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PR marketplaces: Relationships are not a commodity

We’ve recently seen a succession of new offerings that some are calling disruptive to the PR industry. The latest was the launch of a new company and service called AirPR — what some have lazily called a “ for startups and PR pros”. This closely followed the emergence of HackPR (a HARO-like service connecting journalists with startups) and’s marketplace for infographics designers.

The concept of online marketplaces is not new. We first saw them during the dot-com boom with the advent of B2B supplier marketplaces as an easier and cheaper way to buy commodities like auto parts. This was part of a bigger shift towards “supplier relationship management” and led to many big companies running PR agency searches in same way they source commodity parts suppliers to get the cheapest deal possible.

This still exists, and with AirPR, as well as other services like HackPR and’s new marketplace, the commoditization of PR has come down-market to startups. The platform is a place for small businesses and startups to find and recruit, in essence, solo PR pros to support programs with budgets of $3,000-10,000 per month.

Technology only automates so much

Peter Himler, whose incredulous, tweeted flash reaction was included in the TechCrunch story about the AirPR launch, put forth a viewpoint that I believe gets obfuscated within all the discussion of the “broken PR industry.” No technology can automate matchmaking where success fundamentally comes down to relationships.

Relationships with clients need to be based on a PR pro’s or agency’s ability to deeply understand the client’s business objectives and its go-to-market strategy, and tailor the PR program with the creativity needed for the client to rise above the noise through results that are centered on outcomes vs. output (hits).

Relationships with journalists and bloggers need to be based on a PR pro truly understanding what makes a good story from the standpoint of a journalist and pitching that story to the right journalist. That means taking the time to read what the journalist or blogger writes, going to events to connect in person, pushing the client to get the proof points needed to make a good story, and connecting the dots between the bigger trends and issues and the unique viewpoint a client can provide. It doesn’t mean blasting e-mails for a launch and ending the job there.

All of this is hard and is what separates the best agencies and PR pros from the ones that land on journalists’ black lists and cause TechCrunch and others to perpetually declare the industry as broken. Like Peter Himler, I’ll reserve judgment for now, but on the surface, I don’t see how marketplaces will help assess chemistry and relationships.

In fact, I could see these marketplaces making the industry problems worse. If too many small business or startups expect the matchmaking to be automated and the intangible qualities aren’t properly assessed, it will perpetuate the bad practices that have existed for a long time.

Over to you. Should we reserve judgment? Do you plan to join the marketplaces, or use them to source PR help? Or do you plan to source PR help based on personal relationships or referrals from trusted networks?

(Image credit: Bes Z via Flickr Creative Commons)

4 Ways Visual PR Will Make You Standout

Punching up GigaOm recently, the headline of a top post was “The new era of start ups focused on design”.

The headline instantly resonated. As I spend more hours of my waking hours on my iOS-based devices, I make choices for the apps I use based on the design. The first thing I do is look at the screen shots for the app listing and assess its visual appeal. Then I’ll scan the reviews for comments on usability. If there is more than one app in a category, the one with the best design – validated by reviews – wins.

This is the way that many of the startups mentioned in the GigaOm article have achieved success, and in many cases positioned themselves for successful exits. The bigger boys like Facebook take longer to get it right, but they can afford it.

It’s A Visual World, And We’re Just Living In It

The same lesson can be applied to PR. Much of the reason great visual design wins is because people just don’t have time to sift through an app over-packed with features. It’s the reason that the Facebook posts that drive the most interactions are the ones with great images. It’s why Google is standing out with its apps, especially G+. [Read more...]

A big, exciting change in my career

20120924-085408.jpgI am feeling a little strange right now, as I am commuting to work, but for the first time in almost 19 years, my destination is a new company. Today is my first day at fama PR, a boutique tech PR agency in Boston.

It’s a good kind of strange, however, the result of a change I’d been thinking about making for the better part of this year. I owe so much to Lois Paul and the great, smart group at Lois Paul and Partners. The close friends and family I’ve told about my move have reacted with a combination of “Wow!” and semi-admiration that I stayed with one company for so long. [Read more...]

The Value of Social Data to Storytelling

Thanks to Steve Olenski for tuning me into a recent white paper released by Bazaarvoice called “Chief customer advocate: How social data elevates CMOs”.

The paper focuses on how the mountain of data emanating from social networks empowers the CMO to become more strategic within the “consumer-obsessed C-suite.” Specifically, it highlights the value of social data as real-time insight into the voice of the customer by revealing “first person words and sentiments” about a brand.

It then presents data from a survey of 100 CMO’s from both B2C and B2B companies on how they are using social data for decision making on marketing programs. [Read more...]

Don’t Make My Blogging Mistakes

Gini Dietrich asked a question last week (one of many every day that get you thinking).

The question was, “What other things do you see missing in blogs?” In the post, she reflects on her six years of blogging and what she has learned from the mistakes made along the way.

It prompted me to look back at my first blog post written over five years ago as a way to do my own introspection. As a result, I offer up my own lessons learned that has hopefully made me a better (but certainly not perfect) blogger. (I’m not stealing content, Gini, just the basis of a post. I’ll call it perhaps the start of a meme :-) [Read more...]

SEO is not dead: Why there’s a new normal

It never fails. Every time I see a blog post with “death of SEO”, I skip right over the post and jump to the comments. Because there’s always a boat load of them. Scanning them tells me exactly what I need to know about the post, as the author spends time clarifying and talking overreacting SEO’s off the bridge.

Case in point was Ken Krogue’s blog post on Forbes on July 20. Titled “The Death of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR and Real Content,” Ken writes about how the focus on SEO has changed from old-school tactics like on-page optimization and link-building to continuous, high-quality content creation. And it’s not just him saying it. He quotes an SEO that he respects, Adam Torkildson, who says that “Google is killing the SEO industry.” Here’s what he meant. [Read more...]

Social Media at User Conferences: How to Approach The Opportunity

I’ve heard it said that content is the fuel that keeps the social media engine humming.

That’s a nice simplified view of the importance of content creation. To break it down some more, content is the refined gasoline (or generated electricity if you’re into green vehicles). Like the companies that provide that end-product, you have to invest in content exploration projects to get the raw material to refine into your high-octane content.

A great source of content raw material: Your user conference

While general industry trade shows and conferences have suffered with the economy, user conferences continue to be an important investment. From educating customers on best practices, meeting face-to-face with them to understand their challenges first, or allowing for peer-to-peer interaction, these events generally energize a passionate customer community. [Read more...]

What Your Own Facebook Newsfeed Tells You About Increasing Brand Engagement

Mathew Ingram of GigaOm recently wrote about Facebook’s challenging ad business model. It touched on an issue I’ve been thinking about of late with regards to finding the right voice on a company Facebook page.

In short, Facebook is the most personal of any of the social networks. It’s not far from the truth to say that the reason that almost all of Facebook’s users joined the network in the first place was to connect with personal friends and family. This is what drives them to log-in everyday, check their feed on their phone and is the basis for the status updates they share.

They can follow their favorite sports team, celebrity, media source and products. But that is a convenience, and they won’t tolerate it if one of these entitites fires off too many self-promotional updates that get in the way from people interacting with their friends. And what Facebook watchers like Ingram are trying to determine is what will keep sponsored stories from doing well (will people scroll right past them in their feeds to get to their friends’ fun updates?). [Read more...]

Social Media Targeting Comes to LinkedIn

The feedback from the majority of my clients that want to justify investment in social media today are very different than they were two years ago. They go something like this:

The executive team does not understand the benefit derived from our participation in Facebook, Twitter, Slideshare. They see the effort and output but cannot make the connection back to traditional PR measurement metrics or any lead generation activity. 

They all know and understand LinkedIn.  They feel there is some opportunity to generate benefit – ideally sales leads.

The odds are good that this is what you are hearing or asking at your company now as well. I’m going to cover how I’m responding to this in several posts here in the coming weeks.

I’ll start today by covering a new LinkedIn feature introduced last week that has the potential to be a valuable tool in the kit for engaging customers and prospects and supporting lead generation. [Read more...]

Why you can’t think of social media as a marketing check box

I know what’s stated in the headline is preaching to the choir for many of you out there. Here we are in mid-2012 and companies are devoting more resources and attention to social media as part of marketing, which is great but from where I sit, I see them thinking about it mostly as a checkbox item.

As a strategic communications consultants, our existence is based on providing value to clients in marketing leadership. There’s a slew of ways we do this and this post won’t go into the details on all of those.

But given that marketing’s existence is predicated on generating demand — or leads — for sales organizations, in order to earn and keep a seat at the table, the value we provide should be based on directly supporting our clients’ demand gen goals. [Read more...]