“Influencers Who Inspire” – Interview with Steve Barrett, US Editor-In-Chief, PRWeek

PerkettPR is excited to share our latest interview with Steve Barrett who leads the US edition of PRWeek, a premier PR publication. Steve Barrett has been editor-in-chief of PRWeek US since April 2010, managing a team of 12 journalists.  PRWeek is the premier global media brand for the communications and PR industries, publishing monthly in print, a weekly online edition, daily online news briefings, weekly sector bulletins, audio, video, blogs, and other regular digital content. Steve shares insight on his role as editor-in-chief of a busy publication, how he transitioned to the US from the UK and how much he loves the city of New York.

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Tell us a bit about what your role encompasses as editor-in-chief of PRWeek US?
The editor-in-chief’s role on PRWeek is to lead the brand across all its content platforms, live events, brand extensions, and partnerships. It involves leading and managing a team of journalists and liaising with many departments internally at our holding company Haymarket, including the regional global branches of PRWeek, in the UK and Asia. It also means being the front person for the brand and building great contacts in the industry we cover, across the client, agency, media, and products and services categories. It means being generally supportive of the PR industry, while also challenging it to excel and update its practice, and helping it to advance.

You have been with PRWeek US for over 5 years now. What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
Having transitioned over to the US office of our holding company Haymarket Media from England, I quickly learned that you have to adapt your strategy and style to the local market in which you are operating, without losing the universal skills and experience you have in your locker.
Nobody is interested in hearing about “how you used to do things in the old country,” just as an American in England would get similarly short shrift if they approached the job in such a fashion. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer fresh perspectives and ideas, you just have to present them in the right way.
I also had to tone down my newsroom style a little in the US, as it is generally more “robust” in the UK and certain things don’t go down well here. In the UK you can be in a shouting match with someone one minute and having a pint in the pub with them the next.
However, I was pleased to see the generally high regard in which the media is held in the US and the voracious appetite for quality content. I also learned that over here “The Times” means The New York Times and not The London Times.

What do you find most challenging as editor?
It’s the most exciting time to be in media, but also the most frightening. The landscape is evolving so fast and traditional business models and ways of doing things are changing every day. Standing still is going backwards, so you have to constantly try to infuse your brand and your team with the energy to move forward. That has always been the case by the way, but it is even more so now.

Having come from the UK, what do you miss about it? What do you love about NY?
I miss silly things like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, proper fish and chips, The Grand National (England’s most famous horse race), good-quality lamb (you can tell I am not a vegetarian), a pint of good bitter, cynicism, and other such English specialties.
New York is the most amazing city in the world. Unlike London, it is a genuine 24-hour city that never sleeps. And, also unlike London, it is a place where people actually live in the center of the city, which makes it super-vibrant and exciting. London has so totally out-priced its native population that it becomes a ghost town in the evenings because nobody can afford to live in the center, and that has had a seriously diminishing effect on my hometown, which I regret. Don’t get me wrong, Manhattan is an expensive place to live, but people have not been completely priced out of the center yet.

If you had not taken the path of journalism for your career, what do you envision you would be doing?
Actually, I came to journalism quite late, having worked in sales, marketing, and at a digital agency before taking a year out, doing a masters degree in journalism, and landing at Haymarket soon after, in 1999, where I have been ever since in various roles.
Funnily enough, despite the traditional tension between editorial and commercial departments on media outlets, in my view some of the skills required are very similar across both – such as the ability to listen, ask open questions, build relationships, negotiate, and go in hard where necessary.

How does PRWeek do such a good job of reporting on timely topics?
Between our US, UK, and Asian editorial operations we have full 24/7 coverage of the PR and communications sectors and we work together very effectively as a team. This is a tribute to the senior and section editors in each region, who have totally bought in to the new global imperative of business. Our journalists are all experts in their beats and tenacious and intelligent in the way they go about their jobs.
We have also stopped thinking about channels and concentrate on content, which is then delivered in the most effective fashion across the most relevant platforms, whether that be mobile (which it increasingly is), online, face to face at events, or in print.

Biggest pet peeve with PR people?
I am in the interesting position of editing the trade publication for PR professionals, so I’m not going to wheel out the usual journalistic gripes about PR people.
The PR profession gets a bad rep from many quarters, including mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times and niche publications such as Advertising Age. Our job at PRWeek is to reflect the transformation going on in PR that makes it fundamental to businesses and organizations of all types and much more respected and valued than it used to be by C-suite level executives.

What keeps you up at night?
When I have a gym session in the morning I always wake up early, which is really annoying. But if I waited until the evening to go to the gym I would never get in there.
I started worrying about geopolitics, war, poverty, terrorism, and the general unsettled state of the world, but I got too depressed, so now I try and think about nice things.

What are you passionate about outside of work? Favorite sport?
As an Englishman born and bred, football is my sport – or soccer as you call it over here. I’ve been a passionate Manchester United fan almost since birth and their results still have far too much of an impact on my mood and disposition.
My other sporting passion is chess – yes, it is a sport. I recently played for my English club team in the European Club Cup in Macedonia and managed to pull off my best win ever, against a strong Azerbaijani Grandmaster. I also love cricket, horseracing, snooker, and boxing.
Apart from sport, I love many types of music, including northern soul, reggae, jazz, ska, and, as I was a teenager in the late-70s, punk. And, I love New York City.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2015?
I have just taken on an additional role at PRWeek as global editorial director, in addition to my duties as EIC of PRWeek US, so my brief has been widened to oversee the development of PRWeek’s collaborative, global editorial products, and to pursue opportunities and partnerships to bring the brand to new regions.

“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview with Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group

Rebecca’s experiences as an editor, marketer and analyst with the Altimeter Group, make her a perfect expert resource for our Influencers Who Inspire series.  She is also the author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization and most recently, Content Marketing.


What is your favorite outdoor activity in the summer and where do you recommend going to do it?

Hot weather and I are not the best of friends. Aquatic is my way to deal. Swimming laps, bodysurfing in the ocean, or scuba diving (a longtime passion) – if it’s summer, look for me near the water!

You have spent parts of your career as an analyst, an editor and an author; which of these positions is/was the most rewarding? If you can’t pick one, what are/were the highlights of all three?

I really view all these positions as a continuum. I’ve spent my career exclusively in media, first film, then television, then digital – with a bunch of print experience sprinkled throughout (periodical and book publishing). My job has always been to scrutinize the media landscape, chart its growth, and how to connect with consumers. I also have substantial experience as a marketer (I don’t just tell them what to do – I’ve done it, too!). Admittedly, my marketing experience is confined to media as well: film and television. So basically, it’s been all media, all the time.

The most rewarding part is easy. It’s been being there as one of the most important developments in the history of media and communications has taken place and taken shape. Undoubtedly, the most exhilarating part of my career has been experiencing and watching the rise of digital channels: the opportunities, the pitfalls, the disruption and the possibilities are endlessly fascinating. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, right?

As an editor and analyst you regularly hear from PR representatives pitching you for meetings. What makes a pitch or briefing request stand out to you and /or prompts you to respond quickly?

Easy – the ones that indicate the person pitching has done their job. They know who I am, what I cover, and they tailor the pitch accordingly. You would not believe how many pitches I get about a new hotel opening in Tulsa, or executive hires in the meatpacking industry. My contact information is ‘out there’ in lists sold to the types of spray-and-pray PR firms that give the industry a bad name. The concept of “know your audience” isn’t a new one, but it’s what matters most. It’s also critical to differentiate “pitch” from “press release.” Digital changed the press release. Once the news in on the wire, it’s out there. Don’t ask me [journalist hat on now] to cover it. You broke your own story.

Digital marketers want to know — with the masses of new social marketing tools, platforms, buzzwords and best practices — how do you manage to stay current?

All research, all the time. Really. I subscribe to over 200 RSS feeds and scour them all day long. I stay in the traffic. Every week I have dozens of meetings and briefings with people and companies in the industry. It’s a full time job, and then some, and it requires a lot of focus. In other words, you have to concentrate on what matters to your area of coverage. I don’t look at ALL of social media, for example. My arena is the marketing and media aspect of those channels. I leave deep dives on other aspects to my very capable colleagues.

How do you filter the news? What news sites or influencers do you visit/follow as your go to resources for news content to share each morning? (Do you have a news outlet as your homepage or do you search Twitter for keywords that are meaningful to you?)

As I mentioned above, my RSS feeds are my homepage. When Google folds Reader, it will feel as if the internet is broken for a while. I’m currently experimenting with replacements such as Reeder and Feedly. There are also people I follow very closely on Twitter and Facebook to stay abreast.

In your upcoming keynote at the Banff Media Festival you will talk about Content Marketing in the form of the Paid+Owned+Earned Media Ecosystem. With content lines blurring more and more, who do you see as the ultimate keeper of the content within an organization?

Funny you should ask, because after I completed a research report (co-authored with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang) on the convergence of paid, owned and earned media, I worked on a just-published piece of research entitled “Organizing for Content.” This research deals exactly with the question, “where should content live in the org chart?” Precious few companies have a an actual content division, yet marketing, PR, communications, community, social media and a myriad of other company components are invested in finding, creating and disseminating content. I invite your readers to download the report, which outlines six frameworks for enterprise content orchestration.

In your opinion, what has been the most important change in SEO tactics over the last few years? How do those changes impact the way we should think about content marketing today?

When it comes to SEO, the fundamental things apply. Good content, well-written, keyword-conscious, and don’t spam or be blackhat.  I was fascinated last year when I conducted research into WHY major brands engage in content marketing. In 57 interviews with really major companies (e.g. Coke, IBM, ToysRUs, Adobe, etc.) only one single brand (Nestlé) mentioned SEO as a reason behind content marketing. My instinct is this isn’t because SEO is unimportant – au contraire – but because it’s no longer channel du jour. Like email (which, by the way, not one single brand mentioned – and what’s in an email if not content?), SEO is becoming a background channel. Like wallpaper – there, but no one’s really talking about it anymore. They’re looking at mobile, social, video. That’s fine – but beware Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, which can cause you to ignore basics and fundamentals.

What one piece of advice (perhaps from your most recent book on the topic) would you offer to a marketer starting a content marketing campaign today?

Strategy before tactics! We’ve seen this occur again and again. A new technology or channel is launched and someone says, “Hey! We need a [Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter presence, etc.]. A smart marketer counters with “Why?” What’s the goal? What are the required resources? The budget? How will we achieve it? Produce it? Measure it? Who’s the audience?

On a lighter note, we noticed that you tweeted the tongue and cheek Onion post, the other day, about how much people “love” being sold by sponsored content like videos on publications’ websites. Just for fun, can you share with us your favorite example of sponsored content gone wrong?

Wow – you just reminded me of something that goes way back in my career, back in the 90s when I ran global marketing for a major cable TV network. I came into the office on a Monday morning following the weekend when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash. A rival network was sponsoring a touring exhibit of her gowns. Across the back cover of a major magazine was splashed their ad, with the banner headline: A Dress to Di For!

Lastly, when you venture out of NYC for business travel what is the one thing you take with you, the one thing you can’t wait to leave behind and the one thing you can’t wait to come home to?

1. Laptop

2. Hmmm…maybe my MTA Metrocard?

3. It’s a tie: the cats and the boyfriend

Interested in learning more? Please leave any questions or comments for Rebecca below.  You can also catch up with her at the Altimeter Group website or follow her on Twitter.

Are You A PR Influencer?

Even though 99% of everything you do in PR is on behalf of your company or your client, are you working on becoming an influencer yourself? Our own @missusp spoke last Friday afternoon at the PRSA Technology Conference in New York on the topic of PR professionals as influencers and shared her insights into how our role is changing. She highlighted several PR & digital marketing professionals turned influencers including: Chris Brogan, Kelly Cutrone, Steve Rubel, Peter Shankman, Brian Solis, Scott Monty, Ann Handley, Sarah Evans and more. You can see her full presentation on SlideShare or check out some of the key tips and takeaways below:

  • It’s about YOU – PR professionals aren’t just "flaks," we’re tastemakers — choosing to work with the best and brightest upcoming brands, products and services. Embrace your role as an influencer and share your thoughts, insights, opinions – we have a better chance than ever to show how intelligent we really are.
  • Build your personal brand – YOU are your personal brand  and guess what – it lasts forever. Put some care into making sure it’s a brand you’re proud of. Great examples of personal brands include Gary Vaynerchuk, Julia Roy and more.
  • Do what you know and do it well – especially in PR! Bad pitches are now public – often the subjects of a reporter’s wrath – so “do what you already know how to do” but do it well because the footprint you build now will stay with you forever.
  • Share, Share, Share (with your networks) — the difference between simply being a member of a social network and being an influencer is sharing valuable content. Think about how you can help others.
  • Write a book — or at least a blog! PR executives need to be great writers and that means doing it well and doing it often. Blogs also give you another platform for sharing insights and opinions – embracing that role as a tastemaker -  as do Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks where you can be a resource with answer, opinions and thoughts. The point is to write – it keeps your skills sharp and increases your credibility as a PR professional.
  • Don’t say you are (just) in PR — our role has changed and we are so much more than PR pros now. Know the new terms used to describe our profession and make sure you are referring to all of your expertise, as it has now evolved to include digital and social media marketing, for example. As a leader, you should recognize when to change your messaging to meet the growing demands of our industry. You’ll notice many of the best-known PR leaders don’t even have "PR" in their company descriptions anymore. Some do – but regardless, all the strongest marketing influencers today include terms such new media, social media and digital marketing in their expertise description.
  • Make your own rules (within reason) – be bold and innovative. Take risks. Try new things – the best PR and marketing often comes from throwing out the old rules and making your own.
  • Remember it’s all about you (but really it isn’t) — we are all well versed at building relationships online and off and we continue to find new ways to leverage our communication skills for the better good of our companies and clients. Building your personal brand is important, but remember; you are doing all of this for the betterment of your clients and ultimately positive exposure for them. Your own influence on social networks is becoming directly related to how successful you will be with generating buzz for your clients.

Thanks to all who attended the session on Friday and for all the #TechPRSA tweeting. It was a great event!