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?

Not Everyone is as Amazing as Jason Calacanis

I’ve been reading and re-reading this post by Jason Calacanis from last Thursday, advising companies to fire their PR firms, in order to get PR for their startup. (Note, on Twitter, Calacanis claims, “For record, I didn’t say “fire your PR firm” – Alley Insider added it (although I do think most PR fees are wasted). I don’t link bait.” [sic])

As his post is yet another of what seems like a trillion blog posts about how everyone hates PR firms, and I just wrote about Arrington’s piece on a similar subject, I wasn’t going to address this one. But Friday evening my employee, Fred Han, implored me that I should have something to say. And I do – as did Fred. Our collective thoughts are below.

First off, as I read the piece I couldn’t help but think what a brilliant marketer Calacanis is. He had some great promotional ideas in this post – advice more likely to resonate with PR executives, ironically, than startup founders and CEOs.

Like Marc Benioff, Madonna, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, Calacanis knows how to spin his passion, ignite controversy and glean coverage for himself and his company. That being said, my second thought was that his summation of PR, “be amazing, be everywhere, be real,” was at the same time, brilliant and ridiculous.

It’s brilliant because yes, that’s what PR needs to accomplish – being everywhere and being “amazing” enough to stand out in a sea of overhyped, over-funded startups. Ridiculous because a) not everyone is capable of being “amazing,” b) most people hire PR firms because they don’t have time to be everywhere themselves, and c) just because someone is in PR doesn’t mean they aren’t real. To imply that those of us in PR are any less human, sincere or impassioned about our work is insulting and tiresome.

So his advice, while full of gems, is not realistic. As I Twittered myself last week, yes, CEOs could do their own PR. But trust me, most don’t have time for it (not enough to do a good job at it) and most do not have the ego and showmanship that it takes to be as successful as Calacanis has been. Madonna doesn’t have the best voice, Benioff did not create SaaS, Lohan is not the best actress or singer and, well, no one really knows what Hilton does – yet, they are “amazing” because they are brilliant at PR and marketing.

Not to mention that most CEOs are busy doing other things like, oh, running the business. I know Calacanis was too – but he seems to be the exception, not the rule. Most Founders/CEOs could do their own PR, sure – they could also take out their own garbage, book their own appointments, order their own coffee, keep their own books – heck, a lot of them could even fund their own companies. But most don’t. For a variety of reasons, they don’t.

I’ve said it before – PR is not brain surgery. It is a combination of common sense, passion, intuition and awareness. (Just as some athletes play but don’t excel, not all PR practitioners possess these attributes.) It is also very much about time. The biggest problem with PR is that PR firms try to squeeze higher profit margins by pressuring executives to do as much as possible in as little time as possible – hence the off-target pitches and other seemingly “lazy” tactics. PR practitioners don’t take the time to read enough, relate enough or participate enough because of the pressures from clients and agency leaders around billable time.

Calacanis is on to something by saying PR is “being everywhere, being real and being amazing,” but PR firms – believe it or not – can and do help with this.

How, you ask? BS, you say? Fred had some good points along these lines:

1. Be the brand

Calacanis says: If you look at any of the successful brands out there, chances are their leader is banging the drum: Mark Cuban lives for the Mavs, Kevin Rose lives for Digg, and you can’t get Loic to shut up about Seesmic. That’s how it should be. If you don’t love your brand why should anyone else.

Fred’s take: CEOs can love their brand but be horrible communicators – often using every buzzword in the book, yet not really saying anything. They often need help crafting messages and communicating differentiators that anyone can understand. PR can help identify and articulate messages that enable companies to stand out from the sea of competitive offerings. Good PR executives add a level of clarity and polish.

(Chris’ note: By the way this reminds me that PR, as many have implied, is much more than just media and blogger relations – there’s a whole other blog post pending around this topic!)

2. Be Everywhere

Calacanis says: If you and your team have committed to being the brand, the next step is being committed to being everywhere. Your job is to transfer the enthusiasm you feel for your brand to everyone you meet.

Fred’s take: Calacanis had a partner to help “hold the fort,” while he acted as a professional socialite. Many CEOs that I have met do not have this luxury, as they are the sole leader for their organization (at times, the sole employee).

PR helps the CEO “be everywhere” by being the eyes and ears of the organization, reading, researching and evaluating relevant articles, blog posts and content; and bringing the most relevant to the attention of the founder or CEO, with a recommendation on what to do with it – if anything. For example, commenting on a blog post, Twittering, reaching out to a reporter as a resource, etc. Good PR executives also recognize when the CEO or founder needs to be somewhere, and ensures he or she doesn’t miss the opportunity – and likewise, doesn’t waste time on irrelevant initiatives.

(Chris’ note: I think these two statements by Calacanis are two different things. Founders/CEOs can always transfer enthusiasm to everyone they meet; many are challenged to be everywhere without some help.)

3. Be a human being

Calacanis says: Journalists hate PR people and they hate being pitched. They do. It’s just a fact. Journalists and bloggers despise PR people, and if they say otherwise they are lying, placating you or just being diplomatic.

It’s a much better strategy to just be yourself and develop relationships with people in the industry slowly and organically. If you’re a good human being who is capable of both listening to people and engaging them in a dialogue then the “pitch” will just happen.

Fred’s take: The team at PerkettPR spends a lot of time establishing solid relationships with the community at large – from reporters and bloggers to business partners, customers, analysts and even relevant vendors. We have worked hard to develop a good reputation in our field for bringing value to both sides: clients and industry influencers.

Calacanis’ comment, “journalists and bloggers despise PR people,” is a little blind – like any profession, there are some PR executives that give this profession a bad name – unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in many professional services (imagine how big a hit the world of accounting took with the Arthur Andersen scandal) and not exclusive to PR.

4. How a CEO should e-mail a journalist

Calacanis says: The best thing for a CEO to do is to stay in regular communication with journalists and bloggers in their own, authentic voice via email…. If you do that once every other day for a year or so you’ll develop relationships with 50 to 100 important folks.

Fred’s take: The demanding nature of the CEO’s job makes it hard to communicate regularly with all employees and business partners, let alone journalists. This is very shortsighted and can only apply to those who have the luxury of being a professional socialite, as mentioned above. At the very least, PR teams can help a CEO stay on top of what each journalist or blogger is writing and what industry trend influencers are saying – and communicate his or her thoughts in response while, yes, remaining true to the brand. This ties back to several earlier comments around PR as extra eyes and ears, PR is not brain surgery and time is money.

(Chris’ note: We also help CEOs get comfortable – despite what Calacanis says, many CEOs freeze up at the thought of talking to a journalist. We help them to realize that bloggers and journalists are just people too – and we give them some of the very advice Calacanis is – mention something personal or comment on their latest article – or, in some cases, realize that the reporter is not into bonding and is all business, and go into the conversation accordingly.)

In summary, good PR executives are doing exactly what Jason is suggesting for CEOs and startup founders. We are being ourselves, developing relationships and are capable of both listening and engaging. I’ve built some extremely solid relationships this way through the likes of Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and more. Granted, too many PR executives haven’t progressed to this way of thinking and are still executing what I like to call “traditional PR.”

Lumping us all into one despised, awful category is getting tiresome. We work hard to “be human” and for the most part, our agency, as an example, seems to “get it.” In Mike Arrington’s post comments, he said “Perkett is one of the good guys that I refer to in the last paragraph. When you guys call we pick up the phone. I’m surprised you thought this was aimed at you. Perhaps that sensitivity is what puts you ahead of most of your competitors.”

We hope his comment points to the fact that some PR executives do provide significant value. Then again, according to Calacanis, maybe Arrington was just being diplomatic.

What do you think?

Persuasive Picks for the week of 07/21/08

AOL is MeltingFull Text Of AOL Email: XDrive, AOL Pictures, MyMobile And Bluestring To Shut Down
Assets at AOL continue to crumble with the announcement of four product cuts following the recent coverage of cuts across cuts with their blogging properties their blogging properties. Mike Arrington shares the full text of the official email from AOL EVP Kevin Conroy in this post.

Facebook Connect: OpenID Without the Email
Nick O’Neill from the SocialTimes.com blog shares his view on Facebook’s recently announced “Facebook Connect” initiative that was announced at this week’s F8 Facebook Developer’s Conference. Audio of the Mark Zuckerburg Keynote is also available in a separate post.

What ‘Facebook Connect’ Means for Corporate Websites
The topic of Facebook Connect continues with this great post from Jeremiah Owyang that discusses what this new offering from Facebook might mean to corporations.

What are the five strengths of a Community Manager?
Many of last week’s picks centered around the topic of community. Here’s another good one to add to the bunch written by Mario Sundar, Community Evangelist & Chief Blogger at LinkedIn.

A Guy Walks Into a Bar…
Scott Monty reaches out to the Twitter community in search of answers (punch lines) to the question “How many social media experts does it take to change a lightbulb?” The humorous replies are featured in this post.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 04/07/08

Most of this week’s picks are front the first half of the week do to scheduled travel, but I think we definitely have some winners here!

I Saw The Future Of Social Networking The Other Day
Mike Arrington from TechCrunch.com (like you didn’t know?!) shares some perspective on the future of social networking on mobile devices. Mike has demoed the future and it could involve an iPhone. Make the jump to read more.

Social Media Networking and ROI: How to Maximize Value and Minimize Cost
Maki from the DoshDosh blog breaks down the hot topics of Social Media measurement and ROI. As most in the field will agree, the returns you’ll get out of networking via social media are not direct and immediate. However, Maki shares some ways to maximize your efficiency.

Forrester Marketing Conference Day 1: Understanding Your Customers Through Engagement
Since endless budgets for attending conferences rarely exist, we can be thankful that folks like Jeremiah create posts like this and share the experience virtually with lots of New Media goodness.

My Interview with three 8th Graders on the Future of Social Media
If you still think that your company doesn’t need to start participating on Social Networks, then take a look at this video clip that Jeff Pulver captured during a Social Media Breakfast in Tel Aviv, Israel. These kids are your future customers and employees!

Going viral with YouTube
Jiannis Sotiropoulos of the Pandemic Blog dives head first into how YouTube differs from other social networks in terms of content submission, friends, popularity and going viral.

Crunchies or Crashies?

Crunchies or Crashies, call them what you like..either way call it an entertaining evening in San Francisco on Friday.

The Crunchies 2007

Attending the Crunchies was a great way to end a very busy work week. Upon arriving at the Herbst Theatre it was clear the bubble was back in full effect (or on its way to bursting, according to the usual cynics and of course the Richter Scales). Though the exuberance was rational, there were some flash signs of the days of old, the folks from Tesla Motors had one of their super-spendy electric cars parked out in front of theatre (who said you had to sacrifice sophistication to go green?) and there were massive search lights attracting passers-by and pointing them in the right direction to tech party fun. The camera crews from the local broadcast stations and video bloggers like PopSnap’s Sarah Myers were circling Michael Arrington, and others, to get some good pre-awards ceremony sound bytes and, of course, the usual party crashers were there too.

As with other TechCrunch events, the place was filled with overly enthusiastic students and bloggers, budding entrepreneurs and established CEOs, as well as the marketing and PR folks like us doing their best to network while juggling flashing mobile devices, handshakes and a drink, pre-ceremony. All of us were in the same boat with our thoughts though, hoping to see our company or client take home one of the coveted Crunchie monkey statues, or, at the very least, be entertained on a Friday night — and that we were. Check out this hilarious (though somewhat vulgar) acceptance speech video from the fake Steve Jobs (Dan Lyons). Apparently no one from Apple was available to attend the ceremony and accept the award so the Crunchies had a great laugh at their expense, and so did the rest of us! Also check out the Cool Whip response from Twine in the first set of video interviews section — very funny guy. The Richter Scales also had us laughing with their catchy tech party song, Here Comes Another Bubble.

Arrington along with Om Malik (who courageously still made it on stage 15 days post heart surgery), Matt Marshall and Richard MacManus were all gracious hosts and entertaining presenters. The event flowed just as well as any other first-year awards ceremony, with a few hiccups, that Arrington was the first to point out and remedy, (like never, ever leaving the stage empty), and the unscripted “Blogger Bash” panel, moderated byDan Farber, that was a bit rushed. All in all, that the event was a great success for the four blogs that hosted, all the companies that were nominated, and for those that won the coveted, crazy monkey “Crunchie.” And for the rest of us, the night was a chance to celebrate what a cool and crazy year in tech it has been. It was great to see the tremendous amount of activity that has happened in tech this year culminate in one nicely put together event. Congratulations to all the winners, and look forward to seeing you all at the next big valley celebration sometime soon.

Thanks to Mike, Om, Matt, and Richard for hosting all of us tech geeks and reminding us what a great ride it’s been –so far (I mean the second time) ☺!