Five Points on PR Agency Versus Corporate

25 Jun
Five Points on PR Agency Versus Corporate 


“Agency versus Corporate” is a common topic among us PR folks — what’s the difference, which is better, which one is more “going to the dark side” than other…?


I’m just over a year into my first corporate stint after 15 years at agencies and three years as a freelancer. Without offending, hopefully, my colleagues on either side of this fence, a few points that may offer some clarity to anyone looking toward one side or the other.


1. There is a difference. Yeah, PR is PR. But, working at an agency and working within an organization are different jobs requiring different skills mindsets. Look at it this way: The same person can play baseball and football, and if you’re a good athlete, you can play either at a very high level. But you’ve got to work different sets of muscles to be successful. Agency folks have to work their ‘what should they do muscles.’  Corporate flexes their ‘what can we do’ muscles.


2. Agency Pros are External Catalysts. In the best view of yourself,the external agency is a catalyst for change with clients. You bring in strategy, focus, an outside point of view. You bring in insight from your interactions with influencers, and your work with other clients. You share best practices. You add focused skill and expertise to the client’s world. And your ideas and strategies provide a spark that might just generate sales, change perceptions and drive change. While on the inside…


3. Corporate PR Pros are Internal Agents. You’re representing your organization and your function. You’re deploying your strategic skills in messaging, positioning, writing and communicating that, in most cases, few others in the organization possess. And in the best view of yourself, you’reeffecting change in the organization…not by fanning the flames of change but by channeling creative energy into operational reality.  


4. Corporate PR has no idea how frustrating it is to be their PR agency.The very first time I worked with our agency after joining my company, I felt like a complete idiot. I didn’t have the information he needed, I didn’t have time to offer a proper explanation. I fired off short, probably cryptic emails just to keep things moving. I was acting, in short, just like the most frustrating clients I’d ever had. The challenge for the agency is to respect the client. To be a true partner, while standing outside of the day to day work of the client, helping the client to be  their best self while never really knowing the whole story of how things are actually getting done on the inside.


5. Agency PR Pros have not idea how to effect change inside a client’s organization. Even the best agencies with the closest client relationships don’t really know what it’s like for their clients day to day. There’s the meetings.  There are the multiple functions involved….organizational alignment needed…the moving parts necessary to turn a creative program into an operational success…From the outside, it might look dysfunctional…and sometimes it is….look at even the most effective organization from the inside and it’ll seem like chaos. But at their best, corporate pros are smarter than anyone about their business, effectively experimental, and cheerful agents of change. 

Your thoughts?

In Defense of Paper

4 Jan

Thus far, no one has come up with a digital solution that measures up to paper for:

* Spreading a newspaper or magazine across the kitchen counter, so the whole family can catch up on the news together.

* The school lunch menu, posted on the refrigerator.

* Elementary school homework, with smiley stickers and gold stars.

* School newsletters.

* Report cards.

I embrace the digital just about everywhere. But nothing kills family time like kids and grownups zoning out over screens. No media promotes live, in-person conversations like paper.

Morning News

31 Dec

Speaking of old habits…

I feel like my morning reading is getting stale.  My go-to this morning was, where for some reason I’ve been fixated on the implosion of the Michelle Bachmann campaign…not sure why this wasn’t seen as inevitable from the start.

Typically, it’s the New York Times (this morning, how can you focus on campaign news when being stared down by the  piercing blue eyes of Brad Pitt?), and the local StarTribune (Rickyyyy Rubiooooo!)

And if I have time, its comic book culture and news on Newsrama and the Comics Alliance (10 Comic Book Movies in 2012! Writer Speaks Out Against SOPA!).

But, old habits, you know?  What are you reading? What should I add to the morning report?




A Change of Habit

30 Dec

Some days, I don’t like change.

My local Caribou Coffee shop says they’re no longer selling beans from Kenya. The sweetest, smoothest beans, with an aroma that at first whiff awakens your mind to finer things. But…gone.

The burrito joint near work, Baja Sol, apparently has dropped my favorite Fire Roasted from the salsa bar choices. I had a routine there — dip the chips into the Fire Roasted then the Caliente. Gone.

Things change. When we were dating, my wife and I loved a restaurant called Pasquale’s. Disappeared some years back, along with the old Loring Cafe where we’d gotten engaged.

And of course, there was the time years back where at work we had a weekly Friday morning breakfast at this little joint called "A&J’s Gem Cafe" and the group shows up and the diner is still smoking and the news crews are out in front. Apparently, the couple that owned the place had a fight, and the diner was gone. Friday breakfasts didn’t survive long after that.

There was a time when I could walk into Peter’s Grill in downtown Minneapolis, take a seat at the counter and the waitress would say, "Gyros Plate and a Coke?" and I’d smile and nod.

I’ve lived in Minnesota for more than 20 years now…it’s the first place I’ve lived long enough to see change…people come and go, shops and restaurants rise and fall, neighborhoods reshaped.

It’s hard to watch things change, but it’s easier than, say, changing. In some ways, you’d think embracing change would be simpler if you could, say, pick up and move every four years, be someone new, find new places and new faces, reshape yourself, change old habits and finding new ones. But here’s a secret that’s probably not a secret: it doesn’t work that way,

Old habits are like being a rock in the river, stuck in place, watching the world flow by. Better to dive in and see what you find.

So I went and got a job…

21 Feb
It feels strange to say it, but it’s true: I have a new job.


I’ve joined a long-time client as corporate communications manager, focused on driving global internal communications to engage and align employees around the company’s corporate strategy. It also means that I’ve closed up shop as an independent consultant.


Why leave  the freelance life?  The biggest motivation for me is the chance to part of a team again — the idea that I can, once again, be part of building some great. And it’s a chance, after 18+ years as an agency guy, to be on the inside, instead of on the outside looking in.


The decision wasn’t easy. 2010 was my best year as an independent and I took each relationship with each client very personally.  I didn’t have to do this. But at the same time, I did.  Yeah, the idea of benefits didn’t hurt, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was time to chance at change…to try something new…to refresh before I grew stale.


As for the blog…I’ve been pretty quiet, I know… I’ve been rethinking what I want to do with this thing. I won’t be blogging about the job, but I’d like to shake up the blog and plan to dive back into the fray soon.  I hope you’ll stay tuned.


So that’s my news…what’s been up with you?

One Facebook to rule them all, one Social Inbox to bind them…

16 Nov

One member of my family  informed me that they find Facebook so useful and convenient that they, essentially, only share family news via Facebook.  Which would be great, except that many members of that same family don’t check Facebook regularly, or (horrors!) don’t have Facebook accounts.

In other words, because it’s convenient, it’s OK if the communication itself is unsuccessful.

Which brings us to the new Facebook Social Inbox. As reported by Christopher Heine at ClickZ,

The Social Inbox will include regular Facebook messages, e-mail sent to addresses, mobile phone messages (SMS), and Facebook Chat discussions.

Not only that, ClickZ reports,

When a brand sends an e-mail or direct message to a “liker” on the Facebook Messages platform, it will appear in an “Other Messages” section that sits directly below a “Messages” folder. In simple terms, the “Messages” folder will house conversations with friends while “Other Messages” will hold messages from entities that users have “liked.”

There is a part of me that suspects that I’ll find this insanely useful and part of me that asks, “what’s the point?”

The “insanely useful”  side sees how bringing email and Facebook comment threads together could be a lot of fun…and a way not to “miss” those vitally important family updates.  This is what my relative wants…has been begging for, in  fact. The Social Inbox is a people-centric system — your messages publish to them they way they want them — whether it’s SMS, email or Facebook chat. You don’t have to keep family and friends’ communications preferences in mind when you communicate.

On the other hand, what’s the point? Facebook already is a big ‘ol social inbox.  Would an enhanced Social Inbox that keeps me abreast of  the stream of social conversation throughout my day enhance my experience of life … or replace it?

I watched the video and I was moved…and I’m impressed.  And a little creeped out. Facebook’s Joel Seligstein talks about how with Social Inbox a couple can have a virtual shoebox of every communication they ever share — from, to paraphrase — making dates over texts to love letters to picking up the kids.  What he doesn’t say is that it’s all supported by the brands you “Like” — friendly folks from cool and useful places that you bring into an ever closer circle in your social orbit.

In the end, I’ll try it out because that’s what I do. Businesses and brands would be foolish not to want to be Facebook Liked, and thus to gain a spot in the social lives of their fans.

But my prediction is two-fold: 1) that heavy Facebook users are going to embrace this and will become even more deeply emeshed  in the Facebook ecosystem; and 2) the intensity of centralizing nearly all social interaction around Facebook will intensify the backlash…hastening the launch of “what’s next” … because you know it’s coming.

What say you?

Why Brett Favre needs a good manager

25 Oct

Just sat through another thrilling agonizing loss by my hometown Minnesota Vikings tonight.  As I follow the postgame commentary on Twitter, I catch the inevitable tweet — this time, as it happens, from  Steve Rubel, that ‘it’s time for Favre to retire.

I don’t buy it. Favre should ask out of the game? Hell no…players want to play, and I wouldn’t want any other kind on my team whether it’s grade school soccer or pro football.  At the same time, just as players play, managers have to manage.  At some point, when you see your quarterback hobbling across the field and, worse, avoiding sacks with a wild, underhanded fling…don’t you think it’s time to call a timeout? Maybe have a talk with your guy? See if he’s doing OK?  Give him a chance to breathe?

Being a manager isn’t easy.  There are lots off techniques in the toolbox, but they call come down to being able to see the goal clearly, know the path to that goal, and get the best out of your people so you all can get there.  If you don’t like confrontation, you don’t want to manage. If you can’t put yourself in the place of your team, get what they’re feeling, you don’t want to manage.  Same if, knowing where your team stands, you don’t like telling hard truths or making tough decisions.

Seeing Favre at Lambeau last night — alternately brilliant and baffling — reminded me of how important it is to have a manager that will help you look good — and save you from yourself.  I remember what one of my favorite managers said to me when I started at Fleishman-Hillard.  I’d just taken the job from another communications agency, and, eager beaver that I was, I asked him about my billable hours goals.  He said:

“Ken, don’t worry about billable hours. It’s my job as a manager to worry getting you the hours. You just do great work.”

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

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