The community, the people: Counselors Academy 2009

I recently returned from Counselors Academy’s annual conference for agency leaders, my PR highlight of the year. I always come back from these gatherings with new friends/colleagues, fresh ideas I want to try and a renewed energy for the profession.

I first learned about social media and its PR potential from Giovanni Rodriguez at CA2005 and decided right then and there to start a blog (though it took nearly two years of research and listening before jumping in).

This year in addition to insightful and entertaining sessions, attendees contributed a rich and active twitter stream that offered a fresh dimension to the conference; check out #CA2009.

It wasn’t unusual for a table to have three or four people listening, tweeting and commenting on their colleagues’ tweets. My very good friends Gini Dietrich and Scott Farrell were my regular twitners (twitter partners), with special nods to my traveling buddy Joe Thornley and Abbie Fink. In fact, Gini Dietrich highlights a number of Counselors Academy thinker-tweeters here.

Here are a few of my most memorable highlights (via Twitter notes-better than Coles notes by far):
Tom Gable
: There are three rules for succeeding in a recession. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.
Shanny Morgenstern: It’s not billable hours that matter, it’s the hours billed. (There’s a subtle distinction there, but an important one.)
Monty Hagler: 5 Rs drive new business: relationships, referrals, reputation, radar screen, RfP.
Jason Baer: Listen on behalf of your clients; make sure you have a social media crisis plan in place and respond at the flashpoint (where it started).
Steve McKee (author of When Growth Stalls): Factors that contribute to a stalled business include: lack of consensus, loss of focus, loss of nerve, inconsistency.
Steve McKee: A business is more likely to be successful if it pursues a commitment to excellence.
Robert Stephens (founder of Geek Squad and the ultimate nerd): Think of your company as the plot of a great movie.
Robert Stephens: Hire for curiosity, ethics and drive.

I think the key to Counselors is that it’s a true community in every sense of the word – PR agency leaders, entrepreneurs, people with a common interest and goal. We come together in the spirit of meeting, learning, sharing and friendship. And it’s both inspiring and humbling to be around so many smart folks in one place.

In retail it’s location, location, location. At Counselors, while no one could complain about the location (a lovely resort in Palm Springs), it’s really people, people, people.

The next meeting is in May 2010 in Ashville, North Carolina. Hope to see you there.

You can also listen to episode 166 of Inside PR for some CA mini interviews.

A disconnect can be a good thing

I recently came back from visiting my Mom in Winnipeg. She still lives in the same house I grew up in, and being there is a bit of a time warp.

What I mean is for five days I didn’t have access to my regular online fix. No high speed. Not even dial-up. If I wanted to plug in, I had to brave a -25 windchill and drop by a wireless cafe.*

All this made me realize how Internet-dependent I’ve become. Addicted, really. When so many people could simply care less. For them, computers are a past-time, a way to share jokes, look up a movie time, buy something.

They haven’t crossed over to the ‘new media’ promised lan. They still consume TV, read local papers, go to the mall and talk to the folks behind the tables at the community displays. They get most of their news the old fashioned way.

Perhaps it’s our profession and its fascination (obsession?) with the latest and greatest communications tools. We’re ravenous for information, 24/7.

But as admirable as I think this may be, it’s important to remember there’s a parallel, albeit slightly slower world right here beside us: let’s call it the ‘first life’.

It’s a place with less MB and more MB. Where everyone’s connected, just not like that.

*OK, a disclosure: I had my BB Bold so I wasn’t completely out of touch. But, I wasn’t glued to it the way I sometimes am to my laptop.

My network or yours

It wasn’t too long ago when networks meant television; purveyors of small-screen programming, ad spots and big shared experiences we could gab about the at work or with friends.

But social media – or maybe the late arrival of the thing called convergence – seems to have changed that. Networks have become more personal – the sum total of an individual’s contacts and, to a large extent their contacts’ contacts too.

Which is where Linkedin comes in. I’ve grown to appreciate this community.

But one thing that bugs me is getting a form letter to connect. You know, the default that pops up and says: ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network on Linkedin’. I especially resent the mock personal signature at the end.

Yet I still oblige.

I think if you’re going to reach out to someone, why not personalize the request? Even if you don’t know me, send me something that piques my interest and makes me want to find out more.

And if you want to build your network (and mine), figure out a way to truly engage me. Offer me a fresh perspective. Keep in touch.

Maybe one day you’ll provide your network with that big shared experience we’ve been missing since the demise of not-to-be-missed TV.

(Note: Linkedin is being upgraded as I write this, but will be back soon.)