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.)

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.

A tale of two conferences: Counselors Academy and CPRS

I don’t usually attend two conferences in two weeks – much less two PR conferences. However, that’s what happened early in June when I twice ventured west: first for Counselors Academy in Palm Springs and then for the Canadian Public Relations Society in Vancouver.

And I thought it’s worth noting some of the similarities and differences.

Both conferences focused on social media and its application to PR; both had knowledgeable presenters and tier one keynote speakers (including Robert Stephens, Steve McKee, Brian Solis and David Suzuki – to name a few); and both had PR students live-blogging/tweeting about the events.

I personally thought having the students actively involved added a fresh energy to the events.

However, and I don’t know if this is a U.S./Canada or an agency/client thing, but the general knowledge of and enthusiasm for social media seemed less prevalent at the CPRS event. Certainly there was interest, but not the same kind of passion I witnessed from agency heads (mostly from the U.S.). Or maybe Canadians are just a bit more resistant to change.

Now, there’s no doubt Counselors is all about the agency business and, if you’re an agency principal, there’s nothing that compares to it. And, as counselors, it’s incumbent on us to be up to be on top of trends in order to offer more intelligent counsel to our clients.

I don’t have the answer to this.
I did notice that there was a lot less live tweeting at the CPRS conference; a few people were active.

But maybe it’s the small number of agencies represented (from out East, I mean). And that could be due to the economy, but I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a bigger agency president at CPRS national and Toronto.

Which begs the question: why aren’t Canadian agencies more actively engaged in CPRS? I asked my friend Scott Farrell, president of PRSA Chicago and he said they were trying to get more clients to participate; they had lots of active agency members.

And, as the president of CPRS Toronto, I throw this question out to PR folks. What would it take to make agency people want to get more involved?

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.

Good counsel: Counselors Academy 2009

When I started Palette five years ago, I asked Pat McNamara, president and founder of Apex PR, for some advice. And she suggested that I should join an organization called Counselors Academy, which comprised agency owners and principals and had a not-to-be-missed conference every spring.

I wasn’t able to make it that first year, but I’ve been faithfully attending ever since and I have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve done in PR.

The conference is about all things agency with sessions on strategies for running and growing your business, finding and motivating your team, becoming more profitable, successful networking, emerging industry trends…

The people are smart, dynamic and open. You get into some amazing conversations that continue over dinner and drinks, long after the meetings are done. And because we’re all running agencies of various shapes and sizes, there’s a real common ground and it’s easy to make business connections, and more importantly, good friends.

There are superb keynote speakers like psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini or Robert Scoble. I first learned about social media at CA from Giovanni Rodriguez, who piqued my interest in the blogosphere and started my head swimming.

Whenever I leave a spring conference, I’m filled with fresh ideas, energized by the people and excited about our industry. It’s the highlight of my year.

This year’s timely theme is ‘Your Business Matters’ and, in this or any economy, it’s well worth the investment. Here’s where you can go for more information or to register.
Hope to see you there.

A degree in blogging

I sat in on a graduate level social media session today led by Josh Hallett at the 2008 Counselors Academy conference in Naples. (I was hoping to come away with a master’s degree in blogging – an MB, so to speak – but for now those letters will simply remain the province I am from.)

As I mentioned, Josh was one of my blogging mentors, though the last time I heard him talk, my head was swimming from all the new concepts I wanted to absorb.

Today’s presentation was no less provocative.

Here are a few highlights:

  • On the benefits of blogging: You may not have a lot of readers but blogging provides you with ‘long-term search relevance’. People find you. As an example, try googling ‘beauty PR agencies in Toronto’; my blog post is the first entry.
  • WordPress is Josh’s platform of choice. It provides users with the ability to insert replies right under a comment (so it’s easier to follow conversational threads) and can differentiate between commenters and the author. He likened Blogger to having an @aol.com email address. With all the little glitches I’ve been encountering on Blogger, I wonder if I could move my blog over to there (and if it will be worth the effort).
  • Publish as many times a week as you want people to visit your blog.
  • Blogging is a great way to seed a story by reaching the mavens, asking for feedback and starting to generate WOM. (Of course, you have to identify and get to know them first.)
  • When you’re developing communications strategies, don’t forget the forums and message boards. That’s where you can find some of the most passionate and influential people on a subject.

To discover more about the conference, visit Matt Kucharski, Jeff Davis, Indra Gardiner or the CA blog. BTW, the conference posts were written by a group of students from College of Charleston.