I was talking with a veteran PR colleague on my views of traditional marketing, blogging, business and the media. He was uncharacteristically quiet for a while. Then he thumped his drink on the table and stood up. "You'll excuse me," he said straight-faced, " I'm going to go to the window now, open it up, and plunge to my death."
That was a bit extreme. All he really had to do is listen to some of the new PR practitioners like Steve Rubel, who are just brimming with ideas on how to leverage the new social media to their advantage.
For 15 years Rubel had a successful, if undistinguished PRcareer. Now he's hot property.
In 2001 he joined CooperKatz, a Manhattan-based PR agency where his job—like so many other PR operatives--was to get press for traditional clients using traditional tactics. This began to change in 2003, when Rubel started noticing a shift in the way he was finding information and started playing with RSS and blogs. A while later, he started his own blog, naming it Micro Persuasion, picking up on a Scobleizer thought about how buying decisions are now being based on thousands of "micro points" of persuasion.
Now, Rubel's the most often-quoted member of his profession. The New York Times has interviewed him twice in a year. He's been on CNBC. Numerous daily newspapers have covered him as a story, including the San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Chronicle. The media increasingly turns to him as a credible, direct reference on blogging trends. He's asked to speak publicly more than 50 times a year. Rubel's posts get indexed into Google News. Media Magazine named him one of 100 people most influential to the media—along with Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.
After spending much of his life calling up editors, they now call him—hundreds of times a year. Micro Persuasion is read by a huge number of editors in search of fresh leads. Perhaps the sweetest irony is that people from other PR agencies now pitch him in the hope of getting coverage on his blog.
Rubel has helped two CooperKatz clients, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA)—made up of Fortune 500 companies like Proctor & Gamble, Sears, Disney, etc. and WeatherBug,a software utility company that has rapidly emerged from its recent startup status by using blogs to help directly interact with audiences.
With Rubel's coaching, but without him writing a single word, Bob Liodice, ANA CEO and president, started blogging. CooperKatz sent out a brief release announcing the fact, back when much traditional media dismissed the new communications channel as the purview of lonely teenage diarists. The New York Times picked up the Liodice story, wrote positively and gave it prominent play. Now,the press regularly goes to Liodice's blog, and reports on what he has to say. What has happened, is the PR agency facilitated a direct conversation between their client and the media. Then, instead of inserting itself as the gatekeeper--CooperKatz stepped back. This is contrary to the way agencies traditionally work. There are many billable hours to be logged in gate-keeping. .
But stepping back makes the PR practice more efficient. CooperKatz is a mid-sized agency with 20 employees, yet it seems capable of serving global clients without having to insert 6-10 players onto the client service team.
WeatherBug is a Maryland-based company serving people passionate about the weather and there are lots of them. The company estimates it has nearly 20 million customers. It is considered so reliable and comprehensive that in the event of a national security emergency, the National Weather Service turns to them to augment its own meteorological survey data. Early in it's life, WeatherBug's parent company AWS Convergence Technologies partnered with another company and customers complained they were being subversively infected with spyware. The company has since been vetted as a clean application, according to Rubel.
But like Microsoft, it had a reputation problem. "WeatherBug used the blog as a central communications tool to have a dialog with their biggest critics," says Rubel, and now many of the best-known and most trusted bloggers extol their virtues.
WeatherBug began with event blogs, the first being Groundhog Day, which is now an annual blog where the company very straight-facedly reports on furry critter and shadow sightings. They also started information-sharing blogs for four hurricanes and the activity was again well-covered by the press and heavily visited on the site. But the credibility rebound comes from blog.weatherbug.com ,where WeatherBug's chief privacy officer answers customer support questions on any issue. Even the most addicted-weather junkies seem to find content satiation.
While Rubel remains the sole CooperKatz blogger, the entire agency has been touched by the communications medium. It is pervading the services offered. The firm produces new products to service existing clients and to offer to an increasing number of new prospects, according to Rubel. For example, they've developed a crisis management 'lockbox,' along the lines of, "In case of emergency, break this glass." The agency works with its clients to anticipate whatever crisis could possibly occur. They then plan and design a "failsafe" blog to be used if the emergency actually occurs. They know who will be the speakers, the issues that would be addressed and some of the toughest questions the client might face. If a client ever has to use the lockbox blog, they will be prepared to address their issue directly with the audiences who care most about it.
CooperKatz has also developed a 'blogwatch,' where junior agency team members monitor Blogosphere mentions of their clients, their products and their markets on a daily basis, determining if postings indicated that client risks were normal, high or elevated. It's inexpensive and useful for clients and its high-margin incremental revenue for the agency.
Rubel is amazed at his own fast-emergent prominence and insists that he would rather share what he's learned about blogging and PR with other practitioners, rather than horde it as a competitive weapon. He said all agencies can prosper and do their clients powerful services through blogging. For example, noting there are now 1500 bloggers at Microsoft putting out volumes of content daily, he suggested that Wagged, Microsoft's PR agency could start a blog and pluck the 100 most interesting entries every day, making it more easily accessible to the press and Redmond-watchers.
Why is he so eager to help other agencies? He says that his nature is to be a connector and nearly all great bloggers are great connectors. "This best PR people have always been connectors. They've often had to be like Plasticman stretching between clients and press. Blogging is the best connection tool ever invented," he said.