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!

Does Motivation Matter?

As an entrepreneur and business owner, one has to keep a certain level of motivation in order to keep the business moving forward. Even during the worst of times – say a recession – and the best of times, an underlying, sincere motivation must exist for long lasting success. You must also learn how to keep others motivated, even when it’s the last feeling you have personally.

Motivation has been on my mind a lot lately for both personal and professional reasons. Why do people stay or leave a company, why do some return after they’ve left, what are the motivating factors for work other than for a paycheck? What is it that drives relationship success? What is the motivation for someone to change when something isn’t going well? There are a myriad of answers that could fit – but only you know the truth behind your own motivation.

Tying into this topic, yesterday, Michael Arrington of Techcrunch disclosed that he has invested in some of the startups that he (or his staff) writes about on his world-famous blog. Arrington’s claim is that he has always provided full disclosure, but that he wanted to reiterate his stance because “the policy has changed,” he has begun actively investing again and that in the past, the accusations of conflicts of interest by TechCrunch competitors became distracting. Seems sensible – he’s being up front and disclosing his interests. Others have questioned his motivation – citing potential damage to the blog and its staff, and claiming a “clear financial gain in this policy” – but admit that “Arrington won’t find much public criticism in the Silicon Valley community because he has a thin skin and he keeps a list.”

So what is the true motivation behind Michael Arrington’s disclosure? Does it matter? How much does someone’s motivation matter to you if the outcome is right? Does a company’s motivation (getting you to spend money) to treat you well make you wary, even if your experience is positive and you willingly spend? Does an employee’s motivation to work harder, better, stronger – right around review time – matter, or are you just happy they are delivering results? Does the motivation behind a friend’s change in behavior matter to you if they are now treating you better than ever (say you caught and confronted their bad behavior and that’s why they’ve changed)?

Do you analyze motivation enough – of your employees, your partners, your customers? Understanding motivation – as much as we can – can help us to be better business owners, friends, leaders and partners. How much does motivation matter to you?

 

It’s Not Personal – or Is It?

When Twitter first arrived on the scene a few years ago, it took a long while for businesses to jump on the bandwagon. A few brave souls were early adopters but even today, there’s still a lot of skepticism on whether or not social media is appropriate and valuable for business. I think we’ve made it clear here that we believe it is, but if you’re still wondering, take a look at some of the biggest “web-celebs” (individuals popular on the web and who have successfully used it to build and extend their brand) and their use of social media. Many of them use it solely for the purpose of business – you rarely, if ever, see a personal update from them. So, although one might argue that these folks are focused on “personal branding,” ultimately, they are using their recognition to grow their businesses. A few examples:

Pete Cashmore (he moved over to Google Buzz in lieu of his “personal” Twitter account)

Robert Scoble (a few scattered personal comments but usually around where he is, especially with his current focus to travel the world to study how start-ups are formed)

Guy Kawasaki (“firehose” is putting it lightly)

Michael Arrington (if you don’t count semi-arguments with people trying to get his attention through controversial engagement)

Brian Solis (the most personal current Tweets are around his own book)

On the flip side, there are several examples of some new “web celebs” who often share personal updates, sometimes posting such random things like quotes from their favorite song, or what they had for dinner. Folks like Laura Fitton of oneforty, Penelope Trunk (who is a writer, so perhaps this is part of her persona), Chris Brogan (also a blogger, but now also a marketer) and Peter Shankman (of HARO fame) all share a combination of personal viewpoints and professional insights.

Then there’s a lot of talk about the new “over sharing” of personal information around location-based technologies, such as Foursquare. If you missed the latest hoopla, check out this TIME story on Please Rob Me and the dangers of getting too personal online. A recent PR-specific example of over sharing is the young lady who was hired – and then had her offer rescinded – by People’s Revolution (a fashion PR firm and center of the BravoTV show, Kell On Earth) for tweeting about her job interview.

So what’s my point? It’s really more of a question – are those who keep content more professional-focused and less personal-focused, more successful in business? Have social media networks crossed the chasm from personal fun to serious business tool? If so, why are so many brands still hesitant to make the leap into social marketing? Clearly, these few examples are only a small part of the social media population – but they are also strong examples of those who have successfully grown their personal brand through heavy use of social media and digital content.

What’s your style? Do you have a preference of the type of people that you connect with in social networks? Is it better as a business/executive – especially a marketer – to keep what you share 100% professional? I tend to believe that as a PR executive, social networks give us the opportunity to show that we’re human, more intelligent than often given credit for, and interested and passionate about many of the very products and services we promote. However, I often wonder whether or not I should post anything personal on my social networks. My historical preference has been to strike a balance between professional and personal posts, although with Facebook I really struggle – should I be posting anything personal? If I want to be personal, should I only accept “friends” who are truly friends in real life (you know, those people I’ve actually met and share common interests with)?

What do you think? I’m particularly interested in hearing from those who have built brand awareness online and if such success came from staying on one side of the fence or another. Thanks in advance for “sharing.”

 

The Article I Want to Read on PR

Yesterday morning I woke up to the same New York Times article that the rest of the PR industry did – although I had known that it was coming. Whenever there’s an article on our industry, it seems to cause a huge hoopla – I guess we’re not used to being the ones in the spotlight – so I suppose I would be remiss to not mention it. I sat on it for a day to decide what I wanted to say and I’ve concluded that I’m not going to give my assessment of the article or the PR strategy because a) that’s been done and b) we have a connection to one of the subjects in the article, Brooke Hammerling, in that we share a client and I wouldn’t want any of my comments to be misconstrued.

Instead, I’ll say here’s the article I would have rather read – or would like to see someone take the time to write – about PR. Let’s follow the next PR subject and his or her clients around for a good six months to a year. Let’s get past the launch phase and the initial hoopla (if done well), and watch how the PR team tackles strategy during the tougher times. Let’s follow a PR executive or firm that has to promote completely new concepts and companies, vs one that works for say, Facebook or Microsoft. And let’s see what else PR executives do besides “spin.”

Hell, let’s see if PR executives even know strategy, right? Michael Arrington says in his post on the subject that we (PR executives) just “Smile, Dial, Name Drop and Pray,” that we’re “frustrated by always being in the back seat” and that we’re just “there to spin whatever happened in the most favorable light possible.” Jason Calacanis has said in the past that anyone can do it and you should fire your PR firm. Robert Scoble says in his post that “PR companies haven’t figured out yet that the traffic has moved onto social networks and that journalists and influencers are watching those like a hawk.”

First of all, some of us have, Robert, and have likewise been involved in these social networks for years. Secondly, these are all yet again sweeping statements – sparked by the moves of one PR person and then applied to the whole of our industry. They are also very focused on one thing: coverage. Even if Ms. Hammerling’s strategy was to leave the tech blogs out and instead garner online mentions from the “Who’s Who” of tech, the story still began with “Ms. Hammerling, while popping green apple Jolly Ranchers into her mouth, suggests a press tour…” And anytime bloggers and reporters seem to assess the PR industry, the viewpoints usually only take into account only that one element of what our job is – and that one thing that happens to be what they do for a living: writing on and assessing products, services and companies (and I include blogs in that).

But let’s remember – I’ve said it before – PR is so much more than media coverage – it’s more than promoting a product or service. It’s more than pitching and praying, smiling and dialing or spinning and dancing. And it’s much, much more than name dropping. (Just for the record, I’ve never been much of a name dropper – I know the right people to reach when it’s important and if I don’t, I’ll quickly find out – and I seem to be doing “ok.” As I have written in the past, my approach is not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – journalists or otherwise. The “meaningful” way is what traditional PR agencies are struggling with – it doesn’t exactly fit the “process, repeat” model of yesteryear that likely sparks comments such as Arrington’s “smile and dial” assessment.)

Arrington is right when he says PR executives aren’t who a CEO calls “when wondering what she should do next to drive her business forward.” However, to imply that we as an industry do not influence our clients’ “strategic actions”at all is inaccurate. In fact, we do help to shape the directions of some business decisions based on what we believe the communications outcome or impact will be. We have helped to name companies, products, events and even product categories. We very carefully think about timing – and influence business actions based on it and a host of other elements. We help tongue-tied entrepreneurs to better communicate not only with customers or partners, but with  media, analysts, employees and even VCs. To focus on media coverage or “influencer” tours – or just this one PR strategy from Ms. Hammerling – as “the new world of promoting start-ups” is telling only part of the story.

So again, I’d love to someday see a real analysis of the PR industry – more than a press tour, more than a product launch, more than a stereotypical pretty blonde executive working the room at a trade show. How about the daily life of a PR executive handling both small start ups and major corporations – and how the PR strategy for each not only exists, but entails much more than reaching out to media and bloggers, and how such strategies for each type of client varies greatly. And I’d prefer that the story show different types of PR executives so we don’t end up with another Lizzie Grubman MTV-style show representing our entire industry.

What is a Web. 2.0 PR Agency?

There’s a lot of buzz about PR these days. Is it dead? Has social media taken over? Does everyone do PR now? What’s wrong with PR? Why is it broken? Is it even necessary anymore?

The latest rant about how PR is broken comes from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. I was on vacation when this post appeared so I did not participate in the comments parade (145 and counting!) following his post. But I have to say that I don’t blame him. Like Mike and his post-muse, Steve Rubel, I have recently experienced what it’s like to receive really bad, really off-focus PR pitches (since I started blogging outside of PerkettPR for This Mommy Gig, Women for Hire, etc.). The pitches I’ve received have embarrassed me, knowing that these are the professionals representing our industry… and doing such a bad job that reporters and bloggers are compelled to publicly cry out against PR in general. I don’t have time to read – let alone respond to – lazy, off-topic pitches and I’m pretty sure that I’m not even half as busy as guys like Mike.

All of this hoopla – combined with recent incoming new business inquires where prospects told me they are looking for a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” – has me thinking. Is there a difference between “traditional PR” and ” Web 2.0 PR?” Is PR really broken or are executives under pressures from clients who don’t understand, now more than ever, what PR is about? What is a Web 2.0 PR Agency, anyway? I think it depends on who you ask.

One prospect defined a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” through a series of posts describing the agency as having “current clients in the Web 2.0 space with funny sounding names” and the ability to demonstrate “out-of-the-boxiness” – preferably by wearing jeans and t-shirts to the pitch meeting and not bringing paper presentations. Numerous other prospects defined Web 2.0 PR as having a blog (you’d be surprised how many companies haven’t even taken this step yet). Still others said they were heavily weighing their decision on a new agency around the amount of Twitter followers or Facebook friends each agency had (although, since most agencies don’t yet have – or keep up – a corporate entity like @PerkettPR, they instead looked at one individual most of the time).

None of the above makes a successful “Web 2.0 PR Agency.” You can still abuse Twitter and Facebook if you use them to send bad pitches (or any pitches, in some cases). You can be a savvy PR firm and still wear suits (in fact 99 percent of the time if we showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, we’d never get the job). You can have thousands of followers on Twitter and not one of them who cares about your clients or their products (hence delivering no value).  Anyone can create a blog.

PR has always been about “people skills,” as vague as that sounds. It’s not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – whether we’ve met or not. It’s also about mutual benefit and communication – not just calling when you need something.  And finally, it’s about time – we’re not brain surgeons, but just as you could paint your own house, you most likely have other things you need to do, so you pay someone to do it for you. PR is not dead because everyone wants promotion. Some are good at doing it themselves, some need help and still others simply want to pay someone to do it for them.

A “Web 2.0 PR Agency” is simply one that understands the new ways that people are connecting and building relationships. They understand that today, “people skills,” go beyond attending networking events or taking a reporter to dinner once in awhile. They take the time to join the conversation, read and comment, share a bit of their own insights and give something back to the community in terms of participation. As Arrington said, “… participate in the fascinating conversations [and suddenly] you are a person that gives and takes. Someone who makes the overall network stronger.” PR executives can do this as well, if they make the time for it – think of what you can learn! In this regard, a good “Web 2.0 PR Agency” isn’t afraid to experiment and take chances – breaking out of the usual PR mold (which clearly isn’t working anymore).

Any “Web 2.0 PR Agency” understands that it may take more time to read, comment, write, build and share original content, and provide information – but that consistent participation is the key to success. You can’t watch from the sidelines anymore. PR agencies are suffering because they are used to maximizing billable hours by skimming the surface – they find a basic formula, teach junior executives what it is and apply it to all reporters, analysts, bloggers, etc. They don’t want to spend hours personalizing efforts for clients when they can service more clients – hence, more retainers – if one formula fits all.

This doesn’t work anymore yet they don’t know how to change. Managers demand reports of who received a press release, rather than recognizing the value in ongoing conversations and the time it takes to actually read and respond appropriately to individual constituents or to execute direct-to-customer communications. But it isn’t just agencies, the demand for such reports and lists – and the failure to recognize value in building relationships through two-way conversations – also lies with clients. They don’t measure conversations, they measure clips and ask for your Rolodex. Blasting news can quickly create a pretty list of reporters who the firm “pitched” and, sadly, can often create more quantity – not quality – “hits” than the time it takes to work with a reporter for a feature story or to build a viral campaign.

PR isn’t dead – it’s alive and well in almost anything you read on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and more (disclosure: The Style Observer and Constant Contact are clients). Traditional PR (media, speaking, awards, analyst relations, events, etc.) can still be effective – but in conjunction with these new social channels. I believe a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” understands this, has come to grips with the fact that a reusable formula no longer works, takes the time to participate, and is flexible and wise enough to adapt to this reality – and teach clients how to do so as well.