The Lost Boys and Blue Keys

For many years at two agencies we had the honor of representing The Heinz Awards.

They are annual awards given out by Teresa Heinz-Kerry, whose first husband Senator John Heinz was killed in the 90’s as he was serving in the senate.  In most years those awards were given in five categories including Arts and Humanities, one of the late senator’s passions.

In its 13th year, the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities was given to Dave Eggers, the critically acclaimed novelist and publisher who has parlayed his career into one of creativity and philanthropy.

A current UN photo showing the plight of refugees

Perhaps Eggers signature piece of work is his novel “What is the What.”  In this mix of fact and fiction, Eggers chronicles the story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” the tens of thousands of Sudanese children who were forced to flee the country during its civil war in the 1980’s.  The story is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who as a six-year-old was separated from his family, encountered terrible conditions in Ethiopian refugee camps, somehow makes it to Kenya, was later resettled to the United States, went to college and met Eggers who then told the Lost Boys story through Deng’s experiences.

Deng is obviously one of the success stories, one that beat the odds.  There are millions of “the lost” displaced by countless wars.  They roam with little food, little shelter and little hope.  Some end up in camps, some don’t.  They are the unwanted by-product of unwanted violence.

My friend and fellow comrade in PR and blogging Shonali Burke asked me to join her in  getting the word out about a way to help these refugees by promoting  The Blue Key Campaign, a project of the USA for UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency.

The goal of the Blue Key Campaign is a pretty simple one, between now and World Refugee Day on June 30, it aims to sign up 6,000 Americans to make a $5 pledge and receive a Blue Key or Pendant in support of the effort.

Those funds will be used to help the 43 million refugees worldwide who are still “lost” and aid the 6000 UNHCR staffers who help them find food, water, shelter and hopefully new lives.

So please join the cause, make a donation and get your own Blue Key.  If you blog, please feel free to post and if you’re on Twitter spread the word by  regularly sharing Blue Key related information using the #bluekey hashtag, following @UNRefugeeAgency, “liking” USA for UNHCR on Facebook.

I encourage you to read Eggers’ book and the support material for the campaign.  Thanks.

What is PR?

My dad died a little over a year ago, and to this day he really didn’t know exactly what I did for a living.

It’s not that my dad wasn’t smart, in fact as a small businessman he was one of the best marketers I ever met.  It’s just that it is very difficult to explain exactly what public relations is, especially to people who aren’t marketers.

Bottom line, is I’d love to have a dime for every person who after I explained to them what I did, they said something like “so y’all make ads right?

No, we don’t.

But we as the public relations industry do a very poor job of explaining what we do do, because we as an industry can’t really agree on what that is ourselves.

This was underscored in a great blog post by my Twitter pal Shonali Burke in which she outlines “The Problem with PR.” In it Shonali calls out the PR industry for poorly defining and promoting what it does for a living.

Are we a press release mill?  Do with just deal with the media all the time?  Are we writers?  Do we update Facebook and Tweet?

As public relations has evolved over the 20 or so years I’ve been in the business, it has become much more about the “relations” part of the equation.

The first question we at THP ask our clients is “what do you want to accomplish, or what is your end goal?”  And while they might think the way to reach that goal is to get a segment on The Today Show or Oprah, the truth is in many cases the best way is for us to introduce them to three people who can help them get their product or service to market.

As an industry we are too quick to write a release, promise the client two big media hits, or tell them the solution to all of their ills a Foursquare check-in strategy.  We are not good enough listeners or question askers to get clients and companies to drill down to what will really make them successful.

Read this post from Beth Harte in which she outlines about one hundred questions to ask when trying to solve someone’s business problem.

At the end of the day this is what it is all about.  Yes, some clients come to us because they have big egos and just want to be interviewed by Matt Lauer to scratch that itch.  I hate those clients.

The best clients are the ones that come to us to solve their marketing or business issues.  They come to us because we have the tools and relationships to help them achieve their business goals.

Sometimes that means getting them the big story, sometimes that means introducing them to the right people, sometimes that means writing a great piece of internal communications that they can share with their employees, sometimes it means engaging the “Twitterazzi” and asking them to help create the buzz for product, movement or event.

A great example of this is the recent Cookies for Kid’s Cancer event led by many folks including local PR diva Jennifer Pounders. Jennifer tapped into all of her relationships, friends, employers, clients, associates, media, social media, etc. to help raise more than $30,000 in a mobile marketing efforts that was as perfect a 21st Century grassroots public relations example as I can think of.  Hats off to her and those who participated.  It was accomplished on a shoe string with no ad budget, but EVERYONE knew about it and helped.   It was about relationships, it had a end goal and all the communications around it focused on that goal.

PR is uniquely positioned to take all the communications tools available from fax to Foursquare, from typing to Twitter, from LinkedIn to lunch and make those connections.

We are in the “relations” business and that’s how I will answer that question from now on.

Dad, now you know.

Haiti and social media

Only in the world of blogging can you give a link to a blog that provides a link to another article.

But the people involved and the subject matter are important and timely.

He’s a link to my pal Shonali Burke’s blog, to Geoff Livingston’s article for on the five social media lessons to be learned from the Haiti relief effort.

Both Shonali and Geoff are leaders and passionate about social media and non-profits.     Shonali is the president of IABC/Washington, a social media measurement freak (in a good way) and all around wonderful person and Geoff recently moved on from CRT-Tanaka to found Zoetica to focus on causes and non-profits.  Among the Richmond-related work he has consulted on is the recent social media campaign for ChildFund International.

Some great points by both in the article and comments and definitely worth sharing.

Digesting Shankman

As you probably can imagine, I have been thinking a lot about social marketing in the wake of Peter Shankman's visit and our event.  The "thinking" has been helped along by a follow-up presentation by the wonderful Shonali Burke in a presentation to a client in Northern Virginia on Wednesday and by meetings and conversations with others including other clients over the course of the last few days.

While the good wishes and good thoughts from others keep coming our way, so does the reality of how exactly to use this new information in the daily practice of PR and marketing and how it meshes with existing (and new) business and clients.  There are a number of barriers to break through, most of them minor and surmountable, but they are there and must be navigated if we are to incorporate this new tool into our daily marketing lives.  Here is a list in no particular order:

  • Colleagues:  You might be basking in the warm glow of new understanding, but others may not.  Either they don't understand or want to, or they are concerned that if you can't do it correctly out of the box then it will have a negative effect on your company.  Those concerns are valid so teach those who want to be taught and ask others to be patient with you as you experiment.
  • Some people may never get it:  There are some organizations and clients that are just not built for social marketing yet.  Barriers here include the lack of patience or understanding of technology to concerns about privacy and legal issues.  That's okay, not everyone bought the last media relations campaign you tried to convince them to do either.  Work first with folks who are willing to try this with you and build your case studies.
  • A nibble is not a meal:  There will be a tendency to try one small social marketing tactics with hopes of hitting a home run right out of the box.  You will need to manage expectations like with any other strategy and remind folks that you need to build the entire campaign and execute from start to finish.  When was the last time you called only The Today Show or Oprah and they did the segment.  You would count on that strategy because you knew it would likely never work.  Same here.
  • Pricing:  We think we have come up with a model but will likely have to tweak it along the way.  If it is too low then you lose money, if it is too expensive then the client can hire someone internally for less.  Depending on the client, a hybrid model also may work.  Time is our commodity and social marketing, whether it is in the form of listening and reputation management campaigns, or community aggregation-interaction-and ultimately then driving them to transactions can take a great deal of time.  The folks with the money can throw it at this issue like they do with everything else, but the vast majority of clients (especially in this economy) will need to be careful on how much they spend and how they spend it.  Which leads me to…
  • MeasuringROI:  It is about playing defense, making sure that you don't get slammed on Twitter and bloggers; or it it about playing offense, by driving people in a newly-formed Facebook group to your website to take you up on your Facebook-only discount offer?  Which is worth more in this day and age?  Is social marketing even really build to drive traffic?  All good questions and what it may really come down to is the million dollar question, who wins?  The purists who believe by playing defense you are defending the brand and thereby gaining loyalty or the capitalists who believe that by using this new platform to sell you are driving business.  SM expert Jay Baer's take on this is worth reading and a possible glimpse into the future.

I wish I had on the answers, but I don't.  I'm being as honest as I can be with anyone who asks me that question including clients.  One on one, the best piece of advice Peter Shankman gave me was "please never call yourself a social media expert.  Anyone who does that is full of shit.  We're all still trying to figure all of this out."

That is a pretty comfortable place for PR folks.  We are the people who know what works because it has worked before, but can never "guarantee" future success because we rely on third parties like the media or community leaders to "endorse" our point of view.  We also know the factors that can get in the way of that endorsement. That's what makes the third party endorsement so valuable.

So as others are doing and are telling me to do, I am relying on my marketing instincts to do what I think is right.  I'm not over promising, but I do see the promise in all of this.  And I'm asking my colleagues and clients to take this ride with me.  They know me well and for the most part, I don't think I have failed them yet.

How I explained social marketing to myself so I can explain it to others

Do you ever "know" something in your head, can envision how it works, but when it comes time to take it through step-by-step it is hard to explain?

That's how I felt about explaining social marketing until I reached out to the Twittersphere and found the calming words of Julie Bonn Heath (Julie's blog) and Sonali Burke (Shonali's blog).  They urged me to trust my instincts and apply my PR 1.0 thinking to explaining the new social marketing world of PR 2.0.

What helped me explain it to myself was slowing down, reminding myself of the goals, and then segmenting the steps.  Like with most forms of marketing, in social marketing you identify groups of people, engage them somehow with a message, and then try to move them in the direction you want.  One of the main differences of course in social marketing is that you are communicating directly to them and asking them to help spread the word to others.

It really helped me to separate things into three groups (I'm really into "the three things"):

  • Audiences:  These are the groups that you want to communicate with so they can be your "pied pipers."  It really helps of course if you can gain access to the groups without starting from scratch through either e-mails lists or existing social marketing groups like Facebook or LinkedIn groups.  If you have to start from scratch the task isn't insurmountable, it just takes more time.  Go ahead and list all of these audiences, and then segment them into categories based on what you want to say to them.  For example, you'd like communicate different messages to a group of adults than you would to a group of kids, but in the end you might still be able to drive them to the same place for different reasons.  Same in this case.
  • Platforms:  One you identify and audiences and put them into categories you should decide which of the social marketing platforms is best to engage those audiences.  Is it Facebook?  LinkedIn?  Twitter?  YouTube?  E-Mail or E-Mail newsletters? A combination?  Others?  You can usually tell by doing a bit of research.  Another determining factor is how you want to engage those audiences and how you want them to communicate to each other.
  • Tactics:  Finally, you will likely need a combination of tactics to drive them to the platforms and get them to not only interact with each other but also to help spread the word to others to join in on the fun, or good information.  These can range from 1.0 tactics like advertising, promotions, etc., the long-time traffic drivers, to things like blogs, widgets, applications, viral videos and other 2.0 tools.  The keys are to listen, provide feedback and good content, and value so that folks will come back and pass the word to others.

This may seem like a over-simplification to some.  There's also  a first step of doing "listening" to see what else is out there that might influence these audiences and then continuing that "listening campaign" to adjust the messages and targets along the way.

But at the end of the day as Julie and Shonali (btw, looking forward to meeting you this week) urged me, you then can just trust your PR instincts as all good communicators do. 

Once I explained all of this to myself, it made it easier to explain to others.  I liken the steps to most other internal and external campaigns I have been involved with over the years.  It is just some of the rules and "toys" have changed, but the basics of good communications rarely do.

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