PR Pros Deserve an “F” in “F-to-F”

I'm composing this blog en route to Washington, DC and a PR News speaking gig. My subject, like most of those on Tuesday's docket, concerns social media.

But I, unlike my fellow presenters, plan on saying something quite different. Rather than droning on about the latest new bell or whistle, or extolling Web 2.0's many virtues, I'll instead be warning about the threats inherent in social media. And, the threats I'll be discussing have nothing to do with crisis communications.

Social media is rapidly becoming a crutch for agency and client executives alike. We recently queried 12 top chief marketing officers and heads of corporate communications to ask two questions: a) how were they demonstrating leadership within the organization? and b) how were they helping to uncover new markets and revenue streams? Eleven out of 12 highlighted social media as the answer to both questions.

Internally, intranets and group e-mails are being used to keep employees informed and aware. Externally, PR pros are engaging in dialogue with all sorts of target groups on Facebook, blogs, etc.

But, only one executive indicated that he took the time for face-to-face meetings (or, F-to-F, as erstwhile Ketchum Chairman Dave Drobis calls it) with employees, customers and prospects.

By meeting face-to-face with employees, this respondent says he was able to connect the dots between what senior management was doing externally (launching new products, etc.) and what they were saying and doing internally (across-the-board freeze on wage and salary increases).

By meeting face-to-face with customers and prospects, this enlightened corporate executive could personally research "the new normal" and update his organization's sales and marketing strategies accordingly.

PR pros are flunking F-to-F communications because we've become over dependent on social media. It's a big, big problem that simply isn't being discussed. And, I guarantee 99 percent of the PR News audience won't do one thing differently after they listen to my remarks. Why? Because F-to-F is a whole lot harder than banging away on a keypad and hitting the send button.

8 thoughts on “PR Pros Deserve an “F” in “F-to-F”

  1. Thanks for sharing the commercial, Michael. I remember it well. This is exactly what companies need to do more of in these recessionary times.

  2. Steve, I enjoyed this post and completely agree–it’s important to remember that everything new will be old at some point–and at the end of the day, a strong fundamental skill set will win out. New technology combined with bad habits don’t disguise those bad habits–in fact, they often only amplify them. Your post reminded me of an old United Airlines commercial that I talked about in class the other day…I’m guessing you remember it too.
    See you later this week. Mike

  3. I’m all for a happy medium, Rob. I’m concerned about the ‘land rush’ mentality to embrace social media as the next, best new thing. One audience member attending my PR News speech the other day, said: ‘My boss wants us to start posting videos ASAP. How do I get started?’ When I asked her why she needed to post videos, she said, ‘Because everyone else is.’ That’s a poor reason for initiating any sort of new communications tool and part of what worries me about all the chatter over Twitter/social media.

  4. Just going to play devils advocate for a second…
    Can’t social media be a way for us to facilitate f2f communication and relationships? We hear about conferences, ‘Tweetups,’ industry awards, and all sorts of gatherings via Twitter.’ They are invitations for PR people and folks in the social media space to connect face to face.
    I have formed some lasting connections this way over the past year or so, but can see where everyone is coming from here. What all of us have to keep in mind is that social media and iPhones will never be the be all end all. We have to use the tools we have to further ourselves but not forget the basics that got us here.
    Check out this article about the evolution of social media. I think it puts some of this in perspective.
    Nice post, Steve.

  5. It’s the same way we have become dependent upon e-mail, Steve. It’s easier to send an e-mail, than to pick up a phone or arrange a F2F meeting.
    Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. It has to be bigger, faster and now more economical than it has been before. It’s all a numbers game. Think about it. Virtually everything we do is equated to a number. When you are a kid growing up, how old are you? “I’m four and a half.” Let’s not forget the half.
    How much do you weigh? What’s your height? What’s your birthdate?
    What’s your social security number? How much do you earn?
    Every answer is a numerical one.
    Sales people. How many sales have you made? What’s your quota?
    So we have a tendency to get more done in a shorter period of time and forget the importance of face-to-face meetings. Same way with someone who may interviewed with you or your staff. They could/may be quick to send a thank you note via e-mail, but how much of an impression is made when someone takes that extra minute or two to write a personal thank you note?
    Sometimes I need we need to slow down and get back to basics.

  6. I’ll be back soon enough, Rep. Besides, the last meeting was probably going on while you were enjoying a moment with your favorite NJT people on the train.
    Beers (or Pinot Grigio, I believe) will be on this guy when I do make it.

  7. AMEN. At best, I bet you’ll have some PR folks there Tweet about this or update their status on Facebook about what they’ve learned. Then, they’ll continue to get poor marks at connecting with clients, partners and sources.
    Last week I had a media tour in the city begining with an appearance on CNBC, then time with the WSJ, SmartMoney, InvestmentNews and Reuters. One email in total was sent (for pre-interivew notes for CNBC). The phone, my mouth and ears did the rest.
    I might start Tweeting about my lunch, though.