Posted by an Honored Guest Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Did I tell you about my recurring dream? I’m leading an expedition, hacking a path with a machete through some thick jungle... slogging knee-deep in mud that's infested with snakes and rife with poison sumac. (God, I love PR. ) And every so often, I come to a clearing.
Anyway, who better to ask to clear up this forest of wild memes surrounding "conversational marketing." Without further ado...
Who "owns" conversational marketing? PR, Advertising or The People!
by John Bell
I wish there was an emoticon for the closed fist-in-the-air, power-to-the-people thing. I would have used it instead of the exclamation point in the headline. There has been some discussion of late - some of it on this very blog - about how suited PR professionals are to drive "conversational marketing." And what about our advertising colleagues? Can they walk the talk?
Truth is neither discipline, without some serious "reprogramming", is particularly well-equipped to engage in conversational marketing. Old-school PR remains obsessed with being the loudest voice in the room. As advocates for clients that seems to the one-size-fits-all sledgehammer. Meanwhile, advertising just wants to tell their stories. Ad and PR agency pros are also at a disadvantage from their in-house counterparts. If you were to strike up a conversation with a company would you rather talk with an employee or their agency? The Web offers us direct contact with people we could never reach before. We don't want no stinkin' mediators.
First of all, what do we mean by "conversational marketing?" Like a lot of the jargon, I don't know what you mean, but to me conversational marketing is the idea that you can get involved or convene a two-way discussion with people who may be customers or people who influence customer/constituent choices. The potential benefit for clients is greater brand loyalty or issue advocacy.
Traditional PR wants to control the message, at all costs, no matter what happens, whichever way the wind blows. New PR says that control is an illusion and probably always was. New PR sees that the consumer (our other selves) has more control than ever and wants to make up his own mind about brands and issues. New PR believes in the value of conversational marketing over traditional message-delivery. But we cannot do the talking. We have to encourage our clients to do the talking (and the listening). That's our role. The minute we grab the microphone (I guess a telephone is a better metaphor for 'conversation' but it's easier to imagine PR pros going for the mic), two things happen: our industry reputation bites us in the ass and our client's credibility plummets ("why are they hiding behind their agency, they must not be sincere...")
Conversational marketing isn't right for every client. But when it is, we need to be pushing our client forward into that conversation.
I have been visiting many cities and countries lately and spending time with marketing professionals from all the disciplines and local bloggers, too. I routinely meet a new-breed of communications professional who has more affinity for the open discussion of social media than they do for the image of the manipulative PR person from yesteryear. They believe in being an advocate for their client just as strongly as Old-school and see the power of open dialogue to build deeper bonds between customers and brands.
Advertising vs. PR
I work in a large ecosystem of agencies from different disciplines. I run the 360 Digital Influence practice within Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Our agencies across all disciplines - advertising, public relations, direct, promotions, interactive - are all digital now. Each has embraced more and more digital expertise, activity and programs. There is no digital czar inside Ogilvy. That expertise is distributed throughout all of the companies. That's the way the entire marcom universe is irreversibly heading. Each discipline has a slightly different approach to this thing called social media.
Advertising agencies start with branded entertainment. They are great storytellers. I see this all of the time. They create some high production-value interactive experience usually intended to entertain people and give them something to share and possibly remark on. This is different than facilitating sustained conversation. Creating an outrageous video that gets sent around with an "OMFGYHTST" subject line is different than helping people talk about heart disease or product design. Some of this stuff is quite clever and good. Some will raise awareness for a brand much like a great TV spot. Some is pretty egotistical and stupid.
For all the criticism of PR pros, I think it is advertising agencies who are not suited to conversational marketing. They are used to being the storytellers, the auteurs.
Ogilvy - the advertising agency - is an exception. Yes, I am biased. Tough. Remember, we are a big agency ecosystem. There's Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Ogilvy Advertising, Ogilvy One with Ogilvy Interactive inside it, Ogilvy Action, neoOgilvy and more. And we are all digital.
Essentially, "the Technorati Conversational System" allows us to pull discussions happening on blogs tracked by Technorati into a branded interface. The initiative was driven by Ogilvy North America not by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Digital initiatives come from everywhere inside the Ogilvy companies. The examples that Peter Hirschberg, chairman of Technorati, pointed me to where the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Dixie Chicks Shut Up and Sing release. In both cases, a brand Website pulled in conversation happening in blogs either about the movie, music or a related string of topics, e.g. "See What People Are Saying About the Dixie Chicks and George Bush." Interactive ad units on other sites solicit people to add their comments to the discussion. An administrative interface allows the editor to choose which comments to display in order to keep the discussion focused (NOT to avoid disagreements).
It's a simple system to associate a conversation with a brand that embraces controversy and disagreement as these two examples do. We (Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide) would use this "System" for a similar brand. We would not recommend it for brands who cannot allow for disagreements. Once you use it and start editing out anything but the most heinous or off-topic content, you're screwed. Your brand will be called out and lose credibility. This particular tool isn't for every brand.
Generally, I am much more comfortable seeing tools like this and the responsibility for conversational marketing in the hands of the New PR pros than the typical advertising agency. New PR embraces conversation for its positive impact on a brand but also has a sober view of when to use it and how. But Ogilvy is not a typical ad agency. Yes, I am biased. I have had the chance to meet and work many of them in the US and Asia. Those that I have met are deeply respectful of the customer/user/human being and their desire for discussion and making their own choices without the heavy sell-job. Just as there is a new breed of PR professional, there is a new breed of ad person. That's part of the Ogilvy tradition that we all share.
"One would think that the wisdom of Ogilvy would have little application to social media marketing. However, I think his philosophies are dead on the money."
Ultimately, it's a genuine respect for people and an understanding that they own the conversation that drives new PR. We can shine a spotlight on it, facilitate it, join in, measure it, even. What we cannot do is own it, control it or apply old-school thinking from PR or advertising to succeed.
Posted by Amanda Chapel Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Here's some juicy gossip: Jim Sinkinson, publisher, of the PR trade magazine, The Bulldog Reporter, recently made advances on yours truly; and when spurned, his amorous overtures turned to insults.
About a week ago, Sinkinson made this proposal: "We would very much like to talk to you about increasing Strumpette's visibility via the Daily Dog. We were impressed particularly with your piece on PR's (in)ability to step up to the challenges of new media, as well as the aspersions you cast on the value of PR 2.0. Provocative stuff, as usual. Any interest?"
We responded by asking Sinkinson what he had in mind.
"Well, the concept is half-baked, but our conversations have ranged all the way from carrying the blog unexpurgated on our site (which quite honestly gives our ad salespeople a bad case of the heebie jeebies) to running selected installments on a periodic basis (which is probably more likely)."
"We're looking for provocative critiques of the industry---the kind you frequently offer. We get uncomfortable, naturally, with personal attacks on people on whom we rely to speak at our events and/or who advertise/exhibit/sponsor with us---their appreciation of a free, unfettered press generally stops when they are criticized."
"We're intrigued by the possibilities."
Ironic actually, Strumpette exists because the Dog's got no teeth. About a year ago Sinkinson wrote the Op-Ed, "Have Lying and Deception Become Job Requirements for PR Professionals?" In it he said: "It seems that dishonesty has become a trademark skill in public relations; if there’s a cure, it can only come from within." He added: “We at Bulldog Reporter could certainly do a more aggressive, more methodical job of exposing bad guys.” Well, in the last year the Lapdog did little more than hump the leg of the Industry. As such, we responded to Jim's offer gingerly telling him that all things considered, his proposal was likely unworkable.
Well, his ego apparently injured, Sinkinson decided this was a good time to blow smoke in our face. “Seventy-three percent of the PR Industry is reading Bulldog once a week,” he said. We responded that considering the state of the business, his claim “was more of a symptom than an accolade.”
And that marked the end of Jim’s appreciation of “a free, unfettered press." Suffice to say the conversation quickly deteriorated into mutually traded insults. Jim suggested that our webmaster "needed a psychiatrist." We responded that the publisher of the Bulldog reporter “needed a set of balls and a fucking conscience.”
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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