Of Rapping Flight Attendants, SEO and Online Trolls: PR News Launches its Second Annual Digital PR Summit

Yesterday's second annual PR News Digital PR Summit at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan was a like a virtual smorgasbord for the digital palate in the sense that it had everything for everyone to sample. From a YouTube video of a rapping Southwest Airlines flight attendant to a lengthy discussion on integrating Twitter into one’s communication efforts, the conference served up heaping dishes of digital/social media best practices.

A notable highlight of the conference, which attracted nearly 200 attendees, many of whom hailed from companies as diverse as the First Marine Expeditionary Corp to the United Nations, included a lively session on Search Engine Marketing, Optimization and Writing for the Web. Panelists Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing and Jon Wegman, VP of planning and innovation at Moxie Interactive, were an excellent tag-team of information, with each providing tips and data sharply complementing the other.

“Marketers need to realize that ‘search’ doesn’t just happen on the major search engines,” explained Wegman, as he put the larger meaning of SEM in perspective. “It happens as consumers look for movies, books, locations, reviews and facts and across social networks, technology platforms, media and mobile devices.”

He also described search as something that’s constantly evolving, which Odden agreed with, noting, “If content can be searched on, it can be optimized.”
Another panel that held the audience’s rapt attention was “YouTube and Other Video Tactics to Advance Your PR.” Speaker Paula Berg, manager of emerging media for Southwest Airlines, elicited gales of laughter from the audience when she demonstrated the many innovative and humorous ways her company has used videos to promote Southwest Airlines (such as the aforementioned hip-hop Southwest Airlines steward) and cultivate relationships with key stakeholders. Proclaiming that her company’s video strategy is an ongoing and often improvisational trial by error process, Berg revealed an interesting tidbit that belied her skeletal team’s supposedly unstrategic approach: The flight attendant video drew 2.5 million views on Youtube.

No surprise Berg is a staunch video proponent. “If you don’t have a culture that works on making videos, then maybe you should change that culture,” she advised.

Another topic that popped up repeatedly throughout the conference as an issue of concern was the FTC’s recent ban on bloggers being compensated for plugging products and services on their sites.  This means that PR professionals will need to find ways to better develop relationships with bloggers and online media professionals, said Bill Douglass, social media strategist and assistant vice president for Brainerd Communicators, Inc. Speaking on the “How to Shape Public Opinion in the Digital Age” panel, Douglass underscored how “relationships matter in this digital age” and are critical to online reputation management.

Still, there are drawbacks. “Anonymity in social media can turn reasonable people into blockheads," lamented Michael Torres, director of external global communications for Anheuser-Busch on the same panel. At the same time, the space can be a terrific catalyst in creating brand ambassadors who can seed positive messages about a company and bring it online. “It’s a community shared,” he continued. “You can stand on the side and allow conversations to happen without you or you can be part of it.”

Sponsors for the summit were Cision, Vocus and BurrellesLuce. The keynote speech was given by Robert Reiss, host of The CEO Show. As part of his presentation, Reiss interviewed Matthias Preschern, vice president of Demand, Americas for IBM.