Posted by an Honored Guest
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.
That image in mind, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce fellow explorer John Bell. John leads the Creative Studio at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. That’s the interactive, broadcast and print design team there. He’s a genuine serial innovator with a 360 Degree view of the horizon.
Anyway, who better to ask to clear up this forest of wild memes surrounding "conversational marketing." Without further ado...
The Gap Between the Geeks and the Wonks Needs to be Mended
I responded in-depth to a question from Charles Edward Frith that was asked over at Strumpette, in response to my long comment, "a huge portion of the population that are social media averse; gadget allergic even. How do you propose...
Weblog: Chris Abraham - Because the Medium is the Message
Tracked: Mar 02, 13:59
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If "Conversational marketing isn't right for every client." then you should abandon the client because its users certainly will be. You can make all the recommendations you like about avoiding conversational marketing, but in a connected world there is only one guarantee, the conversation will be happening and spreading.
I know a ton of people who go to church regularly with whom God NEVER talks. Doesn't impact their relationship in the slightest.
Then again, if God did talk to me, I'd surely go.
The conversation isn't between the client and the audience (for want of a better phrase). The conversation is about the client. If the client doesn't want to be involved, then they better be the best thing since sliced bread now and ever more.
Parking the overdue industry flagellation for a few moments, all of us in the communications industry are just going through some transactional analysis reconfiguration. The kid is growing up and we've been caught out telling a few pork pies (lies), as many parents are inclined to do in the perceived 'best' interests of the children. The better ones however haven't and don't.
In short the birds and the bees have been spilled and the kids are wising up to inheritance tax avoidance.
Two guys sitting around a table at the Bulldog Reporter.
First Guy: Whose idea was it to contact that Amanda woman at Strumpette? We got reamed?
Second Guy: I think it was your idea, boss. Remember the whole tits-and-ass thing?
First Guy: You thought I was serious? I was just kidding around.
Second Guy: I think we're OK now. She posted something new this morning about something called conversational marketing.
First Guy: Conversational what?
Second Guy: I've never heard it of it either. But by the time somebody finishes this guy's post, they'll never get to the one about us.
First Guy: Good.
Second Guy: Amanda said something about God being into it.
First Guy: The tits-and-ass girl?
Second Guy: Yep.
First Guy: Great. See if you can get God to speak at our next conference. We'll put him on a panel with Richard Edelman and John Graham.
Second Guy: We'll be able to charge more. You're a genuis.
I agree with everything John says because he works for Ogilvy and so do I. We all think exactly the same.
One thing that disturbs me though is the idea of PR people resisting the temptation not to 'take the mic.'
There's so many PRs with gigantic chips on their shoulders, developed from having been bullied and not taken seriously in business. They're the ones who are perceived to lie to bail their clients out of sh1t, or pour the champagne at launch events - whilst the ad guys banked the cheques and flogged the products. They hate it. Now words like 'dialogue,' 'conversation' and 'two-way' are bandied around in conferences, I can feel a collective rising of chests going on as the little man, and the girl in twin set and pearls, rises up thinking 'this is my time.' You can see it in the amount of hot air we're all pouring out online amongst ourselves, or in our ghost-written 'CEO' blogs.
PRs have got to remember they are not the star - much as they'd love to be at last. Ad guys won't be either, nor digital specialists or whoever. We are all fluffers on the porn set of information. We need to chuck in ideas and stories that get people talking in the right direction, and back out.
Reading this made me think of Amazon.com, and made me realize that there's no need to discuss conversational media and its implications for marketing, advertising and PR anymore; it's been going on for years, successfully, at Amazon, and I don't know what PR agencies can do to improve on it from the customer's perspective.
They sell lots of products at Amazon. People talk about many of them. Some of the comments are harsh beyond belief -- a marketers' worst nightmare. Others are orgasmic in their praise. These comments surely move purchase decisions more than anything thought of by marketers. (Perhaps some of the comments are planted, but it is obvious to anybody not afflicted with Asperger's syndrome which ones. The tells are ridiculously obvious.)
People like me go to Amazon before buying anything significant, just to read the comments. I might or might not actually purchase through Amazon. I certainly don't believe all the comments. But it's unfiltered, that's what counts.
Given the long history of Amazon, which has changed only slightly in ten years, why is any client paying good money for advice on this area? If you sell something and you aren't monitoring the chat about you and your competitors on Amazon, no amount of money thrown at a PR agency to replicate the Amazon environment -- except tweaked ever-so-slightly in your favor -- will save you.
Finally, I love how red-hot examples like Inconvenient Truth and the Dixie Chicks are always trotted out in discussions like these. These movies were already in the news and people were blogging about them passionately, without anyone's help. The fact that someone in charge of the films' websites decided to share some of that chatter on the sites achieved what exactly? Sell more tickets? Ensure the prompt delivery of Oscar and Grammy?
Give me a measurement of even the slightest incremental difference it made. Or, show me an example of an issue or product that nobody knows about, where a "conversational media specialist" was able to generate a meaningful conversational media flow out of nothing but their own efforts that led to brand recognition, sales and other 'move-the-needle' measurements.
In short, dressing up a monkey in a sailor suit doesn't make him seaworthy. Sure, PR people can copy and paste blog entries they like into their clients' websites. But it's not PR and it's not blogging. It's nothing.
Fluffers on the porn set of information is way to catchy to linger just here, I'll pop it on de.licio.us and then digg it for the future but not before airing some scraps of thinking.
I've been dwelling on the role of P.R. for some weeks. A top advertising thinker from a leading London agency jumped ship to P.R. and I couldn't help but yet again ask why?
I have some nascent thoughts in my head that the future of marketing communications is in skill sets of discussion-arousal and then subsequent shepherding from and/or into loosely identifiable groups across social media (blogs with comments inc.); broader but less frequently deeper than in days of old. Add some relevant skill sets such as media, production and digital and agency 2 point something or other begins to emerge.
Some will however feel more comfortable with a mono directional message. This is for sure. We conditioned them that way.
Right, back to de.licio.us
Well, I own marketingconversation.com -- and marketing conversation is really what new media marketing should be. I spend three years working at New Media Strategies, promoting movies for Buena Vista and TV shows for Sci-Fi "on behalf of" the client -- and it works.
The true problem, in my very humble opinion, is that old PR -- and Edelman is surely old PR, as I discovered in a mere 90-appalling days -- really disrespects "the people" the way loverboys essentially disrespect women. They want them, they need them, but they feel essentially superior to them, feeling entitled to use them for fun and profit.
The title of this piece highlights the issue: "Who "owns" conversational marketing? PR, Advertising or The People!" -- aren't we all the people? Aren't you and I -- expensive consultants, PR wonks, and Admen -- people too?
I taught a creative writing course to high school kids. One of the kids was much wealthier than the rest. One day, he came to me to tell me that the rich were people too. Well, Admen, PR wonks, and marketing consultants are people too.
Loud, inauthentic, and bombastic surely work when one is busy -- in the short run.
Oh, and the award for the most naive thing said this week is, "Conversational marketing isn't right for every client. But when it is, we need to be pushing our client forward into that conversation."
Truth is, the movie "Singles" said it best with the quote, "not having a thing is your thing." What "the people" are responding to is the grotesque feeling of entitlement that Old PR feels -- the level of noblesse oblige that advertisers, politicians, marketers, and PR professionals feel... when I was told that I needed to write copy that aimed at 7th grade reading ease, it was not said out of love, it was said out of loathing.
What differentiates old PR from new PR is this: old PR loathes its clients and "the people" while new PR -- or the most effective Cluetrain PR -- must love its clients and "the people." I guess I can boil it down to "love the sinner, hate the sin."
While most PR folks cherish their address books, their contact files, and their lists of Times, Post, and Tribune reporters, very few of them realize that the men and women who run message boards, organize WoW guilds, build islands on Second Life, run television prediction market sites, organize IRC channels, and publish blogs are the new reporters, publishers, and editors.
I wrote an article called, "Online Communities are Real Communities of Real People" where I ask, "Do you think that people who play Second Life, World of Warcraft, Xbox Live, MMOGs, and MMORPGs are freaks? Do you consider message boards, forums, virtual realities, and virtual communities to be a waste of time, populated by losers?" and then answer, "If so, then you need to leave online advocacy, new media marketing, online brand promotion, online word of mouth marketing, online outreach, blogger relations, and brand ambassadorship to someone who has lived, loved, and connected to people in real ways online. And continues to do so."
So, if you are saying that Old PR needs to stay away from New PR until it gets over itself, then yes, I agree; otherwise, I do have to hand it to Very Old PR Agencies like Edelman Worldwide for at least going out there and making all the mistakes in the book.
I am proud to win your award for the most naive thing said this week with my statement: "Conversational marketing isn't right for every client. But when it is, we need to be pushing our client forward into that conversation."
I clearly have a naive and hopeful streak and it must come out in my writing. I hope it doesn't mean I am wrong. After all, the only point I want to make is that we cannot do the work of talking for our clients in this space - overall. Companies who profess to do that, generally hide behind false identities to get things done and that will utlimately backfire on everyone and not serve our clients well. Our clients need to speak for themselves in this space.
I'm not sure if you're responding to me Chris. It is OK to address people directly in forums; we call it the conversation. If you are, I am saying that there is a huge portion of the population that are social media averse; gadget allergic even. How do you propose to get your message to this group?
You really can't -- the main reason that I only lasted at Edelman for 90-days is because they never used me for my expertise in Linux, RSS, SEO, geek culture, geek cred... they really just wanted someone else who "got blogs" Blogs are also the Web 2.0 platform, too.
The gulf between Communication School and the MIT Media Lab is too deep.
They didn't even see what I was, which was a geek first, a marketer second. I don't know if I can share this here, but here are some of my ideas on the subject... http://www.cabraham.com/ideas -- to me, it is really about both the community and also the platform.
One needs to blog -- message -- at both the people in the blogosphere but also to the semantic web. When I realised that www.edelman.com was UN-SEO-optimized, and really didn't care (and they were afraid of upsetting IT and the people who ran the site) I was pretty sure I had made a terrible decision.
New Marketing needs to understand ping servers, online communities, cirtual worlds, RSS, RSS2, ATOM, GData, tags, labels, Google juice, the semantic web, gadgetization, what "slashdotted" is, why del.icio.us and digg and reddit and Newsvine and Stumbleupon are important. They need to grok Revver and Vox and Facebook and they need to know what "Wordpress, Movable Type, Drupal, Xoops, Joomla, phpBB, etc" are.
This isn't just "how to IM Kos" -- this is about Internet Forensics and fisking and unintended consequences and blowback and counter-messaging.
There is a lot more going on than just "activating email lists" and "creating a blog."
And we have not even talked about Prediction Markets, we have not talked about message boards, we have not talked about YouTube (it is a community, not a video site, at its heart), or Flickr (same thing, it is a community and it is not Photobucket).
New Media Marketing and New PR needs to know what Web 2.0 is, not as a buzz word or as hocus pocus. It is a platform, it is an emergence, it is a honey pot. It is "build it and they will come," but only if it is cool and and compelling, and always in beta, and never loses focus of the users' needs.
Actually, Yahoo and AOL are getting their game on again. Google gets it in its source code. Why are PR and marketing firms so risk averse? Why, to quote you, Mr, Charles Edward Frith, why is there a "huge portion of the population that are social media averse; gadget allergic even?"
And when I say that, I am talking about Edelman, I am talking about NMS, I am talking about Ogilvy. It is our responsibility as media professionals to be so expert in the technology, the protocol, the culture, and the passion (called passion chamber, as another term for the blogosphere's echo chamber -- and I own www.passionachamber.com, actually) so that this population doesn't have to.
A population that universally adopts iPods, Plasma HDTVs, and DirecTV with TiVO is not gadget allergic.
What Old PR and Old Media might be really great at is taking an ubergeek like me and working with me to translate all of this cool stuff to the 7th grade reading ease so that new media and web 2.0 can better connect. This will be more and more important.
Unfortunately, when it comes to influencing the influencer, that person is not the "population" -- that is a person who thinks that "salesmen" and "PR executives" and "advertising folks" are a bunch of wankers who don't get it, wouldn't know cool if it hit 'em in the face, who are too focused on what people think about them to ever allow people to get to know them, to be authentic, and to be open.
The bad PR that PR has felt for years: snake oil salesmen, hustlers, pretty boys, spin-doctors, and inauthentic, opportunistic liars is exacerbated in the rarefied web where all of these things are not tolerated at all -- and to be honest, nobody has to.
Lots of PR people I know tell me that they have to be risk-averse and they have to pull punches because the PR world is incestuous and to be honest, burning bridges is a death blow to one's career. I am told the same thing by folks in the Valley who are afraid of insulting the silicon Gods.
Coming from a place of fear is just plain unacceptable. At the end of the day, I am a Linux SA who loves to hack PHP and MySQL and so really, I am neither a Valley wag nor am I am PR lifer. Most of my consulting deals with my niche of genius and I don't see myself as ever getting too tarred or feathered -- never to the point where people will cease hiring my counsel... even if it is on the down low after my name is mud.
So, I am not really tolerant when it comes to this PR sycophantism. The Internet and the bloggers and the people who matter now don't play that. I know reporters and they do surely covet and protect and are jealous of their career arcs. And this fear for career and for immortality is easy to coerce and control.
Web 2.0 is not about control. The X factor in new marketing is that people really have no career arc, people online really cannot be kept in the kind of sycophantic blackmail that is common on Capitol Hill, on Madison Avenue, on K Street, and also in Silicon Valley.
When Edelman has to block Strumpette from 2,000 laptops and desktops held in their worldwide network, then maybe Edelman and the like aren't as new media and new public relations as they would like to preach.
You can't have it both ways. The only two things that the Internet doesn't suffer: fear and hypocrisy. And from what I have been seeing, there seems to be a lot of both of them, both in Old PR and Marketing as well as in "new marketing" and "new media PR."
Anyway, I am ranting. I have a call soon so I am going to stop now and click on "Submit Comment." Thanks in advance for indulging me. I am going to rewrite this a little and post it on my blog... cheers for making me thing and making write! I have been way too busy to take the time to really download.
What a great article, John and amazing comments to boot.
Sometimes it's about what conversations we can enable between our clients customers...
And I agree, the conversations are already happening ABOUT our clients. And they will continue. Traditional PR's response (see Edelman) of circling the wagons so as to come up with an "official response" causes a small slight to become a raging fire (Wal-Mart).
I've brought this up before, but I think people are yearning for "authenticity". And this is a very tough thing for PR and advertising folks (myself included) to wrap our heads around.
But I disagree with some of the comments. I think it IS about control. That's the heart of the matter. Business is not going to radically change itself overnight. It will respond, as we all will. But users still desire brands. They still desire to be valued.
And companies have built up structures of control that allow them to operate in a global marketplace.
So I think you've hit on the crux of it... how do we as consultants respond in a way that helps clients move into this space?
And I applaud Ogilvy's helping customers to "listen". But I'm more interested in how you are moving beyond listening? How are you enabling customers to have conversations? What are the barriers within the clients to allow them to deal with the issues of control and disruption of voices lower down in the chain?
John, your summary nails it, except I would change "that drives" to "should drive."
"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."
This respect is exactly what's needed in new AND traditional PR. I wish it was indeed the critial driver for PR's evolution today. Instead, there is a grave misperception that Web 2.0 is new PR and therefore we now have the tools to control the conversation.
However, it is articles like this that will help us change things. The only challenge we all face is how to bring the worst offenders in PR, advertising and marketing people into this conversation.
I've been mulling over the transformation that you envision for PR. Good thoughts and intentions aside, what if the "business" cannot go there? Sure that dog may be better off being a duck but... do you really think it's gonna happen? Based on what?
Really folks all this new found respect is moving me. Is this genuine respect we're talking of here? Surely it couldn't be fake respect obsequious respect or profit driven respect? It fair makes me weepy at the whole Damascene conversion for this genre of blogs. Maybe it's the number of planning blogs I read where the language is so much more playful, lively, curious and fun that prompted this observation but I do feel you will all need to loosen your ties if you are going to really engage with people. Just a thought, but perhaps you've been crafting press release messages for so long that maybe you've forgotten how spontaneity with all it's mistakes has an authentic ring to it.
Either that or be an unashamed strumpette as the lead lady is :)
Well said. The word "authenticity" is the new queen of the playground.
Time to learn how to play again.
The big boys often have the hardest time learning. Take Edelman.