide some great advice for you through my blog, enjoy!

1) How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Once you start interning and gaining PR experience, you should treat every opportunity as a future job. You never know, because 5 years down the road that contact could be your next boss. When I was just beginning to intern, I would collect cards, and if I felt that I could learn from the person as a mentor, I would constantly email them with questions, advice and meet with them for coffee and/or lunch. I would also write a hand written thank you card every once in awhile. I don’t think it’s valuable to come right out and ask for a job – but by building a relationship and showing interest, you are saying “Hey, look at me – I am valuable and could be in the future.”

2) What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

I am a big fan of Twitter – this is an easy way to get a hold of me, and also to start establishing a contact. Once we have that, we can move to email, phone and networking. I love meeting students at events, and coming home and already having an email thanking me for my time. The email that contains questions about the field and about what I do, how I got into PR, etc. will always gain a lot of mileage when creating a connection. Also, make sure to keep up the connection – don’t drop off the face of the planet. PR pros talk daily, and we share stories. The PR world is very small, even in big cities such as the DFW area where I work.

3) To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?

Frankly, I don’t want to see parts of your body you wouldn’t show at work, or you chugging beer in the conga line. That is all fun in college, but this is the professional world, and you have to think of it from the standpoint of: What would your co-worker say if they were standing next to you in these pictures? Would your boss like to know that your interests include whiskey and chasing the opposite sex? Probably not. Your social media profiles and presence should only add to your character and exemplify it, not take away from it. There are privacy settings if you need to keep that one picture on there, but once you graduate, it really is time to grow up.

4) What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?

I wish I knew the value of patience, and the fact that you don’t have to accept the first job that is offered to you. I know in this economy it can be a tough pill to swallow, but my dad gave me great advice when that first job I took went really sour and I quit: “Lauren, was that a job that you would be happy with if for the next 5 years you weren’t paid for it?” I didn’t have passion for that job, and that is something you should always have. You are a rockstar, and you have to believe in it. The job will come – and one that you love.

5) What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?

I look for dedication, hard work, and response time. I am a very busy professional, but I can always stop to help someone if they are dedicated to this field. I only want those that can accelerate and benefit the field I love to enter it – and those are the ones I help. I don’t like arrogance (trust me, you aren’t a PR God come to save the field), and I love simple thank yous. If a student can respond to me in 24 hours or less, or at least tell me they received my message, then that will gain a lot of respect for me. If a student asks me to lunch, they stand out, because they aren’t afraid to be in a setting that is outside the professional workplace. If a student sends a hand-written note, that gets a lot of bonus points as well.


You can find Arik Hanson’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks for your time and thoughts Lauren!

Facebook: A Lesson in Damage Control

facebookIt’s that easy.  Tonight, Facebook proved that it knows how to handle the shockwaves of its mistakes.

If you haven’t heard about the issue concerning the Facebook terms of service (TOS), they recently changed a section of their terms of service that dealt with their rights over user information. The community interpreted this section as granting them ownership of anything that you post on Facebook and the right to use your information however they see fit.  This didn’t sit well with many of Facebook’s users. Whether it was because of the way they informed their users (they only announced it in a blog post), or just the new terms in general, there was a public outcry about the situation and a call to switch back to the old TOS. Facebook Groups were formed, the twittersphere was buzzing, and Facebook had to react…so they did.

Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook staff heard the voice of its users  and then posted on their blog trying to explain. Mark wrote:

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work…People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other… It’s difficult terrain to navigate and we’re going to make some missteps, but as the leading service for sharing information we take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously.

Mark ensured his users that Facebook is a place that you should feel safe and admitted to making some mistakes.  He appealed the community honestly and respectfully.  However, after a couple days, the Facebook community still wasn’t satisfied and continued to express their feelings.  Facebook posted a poll to find that there was a strong disapproval of their new TOS.  Tonight, Facebook realized that this issue is important to its users and must be remedied, so they reverted back to the old Terms of Service and posted this on their blog.

The excerpt on the homepage read as follows:

A couple of weeks ago, we posted an update to our Terms of Use that we hoped would clarify some parts of it for our users. Over the past couple of days, we have received a lot of questions and comments about these updated terms and what they mean for people and their information. Because of the feedback we received, we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised. For more information, visit the Facebook Blog.

We all make mistakes.  Everyone from the expert to the graduate, from the big corporation to the smallest start-up takes a miss-step at some point.  What matters is how you deal with it.  Facebook messed up and violated something that the online community holds sacred, it’s right to its personal information.  While Facebook may have not had any intention to use this information in an unfavorable manner, its users were clearly uncomfortable and Facebook responded…quick. Now if they decide to edit their Terms of Service again (they say they will) you can be reasonably certain that they will think very much about how they communicate these changes.

The Lesson: Show that you’re listening, respond honestly and quickly. If all else fails, make the necessary sacrifice in order to keep your customers’ trust because in the end, that’s all that matters.

Well done Facebook.

Advice for PR and Marketing Grads

m00by
Photo cred: m00by

This is a collaboratively reworked version of Lauren Fernandez‘s post “Let’s Be Frank: Some Advice for PR Graduates” that I thought was SO great, I needed to make it available to my readers with a few additional insights of my own. I also spoke with Lauren after her post to find answers to some additional questions I had which will also be included here. Here we go…

  1. Build experience and set goals. Participate in internships, take offices, join clubs and do community service.  Find jobs that you are interested in and work to become qualified.
  2. Be realistic. Many companies have become big by retaining their employees and job openings are limited, especially in today’s economy.  You shouldn’t always shoot for the big name companies.  You will find that smaller – medium sized companies are the ones looking for bright new entry-level people to join them as they grow.  At these small agencies, you can gain a lot of experience because you really get to see the ins and outs of an agency.
  3. Don’t rush to grad school. Focus on building some experience first.  PR students should always have some experience before going to grad school. Really, a masters in PR is geared toward if you want to go into teaching. However, you can always go for Emerging Media, Public Affairs, Communications, etc. In many situations, only YOU would know what’s the right approach when considering going to grad school. In general, I would recommend having at least 2 years of professional experience first.
  4. You are not too good for ANY offer. As long as an organization has a good reputation, there is no reason to not give it a shot. You might find it’s a great fit, and you will definitely learn from it – good or bad. Also, you might hear of a development coordinator job opening – this is geared toward fund-raising and developing the brand. This is great for a young PR pro because you can really fine-tune your pitching and customer service skills.
  5. Stay open to doing internships after you graduate. Not everyone coming out of school will get a job right off the bat.  If you are set on the big agency, be prepared to take a paid internship for a couple of months before being offered an entry type position. Don’t look at this as a disadvantage!  Since you have a degree, you will be given more responsibility and greater consideration for full-time opportunities. You will take away great experience, contacts and if you do your job well, a recommendation.
  6. Set up interviews around graduation time Sure, your finance and business major friend already landed a job back in December but guess what? This is PR and marketing. The job offers WILL come.  Those hiring, unless stated differently, usually want someone to start within a month of the interview process. This is a field that is constantly on the go and constantly changing.
  7. Network until you graduate! The key is to establish a connection with professionals and stay involved until interview season. Three quick networking tips:
    1. Use social media to it’s fullest! Tools like linkedin, twitter, and professionals networks have made it easier than ever to meet professionals in your field. If you feel comfortable enough, have a lot to say and can say it well, start a blog!  Make sure to be respectful and professional in your online presence. Word gets around in these fields and you don’t want to tarnish your reputation.
    2. Go to networking events! There are always events going on in major cities.  They are a great way to make some real connections with experienced professionals who will only be impressed that you are networking before you graduate.
    3. If you’ve made a contact, communicate with them once a week – either by email, phone or even meeting for coffee. It’s the simple things that keep a relationship alive, and that drive to connect with PR pros is going to get you very far. Face-to-face communication is ALWAYS the best route to create meaningful relationships, especially for those that haven’t jumped into social media yet.
  8. You can focus your job search on social media. As many have argued, social media doesn’t exactly fall under marketing or PR but more of a mixture, and there isn’t an accepted method to approach social media. If you’re set on working in social media, consider an association/non-profit job. Contrary to popular belief, this is where a lot of job opportunities will be coming from. They all need in-house PR, and they also have a great need for the 20-something who is great at social media. In non-profits/association, you truly know the ins and outs of your client, because you ARE the client. In these settings, you also gain a ton of experience because you get to do a lot more, and are trusted a lot more, than in the agency atmosphere.

What did we leave out? What advice would you give to PR and marketing grads?