Friday, November 28, 2008

A disconnect can be a good thing

I recently came back from visiting my Mom in Winnipeg. She still lives in the same house I grew up in, and being there is a bit of a time warp.

What I mean is for five days I didn't have access to my regular online fix. No high speed. Not even dial-up. If I wanted to plug in, I had to brave a -25 windchill and drop by a wireless cafe.*

All this made me realize how Internet-dependent I've become. Addicted, really. When so many people could simply care less. For them, computers are a past-time, a way to share jokes, look up a movie time, buy something.

They haven't crossed over to the 'new media' promised lan. They still consume TV, read local papers, go to the mall and talk to the folks behind the tables at the community displays. They get most of their news the old fashioned way.

Perhaps it's our profession and its fascination (obsession?) with the latest and greatest communications tools. We're ravenous for information, 24/7.

But as admirable as I think this may be, it's important to remember there's a parallel, albeit slightly slower world right here beside us: let's call it the 'first life'.

It's a place with less MB and more MB. Where everyone's connected, just not like that.

*OK, a disclosure: I had my BB Bold so I wasn't completely out of touch. But, I wasn't glued to it the way I sometimes am to my laptop.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Survey sez

Lately, I've begun to feel like one of those anonymous but oft-referred to people 'behind the board' on Family Feud. You know ones responsible for answering the questions the panelists try to guess.

By that I mean I've been getting more and more requests to complete surveys. It could be from a hotel (on a scale of one to five, did I find the pillows comfortable...); a professional organization (I get these a lot); a conference I attended; a store I shopped at; an online destination… The list goes on and on.

And they’re all looking for …what?
A. Demographics
B. Knowledge
D. Some of the above
E. All of the above
F. None of the above
G. There is no above

I'm beginning to wonder what everyone is doing with the mountains of data being gathered. Is there a meaningful analysis going on? Learning? Is there a market trading used demographic nuggets?

There’s so much noise out there. And so much useless minutiae being collected - information pollution.

Now, I'm not saying we should stop doing research. Far from it. Comprehensive, well thought out research is one of the keys to successfully practicing our profession. I just feel there should be more to it than qualitative results.

Many of us in PR have used surveys to come up with potential news hooks. Perhaps, as a first step to reduce the info junk pile, this is something our industry should stop (or at least greatly curtail).

Maybe instead of all the multiple-choices, we should spend more time talking to the right people, thinking and listening.

And go back to creating meaningful - and sustainable - stories.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Are you ready for social media?

Joel Postman's new book, SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate will be released in December. I'm looking forward to reading/reviewing it.

It promises to feature case studies, a critical approach and examples of how organizations can develop an intelligent and relevant online strategy - that works for them. I'm sure it will be written in Joel's crisp, witty style.

In the meantime, if you're interested in finding out if your company is ready to jump into the social media fray try Joel's 20 question quiz and see where you land.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still praising APR

Last month, David Mullen posted a question about whether APR still had value for PR professionals. There was a lively debate and I posted a comment which put me in the APR 'die-hard' camp - a place I'm happy to be.

As I've said before, I'm a strong believer in professional accreditation, both personally and for the industry as a whole.

And, as CPRS Toronto accreditation committee co-chair, I wanted to remind you that if you are interested in pursuing the designation, the deadline for applications is December 1, 2008. Please visit, for more information, or feel free to contact me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So you wanna work in PR – in an economic downturn

This is the third installment in an unplanned series of posts about getting a job in PR. I'm writing it following a panel I was on at Talk is Cheap 2.0 with Joe Thornley and Trevor Campbell*.

So… here we are in the midst of an economic meltdown. It’s hard to read the papers without feeling jittery and depressed. And I think it's safe to say that the market for new PR hires is tighter than it was six months ago. Not only that there are fewer opportunities, hiring freezes and potential layoffs.

So what can a job-seeker do?

I still believe you should still follow the advice I offered here and here.

But I would like to add a few more thoughts to the mix:

1. Be curious. Find out about the world around you; experience it. In Toronto, the AGO has just reopened, so pay a visit; watch the latest films (indie and mass); wander along Bloor Street during Nuit Blanche; volunteer for a not-for-profit you believe in; read a book by Malcolm Gladwell (or anyone for that matter)… Becoming a business/pop culture/political/ economics/tech/entertainment/food/fashion/beauty/etc. expert is an essential when you're in PR. Make yourself stand out.

2. Add social media to your skill set. Get to know the latest developments and offerings. Learn how to use RSS in media searches. Participate in industry communities. Set up a profile on Linkedin. Sign up for Twitter. Blog. Read PR blogs, post smart comments and build relationships with people you respect and admire. Listen to podcasts. Watch videos. And be critical. Understand that social media isn't the cure-all to every PR challenge. And when you start working, maintain the self-study and share your findings with colleagues. Every office needs a few social media gurus – who also grasp the intricacies of traditional PR.

3. Above all, don't get discouraged. The soft economy is NOT your fault. It’s affecting all of us and is out of our control. There is a great job out there for you. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a little longer than you'd planned to find it.

*BTW, Trevor is president of Porter Novelli Canada and has just started his blog; I’m looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Introducing social media

In a few weeks I'm going to be giving a presentation introducing social media to neophytes.

And, in addition to offering practical how-to's and definitions, I'd like to include a couple of slides with tips or advice from practitioners (with full credit for any suggestions I use).

If you have any ideas, please let me know.



Where I come from (Winnipeg) and in other western cities, there's a party tradition we call 'socials'.

If you haven't heard of them, they're essentially a pre-nuptials bash and work like this: an engaged couple has the right to purchase a liquor license, rent a hall, and throw a huge blow-out shindig. They invite all and sundry, get to charge admission, sell drinks and hopefully make some cash to help them get started in their new life. (They can get pretty crazy at times.)

I thought of socials because of all the recent Toronto social media get-togethers - a chance for practitioners to leave our offices and computers and actually interact.

Here's a quick round-up:

Let me know if you have any more to add. I may see you there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My network or yours

It wasn't too long ago when networks meant television; purveyors of small-screen programming, ad spots and big shared experiences we could gab about the at work or with friends.

But social media - or maybe the late arrival of the thing called convergence - seems to have changed that. Networks have become more personal - the sum total of an individual's contacts and, to a large extent their contacts' contacts too.

Which is where Linkedin comes in. I've grown to appreciate this community.

But one thing that bugs me is getting a form letter to connect. You know, the default that pops up and says: 'I'd like to add you to my professional network on Linkedin'. I especially resent the mock personal signature at the end.

Yet I still oblige.

I think if you're going to reach out to someone, why not personalize the request? Even if you don't know me, send me something that piques my interest and makes me want to find out more.

And if you want to build your network (and mine), figure out a way to truly engage me. Offer me a fresh perspective. Keep in touch.

Maybe one day you'll provide your network with that big shared experience we've been missing since the demise of not-to-be-missed TV.

(Note: Linkedin is being upgraded as I write this, but will be back soon.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm starting to really appreciate Twitter

I checked my BB, as I always do when I get up in the morning, and was surprised to discover that I didn't have a single new email. When I got to work shortly thereafter and logged into my computer, I found the same thing.

Nothing new. I had that sinking feeling we've all experienced when you realize you're in the middle of a tech 'failure to communicate'.

We had recently made some changes to our server (and everything seemed to be going fine), but today we had a glitch that made inbound and outgoing emails come to an abrupt halt.

And while the situation is being repaired (though being in the middle of it, it sure feels endless), I do feel lost without the action of my email fix.

Fortunately, we still have Internet and I was able to Twitter the fact that 'we're experiencing technical difficulties - please stand by' to all and sundry who may be trying to contact us. And I felt somewhat empowered by that.

The challenge is to get the people you're trying to reach to tune in.

Of course, we do have another old school option: pick up the phone.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What I meme to say - five gems of social media

Not too long ago, I was tagged by Parker Mason to add my picks to Collin Douma's five social media gems.

And rather than calling out specific cases, here are a few things that opened my eyes (and mind) as I enmeshed myself in the space:

1. Social media really is social (pen pals for the 21st century). I can't tell you how many great people I've connected with virtually and then later met in person. It's really broadened my network and approach to PR.

2. Blogger relations = good media relations. If you're an ethical PR practitioner, the principles are identical: read the publication/blog to get to know what it covers; if you have a story you think a journalist/blogger may like, send a note, politely identify yourself and ask if they want to receive information. If yes, send info. If no, move on. Repeat.

3. Twitter/micro-blogging has untapped potential - I think that very soon someone will figure out an amazing way to harness it. Right now it's still like the 'bubbling crude' Jed Clampett ended up hitting when he was looking for some food.

4. The online learning curve is endless, which is both exciting and daunting. Just when I think I'm up to speed, a new blog, app, device, technique, etc. comes along. And I want to find out about it, see how it fits and whether it's worth using. I do like the fact that my mind is constantly being opened to fresh, inspiring possibilities. Hey, there are some duds out here, too, but overall it feels like I'm on a quest.

5. Because of all the developments, the blogosphere is a bit of an entropic mess. It's important to make choices - you can't do/see/try everything - and to mix the passion you have for this world with a dose of reality. In other words, don't just do it because it's cool, ask yourself if and where it fits with your communications strategy.

I'd like to pass this along to any listeners of Inside PR to add their thoughts. But I'm also going to tag Joel Postman, David Mullen and Tamera Kremer. Over to you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Talk is Cheap; parking, not so much

OK, maybe you won't have to pay for parking. You might be able to get a spot on the street or, you can always take the TTC... to Talk is Cheap, the second (annual?) 'social media unconference', Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at Centennial College in Toronto.

If it's anything like last year, it will be fun and interactive and there are bound to be some scintillating sessions and just plain good talk.

The only caveat is you have to sign up by wiki (and I didn't wreck the registration list this year).

I'll be doing a 'live recording' of Inside PR with Terry Fallis, Dave Jones and Julie Rusciolelli and taking part on a panel organized by Joe Thornley with Trevor Campbell on the impact of social media on a career in PR.

Hope to see you there.