Jul 16

All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be in PR

Knowing what you know now, would you choose the same career? That’s the question Adweek recently asked some industry hotshots.

Some of the answers are revealing, to say the least:20080716145203

– "I would be braver about my choices – less linear – and take jobs that would provide completely different experiences"

– "I always wanted to play lead guitar for Led Zeppelin and to be the founder of Google. So depending how far back in time we’re talking about, that would be my career arc."

– ‘"I would still choose advertising because I can’t think of any other job where you get to do so many things every day, where every day is unlike the day before."

Bingo! PR is the same way. Every day is unique.20080716145300

And, aside from playing center field for the Mets, I couldn’t imagine a better job than mine. Sure, there are some bad times, bad clients and bad people, but the positives far, far outweigh the negatives.

Too many people sell themselves short too soon. They marry, find themselves saddled with mortgage payments and settle for a job they hate. 

I’ve come to believe that fun and job satisfaction are intertwined with risk taking. The more one is willing to risk to pursue his or her passion, the happier he or she is. I’ve climbed mountains with guides who live at, or near, the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, but are high on life because they’re doing exactly what they want. In my book, they’re the truly rich people.

So, while I may not be tracking down fly balls at Shea or leading climbers up the Matterhorn, I don’t regret a moment. To paraphrase the wording on W.C. Fields’ tombstone: "All things considered, I’d rather be in PR."

Jul 15

Sorry Keith, But I Beg to Differ

PR Week Editor-in-Chief Keith O’Brien is typically spot on with his editorial POV. That said, he missed the mark with this week’s treatise on the Kekst sale to Publicis.

Keith argues that the acquisition is the first of many to come in the months and years ahead. Perhaps. But, I doubt it. Not in this economy where the multiples just don’t make any sense for most sellers. Nrd2206i2

More to the point of this blog, however, is Keith’s contention that, in combination with Cohn & Wolfe’s merger with GCI, the Kekst sale is all about global reach. He says, "There will, of course, always be room for local agencies and niche firms. But the onus is on mid-size and large firms to consider how truly ‘global’ their offerings are……. Clients and prospectives might seem more concerned with digital, CSR or green today, but the days when every client puts a global footprint at the top of its wish list are coming. Everyone needs to be prepared."

I disagree. And, I wish Keith had been covering the industry when his predecessors wrote similar tomes in the 1980s, ’90s and more recently.

The fact is global footprints rarely succeed. We’ve created one that we believe to be unique, but I’m not here to tout our approach. Rather, Keith needs to know how dissatisfied clients and "prospectives" are with existing global models. Here’s why: the holding company model may indeed have "on-the-ground" capabilities in 35 or 40 countries. But, each office has a different specialty. So, if I represent a US chemical company that needs local support in, say, Milan, I’m stuck with the holding company’s offering, which probably specializes in fashion.

Global networks of independent PR firms aren’t much better, and are really nothing more than pure geographic plays. So, while someone may have vetted the member firm at some point, do I really want to entrust my multinational client relationship to a Sao Paulo agency that happens to be a member of my network?
I think not.

Too many clients have attempted one-stop global shopping in the past, only to realize it’s far smarter, more strategic and cost effective to create a "best-in-class" solution set.

I’m sure Keith can show me examples of seamless, global solutions. But, I guarantee I can show him many more examples of smart, a la carte client programs. And, I’d be delighted to share our approach to solving a client’s need for a global footprint.

Jul 08

Bottom rail on top now

It warms the heart of this public relations practitioner to read the June 23rd PR Week headline: ‘AnPr
unstable media landscape has journalists seeking PR positions.

Frank Washkuch’s article says that more and more journalists are leaving the newsroom to, gasp, go over to the dark side and become PR practitioners. Yes, Virginia, the handwriting is on the proverbial wall (or whiteboard, if you prefer) and the exodus has begun.

Over the years, many an erstwhile journalist has left his chosen profession to become a PR flack for the higher pay and better stability. But, says Washkuch, the recent across-the-board downsizing at all the major media outlets has turned the trickle into a torrent.

I think it’s great for the public relations profession. We benefit when we have more and more seasoned journalists to help noodle over client challenges. And, we really benefit from their built-in bullshit detectors. Journos know what constitutes a story and what doesn’t. Sadly, there are more than a few PR types who churn out ‘brochure speak" and have no nose for news.

So, give us your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses of journalists. We’ll take ’em. And, in the meantime, maybe some of you journalists should think twice about bashing public relations in your next column. The industry you skewer may one day be your own.

Jun 20

When push comes to shove, the bottom-line is still the bottom-line

I attended a fascinating panel discussion Wednesday night at Manhattan’s Penn Club. The event was co-hosted by the Arthur Page Society and the Council of PR Firms, and focused on the former’s recent white paper booklet, entitled: ‘The Authentic Enterprise.

The Authentic Enterprise should be must-reading for every PR professional. It addresses the emerging role of the chief communications officer and includes interviews with 31 chief executive officers (a superhuman feat in, and of, itself).

The findings point to the CCO’s emerging role in a world of social media and transparency. The panel included such luminaries as: Harvey Greisman of Mastercard, Paul Jensen of Weber Shandwick, Valerie DiMaria of Willis, Roger Bolton of APCO and Maril McDonald, who runs one of the sharpest communications consultancies in the country.

The group believes we, as an industry, are better positioned than ever to help the corporation ‘interact’ with each and every constituent audience. They also believe CEOs ‘get’ the importance of social media, are concerned by its lack of control, but turn to the CCO for guidance (which is a big win for the industry).

For me, though, The Authentic Enterprise panel/white paper discussion literally lacked a bottom-line component. Sure, the CEO will turn to the CCO in times of reputation crisis and, perhaps, to engage with Web 2.0 audiences in new and more meaningful ways. But, the CEO’s 24×7 world revolves around one fundamental issue: satisfying the Street.

Roger, Valerie and Harvey did a good job in addressing my questions about how The Authentic Enterprise connects to an ROI-driven C-suite. But, frankly, I was left wanting more. So, here’s hoping the Page Society commissions groundbreaking research on an ongoing basis. I’d love to read a follow-up entitled, ‘The authentic, bottom-line focused enterprise.’

Jun 03

If it was easy, we’d win all the time

New business pitches can be just like dating. Sometimes, it’s love at first sight and other times, its hellEasy_2
on earth.

But, as Marketing Consultant Robb High correctly points out, a romance is more likely to flower if you avoid some obvious mistakes.

We’ve committed some of these gaffes, and many others as well.

Recently, we did everything right and won a competitive pitch against large agencies. Then, we turned right around, violated every rule in the book, and handed a ‘sure’ thing to a competitor.

We were prepared for the first meeting. We’d rehearsed three times, relied on a few visual supports (but, no powerpoint) and made sure we could hit our proposal’s high points in 20 minutes or less. The end result was magic. We knew we’d nailed it as soon as the meeting concluded.

We were unprepared for the second opportunity. We didn’t rehearse, relied on an endless powerpoint presentation, brought the wrong ‘team’ to the pitch and allowed the conversation to meander.

Our crack Strategy Consultant Darryl Salerno listened to these two tales and advised us to be more judicious in the future. He suggested that when we do commit to pitching a piece of new business, we should go all out: that means rehearsing, assigning a team leader, staying away from dull powerpoints and choosing the appropriate account team.

Darryl’s advice, like High’s, may sound academic. But, the best and the brightest agencies often fumble when it comes to new business fundamentals.

Hey, if it was easy, we’d win all the time. But, what fun would that be?

May 05

What did they know and when did they know it?

PR Weeks’ annual agency business report provides a nice dive into the country’s top 47 firms. It’sMarkpenn_2
polished, professional and to the point. But, curiously, it leads with a questionable selection and an even more questionable word choice.

Each of the top agencies in the section, you see, is defined by a word selected by the PR Week staff. Weber Shandwick is called ‘the heavyweight.’ No argument there. Ketchum is given ‘the linchpin’ moniker. Ah, ok, if you say so. And, Fleishman is proudly proclaimed ‘the titan,’ which sounds like something straight out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But, and here’s where I wonder what the PR Week folks were thinking, they lead off their entire list with Mark Penn and Burson-Marsteller, proclaiming both as ‘the counselor.’ Ouch. Talk about bad timing.

Why lead with Penn, when he’s just been pilloried because of improper connections with Hillary (hey, that rhymes!)? A John Budd letter to the editor earlier in the very same edition takes Penn to task for his obvious conflict of interest mistake. And, yet, a few pages later, there he is in all his glory.

All of which leads me to wonder if PR Week’s left and right hands were not communicating. Or, did someone decide, ‘Hey, what the heck? It’s a nice photo of Mark and he is a counselor, a counselor whose credibility and ethics have been seriously called into question, but so what? Let’s go ahead and lead our special section with him anyway.’ Or, worse, did someone not connect the dots?

It’s all very puzzling, and leads me to ask the age-old journalism question of our lead trade journal: What did they know and when did they know it?

May 01

Cable executives struggle with same C-suite fears of digital

I was fortunate to be among the panelists in a recent CableFAX webinar. The subject was digitalCf
communications and, as was the case with my recent PR News webinar, the topics ranged from best practices and budget spends to lessons learned and ‘digital ownership’ within the organization.

CableFAX leveraged the webinar to release the findings of an industry survey on the subject. Interestingly enough, the results were almost identical to the one we’d conducted six weeks earlier with PR News (note: our sampling of 500 marketing communications respondents represented all sorts of corporations, agencies and non-profits. CableFAX’s reflected opinions from within the cable industry).

CableFAX respondents said digital was still a relatively small part of their overall PR budget (56 percent said it accounted for between 11 and 25 percent of the total). Less than one-quarter expected the budget to increase slightly in the next year. The remainder saw little or no budget increase whatsoever for digital.

That said, forty-four percent of respondents believe their digital efforts to date have been somewhat or moderately successful. And, a whopping 58 percent identified a ‘lack of funds’ as the number one hurdle to advancing digital’s use within their organization.

Continue reading

Apr 08

When the aircraft carriers sail into your waters

Economists and pundits alike are quick to point to telltale signs of an impending Recession. Some citePr
housing starts. Others look at consumer spending habits. Me, I look at what the large PR agencies are doing. And, when I experience what I just experienced, I know that, yes Virginia, the economy is indeed heading South.

The experience I’m referring to was a recent new business pitch for a Web 2.0 start-up. We were up against a few other midsized firms as well as one aircraft carrier (that’s inside PR speak for a large agency). The prospect loved our ideas, loved our team and called to tell us we’d won. Yay! Break out the champagne! Or, based upon the smallish-sized budget, break out the Bud Light! Regardless, it was time for a mini-celebration.

And, then, things changed. A day or so after we’d been told we’d won, the prospect called to say they were "still reviewing a few other proposals." Oh. Then, another day passed and we were told it was between us and another top midsized firm. Uh oh. Finally, the prospect called to say they’d selected the aircraft carrier. Apparently, the large firm’s CFO had called the prospect over the weekend, committed to an amazingly small retainer and guaranteed, in writing, that the firm would invest $50k in time of their senior account manager. I told the prospect we couldn’t and wouldn’t compete with that.

So, what does it say when the big guys are willing to compromise the rest of the playing field by slashing fees and giving away their time? In my mind, it cheapens our industry and belittles our value add. It’s also probably a pretty good economic indicator of what the big guys are experiencing now and what might lie ahead for the rest of us. If so, batten down the hatches and be prepared for more aircraft carriers to start sailing into your waters.

Apr 01

I always involve the audience

There’s an interesting ‘Career Couch’ column in the March 30th New York Times. Phyllis Korkki interviewsLecturn_2
several ‘coaching’ experts and academics about the fear of public speaking.

The advice was what one would expect and completely appropriate for the novice or veteran speaker. The Korkki column did overlook what, for me, has long been the single best public speaking strategy: involving the audience. Whether it’s a PRSA keynote address, a lecture before college students or sitting on an ‘experts’ panel in front of advertising, digital or marketing experts, I’ve always used audience interaction to accomplish two goals: ease my fear and, well, involve the listeners.

I always try to ask questions of the audience before my speech in order to determine their pain/issues. Then, at the appropriate point in my remarks, I’ll review my ‘research,’ ask if it’s accurate and invite audience members to elaborate (this works beautifully in front of small groups and overflowing auditorium alike). While the audience, speaks, I listen and adapt my upcoming comments. I also slow down my breathing and collect my thoughts. And, it works like a charm.

So, the next time you’re stressing over a speech, ask the audience to help you out. Trust me, they’ll love it and you’ll breath an extra sigh of relief.