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Going the Distance


  • The page is now open to all people with a stake in the future of the PR industry. This includes individuals who work as solo PR consultants or inside agencies, client-side practicioners, academics and vendors. If you'd like a password for this page, please contact Steve Rubel or Constantin Basturea


  • Please keep your contribution to the point.
  • Please don't edit other people's contributions.

An introduction from Steve Rubel, VP, Micro Persuasion Practice at CooperKatz

On October 6, 2005 I issued a call to action on my blog for the PR community to go the distance. Specifically, I believe that as an industry we are way behind where we need to be in our understanding of how to apply the new world of social media in our day-to-day jobs. I reiterated this call in a byline in the November 28 issue of PR Week.

The good news is we have 75% of social media under our belt. As an industry most of us conceptually get its importance. We know how it evolves marketing from a monologue into a dialogue and the significance of listening. However, many PR professionals still don't grasp the last 25%. In other words, our agency and in-house teams don't know how to put blogs, RSS, wikis, podcasting, etc. into action immediately. They don't know how to subscribe to RSS feeds and, what's more, develop conversational marketing programs.

I am not alone in this belief. Others, including Richard Edelman, share this conviction. On November 21, he suggested the industry: retrain its work force, recognize the influence and credibility of blogs and experiment. Now it's time to go the distance.

On this wiki page, I have invited several executives from the PR community to discuss different initiatives that we can each take back home and apply in our own agencies. Hopefully we can establish some best practices. In the spirit of transparency, those who are willing to participate will hold this dialogue out in the open. I suggest - to keep this organized - that we address one subject matter at a time until we close it before moving on to the next. However, I defer to the wishes of the group. Once we have identified a series of best practices, we will open these ideas up to feedback from a broader group.

Who's participating

Topic I: Retraining

Steve Rubel asks:
Let's start with this...What level of social media mastery do you presently have in your agencies and is it where you feel you need to be?

Steve Rubel answers:
At CooperKatz? we started early. We launched our first client blog back in January 2004. We were also fortunate to have two key bloggers - Robert Scoble and Buzz Bruggeman - enlighten us live in June 2004. Since then, pretty much everyone at our agency has been reading RSS feeds related to their clients. Some of these are blog feeds, others are search feeds or RSS streams from news sites. Most if not all of the account teams are engaging with and building relationships with key bloggers. We invite them to conferences, to review products, and more. We treat them with the same urgency as the media, but we recognize they often have diverse needs/wants.

Where we need to grow is in coaching/mentoring our entire team in the art of what makes a good blog. Not everyone at our firm yet has had the opportunity to work on a blogging project. As more of these projects come into our Micro Persuasion practice, we are enthusiastic that everyone will be exposed.''

Beyond that, the landscape is changing rapidly. Podcasting was hardly a blip this year and now it's booming. The same goes for social tagging. Now vodcasting (e.g. video podcasting) is poised to take off with the launch of Apple's new iPod with Video. On a personal level as the practice leader I am trying all of these technologies to a) determine the ones that are most applicable to our clients and b) to make sure we are equipped to handle demand if or when demand arrives.

Niall Cook answers:
Like most of the large global agencies, Hill & Knowlton's experience has grown in different geographies at different times, at at different paces. For example, as early as 2002 we were advising clients in the UK about the impact consumer generated media might have on their brand reputations. Our team in Australia were also early adopters, running events on blogging last year.

Since then, we have developed our knowledge further. We are privileged to have a well-established global practice of specialists focusing solely on online communications and new media, whose role includes that of educating colleagues and clients about the opportunities and threats, and how it affects their existing working practices.

By developing blogging policies and then launching our own professional blogging community, we have put social media on the map in our agency and many of our consultants are actively participating and learning first hand about the potential (and pitfalls) that it provides.

In more practical terms, we are now running hands-on workshops for our teams (and offering free sessions for interested clients) to show them first hand what blogs, podcasting, wikis, tagging, and other social software actually look like, how they work, and how they should (and shouldn't) be used. I've been to too many sessions now where the same old Powerpoint slides and survey data get wheeled out. It's all very interesting, but never enough to answer the question on everyone's lips: so what?

I guess the biggest challenge for us is how to do this for our 1,500+ worldwide consultants, in a short space of time and with limited resources.

Tom Biro answers:
Being relatively new on the scene at MWW Group, I can't say for sure how long some of our employees have been on top of social media, even if only on a professional education level - but I will say that we are regularly monitoring blogs, forums, and other areas to keep an eye out our clients' interests, as well as our own. Additionally, many of our account teams are actively communicating with bloggers to develop relationships just as we would with traditional media sources. What's most important to me, now, is to ensure that our teams are kept abreast of new technologies - and potential applications - as they come out, while not overwhelming their everyday duties. Additionally, it's important to manage the expectations of existing clients and new business prospects who come in asking specifically to start a blog, do a podcast, or something else in the social media landscape. While there is most likely a solution for each of those businesses or organizations, there is no "one size fits all" for everyone, and it's key to know who should be doing what, when, why, and how.

We're also finalizing our blogging policy, have two company blogs (so far), and consider social media a "media" on its own, just as we would broadcast or print. I'm able to regularly "show off" new things internally, and we want to be able to practice what we preach when it comes to new media strategies.

Just as Niall mentions above is happening at H&K, we're currently doing internal education sessions by offices or account teams, and working to make sure our existing client base is aware of the opportunities that "new media" presents to them. And, as the world of new media is all about the dialogue between customer and business, client and firm, politician to constituent (you get the picture), I'm finding that the most successful way to get a good meeting or session done is to spend much more time on discussing the burning questions that our staff and clients have, and not just showing a presentation or handing out takeaways. I also think that between Steve at CooperKatz?, Niall at H&K, and a host of others who are ingrained in the blogging community and working in public relations, there are a few firms who are in the unique position to be able to "try out" new technologies as they hit the scene, not six months down the road - and actually know what they are doing.

I aspire for MWW Group to meet the following:
  • Not being seen as one of those whose pitches are plastered all over the Internet because we read - and communicate with - bloggers incorrectly
  • Ensuring that every staffer is able to keep tabs on the massive volume of information that is the Internet and social media to the level that s/he needs to to do their job successfully, and that everyone can regularly put that information to work for them

Mike Manuel answers:
At Voce, we’re smack in the middle of the Silicon Valley, elbow to elbow with some of the biggest brands and brains that are defining what the rest of us presently call “social media.” Because our firm tends to work with a lot of the companies that are shaping this category, there’s an expectation that we’ll always be on top of things. As a result, the responsibility rests squarely on our shoulders to work smart and stay sharp on new communication tools and trends – so that we’re not only on top of things, but in front of them too.

A big part of our success to date can be chalked up to two things: First and foremost, I think it’s about participation. At Voce, everyone actively uses social tools – in one form or another. Uses range from professional and personal blogs and podcasts (including participation via our company blog) to news tracking via RSS, personalized search and tagging services, to info sharing via team wikis and blogs, to relationship building (and mapping) via social networking tools. We encourage experimentation, because using these new tools is really the best (sometimes, the only) way to understand where they fit in a PR program.

The second factor is simply experience. We’ve been fortunate these last few years with client programs that have allowed us to move way past new media conjecture and theory to practice and application. Along the way we encountered early success, but we also received (thankfully) some bumps and bruises too, which we’ve learned from and more importantly, which we’ve shared across our company (for better or worse) so that we’re all learning from each other.

All this said, the challenges we face aren’t unlike what Steve, Niall, and Tom are citing. Namely staff education. Today, each person at our company has varying levels of knowledge and exposure to new tools and social media projects – depending on what clients they work on. Part of my job has been and will continue to be “social media literacy,” both within the company walls and outside of them. The only difference in our approach to education is that while we recognize a need for a standard level of proficiency across our company (i.e., horizontal knowledge), we also recognize a greater need for specialization with our company (vertical knowledge). Training people to dig deep in a category, however, takes time and can be difficult with the staffing limitations that come with being a smaller firm. And hiring someone with such a unique skill set can be near impossible. To date, we’ve been fortunate to have people on staff with the aptitude, interest and passion for understanding how social media is shaking things up, but the landscape’s changing quickly and it’s hard to predict what the market needs and requisite skill sets will be tomorrow.

John Bell answers:
No big mystery but those in the agency who work on tech accounts or are, themselves, technophiles came to blogging and aggregating feeds earlier than others. Over the past year, we have built a cross-office team known as the 360 degree Digital Influence team to continuously help sharpen our internal teams to the impact of social computing and personal media. The same team has had the opportunity to hold workshops with our big clients to keep them updated on what we are seeing.

While there were many well-publicized snafus from others in the marketing business who did not approach bloggers correctly, I must say, I am pleasantly surprised by how sharp my colleagues throughout the agency have become in terms of blogger relations. They know that most bloggers are not journalists (not always, at least) and seem to quickly get the 'code of the road' (e.g. honesty and transparency are key, etc...). It seems a little less intuitive that you cannot create a completely "controlled" blog. That still comes up. Often this is the mark of a client and team that should be steering clear of establishing a blog. Blogging is a great way to create a window into a company. But you must be ready to engage in the conversation, not publish pre-packaged "releases."

Like Steve, my team is rapidly trying different forms of personal media. A year ago, podcasting seemed like a novelty. Now it has some great possibilities. We are seeing some terrific trends in what we call ""microcasting."" There are two sides to this: new channels of distributing audio and video-based media on the Web to reach specific user types (micromarkets?); and the ability for all of us to become microcasters of programming. This goes way beyond porting already-in-hand video content to the Web.

Where do we need to be? On one level, I am thrilled that Ogilvy is solidly behind 360 degree Digital Influence. I think it takes early enthusiasts like those contributing to this wiki to drive interest and attention. On the other hand, I believe the rise of personal media and new influencers needs to become part of the core curriculum for PR and marketing professionals. More later....

Paul Rand answers:...
We launched the Personalized Media Practice at Ketchum a few months back and have been greatly encouraged by the response from both colleagues and clients. Today, approximately 5-10% of our clients are formally engaged in one or more social media technologies, which includes blogs, podcasts, RSS, mobile marketing and SEO.

We’re projecting that at least 75% of our clients globally will be engaged with some form of social media technology by the end of 2006.

Ketchum leadership is fully embracing the Personalized Media concept. While we are making great progress, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Many of my colleagues have jumped, or are jumping, onto the bandwagon. They are eager to learn and get involved wherever they can.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that personalized media is changing the way our clients and we do business. Today, it is still acceptable to ask “What level of social media mastery do you presently have in your agencies and is it where you feel you need to be.” Tomorrow, PR professionals and agencies will need to be knowledgeable and somewhat proficient in this area or their clients will go elsewhere for these services.

Stuart Bruce answers:...
Bruce Marshall Associates is a small PR firm so I can confidentally say that that all of us have mastered social media to a greater or lesser extent. My concern is where our new consultants will come from as we grow and take on new clients who come to us because we are still one of the few agencies who do have the expertise to advise on blogs, wikis, podcasts etc. It is already hard enough to recruit good PR people but PR people with social media skills are as rare as hen's teeth.

That's one of the reasons why I want to particpate in the discussion and am happy to share my experience and knowledge with 'competitor' PR companies. As professionals we have a duty to not just ourselves and our organisations but to the ongoing development and improvement of our profession. Just as we are now starting to insist on professional PR qualifications we must ensure that these are expanded to include emerging new technologies and communication channels. Paul Rand is right when he says that every PR professional will soon need to include social media skills in their toolkit.

Personally I've been blogging since early 2003. First as local councillor and a month or two later starting My PR Guru's Musings blog. Our first client blog started in September this year, a second in October and a third this month, with another two in the pipeline. We've also advised politicians, the public sector and companies on how to respond to emerging social media.

David Jones answers:...
I work in Toronto as a VP at Thornley Fallis Communications. We're a mid-sized firm with offices in Toronto and Ottawa and our work tends to be for more traditional clients i.e. consumer, travel, pharma, government, financial, etc. As a firm, we have been encouraged by our CEO, Joe Thornley, to discover and learn about new media. I have taken up the challenge, though my own blog is not quite ready for prime time as yet. Many of our consultants are not that comfortable with the blogosphere, podosphere (?) as yet despite some gentle prodding from the top. I'm going to take it on myself to teach a little bit more about the space and encourage our consultants to use RSS, read blogs, listen to podcasts and develop an appreciation and understanding for these new media. Joe Thornley has launched both an internal blog behind our firewall and an external blog and that's a great start. I'm listening to and contributing to podcasts (Steve is referring to me as Davie Jones when I ever I drop in on Across the Sound) and I'm trying to get a handle on all the background tips and tricks that make blogs great i.e. del.ici.ous, icerocket, flickr, etc.

I've pitched blogs to a few clients and a podcast to one and I'm hopeful we'll be moving forward on them in the weeks ahead. I'll also be running a blog for a CPRS measurement committee I'm involved with and I've been in touch with one of the local PR schools in Toronto regarding starting something similar to Auburn's Marcom blog.

I really believe the non-technical folks at our office need theirs hand held a little bit and probably need a tour guide at this point. Once we get them all set up with RSS readers and teach them how to use them we can expose them to other cool things like Steve's hack series and I'm hopeful we'll see some lightbulbs shining above peoples heads.

Can anyone here share how adoption has been encouraged at their firms?

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