Counselors Academy 2010 – Twitter notes

Last year, after live-tweeting from Counselors Academy’s annual conference, I noticed my Twitter feed had become my notes for the sessions. So I used them in a blog post to capture the flavour of the event.

Counselors is, as I’ve said many times, my PR highlight of the year. If you run an agency, it’s a gathering like no other. And, if you haven’t been there before, it’s hard to describe the  exhilarating energy of being in a room with so many bright people, most of whom share your interests, challenges and entrepreneurial dreams.

I’ve made some of my best friends in PR at Counselors. In fact, that’s where I met my new business partners, Carol and Esther, and first had a chance to get to know them. Long before she and I had an inkling that we might be working together, Esther put my name forward as the Canadian rep on the executive committee.  So, I guess, energi PR has its roots in Counselors.

Here are 10 Twitter highlights from CA2010 in Asheville (in no particular order):

  1. @bgindra: We learn visually, not by words; video stories are becoming more and more important.
  2. @jaybaer: Many mobile developers have platforms that you can tweak and customize; you don’t need to start from scratch.
  3. @jaybaer: Social media success factors: broaden your horizons, sell ingredients, not entrees, embrace math, adjust to 24/7.
  4. @darrylsalerno: If the 1st and last letters of a word are in the right place, it’s hard to tell if it’s misspelled.
  5. @darrylsalerno: 500 most used English words have 14,000 meanings.
  6. @ambercadabra: We over complicate social media; it’s just communications. Need to get over our obsession w/ tools & focus on intent.
  7. @ambercadabra: B/c social media was labelled media, we want to apply trad media metrics, which don’t work.
  8. @elisemitch: When you’re building a biz you need to consider how you deal with change, both up and down.
  9. @briansolis: Try writing story in 120 characters so it can be RT’d.
  10. @briansolis: Today PR agencies function top to bottom; need to have most senior people on the frontlines.

Of course, there was so much more wonderful talk and ideas that weren’t captured in 140 or less – like the after-hours drinks and conversations, the Sorry game, the 60s banquet, prom-night in Ashville and, the wonderful southern hospitality of Justin Brackett. You can also read Gini Dietrich’s thoughts here, Abbie Fink’s musings or Dana Hughenspost for some other perspectives.

If you run an independent PR agency, it’s not too early to start thinking about Counselors 2011.

(Disclosure: I’m the conference co-chair.)

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More energi… on Inside PR

It was a funny feeling – announcing our merger, creating a whole new energi, so to speak, and then having to rush off to Hamilton for two days; 15 hours of lectures/instruction at McMaster to a group of smart, local business people who wanted to learn about social media.

And while I enjoyed the sessions, I felt a bit dislocated being away from the action after the initial burst of merger excitement.  This week, neither Gini Dietrich nor I were able to record Inside PR. (Gini was injured on her bike but is OK; and you know about me.)

So I want to thank Joe Thornley, the other member of our triumvirate, for zooming solo and interviewing my new partners, Esther Buchsbaum and Carol Levine and giving them a chance to talk about our new venture and plans!

You can read Joe’s post or listen to Inside PR.

You’ll hear my take in podcast 2.07.

A brand new PR energi…

Are you ready? I’ve got some really exciting Palette news.

On July 1 Palette PR, the agency I co-founded with Louise Armstrong, is merging with Communications MECA to form a brand new agency – energi PR – we’re calling it Canada’s PR and digital/social media powerhouse.

And we are jumping up and down thrilled!

Today we told staff and clients. We’re posting a news release on our respective sites and on our new site – which really is ‘under construction’ till early July.  And tomorrow morning, we’re live on the wire.

So what does this mean?  All Palette and MECA staff is coming to the new company and everyone will have more opportunities to work on new projects and take on fresh challenges.  We’ll be an independent, national and bilingual agency with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Palette will be move into MECA’s Toronto office. And I’m really looking forward to getting to know and working with all my new colleagues.

We’re specializing in PR, social media/digital and corporate communications and building traditional and new PR/social media into our agency right from the start so we’ll be able to seamlessly integrate the two.  I’m going to be the Toronto managing partner and will lead the firm’s digital practice.

I’ve known my other two managing partners, Esther Buchsbaum and Carol Levine, a long time through Counselors Academy, CCPRF and from working together on projects.  I have long admired Communications MECA, the firm they created, their approach and industry leadership. They’re smart, talented and have a lot of business savvy and most important, the fit is right!

I have one other piece of news and that is Louise is stepping away from the business to spend more time with her kids and on her writing. This is something Louise has been thinking about for a long time. We built Palette together and I want to wish her all the best. I’m going to miss working with her! And, if she wants, there will always be a place for Louise at energi.

To everyone who helped and supported Palette over the years, including staff, all our wonderful clients, our industry partners and friends I want to thank you! I hope you’ll all come along for our energi-filled ride (OK, I’ll try to keep the puns to a minimum).  We’ve got lots of amazing plans!

Watch for more news leading up to July 1 and beyond.

I’d love to hear from you, but may be a bit difficult to reach on Wed and Thu – I’m teaching a two-day social media for business course at McMaster from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And please bear with me as I update all my social network profiles. That may take a little time…

Inside PR 2.01 – introducing your new hosts

This post was originally published on the Inside PR blog.

Well, the torch has been passed and Inside PR’s two creators, Terry Fallis and Dave Jones have decided to hang up their Zoom recorders (well for this podcast, anyway).  I think that for all the listeners of Inside PR (including me), this signaled the end of an era.

When Terry and Dave started in 2006, social media (and podcasting) was still quite new and many PR folks had yet to embrace it.  Their chemistry, wit, caustic humour and insights helped guide us along the way.

Fast forward. Episode 101 featured three new co-hosts, Julie Rusciolelli, Keith McArthur and me.

Fast forward again.  It’s episode 2.01 and now it’s time to introduce our new helmers:  Joe Thornley and Gini Dietrich. Welcome!

I’m sure many of you already know Joe, he’s the founder of Thornley Fallis, the agency that created and produces the podcast. Joe is one of Canada’s social media pioneers and leading practitioners. He blogs at ProPR.

Gini is the CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago PR and social media agency.  She’s a smart, outspoken strategist who blogs at Fight Against Destructive Spin blog (aka Spin Sucks) and never minces words.

We’re still looking at PR and social media from an agency perspective, and adding a tri-city POV.

What’s next?  A lot of that is up to you. I hope you’ll listen to Episode 2.01 to get a preview (and our new voices).

Apologies if it sounds a bit disjointed – we had to record in two tries due to a glitch with one of the tracks.

We’d love to hear your ideas and hope you’ll continue to listen, find value in our discussions and share your thoughts. Thank you again for taking part!

And now: on with the show…

There’s no business like PR business

OK, there is… there is…

But the business part of running an agency is often considered second to the practice of PR.   It’s been said that communicators don’t understand the intricacies of business goals and this lack of knowledge has been one of the things that’s relegated the industry to a seat at the kid’s table (as opposed to the grown up table in the C-suite).  And perhaps this is reinforced in PR schools,  where the emphasis is on communications (of course) but few, if any, classes cover business.

So where can we find the expertise we need to successfully understand our client’s businesses and run our own?

I get it from PRSA’s Counselors Academy’s annual spring conference, happening May 21 to 23.   I’ve blogged about the organization before and am the Canadian rep on the executive committee.  Counselors is my annual PR agency business summit – three days of learning, sharing and socializing that provides me with the tools I need to improve my firm.

This year’s theme, ‘Looking Up: Lessons and Conversations to Move Your Business Forward’ explores strategies we need to do to emerge from the recession and once again build businesses focused on innovation and growth.  And it fits in well with the locale – the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina.

Here’s a link to the program.  There will be keynotes by PR 2.0 author and thought-leader Brian Solis and leadership expert Randy Hall; a pre-con session geared to creating a smashing social media plan by Jay Baer; and many first-class sessions and roundtables including how to grow leaders within an organization, a panel on the new listening and monitoring, strategies to successfully add social media and digital capabilities to your agency mix, Darryl Salerno’s fourth annual English as a Second Language (you really aren’t smarter than a fifth grader) and much more superb content.   It’s also a wonderful time to network, get answers to tough questions, and meet and become friends with an incredibly sharp, insightful, friendly and open group of people.  I’ve said this before but it’s the highlight of my PR year and I come back energized and excited to be in the profession.

Here’s where you go to register.  Hope to see you there.

Note: My Ex-Comm buddies Abbie Fink and Roger Friedensen suggested I also include Counselors’ Facebook and Linkedin pages to give you a bit more flavour.  (Thanks.)

Envisioning 2020: A Canadian PR leadership summit

On March 5, about 75 leaders from the Canadian communications industry, representing CPRS, CCPRF, IABC, Global Alliance, College of Fellows, the HCPRA (and yes, Counselors Academy, too) gathered at the Old Mill Inn in Toronto to look at PR today and imagine our future.

The event was the brainchild of Terry Flynn, director of McMaster University’s Masters of Communication Management program and national president of CPRS.

For me, one of the best parts of the session was working in small groups on a ‘Force Field’ analysis of our industry.  Essentially, this is a decision-making exercise that helps analyse the forces for and against change in a core proposal.

Ours was: ‘To advance the PR/communications management profession in Canada to a reputable and requisite professional discipline in the eyes of organizational/business leaders, managers and scholars.’

As you can imagine, there was much debate – the noise level in the room hit 11 more than a few times.  After we were done,  some common themes emerged that will no doubt form a blueprint for the way ahead.

Here are a few highlights.

Forces for change:

Social media/technology/evolving media landscape. This is, of course, one of the strongest (and most obvious) reasons for us to evolve in a way that will enhance the profession and its reputation. We need to embrace social media, continue to educate ourselves in best practices and add case studies across all sectors that demonstrate measurable results.

Trust, credibility and ethics. The ever-transparent world provides a great opportunity for our industry to take a leadership role and, through our deeds, show unequivocally that we’re no longer spinmeisters.  There was talk of a need for a single accreditation designation, as well as the development of a body of knowledge, one of the hallmarks of any profession.

Business savvy. We must become more knowledgeable about business goals, strategy and operations and align our PR recommendations to that. We should master ways to clearly articulate the value we add to an organization. One group suggested that we reposition the profession from being PR managers to chief communications officers in order to get a seat at the ‘grownup’ table.

Forces against change:

Fear. It’s too easy to sit back and rely on the same tools that always worked in the past. Tried and true doesn’t cut it. We need to become strategic risk takers.

Education. What are our programs and institutions teaching young people?  Is the curriculum focusing on relevant topics? Are we teaching about the newest tools and where they fit into an overall strategy? What about adding an understanding of business to the mix?

Developing an inter-generational understanding of relationships. For some senior PR folks,  phone contact may be key. The younger generation is embracing online as much as IRL.  There’s merit to both positions and the industry needs to come up with an understanding of what constitutes a relationship and what makes it lasting and strong.

There was a great energy to the Summit; the kind of intensity you get when you bring a group of smart people together and challenge them to look ahead and share insights. Toward the end, it was suggested that we should consider meeting on a yearly basis to discuss the state of the industry.  And I’m all for that.

Maybe in the meantime, as the organizers pore over the responses and craft recommendations, they could keep us informed and involved by setting up a Wiki and open it up to the greater community to maintain the flow of ideas.

PR and sales – cut from the same cloth?

I think we are. And I say that with complete sincerity. (Pause for the sound of people throwing things.)

I actually think our profession has a lot more in common with sales than with marketing.

For the record, I grew up in sales. My dad owned a couple of fabric and drapery stores in Winnipeg. And watching him go about his business, I learned that the best sales people, like the best public relaters, are all about two-way relationships. Listening. Helping. Telling a story well and truthfully. Being social. Engendering trust.

Now that’s not to say we’re completely altruistic. Like any business we’re goal-oriented. But we don’t create visuals that do nothing but dazzle, sweep you off your feet with sweepstakes or deliver direct mail directly to the circular file.

Sure there are stereotypical images of high pressure salesman – hucksters – who see you as nothing more than a commission. The same holds true for certain PR people – call them hypesters – who’ll stoop to anything to get their client’s name ‘in the press’. Both types give their respective professions a bad name.

But have you ever sat in a room full of great sales folks and listened to them swap stories? You really get a sense that they like and respect their customers/clients, and will go out of their way to help.

And if they’re really good, they know they won’t always win or hear the answer they want. But that doesn’t matter. They’re in it for the long haul.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

So… sales and PR – cut from the same cloth, as the son-of-a-fabric-man might say. What do you think of that?