The Secret to Success: Impact and Experience

VCU Mass Communications Commencement Speech

I gave the following commencement speech yesterday in Richmond to Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications. The speech focuses on what makes for a successful career in communications, specifically by navigating today’s fast moving media environment. The keys to success are gaining experience and delivering impact.

Thank you to Bill Farrar, Yan Jin, Jon Newman and the rest of the faculty at VCU for having me. And thanks to those of you who took the poll and answered questions on the challenges facing today’s communications students entering the job market.

Commencement Speech for VCU Mass Communications School

Book Title Revealed: Marketing in the Round

Marketing in the Round by Geoff Livingston and Gini Dietrich

This post is co-written by G Squared (Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston).

Guess what?!?

We finally get to talk about our new book! We joked, early on, that it’s not nice to tell prolific bloggers they can’t write about what they’re writing about. It’s been a challenge, that’s for sure.

It’s time to let the cat out of the bag with our book now listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Special congratulations again to Gini, who is making her first appearance as a published author. Her post today on Spin Sucks discusses some of the feeling that comes with that.

Generally, Gini’s ability to market has been eye opening. She is stellar, and deserves to be one of the industry’s most renown marketers. I quibble that her name should be first on the jacket. While I have much of theory and strategy down, watching her do her thing on a daily basis has been impressive.

Integration of All Disciplines

Integration or multichannel marketing is an underlying topic within social media, but also one that CMOs are discussing greatly.
Not since the original dot com era have CMOs been under so much pressure to understand how new media integrate into the mix, and how all the parts work together.

There is a great need for information in multichannel marketing. As two practitioners who have successfully marketed in the social and mobile media realms, yet find our roots in the traditional public relations and advertising practices, we believe our book offers new insights into how to build a multichannel program that leverages the strengths of all disciplines, old and new.

A critical part of my thinking is the understanding that social media has arisen, and in many ways has plateaued. There are not many new insights to add to the incredibly thick lexicon of social media texts available in book stores.

A recent IBM study of 1,700 chief marketing officers has some interesting results. It found respondents:

  • Are facing a challenge trying to figure out how to integrate the growing number of new marketing channels and devices, from smart phones to tablets.
  • Fifty-six percent view social media as a key engagement channel.
  • Not since the original dot com era have they been under so much pressure to understand how new media integrate into the mix, and how all the parts work together.
  • Seventy-eight percent expect more complexity during the next five years, but only 48 percent are prepared to deal with it.

There is a great need for information and an understanding in multichannel marketing.

Move the Conversation Out of the Sand Box

When the book will be released next May, it will have been nine years since Robert Scoble began his tenure at Microsoft as a video blogger. It will have been more than five years since the launch of Twitter. And nearly six years since Facebook opened to anyone older than the age of 13.

The era of corporate (and general population usage of) social media has entered its maturation and evolutionary phase.

The challenge is no longer how to incorporate social into the marketing programs, but how to move social out of the sand box, and into a role that fits within larger marketing context. In some case it may not fit at all.

We find that role — an important one for grassroots and customer relations — is often overblown.

Consider most successful marketing programs are in actuality integrated using advertising, direct marketing, mobile, and/or PR with strong social components. Rare is the pure grassroots, or viral, hit.

Marketing in the Round

I remember back in the dot com era I moved from traditional media relations into a fully integrated offering at Stackig, an acquired company served as Monster Worldwide’s Washington, DC office.

During my four year tenure there, I had to learn advertising and recruitment principles in order to sell our integrated offering. We had everybody in the region on the client roster; UUNet, DoD, the CIA, AOL, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, MCI and on and on.

At this time, I had some great mentors, Victor Watts and Ellis Pines (a Leo Burnett veteran from the Marlboro Man era), who taught me about branding, advertising, and business development. To this day the ability to apply the lessons learned as a journalist turned PR pro turned marketer distinguish my social media campaigns.

Clients are not left in the dust of conversations without ROI or outcomes, nor are the objectives stand alone without value to the stakeholder. Further, dovetailing tactics is a signature, usually seen with an event, but there are other components.

Look at Give to the Max Day, what many dub as a social media fundraising success with $2 million raised. But many overlook the significant PR, advertising, event marketing, guerilla tactics, and more that went into that recipe.

Collectively as G Squared, our approach to integration is to use a roundtable concept…where all disciplines work together to break down the silos, do what’s best for company growth, and work together.

It may seem a bit naive if you haven’t yet tried it, but it works. G Squared have both been working with organizations to do precisely this for years.

The book has case studies of companies, non-profits, and other organizations who have been successfully integrating for years. It has exercises for creating your own marketing round. And it gives you all sorts of ideas, benefits, and risks for creating a strategic and integrated marketing round.

It’s not out until May (our final deadline is January 2 and we’re already two-thirds finished writing), but you can pre-order it now.

5 Marks of a Great Writer

Writer
Image by Alan Weir

After writing professionally for two decades in a variety of media and roles, several key attributes clearly distinguish a great writer. Some of these are ideals that others are better at, some of them are personal strengths. Here’s a look at my top five:

1) Transcending Medium

Great bloggers, strong journalists and fantastic authors impress us with their words. But the writer who transcends medium, style, tone and even first, second and third person narrative just amazes me. The ability to easily work with varying media and styles demonstrates a master wordsmith’s skill.

In college as a literature major, Thomas Hardy was my idol. He wrote fantastic important novels, then became one of England’s most influential poets. He even wrote a play.

2) Tight Active Style

Growing up, my father was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. I learned from him that Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style was a writer’s bible. “Cut the fat (editing out unnecessary phrases)!” “Punch up the verb tense, make it active!” These were the constant reminders my Dad imparted on me. Impactful sentences deliver great thoughts with as few words as possible.

Because of Strunk & White, I fell in love with Hemingway and Turgenev’s works in college. To this day, I still appreciate good crisp copy.

3) Headlines Make or Break a Story

Stories, book titles and blog posts all rely on headlines to captivate a reader. Another great lesson from my Dad, who wrote epic headlines like “The King Is Dead” when Elvis passed, and “We Win!” when the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980, 97 years after the franchise was founded.

If you want to see great headline writing, read the ads in top magazines. Advertising copy writers live and die by their headlines. There is much to learn from these master craftsmen.

4) Fun Keeps Them Coming Back

Great writers entertain us, regardless of the topic. That’s why so much of today’s boring business copy — regardless of medium — indicates a general focus on delivering messages in a safe manner instead of the reader. Too bad.

This one I learned from Mom, who has been one of the country’s preeminent syndicated astrologers for the past 30 years. Her big differentiator was the ability to make the stars fun and campy, something traditional astrologers were unaccustomed to in the late 70s and 80s. In the past 10 years, we have seen a similar shift with the rise of blogging and funner copy writing.

5) Grammatical Frameworks

Without grammar, writing loses its cornerstone. Many masters of the written word regard Twitter with horror because some updates undermine the very rules of “good English.” Without grammar words lose meaning and become bastardized shells of their former selves.

Grammar has always been my weakest point. Yet as my career progresses, my appreciation for the “Eats, Shoots and Leaves school” of grammar increases. Proper punctuation, tense and word use aren’t the death of writing. On the contrary, they indicate a truly great writer’s (or editor’s) touch.

What aspects of writing do you appreciate?

How PR 2.0 Created the Social Media Bubble

Bubble Bokeh
Image by John Petrick

The social media influence bubble finds its basis in measurement of inaccurate barometers. While one can use glittering generalities in defining influence — such as the ability “to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes” — in reality, those desirable actions are vapid benchmarks. Specifically, PR 2.0 measurements are participation oriented: retweets, impressions, follower counts, blog rankings, and other public measures of “conversation.”

Responsibility for the resulting social media bubble and the increasing demand for impact belongs to the PR industry in its 2.0 incarnation. It’s the same industry that during the 1.0 era relied on similar metrics, such as number of press clippings, impressions (sound familiar?), and the winner of all metrics, ad equivalency. Current PR definitions of success online will always be suspect, just as the industry’s prior metrics always led CEOs to question the value of public relations.

As the Harvard Business Review so adequately stated it, “‘social’ media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.” PR 2.0’s popularity based metrics gauge attention, but not business actions. Common business actions include sales and brand reputation for companies, and donations and advocacy for causes. For that matter, current social media metrics fail to measure attitude (reputation), the hallmark of PR.

Three As of Measurement_thumb[2].png
See Kami Huyse’s post on the the three As of measurement.

Measuring attention has created the very strange ongoing conversation about influencers, and their thoughts. Influential talking heads — as determined by attention metrics — dominate today’s social web conversation. Influence also allows PR pros to build lists of “important people” to target for pitching in the hopes of achieving earned social media impressions. Sound a little like the old media relations game?

Like PR 1.0’s impressions, attention in social media has its value. There’s a reason why attention represents one of the three As. But it only represents a piece of the puzzle. Because inexperienced businesses and nonprofits were desperate to adapt they accepted the PR industry’s social media metrics as the answer. And as such, over-reliance on PR 2.0 metrics have created the increasingly discussed bubble.

Attitudes and Actions

Social media communications represents a confluence of disciplines, from the already discussed PR to advertising and relationship development (called business development, sales or development depending on the type of organization). Social can also include HR, customer service, etc., but from a pure marketing standpoint, these are the three primary internal disciplines. Traditionally, while all three intersect at times within social, advertising’s call to action and networking yield sales and long-term relationships.

Three Primary Skill Sets Used in Social Communications

That doesn’t mean that advertising would have done a better job defining metrics. Pay per click, and more specifically the click through rate, still hang over the industry as debatable cost metrics for online properties. But advertising’s legacy is that a campaign works if sales increase. In the case of branding campaigns, advertising works if reputation and awareness increase. Advertising skills have their role in the art of getting people to the site, then getting them to commit to an action.

Yet advertising’s downfall has always been its inability to develop one-on-one relationships, which for many organizations falls to the development team. In business-to-business organizations and nonprofits this role and title should be familiar. Even large consumer product organizations have relationship developers that vie for channels and distribution. In consumer product and service companies after the sale, the customer relations department often takes over.

These people create, build and sustain critical relationships for years, even decades. Applied, development skills bring that irreplaceable relationship element to social media marketing and communications. Relationship development builds a sense of loyalty within a community. This extends beyond the momentary casual interaction to continued participation and actions over time.

To become more effective, social media metrics need to take into account the other marketing disciplines at play. That means measuring real actions such as sales/donations as well as reputation, advocacy and strength of community. A retweet algorithm won’t cut it, nor should a business or cause blindly accept attention metrics as the sole determination of program success.

What Will Happen When the Bubble Bursts

Bubble Burst

Businesses and causes are already questioning the value of social media programs. Their highly touted Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts aren’t answering the right kinds of questions about impact. Navigating truths and myths about disruptive communication technologies will force a much deeper level of accountability for communicators and other professionals using social tools.

This change in tone and accountability is already being felt. The recession is forcing organizations and companies to make their communications programs work correctly, or drop them altogether.

Unfortunately, the backlash towards attention based metrics could be severe. More and more voices are quick to cry smokescreen, and communicators who can’t navigate delivering hard business results will likely struggle. Claims of social media expertise may become a great big red flag, while understanding how to integrate and measure online communications within a larger marketing program will be a sought after skill set.

What would be unfortunate is if the backlash is too severe and swings completely towards sales goals without respect for relationships, or the necessary step of garnering community attention. As with most things in life, the middle road is the best course. Only time can tell what will actually happen.

What do you think of the social media bubble? Are PR 2.0 metrics and the organizations that accepted them to blame?