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.

Who Owns Your Brand?

Right now we are participating in a Twebinar (think Webinar + Twitter) hosted by Chris Brogan and Radian 6 on the topic of “Who Owns the Brand?”

Do companies own their brand or do the customers own the brand? There are a lot of differing opinions on the subject. I believe companies own the brand – they just don’t have sole control over it (and really, never did – the Internet just makes this more glaring).

Companies set the stage for their brand by communicating their intentions, credibility and value. Customers help shape the brand, collaborate on its direction and share it (good or bad). Today, more than ever, the customer takes the brand a company presents and either accepts it or rejects it – spreading the word or influencing change (as Dell experienced with IdeaStorm).

A huge part of what direction your customers take the brand depends on the company keeping their brand promises. Smart companies recognize this and welcome customer influence by embracing them, conversing with them and inviting collaboration. That means listening and taking action based on customer feedback.

What do you think? Follow and join the conversation here (type in #tweb2) or visit Radian 6′s Twebinar to watch the recorded version and learn about future Twebinars.

5 Tips for Maximizing your Podcamp Experience

Podcamp Boston 2With Podcamp Boston 3 coming up this weekend, I’ve started think back to last year’s event and how I want to approach the experience this year. Podcamp co-creator Christopher S. Penn recently created a video podcast listing 5 tips to get the most from your Podcamp experience. His video prompted me to come up with an additional five of my own that first time “Podcampers” might find useful.

Create a “People I want to meet list”
After Podcamp Boston 2 ended last year, I realized there were a bunch of people in attendance that I never got a chance to meet. In fact, so many people attended that I never even knew the people I missed were even there. Plan ahead by scanning the attendee list (Podcamp Boston’s list is on the Eventbrite page) and don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with specific people while you can. Many folks come from out of state, which can make meet-ups like this a rare opportunity.

Don’t forget your business cards
Podcamp is a prime time for networking, so don’t forget your business cards and be sure to bring plenty of them. Depending on the city, Podcamp weekends can draw hundreds of participants, and all the new people you meet won’t be able to connect with you later on if you aren’t handing out cards. Its not uncommon to see people handing out more than one card as well. It’s also wise to have special cards made up for that blog, podcast or online video show you’d like to promote!

Maximize your hallway time
Podcamp weekends are always packed full of great sessions, but as many experienced Podcampers will agree, much of the magic happens in the hallways. Spontaneous sessions and unplanned gatherings can yield great information and can be incredibly valuable. If you’re not getting what you want out of a session, envoke the Pocamp “Law of Two Feet” and venture out into the hallway to see what’s going on. You might just be surprised at what you find!

Bring snacks
Be sure to throw a few snacks in your backpack to keep your energy up throughout the day. Podcamp offers a lot of information to absorb in 48 hours, and you’ll need to rely on those little bursts of energy that a healthy snack can give you after the coffee crash begins to settle in. Quick and portable items like a banana, trail mix, and a bottle of water will stay fresh during the weekend and the money you save bringing your own snack will pay for that extra pint at the pub on Saturday night.

Check your shyness at the door
Podcamp weekend is a time to meet new people as well as shake hands with some of the people with whom, until now, you might only have had a virtual relationship. If you tend to lean towards the shy side in social situations, then you’ll take comfort in the fact that everyone who attends Podcamp is there to meet other people. Don’t hesitate to approach groups of people who you may not know yet. Looking for groups of people that have one or two people you already know can also make breaking the ice easier. Just remember, everyone is there to meet you!

Bonus Tip! – Additional “gear” to bring
Here are some additional items to bring along that tend to come in handy: a powerstrip, extension cord, battery chargers, cellphone charger (especially for the iPhone 3G folks!), laptop charger, extra memory cards, USB thumb drive and a sharpie.

See you at Podcamp Boston 3 and be sure to DM me on Twitter if you’d like to connect!

Photo courtesy of Nico

PerkettPR’s Heather Mosley on MyRaganTV.com

PerkettPR’s own Executive Vice President, Heather Mosley, makes her second appearance on MyRaganTV.com speaking about the adoption of Twitter for business use. Heather originally contributed her views to MyRaganTV on how PR professionals utilize social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogs and Twitter as part of their recipe for success, after a speaking engagement at the 2008 Ragan Conference in Chicago. Account Director, Lisa Dilg was also quoted in the article that accompanies the video release. (You can follow Heather on Twitter via @mosleyppr, Lisa via @pprlisa and our agency via @PerkettPR)



Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/26/08

Weezer - Pork and BeansTag Recommendations for Content: Ready to Filter Noise?
Properly tagging your content can go a long way to improving your visibility on the Net. Hutch Carpenter shares his review of four bookmarking and tagging services you can use to boost your “Google-Juice.”

Death of Education and the Dawn of Learning
Here’s a great post on the Servant of Chaos blog that speaks to the way kids communicate in a Web 2.0 world and how the education system needs to catch up. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s employees and customers. Will your business survive if you don’t join the social media/network space?

Charity Auction: Buy Yourself a Social Media Guru
Buy yourself time with one of five social media and online marketing experts as part of this excellent charity auction. The toughest part will be deciding on which guru to bid on with the talents of Chris Brogan, Joseph Jaffe, Aaron Strout, Geoff Livingston and Greg Verdino up for grabs!

Basic Business Blogging Suggestions
Speaking of Chris Brogan, this post he wrote earlier this week provides some nice basic information for companies that are just starting to launch a blog. As usual, Chris’s community of readers are providing great comments to the post, so be sure to read through those as well!

Pork and Beans
I’ll wrap up this week with something entertaining. Here’s a link to the new Weezer video that has been released by the band to promote the new single. The relevance? They included noteable internet “celebrities” in the video which is a sure-fire way to boost it’s potential for going viral.