Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Conflict Two-Step

Earlier this month Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) was gearing up for an important business development meeting with an emerging growth company in the networking/telecom space. I didn’t perceive it to be a conflict with any of our existing engagements, yet it was the same market so I had a responsibility to check with a few clients.

One of our clients got back to me with concerns about the prospect and how their technology could potentially create competitive issues. We immediately backed away from the new opportunity out of respect for the relationship with our client.

Conflict is something we take seriously at Strategic. We appreciate the trust our clients place in us and will run through the proverbial brick wall to help them achieve their growth goals.

We’re also exposed on an ongoing basis to confidential information about our clients’ strategies, product offerings and financial requirements. Accordingly, we will not represent companies that compete with one another.

Not everyone shares this view. I read with great interest the article in PR Week about Sybase’s selection of Bite as its public relations agency of record. To alleviate any conflict of interest issues, Bite branded a group within the company Incisor Communications.

They didn’t spin out a separate organization or even establish some type of internal Chinese wall. Nope…Bite now merely calls a group of employees who will be working on behalf of Sybase by a different name.

Mark Wilson, VP of corporate marketing at Sybase, told PR Week, "We liked how they were creating the Incisor brand; that was important to us.”

I guess ensuring confidentiality of corporate information isn’t that important to Sybase. Or how about the basic issue of ethical representation? What happens if another client wants Bite…er….Incisor to launch a campaign that could damage Sybase’s business prospects?

Are the folks at Sybase truly this dense? I don’t think so. They wanted to hire Bite and the agency is willing to represent competitors. That’s fine. Just call it what it is.

Sybase hires Bite as AOR after firm creates client-conflict unit
PR Week

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SaaS Consequences

Microsoft continues to move its focus from the desktop to the cloud with an announcement yesterday of Live Mesh, their new Web-based platform.

Microsoft Reveals a Web-Based Software System

I am a strong proponent of software-as-a-service (SaaS) as it gives a company the ability to concentrate on its core competencies while better managing its technology spend. In fact, one of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) exciting client engagements is with GovDelivery (, a SaaS provider of Email and digital subscription management solutions in the public sector.

However, I’m concerned that an unintended consequence of SaaS is the devaluing of the very solution being delivered. If everyone uses the same hosted CRM then that function within the enterprise becomes commoditized. The same could be said for HR, supply chain and finance.

Unique technology has historically provided companies with a competitive advantage. Is that era now at an end? I’m not proposing a return to the days of complex custom builds. Rather, a blended approach of SaaS and proprietary systems may be the way to go.

New Content Addition (4.24.08): interesting survey about SaaS adoption finds it remains a top priority, yet adoption has slowed.

SaaS, Web Services Top Software Priorities For Businesses
A new research report also shows signs of SaaS's maturity, with fewer businesses reporting they adopted SaaS for the first time last year.;jsessionid=5TK03ZVR5IPXAQSNDLPCKH0CJUNN2JVN?articleID=207401640&_requestid=109335

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Privacy Conundrum

Is it ethical to follow employees?

That’s a question I wrestled with over the weekend as I prepared to sign-up to follow two of my colleagues with active Twitter feeds:

Jeff Majka (
Shany Seawright (

My rationale was sincere. I have struggled to understand the business value delivered by Twitter because of the inability to share meaningful thought leadership content. However, I recognize its adoption in business circles, and noted the Twitter community of journalists and analysts created at the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco.

Exploring and observing is an effective way to assess a social media application. If I’m to be comfortable making a client recommendation, I have to be able to articulate a clear ROI. And that is more than a tenuous benchmark such as awareness and community participation.

Yet, I pride myself on respecting the privacy of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) employees. I am very much engaged in their professional success and, in particular, have established strong ties with both Shany and Jeff during the four years we’ve worked together. However, there is a line in the relationship I don’t step over.

Will the content of their tweets change if I’m a follower? Will they refrain from commenting about a frustrating day? Or, does the very nature of social media (open, honest dialogue) make this a non-issue?

I’ve yet to sign-on as one of Shany’s or Jeff’s followers. What do you think…should I?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Remembrance, GXS' Larry De'ath

When Allison Tobin phoned me this week with bad news my first thought was that GXS had selected another public relations firm to represent the company.

I was wrong…the news was so much worse. Larry De’ath, GXS’ Vice President of Corporate Communications, died unexpectedly on Monday leaving behind a wife and two young daughters.

I’ve known Larry for more than five years as he held executive level PR/communications positions with a number of technology companies based in the Washington, DC area. We never had the opportunity to work together. Yet, through phone calls, lunch dates and ongoing Email exchange we established a professional relationship.

I bounced ideas off of him. We discussed industry trends. And we shared stories of dealing with challenging analysts and journalists.

Ultimately, I was a vendor trying to sell public relations services to a prospective client. Larry never viewed me that way. When I first called him to introduce myself, he called me back. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Larry’s family and everyone at GXS.

If you’re interested in contributing to the memorial education fund set up for Larry’s daughters, please make a donation to:

The Larry De’Ath Memorial fund to benefit Olivia and Taylor De’ath
Howard R. Pressman
Bank of America
730 15th St NW
4th Floor
Washington, DC 20005

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Twitter's Unexpected Value Proposition

Twitter is fast emerging as a micro-blogging platform with a tremendous business ROI upside. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we will soon launch a thought leadership campaign for a client leveraging this medium.

Who knew Twitter could actually help you get out of a foreign prison? Now that's a value proposition.

Twitter Saves Man from Egyptian Justice

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Google's App Engine Nurtures Innovation

Google is a one-trick pony.

Fortunately, the business they dominant – advertising supported Internet search – is a huge market that produces tremendous revenue and profits for the company. It’s no different than the enterprise desktop space that Microsoft has long owned.

Like the gang in Redmond, Google continues to struggle with how to best diversify its revenue. They’re playing with Web-based video through the YouTube acquisition, office productivity applications, Email security via the Postini buy, and a host of other technologies that may one day produce measurable revenue and profits. There’s nothing in the pipeline though that comes close to what Google has with its core business.

That is why the announcement last week of a Web services offering branded the “Application Engine” is such a brilliant play. Modeled after Amazon’s comparable offering, Google will allow software developers to build a web application and then host it for free on Google’s existing infrastructure.

Yes, this is going to be a money loser for Google for quite some time. They have the cash though to fund it and the infrastructure is already in place. More important, it is a great way of keeping an eye on the innovative applications being developed by leaner, more entrepreneurial start-ups. Any application deemed to have potential can be tested and acquired with limited risk.

I believe this is a more viable model for corporations interested in encouraging innovation. The days of corporate-sponsored VC and equity funds may have just ended.

Google’s Cloud Now on Tap for Web Developers

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spielberg, Lonelygirl15 and the Entertaining of PR

If I could hire any two people in the world to join my public relations consultancy who would it be?

The answer today sure is different than a mere 18 months ago. I would have most likely rattled off the name of a well respected technology trade journalist, industry analyst or agency executive. The state of public relations is now dramatically different. My top choices: award-winning movie producer/director Steven Spielberg and YouTube sensation turned actress Lonelygirl15. (

Public relations has traditionally been defined by education and engagement. Communications executives excel at forming meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with an organization’s key stakeholders. Often mischaracterized as spin or influence peddling, public relations practiced ethically presents a perspective, opinion or corporate story, and then encourages dialogue and debate. That's how relationships are formed.

The requirements of PR professionals have changed more rapidly in the past year and a half than at any time during my nearly 20-year career. In addition to education and engagement, we need to add a third "e" to the public relations skill set -- entertainment. The ability to capture and hold an audience's attention in unique and innovative ways is a must for any communications program to achieve its benchmarks. It's comparable to the creative spirit that permeates Hollywood, Broadway or the Web 2.0 start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Drivers of the PR Sea-Change

To understand this dramatic shift in communications it is important to first explore why. It's no secret the business model employed by traditional media has suffered. From broadcast and cable to newspapers, consumer magazines and trade journals, media is under all-consuming stress. Advertising budgets have rapidly shifted online where there is a greater level of measurability and accountability. Moreover, consumers have come to expect editorial content delivered via the Web be offered at no charge, further eroding the revenue base.

In turn, broadcasters and publishers have slashed payrolls while taking stabs at a sustainable, Web-based business model. Journalists are asked to carry a heavier load by producing more content, more quickly while continuing to adhere to the standards and principles that have long shaped their profession. The media and publishing industries have grown so desperate that the idea of a government-backed financial scenario has gained a following in the blogosphere.

The meteoric rise of social media is the second (yet related) catalyst of this dramatic change in the public relations world. Consumers and corporate audiences alike now bypass traditional PR channels to communicate, educate, collaborate, network and cultivate relationships. Social networks, Web-based video, and blogging and micro-blogging platforms have enthralled and empowered individuals. Today, a person can exist online as both a consumer and publisher of media.

The trend of social media innovation will continue to accelerate as the barriers to entry for technology start-ups remain low. Historically, it's taken an army of software engineers, a pile of venture capital and years of development time to bring a product to market. That's no longer the case. Exciting new applications such as Twitter and FriendFeed are rapidly introduced and vetted by a passionate online community.

How One PR Shop has Evolved

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) was by no means an early adopter of social media. Our initial efforts included forays into blogging, as well as the occasional comment in an online industry forum.

The vast majority of our activities on a client's behalf continued to be traditional media relations and industry analyst communications in support of corporate and product initiatives. The lack of a peer review process and the inherent unpredictable nature of social media tempered our enthusiasm for this new channel to the market.

Personally, I was turned off by the cavalier and cliquish attitude of social media champions. Those who didn't sprint full-speed to embrace these new offerings simply didn't "get it" or worse, would be relegated to the sidelines.

I experienced this bravado once before in my career. It was at the height of the dot com bubble when anyone who failed to rush their business to the Web was considered a dinosaur. The market correction in March 2001 and the resulting pain colored my view of the value of being a trailblazer.

About a year ago the senior team at Strategic openly embraced social media tactics as on-par and, in many instances, preferred over traditional media and analyst outreach. What changed for us? For starters, we became more comfortable with the business ROI delivered via social media and more capable of articulating it to a client.

In addition to thought leadership and executive visibility, our social media efforts are designed to enhance a client's organic search engine optimization. We consistently monitor Web traffic and online advertising buys for a client and its competitors, and then shape content and messaging accordingly.

Second, among our clients we now see a willingness to fund social media campaigns. We have moved past the education phase of market adoption and, while many efforts remain pilot programs, social media tactics are no longer viewed as a nice to have if there is a bit of money left in the budget.

For instance, this past quarter Strategic was selected by one of the world's largest telecommunications providers to spearhead a social media initiative that promotes a suite of technical services, as well as their stance on corporate social responsibility. We also introduced the first-ever executive blog in the government services space ( to help a provider of program management and administrative services differentiate itself.

The Entertainment Conundrum

What now keeps me awake at night is the challenge public relations professionals face to adopt an element of entertainment to social media campaigns. The Web is a prickly medium. Consumers, business buyers, investors, partners and employees will turn away from content that fails to educate, engage and entertain.

Recently, a client lamented that the 20 minute corporate presentation uploaded to YouTube and Insight 24 failed to garner much interest. Our idea: turn that presentation into a series of shorter video vignettes that tell a story by focusing on the personalities of the executive team.

High-value content has always been the calling of PR. We're now presented with the opportunity to help our clients experiment, explore and derive value from participating in social media. Will we get hip to the need to entertain? Quick...someone get me Steven Spielberg on the line. I want to talk to him about a career in public relations.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Back from RSA

I am just plugging back online after a couple of days at the RSA Conference in San Francisco which concludes today. A few quick observations:

-Exhibit Hall traffic was good and there was a lot of enthusiasm among attendees. I found it to be mostly industry participants though, rather than customers. One Chief Security Officer I had drinks with at the hotel bar explained he was at the show for the educational panels and “to avoid vendors at all costs.”

-I reconnected with a number of good professional relationships, including a former client who is now in a senior security position at Lexis Nexis.

-Social media continues to dramatically alter how PR/communications professionals represent their clients. A Twitter-based community of journalists and analysts sprung up at RSA to share insight about companies and presenters.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Topless Meeting Etiquette

There was an interesting article last week in the Los Angeles Times about how companies are now requiring employees to power down their laptops, mobile phones and Blackberrys while in meetings. This is designed to enhance productivity, encourage dialogue and demonstrate consideration for colleagues.

Silicon Valley Meetings Go Topless,1,6227188.story?track=rss

Two quotes from the article indicate divergent views on this topic:

"One of my biggest frustrations when I was an engineer at Google was being summoned to an executive meeting only to find three-quarters of the executives too busy with their laptops. I'd spend hours preparing a summary of my project status, a briefing on a new strategy area, or a review of staffing assignments. Nothing communicates disrespect to your reports like ignoring them when they're with you."

Jeremy Zawodny

"Occasionally, if I see someone too absorbed reading e-mails, I will elbow them," Lo said. "People are going to get distracted. It's OK as long as it is not for an extended period of time. I get distracted myself. That's just how meetings are nowadays."

Selina Lo, CEO
Ruckus Wireless

I have attended a handful of new business presentations in which the executives we’re pitching are more concerned with their Email than our thoughts. Needless to say, not one of those companies has ever become a client.

Admittedly, I also take a peek at Email in a meeting, especially when its length runs more than hour. I’m concerned that I am sending the wrong message to my colleagues and will now make a point to keep my smartphone secured in its case.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Self Regulating Twitter-Sphere

The user community of microblogging platform Twitter continues to debate the proper etiquette for self-promotion. Is it appropriate to inform those following you of a recent blog post? Or is that merely gunking up the twitter stream?

The discussion of this issue is a good example of the self-regulating nature of social media. It doesn't ensure the same accuracy and relevance of traditional journalistic peer review. Yet, it's encouraging.

Proper Twitter Etiquette. What Is It?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Internet Shadows are for the Weak

It’s no secret that the Internet has proven to be a wonderfully powerful medium to engage key audiences and stimulate debate. For public relations professionals, the movement of readers to social media outlets – such as blogs, wikis, communities, microblogs, etc. – has opened up new channels to promote high-quality content and thought leadership.

Transparency must serve as the foundation of Internet-based communications. We have to demand it. That’s because the lack of a formal peer review process in social media creates an environment in which rumor, innuendo and intimidation can easily gain the upper hand.

I find it disconcerting when a professional has to hide in the shadows when voicing an opinion on a topic. It just happened with an in-house attorney at Cisco who came clean about his authorship of a blog about patent trolling only when his identity was discovered.

Cisco Sued Because of Employee Blogging

It’s occurring with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists with two Web sites that allow them to trash each other in anonymity. Aren’t they in the business of building innovation, wealth and value together?

If you have something to say in the blogosphere, on a message board or in a social network...then do it with a strong, well articulated position. Make yourself known. Encourage debate. And blackball those who fail to live up to that standard.

Hiding in the shadows is for the weak.