Experts Say Don’t Cut PR in a Down Economy – PerkettPR’s “PR Stimulus Package” Can Help

In this time of economic uncertainty, many organizations pull in their marketing efforts and go under the radar in an effort to save money. However, some of the most experienced business executives have suggested that slashing PR and Marketing is the last thing you should do:

“Historically, PR, Marketing and Advertising budgets are the first to be cut; however, that could be one of the first mistakes a business makes in an economic crisis.” CBSMarketwatch

“In a downturn, aggressive PR and Communications strategy is key.“ Doug Leone, VC, Sequoia Capital -
Silicon Alley Insider

“It’s incredibly important to be risk-takers in the economic climate we’re in, when people have a tendency to pull back. In economic times like these, you don’t hunker down and go in the bunker,” Michael Mendenhall, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Hewlett-Packard
New York Times

“Ramp up PR and marketing communications aggressively,” Marketing Sherpa, (summary of Sequoia Capital presentation takeaways)

“Don’t go to the ledge. Don’t let the urgent overwhelm the important. It’s very easy now to panic, and we cannot panic. Invest in your brands now, especially in these dry times. The easiest thing is to shut down, and that’s the worst thing.” Joseph V. Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer, Coca-Cola
New York Times

So what can you do and how can we help?

So you’re not HP or Coca-Cola and you definitely need to watch your marketing budget. We want to help you do so without giving up on PR and Marketing. As a result, for any organization that partners with PerkettPR by 12/31/08, we’ll include a social media boot camp at no cost and an incentive-driven three month trial for your PR campaign*.

Why social media? Well, there’s a lot of chatter about PR and social media these days. In particular, a recent panel event hosted by an industry peer stirred up the question “Is Social Media Killing PR?” No, social media is not killing PR – in fact, for those who “get it,” social media is making PR stronger and better. But you need to make sure you’re working with someone who understands it – and that happens through participation. PerkettPR has long been participating and learning – and we want to help others understand why social media is a good thing for PR, not a PR killer. In addition, social media is an affordable way to maintain brand presence and increase awareness – when done right.

PerkettPR is proud to have received positive industry feedback about our ability to bridge the gap between traditional PR, “PR 2.0” and social media. Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet recently referred to us in her post “Social Media Will Not Kill PR but it does expose industry weakness” – as one of the handful of PR firms who “get it.” Well-known social media and digital relationship master, Chris Brogan, long ago referred to PerkettPR as an innovative agency leading the way in PR and social media:
“Perkett is versed in the traditional tools of PR, but also skilled in the emerging social media and social networking space. LOTS of organizations are claiming this, and there are lots of leopards out there changing stripes. Christine and her organization are walking the talk. Pick an emerging social network, and I promise you, Christine will have an account, or she’ll have already decided it’s not a value to her clients. That alone is worth your attention and consideration.”

In addition, IT journalists recently rated our firm as one of the Top Tech Communicators – proactively identifying (no predetermined list) PerkettPR as a “best of the best” to work with, in a survey by PRSourceCode. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch calls us “one of the good guys” and says, “When you guys call, I pick up the phone,” in the comments of his August post about PR.

PR is important and social media is a new and crucial element to enhancing its effectiveness. Work with us to learn how to maximize your PR and marketing efforts even in a down economy. Consider it our “PR Stimulus Package.”

*You can contact me directly at 781.834.5852 or cperkett[at]perkettpr.com to hear details and learn more. Better yet, connect with me or our firm on Twitter!

For more on the importance and influence of social media, read:

Moms and Motrin, New York Times

The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media, Web Strategy blog by Jeremiah

Social Media will Change your Business, BusinessWeek

How Twittering Critics Brought Down Motrin Mom Campaign, AdAge

Social Media: A Business Marketer’s Guide, iMedia Connection

PR, Social Media, Transparency & Good News

I’ve been having a very lively discussion on Twitter today about PR, social media and where the lines of transparency fall. We asked if a PR firm should run social media entities in social communities. If they do, should they identify themselves in these communities – like Twitter, Facebook, etc. – as the PR firm or as part of the company’s marketing team, or is simply having a company entity sufficient enough to imply that you’re probably talking to the marketing folks (which could include an agency). How transparent is transparent enough? I received a lot of lively – and differing – answers:

PR Company Transparency

My favorite answer, however, was from @tgruber. She said:

@tgruber Transparency Reply

It’s my favorite answer because for me, if I’m interacting with a company’s brand online, it seems obvious that the marketing team would be behind it unless otherwise noted (as in the case of @zappos which is clearly identified as the CEO, Tony Hsieh; or in our case @PerkettPR – where we identify who is behind the Twittering of the brand right in our bio).

But I’m in marketing and PR – so I wanted other viewpoints. If you are interacting with @Lotame (client), for example, do you assume you are talking to the CEO or a marketing executive, or someone else? If a PR firm maintains the account should they say in their bio, for example, “We’re PerkettPR Twittering on behalf of Client.”? If you follow @TJMaxx, @Starbucks, @JetBlue, @LuckyShops or others, does it matter to you who’s behind the social media curtain – as long as they aren’t claiming to be the CEO when they are not?

We’re excited to announce several new clients today and as we continue planning and launching many social media campaigns for them in the coming months, we continue to value and learn from the collective communities and their opinions. That includes you – so what do you think?

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?