PerkettPR Turns 15 – Thank You!

ppr_15_anniversaryIt’s hard to believe that this month, PerkettPR has been in business for 15 years! I started the agency with a vision to deliver a unique and valuable experience for companies seeking a better marketing and PR partner. Although we started with a focus on VC-funded startups, we have expanded our expertise over those years to include servicing some great public companies as well – Fleetmatics, Constant Contact, WebEx, Time Warner Telecom, Juniper Networks and many more. We continue to work with startups that need creative, effective and amazing market launches – and to build crediblity, awareness and engagement for more established companies around the world in the tech, higher education, health care and consumer lifestyle industries.

Like any 15-year-old, we’ve got the energy and excitement to continue with unbridled enthusiasm and a belief that we’re unstoppable. Unlike most 15-year-olds, we know who we are, what we want to be and where we’re going. That’s not only a nice feeling, but a great place to be in order to deliver tremendous value to our clientele. We don’t need to be the biggest, but we do strive to be the best. We don’t need to be the most popular, but rather we’re grateful for the network we do have. (We take great care to support those who support us.) Our corporate vision is to be the most innovative, creative and effective communications partner that our clients have ever worked with.

Thank you to everyone who has believed in that vision – especially clients who have hired us repeatedly over the last decade and a half. To have folks move on to other companies and hire us over and over again is always the best testament to our ability to deliver ROI. I’d like to specifically thank people like Karen Leavitt, John Burnham, Donna Parent, Greg Shenk, Mark Pascarella, Mike Doyle and Jonathan Tang – clients who have not only hired us more than once, but recommended us to others. Thank you to so many industry friends like Jon Swartz, Michael Krigsman, Morris Porter, Stephen Hultquist, Ann Handley, Christen Rice Gentile, Marie Domingo, Mike Pratt, Stephen Dill, Jeremiah Owyang, Rick Faulk, John Jantsch, Joel Libava, Terry Frechette, Robert Scoble, Tyson Goodridge, Sarah Austin, Chris Selland, Aaron Strout, Karen DeWolfe, Dayna Verstegen, Diane Hessan, Kate Brodock, George Hulme, Russell Mix, Jennifer Leggio, Don Dodge, Ramon Ray, Mitch Wagner, Tory Johnson, Michael Arrington, Rachel Happe, Laura Lake and others who have worked with us in various ways over the years – whether writing with or about us, inspiring us through engagement, sharing their opinions on our clients or our campaigns, serving as pseudo mentors and advisors, or simply speaking up on our behalf during times when we could not. Your support – subtle or blatant – has helped us to continue to work with great people and companies, and to learn and grow in a myriad of ways.

There are so many other people – family, friends and of course, current and former employees, even industry “frenemies” – who I am eternally grateful to for helping us reach this 15th year. I have learned from each of you – both good and hard lessons – and I am grateful for such a strong network of intelligent people to learn from every day. I am also very blessed to have such a great group of employees – many of whom have stayed with PerkettPR for more than half of its life! And anyone one who knows the typical retention rate of an agency, knows why that’s such an amazing attribute.

Speaking of our employees, a few of them thought it would be funny to celebrate 15 years by sharing awkward teenage photos of us at that age. Click here to Like us on Facebook and see them – and to find out “What we know now that we wish we had known then.”

Here’s to another 15! Thank you!

Actually, Pay Attention To That (Wo)man Behind the Curtain

Last week Hubspot – via Twitter Grader – highlighted the The 100 Most Powerful Women On Twitter which included a lot of influential and interesting women I expected to see there, such as Ann Handley, Jennifer Leggio, Beth Kanter, and Charlene Li, and a few surprises that I wouldn’t have readily thought of, but are very interesting to follow nonetheless. Happily, we also noted that our CEO, Christine Perkett@missusp was also included within the Top 25 women on this list – of course, we’re not surprised because we know how hard she works to keep on top of the industry, as the PR and social media landscape constantly changes. But we are very proud and impressed nonetheless. (Is this a good time to ask for a raise?)

After the initial hoopla on Twitter about the list and congratulating the women we know personally, Christine asked on Twitter, “so what does it all mean.” I’ve thought about this before when lists like this come out – do they really mean anything, and if so, what? Does the general public really care who is influential on Twitter? Are these people really influential or do they merely appear to be, to those of us who are really ingrained in social media?

After thinking about it for awhile, I’ve come up with what this particular list it means to me – I would love to hear your thoughts on what it means to you or to the rest of the world.

  1. PR professionals – from “flaks” to influencers – when I started in PR, those in my profession were completely behind the scenes – like the Wizard of Oz sitting behind the curtain pulling the strings. We are in the business of making our clients stars, so naturally, we don’t make the story about us, nor should we. However, along the way, we learn a lot – about our clients, their business, the market and how it changes. We have to learn about new technologies, trends, products, and publications, giving us more than a layman’s knowledge of many different industries. The rise of social media, however, has given us a voice and has allowed us to highlight our expertise and the value we can offer to others without being overly promotional. Certainly, our clients are still the stars – we still devote 95% of our time to them, but a handful of smart PR folks are now also seen as experts who have influence in the industry. And you know what – our public influence is being asked about more and more by prospects, and evaluated by clients – if we are selling the ability to influence audiences and teach our clients how to become more influential in their industries, it makes sense that we should be have our own strong industry credibility.
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  3. Journalists and PR professionals can play nicely together – Take a look at those on this list and the other “Twitter influencer” lists that are posted regularly. They now contain reporters, bloggers and PR professionals (among others) – and because of their involvement in social media, a lot of them know and respect each other more than ever. For every blog post that fuels the journalists vs. PR “flacks” debate, there are hundreds of social media interactions every day between the media and PR that help bridge the gap and help the two get to know each other better and more personally. When you can see each other as people/friends and not the enemy, it is easier for everyone to do their job. Watching Christine joke with several of the other “top influencer” bloggers and journalists on Twitter after this list came out really drove this home for me.
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  5. PR professionals are trail blazers – at least in the tech industry. Many years ago, Christine told our staff that we needed to “figure out what these blogs are all about” then a few years later that we needed to start figuring out what social networking was all about – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Whrrl, etc. – so that we could evaluate how it should be used in our business and for our clients – and if it should be. Christine always takes the reins for our company to ensure we try out and experiment with new technologies for ourselves before we try them for clients. Often people think that it’s only the “techies or the journalists” that are first adopters of technology, but many smart PR companies are the first to appear on new social sites and are among the first with the new gadget or toy because we pay attention and have close relationships with those influencers shaping the market. If we’re doing our job right, we realize value and ROI before the public does – thanks to being privy to many start ups and innovative new advances by existing companies, working early with the reporters and influencers who evaluate them and their products, and paying attention to where the tech industry is headed. Also, because we’re responsible for counseling our clients on how what works, what doesn’t and where they should pay attention. In fact, we’re often involved in product direction and development discussions because we have a pulse on where the industry is headed.

Our discussion about this list on Twitter prompted Hubspot to offer to sponsor a meetup for the top 100 women on this list – PerkettPR is considering organizing this event, but we want it to be more than a Tweet-up – we would like it to offer value to attendees and to maybe even benefit a charity. Would you attend an event that offered insight from the Top 100 women influencers on Twitter? If so, what would you like to get out of it? Tell us here and help us create a fantastic event!

PR: Needed, If Not Loved – and Sorely in Need of Industry Change

I had the pleasure of receiving a complimentary copy of Rafe Needleman’s book, “PRO PR TIPS: Public Relations Advice from a Jaded Journalist” recently. (Thank you to its sponsor, ITDATABASE). This book is a brief and humorous – although sadly accurate – compilation of 100 tips that Rafe started originally as an occasional exasperated Twitter rant, which then became a blog, which now he published as this book. (He’s continuing to add to the blog, however.)

Most of the tips seem obvious. They attempt to help PR pros keep it simple with items such as “Tip #33: So lonely – When I say, ‘I really can’t take a call right now, I’m on deadline, can you e-mail me?’ please do not respond with, ‘But I really want to talk to you.’” or “Tip #11: Ruthless – Don’t take clients you don’t believe in.” Others might be a surprise to certain types of PR executives… such as “Tip #23: Lip Service – Please don’t kiss me. 95% of the time, it’s just awkward.” (Sidenote…kissing journalists? Maybe in Hollywood but not in the real world!)

My personal favorite tip was more of an assessment, really: “Tip #4: Needed, if not loved – No matter what people say, some companies really could use good PR counsel.”

It was good to read this acknowledgment, of course, but it brought me back to the question of why are PR executives so often the subjects of rants and raves? Why is such a seemingly docile profession so often the catalyst for a journalist’s wrath or a bad marketer’s scapegoat? Then I remembered several other items I’ve recently read that showcased exactly why, at least from a journalist’s perspective, PR is “not loved.” Just today, Jennifer Leggio, Social Business Blogger at ZDNet (and in communications herself for Fortinet, where she is the Strategic Communications Director), wrote this post, titled, “Public relations fail: A lesson and a rant.”And last week, Gina Trapani revived her “PR Spammers” wiki, calling out the domain names of agencies who have frustrated her.

So what is the lesson here? The lessons go far beyond the irritations with PR executive’s who kiss hello, spam-like pitches and overzealous jargon. The problem is industry-wide and won’t change until the PR agencies and industry leaders stop and take a serious look at what they’re teaching and doing each day. We’ve got to figure out how to change the archaic business model – how to make a profit without turning PR into a dumbed-down version of email spam because executives are under pressure to “hit” so many media targets (as opposed to working with a few for quality). It all seems so obvious – but the truth is, PR agencies don’t want to invest the time it takes to do the media-relations portion of PR well (the kind that doesn’t have the business world using PR as a dirty word every day.) And until we stop breathing down the necks of account executives about billable hours (and cramming in as much pitching as possible), this won’t change. We need an industry-wide call to action – it’s going to take a village to fix these problems and it’s only going to come in the form of a revised business model for agencies.

With the advent of social media and such public displays of humiliation, PR executives will be forced to choose between keeping the C-suite happy or keeping the journalists happy. Let’s not forget the clients need to be happy, too (although I suspect clients will need to learn to appreciate quality, solid strategy, long term ROI and good reputations over “quick-hit” quantity as well… but that’s another blog post).

We need a change so that the next book Rafe writes has tips like “Tip #4: PR – Needed and Improved. Hooray”

Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/24/09

SpymasterSpymaster: The Twitter Game That Will Assassinate Your Time
As if Twitter weren’t enough of a distraction from your day on its own, we now have “Spymaster” to contend with. Keep your eyes peeled for the “#spymaster” hashtag to start flooding your stream, as the wild adoption of this new Twitter-based game ensues!

Nine worst social media fails of 2009… thus far
Ok, so this one technically came out last Friday, but it’s definitely worth a mention in this week’s picks – especially if you haven’t seen it yet! Jennifer Leggio profiles nine of the potentially worst social media efforts so far this year. Online campaigns from Denny’s, Motrin and Quiznos are included in this post that will surely give you an idea of what not to do in the social media space.

When & How To Pay A Blogger
If you’ve considered compensating a blogger in exchange for writing about your product or service, then you better think carefully before executing the plan. Groundswell author and Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff provides some insight of his own along with the pre-requisite guidelines that were recently published by the FTC.

5 Rules for Creating Content that RULES!
Many companies struggle when starting a blog and it’s not necessarily from a lack of content to post. Sometimes the struggle stems from figuring out the best way to position or present that content. Matthew Grant eases the process with this post on Marketing Prof’s Daily Fix with five helpful rules to follow when preparing your content for publishing.

Google Wave: A Complete Guide
The announcement of Google Wave, Google’s upcoming real-time communication platform, received quite a bit of buzz this week. The feature list is pretty impressive and I can already see many ways it could fit into a web-worker’s daily interactions. Check out this guide from Mashable for the low-down. Here’s the video of the Google Wave developer preview from the Google I/O conference as an added bonus:

Don’t Let the Dog Groomer Cut Your Hair … or the Social Media Expert Run Your PR

Several conversations held with industry pals yesterday had me thinking a lot about public relations and the entire social media craze that is – in some minds – threatening the PR industry. I’ve been asked a lot of questions in recent interviews such as:

“What is social media?”

“Who should own the social media responsibility in business?”

“Should all companies use social media?”

“If I have social media, do I even need PR anymore?”

“Can’t my social media expert just do the blogger outreach?”

Those types of questions have sparked plenty of debates that led to bigger conversations, during which I discovered time and time again that the entire definition and concept of public relations is being confused with the term – and perception – of social media.

Ask yourself, would you:

- Let your vet perform surgery on you?

- Hire a house painter to create a family portrait?

- Have the school lunch cook cater your next big party?

- Ask your kid’s hockey coach to teach gymnastics?

- Ask the dog groomer to give you your next haircut?

While each of these experts have similar traits, they are not the same! So why would you hand the communications and PR strategy for your business to a social media evangelist/expert/guru/champion?

Get over the Whole “Social Media Expert” Moniker
What does that mean, anyway?

First of all, the term “social media expert” means nothing. It means nothing because it’s overused, mostly unproven and you’ll get a different definition from everyone that you ask.

It also means nothing because most “social media experts” are a dime a dozen, largely unproven and akin to back alley plastic surgeons – they’ll promise you a pretty face at a cheap price but in the end, you’ll wish you had paid for the real professional.

Many businesses are either glassy-eyed to the term “social media,” or panicking about how to get in on the trend. They are overwhelmed with terms, pitches and news reports about how social media will make or break your business. They see thousands of Twitter follower numbers on someone’s bio and turn to these self-defined social media experts for help. But they’re not doing their homework to determine who the experts really are – and  it’s going to get ugly when these experts make bigger PR and marketing promises that they don’t truly understand – let alone have any proven results to share.

Still thinking you need an expert? Heed Dan Schwabel’s advice as you proceed:
To be labeled as an expert you need PROVEN results, with an associated endorsement to back it up.

But Isn’t Social Media the New PR?
PR is Not Social Media; Rather, Social Media is a Part of (any good) PR Strategy

I cringe every time I hear social media experts pitching their PR expertise because they “know all the bloggers,” or because they “have 25,000 followers on Twitter.” Social media has spawned an entirely new wave of “experts” who may be great at writing a blog, brush shoulders often with the Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble’s of the world or have a multi-thousand follower list on Twitter. But these talents most certainly do not equate to an understanding of the intricate and long-term strategies for branding and messaging.

PR isn’t blogger relations. It isn’t just media relations. It involves much more than simple promotion or publicity. Let us not forget what PR stands for – it’s “public relations.” The “public” part includes building positive relationships with a variety of constituents – customer, prospects, partners, media, bloggers, analysts, competitors, employees, VCs and so on. And as I’ve said before, a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with these audiences simply isn’t effective.

Popularity or activity in social media communities – how to grow a Twitter following, how to share information faster, how to create and post videos, and more – does not equate to an expert understanding of how to build a lifelong brand, what creates brand loyalty, or how to create an integrated communications strategy for building relationships with both internal and external audiences. A strategy that should support – and positively impact – the long-term corporate goals of a business.

Yes, social media is changing the face of PR, marketing and advertising. Absolutely, social media should be a part of these important business efforts. The key phrase here is “a part of these efforts.” Social media is just one of the elements of “managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.”

What’s the Difference?
A strategy vs. a tactic

There are a lot of great people out there doing very exciting things with social media. I have respect for a lot of the social media consultants or agencies that I’ve met. But the ones I most respect are sticking to what they’re good at and not laying claim to the entire PR industry. Those who are touting themselves as new PR experts don’t seem to understand the whole of PR in the first place.

As just one part of a larger communications and PR strategy, social media efforts are very often focused on the near term. Planning questions are typically “What do you want to do for this particular effort?” “Who are you trying to sell this product to?” and “How can we drive traffic for this particular time period?” The focus is often on creating shorter-term campaigns to drive temporary buzz, traffic or conversations.

(Good) PR is focused on a variety of tactics that tie into a larger and longer-term strategy. As I mentioned, social media is very often part of it (or should be – that’s an entirely other topic, currently being researched by many such as Jennifer Leggio). (Good) PR professionals also ask questions that help them understand the whole of your business, and how to support it with PR, such as:

-    What are your biggest sales challenges?
-    How do you develop brand champions?
-    What vertical markets do you play in?
-    How do you win?
-    What keeps you up at night?
-    What does your product roadmap look like?
-    Describe your business. Now describe it in 12 months.

Such questions help the PR team create an overarching plan that encompasses many elements – social media, events, speaking, awards, customer programs, media and more.

What to do – PR or Social Media?
Both. Do PR; make social media one of the elements.

Smart companies will recognize that social media isn’t a PR campaign. It’s one part of a much larger communications strategy. PR and marketing experts – with proven results – should still lead your branding efforts. Social media experts may be a part of that team. Designers and content experts may be a part of that team. But the communications and branding experts should be in the driver’s seat.

Some companies will hire both a social media agency/consultant and a PR firm. Personally, I think an integrated firm – like the handful of evolved “PR 2.0” firms – is the best choice. Or, for those companies who cannot hire outside expertise, be sure that your communications director is adept at both traditional and new digital communications strategies.

At the very least, be sure that you have an individual assigned to managing all the agencies to ensure cohesive messaging and communication. What good are all those Tweets if the messages don’t align with your brand or drive long-term value?