About Mark O'Toole

PR is evolving. Mark's goal is to keep HB ahead of trends, and to set a few trends of our own, to the benefit of clients, using all the tools available to today's traditional and digital communicator. In fact, we're all in PR, according to Mark. And, despite all the change and disruption, PR is still about helping clients meet business goals.

To Mark, PR is about:

-Strategic thinking expressed through great results
-A strong team that both self-manages and leans on leadership when needed
-Helping clients focus on business development, and showing how marketing and PR support it
-All types of marketing communications, including digital, social media and traditional marketing/PR
-Writing and using the right voice for the right client
-Finding the story
-Consuming news and getting clients in the news cycle
-Relationships that last a long time, and the trust that comes with them

We are all communicators. Because PR, and all that it can do, is the future of marketing.

Learn more about Mark

B2B Success: Going Beyond What You Already Know

You’re constantly thinking about your potential customers. How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do? How much money do they make? What causes do they support? What are their pains, and what kinds of budgets do they have to address those pains?

Here’s a quick exercise. Look at the following examples and try to come up with the target audience for each:

  1. SolarRetailer sells end-to-end photovoltaic systems to retailers who operate their own buildings.
  2. EarthWindFire sells lobby kiosks to schools and universities, where the kiosk and its screen provide insight into a building’s renewable energy systems and performance.
  3. BizWind sells small wind turbines and associated equipment to building owners and managers who want to add renewable energy to their buildings.

Obviously, the target audiences are:

  1. Retailers with their own buildings/locations
  2. Schools and universities
  3. Building owners and managers

Are these audiences important? Yes. Should their needs and desires determine all the marketing efforts? Probably not, but many companies focus only on a limited view of a target audience. That’s normal.

We’re fairly myopic creatures in many ways, as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman shows in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” As he puts it, “familiarity is more important than truth,” and usually your target audience is very familiar to you. In the book, Kahneman coins the term WYSIATI, or “what you see is all there is,” to describe the human tendency to jump to conclusions and be overconfident about those conclusions.

We see this all the time in marketing, and many marketers use the following arguments (excuses) to support their minimally researched conclusions:

  • We already understand our target audience. We’ve been working with these folks for years, and we know exactly how they think.
  • We don’t have time or money to do research that will simply confirm what we already know.

We’ve learned that even when there’s no time or money to do research, we can still devote mental energy to question our assumptions. To do this, ask questions and use simple mechanisms to guide our thinking. One of those mechanisms requires us to frame the notion of “audience” differently in the B2B landscape. Instead of analyzing the target audience, we focus on the audience’s audience(s). In other words, when we work with a client, we spend part of our time thinking how that client’s customers need to impress their own customers. In the B2B world, all our clients’ customers have their own customers.

In the above examples, this means we need to target as follows:

  • For SolarRetailer, we must target people who might favor shopping at a store location that uses renewable energy, not just the retail store who is our client’s customer.
  • For EarthWindFire, we need to focus on students, parents, administrators and municipal stakeholders who might pass through a school or university’s lobby, not just the school or university who will purchase the EarthWindFire kiosk.
  • For BizWind, we need to look at businesses and individuals who favor renting space in buildings that offer clean energy or other “green” features, not just the building managers and owners who will purchase the wind-energy installations.

For example, when considering the customer’s customer, the SolarRetailer marketing team will move away from a strict focus on system cost and ROI for retailers. More importance will be given to the compelling look of SolarRetailer installations as seen from the ground. The marketing team might even develop posters and literature that come with the system, informing consumers about the store’s system and its benefits, such as cutting its carbon footprint. Perhaps EarthWindFire will be brought in to place a kiosk in the retailer’s lobby, showing consumers what the PV system is yielding in real-time with cool graphs and carbon-footprint calculations.

Such marketing and messaging will send a clear signal to the retail store’s decision-maker when it comes to purchasing a PV system: SolarRetailer is thinking on my behalf and giving me something that my own customers will love.

We must avoid limiting ourselves to thinking of audiences as “business-to-business.” Instead, we segment in the following manner:

  • B2B – Our client targets businesses that use its products and services to help run their own business more intelligently and efficiently.
  • B2B2B – Our client targets businesses that sell to other businesses. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those businesses.
  • B2B2C – Our
    client targets businesses that sell to consumers. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those consumers. (The fictional SolarRetailer fits into this category.)
  • B2Gov – Our client targets local, regional, state or federal governments to influence those bodies with messages that will eventually reach or help end users.
  • B2B2Gov – Our client targets businesses that sell into local, regional, state or federal governments. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how its customers sell to those bodies.

Knowing that we often create our opinions and make decisions in a WYSIATI way, the above nomenclature provides an easy way to get us out of the “what we see” mindset.

In B2B marketing, your customers must always impress their own customers. Thinking about the latter set will help you message most effectively to your own customers and give them tools beyond your products and services to succeed in their businesses.

A Year Without Connecting


I like being known as a connector.

While it’s a term open to various definitions, I see it as that person who develops relationships that bring value to others in one’s network. And yes, sometimes it brings value to the connector directly – maybe it’s a piece of new business or a favor repaid. But that is incidental; those who connect solely for personal gain are merely takers, not givers.

For me, connecting is about being present, being available, being unselfish. It’s hard to maintain all those qualities, and I’ve known many for whom those are unattainable attributes.

The benefits have been wonderful.  I’ve connected clients with similar interests or opportunities to complement each other somehow. I’ve connected friends with groups where I feel they can offer value. I’ve connected colleagues to new opportunities. For a few years, I was even a Connector, a title bestowed upon a group of 200 or so Boston-area professionals as part of Boston World Partnerships, a networking group with a mission to “inform and connect.”

I love connecting.

But for the past year, I stopped connecting. No networking events. No searching LinkedIn to help find matched interests. No speaking or presenting. No creation of content to share with my network. Nothing.

I even played the least amount of basketball in the last 35 years. (Yes, I’ve made a lot of connections on the court.)

It wasn’t intentional, at least not at first. Connecting does not have an off/on switch. It comes naturally, or it doesn’t. It’s in your blood, part of your mojo.

Last year started with a heavy workload at the office, a lot happening at home, and a commitment to my position as chair of The Freedom Trail Foundation. Something had to give.

So first, I (mostly) cut out networking events. I was heads down, moving fast, getting stuff done at work, at home, for the Trail. It felt good to have free time, to know the end of the work day was not the start of the (net)working night. No early morning Chamber events. No late night mentoring activities. A relaxing summer, enjoying nights on my patio or weekends down the Cape.

And then, I started to feel the gap. Fall approached, and with it the usual parade of events and opportunities and activity that fill up one’s calendar. And still I stayed out, though it was getting harder.

And now, a new year. One in which I plan to connect again. Maybe not with the fervor with which I had participated, but finding opportunities high in value and that re-immerse me.

What did I learn, a year away from connecting? Well, that requires a list of course.

Seven Reasons to Keep Connecting

  • Free time is for later – Connectors fill their schedules; it’s their nature. When away from connecting, find an activity to fill your time. I did a few things: I caught up on some television series I had missed (Blacklist, House of Cards, Jessica Jones); I wrote a book of children’s poetry and actually plan to publish it; I coached 7th grade basketball. So I was busy but in different ways. But that sense of professional satisfaction that comes from connecting was still missing.
  • Nurture your network – Without feeding it, a network can wither. Just this week I got a nice LinkedIn endorsement from an old client and friend. It struck me that we’ve had lunch or breakfast three or four times a year for a decade, yet nothing in the past year. I miss that. Sometimes we just talked about kids, other times we helped each other with professional challenges. So stay ready, friend; I’ll be calling soon.
  • Become helpful to your fellow connectors – You hear things when you are plugged in. Maybe it’s a business opportunity for a client or a committee seat for a colleague. But you miss these opportunities when you are absent. Sometimes just being there is critical.
  • Experience the power of social interaction – When you connect with the right group of people, it’s fun. Socializing with a peer group is comforting and rewarding. Why do you think Norm kept going back to Cheers? Or I keep ending up having drinks with Chad O’Connor?
  • It helps to be known – Connecting is one of the greatest ways to raise the visibility of your organization. Being present at events important to you, your network and your business, generates awareness. And it spurs content creation, like this piece about spring break that I wrote after presenting at the first Master Slam.
  • Social media does not cut it – While I’ve by no means abandoned my network, I’ve kept up with it via social media for the most part – I’m pretty sure I’ve read every @HeyRatty tweet. We share Tweets, or post photos on Instagram and we know who our network is and what they are up to, but it does not match the benefit of having a physical presence. Social is fleeting; attending is meaningful.
  • Connecting is global – My agency’s participation in the IPREX network and my role as marketing chair keeps me focused on ways to help partners connect and engage online and off. I can only help make connections within the network better if I am in full connector mode myself.

So I’ll be there, at networking events, mentoring events, reconnecting with old clients, old friends, and will hopefully do it so it has value for my firm and my fellow connectors. See you out there.

Exploring Business Opportunities in Cuba

We’ve launched a new thought leadership series with our IPREX partners called Global Perspectives. Each month we will look at a global issue and share our perspective on the business implications and communications challenges involved with the selected topic.

Our first Global Perspectives tackles the changes in Cuba.

Read below for thoughts on doing business into Cuba from IPREX partners around the world.









BEIJING  “Closer economic ties between Cuba and the U.S. are to be welcomed, especially as global trading patterns are evolving and becoming much more multilateral. Chinese trade with Latin America has grown rapidly in recent years, surpassing US $258 billion in 2014.

“China is the second-largest trading partner of many countries including Argentina and Cuba, and a primary source of credit. That is a massive change from 1990s, when China ranked just 17th on the list of Latin American export destinations.”  Maggie Chan, Director, Greater China, Newell PR


BERLIN – “Cuba is a country in transition – that is the impression of two ORCA executives who travelled the country in October and December 2015. A number of small but profound changes are transforming everyday life on the Caribbean island. Small business is gaining ground, Cubans are becoming private employers, and tourism is booming; new resorts are popping up on wonderful beaches. The run on the Cuban market has already begun.

“The German Vice Chancellor recently visited the island, accompanied by a business delegation 60-strong, with the aim to boost economic cooperation. He emphasized that “German firms can offer Cuba very good solutions, particularly in the fields of energy, health, machinery and plant engineering.” As specialists in public diplomacy, we can assist with these development opportunities.  Michael T. Schröder, Managing Director, ORCA Affairs



DALLAS  “While U.S. restrictions have eased for certain industries, it is only the first step on a much longer road to normalized U.S.-Cuba relations. There are still strict regulations regarding how U.S. businesses must operate in Cuba.

“It is important that businesses beginning to serve the Cuban marketplace choose a partner that understands the complexities of a market that has been off-limits to Americans for 50 years.” Jody Venturoni, Partner, LDWWgroup


FORT LAUDERDALE  “How to do business with Cuba is a major topic of interest in South Florida, where conversations are happening between Cuban and American entrepreneurs.  While the Castro dictatorship understandably remains a source of outrage for Cuban-Americans and others, President Obama’s reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and allowing certain types of trade has generated tremendous interest in the business community.

“Cuba’s potential for airlines, cruise lines, hotels and other travel-related companies is obvious, but will not be realized until the embargo is lifted. Meanwhile, companies of all sizes should focus on cultural exchange and philanthropic work to build the relationships and brand recognition they will need when trade barriers are removed.” Jane Grant, President, Pierson Grant Public Relations



MADRID – “Cuba is still a very special economy with two currencies. A gigantic state apparatus controls the commercial activity with a bureaucracy typical of a country that is not democratic. Therefore, any company that wants to invest there must keep in mind some peculiarities.

“Cuba is a country where market prices are imposed, free competition does not exist and tariffs are not the same for everything, even if the imported product is the same. Additionally, the only source of news is the government. Cuba will be a good country in which to invest, but not yet.” Mayte González-­Gil, CEO, poweraxle and IPREX EMEA President


MEXICO CITY  “The relaunch of relations between Mexico and Cuba is related to the deepening project of updating the economic and social model driven by President Raul Castro in his country. During May 2014, a Mexican business mission formed by 68 Mexican businessmen representing 48 companies took place. This is a clear sign that opportunities are coming.”Horacio Loyo Gris, Co-Founder, Dextera Comunicación



NEW YORK  “The richness and worldwide popularity of Cuban music begs interesting business opportunities that may be had by activating and empowering the island’s wide array of talent and intellectual property in the field.

“Exploring partnerships with U.S. brands and makers of musical instruments and pro audio equipment, U.S. agencies may be able to enter Cuban markets and in turn capitalize on the opportunities to produce, promote and help develop Cuban artists in a worldwide stage, also using them for marketing, PR campaigns and content, much like Win Wenders and co. did with the Buena Vista Social Club, minus all the trade restriction headaches he endured at the time!”  Raul Gonzalez, Director, RGAA PR, a partially-owned subsidiary of French/West/Vaughan


SAN FRANCISCO  “Cuba is a long way from becoming a priority consumer market for U.S. companies. Most Cubans make an average of $20 per month. Other emerging markets with an established middle class offer opportunities to U.S. companies without as much uncertainty. However, one of the biggest opportunities for U.S. companies is in the Cuban travel sector. European and Canadian hotels have been doing business in Cuba for years.

“Given its geographic location, U.S. travel would benefit from entering the Cuban market. U.S. companies entering the Cuban market will have a need in Cuba for public affairs, employee recruitment and employee communications. These U.S. companies will also have a need for issues management here in the U.S., as some opposition remains (among Cuban-Americans) toward U.S. companies doing business in Cuba.”  Juan F. Lezama, Director, Mosaico, the Latino Division of Fineman PR

Read more perspectives in IPREX Voices: http://www.iprex.com/iprexvoices/

How Law Firms Can Find Their Stories

While the ways in which we communicate keep changing, the reasons why do not. For a law firm, this means showcasing the firm’s expertise, the brilliance of its attorneys, the clear differences in its practice areas, the cases it has successfully closed that no other firm could, and the firm’s amazing approach to customer service expressed through its fair rates and senior-level counsel.


legal booksThere is often an amazingly confusing resistance to law firms hiring PR firms. Sure, they could do PR in-house. Sure, they have a marketing manager (who is, I’m guessing, drowning in executing activities like lead-generation, proposal development, firm events and submitting for all-important awards like Super Lawyers.) Sure, they have attorneys who blog. And sure, the local business journal may cover them once or twice a year.

But who is shaping and telling their story? What should a law firm expect from its PR program? How does it get to a storytelling mentality? And why should it have one?

Listen to NPR much? Ever heard an ad that touts some or all of the above? Wondered how you could actually tell one NPR law firm sponsor from the other?Me too.

When considering a public relations program, there is a clear hierarchy to follow. Adhering to this order puts context around marketing efforts, presents a firm as a unified entity rather than one composed of many pieces but lacking cohesiveness, and shapes a story that is memorable, repeatable and representative of the firm’s desired personality. To get to the right story priorities must be addressed in this order:

  • Firm priorities
  • Practice area priorities
  • Attorney priorities

Putting the firm first gives it an identity. Whether the firm is known for one specific practice (employment law, for example) or offers disciplines that range from IP to estate planning to divorce, its story will make it easy for clients and future clients to understand why the firm may or may not fit their needs.

Practice area support allows a firm to prioritize its marketing efforts. If the corporate law practice is virtually self-sustaining (the right amount of business coming in from the right clients) then that area may get very little marketing attention.

Attorneys are the faces, voices, perspectives, personalities and community leaders that most tangibly showcase a firm and its capabilities. While not all attorneys may want to participate in a PR program, many will participate. To successfully contribute, attorneys must be willing to:

  • Share perspective and opinion to feed thought leadership efforts
  • Communicate the firm’s mission and value
  • Write content or adapt existing content for use in law journals, business media outlets, the firm’s blog or as part of a formal content marketing program
  • Talk to the media
  • Present at industry or business events
  • Make time to keep the PR team informed

Whether you hire a PR agency or not, building the following elements into your program will start you on the road to uncovering and telling your firm’s story:

  • Establish a rallying cry
  • Promote firm news
  • Communicate opinion and thought leadership through expert positioning
  • Take advantage of newsjacking
  • Submit for and promote awards at the firm- and attorney-level, and do more with them than issuing a press release and hanging a plaque
  • Place articles that speak to practice areas and trends
  • Find and secure speaking opportunities beyond the legal trade
  • Create and distribute content as part of a content marketing program

So, law firm marketers, partners and managing directors, challenge your marketing and PR teams to find your story, get buy-in on it from the partners, and tell it broadly using all the marketing and communication channels available to you. My guess is that someone (most likely that coveted prospect) is listening and will want to learn more.

PR Slammed?

PR is the Future of Marketing

A few weeks I ago, I moderated Boston’s first PR Slam. Like a story or poetry slam, contestants needed to make their case for or against hiring a PR firm, competitively, in the form of a story.

My job was to tell the first story, and then to help narrow the pool to two finalists.

I expected at least one participant would take a “fire your firm” position. In an audience of start-ups, digital marketers, publishers, app developers and various millennial and non-millennial types, someone, somewhere usually thinks “we can do this in-house.”

Refreshingly, the stories surprised me.

What I heard was a wonderfully affirming theme – and one that I certainly believe in – that said “PR firms, we need you.”

In the stories of my fellow “slammers,” the clear through-line was that PR firms matter, albeit in different ways to different folks. In all, four key themes emerged:

  • PR firms are engines for awareness: To be effective, awareness-building must be eternal. That focus, and the drivers to ensure news and content continues to come out from a company, lives best within a PR firm. There’s a little bit of “arms and legs” mentality in this thinking, but sometimes that is what our clients need.
  • Finding the right voice is hard: Establishing the right message is critical. PR firms have latitude to experiment with different messages, and help a company hone in on what resonates with media, analysts, trade organizations and other important audiences.
  • Content creation creates a rallying point: There’s no doubt we are in a sharing society. Company staffs want to share their pride in their organizations by sharing news, information, images, almost anything. But doing so without awareness of, and access to, the right company news, content and messaging could get messy. PR firms, and the power they have to create smart, engaging and shareable content, help corporate teams tell the right story.
  • Amplification is a shared responsibility: Just so you know the PR Slam was not entirely a PR firm lovefest, there was debate over how deeply a firm should engage with its clients. Some believe that an in-house marketing team is best-equipped to develop the company story, and the PR firm then needs to tell that story. I buy that. Others expect a firm to develop an abundance of creative assets and then turn them back to the company for distribution and amplification. I’m cool with that too. Some suggest that agencies focus on media relations, since that is a skillset that does not typically reside inside a company. OK, I see that but I’m not on board with limiting your firm to just media relations (unless that’s primarily what the firm does). Still others see PR agencies as the lead strategic voice in the communications effort. Guess where I stand on that?
The first selfie? (circa 1985)

The first selfie? (circa 1985)

Broader than just the role of the firm, the audience agreed that PR has risen in organizational stature and that affects how they work with their PR firm, including:

  • Not looking for that firm that is a merely “extension of your team.” Rather, look for a group of communicators that think differently, challenge your team and help create something original.
  • Embedding PR in every facet of your marketing.
  • Engaging your staff to become advocates for the business and in that role, amplify the content created by your PR firm.
  • Telling stories – there is no more powerful way to express what your business stands for, and what it can help your clients achieve than storytelling; it gives your clients, prospects, employees, partners and friends a clear point to rally around.

Thank you to our friends at SpringpadGrasshopper and Workbar for making this terrific event happen, and to Harpoon for great gifts for the winner.

Speaking of stories, feel free to read below for my story that kicked off the PR Slam, showing how pervasive communications and communications technology are in our lives today – and will be for a long time, if not forever, in our lives and businesses.

Slideshare, We Love You

Over the years I’ve posted quite a few presentations to Slideshare, the kind of marketing collateral that is there to share after a conference or speech, the stuff we all do. But about a year ago I changed tactics, creating content specifically for the platform; one that needed no voiceover or live presentation to bring to life, one that combined words and imagery in a compelling way.

Then something amazing happened.

The HB team produced “Congratulations Graduate: 11 Reasons I Will Never Hire You.” Now at one million views and counting, it stands as an example of how to imagine or re-purpose content in a way that has mass appeal, and is shareable and memorable. So, how do you do it yourself?

Create for the Medium

Congratulations graduateHow many times do we share our tweets through Facebook? Or simply post a blog headline on LinkedIn? All the social networks require content that fits each specific medium to be truly effective. Simply taking a presentation that was created with the intent to present live or in person, and posting that to Slideshare does not cut it. Slideshare content needs to exist so that readers can get the point, understand the information and enjoy the experience without the need for someone speaking to it or about it to bring it to life.

When creating content specifically for Slideshare, keep these three ideas top-of-mind for greater success: make your title provocative, contrarian, tweetable, head-scratching – make it memorable; invest in design – Slideshare is visual, respect that; and ensure your content is one hundred percent understandable content and can stand on its own – if it does not, keep working.

Goals, Message First

As we know, when starting anything, it’s critical to figure out your goals. For first-timers on Slideshare, read a bunch of the successful submissions. While the most popular or most liked presentations may be wildly different, it’s easy to see that they have compelling content, design that supports the content and a message that’s easily grasped.

Like any other aspect of your communications program, a Slideshare can only be successful if you have goals established up front. At HB we specifically wanted to reach college students entering the job market as well as drive traffic to our website. So our first bit of success came when the likes and shares started. But those weren’t the end goal, just a means to an end. I considered it truly successful when college career centers began emailing asking if they could incorporate it into their educational materials, then again when blogs and HR-focused sites had raging debates in their comments sections regarding everything from the content to the design of the Slideshare. All of this continues to drive relevant traffic to our website.

I wanted a reaction. I got one.

Design Rules Slideshare

Design! Great design rules on Slideshare. Sometimes that design is no design at all, black words on a white background to evoke starkness. When the images support the content, readers respond. My original Slideshare posts, lightly “designed” by me, were read a few hundred or few thousand times each. Good content, weak design. For my most recent Slideshare, the professional designers at HB Agency brought my words to life. The result? This newest Slideshare has been “liked” more than 56,000 times on Facebook.

Share, and Share Some More

who sharedI’m in PR and content marketing so I see each piece of content as something that must be maximized, adapted and shared though as many places as are relevant.

The “Congratulations Graduate” piece actually started more than a year ago as a contributed article on a site that targets the innovation community in Boston. From there it became a series of tweets and, ultimately, the Slideshare itself. Certainly having strong social networks helps with sharing. LinkedIn and Slideshare themselves are very good about sharing content with their audiences. That certainly gave my presentation a boost. In the end, it comes down to great content. Without that, no presentation will be compelling.

The Power of the Slide

PandoDaily discusses slide shows in a different light, sharing the not-so-deep, dark secret that publishers use slide shows as page view generators. As a form of “native digital storytelling,” slide shows present ways to tell a story more richly then we’ve been able to in the past.

Hamish McKenzie writes: “The Web has certain qualities that facilitate a novel approach to storytelling. That is part of the beauty of online media. The Web is interactive, social, dynamic, hypertextual, mobile, and not bound by arbitrary limitations such as word-counts or page sizes. It provides a rich environment for high-definition imagery and film. Thanks to the Web, we can broadcast content asynchronously, nimbly, and at a low cost, and we can blend a panoply of multimedia elements – video, audio, maps, graphics, tweets, status updates, 3D art, animations, gifs, real-time posts – into story experiences that transcend what is offered by print, TV, or radio.”

As a business, you are less constrained by editorial conventions (though an ethical approach to content creation is mandatory in our opinion), and must consider and activate your news and information in new ways.

Take a look at your company content, stories, news, presentations, white papers. And then imagine how any of those could be transformed for the Slideshare community. If you need help determining what might be a good Slidehsare fit, ask HB.

What are your Slideshare tips? What are your favorite Slideshare presentations?

What Scares Me About PR

What scares me about PR

PR challenges that should scare the industry

PR is changing. I spend a lot of time talking to anyone who will listen – my team, clients, prospects, strangers at cocktail parties, Twitter friends – about how and why. I believe a shakeout is coming and firms that cannot deliver on the new needs of their clients will fall behind.

Does the industry need a unified voice about how PR should be practiced, professionals should be trained, results measured, and ethics defined? Is that even possible? While there is no single approach to this “new” PR, consistent conversation points continually arise.

The debates are healthy I suppose, but if I had any ability to be objective about PR, the dissonance would strike me as seeing an industry that (still) does not know what it is and what it can accomplish. While I know this isn’t true given the smart people, innovative firms and great PR programs I see, that there is even recurring discourse about the themes below scares me. Read below to see what keeps me up at night, and keep reading to find out what’s really scary.

PR is dead. Guess what? This week, I read an article proclaiming PR is dead. Again. Really?

Public relations is an estimated $11 billion business in the U.S. – just agency numbers, no in-house corp comm numbers included – $8 billion in the U.K. and significant in many countries around the world. There are 7,000 PR firms in the Unites States. 7,000! That averages out to 140 firms per state.

There is significant spend on PR, more PR professionals than journalists, thousands of firms, including big, publicly traded companies that must keep shareholders satisfied, and the industry is dead? It scares me that this perspective continually rises. Then again, there is constant noise that marketing is also dead, along with SEO, and content and social media. That’s a lot of dead.

Google makes press release distribution irrelevant. As maligned as it may be, the press release remains a trusty corporate communications asset. Algorithm changes by Google have had an impact on links in releases distributed via wire services and how the search engine views them. So what? This is not the death knell of the press release.

Releases are still an effective storytelling device, and as clients repeatedly tell us, provide credibility to their companies. I’m cool with that. Honestly, there’s hardly a journalist today who eagerly anticipates a press release before coming up with an article idea. If there are journalists out there waiting for releases, please let me know; I’ll start a list.

For my friends at wire services, however, I am scared. They’ve built healthy businesses, first on getting releases into newsrooms, and more recently by driving website traffic and helping stuff Google Alerts. What’s next for the wire service, and what impact will their challenges have on press releases? Even disclosure and earnings reports can happen through media other than wire services now.  Less SEO boost and an unengaged journalist audience does not make for a great outcome.

There is no creativity in PR. How do you define creativity? Is it a great pitch letter or turn-of-phrase in a speech? At HB, we advocate that businesses must act like media companies. While this concept encompasses the distribution, creation and consumption of content – and building community around the content – we believe the content must be visual, or at least supported by visual elements. But this does not happen consistently enough in PR, and leads people to think that there’s no creativity. Even if it’s a post for a corporate blog, create a square image that communicates the story through the graphics. Ignoring the power we have to communicate through multimedia assets is scary… and an opportunity for those of us who keep the creative juices flowing and earn the media hits as a reward.   

Who owns social media? Why does this industry make such strenuous arguments over ownership? Does it matter? Social media and community-building – more often than not moving in-house these days – is not about ownership. It’s about story and process and companywide philosophy on how to embrace social and community within an organization. “Owning” such a, well, social component of marketing is not good practice, and the debates over ownership scare me.

What about a great idea? I suppose this scares me the most. Great ideas rock. The right idea can be supported by PR, marketing, digital, social, whatever. That idea can power an entire company’s brand platform, infuse every piece of everything that it does. The best ideas don’t fall neatly into one aspect of marketing or another; they move an organization ahead powerfully because the idea is powerful. Nor, as Paul Gillin once wrote, do they necessarily have ROI. So what’s scary about a great idea?

This is: who funds it?

Marketing budgets are often still compartmentalized. PR gets this much, branding this much, etc. Buyer behavior is scary. It’s not the buyer’s fault, as PR and other marketing disciplines have worked so hard to create their own silos. Buyers are only doing what we trained them to do for years, ignoring the sea changes that were coming. And that was not buying the big idea in many cases.

It’s not as bleak as I make it out to be, of course. The PR industry is doing just fine. At HB, we find some prospects get it when we talk about helping them become media companies and others don’t, and some can fund it and some cannot. That’s OK. There are choices out there. 7,000 of them!

To overcome my fears, I take comfort in knowing that:

  • PR is alive and well, and done differently at different firms.
  • Press release must tell the company story, and search results do not dictate the entirety of a PR program; the best firms know how to address search and where it fits in a program’s content.
  • Creativity is subjective – clients and prospects – and their audiences – know the right creative for them when they see it.
  • Social media is part of the fabric of progressive companies.
  • Buyers are listening more to idea-driven marketing, and we will see change – slowly – in how marketing and PR initiatives are funded.

Do you want to talk about something really scary? Clowns. We all know they’re scary.

Catch HB and a group of other great companies this Thursday at FutureM as we tackle these issues and more. We’re speaking on the topic: PR is Marketing’s Future. Join me and talented professionals from The Holmes Report, Digiday, Connelly Partners, allen & gerritsen and Springpad. It won’t be scary.

What scares you about PR?

Congratulations graduate! Here’s why I won’t hire you

Congratulations graduate

At HB, over the past 14 years, we have received thousands of resumes from new college graduates. Too many had the background to make the cut or at least garner a second interview. But disastrous interviewing skills brought them down.

Here’s our take on what went wrong and how to improve.

Please share with any graduates in your life.

Pictures are Pretty & Other New Paths for PR

Pretty pictures

Massachusetts is putting real muscle behind supporting its creative economy. We even have a Creative Economy Industry Director, a statewide position and industry resource to amplify the industry’s voice. Our creative economy stretches from firms like HB to colleges, technology companies and associations. As FutureM, the annual fall event focused on the future of marketing, often showcases (and rightfully boasts), the greater Boston area especially is a hub of marketing innovation.

This week, Boston.com has been running a series called “We are the Creative Industries” series, providing a glimpse into the perspectives, people and organizations driving creativity. Why? It’s simple. The creative industry is a vital part of Massachusetts’ economy, with $1 billion statewide impact and more than 100,000 employees in the field.

I had an opportunity to contribute to this series. My piece, “PR: A Clean Slate,” showcases the public relations industry’s ability to learn from past oversights and finally deliver a communications experience that incorporates the many tools at our disposal today: media relations, SEO, content marketing and more. As an agency, HB is living on the cutting edge of what’s possible for its B2B PR clients. And the message to agencies in general is grow or fade away.

Please read the article here, and share, comment or disagree.

‘Tis the season for… Disruption!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and the holiday cheer is beginning to spread throughout the HB office.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we’re thankful for all of our PR clients continuously pushing the envelope and standing out as disruptors in their respective industries.

Enjoy this brief snapshot of just some of the disruptive news our clients have recently announced…

AG Mednet – Unnecessary procedures and amendments to clinical trial protocols cost sponsors more than $5 billion per year and are responsible for 20 percent of clinical trial budgets. To help reduce these costs and create zero-delay clinical trials, AG Mednet has licensed from Columbia University advanced image analysis technology developed by Drs. Lawrence Schwartz, Binsheng Zhao and Yongqiang Tan at Columbia University Medical Center. (CenterWatch)

Attivio – Attivio, a competitor with Oracle Endeca and others in providing business intelligence from Big Data, raised a $34 million round led by Oak Investment Partners, the company’s first outside funding since its launch in 2007. (The Boston Globe)

Coghlin Companies – Columbia Tech, A Coghlin Company, announced a strategic manufacturing partnership with octoScope, Inc., the innovator in wireless test solutions, for the turnkey production of octoBox series of small anechoic chambers. (Wireless Management)

Confirmit – A leader in the Voice of the Customer market, Confirmit acquired CustomerSat, a recognized EFM and loyalty leader, expanding Confirmit’s footprint, particularly in the US where VoC programs are becoming a critical part of business strategy. (Customer Experience Matters)

ContextVision – Since 1983, ContextVision has pushed its image enhancement technology forward, delivering unparalleled diagnostic image quality to clinicians. At RSNA next week, ContextVision will demonstrate GOPiCE® US (3D/4D), the industry’s first ultrasound real-time three-dimensional filtering product. (Boston Business Journal)

Cordys – The Enterprise Cloud Platform provider is increasing its focus on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and helping customers operate in the cloud. Cordys reports strong customer demand for PaaS and the need to leverage the cloud, with 70 percent of its deals over the past year coming from enterprises and service providers demanding robust cloud capabilities. (ITbriefcase.net)

Dolphin – CEO Werner Hopf said during an interview with ASUG News that SAP customers face huge challenges in trying to find efficient architecture and content management in SAP – which needs to be worked out before they can even consider HANA. “SAP systems have accumulated huge amounts of data, and it’s simply cost prohibitive to put everything in that HANA box. HANA opens their eyes to the need for data lifecycle management to be in place before venturing into that endeavor.” (ASUG News)

Hobsons – Education powerhouse Hobsons acquired Beat the GMAT, a website aimed at helping people pass the test required for admission into a graduate management program. (VentureBeat.com)

SoundBite Communications – Helping clients strike a balance between the cost of compliance with difficult-to-manage consumer contact regulations and associated technology challenges, SoundBite’s new compliance solution helps businesses comply with these regulations while cost-effectively mitigating risk and managing privacy, contributing to a better customer experience. (Call Center Info)

What disruptive technology are you keeping an eye on?