When Others Start Giving Up is the Time to Give Back

I recently posted a blog entry about the benefits of pro bono work. I posted the blog as a discussion topic on one of my LinkedIn forums and got a lot of interesting feedback as to why PR professionals should take on pro bono work. Here are just a few of the responses:

“Many of my pro-bono clients have hired me later. Even if they don’t, they often provide great resume entries. In return for my work, I typically get letters of recommendation, introductions to valuable networking contacts, enthusiastic referrals to other potential clients, and an opportunity to demonstrate my commitment to improving our community and nation by supporting a worthy cause.”

“I usually choose to work pro bono in an industry that I want to learn more about. I always let the client know that I haven’t worked in that industry and we experiment together. I have gotten paid work from it – and it is a lot of fun.”

“And pro bono work often means an opportunity to be a bit more creative than usual, not having a client’s constraints.

And then I saw this interesting story in the New York Times that features one of my affiliate clients, Gumas Advertising, among others. As agency president John Gumas says in the article:

“In good times, we did not have to scrutinize our charitable giving or employee perks… But in these economic times, we’ve really had to think through what we could afford to give and still be able to make a difference.”

One of the things about an economic slowdown is it gives you more time to think about developing your business and evaluating what’s important for growth, including where where to commit your free time and resources. Some companies are increasing their charitable programs because they keep staff busy and focused. John, for example, uses the work Gumas Advertising does for the San Francisco Giants Community Fund as a focal point to pump up the staff and get their creative juices flowing. Gumas has been working for the Giants for a long time (as the memorabilia in John’s office attests) and having more time available means the agency has more opportunity to give back to the San Francisco community. For John, this is part of his philosophy of corporate karma, ““When you are doing the right things for the right reasons, good things will come of it.”

So when the going gets tough, maybe it’s time to give more back to the community. As the New York Times article points out, in tough times every company is being asked to give more, and many are coming new creative strategies that can have a bigger impact at lower cost. I was recently asked to contribute to a fund-raising event and instead, I offered by services to help with promotion. It was a small gesture but it’s the kind of support that non-profits need these days, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent.

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The Pros of Pro Bono Work

LifehouseLogo I saw an item today in MediaBistro that my old PR firm, Allison & Partners, has adopted Big Brothers and Big Sisters as their first pro bono client. I  couldn’t have been more delighted. All public relations and professional service firms should take on pro bono work, especially in tough economic times. Everyone needs a helping hand, and it’s both good for the cause and good for business to offer your services without a fee. I’m not surprised that Allison & Partners selected Big Brothers as their pro bono client. Scott Allison, the founder and CEO, is a terrific guy with a strong set or family and moral values, and a commitment to the community. Adopting Big Brothers seems a natural for the firm.

Even in my consulting practice I work to give back to my community. Over the past year I have had imagethe privilege of helping two non-profit groups here in Marin County – Lifehouse, an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities remain independent, and Meals of Marin, which provides food to homebound clients suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illness.

The work you do doesn’t have to be extensive, or expensive, but just taking the time out of your busy schedule to counsel and give support to someone who really can benefit from your services is gratifying. These organizations have limited resources, and cash, and they can use any help they can get promoting awareness and funding. Through various circumstances, I had the privilege of connecting with Lifehouse and Meals of Marin, and my public relations experience was just what they needed at the moment to help promote their annual fund-raising events. If my small effort can help build awareness in the right places and add that many more names to the guest list, the difference in additional dollars means that I have a direct responsibility for helping those with disabilities help themselves, or feeding some unfortunate soul who is housebound due to illness.

That’s how we can use what we know to really make a tangible difference.

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Demystifying Industry Analyst Relations


An important part of media relations that many agencies and PR professionals tend to overlook is industry analyst relations. From my earliest days working in high-tech public relations, I have worked with the industry analysts at Gartner, IDC, Forrester Research, Yankee Group, and even those big firms that are no longer with us, like Dataquest, Meta Group, and Jupiter Research. And I work with a variety of specialty firms like Nemertes Research, Osterman Research, and MobileTrax.

I advise my clients that industry analysts are an invaluable media resource for a number of reasons:

First, of course, they write reports about emerging technology, and there are a number of IT managers and CIOs who won’t make a buying decision without first referencing a Gartner Magic Quadrant or a Forrester Wave report.

Second, analysts are great resources of industry insight, and they aren’t shy about poking holes in your product or your go-to-market strategy. I find that too often clients become so immersed in a new product or concept that they can’t see the flaws, and analyst briefings often can point out a lot of challenges before you go public with a story.

And third, analysts are invaluable when it comes to talking to reporters. Enthusiastic start-ups and product managers have been known to be, shall we say, premature in announcing a product that may not be quite ready for market. Over the years reporters have become wary of “vaporware.” Analyst and customer references have become essential for any new technology product launch, and by briefing analysts in advance, we can offer reporters references who can give an unbiased opinion about my client’s product and its impact on the market.


I want to thank Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax, for offering a simple, and cogent explanation of what he calls the Press-Analyst Cycle (see Gerry’s diagram above), which was the topic of this week’s Inside Mobile newsletter, and Gerry’s blog. Gerry has done a terrific job of explaining how the analyst briefing process works, and how it fits in his world from the analyst’s perspective.

I have worked with Gerry for a number of years, and whenever I have a client with a new product in the mobile telecommunications market, Gerry is at the top of my analyst contact list. He is always open and frank with my clients – which is important, especially if there are flaws in a product or go-to-market strategy – and I know I can always count on Gerry’s cooperation in the Press-Analyst Cycle, and to be a fair and well-informed editorial reference. As Gerry explains:

Vendors have to live with the results of the writings of the press and analysts like me.  Often, positive stories greatly influence the decision to buy that product or service.  A number of bad reviews or stories can also hurt.  However, with the Press-Analyst Cycle, vendors are most often able to maximize the awareness and build credibility for their mobile and wireless product or service. 

And the great thing about working with analysts is they are usually happy to serve as references, even if your client is not one of their clients. After all, analysts have to build their own market credibility and promote their own personal brand, and being asked to comment as an independent expert is a great way to keep your name in front of the market.

So the next time you see an interesting story about a new product or technology, or you see a quote from an IDC or Forrester Research expert, think of the process behind that story to deliver that opinion. It’s all part of media relations.

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Social Networking – “It’s Almost Like Being In Love”

Here’s a really interesting tidbit from Fast Company. The July issue featured a profile by Adam Penenberg of Professor Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University, a.k.a. Dr. Love, who is pioneering a new field, neuroeconomics, the study of brain chemicals and their impact on consumerism.

In a series of studies spanning nine years, Zak has changed our understanding of human beings as economic animals. Oxytocin is the key (and please, do not confuse the cuddle drug with the painkiller oxycontin). Known for years as the hormone forging the unshakable bond between mothers and their babies, oxytocin is now, thanks largely to Zak, recognized as the human stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust, and more. It is, Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies, and as such, acts as an “economic lubricant” that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions. Zak is a walking advertisement for oxytocin; his vanity license plate reads oxytosn, and he hugs virtually everyone he meets. (“I’ll hug you, too,” he warns.) It’s this passion for the hormone that led to his Claremont campus nickname, Dr. Love.

What Zak discovered is that oxytocin, the cuddle chemical, not only engenders generosity and trust, it also promotes social networking. Apparently, hanging out on Twitter or Facebook stimulates the release of oxytocin in our brains.

“Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for,” Zak says. “E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.

Consider what this really means. According the the article, when 200 University of Maryland students were asked to give up social networking for a day, many of them actually had withdrawal symptoms. The implications for business are huge. If companies start trading in trust, they can reap greater profits:

The idea is that if businesses wish to thrive in our interconnected world, where consumers’ opinions spread at the speed of light, they must act as a trusted friend: create quality products, market them honestly, emphasize customer care.

So the reasoning goes something like this. Companies that engender trust in their customers will gain customer loyalty and even customer evangelists. If you have a positive experience with a vendor then you Tweet or post to Facebook about it – it’s the entire business premise for Yelp! The actual act of sharing information online promotes trust, not only because of our sense of online connectedness, the tribal nature of social media, but because our brains are wired to release oxytocin while networking, which promotes trust and a sense of connected well-being. Ergo, companies that engage in building trust online have a leg up on the competition, not only because they build a closer relationship with their customers, but because people’s internal hormonal chemistry makes them more disposed to trust their online connections.

Not long ago, when sitting in a marketing meeting with a client, the Vice President of Sales repeated a worn marketing axiom, “People are motivated by fear and greed.” If Dr. Love’s research is any indicator, people are also highly motivated by trust, and it’s time that companies started realizing that they will go farther by building a loyal customer following than striving to scare of con them into buying a better mousetrap.

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How Social Media Really Makes Workers More Productive

If you follow social media trends while you surf the Web, then you will have noted that one of the biggest topics on social media sites is, naturally, the effectiveness of social media. I spotted an article last week on Mashable entitled How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive by T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist. As McCann points out, the lines between professional and personal social media use are blurring, particularly with the new Millennial workforce. Companies that are prepared to acknowledge the fact that their workers live and work online and find a way to embrace social media as part of their workflow will go farther recruiting the best and the brightest, but you still need to understand the best way to actually apply social media tools. As McCann says,

“The trick is to realize that it’s not about the tool itself, but your ability to step back and analyze the tool’s real value in helping you accomplish tasks. If you’re not evaluating the way that you’re using social media to get things done, then you’re probably becoming increasingly inefficient because of it.”

So I wanted to share some of his observations on how to get the most out of social media. These rules certainly apply in marketing and media relations, but they are also universal.

1. Scalable networking. Networking now takes on many forms. The old methods of meeting peers and prospects at trade shows, over lunch, at open houses, etc., still apply, but the advent of Web 2.0 makes the channels for connection global. As I have noted in this blog before, social media users tend to be tribal. so making connections with others through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media channel gives you a built-in sense of camaraderie; most people tend to respond to social media contacts before they will respond to email. You can use tweets, blog comments, Facebook comments, and other means to build online intimacy with a wider range of contacts. And the Web makes it possible to connect with thousands rather than dozens. The trick is to make those connections meaningful and respect the tribal connection, so you can uplevel the conversation when you need to.

2. Uncovering valuable, actionable information. McCann notes that information overload is nothing new, and tools like Twitter and Facebook can contribute to information overload if you fail to use them properly. The key is to filter the information, so you are getting pertinent, actionable information. Filter the feeds to distinguish between personal and professional data streams. Identify those data points relevant to your job and focus on them. McCann uses the analogy of stockbrokers filtering incoming data feeds from trusted friends and sources, gathering data in real-time for their clients. You need to set up social media data feeds that support your professional decision-making and push the rest aside as less irrelevant noise.

3. Social media is about collaboration. Web 2.0 levels the playing field when it comes to collaboration. It not only promotes collaboration, but it provides the tools to help you collaborate in the most productive fashion possible. As McCann points out, with Web 2.0 the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Social media helps make collaboration organic, without having to rely on proprietary software or platforms to achieve your goal.

4. It’s not what you use, but how you use social media tools. One of the biggest challenges with social media is the plethora of available channels. Don’t try to filter everything. Instead, identify those tools that make a real difference in your work life. McCann recommends ranking your social media tools in order of “must have.” Which social media tools do you really consider essential to your professional success, and which are really “nice to have” and not essential? This will help you optimize you social media flow and determine if you are getting the most from your online investment. Stay focused, and mine your most valuable channels more deeply rather than trying to use a shotgun approach.

So as with all tools, the efficacy of social media is in how you apply it to meet your professional needs. If you use social media sites to strict professional advantage, without distraction or fooling yourself that posting the latest kids’ soccer pictures or what you had for lunch will advance your professional standing. It’s largely a combination of savvy, focus, and discipline.

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Shoes for the Cobbler’s Children

cobblers-shoesI have been providing public relations, branding, and marketing communications services to clients for 20 years now. In recent years, I have been advising my clients in how to tap the blogosphere by working with bloggers and becoming citizen journalists, and how to leverage emerging social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. And, like many successful consultants, I have been sufficiently busy servicing my clients that I have neglected marketing my own brand. It is time I started following my own advice.

Hence the launch of The PRagmatist, which I hope will evolve into an online forum to exchange insights and ideas about the rapidly changing world of marketing, communications, and public relations. I run across interesting insights and tidbits every day that I share with clients and colleagues. By launching this blog I now have a forum to share my thoughts and ideas with a wider audience, and solicit your feedback as to PR and marketing ideas that make sense, and those that don’t in today’s market.

Much of my insight will relate to revelations from client projects and exchanges with other professionals. And I hope to interject some fun and personal insights as well. The challenge, of course, will be finding the time to keep up with posts on a timely basis. Unlike the shoemaker whose children go barefoot, I will endeavor to make this online destination insightful, interesting, and worthy of your attention.

Feel free to engage, comment, critique, and keep me honest. I look forward to hearing from you.


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