Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gold Star Social Media Sites

Every few weeks I spend a couple of hours on a Sunday reviewing a myriad of Web 2.0 and social media sites that I’ve read about in trade press and blogs. My evaluation criteria include:

-Features and functionality
-Ease of use
-Integration with other social media offerings that have developed a following

Most important though I consider how a Web 2.0 offering could potentially help Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) accelerate the success of a client’s social media program.

Can we drive additional interest and attention to content? If it’s a community, does it present opportunities for lead generation and/or access to industry influencers? Does it bring a higher level of measurability to our program?

Here is a list of sites I reviewed this holiday weekend that our worth checking out:

Backtype: simple way to share your comments to blogs and in social bookmark sites with a network of contacts.

Mofuse: Easy-to-use platform to create a version of an existing Web site, microsite or blog that is accessible via a mobile phone. Check out the mobile version of the Strategic Guy blog.

Posterous: easy-to-use blog platform that allows you to post content by Email. Check out my new "personal" Strategic Guy blog.

Scribd: document sharing community and social network with group functionality organized by topic and areas for interest. Good way to share white papers, presentations, blog posts, etc.

Tip'd: social bookmark site for financial and investing news. Add this to digg, delicious, propeller, reddit, Stumbleupon and Mixx as social bookmark sites to use to virally spread the word about a client's business. You may also want to check out Diigo as a social bookmark site to virally spread content.

Viddler: similar to YouTube, a site to publish, tag and share videos.

Monday, December 22, 2008

In Remembrance, Bridget McCargo

I spend a lot of time with clients. From strategy discussions and performance review meetings to daily conversations evaluating corporate, market and competitor developments. I sweat their challenges. I share in their success.

In some instances, a good client relationship grows into a friendship. It happened with Mike Jalbert of EF Johnson Technologies and Andy Roscoe of GroupServe. And it happened with Jay McCargo of WAM!NET.

A few years back I attended Jay’s surprise birthday party and had the honor of meeting his family. They were warm, caring and friendly.

This morning I learned that Bridget McCargo (Jay’s wife) suffered a massive stroke on Monday, December 15. She was removed from life support assistance on Saturday and passed away soon thereafter. She is survived by Jay, a daughter Alexandra and a son Jay-Jay.

This is devastating news. Bridget had no significant medical issues preceding this tragic occurrence. Her weekend was like any other -- attending her kids’ sports events, hosting a baby shower and spending time with the family on Sunday.

Bad things happen to good people. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jay and his family.

If you’d like to make a donation in Bridget’s honor, please contact:

Samaritan’s Purse
PO Box 3000
Boone, NC 28607

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Heart Break Destiny

I consider myself fortunate to have now worked in the public relations agency business for more than 15 years. It’s the best job in the world with new challenges to take on, exciting market segments to work in and the opportunity to contribute to big-time success stories.

Like most professional services firms, the environment is often intense with a constant requirement to exceed expectations. And the benchmarks that clients use to evaluate performance (and funding) are typically unique to each engagement and, in many cases, outside of the agency’s control. They include:

-Market expertise
-Strategic counsel
-Tactical results
-Competitive pressures
-Macro economic conditions
-Responsive service and attention to detail

A sobering realization I have reached is that all client relationships will one day come to an end. I’ve had some personal heart breakers. Accounts like American Management Systems, SES Americom, Cysive, Tellabs and SAGA Software which helped shape who we are as an agency.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we strive to learn from every client engagement with the goal of improving our delivery of service, client responsiveness and market expertise.

Two recent surveys got me thinking about the fragile nature of client relationships:

Client turnover high in tech, southwest, survey finds

New Survey Reveals What Clients Want in an Agency

We are in the midst of conducting our own client satisfaction survey to evaluate Strategic’s performance in 2008 and more clearly define areas of focus for the coming year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

High on Conversations

It’s tough for corporate leadership to accept that most products and services have little (if any) competitive differentiation that truly matters to customers.

There may be slight feature set and functionality uniqueness, yet most offerings that survive past the launch phase address customer needs just fine. And pity the poor professional services providers as they are relegated to the “difference is our people” cliché.

This is why marketing, and corporate positioning through public relations and social media are so critical. People buy products and services that they perceive are different and special, and typically rely on companies they know and trust.

I think the New York Times’ new video-based viral marketing campaign called “Conversations” is a real home run. It presents well known celebrities, athletes and actors in a creative and unexpected way discussing their favorite section of

Plus, the newspaper has promoted the campaign through traditional channels such as advertising and public relations, as well as in social media circles. This has helped make the campaign a story in itself.

Good show, New York Times. You’ve got me as a reader!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recessionary Tree Chopping

I was raking leaves in the yard a few Saturdays back when a guy with a tree cutting company pulled up in his truck.

“I’ll cut that down for you if you want,” he said, pointing to one of the three towering oaks in my front yard.

“I think that tree is still alive,” I responded. “You see all of these leaves. Lots of them came from that tree."

“Yeah, but I’ll give you a great price,” he replied.

After politely declining to chop down an 80-year-old tree, it struck me that times are tough for nearly every service provider. It wasn’t too long ago that I had to beg contractors to come by my house for a few minutes to give me an estimate on a patio replacement project.

How far are professional service providers like public relations consultancies willing to go to secure business? Will we take on any client? Will we be quick to hand over our intellectual property or discount our services?

Those questions came to mind when I came across this promotion in one of my LinkedIn groups. The folks at PerkettPR are apparently offering up a free social media boot camp along with an “incentive-driven three month trial” of services for any client that signs up by the end of the year.

I don’t personally know anyone at PerkettPR and I am sure they are a fine agency. For heaven’s sake though this smacks of desperation. That is not a brand attribute you want to promote as a provider of high-quality professional services, especially during a recession.

All public relations shops are hurting as clients pull back on promotional spending. Any PR executive who says otherwise is either a liar or delusional. There are ways to effectively manage through a downturn, yet publicly announcing that you are rolling back the prices and giving away intellectual property sure isn’t one of them.

As a service provider it’s OK to be aggressive and to cut deals with clients. Just do so quietly to ensure you’re not sacrificing your own reputation in the process.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

PR Shops Fall Down Globally

I once had a new business meeting in which the corporate marketing lead asked me about our Asian presence. “I know it’s a continent,” I responded. “And I can point to it on a map.” Not surprising, we were not the right PR partner for that company.

I’ve never believed a public relations consultancy like Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) needs to establish global capabilities – either organically or through participation in an agency network, such as IPREX, Eurocom Worldwide or the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN).

For starters, it is not consistent with our focus on representing a certain type of client at a specific time in its corporate maturation. This does limit the size of our addressable market and can potentially impact our overall growth potential.

However, we have made “great work for great clients” and an unwavering commitment to work/life balance for our employees our primary business goals. To achieve these benchmarks we are willing to sacrifice growth.

I also do not believe either agency model for the provision of global PR services actually delivers on the promise of consistent messaging and exceptional tactical results. The large firms with offices in major cities across the globe typically manage each as its own distinct profit/loss center. An office’s managing director is financially motivated to horde as much of the work as possible, regardless of what is in the client’s best interests.

The global value proposition for the networks of independent PR agencies also breaks down. On its Web site PRGN claims it provides access to the “resources, knowledge and diverse capabilities of all members around the world.” Yet, dig deeper and PRGN also plays up the fact that clients can “choose to work with one agency or several…to instruct agencies individually or through a single lead agency.”

OK…I understand the flexibility. But, this also devalues the importance PRGN places on global representation which is the very reason the network exists.

The most effective approach for the execution of a global campaign is for the client to define priorities, interview and select regional agencies, and then manage the implementation of the program to ensure collaboration. That takes a lot of time and work though, as well as creating an administrative requirement with purchase orders, invoices, etc. This is why a global resource is compelling.

So, let’s drop the nonsense about global agencies or networks working in lock-step to provide a consistent voice for a client regardless of the time zone. The value proposition is one of administrative convenience and time savings. It’s not about great work on a global scale.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Experience to be Thankful

My three-year-old was ready to start his day at 5:30 AM this morning so I’ve had some time to consider what I should be most thankful for this year. The answer: experience.

Let me elaborate. When I shared with my parents the plan to launch my own public relations consultancy my father gave me this perplexed look. “You’ve only been in your field for a few years,” I recall him saying. “You don’t have any experience.”

Like many twenty-somethings I believed the value of experience was overstated. I was willing to work hard…to be aggressive…and to do whatever was needed to be successful.

Fast forward 14 years and I sure have a greater appreciation for the role experience plays to determine business achievement and, in some instances, mere survival.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has been through a lot as a company. We lived the dramatic rise (and fall) of the dot com era. We’ve been led by three management teams, each of which brought a unique perspective to the business. We took several stabs at trying to create a perceived differentiation in the market, only to conclude public relations is a commoditized professional service.

And through it all we have been fortunate enough to represent nearly 200 technology, software, security, systems integration, satellite, wireless and healthcare clients - each presenting a distinct market situation and challenge.

So, as the Commerce Department now officially confirms the US economy contracted during Q3 I thought I’d share my perspective on management in a time of recession.

1. It all starts with the business model. Does the structure of the organization allow you to deliver services profitably, while staying in-step with client expectations? Can you quickly add or scale back resources? Do you recognize the difference between good business and an unhealthy client contract? All important questions to answer prior to execution of a business plan.

2. Focus on the core. Strategic continues to invest in growth, yet in a measured way. Unlike some agencies that subscribe to being “all things to all people,” we are committed to providing a specific set of services to a certain type of organization at a defined point in their maturation. Yes, it limits the size of our addressable market. However, we believe it makes Strategic very competitive.

3. Keep the goals of the business simple. We have two of them: a) great work for great clients; and b) a commitment to work/life balance for our employees.

4. Don’t fall in love with what you see in the mirror. A well known agency executive recently sent me this missive in an Email:

“So, over the past two years, we’ve positioned NAME WITHHELD in terms of resources, capabilities, talent and case histories to be able to claim that we are unique and unsurpassed in our ability to provide totally seamless integration from advertising to research to media training…crisis, grass roots, branding … name it …we’ve built the team of people who can do it…people with unbelievable credentials and personal reputations…”

Passion and belief in the business are important, yet it’s equally critical to constantly review, test and challenge your approach.

5. Keep it fun. A former employee was fond of saying that “work is a job, not summer camp.” Yet, there needs to be enjoyment and emotional reward in what you do.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Life as a Tool

I am not too popular at the moment in certain cliques among the social media set.

Mark Drapeau, the “Cheeky Geeky”, said my thinking is “backwards.” Social media wunderkind Geoff Livingston suggested I “lighten up.” And some guy named Shaun Farrell who works at the Library of Congress even called me a “tool.”

What’s my crime? It’s a perceived slight of their online buddy, Justin Thorp of ClearSpring.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we counsel our clients that the foundation of a successful social media or digital PR program is content that engages, educates and entertains. When it comes to blogging, this often requires an executive who is willing to share what they think and why, even it irritates segments of the blogosphere.

My colleague Chris Parente recently penned an excellent post about the importance for an industry thought leader to never shy from expressing their…well…thoughts. He is spot on. Straddling the fence on an issue or regurgitating the ideas of others is no way to establish a credible position in the market.

I have had two situations in the last few weeks in which the views expressed in this blog raised the ire of others. My chiding of ClearSpring’s Thorp for a poor presentation was one. The other incident involved my post about the failure of collegiate journalism and PR programs to incorporate social media into their curriculum.

While I was primarily blitzed in comments on my blog and in other online venues, my daily readership has jumped dramatically, as has the number of subscribers to my RSS feed. Plus, I’ve raised important issues for discussion that obviously have competing sides.

So…what to do when your ideas (however well supported) irritate others?

1. Listen…respect opinions…and, when appropriate, respond. In the case of my admonishment of colleges for their lack of social media education, it was correctly pointed out that I had made a generalization based on a single experience. I acknowledged that this was unfair and an error in my thinking.

2. Always take the high road. It’s simply not worth the time or energy to engage in an argument with someone committed to their line of thinking. Even worse, a battle of insults makes everyone involved appear childish.

3. Look for opportunities with non-believers. One passionate commenter to the “Strategic Guy” blog has an interesting creative and technical background. We may not agree on a specific issue, yet I do plan on meeting with him to determine if there are ways we can collaborate on behalf of Strategic’s clients.

4. Stay a true believer. I am going to keep writing what I think and why, even when I know a certain topic will rub some the wrong way. If that makes me a tool in the eyes of the Shaun Farrells of the world, than so be it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hormats' Grim Economic Portrait

At the start of his presentation today Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman Robert Hormats mentioned the last time he spoke to the National Capital Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) it was late 2002 and the DC-area was paralyzed by the sniper attacks. Whenever I show up for an ACG speech there’s a crisis, he joked.

Hormats and the 100 or so dark suited investment bankers, private equity types, M&A advisors, attorneys and commercial bankers in attendance all agreed the economy is in a state of crisis. In fact, Hormats painted quite a grim portrait of how the next 18 to 24 months will play out in the US. (Image courtesy of Future in Review.)

Here are a couple of relevant points from his presentation:

-The financial markets are in a “downward spiral of death.” Falling asset values lead to write downs which hurt confidence and then result in a further decline of asset values.

-Like financial institutions, consumers are now forced to rebuild their personal balance sheets by using capital to pay down debt. Ironically, what is good for the average household is bad for the economy.

-Goldman Sachs projects unemployment will increase from its current level of 6.5% to 8% by the end of 2009.

-While there is some excellent media reporting of the financial crisis, many of the “talking heads” on television are more alarmist than factual in their evaluations. This makes it hard for the consumer to determine what is really happening and to plan accordingly.

-We should all expect slow growth (if any) for the next two years.

OK…so it is no secret the economy is in a fragile state. What can we do? Hormats believes a massive fiscal stimulus to the tune of $500M is needed to prevent a further decline. Those dollars could be invested in infrastructure improvements at the federal and state/local levels with spending parceled out over the next two years.

There will be a deficit one way or the other, Hormats concluded. It’s only by the government injecting a significant amount of spend will we be able to eventually pare down that deficit in more prosperous economic times.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Confessions of a PR Ego-maniac

Public relations has the most impact when it is aligned with the sales, profitability and valuation goals of the business.

To achieve this strategic direction a company must often focus on the thought leadership of a specific executive. For instance, our corporate positioning campaign for government services firm Altron leveraged the industry reputation of their new president as a means of differentiating the company from similar providers in the public sector.

It’s never an ego-play though. I often tell clients that only your mom will be impressed with your photo in a magazine and she loves you regardless.

This is particularly true when it comes to customer case studies, a staple of most PR campaigns. The goal is to make the customer the hero, positioning the vendor as merely the resource that supported a successful program.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we’re fortunate to have an exceptional set of clients whose hard work, innovative thinking and commitment to success make them heroes to their respective companies. That’s especially true of BT Americas’ Jean Foster.

Jean has been our champion at BT since the beginning. She challenged the agency to design a social media and digital marketing program that would help drive success for several segments of BT’s business. And then she invested the time to educate us about their growth goals, sales methodology and competitive environment, while promoting our tactical accomplishments internally. Jean is tough, yet fair and supportive.

When the opportunity presented itself to promote BT’s social media program with BtoB Magazine we appropriately gave Jean the lead. She was a featured speaker at the magazine’s Net marketing breakfast in New York City which then resulted in this profile article in their current issue.

Writer Christopher Hosford was spot on his reporting. He addressed the business environment that led BT Americas to incorporate social media into its communications mix, how the program was designed and executed, and benchmarks for success. Something was missing from the article though: there’s no mention of Strategic.

I am thrilled that BtoB Magazine profiled Strategic’s work and excited for Jean. Yet, I spent some time on Friday stomping around the office bemoaning our lack of inclusion. One of my colleagues reminded me that success stories are about making the client the hero. True…yet it would have been great to show my mom the article too.

Read more about BT America’s social media and digital marketing program in this podcast with Jean Foster:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Presentation Prep and Packaging

Clearspring’s Justin Thorp drips with passion. He loves his company and its widget platform. He loves their customers. And it’s apparent that he will do nearly anything to help Clearspring achieve success in the market.

That’s why Justin would be shocked to learn that his presentation at Erickson Barnett’s event on building online communities portrayed him and Clearspring in an unfavorable light.

Let’s look at the positive first. Justin peppered his presentation with anecdotes about how he personally engaged with Clearspring’s customers to help them overcome problems they had encountered when using the company’s products. He also hit on a number of relevant points about the value and impact of personal relationships, such as this memorable quote: “People have relationships with people, not products, services or companies.”

Yet, it was obvious Justin walked in to this panel discussion unprepared. The other speakers had carefully crafted presentations. Justin scribbled a couple of bullet points on a crumbled piece of paper he scrunched in his hand. Not surprising he rambled through his 20 minute discussion repeating the same points over and over.

Then, there was Justin’s appearance. Clearspring sells to the developer community and Justin has got the tech geek look down pat. I get works for him and it’s consistent with his role at the company. (Image courtesy of Erickson Barnett.)

However, the attendees at this particular event were corporate marketers and public relations professionals. Plus, the event was held at the ritzy Tower Club in Tysons Corner. A favorable impression results from what you say and (equally important) how the messages are delivered. Packaging counts!

Clearspring missed the mark on this one. The company had a great opportunity to get a group of prospective new customers excited about their technology. Instead, we came away wondering, “What’s the deal with Justin?”

Monday, November 10, 2008's Burning Desire to Win

I suspect each of us attends so many meetings, conferences, trade shows and networking sessions the specifics from any one particular event fade over time.

For instance, I can tell you that John Chambers from Cisco Systems and Scott McNeely of Sun are exceptional speakers each with a dramatically different style. Yet, I haven’t a clue about the messaging they delivered last year at their respective FOSE key notes.

Of course, like certain memories from childhood there are times when a speaker addresses a topic or answers a question that sticks with us.

More than eight years ago I attended a Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) event that featured a presentation on corporate strategy from the CEO Of an online marketplace called Pack Expo. I can’t recall the CEO’s name or what he talked about, other than the fact that the company has just negotiated an exclusive reseller agreement which gave them access to a new market. The CEO was particularly giddy this teaming agreement effectively blocked out their primary competitor.

Hands went up for questions and a woman in back shot up. Didn’t the CEO think it was unfair for PackExpo to negotiate a relationship that derailed the prospects of another company, she asked. Wasn’t there enough business to go around for everyone to work collaboratively?

I remember the CEO responding decisively. I won’t apologize for being in business to win, he said. We provide value to our customers through our products supported by a strategy that delivers a return for our company, its shareholders and its employees.

I suspect subscribes to this view as well. In a recent InfoWorld column, Bill Snyder recounts the tussle between the software-as-a-service leader and a start-up called Zoho. The story breaks down as follows: gives the green light for Zoho to sell its products on AppExchange, even though one of the applications is a competitive CRM offering. This deal will give Zoho access to thousands of potential new customers, so they invest time and money to integrate their products with AppExchange. CEO approaches Zoho CEO about a potential acquisition of the company. Zoho says “no.” changes its mind and gives Zoho the boot off of AppExchange. Zoho cries foul to the trade press.

While comes off as untrustworthy, the company is completely within its right to alter the nature of its relationship with Zoho. I suspect the initial agreement was part of’s approach to acquire Zoho at the most favorable terms possible.

It didn’t work out. So they changed course. As long as did not violate the terms of a contract or acting unethically, they were merely executing on a business strategy.

Where it breaks down for is when their CEO Mark Benioff stands in front of a room of customers at its user conference and declares that they, unlike Microsoft, “love everybody.” (Image courtesy of ZDNet.)

It’s simply not true and, as a result, the statement rings hollow. Like the speaker from my NVTC event, Benioff should embrace his desire to win.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Social Media as a Testing Hotbed

It’s no secret that corporate marketers rarely have the luxury of time and money. Today’s market conditions merely heighten the pressure to construct lead generation and corporate positioning programs with messaging that resonates with key audiences.

Companies simply cannot afford a miss. As a result, marketing and promotional campaigns are evaluated, tested, scrutinized and scrubbed prior to launch. This sanitizing process creates the risk that the final product will become so watered down in messaging and presentation that it falls short of achieving its benchmarks.

It is ironic the fear of wasted investment contributes to that very outcome.

What is a marketer or corporate communications professional to do? Our suggestion at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is to still test, yet to do it in a creative and cost-efficient way using social media channels.

Corporate or executive blogs, micro-blogging platforms like Twitter, and participation in social networks and online communities allow you to segment audiences by industry, demographics and/or geography. And those active in social media are seldom shy.

They will tell you exactly what they think and why. Plus, once a relationship based on trust is established these social media engagers will often champion a company’s product or cause resulting in a measurable positive outcome. Rubicon Consulting recently reported those who dominate social media conversations are most likely to influence their peers’ buying decisions.

Here are a few suggestions on how to leverage social media prior to launching your company’s next promotional campaign:

1. Identify influencers in the blogosphere and social networks, and be proactive in asking them their opinion.

2. Listen…consider…and respond. This is the foundation of relationship building.

3. Welcome criticism. Thought leaders accept that this comes with the territory. For instance, my recent post about colleges falling down on social media education created quite a firestorm. It was good feedback though and I came to realize my broad categorization was unjust.

4. Build on the momentum. Point to good social media buzz in traditional public relations, direct marketing, advertising and sales activities. It’s validation that your product or service has been well received by the market.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Social Media's Slow Roll in Government

"Social media outlets are catching on slowly (among federal government IT decision-makers). Yet, this will change as the government workforce turns over and gets younger."

Lisa Dezzutti, President and CEO
Market Connections

This was perhaps the most relevant point I picked up this morning at an event to introduce a new market research study entitled “"2008 Federal Media and Marketing Survey.” Research shop Market Connections and Sara Leiman of Sage Communications queried 2,500 federal employees – both civilian and DoD/intelligence -- to gain an understanding of the sources they rely on for industry information and best practices. (Image: Lisa Dezzutti, Market Connections)

Here are a couple of highlights from their presentation:

1. The most widely read trade publications

-Government Executive (50%)
-Federal Computer Week (43%)
-Federal Times (38%)
-Government Computer News (36%)
-Defense News (27%)

2. The most frequently visited Web sites (41%) (37%) (36%) (27%)

3. Social media engagement

-Reading blogs (13%)
-Participating in social networks (4%)
-Writing a blog (4%)

Admittedly, I find the current level of social media participation among federal decision-makers to be disappointing. It’s consistent though with what we are experiencing with our public sector focused clients and validates the importance of implementing a mix of public relations, marketing and business development programs.

I also agree completely with Market Connections’ Dezzutti assertion that social media adoption in government will continue to accelerate. Yes, it will occur as many federal employees retire and a younger workforce takes shape.

However, there is also a clearer understanding in government that citizens now expect to engage via social networks, online communities and electronic correspondence. The continued success Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client GovDelivery has experienced with the adoption of their Email and digital subscription management platform is evidence of this trend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Journalists Speak

With the buzz about social media and its applications for brand building, thought leadership, employee relations and (yes!) lead generation, the tried-and-true practice of media relations often gets overlooked. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), cultivating relationships with influential journalists continues to be a staple of our integrated communications work on behalf of clients.

This past week my colleague Karen Miller participated in a teleseminar titled “How to Pitch Reporters.” It featured writers from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press who shared best practices, as well as cautionary tales.

Beyond the typical gripes about PR practitioners (i.e. please read the publication before pitching us), the journalists shared some good insights about how they are also tapping into social media to identify stories and manage the reporting process.

With Karen’s permission, I have included below her notes from the teleseminar.


-Lisa Belkin, Contributing Writer for the New York Times Magazine, and author of "Life's Work, Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom"

-Shelly Banjo, personal finance reporter for The Wall Street Journal Sunday. She also writes two columns related to Gen-Y, called "Starting Out" and the Journal Women's "Fast Track."

-Abby Ellin, Former NYT columnist, frequent NYT contributor, author of "Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can't) Help."

-Megan Scott, Reporter for the Associated Press

-Good to send email with no pitch and just list clients you have that may be on interest to them at some point as a way to establish a relationship

-Don’t want to be contacted via Facebook or Twitter

-Facebook is creepy, don’t want to be your friend on Facebook, it’s a business relationship, difficult to respond to Facebook messages from a Blackberry

-Right to the point in pitches in the first sentence is best

-From a pitch want to know something they don’t already know

-Point out if others are doing what you’re pitching, need multiple sources

-Recent profiles in competitors make most reporters not want to talk to you for awhile (“I want virgins”)

-Contacting multiple reporters at one time: prefer to get exclusive offers, if ccing the world make sure not to include everyone’s name in the TO: field

-Subject line best practices: idea – put reporter’s name in subject line or at least topic of email

-Best pitches: specificity of how it could be a story

-They do check Junk Folder, if don’t respond means it is not a good pitch, bugging a reporter with follow-up is not good

-If don’t hear back in a week, move on

-AP & NYT: only go to event if covering them, wining and dining doesn’t work, not allowed to let publicists by a cup of coffee or dinner

-Physical press kits: electronic is preferred

-Pdf or in body of email: either is fine, some wanted both, a lot is being read on Blackberrys or iPhones

-Don’t send pictures unless requested

-Press releases don’t work well for these reporters, can’t remember last time they did a story based on a press release

-Don’t like cheesy mailers, waste of money is painful

-Get a lot of ideas from blogs

-SEO is money well spent, first thing reporters do is a Google search, important to come up high on the page

-Blogs are very important right now, the reporters are big fish eating the small fish, but over time reporters will become the bloggers

-Reporters do pass pitches to other reporters when they think it’s relevant, but get irritated when you just pitch everyone within one paper

Monday, October 27, 2008

Impact of Economic Uncertainty on Work/Life Balance

Even though Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) senior team has been together for more than four years, I wish I knew my colleagues better.

That's because a challenging economic environment demands exceptional management for a company to thrive or, in some instances, merely survive.

I picked up a lot of lessons learned during the post-dot com downturn in late 2001. We made several painful decisions that required us to scale back the business, such as cutting our creative department and several rounds of additional employee layoffs.

As a result of the focus, attention and discipline of our senior team the agency survived and we emerged on the other side in a position well set for growth. In fact, the most profitable year in our company's history was the direct result of business decisions made during the depth of the recession.

The last downturn also helped me grow as an entrepreneur and president/CEO. I discovered that hard work only gets you so far. To call on a cliché: success is about working smarter.

A CEO's most important responsibilities are to put the team in a position in which they are set up for success and establish clear (and realistic) performance expectations. That's it...although (admittedly) it sure can be hard to deliver on.

In 2004, Strategic went through a management transition. Our four most senior client executives joined the agency at that time and we promoted finance and marketing/sales personnel to executive positions.

I was also in transition in my personal life. My wife and I started a family and we now have two wonderful boys under the age of five. I often tell people that with children the days may seem long, yet the years fly by.

For that reason, I made the decision to scale back my work time from the 80 plus hours I was routinely putting in a week. I do my best to be home for the kids' bed and bath each night, and I simply won't miss weekend time with the family.

Strategic made dramatic shifts in our corporate culture, employee management and hiring practices. We instituted a completely flexible work environment in which staff members can work where they want and when they want, being measured on delivery of service and performance.

Our utilization is also based on a 40 hour work week to send a clear message internally: work/life balance is a priority at Strategic.

As a result, our team now skews old for a public relations consultancy. Our model is not to cowboy up a group of 20 somethings and work them more than 60 hours a week. We have families, children, community involvement and outside interests. I believe it makes us better PR professionals and healthier individuals.

Yet, all of this flexibility and work/life balance means we simply don't spend as much time together. I try to connect with each member of Strategic's senior team weekly, lunch with each on a monthly basis and we get together in-person every six weeks for a management meeting.

Is it enough though? Do we have the brutally candid relationships often required to make decisions during a period of economic uncertainty?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Protecting Valuation

I just read an excellent interview by ExecutiveBiz’s JD Kathuria with Ted Leonsis, vice chairman emeritus of AOL and owner of the Washington Capitals.

Titled “6 Tips for Companies to Weather the Financial Crisis,” Leonsis provides sage advice on how to align business strategy, sales projections and cash conservation to ensure the ongoing viability of an emerging growth company. As someone who managed a business during the dot com collapse in 2001, much of Leonsis’ advice is right in line with my past experiences.

A point where I disagree though is on Leonsis’ counsel to entrepreneurs in the middle of fundraising to “take the money and don’t worry about the valuation.” That’s spoken like a true angel investor.

Yes…it’s a challenging market and companies need to be realistic about corporate valuation. Yet, that doesn’t mean to simply roll over to the first investor or VC who is willing to write a check. Investors represent the interests of their limited partners, not those of the entrepreneur. Their objective is to buy the largest percentage of the company at the lowest possible valuation.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), a fair amount of our integrated public relations and social media work is designed to enhance a client’s corporate and product positioning to contribute to valuation. It’s a great example of how some entrepreneurs are taking proactive steps to protect their ownership.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Booz Allen's Story of Resilience

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Dr. Ralph Shrader has the CEO look.

Neatly coiffed silver hair. Check. Well tailored dark suit, pressed shirt and bold tie. Check…check…check. Cufflinks embossed with the corporate logo. You got it…check.

Dr. Shrader is no mere figure head though. As chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton, he leads a professional services firm with $4 billion in annual revenue, more than 100 partners and 20,000 employees. The company provides program management, technology, strategy and operations consulting services to Federal civilian, defense, intelligence and homeland security government agencies.

Times are good for Dr. Shrader and Booz Allen Hamilton. The company’s top-line revenue will grow organically 20 percent this year and the firm sports a contract backlog of $2B.

Yet, the past few years have been anything but easy. In fact, during his recent presentation to the National Capital Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Dr. Shrader dropped the word “resilience” about a dozen times.

This story of perseverance dates back to 1940 when the Secretary of the Navy asked the Booz Allen Hamilton to help the service prepare for the coming war. The firm’s government business prodded along for the next 60 years as a nice complement to its commercial consulting work.

That is until the terrorist attacks of September 11th led to a flood of funding for homeland security and defense programs. Booz Allen Hamilton’s government business exploded and grew to nearly 75 percent of total firm revenue.

Government work wasn’t the only thing exploding at Booz Allen Hamilton. Everything was different in public sector consulting. The length of contracts…the margins…the number of employees required to deliver service.

Booz Allen Hamilton had effectively morphed into two firms (commercial and government), each with its own distinct business model. Partners and line employees began to clash.

Dr. Shrader championed a “One Firm Evolution” reorganization in 2006 to try to bring the warring factions together. No dice. It’s safe to say that Booz Allen Hamilton was akin to a dysfunctional marriage bound together only by institutional history.

It was agreed the best path was to break the firm into two, yet a financial partner was required to fund the transaction. In stepped global private equity powerhouse Carlyle Group and the transaction came together with more than 99 percent of shares voting in favor.

Today, Booz Allen Hamilton and Booz & Company exist as separate firms that collaborate when appropriate. Dr. Shrader is now free to plot corporate strategy and manage growth, while fondly telling the firm’s story of resilience.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Colleges Fail on Social Media

Are the journalism and communications programs at US colleges preparing students for a business environment shaped by social media and Web 2.0 technologies?

That is the question I pondered as I walked across American University’s campus last week. On the invitation of former Forbes senior writer Matt Swibel, I had just spoken to a class of about 40 sophomore and junior communications majors. The experience had me worried.

The source of my concern was not the quality of students in the class. Far from it. By and large they were an outstanding group. Smart, energetic, inquisitive and focused on how to best prepare to competitively enter the workforce.

Rather, it was the students shocking lack of knowledge of social media. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations as I was under the impression that the generation now making their way through higher education were raised on IM, blogs, virtual worlds and online communities.

With the exception of an intimate knowledge of the features and functionality of Facebook, this group came up short on even the basic tools of social media.

-Who in the class writes a blog? No one raised their hand.
-Who in the group reads blogs on a regular basis? All quiet.
-OK…how about social networks other than Facebook? Does anyone in this group have a LinkedIn profile? Blank stares.
-Has anyone heard of Twitter or Plurk or Pownce? Those are Disney characters, right?

I spent the better part of the next 90 minutes walking the class through blog publishing platforms like WordPress and Blogger. We explored LinkedIn and its group functionality. We looked at Twitter and talked about the business applications of micro-blogging.

Woven into the discussion were examples of social media programs Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) currently has in place and their related writing requirements.

All in all, my guest slot at American University was fulfilling. I have a passion for social media and enjoy speaking on the topic. The students were engage and (I hope) came away with a better understanding of the skills they need to develop prior to entering the work force.

However, my unease about their lack of social media engagement lingers. Are college journalism and communications programs building this into their curriculum? If not, we sure are doing this generation a disservice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Positioning Follows Environment

During the past 24 hours my world has been consumed by discussions of corporate positioning and to-market strategy.

Yesterday, I joined several Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) colleagues for a public relations/social media plan review meeting with an emerging growth client in the e-commerce space. In talking through the company’s market situation, competitive environment and corporate goals, it was agreed that our launch campaign will feature a bold leadership statement which differentiates the company from successful offerings currently available to customers.

It’s a strategy designed to put the company on the map more quickly with customers and investors, even though there are a number of risks associated with its execution.

This morning I was reminded that product or service differentiation isn’t always required to achieve a desirable competitive positioning. An article in today’s New York Times discusses video site Joost’s relaunch as a Hulu clone, the well received video service from Fox and NBC.

Joost’s management is counting on concern among media companies such as CBS, Time Warner and the CW Network of the growing momentum of Hulu.

“If you are a principal content owner aside from NBC and Fox, do you really want one Web site that controls all professional TV?” asks Mike Volpi, Joost’s CEO. “Everybody who is not NBC and Fox is encouraging us to do a good job and be a player in the market.”

My view is that it’s ultimately a company’s market environment that should have the most significant influence on the setting of corporate goals, as well as related positioning and messaging. While Joost’s me-too approach may lack differentiation, it’s the right play at this time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pour Me Another, Says Mail Goggles

The most significant professional and personal mistakes I've made have been when I reacted to a situation soley based on emotion.

For instance, I once told a newly hired marketing VP at a client that if he went through with the PR agency change he was pondering it would be the dumbest @#$$@!! mistake he ever made. Needless to say, we didn't retain that business.

While I still have to keep my emotions in check, I can apparently start putting away the drinks without fear of sending out an inappropriate Email. That's because Google just introduced a new feature to Gmail called Mail Goggles.

Jon Perlow, Google's lead engineer on the project, cited personal experience as his inspiration:

"Sometimes I send messages I shouldn't send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late-night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

FDA's PR Shop Scandal

The flap over the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) contract award to PR shop Qorvis Communications has got me steamed. And not for the reasons you might think.

Here is a quick rundown of the facts as reported by the Washington Post:

-The FDA hires Mildred Cooper as a temporary PR consultant to advise the agency’s commissioner and other senior officials. Cooper then recommends the agency undertake a public relations campaign to help create a more positive image with the American public and on Capitol Hill

-Prior to her FDA gig, Cooper worked for a company called Luna Innovations, a Qorvis client. She picks up the phone and calls her contacts at Qorvis to discuss the FDA’s PR challenges. Together, Cooper and Qorvis develop a scope of work and budget for a PR campaign.

-With a desire to award the contract to Qorvis, the FDA then side-steps normal procedures and awards the contract to an Alaska Native corporation that qualifies for special set-asides. It’s understood by all parties that Qorvis will do the work as a subcontractor.

-After being made aware of the circumstances surrounding this award, FDA deputy commissioner John Dyer suspends the contract and initiates an independent investigation.

While the back room dealings by the FDA and Qorvis reek of suspicion and scandal, the truth is that no one involved did anything illegal. Alaska Native-owned companies do qualify for set aside contracts and typically rely on subcontractors to handle all of the work. Everyone involved in government contracting knows this.

As for the FDA’s Mildred Cooper, she merely called on a firm she had a relationship with and believed could perform the task at a high level. Guess what? That exact same thing happens in business each and every day. People hire vendors they know and trust. It’s called relationship sales.

The Washington Post cited this situation as an example of “how contract competition requirements designed to get the best deals for taxpayers have often been subverted in recent years for the sake of convenience or to serve narrow interests…”

Yet, the best deal for taxpayers in this case may have very well been for Qorvis to represent the interests of the FDA. Mildred Cooper sure thought so and that’s why she was hired.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do know a few of the Qorvis executives fairly well. My firm competes against their technology practice and I’d like to think there is a healthy respect between our companies. Yet, I have no love for Qorvis. They’re a competitor.

In this case though I do believe they’re going to get a lot of undeserved knocks in the business and trade media. That’s because the world works on relationships…except apparently in government.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Question of Unwritten Rules

There is a scene in the movie PCU in which the lead character Droz played by Jeremy Piven says to a friend bound for a concert, “What’s this? You’re wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see? Don’t be that guy.”

We live in a world of unwritten rules. Organizations and social groups have them. Companies have them. Even institutions are defined by them.

Consider our national pastime, baseball. The game is more than balls and strikes. For instance, if one team’s pitcher hits a batter (on purpose or by accident) then a pitcher for the other team is obligated to do the same. Ironically, the sport has so many meaningful unwritten rules that Baseball Digest actually researched and published a book on the subject.

The practice of media relations – a cornerstone of most PR campaigns – is also defined by its unwritten rules. How (and when) to contact a journalist? What publications should only be pitched an exclusive? Why to never say your company has no competitors? An understanding of the guidelines to engage with journalists is what separates true professionals from the also-rans.

Now we come to social media and the shadowy rules that guide interaction in the blogosphere, through social networks and in other online forums. Again, there’s a lot at stake as failure to abide will result in an individual being ostracized, as well as damage to their company’s brand.

There are a couple of guidelines which are universal:

1. Participate in the discussion before trying to shape it
2. Identify who you are and any affiliations that color your opinion
3. Always provide content of value or risk being tagged a spammer

Yet, there are other possible unwritten rules which have yet to be uniformly adopted. Here are a few examples:

-If someone follows me on Twitter, is it an insult to not follow them?
-If I exchange messages with a contact in LinkedIn or Facebook, is it appropriate for me to then phone them at their office?
-When writing content for a social network managed by a publication like Fast Company or Business Week, can I reference an article from a competitive magazine?

What do you think? Also, are there other unwritten rules that are now accepted as gospel?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Strategic View of Social Media

Companies like Dell and Comcast have gotten plenty of applause for their use of social media to engage customers and more quickly respond to criticism posted in online forums.

For instance, earlier this month Dell scored a profile in Fortune that lauded their use of Web 2.0 technologies to help “turn the company” around. The article included a sidebar that overviewed the innovative use of social media by three other global companies – Ernst & Young, Best Buy and Intuit.

Beyond the coolness factor of social media, what strikes me as relevant about the programs cited by Fortune is that each company aligned its efforts with a well defined and measurable business goal.

In Dell’s case, their IdeaStorm site helps improve product development. Ernst & Young’s use of Facebook is all about employee recruitment. Best Buy’s BlueShirt Nation is internal communications. And Intuit’s TurboTax Live is a community customer support initiative.

I do buy into the value of social media as a branding and awareness vehicle, especially when it is aligned with a search engine optimization strategy. Yet, this channel of communications truly becomes “strategic” when positioning, messaging, tactics and benchmarks address a business goal.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Unbiased News in the Fine Print

A coping mechanism in this era of information overload is to wade through the scores of trade articles, op-eds, blog posts, thought leadership pieces, etc. by merely reading the headlines. In a brief moment you can get a sense of the direction of an article and recognize industry trends from common themes that emerge across a myriad of news sources.

However, due to editorial bias this Cliffs Notes approach to news consumption is wrought with risk. Consider this gloomy headline that arrived in my Email inbox compliments of BrandRepublic news:

“Ad Industry Leaders Predict Deep Recession”

The first paragraph of the article reports that the marketing communications industry is now facing a “deep and long” recession that will result in many agencies going out of business. The writer cites a number of global agency heads to validate this position.

"At first, I thought we were going through a normal cyclical downturn. Now I think the scenario is much less predictable, which reinforces the need for agencies to keep their balance sheets as strong as they can." Bob Willott, the editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence

"The smell of fear is incredible. “People are terrified." And he warned: "The next 15 months are not going to be easy." WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell
Yikes! Smell of fear…people terrified…it’s obvious that agency heads need to take drastic cost-cutting action immediately to ensure survival. Or should they?

Drill down a little deeper in the article and the story is quite different.

"We're seeing some signs of a slowdown in fourth-quarter spending, especially in the auto and financial sectors, but it's not heavy and nobody is panicking." Maurice Lévy, the Publicis Groupe

"I've been waiting for my numbers to drop off the cliff but they haven't. People are still shopping and repaying their mortgages." Lord Bell, Chime chairman

My takeaway here is to consume news and analysis as you would a legal agreement: read the fine print. Even the best intentioned journalists, pundits and bloggers have a natural bias in their thinking that shapes how they structure a story.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Financial Crisis and Dot Com Ghosts

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) was flying high in 2000.

Sales had skyrocketed during the past 36 months, new business opportunities continued to flow and staff size had swelled from three to nearly 40. We made plans to expand our operations to emerging technology markets in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Raleigh. The old rules of business – focus on key markets, manage cautiously and grow profitably – no longer applied.

Then came the market correction. Over the course of the next two quarters Strategic had nearly a dozen clients run out of funding and shut down, leaving the agency with several hundred thousand dollars in fees we would never collect.

As a relatively young founder and CEO, I had only managed in an up-market. I hesitated…partly from shock, yet more from ego. There was simply no way something I had worked so hard to build could possibly fail.

It was a board member who corrected my thinking. We cut deep and quickly. Extensive staff layoffs. Elimination of non-core business lines in the area of creative advertising and media planning/buying. An across the board reduction in expenses.

We survived and set upon a path defined by measured (and profitable) growth, pristine financial and operation procedures, and an intense focus on a simple guiding principle – great work for great clients.

I thought of this near-death experience when reading the New York Times article on the fall of Lehman Brothers. It’s a fascinating look at the factors that influenced Lehman’s Richard Fuld Jr.’s decision-making, as compared to John Thain of Merrill Lynch.

Make no mistake, for a small business owner the current financial crisis is incredibly scary. We are making a more concerted effort to talk to our commercial banking partner on an ongoing basis to apprise them of our continued success. And we always keep in mind that the guiding principles of running a sound business remain constant.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sales and Social Media

I had five minutes of podium time to deliver my key messages to the 100 or so attendees at the Tech Council of Maryland’s executive event titled “Growing Your Business through Social Media.”

A number of speakers earlier in the session had basically glossed over the exciting applications of social media as a marketing and sales function. Rather, they chose to emphasize the threats lurking in the blogosphere and in communities like Facebook and MySpace. Every company must track the discussion and respond accordingly, they asserted.

While I agree that monitoring is a critical component of any corporate social media program, it’s merely the baseline. I said so emphatically and stressed three points that I believe make the business case to fund a social media initiative more compelling:

-Use lead generation, as well as the acceleration of awareness, executive visibility and thought leadership as benchmarks for success.

-It’s OK to sell in social networks, yet do so appropriately.

-Repurpose the marketing content most likely collecting dust on your shelves for social media programs like executive blogging and new media utilization.

The reaction from the audience was relatively muted. I chalk this up to the fact that most of the attendees are groping through social media and evaluating what is appropriate for their organization. I also wasn’t allocated the time to provide real world examples of how companies are leveraging social media to accelerate their business success.

Consider Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) social media program for security software firm Epok. We are positioning their application in Microsoft’s Sharepoint community through a mix of tactics including executive blogging, blogger relations and social network engagement.

Here’s the download on the campaign to date:

We launched an executive blog about six weeks ago and have had nearly a dozen posts. Our team has increased readership for each blog post using social bookmark sites, such as Reddit, Mixx and Digg. We’re also sharing content with Sharepoint groups in LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as leveraging Epok CTO’s Twitter and FriendFeed streams.

The results?

-We’ve secured an editorial piece for SharePoint Magazine through a LinkedIn connection.

-We’ve initiated a dialogue through Facebook with a blogger, who has since commented extensively on of our CTO’s post.

-An interview request came in through the comments feature on the blog from the editor of PBP IT newsletters.

-Most important, after posting a piece on improving battlefield communication, Epok was contacted by a government agency and it has turned into a sales lead.

I have a philosophical difference with the social media consultants who counsel their clients on the need to merely engage in conversations to build community. Yes on both accounts as there is value in connections.

Yet, never shy away from lead generation and sales as a goal of your social media campaign. This is what Strategic focuses on for its clients.

Friday, September 19, 2008

When Worlds Collide

I am concerned that I have become George Costanza.

It is not so much my appearance, although my receding hairline and thinning chrome sure is disconcerting. (Hey Propecia, thanks for nothing!) Rather, it’s my network of Facebook friends that has my worlds colliding.

Let’s start from the beginning. I joined Facebook about a year ago when Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) created a fan page for staffers and alumni of the agency. It’s been a productive way to maintain a connection with former employees and to demonstrate to potential hires the importance we place on social media.

Facebook for me was a business application, comparable to my participation on LinkedIn, Gooruze, Sphinn, The Customer Collective and Brandweek’s At the Roundtable.

Then, a couple of high school buddies I have remained close with friended me which brought my profile to the attention of their contacts. Next up were requests from high school classmates I haven’t seen in years, including two former girlfriends. How could I say “no” to being their Facebook friend?

My current network of Facebook friends also includes fraternity brothers, family members, neighbors, business contacts, employees and even my wife.

This is all well and good right up to the point that I have now have to carefully monitor the comments friends post on my wall. Do I really want my employees to know my fraternity pledge nickname? Or how about revelations from a spring break trip to Cancun many years ago?

I’ve read much about recent college graduates who dampen their job prospects due to inappropriate material on their Facebook profile. Chalk that up to inexperience. Yet, I’m nearly 40. I should have known this could have happened when I let my worlds collide online.

The real question is what can I do now? Should I de-friend certain inappropriate contacts? Create separate profiles?

I’m stressing…quick…where is my Propecia?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WSJ's Exclusive Club

At a networking event last week I reconnected with a marketing consultant I have known for years. Our conversation turned to an upcoming executive breakfast sponsored by the National Capital Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).

“I’ve tried to join ACG in the past, yet the group has denied me membership,” the consultant explained.

ACG is predominantly comprised of corporate dealmakers, and private equity and investment banking community that supports merger/acquisition deal flow in the Washington, DC region. It is difficult for vendors to join and when a slot does open up, a consultant must also secure at least three new corporate members.

That’s how Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) became a member more than five years ago. In fact, to the best of my knowledge we are the only public relations agency member of ACG National Capital.

And you know what…I like it that way. It makes for better networking at ACG events and our participation in the group is validation of our expertise in financial communications.

The Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) decision to limit participation to only subscribers in its soon-to-be launched online community is a savvy move. I also like their requirement of full identification disclosure, thereby reducing the personal attacks that occur when people hide behind a pseudonym.

Will this limit the number of participants in WSJ’s social network? Absolutely! Yet, like my view on Strategic’s involvement in ACG National Capital, that is a good thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Inspired Customers Fail to Fuel Growth

Jeremy Epstein is high energy. I like that in a speaker.

He was the headliner this past Wednesday at the Tech Council of Maryland’s sold out seminar titled “Growing Your Business Through Social Media." I settled in to my chair as Jeremy grabbed the microphone and -- despite a plea from the event organizer for presenters to remain at the podium -- proceeded to pace the front of the room. He led the 100 or so attendees through a 45 minute presentation loaded with animated gestures and witty remarks.

Here are his eight tips for success in marketing and social media:

1. Be remarkable for differentiation. Jeremy cited Rock Creek Restaurant and their “mindful dining” philosophy as an example.

2. Listen as a fundamental marketing practice. Dell’s Idea Storm initiative rates high with Jeremy.

3. Advocate as a practice. Comcast takes lots of knocks, yet it is making a concerted effort to advocate for customer service via its “Comcast Cares” program.

4. Find your raving fans. Even if their representation of your corporate brand isn’t perfect, empowering these passionate supporters will create a viral buzz for the business.

5. Be the connector of social networks.

6. Don’t abuse permission. Jeremy shared an anecdote of a short-time Facebook friend who used the network as a platform for spam.

7. Be open…don’t hide. Jeremy and I both subscribe to the view that is completely unacceptable to make anonymous comments on the Internet.

8. Participate…don’t control. Another great example from Jeremy – Tiger Woods “Walking on Water” video on YouTube.

The premise behind Jeremy’s comments is his view that we live in an “attention economy.” Marketers are taught to shout at their key audiences with the hope of grabbing a slice of mind share. Jeremy argues that companies should instead focus on their existing customers with the goal of inspiring them to spread the word.

This is where things break down for me. I’m all for loyal and passionate customers talking up a company. Yet, like-minded individuals tend to participate in the same communities (online and offline). Eventually, the referral model fails to drive growth. It happens every time.

This is why it’s critical for organizations to reach outside their defined sphere of influence. Help the sales team generate leads…support the acquisition of new customers…and then inspire their passion. That’s the job of marketing, social media and PR.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tech Groups Make Perplexing Move

I am perplexed by the announcement from the AeA (formerly American Electronics Association) and Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) that they are in discussions to merge their organizations.

The business case to combine is apparent and was well articulated in by Computerworld writer Patrick Thibodeau. A larger technology trade group will have more sway in political circles and their technology members will benefit financially by reducing their annual membership costs.

Yet, the mere disclosure of merger discussions creates tremendous pressure to now get a deal done -- even if the terms of a transaction benefit one group more than the other. And what happens if the combination doesn’t come together? Each trade group will have only further weakened its lobbying position, while creating apprehension among its members and employees.

Was this proactive promotion of a possible merger a test to determine market reaction? If so, couldn’t that have been accomplished in a more discrete manner? This is a real surprising (and knucklehead) move by two well respected, influential groups.

Full disclosure: Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) had been a long-standing member of the AeA and I was very active as a member of the executive committee of the group’s Potomac Council. Our involvement concluded a few years back.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

CMOs Bang the Social Media Drum

In no way was I an early adopter of social media.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we introduced content about executive blogging on our Web site a few years back, yet there was limited client interest. And even more limited budgets allocated to fund social media-related programs.

That changed in the spring of 2007…big time! Social media is by far the fastest growing segment of our business. We are fortunate to be working with a set of innovative companies – such as British Telecom (BT), GovDelivery, Epok, TARP and Voxant -- to execute campaigns that include a social media component.

We believe social media work will represent 70 percent of our business this time next year. However, according to the findings of the recent Epsilon CMO survey we may need to be even more bullish in our projections.

Based on interviews with 175 senior marketing leaders in the US, the survey organizers reported that nearly two-thirds said their interactive/digital marketing budgets have increased in the past year. The more popular interactive and digital channels that marketers said they are keen to start experimenting with are:

-social computing (42%), which includes word-of-mouth, social-networking sites and viral advertising
-blogs (35%)
-podcasting (31%)
-mobile devices (29%), which include phones and PDAs

The take-away for public relations professionals is clear: by continuing to enhance our expertise in social media we can provide a greater return on a PR investment, as well as foster a deeper connection with the marketing organization.

CMOs Up Digital, Cut Traditional

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gearing Up for Social Media Panel

I’ll be speaking next Wednesday, September 10th at Tech Council of Maryland’s half-day event on social media. The event is titled Growing Your Business Through Social Media and will be held at Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery County Campus in Rockville from 8:00 am until 12:00 noon.

My panel deals with how to integrate social media tactics into a public relations program. My comments will focus on the best practices Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has picked up through its work for clients like British Telecom, Epok and GovDelivery.

The list of speakers and panelists is impressive and I heard from the Council this morning that they only have about 20 attendee spots left. If you’re interested, check out the Council’s Web site for more information.

And drop me a note if you plan to attend. Perhaps we can hook up for a few minutes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Empathy Balance

As Hurricane Gustav churned in the Gulf of Mexico, public relations professionals across the country bantered about angles to pitch the press to generate high-value editorial coverage for their respective companies or clients.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we moved quickly on behalf of GovDelivery, a provider of Email and digital subscription management services to government agencies. Our client had a clear tie-in to Gustav because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relies on GovDelivery to send Email of emergency plans to Gulf Coast residents.

Strategic’s efforts produced the desired result as respected trade journal Government Computer News published an article that discussed how FEMA was using cutting-edge technology to inform the public.

A natural disaster can sure gin up public relations opportunities. The timeliness of the event enhances the news value of a product or service that can help address the crisis. This window closes quickly, so it is prudent for a company to evaluate how it can appropriately promote its interests when it is most opportune.

Consider the lightning sparked wild fires that plagued California this past summer. Providers of rugged tactical radios and related computer products showcased how their solutions helped first responders tackle the flames. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a catalyst for a number of stories about the reliability of satellite communications. Even a really big storm can’t knock a satellite out of the sky, or so our specific pitch to the media went.

Admittedly, there is a balance that must be struck by any company seeking to leverage the timeliness created by a natural (or man-made) disaster to promote its offerings. Step across this delicate boundary and the promoter can be perceived as too opportunistic or even cold-hearted.

Here are a couple of best practices that can be employed to ensure promotion during a time of crisis is handled professionally:

Make sure the tie to your product or service is credible. In the case of Hurricane Gustav and GovDelivery, FEMA implemented the technology to serve the public good. This was a point we stressed in our media outreach and the resulting story appropriately positioned all parties involved as being responsive to the information needs of Gulf Coast residents.

Start with the trade media. In many instances, they are open to angles that will give them an opportunity to report about a big story in a way that is consistent with the editorial mission of their publication. For instance, after the September 11th terrorist attacks a number of technology journals wrote about how video conferencing allowed companies to continue to conduct global business.

Monitor media coverage to understand a publication’s approach. A PR practitioner’s failure to read the publication is perhaps the most often cited criticism by journalists. This is especially important during a time of crisis when an off-target pitch comes off as callous, in addition to unprofessional.

Be sensitive. If a particular pitch or angle feels too opportunistic, than go with your gut and hold off. Yes…your job is to promote a product or service, yet it’s also to demonstrate compassion and caring.

Friday, August 29, 2008

LinkedIn's Community Java

Good news today in the world of social media! Here is a bulleted list of features that LinkedIn has added to stimulate more interaction and community among members of its groups:

• Discussion forums: Simple discussion spaces for you and your members.
• Enhanced roster: Searchable list of group members.
• Digest emails: Daily or weekly digests of new discussion topics which your members may choose to receive.
• Group home page: A private space for your members on LinkedIn.

I’m jazzed about this, as I see LinkedIn emerging as an even more valuable resource for lead generation and executive visibility/thought leadership. In fact, I have already participated in a discussion in a group called “Public Relations and Communications Professionals” about social media applications for employee communications.

Question to the group:

Using "social media" for internal communications. Share your experiences. Please share your best practices or worst nightmares so everyone can learn from each other about implementing blogs, wikis, RSS feeds etc... in the context of internal communications.

My comment:
I have an interesting social media anecdote that's right on point. We launched an executive blog for the new president of Altron, a provider of program management services to US government agencies. It was initially designed as a thought leadership platform for external audiences, yet the feedback we received from our client is that it became a source of information for the company's employees who were very interested in learning more about the business philosophy of their new executive.

Here's a link to the blog:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Microsoft's Search Share Reality

In mid-May I lauded Microsoft for its “Live Search Cashback” as an attempt to more effectively compete with Google. Multiple vendors in any market lead to innovative new approaches and programs, which is good for consumers.

I also made this prediction:

Will this help Microsoft steal away a share of the search market? Probably not. The registration requirements and waiting period for the money are both fairly extensive.

Looks like I was spot on. According to an assessment of US search market share by Comscore, Microsoft saw an initial bump in June yet has since drifted back to just under 9% market share.

Microsoft’s Live Search Cashback Scheme Fails to Move the Market Share Needle

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Moneyball and a Feel for the Deal

I’m not a baseball fan. My wife accurately describes a typical game as 10 minutes of action jam packed into three hours.

Yet, I have always been intrigued by the non-traditional approach of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane. Documented in the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, Beane evaluates players based on their on base percentage, rather than batting average or runs batted in. The result: the Athletics have been a consistent playoff team even though their payroll ranks near the bottom of all Major League Baseball teams.

Does this atypical methodology for evaluating performance translate to the world of corporate sales? The folks at business software vendor NetSuite sure think so. In fact, last year they added Bill Beane to their board of directors.

GigaOm writer Carleen Hawn recently penned an excellent interview with NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson exploring how the company has changed its sales methodology and measurement criteria based on Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy.

What Start-Ups Can Learn from Billy “Moneyball” Beane

I’m right in step with NetSuite on the importance of consistently measuring the effectiveness of tactical sales activities. The same holds true for public relations and social media programs, which can now be evaluated using benchmarks like search engine optimization (SEO) and impact on pay-per-click advertising.

However, I also believe statistics can only take you so far. One of the recommendations in Hawn’s article is to “trust your data even when your intuition suggests otherwise.” That is a good guideline, yet successful selling requires what I refer to as a feel for the deal.

Whether evaluating a product or professional service, a deciding factor for a prospect is the trust they have in the vendor and its representatives. An effective sales executive knows how to build relationships…when to push for more information…and (equally important) when to give a potential buyer some space.

Yes, it’s important to measure the tactics that support the sales process. Just never underestimate the power of intuition.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Full Disclosure, Please

Surveys are an effective tool to establish third-party validation of a concept, competency or company…except when there is a lack of full disclosure.

Take PRSourceCode’s annual survey to identify the “Top Tech Communicators." The company that conducted the assessment provides public relations professionals and journalists with a suite of information products and services designed to increase their efficiency on the job. Sounds good.

Plus, they queried more than 800 IT journalists to identify the public relations agencies, corporate PR departments and practitioners who rate the best in terms of responsiveness, reliability and overall recognition of editorial needs. OK…works for me.

So, where does everything fall down with this survey? One of the PR shops recognized as being the “best of the best” in the large agency category is O’Keeffe & Company. In fact, this agency has achieved the distinction every year the survey has been conducted.

What is not disclosed is that the same individual who owns O’Keeffe & Company also happens to own PRSourceCode. In fact, they share the same office address at 921 King Street in Alexandria, VA. Hmmm…makes you wonder.

Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the methodology used to conduct this survey nor have I seen the raw data. Everything may very well be on the up and up.

However, the failure to disclose the connection between PRSourceCode and one of the honorees denigrates the credibility of the survey.

Staying true to the interest of full disclosure, here are a few things I need to acknowledge:

--Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has never been recognized in this survey even though we work very hard to maintain productive and mutually beneficial relationships with the journalists who cover our clients’ industries.

--We often compete against O’Keeffe & Company, especially in the area of business-to-government public relations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The CEO Sales Trap

The foundation of relationship selling is the ability to establish a connection with decision-makers at a prospective customer.

Who better to champion your product or service than the CEO? They refer you to one of their lieutenants with a positive reference and you are well on your way to securing a new client. Right?

Not so fast, explains Dave Stein of sales consultancy ES Research Group. In an informative post on Oracle’s The Customer Collective Web-based community for sales and marketing professionals, Stein overviews his exchange with the VP of Information Technology at J.R. Simplot Company – a $3B agribusiness company based in Boise, Idaho. (Image courtesy of

In Sales: Calling on the CEO

I have a couple of take-aways from Stein’s post. It’s critical for sales executives promoting an enterprise-level product or service to understand the structure and workings of a prospect company, and to then develop a strategy to identify and build relationships with decision-makers and influencers. This notion seems elementary, yet I suspect many sales organizations fall into the CEO trap at times.

For marketers and corporate communications professionals, we have to align our public relations, social media and lead generation programs to address the information requirements of multiple target audiences. This most likely means different tactics for different targets, as well as close interaction with sales to measure effectiveness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Call for Generalists

There is an adage in business that the specialist prevails over the generalist. It’s why so many public relations consultancies segment their staff by practice group (i.e. we have market experts) and/or job function – we will call in our social media expert.

We’ve taken quite a different approach at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) by requiring our team of professionals to bring a broad-base set of market knowledge, skills and experience to their clients. They represent companies in different, yet related technology and healthcare markets. And they must be proficient in strategy, client service and the full range of public relations tactics.

Yes…it is more challenging to recruit and train generalists. Yet, the value they are able to deliver by offering an integrated approach to public relations and social media makes the effort well worthwhile.

The “specialist versus generalist” issue was top-of-mind this evening as I read an informative post from Jonny Bentwood, an analyst relations professional with PR shop Edelman. He listed the number of industry analysts who are now conducting research and interacting with companies via Twitter, a highly popular microblogging platform.

This is a great example of the intersection of traditional PR and social media, and why it is critical for public relations professionals to be engaged in all facets of communications. Strategic has experienced this first hand in our work on BT Americas “Secure Thinking” twitter community. Followers include journalists, analysts, customers and prospects.

My take: in public relations it is the generalist who typically carries the day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Targeting the Zombie Niche

Online communities present an ideal environment for companies to engage target audiences who share common interests.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is working with a number of clients to help them identify groups in LinkedIN and Facebook, and then appropriately share insight and participate in discussions. We refer to this as social network engagement.

There are also a myriad of niche social networks that cater to professionals within a specific industry or attract consumers who share a hobby. For instance, my colleague Chris Parente’s “Work, Wine and Wheels” blog is popular among BMW owners.

Of course, there’s niche (BMW owners) and then there’s real niche (zombie hunting vigilantes or social anxiety disorder sufferers).

The Web's 10 Weirdest Social Networks

Monday, August 4, 2008

Exxon Mobil, Brand-Jacked

Social media has emerged as a high-impact channel for companies to message and engage with key stakeholders.

Yet, the lack of a peer review process that is adhered to by traditional news media outlets creates an exorbitant amount of risk. Simply put, people can say what they want, when they want and then misrepresent themselves with the goal of enhancing credibility.

This is why any company of significance has to monitor the blogosphere and proactively take steps to address the distribution of inaccurate information.

Exxon Mobil's brand 'hijacked' by impersonator on Twitter

Market Moving Thought Leadership

The backbone of public relations, social media, marketing communications and advertising programs is content that engages, educates and entertains. Our methodology at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is to produce and/or package content once and then merchandise it across multiple channels. This approach positively impacts awareness, credibility and lead generation (via search engine optimization and sales cycle marketing).

One of the zingers I typically drop to a prospect during a new business presentation is that “thought leaders have thoughts.” Sounds elementary, yet I point out that most executives shy away from taking a stand on issues or topics that could be controversial. And that limits the effectiveness of their company’s external communications program.

Now, it’s important that any thought leadership platform align with a company’s business objectives. There is simply no ROI in controversy for the sake of being argumentative. Additionally, ideas need to be presented in a clear manner, supported by third-party commentary and (when possible) statistical validation. chairman and CEO Marc Benioff is the premier thought leader in the adoption of innovative technology by enterprises.’s “Say No to Software” launch campaign for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM product ultimately redefined how many companies procure applications. (Image courtesy of ZDNet.)

Competitors like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft initially protested Benioff’s views and then were ultimately forced to play catch-up. More important, ignited a movement that spurred innovation across multiple segments of the market. Strategic clients Avectra and GovDelivery are two examples of SaaS providers that are accelerating growth in their respective market niches.

Benioff’s back with a new thought leadership campaign that defines what comes after SaaS. His premise: view companies like as offering a “platform as a service” that allows entrepreneurs to write, test and deploy software without cost-prohibitive infrastructure investments.

Citing vendors like Google, Amazon, Facebook and MySpace that are all employing a comparable “platform” strategy, Benioff brands this movement as Web 3.0.

While I find the Web 3.0 tag to be clichéd (a myriad of companies have already made a run at using this term), I applaud Benioff and for their continued innovation in marketing and positioning.

Take a few moments to read his guest column in TechCrunch IT. It’s a well constructed argument for’s approach and proves out that thought leaders truly do have thoughts with the potential to move markets.

Welcome to Web 3.0: Now Your Other Computer is a Data Center
TechCrunch IT