It was a quiet week, by Strumpette standards, which will make for a blissfully short "Week in Review."
Jack O'Dwyer -- who once was a business reporter focused on corporate financial matters -- showed once again that the only issue of concern to him regarding professional associations is their finances. I'm not a member of PRSA -- never have been -- but I know scads of PRSA members who all believe they derive value from their memberships. (Why else would they keep paying annual dues?)
When I cast a critical eye on PRSA, I see a lack of recognition that the nature of public relations is changing. It was this dearth of programming and research into "new media" that led to the formation of the Society for New Communications Research; if the mainstream communication associations weren't going to provide the case studies and quantitative assessments, they would form an organization and do it themselves. But O'Dwyer rarely focuses on content. (He once proclaimed proudly to have registered over 1 million "hits" to his website without recognizing that there were dozens of distinct files on his home page alone, each of which would account for a separate hit. I've always appreciated Katie Paine's assertion that "hits" is an acronym for "how idiots track success.")
But let's stick, briefly, with finances. Some of O'Dwyer's arguments bother me, notably the ones that are based on vague generalities.
The fact that PRSA's finances are audited by an audit firm is irrelevant because some audit firms have had reputational problems, according to O’Dwyer. Has PRSA's audit firm suffered such damage? Don't know; O'Dwyer doesn't say. Does the fact that some audit firms have suffered reputational problems mean there are issues with the audit into PRSA's finances? Don't know; O'Dwyer doesn't say. He simply draws the inference: Some audit firms have been discredited, therefore we can't trust what any audit firm says about PRSA's books. Since audit firms report on the finances of every public company in the nation (just check their annual reports), I guess we can't trust anybody's financial statements. That's a pretty slippery slope.
To counter the work of PRSA's independent accountants, O'Dwyer talks to three accounting teachers. (Upon reading that, did anybody think, "Those who can't do..?") How deeply did they delve into the books? Don't know. What kind of bias did they bring to the assignment? Don't know, but I do know that one of Jack's freelance writers once wrote a scathing letter to IABC echoing O'Dwyer's criticism of an association activity -- without disclosing his relationship with O'Dwyer. Before implicitly trusting the judgment of these teachers, I would want any prior relationship disclosed. I also wonder if three college professors should be tasked with reviewing every public company’s books, since (according to O’Dwyer) we cannot trust their independent auditors.
The PRSA audit committee is a bunch of insiders, O'Dwyer says. So? Is there evidence that they are acting in anything but the association's best interests? It's my understanding that the audit committee is made up of PRSA members, not staff. They pay dues. Why would want to mask malfeasance? In a democratic system, members watch their own dues dollars. It was the volunteer member-based board at IABC – members representing the membership – that required the staff to change accounting practices. If O'Dwyer has evidence that the audit committee or any of its members have behaved improperly, let's see it. Otherwise, this is just another veiled inference without substance.
None of which means that I think O'Dwyer is necessarily wrong in his recommendations for changes to PRSA’s accounting practices. I'm no financial wizard -- far from it -- but I do believe in dues deferral. Having been through the painful change to a deferral system with IABC while I was serving on the board of the Los Angeles chapter, I learned enough about it to understand the wisdom in it. That is, I don’t have a problem with O’Dwyer’s recommendations, just some of the arguments he makes in support of them.
I just returned from a whirlwind business trip to Brazil and haven't yet adjusted to the swings in time change. But deadlines are deadlines, so while it may be shorter than usual, here's my take on the week in Strumpette.
Amanda's first shot out of the gate reported on the arrest of a client of a PR agency. I know that Ronn Torossian has been in Strumpette's cross-hairs, and I don't disagree that agencies can be tainted by the characteristics of their clients. And Snoop Dogg's latest legal travails are nothing if not entertainment fodder for the rest of us -- assuming you're entertained by Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and the rest of the rich and stupid. (I'm not, by the way. I couldn't care less if they paid me...and I wouldn't take their money if they tried.)
Beyond the obvious Torossian bashing, though, the story baffled me. I won't judge whether Ronn deserves the bashing, either, but c'mon. Was there anything in here that wasn't (a) a rehash of press reports and (b) a rehash of past bashing?
Musta been a slow day at Strumpette Global World Headquarters.
On Tuesday, though, Amanda returned to form with a claim that funding for PR 2.0 will dry up in 2007. She makes her claim based on the 2007 Outlook Survey from the CMO Council. I've read Amanda's report three times. I've looked at the survey results. I don't understand how Amanda added two and two and came up with 39. Let's review Amanda's claim (all of the following bullets are direct quotes from her post):
Marketing is undergoing substantial changes due to a mandate for chief marketing officers to improve the relevance, accountability, and performance of their organizations
Alignment of marketing with sales and demand generation is a top priority.
Sixty-four percent of marketers said they dumped at least one agency last year, and over half plan further agency changes in 2007.
The era of brand-centric marketing is giving way to a new breed of CMO focused on measurable performance and business results
The number one challenge will be to quantify and measure the value of marketing programs and investments, followed by improving efficiency and effectiveness, growing customer knowledge, and improving the ROI of expenditures
Where did I miss the specific reference in the Outlook Survey to social media? I didn't. Amanda is operating under the assumption that these issues and social media are incompatible. Of course, they are not. Techniques are emerging steadily that measure the effectiveness of social media. That, after all, is what The Society for New Communication Research is all about. There were plenty of references to measurement and ROI at the recent New Communications Forum.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that it will be far easier to quantify the impact of social media on the challenges listed above than traditional, interruptive forms of marketing that are diminishing in their effectiveness. Social media will be one of the critical means of accomplishing exactly those goals.
Oh, and let's also not forget to point out that the headline references PR 2.0 and the survey is about marketing. Apples and oranges, Amanda. And there are ample studies that project increased spending on PR 2.0 activities in the months and years ahead.
Finally, as usual, Brian Solis offered the reality check in his comment to the post.
Thanks, Adam and Frank
What can I say about Adam Zand's wrap-up of the New Communications Forum? A terrific review. Now, if only a dozen or so others who attended different sessions would do the same, we'd have a great overview of the entire show.
By the way, I absolutely agree with Brian Solis' notion that without pushback, things never move forward. Of course, I crank out this weekly column only to pushback on the pushback when the pushback requires pushing.
I have equally little to say about Frank Shaw's guest column. Spot on, Frank.
I would, however, be remiss if I did not note that PR missed the boat with the Net and the Web. I remember research conducted by the Council of Public Relations Firms that noted clients were steadily taking their business to Web boutiques because the agencies with which they traditionally dealt had no clue about how to help them get their messages online.
Frank is right: PR is about relationships and story-telling, among other things. Traditional media do, indeed, matter (just read my debate with Stowe Boyd lest you think this is a new position for me); Ketchum's media survey supports the idea that people still rely mostly on local newspapers and television news for information about things that matter to them. In fact, I'll go even further: Most public relations is local, and most social media is global.
However, my focus on social media is not about the tools, but rather the role they play in extending the reac of word of mouth. Relationships and story-telling must take place where the influencers are and where those you are trying to reach exist. Increasingly, that's in the social media space. Did you ever hear the joke about the guy crawling on his hands and knees under a street lamp? A passerby asks what the fellow is looking for. "A quarter," he says. "You lost it here?" the passerby asks? "No, I lost it down the street." "Why are you looking here?" the passerby wonders. "The light's better," the guy on his hands and knees replies.
Just because the light is better with traditional media does not mean that's always where the quarter is. I urge everyone to be strategic. Whether you use social media or good old-fahsioned press releases will derive from your strategy.
The latest attack on Richard Edelman and his company wins the Strumpette highlight (or lowlight) of the week award from TWIR. Amanda "translates" four points Richard Edelman makes to explain the boon times at Edelman and in the world of PR at large. I imagine a translation engine like Babelfish hacked to add a fair dose of snark and cynicism to the output. If you already see the world through a cynical haze, you're bound to come out with a translation as off the mark as this one was. In the real world, the translation comes out like this:
1. PR has shown itself as valuable, if not moreso, than other communication disciplines in the organization. Proving itself to management has earned PR that coveted seat at the table. We have moved beyond tactical producers of corporate stuff to counselors who can help organizations avoid crises, build relationships that benefit the organization, fix relationships that can hinder the organization, and wield influence among key stakeholders.
2. PR used to be the hired gun brought in by the mayor to clean up the town after the damage is done. Management today recognizes that activating PR early in the game means the town doesn't go to hell in the first place.
3. True public relations has always been about dialogue. Social media just lets us have these conversations using the new tools the audiences are using.
4. Media have fragmented and audiences with them. Traditional marketing and advertising can't cope with that because you can't reach everybody with a 30-second spot. Public relations is better positioned to fragment with the audience and continue the engagement that is the lifeblood of the profession.
Feel free to pick your translation, mine or Amanda's. I can't stop you. But surely at least some of the people managing the biggest companies in the world would be smart enough to see through the bullshit that Amanda claims Edelman is shoveling. The fact that these companies have greater respect and use for PR suggests to me that my translation is closer to the mark.
Oh, Phil. You lost me.
Finally, Phil Hall has joined the ranks of "corporate blogging sucks" commentators. Frankly, I don't have the space here to tackle this one again. I'd just like to point out a couple of simple inaccuracies in his post.
Phil writes, "Who’s the real audience for corporate blogs? The average consumer? Hardly!"
Well, that depends. Sometimes a corporate blog's intended audience is someone other than the consumer. Cisco Systems' corporate blog addresses government high-tech policy. It's not aimed at consumers. But Paul Woodhouse's blog from Butler Sheet Metal is -- and it has helped him quadruple sales. C'mon, Phil; you know better. Strategy, not tactics. If the strategy can be achieved with a corporate blog, do it. If not, don't. But why blame the tool? Isn't that like saying hammers are worthless because you can't screw in a lightbulb with one?
Phil writes, "Does anyone genuinely suspect the CEO is going to sit down and blithely bang out a 500-word blog post, then submit it online without anyone else seeing it first, and hope for the world is amused?"
Other than not understanding the syntax, I would argue that not all corporate blogs are CEO blogs. And yes, Bob Lutz and Bill Marriott bang out blog posts without anyone else seeing them first. And they're not trying to amuse anyone. They're trying to (wait for it...) COMMUNICATE. Good Lord, a blog is just a new communication tool. I hate to be repetitive, but if it works better than old communication tools, use it. If it doesn't, don't.
Phil writes, "Can you imagine the SEC giving the thumbs up for publicly-traded companies using blogs to communicate with investors?"
Personally, I hope not. But then again, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox posted to Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz's blog. Got that? The chairman of the freaking SEC posted a comment to a Fortune 500 CEO's blog. Don't freaking tell me there's nothing going on here.
Phil writes, "I am not aware of corporate blogs being used as anything more than a poorly-disguised sales vehicle."
The fact that Phil isn't aware of them doesn't mean they aren't being used for nobler purposes. Of course, some companies will abuse every tool they can get their hands on. Others will do quite well with the tools they're given. If Phil's interested, I'll be happy to pass along a list of effective corporate blogs. (Did Phil see the post on GM's FYI blog that refuted a negative New York Times story and galvanized the community in support of GM's position? Maybe that's just one more "example."
I'm too tired and cranky to go on. If I find some time, I'll marshal my arguments in support of corporate blogging. But keep in mind, my arguments will rest on the foundation of strategy: Blog because it will achieve a goal, not because it's cool or because everyone else is doing it.
Until next week...
Shel Holtz, vice president of new marketing for crayon and co-host of the For Immediate Release. Shel has nearly 30 years of experience in organizational communications. He is the author of four communications-related books, including "Blogging for Business" and is a regular on the communication speaking circuit. He is accredited by the International Association of Business Communicators, and is the recipient of five IABC international Gold Quill awards for communication excellence. In 2005, IABC named Shel a Fellow — the association's highest honor.
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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