Facebook: Communications Savior or Just Another Tool?

Judging by the packed house of more than 300 attendees at Tuesday’s first-ever PR News Facebook Conference in New York City, the social media behemoth’s popularity among PR pros has reached a new high. And why shouldn’t it? In his morning talk, Greg Roth, VP at Buddy Media, called Facebook “the most powerful marketing communications tool there is—with a faster marketing buy-in than any other tool in the world.” If the crowd wasn’t jacked up before that statement, it was afterward. The response to the program was enthusiastic. For some helpful “must knows” gleaned from the conference, read Eric Fischgrund’s blog post.

But there were some caveats: Frank Eliason, Citibank’s well-known senior VP of social media, said at the end of the day that Facebook is just another communications tool, and that 90% of companies are listening to social media, but only 17% are making changes based on that listening. Eliason went on to say that it’s a mistake to hire social media “experts.” Oftentimes, he said, they don’t understand or have a passion for the brand or its customers.

Which segues into a conversation I had with Mike Herman, head of Communication Sciences International (and a member of our Advisory Board), for a story I’m writing on “Creating PR Counselors, Not Tacticians.” Herman is not buying the massive buzz around Facebook. “It’s another skill—another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “Social media is not going to change or solve your strategic problems.”  While Herman says understanding social media is an absolute must, understanding the client or your organization’s business is more important.

As we now prepare for our Facebook Conference on August 9 in San Francisco, I’d be interested in your views on how Facebook is impacting communications now, and how much it will move the needle in the future.

–Scott Van Camp

Financial Comms Comes to Terms With ‘New Normal’

After the news broke this week of the police macing protesters outside the Chase annual shareholders meeting in Columbus, Ohio, I thought I should explore just how far financial institutions have come with their communications efforts since the meltdown some three years ago. Well, what I’ve  learned from some  experts is that financial communicators are doing something they never had to do before the crisis: explain what they do to a much broader audience base than in the past. Dan Bartlett, president and CEO at Hill & Knowlton USA, says the industry is doing just that, but “establishing authenticity won’t happen overnight.” The good news, says Michael Robinson, senior VP at Levick Strategic Comms, is that financial institutions are now talking about what their doing to help customers, and not about themselves. The bad news? Bartlett says there’s a “new normal” for communicators that won’t change anytime soon. Read the full story in the 05/23/11 issue of PR News. Meanwhile, how do you think financial institutions are doing with their communications?

–Scott Van Camp

How to `Say No to 1,000 Things’

Launching new products is a lot of fun, especially if you have the financial and human resources behind you and what you think is a Pretty Good Idea.  What’s not fun to a lot of people is shutting down products, saying no to an idea that seems pretty good, and resisting the bells and whistles that often detract from the core customer promise.  It’s just so tempting to launch, add, enhance, expand. As we come close to the mid-year evaluation of our businesses and what we’ve accomplished so far, and revenue initiatives that are do-able this year, I point to some advice that Apple’s Steve Jobs gave Nike CEO Mark Parker, as relayed by Carmine Gallo on Forbes.com:

“Nike makes some of the best products in the world… But you also make a lot of crap.  Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”  Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle.  But Jobs didn’t laugh.  He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker.  “We had to edit.”

And by “edit” he meant taking a hard look at the Nike portfolio and getting rid of the average to pretty good stuff and focusing on the absolute best products in the line. Jobs also advised Parker to “say no to a thousand things.”

One might think it’s easy for the head of the most valuable brand in the world to say this.  The simplicity of the message mirrors the simplicity in design and functionality of the Apple products, from the iphone to the ipad.  What is also telling about this story is that the head of Nike sought advice from another leader in the business — and then shared it with a writer (Carmine Gallo).  The best executives are in constant search of smart insights to make them better at what they do.

So as you ponder launching a new practice within your PR firm, or seven new, awesome features to your product or service, also ponder what you can get rid of and practice saying “no” to some pretty good ideas so you can focus on the Great Idea.  As one shoe and apparel company exec would say: “Just do it.”

- Diane Schwartz

OBL Revelations: From Terrorist to Everyman?

While everyone in the PR world is all atwitter about Facebook, Google and Burson-Marsteller, I’m much more fascinated with our governments’ daily revelations on the secret life of Osama Bin Laden. I believe the effort to portray OBL as shell of his former terrorist self while hidden inside his million-dollar (really?) home is backfiring. OK, maybe it’s working in influencing those who worship the man—but not with me, and probably thousands of guys like me in the world. You see, for us, sitting in front of the TV with remote in hand is pure bliss. And when I saw that footage, I didn’t think “That old man is a disgrace.” I said to myself, “Wow, that guy sits in front of a TV just like me.” Let’s be clear, I’m don’t admire OBL, but that video showed that we have one “human” thing in common. So perhaps this strategy should be revised. Then, I read today that they found a porn stash in the house. I rest my case.

—Scott Van Camp

CSR Studies Confound, But Cautionary Tale is Crystal Clear

You’ve probably noticed that we cover a lot of studies that have a PR connection for our Quick Study section in PR News. I find that some of these studies’ findings not only overlap but sometimes contradict each other, depending on the company who is sponsoring the research. One area that often confounds me is CSR. I’ve read that executives feel that CSR is critical to achieving business goals; I’ve read that CSR isn’t really high on CEO agendas; I’ve read that shoppers are willing to pay for products if they feel like they are contributing to saving the environment—except in a bad economy.

Pretty confusing, to say the least. Yesterday though there was an article (subscriber access only) in The Wall Street Journal that at least made the challenges of CSR crystal clear. It told the story of Aveda and its CSR connection with the Yawanawá tribe in the Amazon. The Journal bills it as a “cautionary tale about the enormous cultural and logistical obstacles that can prevent such link ups from functioning as advertised.” Cautionary indeed. The story really drives home the fact that there’s a fine line between “doing good” and exploiting the very people you’re supposed to be helping. It’s a fascinating piece, and PR and CSR practitioners should read it.

–Scott Van Camp

Think About It

We all get distracted. As you read this, you might be thinking of the conference call you need to dial into or the sandals you need to order online, or how funny “How I Met Your Mother” was last night. Have you ever given a speech during a personal crisis? Or had to keep a smile on your face and a spring in your step with your kids during a very stressful time in your career? Have you had to harbor the confidentiality of impending layoffs during a staff meeting? How hard was it to keep on your game face? Like millions (billions?) of people worldwide, President Obama is being praised for his oversight of the historic raid Sunday May 1 that led to the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. I’d like to also praise him for his fortitude in staying the course, keeping his appointments and not giving any signs of a historic moment about to unfold in the coming hours. How hard that must have been. Think about it.

On the Friday before the mission, when he gave final approval on the mission, President Obama flew to tornado-ravaged Alabama. On Saturday he joked around at the White House Correspondents Dinner, all journalists’ eyes on the president’s every facial tic and mannerism. Over the past week he heeded Donald Trump’s demands to show his birth certificate, however “silly” the request was. Three days before the raid, he had a meeting with the President of Panama, and though I don’t profess to be a political scientist, I’m pretty sure Panama and Osama had nothing in common. When you think about how hard it is to not be distracted every day, to juggle multiple personal and professional balls in the air, to keep previously scheduled appointments even though you’d rather be somewhere else, it is a quite miraculous week that Obama had. Think about it.

- Diane Schwartz

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