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W2O Group president, my long-time colleague, former boss and mentor and now nearly life-long friend Bob Pearson was just inducted into PR News’ “PR People Hall of Fame” for “making communications matter in the marketplace” and “[setting] benchmarks of excellence in public relations.”

And there’s more.  He’s set new fashion trends in Hawaiian shirts and cowboy boots, lit up and riveted conference rooms with only a black marker at white boards all over the globe, logged more miles and left more voice mails than most business people will in 5 lifetimes and helped make Pre-Commerce and MEME household words and phrases.

His mindset (and W2O Group’s mantra) of never being satisfied with the status quo has driven and inspired many, including me, over the years.  While he’s broken new ground and gone against the grain, he never does it just for the sake of it.  It’s always practical and it always serves the business.

Whether being a master of the technology, healthcare and big brand businesses we serve or a Master of Ceremonies, Bob is unflappable.  He’s a thought leader who generously mentors others to lead, achieve, build and unlock.

He’s been an integral part of our industry for a long time but he started young.  People who get these awards usually get them when their career are sunsetting but sometimes it feels like Bob is just getting started.  And why not?

18766_260384295835_3586514_nThere are so many questions to answer, problems to solve, people to teach and learn from and new and innovative products and services to pioneer.  Though often ahead of their time, it seldom fails that the rest of us catch up and adopt the forward thinking ideas that Bob seemingly endlessly comes up with.

He keeps things interesting, challenging and never boring.  His perfectly matched wife, two amazing daughters and little white dog you can’t imagine him walking can attest to that.

Congratulations, Bob! This recognition is well deserved and I’m honored and grateful to be counted among your many admirers, followers and friends.  Here’s to What’s Next.

Jim

 

It would be nice if every PR professional could confidently state that nothing goes wrong when we pitch a journalist. But that’s about as realistic as the likelihood of a lengthy book about Donald Trump’s humility. A more fruitful exercise is to examine what most frequently gets in the way of a successful interaction with reporters, editors, writers and producers.

It’s volume. No, not the kind on an amp that goes up to 11, a la “Spinal Tap.”

One thing I know for sure – beyond 1980s pop culture references – is that journalists are flooded with emails and phone calls from PR people. Many of those emails and phone calls are horribly targeted, as you can find out from one of my guilty pleasures, PR Newser’s “Pitch Please” blog.

Survey Said

The blog’s cheeky writing prompted me to start asking reporters about the pitches they received.

  • A reporter covering science and medicine for a southern daily newspaper told me she’d received five pitches that day before 9 a.m. She too received misdirected product pitches. “I had one chewing gum pitch that drove me nuts,” she said.
  • A Wall Street Journal reporter covering the pharmaceutical business said he gets 40-50 email pitches a day. “I probably consider three to five per day that are worth pursuing or at least learning more about,” he said.
  • A Washington-based reporter who covers health care policy says she kept getting pitches for “healthy flavored water” among the 30-40 pitches a day she would receive.

The most stunning answer came from Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News. She receives up to 150 emails a day, about five of which she considers worth a reply and another 10 are worth considering as potential parts of larger stories. Lest erstwhile flacks think Rovner’s answer means we should start calling her instead, she said, “I hate phone calls even more…Phones should be reserved for actual breaking news.”

Email, calls and what really works

Email, at least according to one survey, is still the way most journalists prefer to get pitched. But beyond knowing that, the actual lessons from my informal and not scientific survey are:

  • Some of you are ruining it for the rest of us. It’s so much harder to convey a client’s news if PR people are clogging inboxes with eye-rolling off-target pitches that wouldn’t be sent if just a little time was spent on research.
  • Relationships matter. Please work at understanding what makes news to a particular journalist. That doesn’t mean every pitch leads to a story – I wish! – but it certainly increases the chances of success if you aren’t seen as a total waste of someone’s time.
  • Realism is best conveyed to clients early. The ranks of journalists are dwindling and the ones still in the business are busier than ever. Even the most properly directed pitches are increasingly likely to not yield immediate success.

A key solution to the volume/clutter problem is for more organizations to take advantage of additional ways to engage with customers, influencers and allies. So many of them have great stories to tell, so they should be using the PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) strategy. This is true even for those on small budgets, as they can develop owned and shared content without waiting on the results from that perfect email pitch. W2O Group president Bob Pearson built out the potential for owned content in June in PR News here.

Of course, we’re always going to pitch reporters. A PR agency’s clients expect it, and more importantly, a story by a credible journalist matters. That’s why it’s worth the time invested to develop better relationships and equally valuable to give counsel to clients about the right – and wrong – targets for stories.

We all know it will never work perfectly. Some reporters are going to complain about PR pitches no matter what happens. And, if we’re lucky, we will run across an approach like the one employed by a UK-based reporter, who replied, “I love you” to pitches he received. After all, doesn’t the world need more love?

this column first appeared in the January 5th issue of PRNews

The Chinese market is innovating in ways different than what we are used to in the west. Where we see boundaries, entrepreneurs in China envision new ways to combine social media and ecommerce. What I’ve discovered is that “geographic learning” is part of how we build an edge in our home market. Often, the best ideas for what’s next are happening thousands of miles away. This article will describe key lessons learned from China that can be applied to how we communicate in western markets in the years ahead.

1. Focus on one consistent customer experience. In China, ecommerce companies like Alibaba integrate social media fully into their sales experience. They don’t divide social media and sales and they don’t place as high a premium on advertising. Where we see a divide in how things should work (social media and ecommerce), the Chinese find an opportunity to create one continual customer experience.

2. ROI is easier to answer. When you tie social media and ecommerce, it’s the same customer, so we know his/her purchasing power. Chinese companies don’t have to waste time asking ‘How do you know social media will lead to ROI?’ The more directly we work with our customers, the more we know about them. The more we advertise to them from afar, the less we know. The latter way being much more expensive and less productive.

3. An involved customer is a productive customer. When you interact with customers in a repeatable and trustworthy manner, a breakthrough occurs in the relationship between company and customer. In China, because social media and ecommerce are one in the same, consumers will ask their peers for advice more frequently and provide advice to companies more often.

4. Customer experience refers to positive outcomes. Normally we think of customer experience as how to deal with negative situations.

In China, it’s the opposite. Improving customer experience means more integration of reviews into sites, more forum conversations, more content created on new products, more advice amongst peers on what to buy.

5. Education trumps advertising. New customers don’t know much, if anything, about a brand they discover online. In China, a premium is placed on educating the consumer by directly involving the customer in the purchase.

The company and the community are there to share advice, discuss new options and teach each other. With a rising middle class, this was imperative, but it reinforces the most simple brand-building lessons.

6. Social platform features will match customer need. We think of social platforms doing one thing well, whether it is photos ( Instagram) or Twitter (140 characters) or Foursquare (location).

Does this make sense? In China, firms combine whatever they believe the customer will want into one platform. For example, WeChat has features similar to Instagram (post photos), Foursquare (find people near you) and instant messaging.

Youku has shades of Netflix and YouTubeSina Weibo allows you to act like we do on Twitter and post as we do on Facebook. This makes sense.

7. Instant messaging will lead to new platforms. IM is one of the fastest-growing aspects of social media in China. WeChat and QQ, both owned by Tencent, are two of the largest instant messaging companies. WeChat enables the user to talk live, share images, use geo-location apps and more.

Could the next platform emerge from IM? What does that mean for how we share content in the U.S.? It’s an obvious trend in a mobile-first world. Overall, the lessons from China are those we talk about a lot in the western world, but often we are held back by our habits. There is no magic bullet.

Rather, there is an opportunity for brands to become more involved in the full customer experience, so that we break down our artificial walls of “sales” versus “marketing” versus “communications.”

Our customers don’t think like this and perhaps, based on what we see in China, we are getting an early glimpse into how our online world will evolve in the years ahead.

The Sidebar

Being Conversant in China

As I study how China is evolving, I’m continually thinking of what we, as communicators, can do differently. Here are the ten most important items on my mind for 2015.

1. Identify your communities for your brand. How many communities do you have where they talk about your brand? What do you do to interact with them? What content do you provide to them? If you don’t have any, how will you get them started?

2. Know your customers…really. We should know exactly who has influence online for our brand, exactly who is providing reviews, exactly who is creating great educational content and more. You should have a list of more than 1,000 people where you know their name, what they do for your brand and what you will do for them.

3. Take instant messaging more seriously. How will you provide content that can be easily shared via IM? What will you do with services like Snap Chat that are redefining what an IM means for entertainment purposes?

4. Work closely with Marketing & Sales. It’s time we have one set of metrics to measure how social media and sales work together. China is teaching us the importance of this every day.

5. Measure how often your team interacts with customers. Develop metrics to understand how often you and your team actually interact with customers online and how often the rest of your company does this on a daily basis. Do you do it? If so, how do you know what is working? If not, what is holding you back?

6. Build your second sales force. Obsess over providing your most important online customers whatever they need to be successful in educating their community, which is really your shared community. What is your content plan to provide a regular flow of information to your customers? Is any of this based on their direct feedback?

7. Remember what all customers want to do online. Anywhere in the world, we have three primal desires online—to share ideas, knowledge or solutions to educate our peers. How are you doing this? Are you enabling your customers or are you talking at them?

8. Think of the entire customer experience, not just a single channel experience. Customers travel from channel to channel to learn. We may go from Facebook to Twitter to Search in minutes to learn on the same topic. Take the time to understand what the journey is for your key customers. Don’t focus on one channel at the expense of learning about the path they take.

9. Remember that education trumps advertising. We are all customers and we all want to learn about the brands that we care most about. Remember to teach. Earned media is the perfect way to do this well. Paid media is really meant to accelerate the work of earned in the new world.

10. Keep an eye on what doesn’t work as well. Not everything in China turns to gold. Look at what fails as well. Why did it? Equally instructive for all of us.

And it probably wouldn’t hurt to learn a few words of Chinese. Zài jiàn. —B.P.

This article originally appeared in the January 5, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

I am proud to announce that PR News named 2 of our own as finalists of the PR News Awards. This is a reflection of the outstanding team players that make up the W2O Group family. In the spirit of celebration, I wanted to spotlight each of them with some fun facts so we could get a deeper look outside of their professional realms.

PR Professional of the Year: Agency: Craig Alperowitz, Consumer Team Leader

  1. I have driven across country 6 times.
  2. I’m a big foodie.  I’m also a great cook, but a lousy chef.
  3. I spent a year finishing the basement of my house, and carved out a working wine cellar.
  4. I once walked around my university in a Bugs Bunny costume for the purposes of promoting a movie ticket giveaway.
  5. I used to handle personal publicity for clients including Reese Witherspoon, Courteney Cox, Liam Neeson and others.

PR News People to Watch- Rising PR Stars 30 and Under: Stephanie Nordstrom– Manager, Consumer

1. My hidden talent is hula hooping.  I’ve hula hooped for more than an hour straight.

2. I make really good guacamole.

3. My favorite thing to do is dance – any kind of dancing.

4. I’m allergic to mosquitoes, alcohol and cheap jewelry.

5. When I was little I wanted to be a broadcast news anchorwoman – then I decided to go into PR, so I could tell the reporters what to write instead!

 

We would also like to highlight Joanna Cochran and Natalie DeNike, two employees who recently moved on to other ventures, who were honored for Account Director and PR Rising Star.

I’m not surprised that these individuals have been selected and I thank each of them for remembering to Go.Ahead. and disrupt the status quo!