How many conferences are too many?

I know, I know, quiet around here lately. It’s the same excuse as always: busy, busy. I’ve been on the go for what feels like eternity (and it actually got the better of me last week – hello, flu!). Thus, I haven’t been “musing” much. But here are some random thoughts and observations from my many travels these last months, starting with…

Louisville

I’m sure it’s a great city – it looked like it from the air. Jason Falls invited me to speak at the IABC Kentucky / Social Media Club Louisville’s Content Marketing Summit in September. Thanks to some flight snafus, I ended up flying in and out of Louisville in under 10 hours and seeing nothing beyond the airport and the conference room of the hotel across the street.

In addition to presenting, I got to sit in on the rest of the day’s sessions and hear from Michael Schechter of Honora Pearls, Joe Pulizzi of Junta42, and Chris Baggott of Compendium Blogware. During my presentationI talked about online newsrooms and using press releases as content marketing, sharing some examples form readMedia clients and other savvy organizations who “get it” when it comes to organizing news on the web. My slides on Making Online News in the 21st Century are here.

Then a week later, I was off to…

Boston (technically Cambridge)

It was nice to spend a day at a conference where I was actually only there learning, and not presenting or exhibiting or meeting with clients. As part of Boston’s FutureM week of marketing events, I spent a day at MIT/Microsoft’s NERD Center (it’s actually called that) for Start-up Marketing Bootcamp. It was great to hear from some of the non-mainstream social media and marketing speaker-guru-expert-ninja people and get some “real” stories from entrepreneurs at start-ups who’ve implemented innovative marketing tactics and social media strategies to develop a customer base. There was substantially less talk about Twitter and Facebook and more about things like design, user interface/user experience, marketing analytics and A/B testing, and low-cost tools and resources for marketing at a start-up. Meaty stuff.

I most enjoyed hearing from David Cancel, founder of Compete.com and now with Performable.com, and Ross Kimbarovsky from CrowdSpring.com. The day ended with a panel of CEO-types like Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway and Seth Prietbatsch from SCVNGR. Smart, in-the-trenches folks who shared their experiences, good and bad, of life at the helm of a start-up. The day suffered from not having enough interaction among all the attendees there (it would have been great to break into small groups and talk through common issues or share ideas for marketing start-ups), but overall it was a solid event. And, bonus, I managed to grab a long overdue beer with Jay Keith and confirm that we share a brain.

Fast-forward two weeks and I’m in…

Crotonville (it’s in New York, on the Hudson)

All you need to know about Crotonville is encapsulated in this episode of 30 Rock. GE invited several other former GE communicators back to its leadership development campus for a day of networking with other company alumni and current GE communications professionals. It was great to see former colleagues and some of the invited speakers were top-notch. A crisis communications panel included representatives from BP and AIG, and it was fascinating to get an insider’s view on these crises, as well as their lessons learned (Apparently no one in the UK thought Tony Hayward sounded “posh”, and in Britain his accent is actually quite common-sounding. Meanwhile, everyone in America thinks any type of British accent is posh…).

Now we’re to early November and I’m off to…

Troy

Not that far of a trip for me, but I spent a day in the Collar City for the PRSA Northeast District Conference. I was a little surprised at the lack of social media sophistication at this conference. It seems like PR people, of all professions, should be all over social media as tools to help them achieve their goals (and if they’re not ready to jump in with clients, I’d at least expect them to be reading basic social media blogs like Mashable and experimenting with social media personally, to try and get a handle on the technologies available and understand how to fit them into campaigns).

But, there was very little Twitter usage at the conference. People were asking questions during sessions like, “What is RSS?” and “What’s a hashtag?”, which made me worry I had been transported back to 2008. The kicker was that a few days after the conference, the organizers emailed a PDF of the conference survey to attendees and asked people to reply and check off their answers (um, surveymonkey or surveygizmo, anyone?). It frustrates me that so much discussion about social media seems stalled out among certain PR audiences. At some point, you need to stop expecting social media enlightenment to fall from the sky and just roll up your sleeves and start experimenting.

On a good note, I got to meet David Binkowski and hear about some of his work with Price Chopper and Schick (he is seriously tall in real life, btw). I also attended a media panel that featured Mark Mahoney of the Glens Falls Post Star, who is far too humble for a Pulitzer winner.

Three days later I’m on a plane to…

San Diego

I attended the American Marketing Association’s 2010 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. San Diego in November sounds great, but I honestly only made it outside of the hotel twice (though once was to meet and have dinner with the lovely Rachel Kay and Jennifer Wilbur). The conference was packed with content, and in addition to meeting with a lot of readMedia’s higher ed clients, I also tried to attend as many sessions as possible. A lot of the conference revolved around big university branding campaigns, like those at American University, Purdue and Michigan State. I shared my impressions of the conference with Seth Odell of HigherEdLive via a video post here.

I’m really enjoying being so involved with the higher ed community through my work with readMedia, and it’s great to be able to learn from them and also share knowledge gleaned from working with our clients. I’ve made great connections with people like Michael Stoner, Rachel Reuben, Fritz McDonald and Charlie Melichar.

Back from San Diego and two days later it’s back to…

Troy (again)

This time, Troy played host to the eighth installment of Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley, with the very cool Revolution Hall as a backdrop. Patrick Boegel was able to entice Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World to come talk to SMBTV about Audience Development in the Digital Age. With Guy’s poetry and publishing background, it was really interesting to get his take on building communities online. Guy shared his view of how online platforms (Kindle, iPad, eBooks, etc.) are disrupting traditional methods of getting content to audiences. I love that SMBTV has been exploring deeper and more niche-y topics lately. The audience is so sophisticated and asks such great questions, and it’s great to be beyond Twitter/Facebook 101 content. Guy’s shared his recap and slides from SMBTV on his blog.

…Somewhere in there I also flew out to Colorado for my first Dawgs game in six years (we lost), picked up responsibility for sales at readMedia (a big, scary, exhilarating, awesome challenge for me), and managed to squeeze in some fantastic hikes in the Adirondacks and beyond. I suppose that schedule is enough to land just about anyone in bed for two weeks. I’m on the mend now and happy to be off the road for a while. I won’t go so far as to promise I’ll be back to blogging regularly here, but hopefully it’ll be more than once every three months.

What’s new with all of you?

Image via Flickr user kmanohar

Where’s the love for local public relations?

I’ve been thinking a lot about differences between national and local media lately. The topic has been the subject of my last two posts over on Newsworthy, the readMedia blog, and I’ve been listening intently at the PR conferences I’ve been attending when journalists take the stage for panel discussions. Some have been representing national media outlets, like Slate.com, USA Today, and The New York Times. Others are local reporters for TV networks, metro daily newspapers or hyperlocal web sites. The differences in what these journalists expect from PR people are stark. But more on that later.

First, let’s talk about why solid, locally focused PR gets very little attention among the PR blogosphere/trade press/twitterati. When’s the last time you’ve seen PR Week highlight a kickass local PR success story? Of course, it’s sexier to talk about big brands with big budgets like Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble or Intel. Their PR and social media campaigns try to reach as broad a consumer audience as possible, sometimes within a vertical, but usually regardless of geography.

With location-based networking (Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla) all the rage and talk of hyperlocal journalism reaching a fever pitch, it surprises me that more attention isn’t being paid to local PR. Why is it that the primary discussions in and about our industry are focused on behemoth national or global brands, or even on smaller brands who are deemed “successful” at public relations by virtue of landing stories in national outlets? Do they have a monopoly on newsworthy content?

Hardly. There are thousands of small businesses and non-profits across the country that are doing a bang up job of telling their stories — to the audience that matters to them! If you’re a local organization focused on recruiting volunteers, publicizing events and providing services to a particular county or town, your public relations strategy had better focus on reaching local audiences. That means pitching local media, reaching out to local bloggers and developing a social media presence that local constituents can find and interact with. A hit in The New York Times is great, but you’re far likelier to move the needle on organizational goals if you focus on the channels that your local audiences use to get information.

In many cases, that still means the local newspaper and TV stations. Social media and alternative media have yet to supplant these traditional outlets locally as a primary source of information (according to Pew). Often new media (like local blogs and citizen journalists) take their cues from what mainstream media is writing about, and much of the information that’s shared in social networks originates in traditional media (Pew estimates over 90 percent).

So, reaching local media is key if geography matters to your organization. And fortunately, local journalists want to get your news. This was the main difference that came up over and over again in the journalist panels I’ve been listening to over the last few weeks. Here’s how it would go:

Well-known journalist from renowned national media outlet: “I hate being bothered. I get 955 emails a day. I probably don’t care about your story. I will never cover your groundbreaking or charity event. If you’re going to pitch me, you should read and research everything I’ve written for the last six months. You should tailor your pitch directly to me, and it had better be the absolute perfect story for my readers, and you’d better be able to convey the entire pitch to me in one or two sentences. Don’t send me press releases. Don’t send me any photos or videos or attachments unless I ask for them. And don’t keep bothering me to see if I got your email, because I probably don’t care.”

Small-town journalist from local TV news station: “I want to know about everything happening in this town, and especially how it affects the people who live and work here. I absolutely will cover a groundbreaking or charity event if it’s local and has an impact on residents. When you send me press releases, make sure they’re well-written and have all the information I need. Extras like photos and other documentation can be helpful. Make sure the title of the email and press release convey the key information I need to know. Be responsive when I call for follow-up information or interviews.”

Slight hyperbole, but that was essentially the gist. National reporters are busy and over-pitched, and they get a lot of bad pitches so they don’t trust press releases. They don’t have time for long pitches. They don’t do reportorial journalism, because they don’t have to. They get so many story ideas pitched to them that they rarely have a hard time filling the “news hole” each day.

On the local side, these journalists are also busy, but they rely on local organizations to help them develop content. They are all about reportorial journalism – the who, what, when, where, why of what’s happening in their town. They rely on press releases and PR people to help them find out what’s interesting and important. They are the 75 percent of journalists who say that receiving high-quality, targeted emailed press releases is helpful! And they don’t want “New! Whiter, brighter toothpaste!” press releases, they want to know about local students who complete a peer education program at an area nonprofit, or about a new program of study being added at a local college.

As much as industry outsiders (and the PR industry itself) love to bash on PR and declare that press releases are dead, it’s simply not true when it comes to local public relations. I see so many readMedia clients send solid, relevant, newsworthy press releases every day to local media, and these releases get picked up and their information ends up in front of their target audience. Shel Holtz said it best: “The role of media relations professionals is to inform journalists of their organizations’ news.”

You can talk about revolutions or evolutions or solutions for public relations in the digital age, and trump up fancy PR campaigns from big brands and continue to chase down national media hits. But let’s not forget that a lot of basic, fundamental media relations tactics are still very effective at the local level. If you’re a local organization, isn’t that where you want to be successful?

Why I’ve quit reading “social media blogs”

I’ve spent the last year and a half reading and learning as much about social media as possible, going from a complete n00b with barely a Facebook profile to a recovering social media addict. I ravenously consumed blog posts about PR, communications and social media. But after awhile, a lot of the information begins to feel repetitive (and derivative). I get it at this point – it’s “about the conversation” and “engaging with people” and “being transparent.”

My reading habits have changed over the last month or so. I’m no longer looking for basic social media information or more social media Kool-Aid and so I’ve purged my Google Reader of feeds I haven’t been getting much value from. I’m reading fewer and fewer personal or individual PR bloggers and instead gleaning more insight from collaborative blogs or blogs at major media outlets. My goal is less about the nuts-and-bolts or “how to” of social media and PR 2.0 and more about understanding the big picture — trends and successes in media, social networking, and the Web, and looking at how all of it impacts the way we will continue to consume news and information.

Some blogs will always have a revered spot in my reader, because I’m always finding value and new ideas from them. However, a lot of what I’m reading now isn’t even necessarily PR-focused. I’m always open to discovering a post on someone’s blog that showcases great thinking or a new idea, and I still stumble across some of those via Twitter. But I’m being more discerning about which feeds make it into my RSS reader.

Here’s what’s been recently added to my reader or what I’ve refocused on lately:

Media Industry and Trends

Hyperlocal News

Social Media and PR 2.0 in Practice

Business and Technology Insight

It’s a lot of content, which wreaks havoc on my previous system of organizing Google Reader. I’m much better now about scanning headlines, using the “sort by magic” feature to see the best posts, and not agonizing anymore about trying to get to everything.

What sites are you finding value in these days? Share in the comments.

Reaching stakeholders through social media

Here are the slides from the presentation I gave today to the Capital Region Chapter of PRSA:

View more presentations from amymengel.

Here are some links to content I referenced:

If you’d like to attend Social Media Breakfast on Oct. 30, register here (still a few seats left).

Let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed that you’d like a link to.

Why Lee Aase is Mayo Clinic’s Social Media MacGyver

It’s no secret that Lee Aase and the Mayo Clinic have embraced social media. Blogging, podcasting, YouTube… you name it and they’ve experimented with it, and in most cases been successful. I was fortunate enough to sit in on Lee’s session at the 2009 Ragan Corporate Communications Conference: “The $4 a week online newsroom and other MacGyver Tips.”

maclee

Lee (who is much taller in real life than expected) was kind enough to post his presentation to his blog. He shared simple secrets for quickly and effectively building a social media presence. While a lot of the tools he shared weren’t necessarily new, the reasons for using them in certain ways and the approach taken at the Mayo Clinic were what really got me thinking. Here are a few examples:

1. The Mayo Clinic has three blogs, and all are hosted at WordPress.com. They pay ~$10 a year to repoint the domain name to a mayoclinic.org site. My initial thought was, “Why aren’t they using WordPress.org and self-hosting the blog?” After all, it offers far more in the way of plugins, themes and features. (Click here for a quick explanation of the difference between these two platforms.) But Lee made a few great points. By hosting with WordPress.com, his team doesn’t have to go through the clinic’s corporate IT department. They don’t have to deal with firewalls, internal servers or just generally bogged down IT processes. Secondly, hosting the blogs on WordPress.com brings them more traffic. The Mayo Clinic blogs are often featured on the front/login page of WordPress.com, allowing many people to discover the blog that way. WordPress.com also has fairly simple analytics built in to the platform, so no one on their staff needs to go in-depth learning the ins and outs of Alexa or Google Analytics. And by repointing the domain name, they preserve the ability to eventually move to a different platform and not lose all of their search ranking.
Key Takeaway: Don’t always opt for the most advanced tool. Pick simple tools that reduce entry barriers allow you to get started.

2. With an existing “Medical Edge” radio show, the Mayo Clinic was already in the habit of content creation. It converted this show to a podcast and pushed it out through its blog. It’s also easier for busy doctors to record audio or video than it is to get them to write out a blog post. With a $150 Flip Video camera, Lee and his staff can interview doctors and researchers and post excerpts to the blog quickly and with minimal editing. There’s no need to invest in expensive A/V equipment and the training required for communications team members to use it.
Key Takeaway: Use existing content to ease your organization into social media. Find out the easiest way to get people to contribute (audio, video, writing) so that they’ll be more willing to participate.

3. “Don’t just pitch the media, be the media.” Lee agreed that this was somewhat overstated, but essentially the Mayo Clinic is creating its own content and that content is driving interest from traditional, mainstream media. The Mayo Clinic’s news blog has become a place for journalists to access information on Mayo Clinic research, publications, public health experts and patient stories. Lee’s even been successful with keeping certain posts embargoed and only accessible to journalists before releasing to the public. The content that the clinic creates and shares on its social media outposts has been picked up by national news outlets including CBS and the Wall Street Journal. Videos posted to The Mayo Clinic’s branded YouTube channel have been published online alongside news stories. Having so much rich content available in so many forms (blogs, audio, video) makes the media relations team’s job that much easier – in many cases the journalists are calling them to ask about content that’s been posted.
Key Takeaway: Create and share your organizations own original content. Make it interesting so that journalists will want to know more. Develop content in a variety of formats so that any outlet can use it.

Lee’s presentation really emphasized that social media can be pretty simple. Don’t complicate things. Pick tools that let you get started right away, use content that’s already at your disposal, and offer it up in a variety of formats that make it easier for reporters and customers to gobble up.

For more goodness from Lee, enroll in his Social Media University, Global, and become a Smuggle!