For some additional perspective on this topic be sure to check out Jason Mollica’s blog – One Guy’s Journey.
Get your coffee, turn on the tunes, and settle in for a read. I’ve been avoiding a post of this nature for some time, but its time has come.
Most everyone in PR has an opinion of Peter Shankman. It’s a bit of a litmus test – doesn’t matter what your opinion is, as long as you’ve got one there’s a strong chance you’re actually in PR. I won’t go into who he is – if you don’t know this post is likely not for you.
First off – A big disclaimer or two. This opinion is my own. With minor exception no one saw this in advance or even knew I was writing it. It is certainly not official #PRBC dogma, or necessarily the opinion of the other founders, bloggers, their employers, their clients, their kittens, kids, neighbors, or anyone I may have ever met or tweeted. This one’s all me, me, me (and anyone else that decides to grow a pair and step up in the comments — pro or con).
Further, this is merely based on tweets I saw from the discussed event. It’s entirely possible that the statements taken in the context of the presentation made more sense. Given the number of times some of them were repeated and RT’d, however, leads me to believe they are the proper sound bites and my best case scenario is not the case. I’m happy to be called out on this if that’s in-fact the case.
Second – I have great respect for Mr. Shankman in certain areas – he built up a great agency, consults on PR and marketing matters with seemingly great success, has an extensive personal network, created and built HARO, etc. Then….there are the other issues. The near constant self-promotion (which is vital, but when mixed with messages about not self-promoting becomes nauseating), the sweeping statements about how businesses should conduct themselves (do you really expect a hotel to let random people stand in their lobby?), the muddling of innocent minds, etc.
Then I started seeing tweets from some of the attendees at last weeks’ PRevolution: Creating Stability in a Shifting Landscape hosted by the Detroit PRSA.
And much of it was pretty much … drek. And I’m sure this will not be popular among the herd of followers who compliment every blog post or tweet of Mr. Shankman’s, even when they make no sense and serve only to make his life more convenient. But I’m really unconcerned about that at this point – the sheep will be led to the shwarma stand, or in this case – disappointment, one day and if no one can get in a good “I told you so…” then it’ll be a wasted opp.
So, let’s start at the top of this whole thing – with the marketing of the event.
I admit, I only checked this part out when starting to write this post so I could properly frame the nonsense I was reading on Twitter. Perhaps it did make sense in the context of the event and I was out of line. Nope.
Mr. Shankman’s keynote was entitled “Be better, or take up residency on the Isle of Mediocrity.” Which it seems is a frequent topic of Mr. Shankman’s *Yawn*
Wow. What a great title for any seminar or presentation designed around improving yourself personally or professionally or any kind of learning environment. Glad the writing was top-notch on that one (note the sarcastic foreshadowing).
One of the things I’ve come to discover over the last few years, while working in PR and tinkering in the SM sandbox, is that we’re all here for something else. Even the clients have different goals. For consumer brands it’s mostly revenue/sales. For megabrands it’s frequently brand reputation as PR by itself won’t necessarily (depending on sector and size) do much to drive the bottom line in the up direction but can certainly have a negative effect. For everyone else it’s other things.
The write-up goes on to say “Join Peter Shankman as he discusses these tools – what to use, what to avoid, and most importantly, how to make them work for you and your business.”
Well the primary business of those in the audience is PR so shouldn’t the talk really be about how to get the most out of their communications programs, proposals, benefit their clients (or boss in an in-house situation), etc.? Mr. Shankman’s preso is sounding more like a general entrepreneurial discussion than one based on PR. Which given the success of his businesses he’d be well suited to give.
Additionally from the sounds of it there’s one definite right way to ‘do’ social media and we’re going to learn that from Mr. Shankman at this event. Wow, good to know the rest of us have apparently been getting it wrong (at least in part) and now we’ll be set straight with the way to actually do it. In an hour and a half. For all the numerous variations in PR. What.a.bargain.
Then we get the little bio of Mr. Shankman. Apparently lifted straight from the HARO site with little regard for things like dates or accuracy.
“Shankman is the creator of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), which in under a year has become the de-facto standard…”
Under a year? I subscribed to HARO back in Spring ’08 and wasn’t of the group that transitioned from Facebook. So it’s been at least 2 years. While still impressive, let’s not say things which simply aren’t true. Perhaps “….(HARO), now in its Xth year, became the de-facto standard within a year launching…” would be more appropriate. Let’s just blame this one on bad writing (oooh, more foreshadowing).
Unfortunately we can’t blame the site merely being old – it sports a 2010 copyright year so someone’s been doing the care and feeding.
Whether it is, or isn’t, a de facto (unhyphenated according to dictionary.com, merriam-webster.com and wikipedia) standard isn’t for me to say. What I will say is I’ve heard mixed results from PR Pros and Journalists alike on the quality of both queries and responses from HARO. But I’m all for adding new tools to a practitioner’s toolbox so have no problems with it in concept.
Now we’ll move on to the actual content of the presentation (as far as I could tell from the tweets). I won’t cover every point tweeted, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with it. Tweets have been converted to normal English (e.g. “ur” to “your” for readability purposes).
“your debt to your Twitter following is to be interesting.”
No wait, let me clarify- WTF?
Let me be absolutely clear:
- I owe NO debt to my Twitter following. If one of you “followers” or “members of my community” think I do based solely on following me, please tell me and let’s clear this up, like, pronto.This isn’t a comedy club where someone’s come in to watch me and I owe them a performance. I get enough fishbowl-ery just by being in PR. I’m on Twitter for my purposes, you for yours. The only thing I owe my following (or anyone for that matter) are those things I actually commit to.
- If I were to owe my following anything it would be to continue doing what I was doing when they started ‘following’ me (heavens how I hate this jargon) or continue the natural evolution of this account. Certainly not being ‘interesting.’ I wouldn’t dare try to figure out why someone decides to follow another account, and certainly not mine. But that’s what we do – if I were to try to shape my tweets based on what my followers found interesting I’d be pulled in over 3K+ directions – it just doesn’t work. And Mr. Shankman would be pulled in over 55K+. Major brands – over 100K. Say it with me – ow!
“When people think you’re [or you are] normal , i.e. just like them, then you have a problem.”
For this one be sure to check out Jason Mollica’s post here. Though to add to Mr. Mollica’s comments (and bastardize a Sam Brown quote) – I’d much rather offend with substance than style. So I’m happy to let people think I’m normal like them and then slip in a little surprise.
“Have a plan in case you succeed”
Totally 100% good advice. And now how do you recognize success? Please tell us that. Some of the country’s strongest large and small businesses started in different fields and evolved. Someone had to stop at one point and say “Wait, this product line is kicking the other one’s tush, maybe this should be our primary business” and then reevaluate the ‘success’ target. Fortune cookie wisdom is great…for fortune cookies.
The better question is this – what does this have to do with PR? If we’re talking about a campaign, yes – we can recognize success and I should hope that any practitioner with at least a year under their belt knows exactly what to do with a successful campaign. These are folks paying either $150 to $200 per seat (depending on if they’re members of PRSA) – I assume they’ve had a successful campaign at some point in their careers and know what to do with it.
“Your customers tell you what your company should be” OR “if you think for a second you control your company, you’re foolish. Your customers control the direction” OR “listen to your customers they will guide you to where you need to go” [Frankly I’m not sure if these were all stated or the same line was heard and then tweeted differently.]
Absolutely 100% perfect advice. If you want to run your business that way. On the other hand you could have a vision, realize that most of the world won’t see your vision and rather than cave to the public run the company your way. 2 words – Steve Jobs. Remember the Motorola ROKR. Yeah – it sucked. Then we got the iPhone, Steve called the shots and it changed the mobile world. So you can do it your customer’s way and your company and product can become a Christmas tree where everyone wants to hang their ornament on it, or you can run it your way and if you have a vision change the world (or your little part of it).
At the end of the day though which would you rather have – a company/product you birthed and fed and watered which fulfills your vision (while of course listening to your clients/customers) or something that fulfills everyone else (until they get bored with it and drop it like a Social Media “expert”) and to which you serve primarily as the check writer and contract signer?
“HARO has spent zero dollars on advertising and was one of the top revenue grossing social media sites last year. BOOM” [Nota bene: I’m not sure if the “BOOM” was Mr. Shankman’s commentary or that of the person firing off the tweet.]
Oh, there’s so much here to discuss. Let’s start at the most important one — “social media sites.”
How exactly is HARO a social media site? Yes, the service started as a Facebook page/community, but I suspect Coca-Cola has a FB page – that doesn’t make them a social media site or company. I can’t quote the entire wikipedia entry on social media – but take a look. Does it fit?
IMHO any definition that makes HARO an SM site is likely broad enough to make passing notes in class a social media platform. Further, the interviews re: HARO I’ve seen don’t disclose exact numbers so until there’s some pudding (as in the proof in the pudding) let’s not talk numbers unless we’re going to compare apples to apples. That’s not to say it’s not a great service, just not a social media site the way we all define it.
Now – “Zero dollars on advertising” — ha!
First – It’s easy to not spend money on advertising when you’ve got 3 tokens worth between $2K and $3K each at your disposal everyday which you can barter with (yes I’m talking HARO ads).
Second – I’ve seen the HARO shirts and other products. They cost money (or some other value) and promote the service. I call that advertising.
Third – Some would say every HARO mailing is an ad for the service. They cost in terms of man-hours and the ISP services. This is a great feature for any product or service – it sells itself and encourages others to promote the service. Big Win (no sarcasm, it’s an achievement).
Fourth – HARO is pretty much Mr. Shankman. He’s a walking advertisement. And guess whose profile I discovered on a FeaturedUser site.
This costs money and given the association looks a darn bit like advertising to me.
“Too big to fail is like being too fat to diet.”
To my knowledge Mr. Shankman is not an economist. And yet we’re getting economic theory from him? Let’s break the analogy down (seriously though – critical thinking needs to become a required class for everyone, not just humanities majors).
“Too big to fail” refers to one of two economic concepts. It either means a company is so large and is in so many diverse sectors that all the sectors can’t possibly decline at the same time (imagine a company that made typewriters and computers when computers were gaining popularity as a simple example) or, more recently, that a company is so large that for the good of the economy as a whole the government can’t let it declare bankruptcy.
“Too fat to diet” is (of course) a ridiculous concept and so has no logical explanation.
There’s the fatal flaw in Mr. Shankman’s statement – one part is economic theory the other is nonsense. One can be academically argued by those in the know, i.e. economists (e.g. “There is no such thing as too large to fail because then it’s government supported private company and is bad for the economy in the long term”) the other is horse puckey. And misdirection – it makes the audience laugh and then they go out and repeat it to their communities. Yippie! I’d like to read the actual breakdown of how the analogy works, straight from (as it were), the horse’s mouth.
“The concept of being able to hide information no longer exists.”
Or that the information is being hidden so well we don’t know about it. It’s impossible to prove you didn’t think something, didn’t know something, or didn’t do a particular act. You can list every single bit of hidden information that’s been revealed and still not have proven that there’s not more you don’t know about. Yes – I am stating here and for the record that Mr. Shankman is not omniscient.
“Want to know how to reach your audience? Ask them.”
And they’ll tell you how they think they want to be reached. I always say email’s the best way to reach me (to retailers, etc.). It’s actually one of the worst ways to reach me.
If you want to know this bit of information try different methods of communication and from which systems you get the best responses and consider why that is. I’m sure no one would say “The best way to reach me is by sending me a magnetic calendar every year” and yet that kind of marketing is the bread and butter of many service-based industries and they continue doing it because it works. It’s not your client/customer’s job to think outside the box – it’s yours (or that of your communications agency).
“The art of Twitter lies in the retweet.”
Oh lord. The retweet (RT) is actually the Wonderbread of Twitter. If it must it can sustain life but it provides minimal nutrition and adds nothing to the culinary experience. You could, on the other hand, create something interesting – a nice whole wheat or pumpernickel always did it for me – and contribute to the conversations going on. Twitter’s the ultimate tool for getting your message out there (varies by sector, so maybe not ultimate – wouldn’t want to use too big of a brush). But the RT – the RT is the lowest form of Tweet – merely repeating what others say? Pssh! Tweet me a link with your opinion or comment and it’s golden. If all you’re bothering to do is hit the RT button it’s simply a matter of GIGO
“Transparency is the new black”
Let’s go multimedia with this one:
But seriously, haven’t we all been saying this for over a year (except without the trite ‘new black’ terminology)? This is a perfect example of knowing your audience. It was a PRSA event – they know this. We all know this. Is this the wisdom I’m getting for my $200? What I (possibly) drove hours to get to, got up for an 8a call time? To hear transparency is the “new black.” The next thing is you’ll be telling me Oprah’s show is a great spot for a client placement or page 1 of the Times or the Journal is spectacular. Gee, thanks.
“90% of communications involves some type of written word.”
Ok, fair enough. This one I obviously agree with (though I’m unsure on the number, and am willing to accept that)
“How do you reach an audience whose attention span is 2.7 seconds? Learn to write.”
Whoa! 2.7 seconds – wow. How convenient to be the approximate amount of time it takes to read a Tweet or text message (at least according to other text I’ve seen elsewhere that also conveniently cite this 2.7 second stat). What I’d like to see is the, what’s it called, oh yeah – proof on this number. Because if a person’s attention span (rather than how long it takes to get their attention) is only 2.7 seconds I’m never getting in a cab again.
Oddly, even the cited sources in the wikipedia entry on attention span cites focused attention span (“level of attention [which] is attracted by a ringing telephone, or other unexpected occurrence”) to be as short as (meaning it could be longer) 8 seconds and sustained attention span to be around 20 minutes.
2.7 seconds? I’d really like to know the origin of that statistic. I’m more than happy to be wrong on this one.
Once again – “attention span” is not a single thing – can you sit through a movie and pay attention the whole time? That’s 90-120 minutes (or, if you managed to enjoy Avatar, much longer).
Just think people – sometimes that’s all it takes to sit up and say wtf?
“Bad writing is hurting America”
Ha. I obviously agree in sentiment – but hurting America? I’m sure what’s wrong with America has nothing to do with questionable ethics and morals, dubious healthcare policy that treats conditions rather than putting sufficient money into prevention, megacorps only paying attention to the bottom line. It’s definitely the writing.
Various mentions of the Poken
I simply can’t. There’s so much there to discuss and question, yet I’m glad to see people believe in a product and endorse it at every conceivable moment. Perhaps another day anda after some more info has been gathered.
“You trust people most who are most relevant to you.”
Relevant to me? I don’t consider people as being ‘relevant’ to me or not. Perhaps important, but even then that’s not a determining factor of their opinion on any- or everything. Relevant to me? Let’s break it down. Relevant (according to dictionary.com) is “Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.” That doesn’t mean I trust them. Perhaps respect their opinion.
On the flip side of the coin though, it is those ‘relevant’ people who I would expect to produce differing answers if they’re independent thinkers on any particular topic. So two gurus on a certain subject matter would very possibly have diametrically opposed opinions on the same topic. They’re both “relevant” – that doesn’t mean I trust ’em worth a lick. I could even disagree with the one who’s most “relevant” to me because I know the other one knows more about a particular topic, or is obviously listening to the question more.
“Imagine a world in 36 months where everything is based on relevance.”
1) I have a problem imagining the world in 36 months (at one that doesn’t include jet packs and social security checks). Full stop.
2) Everything based on relevance? Oh, heavens no – for us non-linear thinkers that’s a death sentence. If everything’s based on relevance there’s no irrelevance for us to revel in, and potentially the end of creativity.
How about we do this instead:
- Imagine a world in 36 months where everything is based on intelligence (in the gathering knowledge sense, not in the ‘smarts’ sense).
- Imagine a world in 36 months where everything is based on learning from our mistakes.
- Imagine a world in 36 months where everything is based on questioning everything.
- Imagine a world in 36 months where everything is based on actually thinking for ourselves.
- Imagine a world in 36 months with the iPhone version 7 (wow)
They all sound good (especially that last one), but mean very little – “everything” of anything is a piss-poor idea. Great buzz phrases. But like everything else – very little black, very little white – lots of grey. A lot of it is relevant now, some areas will grow, while others reduce. More grey.
“Moderate your competitors’ public conversations. Actively participate/listen”
Since it seems bad writing is hurting America:
Moderate (from dictionary.com (using the verb form): “to reduce the excessiveness of; make less violent, severe, intense, or rigorous.”
That’s 1) Not very transparent and 2) likely requires a hacker. Or perhaps there’s a writing problem, as I assume the presentation was not entirely improvised…
Monitor (from dictionary.com (using the verb form): “to watch closely for purposes of control, surveillance, etc.; keep track of; check continually.”
Maybe that’s what was actually intended.
Now that we’ve actually taken a look in full daylight at what was spewed forth last week, consider a few things – Where are we getting our information; who did that person get it from? Can they prove, even the most basic things they are saying, with any amount of certainty? Does it pass the sniff test — i.e. Does is smell fishy? Does it apply to your business? Is it even about your business? Is this person an expert in a field that’s moving so fast we’ll likely never have an expert before it’s fully integrated into other fields?
Pie in the sky thinking, and wanting, and striving, and following what is coming is great. It’s what’s next, what’s out there still to conquer. But let’s make sure we’re doing what’s right, and taking the right advice, for the right reasons and from the right people.
Nota Bene: Regarding the title of the post – yes, I know that the unfortunate souls at Jonestown were actually given Flavor Aid, but the expression is what the expression is.