Saturday, March 26, 2005

An Open Conversation with Steve Rubel, Micro Persuasion

Transcript of interview with Steve Rubel, Micro Persuasion, March 21, 2005.

Last Monday 21 March, Shel and I interviewed Steve Rubel for The Hobson & Holtz Report bi-weekly podcast.

Steve is Vice President Client Solutions at CooperKatz, a New York PR firm, and author of the Micro Persuasion blog. He is arguably the most prominent and influential blogger in the PR profession either side of the Atlantic.

We enjoyed a stimulating and wide-ranging 45-minute conversation that covered many topical issues, including blogging as an integral element of the practice of public relations; the General Motors blogs; the growing importance and significance of tags and folksonomies; influence, celebrity and responsibility; ethics and the public relations profession; and whether Steve wears pyjamas when he blogs.

You can download the show containing the interview (MP3, 30.8Mb) and subscribe to the RSS feed to receive future shows automatically.

To complement the podcast, the following is a complete transcript of our conversation. As a transcript, it has no editing nor editorializing - it’s the raw conversation including all the ums and ahs, reflecting what happened in our conversation.

One thing words on a page can’t convey is the emotion and humour of our conversation. We all had a lot of fun doing this interview! The sense of that comes across best by listening to it.

Here’s the transcript:

Shel: Well, Steve, thanks for joining us, we really appreciate your taking the time. And, just to start with, can you tell us how things are going with your blog - any changes planned, any developments?

Steve: Heh! Should there be? Um, no, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, blogging like a madman, and, er, what I’m trying to do is really, I want to shake the tree because I think that PR professionals need to really, you know, get what’s going on here and jump on board and I think that the three of us and the other 97 of us who currently blog in the PR industry, we need to do a better job of talking to the everyday PR man or woman and what it means to them.

Because I think a little bit of what we’re doing now is talking amongst ourselves, and talking amongst the people who do get it in social media land. Actually, in mainstream media land as well, as you know, with the different opportunities we get to talk to the press. But I think we need to get everyone on board.

I spoke at the Council of PR Firms meeting in Chicago last week, and I talked about RSS and using Bloglines and things like that. I think that’s something that we, everyone of us, needs to take responsibility for in getting, you know, somebody in their agency, at their competitor, at their clients, wherever, understanding what RSS is, what blogs are and what this all means, because I think we have a lot more work to do there.

Neville: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Let me add something to that, Steve. You know about the, er, postponement of the New Communications Forum in Paris, right? That was postponed last week. And I think the picture’s different in Europe because in the US, that event in January attracted, you know, loads of people who have heard about blogs, not amongst that 100 group you mentioned, who came along and wanted to find out what was going on, what it was all about, how to use it, all that… and the picture’s slightly different in Europe and it’s got me wondering that, you know, what you mentioned - I do that, you do that, we all do that - and there is a lot of talk amongst the converted, yeah, I agree with you.

But going out to take that message out to people, it seems to be falling on deaf ears a lot over here, so what else can we do, do you think?

Steve: Um… I think it’s going to fall on the responsibility a little bit of not just the 100 or so us folks in the blogosphere. It’s going to rely on the leadership of the agencies, it’s going to reply on some of the clients… I mean, as you know, I wrote a month or two ago that I believe there’s this silent, non-blogging, blog-believing majority that’s out there in corporate America. I hear from them a lot, you must hear from them a lot as well.

And without naming any names - I can’t get into them - I can tell you that they believe. They know this is important and they have to go and sell this up the food chain. I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of, “well, Steve, how many readers does this blog have, how many readers does that blog have?”

And I say, ok, you know what, that’s one way to look at it. But you can’t look at it that way because that doesn’t matter. What I’m going to say to you is 250 readers and you’re going to say, “Steve, why are we wasting our time?”

This is not… this is a very different medium with very different sets of metrics with very different ways of measuring it, and I think that somehow we… I’m hoping that, you know, almost every day you go and do a Google News search for blogs and it’s there every day. And somebody from Fleishman-Hillard who I met at this meeting with the Council of PR Firms said, you know, “hey, the press throw these words around like everybody knows what they mean.” So there is a classic disconnect here between the press and the PR professionals.

I don’t quite know how we bridge that gap but I know it’s not just all on our shoulders. It’s on our shoulders to tell as many folks out there as possible who are probably not reading blogs to get on the Cluetrain.

Neville: Right. So we just keep on hammering at it, er… the point you made earlier, just going back to that, the way I see it, it’s not so much talking about blogs as a lot of us do - I’m guilty as well, you know, these are the new tools, etc - it’s what they can do and just keep repeating that message to as many people as possible until we reach the critical mass. Is that… would that be a fair summary of what you’re saying?

Steve: I think that’s fair, but I also think that the PR community views things as safety in numbers. So as more companies start to blog and there’s more demonstrable results through that blogging, uh, and they see blogs getting picked up in the press, as, er, sources, I think that will have that kind of cascading effect once that takes place.

So, I’m talking to a lot of major companies right now, I mean, our practice has very healthy interest in what we’re doing, and I think that, you know, as we work and you work and Shel, I know what you’re doing is working with companies and Voce is doing great work with blogs. As we get more proof of concept out there, I think there will be that cascading effect.

But with that, there will be people making mistakes as well.

Shel: Oh, no doubt. Uh, one thing I’ve noticed in Micro Persuasion lately is sort of an emphasis on the value of blogs as a search engine optimization tool. Do you see that as one of the benefits to tout to companies so that they understand?

Steve: Actually, that’s a really good point. Yeah, I thank you for observing that. Yes, I definitely think that is critical because they understand, they already have that… so much of what we want to sell into blogs is new, right? And the newness of it may prevent people from actually doing it. But when you link it to something else that they are already familiar with and value, it’s going to have more inherent value in itself.

So search engine optimization is a good one, um, I think you can demonstrate that the blogs will get mentioned in the press, um, that’s also another good way to link it, if you can link it to an online marketing campaign or an offline marketing campaign, um, and say how they might be able to build on that by talking in a human voice.

So, yeah, it always makes it easier to sell something that people are already convinced they need.

Shel: And is the flip side of that the notion that talking to them at this stage about engaging the customer in a conversation might be, er, a little too much for a lot of organizations?

Steve: It definitely will, I mean, I think you have… the companies fall in two camps and there’s some in the middle. Um, there is a Doctor Phil or there is a Soviet Union. Ok? And what I mean by Doctor Phil is that they, quote-unquote, keep it real. They’ll talk to you in a real voice, they’ll, you know, um… Debbie Weil mentioned she’s disappointed in some of the bloggers from Boeing because they didn’t know enough because they didn’t know enough of the facts that their CEO had issues. Um, I don’t know if that’s quite going so far but it’s certainly talking about real issues. And that’s going to be cultural, I think.

You’re going to have another group of companies that are going to want to be, you know, controlling the message, marching it through Red Square when they’re ready and putting it into a silo and launching it. So those companies, I don’t think blogging is for them. And then you have the companies who are in the middle.

But, you know, blogging doesn’t have to be black or white. It can be: start small. And it may be starting whether you like it or not, because your employees could be doing it.

Neville: Yep. So it’s dip your toe in the water and see what happens, no matter what you do, try it?

Steve: Yeah. Well, I don’t know about no matter what you do, try it. I think you have to say, ok, is it culturally right for us?

Neville: Yeah, that makes sense. So, you do a lot of speaking. I was looking at your speaking schedule and you mentioned the one you gave in Chicago last week. Your feeling… I mean, do you feel like you’re almost an ambassador for the profession in this regard? Uh, how do you feel about that, Steve, I mean you’re putting a lot of time into that, obviously CooperKatz supports you in doing those things, but your feeling from all the people you’re talking to, everywhere you’re going… what’s your sense, again from what you’ve been saying in this discussion so far, but your feeling on when will the catalyzing moment happen? Is it in three months’ time, six months’ time, or is it difficult to say still?

Steve: Well, I mean, I would say I’m one ambassador for blogging. We all are. I mean, I think you and Shel are in a huge way. You’re doing something I just wish I had the time to do! Because your programme is just outstanding…

Shel: What makes you think we have the time to do this?

Steve: I don’t know how you do it and I looked at your equipment set-up over the weekend, you blogged about it, and I said that was just fantastic what you’re doing. But it is good that I get to go out on the streets because, you know, it’s like here’s the flaming madman, you know, here’s the lunatic on the fringe, right, who belongs at [indistinguishable] or something like that, ok? Uh, you know, coming down from the mountain to talk to people about something they could care less about!

Uh, no, in all honesty, I’m happy to do it and it’s a perk to me and yes my agency is wonderful in letting me do that and getting out there. I actually turn down a lot more than I’m actually able to do.

Um, but my sense is that there’s a tremendous amount of curiosity on this topic. They are hungry for information. They want to know what this means for them. I think there is a little bit of FUD out there, ok? You know, fear, uncertainty and doubt about what this all means, you know. Is it really important or is it not important? Uh, I think people are intimidated by all the words. You know, blogs, wikis and RSS. So am I! Right? Ok, so it’s lions, tigers and bears.

So I think there’s an education process and I’m happy to actually fulfill that role offline, because actually I think that’s kind of like what we all ought to be doing to the degree that we can, and initiatives like the New Communications Forum are great because that’s, er, that’s a very welcome move. But I think we should be taking up… maybe we need a whole PR campaign around blogging, you know? I don’t know, it couldn’t get more media attention than it does now, but, I mean… PR Week, God bless them, they hardly cover blogging. Right? Now PR Week dot com and Keith O’Brien does a great job. But again…

I think we’re talking a bit in circles here, so I’m hearing curiosity, I’m hearing fear, I’m hearing, um, what do we do with this? And so I think it’s… when does it happen? When does it hit the tipping point? I’m kind of thinking that we already did and I got to think GM blogging, you know, when the smokestackers start blogging, ok, you know something big is happening.

Neville: Maybe there’s a lot going on under the surface that we just don’t know about. I’m thinking, you know, on the one hand there was that news recently about IBM’s 2,800 internal blogs and you think, wow, they’re doing all this stuff and they’ve been doing it for a while. Then you’ve got news like, er, talking about GM, Hass MS&L with their MS&L Blogworks practice that they started about a month ago.

And you, er… I keep hearing about what Hill & Knowlton are doing in particular countries. And you think to yourself, maybe some of these big agency groups are quietly working away at getting into this area and suddenly we’re going to see a load of these people announcing moves into this which clearly would help raise that, er, you know, awareness and acceptance to that level in quite a few leaps all at once, don’t you think?

Steve: But I think there’ll be skepticism around that as well, because… we all lived through the dot-com era, right? Ok? And what we say is that… I have a practice here. But, I mean, the best way to maximize the use of that practice is to tie it in to everything else you’re doing with PR.

You know what? I mean, there was no such thing as a press release practice. Right, guys?

Shel: Right, absolutely!

Steve: There’s no such thing and even 25 or 30 years ago there was no such thing… and if you are, you’re a freelance writer. Ok? Alright, so, I mean… and there’s a role for that, ok? There’s a void to fulfill. But not a practice. A practice is actually looking at social media, looking at big media, figuring out, you know, how do you treat each one. And how do you get those two things going in a good way.

Um, I wrote today, I mean, Richard Edelman is out there today talking to, er, the Globe and Mail in Canada and he’s actually saying that PR professionals need to think like journalists now especially now that blogs are getting big. I thought that was so terrific that he said that, but, you know… and I think that what you’re going to see is the big agencies begin to embrace this, right, and the [indistinguishable] as well.

But I hope what they do is not just launch a PR practice and say, gee, we can now do this blogging thing, it’s cool. But what they do is if they really actually like Hill & Knowlton is doing and put it into the bloodstream, ok? Give the employees the keys to blog, ok? Let them blog with their blessing, even if it’s internal. I can understand if they don’t want to let them go external, if they’re nervous about that but at least get them blogging internally.

Because, you know, you can’t… as I see this, the best way to be an expert in this environment is to be in it. It’s like the lottery - you’ve got to be in it to win it.

Shel: Well, Steve, you, er… as long as we’re on the topic of the blogging practices, could you talk a little bit about how the blogging practice at CooperKatz integrates with the more traditional public relations efforts there?

Steve: Well, first of all, I should just back up and give you an overview of what our plans are, what we have in mind here.

We started with blogs as a service to clients in early 2004. So we have two clients that we have blogging going back to, er, the beginning of last year, even before I had a blog. Um, and we learned a lot through those experiences and saw how they were… how the media were subscribing to the feeds and picking up on what they were writing. So we got ingrained in this, um, game early on by actually making it a part of the PR programme.

So obviously now, you know, you’ve launched a blog and there’s a lot more interest in this… I’d like to think that the three of us were ahead of the market and the market is now kind of catching up to us. Um, so now that that’s happening, what we’re doing is we’re launching a series of different services under the Micro Persuasion brand, which in and of itself was a decision I had to make. Do I want to affiliate, quote-unquote, my brand with this agency? And I am committed to this agency, this organization, so I decided to do that.

The services… the first one is much more of a crisis communications counselling service because we felt that would appeal to the, um, to the corporate communication crew. And the way that would integrate is really serving as the eyes and the ears and actually helping them build an overall crisis communications plan and an audit, er, that helps them prepare but tailoring it more towards the blogosphere, but also figuring out how that would integrate with the press.

Is the person who’s talking to the press the same person who’s going to blog? It may not be, ok. Is what we say on a blog going to be different to what we say to the press in a crisis? It may not be. And how we say it and how we do it. When do we use the blog, when do we use the press?

Shel: What about internally, Steve? How does this relate to the relationship with the client that’s maintained by, say, the account executive?

Steve: Well, we’re small enough with a 20-person firm that I’m now basically, er, utilized by the corporate client base. So if there’s interest in blogging from one of the clients, or if they want to know more about it, we’re sitting on feeds for every client. er, when I say feeds I mean PubSub feeds, Flickr feeds, and, er, Feedster feeds and Technorati feeds, etc. So we’re monitoring for all the clients.

So they’re interested in doing something with blogs and we sell it to them, but to some companies it’s much more of a “let’s jump in” and other companies it’s “let’s wait and see.” Ok? Much to our discussion earlier.

So I’m really leading that effort when they are interested. Now look at me not only as a, er, kind of a resource person the other accounts have. In addition I also have a new business role here at the agency obviously, and that’s where all the speaking comes in and talking to all these different accounts. But, er… prospects, I should say.

But the other thing that’s happening is the other services we plan to launch are much more involved with what I call, for lack of a better word, flee. Ok? Our philosophy is four-fold.

We say: one, find your evangelists and your vigilantes online. Two, create every channel and means possible to listen to them, actively, ok? Three, engage them in a dialog. And four, and this is not for everybody but if you can, empower them to do great things online and to spread your message for you.

Ok, so I’m going to give you an example. Engage. I think GM is engaging. I think Spread Firefox is empowering.

So the services we’re going to roll out under the MP brand will cover all facets of flee. Which I hate the name, by the way.

Neville: How do you spell it?

Steve: f-l-e-e-. I hate it! It’s an acronym for find, listen, engage, empower.

Neville: Yeah, flee, it’s cool!

Steve: I guess so, otherwise…

Shel: I just picture the character from Monty Python and the Holy Grail saying “run away”!

Steve: Yeah, it is humorous in that sense but don’t say run away, run towards it. But, you know, er, [indistinguishable] called it flee and we’re stuck with it!

But that’s where I think the opportunity is here and that’s the new world of PR.

Shel: If you extrapolate that out to, er, the really big agencies, a Hill & Knowlton, a Fleishman-Hillard, somebody like that, how would they handle a practice like this? You’re small enough that can just sort of be part of all the engagements, er, but when you get to the…

Steve: My goal is to make this place bigger, so I mean if that’s going to happen, it’s not just, you know, Steve Rubel comes in and teaches everyone how to do this. We’re training our entire teams in how to use these tools, how to know what the ins and outs are, so, er, we are delegating a lot of this beyond the… I’m immediately involved at a strategic level but executionally I need a lot of help with the team and the expertise of the team and their own ideas come in here as well.

So this is far from the Steve Rubel show. I mean, this is an organization and a team with a lot of talent. So it’s up to me to train the folks to be able to do this, and the bigger agencies I hope they’re doing that.

Neville: Yeah, I would be very surprised if they weren’t, Steve, to be honest. The thing that’s been in my mind, too, listening to how you’ve described the structure at CooperKatz, thinking about the big agencies they tend to be more, well, bureaucratic by virtue of their size and traditions and things like that, and I would imagine that, you know, for the larger more global firms, they’d need to approach the concept of where this fits into their existing infrastructure in a different way than if they were just setting up a department. I mean, that’s how I imagine it would be, don’t you think?

Steve: It’s integration, like I said. I mean, it’s er… ok, so when you hire an account coordinator, right, or an intern, you teach them how to write a press release, right? You teach them what makes a pitch work, what doesn’t. Right? Well, at some point, you’re going to teach them how to use RSS feeds, so hopefully this will start the academic level, ok. And I think it’s already starting there. And that’s terrific.

But at some point, they’re going to have to come in and know how to use RSS feeds, and know… ok, you know what, if you want to set up a blog, I’m not going to expect them to know how to set up Movable Type on a Unix server, um, but I’m expecting them to know a bare minimum on how to use Technorati and PubSub, ok, which our entire team now knows. And to know just to be aware that things, you know, could start there that could have an impact.

And then at the higher level, I’m teaching them to engage with the bloggers. I mean, I… Weatherbug is the typical example here. I’ve been working with them in the blogosphere now for a year. And that is the one account that I still run from day to day because it’s a legacy account that I’ve been working with for over three years now. But my team is advising them on what to blog about. They’re feeding them links to link to. They’re sitting on PubSub feeds and reacting, knowing how the media and the blogosphere and the two hands work together as part of the programme. So a lot of that I am able actually to delegate because we’ve done a very good job of teaching that in our organization.

Uh, back in June, I had Robert Scoble and Buzz Bruggeman come and talk to our agency, and they taught us a lot. And obviously you know from my own blogging and writing and speaking that I’m doing a lot of teaching myself, externally, outside the agency.

So you’re right - it’s got to be ingrained in the blood. And a small agency, a mid sized agency, is going to be in an easier position to do that. Two or three years from now? No. I think everybody will be able to do that. But this is, as you know, like a cheetah, in the jungle, ok, it is moving fast! You have to, you’ve got to stay ahead of it. And my wife says to me, Steve, I worry that you’re tying your wagon to this blog thing and it’s going to be a fad, you know, like New Coke! Or it’s going to be like the hula-hoop or the Rubik’s cube! Ok, um, and I explain to her, actually no, it’s now podcasting!

Shel: It’s like my father still says, the internet is the CB radio of the decade, so…

Steve: Yeah, but, you know, the trend is that consumers want to have a say, they want to have a share, they want to have a voice, and that I think is… and they’re using the net to empower themselves to do that, ok? Whether it be blogs, boogie-boards, podcasting or whatever it is they use to do that, ok, that trend is there.

So that’s what we’re hitching our wagon to.

Shel: I don’t know if you had a chance to read Kevin Dugan’s blog today, um, but he, er, raises the question... as long as you brought up the FastLane Blog at GM, he says anyone that’s visited the company’s Smallblock Engine and FastLane blogs knows they do not lend themselves to discussing job actions but blogs are dialog and readers may steer the conversation to this news. Obviously talking about GM’s bad news last week. How would you counsel them if you were working with them on dealing with that?

Steve: Well, generally speaking, when you have news out there that’s negative, right, you don’t want to talk about it unless you really have to. Right? Unless you really feel it’s going to steer the dialog in the right way. Right? So, um, because sometimes you can only fuel the flames that way. So in their case, I mean… I think it’s a little unrealistic for everyone to think that these blogs are going to talk about everything that’s happening to an organization at any given point in time.

Ok. I think that if GM… if you look at those blogs, they’re really about thought leadership and about marketing. They’re not, you know, the sole voice of the organization. So I don’t criticize them for not talking about that there. I think if there was, for example, a glitch in the smallblock engine, ok, that they had to recall the engine, then I think you could make a real case that they should be talking about that there. But I think that’s a little bit, er, idealistic to think that companies should talk about everything that’s happening to them through their blogs. They’re not at that stage yet. I mean, we should be happy that the smokestackers have blogs.

Neville: I agree with you, Steve. I’ve seen a number of blog posts, in fact not just Kevin’s, I saw Debbie Weil commenting on this too, that basically they’ve got a blog, why aren’t they talking about these issues? That’s not the objective of the blog. Plus they have other channels to address, you know, stuff related to finance is one example and news such as their announcement last week. So I agree with you that, er, you know, the current blog isn’t necessarily the channel to discuss that.

Steve: Let me ask you a question. I mean, here’s how I clear it, ok? Let’s just say, Neville, that you’re an alcoholic. I know you’re not…

Neville: I only have two glasses of wine doing the podcasts, ok?

Steve: That’s good that you’re able to hold it! Um, but let’s say you were, right, I wouldn’t expect you talking about that on nevon dot net, right? I wouldn’t expect that because it’s a personal challenge you have and you have another channel to talk about that if you’re addressing it, ok? Now, this is an extreme example, ok, but it’s much the same here, ok. You choose what you want to write about. You choose what you want to cover. Now if you make it all like lollipops and candy and isn’t everything great, then people will get turned off.

But on the other hand, I think it is having a dialog. Now are they getting a lot of questions from their readers on this, on that topic? If they were, then I would think, hmm, then there’s something interesting.

Neville: Absolutely. If the FastLane blog were full of comments, you know, on their latest post by Bob Lutz about, you know, the Cadillac or whichever GM vehicle, if all the comments coming in were asking what’s going on with your financials or what about the layoffs, now that would definitely be a different thing. But that’s not what we’re seeing on the blog.

Steve: Then I think they’re ok right now. Until they hear this podcast and everybody starts!

Shel: Well, I don’t think those folks are listening to this podcast, but I do think the people who are participating…

Steve: Well, Robert listens to the podcast!

Neville: That’s cool!

Shel: I do think that the people who are participating in the FastLane blog are people who want to talk about cars, er, and not about the business of making cars.

Steve: What a shocker!

Shel: Yeah, so it’s my hope anyway that they’ll stay focused on that and not let this be a dilution of the, er, ability to engage the audience on that topic.

Steve: You know, when you go to somebody’s house you try to steer away from the room that’s being renovated, right, ok, and focus on the magnificent deck you’ve built in the back yard…

Shel: I try to steer them away from my daughter’s room, but that’s another story…

Steve: Well that’s what they’re doing here, ok? And you know what? That’s PR.

Neville: Yep. Exactly. So related to all this, that takes us down another avenue. You’ve written a lot in recent weeks about folksonomies, or folk-so-nomies... how the hell do you pronounce that word? Folk-son-omies, right?

Shel: Folk-son-omies.

Steve: That’s how I do it, yeah.

Neville: Yeah, exactly. Um, and reading some of your stuff, I find it very interesting because I read elsewhere on other… not a lot, I must admit… there are some people who I read say, you know, these tags and stuff don’t matter. Now, you are one of the, er, I would argue champions of how these things do matter. How do you see it then, Steve, in terms of, you know, the linking, the connectivity… thinking about John Udell’s excellent screencast and how to use del.icio.us, for example, that to me would make it clear that these things really can be very powerful tools. That’s how you see it, obviously.

Steve: Yeah, I think that… obviously you can tell that I think they matter in a big way. Number one is, they make content that’s difficult to find, easier to find. Ok. So let’s just say I wrote a flaming post about GM. And somebody finds that post and tags it under GM in delicious. Or it’s, you know, if I have a Technorati tag for it, it will show up in Technorati under the tag GM. Or whatever it is. All those tags.

Instantly that content is much more discoverable because people who are interested in autos, really interested, ok, are going to use delicious to find information like that. So it’s critical, it makes that kind of content much more discoverable. So, that’s one.

Two, it’s for the marketer and gives a sense of how people think. Ok. If people are categorizing something, er, under one genre as opposed to another, or one tag as opposed to another, it gives you a sense for how they view this stuff. So it’s almost like a living focus group, it’s available to you 24 hours a day. Ok, and you might say, you know what, people don’t think of whatever our product is or whatever our service is in this way; they think of it as… this. Maybe they don’t think of the features, they think of the benefits. Ok, so I think that’s… it’s a window onto the psyche of the world.

So I think for those two reasons that they’re incredibly, incredibly powerful and I think that, er, they seem to click with consumers, they get it, they say gee, I can share my information the way we want and you just kind of decide how to classify things together, and I think it’s, er… for the two reasons I said earlier, extraordinarily powerful.

Neville: Ok, I agree with you in fact. So, how does it feel to be a celebrity blogger? I’m thinking about Media Magazine’s Media 100 list.

Shel: A-list blogger, Steve.

Neville: Yep, A-list celebrity blogger!

Steve: Am I a celebrity blogger? I doubt…

Neville: I think you are.

Steve: It’s unreal to me that I am. Er, I’m actually… I’m a little uncomfortable with it. Because… I think it’s… especially with that Media Magazine 100. I’m honoured by that, but my wife asked me, gee, how come they don’t have a party for all those folks?

Neville: Maybe that’s coming up!

Steve: Right, you know? Are you going to go to the party with Oprah? No, I don’t think so! Unless I, you know, figure out a way to have a child by myself, um, and end up on the show! But, um, I think that… the one thing I will say about it is that it shows that I am a guinea pig for the power of blogging in PR. I’m a walking guinea pig, ok, for what I preach.

And if you’re out there, and you’re thoughtful and you’re engaging in a dialog and you’re, um, pushing things in the right direction and you get noticed, you can end up being part of the public discourse, whether that be online or offline.

So, um… and I’m a little uncomfortable with it that I’m not here because… I know that there are some PR bloggers especially like Tom Murphy, Phil Gomes, that were blogging when dinosaurs were walking on the earth. Ok? And so, who am I to be any more important, so to speak (and I don’t believe that for a second) than they are or you are?

And I think what you guys are doing is amazing and actually I’m sitting here thinking, gee, how come PR Week has not got a story about this podcast?

Neville: Excellent!

Shel: We haven’t sent them a press release yet!

Steve: You know what? I’m going to send Julia Hood an email, because… and she’s the editor… because I think that what you are doing is outstanding and…

Neville: Well, thanks.

Steve: I think you should be submitting it for awards also, because it’s carrying our profession forward in a new way and its lending more transparency into the PR community, so… I mean, it feels… it is what it is and, um, it’s my 19th minute of fame, Neville!

Neville: Right.

Steve: It’s [indistinguishable]

Neville: Ride the tail in that case! Going back to Micro Persuasion, your blog, I mean… Shel’s the same, the reality is everywhere I look, I see you referenced all over the place. And you can do, as I do, you know, those rankings. Look at that Preople thing that we were trying to figure out, for example. But the reality is that you are referenced by so many people and, you know, people look to you as, you know, “we read this on Micro Persuasion.” I see that kind of reference a great deal.

So you have an awful lot of influence in the, er… actually it goes beyond the PR community. And that, you know, that’s great and I think you should be proud of that because Micro Persuasion is an excellent connector resource and you seem to find out stuff and comment on it before most other PR bloggers do, so clearly people see you as a great window on commenting on what’s going on. Which is, you know, very interesting in such a short time I think.

Steve: My God, you make me want to go out and buy a candy bar for myself!

Shel: Well, Neville raises an interesting question, Steve…

Steve: Wow, a special treat for me today!

Shel: Well, there’s your ego boost for the day, but Neville raises an interesting question, you do seem to find…

Steve: Neville, did you hold back, because I felt like you were holding back there!

Neville: Yeah, I need to tell you what I really think!

Shel: But as a result of having this higher profile, are people forwarding you stuff, is that one of the ways you’re learning things?

Steve: I get so much… well, some of it I get forwarded, I get pitched a lot, ok, and actually so I kind of got sick of it! And I said here’s a way to do that using delicious so let’s open that up, um… yeah, so that’s… I guess I am, I mean… you know, why me and not Richard Edelman? Why me and not Richard Edelman? And that’s a good question. Here’s one of the most influential people in the PR industry and a guy from a 20-person agency that most people had never heard of until… for a while, now has influence.

Um, it’s fun, it’s fun. And I’ll tell you, Neville, it gives me incredible responsibility. Ok? Because, like you, my blog posts are in Web Pro News. And Web Pro News gets indexed by Yahoo and Google News, ok. So, you know, if I’m writing about eBay or GM or Google, which I’ve been known to do, um, and it gets picked up, it’s read by those organizations.

So I take that very seriously as it puts me in a strange position when it comes to blogging about clients, because I could be accused of trying to spam those services. So it’s, er, it’s nice to have the influence but I really believe that… and I try very hard to link to other people, ok, and also my texts as full text feeds. I don’t need the traffic, you know, and it’s nice to see the people referencing my name, but… I mean, Robert is the god there. Everything I’ve learned about blogging I’ve picked up mostly from him.

Neville: Right. That’s Robert Scoble, right?

Steve: Yeah, Robert Scoble, I’m sorry. I talk about him like he’s a share, Robert, like everybody knows who he is. Um, so it’s… I mean… but I like to think that all 100 of us… at least that’s the last count I saw of PR bloggers, I think it’s 130 of us… we’re changing our industry. And maybe I’m one of the more louder voices that’s being heard, um… but I do get pitched, I get pitched, um… I also have some great tools and tricks that I won’t share with you that will help me find things before others do.

Neville: Right! Yeah, I think that you… my perception, Steve, is that you walk that very tricky path in a way that is, if you like, befriends everyone and offends nobody. You don’t tend to write, you know, seriously-opinionated posts as a lot of us do. I do a lot of that kind of stuff which puts you in one camp or another, so you’re… I would say frankly you’re seen by everyone as a, you know, key influencer - everyone has that view. That’s probably the key to why Micro Persuasion is so successful, I would say.

I’m not talking about how we measure success, I mean that’s a general phrase, I don’t think anyone would argue with it. That’s probably one of the key reasons, I think.

Steve: Well, thanks. I like to be… I like to to say it like I see it, ok. I call it like it is, I think that one thing I did was I kind of talked not only about PR because I think that’s kind of insular and only a small group of people have an interest in that, but I try to bridge out how search affects PR, and how RSS affects PR, and how PR impacts the media, and the media is changing.

So I kind of feel like I have a, um… have a bigger picture, maybe. Which is, you know, um, there’s room for all of us. So for example, when Ketchum, the whole Ketchumgate thing sprang up, I really didn’t blog about it that much, at all. Because I felt that was kind of outside what I talk about and the… but you know what? The PR bloggers did an amazing job despite what Jay Rosen says about talking about that, and that was their role.

Neville: it’s interesting you mention Ketchumgate because actually I was going to ask you about that in the context, you know, Ketchumgate, that was a particularly US thing: that was my original thinking. It’s not, it’s a huge issue, I think, this whole point of how it’s evolved into a discussion about ethics, which has still not, you know, reached any kind of conclusion. And there are a lot of people including me who advocate very strongly that that’s where the professional associations, er… that’s one of the roles for why we have professional associations, that’s my argument.

What do you think about that, Steve? Do you believe that this issue of ethics… each of us has an opinion, each of us has a responsibility as individual PR practitioners, but do you think the professional associations have a role, should be taking a stand on things like that?

Steve: Um, I think it’s… let’s back the train up here and look at the broader term. There’s much more transparency now into what public relations does. What we do with the practice, ok? Whether it be the agency side or corporate side. Because, I don’t know about… when I got into PR in 1991, no one knew what the heck it was. I didn’t even know what it was when my college guidance counsellor said Steve, you should be in PR. Actually, I did a DOS-based computer program when I went to school because I didn’t know what I wanted to be in life, and I ran through this program and it said, Steve, you should either be a union negotiator or in public relations. And I said, what the hell… what is PR? I had no idea.

Now, here we are, you know, just ten years later and everybody knows what PR is and the more educated among us and those who read certainly know what public relations is and what it does. So with that comes transparency, ok, and with all the move towards blogging and things like that, you know, there’s now a greater need for people to say, you know what, I want to know what’s PR and I want to know what’s news. I mean, God bless the people for wanting to know that. You know, so how do we… so anything that fosters that is good but I think that’s going to up, you know… that’s business unusual for a lot of companies and organizations, particularly in the government.

Neville: Ok. Shel?

Shel: Steve, that takes us to about 45 minutes, so I think that will wrap us up for today.

Neville: I’ve got to transcribe this now, you realize that, don’t you, Steve?

Steve: Yeah, and you probably can’t understand a thing I say…

Neville: Oh yeah, don’t worry, I’ll have to listen to it twice but I’ll get there!

Steve: I mumble like crazy and I talk at 4,000 miles an hour!

Shel: You are from New York, that’s ok.

Neville: It’s very clear on this call, I can hear it perfectly, so I shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Steve: Don’t mis-quote me!

Shel: We’ll spell your name correctly, too! So thanks very much, Steve, we appreciate your taking the time to talk with us today.

Steve: Thanks, and keep doing what you’re doing because it’s just terrific and, er, it’s on my iPod and I can’t keep up with the show it’s so good! But I tell you, it makes a long flight a lot shorter.

Shel: Oh well, thanks a lot.

Neville: Thanks a lot, Steve.

Steve: By the way, I also listen while I do the laundry…

Neville: Excellent!

Shel: There you go!

Neville: Well, I listened to your show with Cameron and Mick where you were doing your laundry, I think you were in your pyjamas… you’re not in your pyjamas now, are you?

Steve: No, no I’m not. It’s only when I blog!

Neville: Ok!

Shel: Thanks a lot, Steve.

Neville: Thanks, Steve, talk to you again soon.

Steve: Bye!

Posted by neville on 03/26 at 10:17 PM
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