Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 27 Nov 2007
This afternoon, I had lunch with a journalist who has a brilliant mind for business strategy; and the one question I wanted to ask him was – whether he had any business plans to pursue when he tires of journalism. We never got to that question for lack of time, but I was confident that he would make a good strategist when the time comes.
I must say, I am exceedingly fortunate to count as friends, several other journalists who impress me deeply with their business acumen.
But when I got back from lunch, I stumbled upon a Financial Times article by Michael Skapinker, who asserted that “you can handle the web without an adviser”. In his commentary, he explained how complex the Web was; and went on to question the ability of PR agencies to bring any value to businesses.
“When it comes to your whole industry being damaged, you can look for alternatives (paid-for music downloads, online newspapers),” claims Michael, “but it is difficult to imagine what the PR people can do for you.”
There are some very good observations in his article – such as the relationship between PR and customer service quality, and an all-round 360-degree approach to PR. And I’m not disagreeing with some of what he was saying. In fact, as PR professionals, we should certainly consider some of those issues.
But his headline may not be the most helpful to companies trying to grapple with the complexities of the new media and business landscapes.
In fact, Michael’s article reminded me of a Guy Kawasaki post in May this year titled “The Top Ten Reasons Why PR Doesn’t Work”.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why these guys are still going on about the same thing.
In an increasingly sophisticated business environment, PR is probably one of the most valued disciplines (I didn’t say “job” or “tool” or “person”) to management. Yet it seems increasingly fashionable for someone – a journalist or, horror-of-horrors, Guy Kawasaki himself – to have a go at slamming the PR discipline and profession. One of the things they seem to like doing is to insist that businesses don’t need PR firms to navigate social media and help them develop strategies to build trusted relationships with customers online.
Michael Skapinker, for one, clearly thinks so.
So why don’t we admit that they’re right. Almost right. Yes, Businesses can build customer and other crucial relationships online without the counsel of PR professionals.
But I wonder how many of these journalists, in making their arguments against the need for PR firms, actually consider the opportunity cost in developing the expertise and implementing those strategies in-house?
I am quite sure that if you think hard and well enough, there’s no big secret to effective web strategy; or Strategy for that matter. If there were, the best strategists won’t be blogging or coaching others; and professional services firms won’t be publishing case studies.
But PR firms can bring broader expertise, deeper insights, economies of scale, efficiency, quality and perhaps more significantly – a disciplined, systematic approach to web strategy that businesses today really need.
Now, I have no doubt that any capable business leader can acquire or develop the expertise to do all this within the organisation or the management team. But at what cost?
Intelligent business leaders do what they are good at. And they outsource the rest by engaging professionals to bring all I stated above to the table. Sometimes, you can bring on your management team, someone who’s great at online public relations strategy. But often, depending on the scale of the business and the business structure, it makes more sense to engage a consultant or an agency.
So yes, Michael Skapinker is right. And in his words, “you can handle the web without an adviser”.
And businesses don’t need professional PR counsel agencies just like they don’t need accounting firms, research firms and IT vendors. Businesses don’t need PR agencies just like I don’t need a plumber, or a laundry mart, or an investment manager.
But how much business sense is there in having the account executive or the relationship manger spend time learning to build the office network. Or how much business sense is there in setting up a full-fledged IT organisation within a mid-sized business?
We are talking about fundamental management principles here, and it’s disappointing to see such simplistic views from credible publications like the Financial Times. Especially when the intent is in question.
If you feel that CEOs and other senior managers are capable of developing strategies to manage their public relations without counsellors, I won’t argue against that. I humbly submit though, that the true differentiating value is not the big strategies, and the creativity and the PR awards (although I admit they are all important; except the awards). But as a PR consultant or an agency, the greatest value that I can bring to businesses is this: a less-glamorous but disciplined and systematic approach. It is the discipline of developing strategy, skill-sets, relationships and whatever else it takes – in order to help companies meet their business objectives. And very often, this means helping business leaders to listen well, communicate clearly, and hold them accountable to the high standards of sincerity and honesty that’s required in building trusted relationships with the Public.
So, Michael-Skapinkers-of-the-world, until business leaders decide that it’s not importance to focus on core competence and manage organisational resources and intellectual capital efficiently, professional PR counsel and services are still your best bet.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 28 Sep 2007
PR lessons can be learned anywhere; and a morning coffee experience proved it.
Some days back, I had a meeting at a Starbucks cafe that I’ve never been to until then. What was different about this one, was that it had no air conditioning. (Aside: Yes, I live in Singapore, the Air-conditioned Nation.)
There were two main seating areas at this outlet (which was part of a shopping mall) – one at the basement of the mall where the drinks counter was; and the other was an open area by the road on the ground level.
Since the weather was rather humid, I asked the lady who took my order for Cappuccino – if it was more cooling to sit at the basement level that morning, or on the ground level.
To which she replied – “I prefer sitting upstairs”.
Well, this didn’t really do anything for me. I wanted to know where it was more comfortable (cooler), and not her preference.
Fear of commitment
If you’re following my point, you’ll know by now that I’m referring to company representatives who fear committing to customers. Even if it’s a simple question – How can I get a better experience?
Customers will know when you’re not even confident of who you are, and what you stand for.
And today, the transparent Web will put more customers directly in front of every employee – both at the front-lines and even in the back-office; so your customer strategy will have to extend beyond your polished customer relations director.
In the same vein, your ever-prepared PR director will have start thinking about what every employee will (or will not) say to the citizen journalist who comes in the form of an angry customer or a curious investor; and not just the “official statement”.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 03 Aug 2007
- Eternity is a two-month break from blogging, watching fellow ‘PR bloggers’ analyze countless issues that I would have loved to discuss, but for lack of time… and realizing that after all that, nothing has changed… really.
- Eternity is the moment, frozen in time, when after sunset on a breakwater by the sea, I asked Ruth to consider a courtship with me… and she said yes.
- Eternity is the rock – Chronos – upon which all our grandest endeavors to communicate clearly and build trusted relationships, is built on or smashed against.
I am amused to realize while I pen this entry, that after a two-month break from blogging, I unintentionally resume with the same theme with which I first started this blog – time.
Why I’ve not been blogging…
The one question I have to answer here is the one that many of you have asked me via e-mail, instant messaging and even when we meet face-to-face – “Why have I not been blogging?”
If it would serve no other purpose, this excuse-riddled post will explain everything.
This is one entry that has seen the most number of revisions starting from the first draft two months ago. And even now, I post this with some hesitation.
Separating the person from the blog
For a long time, I’ve tried to keep this blog completely free from accounts of my personal life. I wanted it to serve as a guide and a resource to those who needed to know more about how the discipline of Public Relations has changed in the new Web 2.0 economy. And I remain rather sure, that what I will write next in this post will do very little in accomplishing that.
Therein laid my dilemma – for two months, the very most pressing thoughts I wanted to share with the rest of the world, I refrained from doing. And because of that, every other ‘PR 2.0’ entry I intended had taken a backseat.
But in finally putting this post up, I now truly appreciate first-hand, how hard it is to separate the person from the blog, and the blog from the person.
So yes, contrary to popular opinion, I’m still alive and blogging. And while I can’t promise that this will be the most insightful piece on the blog, it will certainly be the most personal one so far.
… Changes in my life
Another reason I refrained from blogging over the last two months because life was very much in transition… and for lack of time in grappling with the changes and transitions.
I was adjusting to a life in a relationship… And… between spending time with Ruth and taking time to discuss communication strategies on a blog post… come’on…
During the past couple of months, I was also working through a decision to leave Burson-Marsteller to pursue…
It seems that most of the foundation for ‘PR 2.0’ has been laid and this is the season to develop strategies from principles and put words into action. It’s time for Execution. Execution. Execution.
In a timely convergence of frustration with age-old PR bad-practices, opportunities in consulting for companies that seek to understand social media and operate in the new environment, I’m leaving to do just that.
Final reason for my tardiness in blogging – I’m working on a project that I shall codename ‘O.F.’ for confidentiality. It’s got everything to do with social media, public relations and business leadership. Needless to say, I look forward to opportunities to collaborate. If you are keen, drop me a line… I may not be able to reveal very much; but would love to chat anyhow.
Project O.F. will be the one constant in my schedule over the next couple of months until it’s launched and I move on to something else.
… But back to this blog and back to writing…
The purpose of this blog
I started this blog to get the unacquainted started on their journey in PR 2.0. And after having compiled the PR 2.0 University reading list, after putting up Paul Holmes’ brilliant manifesto with his permission, and after pointing to some brilliant minds who are blazing the way in the industry, it feels like my job is done, and I don’t intend to spend much more time commenting on incidental issues (the Debbie Weil-GSK Blog fiasco, Edelman’s Walmart boo-boo etc) when others are doing it so brilliantly. (I still intend to join in the discussions though, because I think there will be valuable lessons there… and for that same reason, I will attempt to point the way to those conversations).
You and I
Finally… You. You do realize… that I dragged my seat back into writing because of you? I do want to talk. I want to talk about your interest in PR and social media and how we can do what we do better. How we can build strong relationships with the people that matter to us and to whom we matter. How we can make a difference in the world, by not only having the best intentions, but by also articulating our vision clearly. By engaging in fruitful dialogs with people and getting others involved in what we do. Not shutting our organizations and businesses away from people, but by opening up the doors and inviting them in.
This blog has been a great way for me to engage in those discussions with you; and it will continue to be a great way for us to grow together. And I look forward very much to our next conversation.
As I return to blogging, I read with interest an article by The Friendly Ghost about the decline in volume of blog posts by PR Bloggers (specifically in the UK). This is somewhat cathartic since I feel somewhat better that I’m not the only one who’s been spending less time blogging.
Walter Lim also wrote a piece titled (the) Death of Blogging, pointing to Steve Rubel’s post on the same subject. More validation (and excuse) for my eight weeks of silence in the Blogosphere. But that’s another post altogether. Meanwhile, this blog is still alive!
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 25 May 2007
I.Z. Reloaded recounts the courtship that led to a Blog-sponsorship/Brand Ambassador relationship with San Street
San Street, a street-wear company in Singapore, has appointed local blogger – I.Z. (of I.Z. Reloaded) – as Brand Ambassador. I.Z. will represent San Street’s portfolio of clothing brands, and the company will be the main sponsor of his blog. Details can be found in the official announcement on Scoopasia.com.
Today, businesses are clearly interested in reaching out to online communities by working with bloggers that attract such an audience. The tactic? Creating associations with Global Microbrands.
When I.Z. gave me the heads-up on this news, I interviewed him in the hope of providing companies with insights on how to approach bloggers with a marketing agenda (an issue that still divides the blogosphere):
Q. Did the company approach you “cold”? Or did you have friends in the company?
A. I did not have prior contact with San Street until several weeks ago when the company was scouting for bloggers to work with.
Q. How did they approach you? How did they strike up that conversation?
A. They sent me an e-mail with a brief description of the company and its clothing brands. They also mentioned that they were looking at new marketing platforms, and were interested in using my blog as part of their marketing plan. I agreed to meet to discuss further, and that’s how the conversation started.
Q. What did you like about their approach?
A. I liked it that they were straight-forward and very clear about what they wanted. And I think that (approach) is important. Not many companies know how to approach bloggers properly for such purposes.
Q. What would have made or broken the deal for you?
A. Before this, I was already talking to a few companies about similar endorsement/sponsorship arrangements. Because of that, I was prepared with the right presentation (on my reader stats: the number of readers per day and month; and a breakdown of where they come from) and the right plans (how I would promote their products on my blog).
Q. When I first asked the question above, I meant to ask if there was anything San Street would have done to make or break the deal. But it seems you feel that the blogger has an equal part to play; and certainly an equal reward to look forward to in the relationship.
A. Yes. There are many bloggers out there who are interested in some form of sponsorship. So, if a blogger would like to be selected by a company for such deals, he should go all out to impress the company.
Q. How do you feel about your blog being labeled “a marketing platform” by San Street?
A. I’m happy with it because it shows that blogs have come of age, and that companies are starting to regard them as an important marketing tool or platform. I’m not saying that every blogger should start pursuing sponsorships, but I think as a blogger and publisher, it is always satisfying to know that you can make a difference; not only to your readers, but also to the companies that want you to help them market their products.
Q. Did you wear their range of clothing and accessories before this?
A. I never wore their apparel before this, but I guess now I will have to! I’m obligated to wear their stuff during functions and events, but I’m pretty comfortable with the clothes that I’m representing now. They have an entire range, not just t-shirts, but jeans, caps, wallets, bags, slippers, even girls’ stuff!
Q. How many brands do you think a blogger can effectively represent at any one point of time?
A. Ha! Well, David Beckham represents quite a few brands doesn’t he? I don’t think there’s any limit for a blogger seriously but he or she must try not to be seen as overselling because having too many ads and other marketing messages on his blog may put off readers. For me personally, three is the optimal number of brands I can represent effectively.
Q. What do you think will happen if you disagree with some or all of San Street’s future business decisions? For example: a range of clothing that you absolutely detest, a corporate decision that you object toâ€¦ What would you do then?
A. Well, we have a pretty flexible agreement so I’m sure that if we don’t like what each other is doing, we will be able to come to a quick solution. But I don’t see any problems because I have a very good relationship with them and it’s something that is growing everyday.
Q. How often do you meet San Street to discuss branding/marketing issues?
A. We talk and meet daily or as often as I can. There are a couple of interesting things that we have planned and you will see the end product of those discussions on my blog in the near future.
Finally, after quizzing him, I distilled three factors to consider in establishing a ‘marketing relationship’ (for current lack of a better term) with a blogger:
- Personality – the blogger’s personality and how well it complements your brand identity. There is no substitute for reading the blog thoroughly and assessing the blogger’s style of writing, as well as the responses from his/her readers.
- Popularity - the extent of the blogger’s influence, and perhaps more importantly, his/her ability to keep readers constantly engaged. Blog popularity awards are a good (but not always reliable) indication of bloggers who are tried and tested in their ability to do this. I.Z., for example, was runner-up in both the 2006 Weblog Awards (Best Asia Blog) and the 2004 Asia Blog Awards (Best Singapore Blog).
- Chemistry – how well you can get along with the blogger. It is crucial to have a good rapport with the bloggers you work with because:
- they can get very involved in the publicity and promotions activities;
- their personal brand is intrinsically affected by your business decisions (and vice versa – their personal decisions can dramatically affect your company brand); and
- a ruined relationship can possibly result in rather negative publicity on the same blog thereafter
San Street’s business relationship with I.Z. Reloaded follows other similar PR tactics in Singapore, and I am sure we’ll see more of such Blogger-Brand-Ambassadors emerge in the months ahead.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 16 May 2007
In Mission Impossible 3, Ethan Hunt, played by actor Tom Cruise, had a bomb planted in his brain. It was later triggered by the villain who placed it there; and in order to deactivate the bomb, Hunt had to electrocute himself in the hope that his wife would be able to revive him later.
And so it is with this blog. Because of problems with my web host, I have decided to migrate to another server. This means that the blog will be down/inactive from 0600 hrs to 2359 hrs on 17 May 2007 (Singapore time, GMT+8). In the meantime, nothing in the world would have changed much.
And unless you tell me otherwise, I will remove this frivolous post when the migration is complete.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 04 May 2007
Bravo! Paul Holmes has absolutely nailed it with his recent article: A Manifesto for the 21st Century Public Relations Firm.
Paul’s essay was published in the latest issue of the Holmes Report dated 30 April 2007. The weekly newsletter is available on a paid-subscription basis, but Paul has generously given me permission to republish his entire article in this blog entry.
It is a brilliant combination of revelation and affirmation for the case of PR 2.0. It draws out everything in my heart on PR. A must-read. Thanks Paul.
And here is the manifesto… Continue Reading »
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 15 Apr 2007
Businesses should always commit to meaningful action above all things, but many corporations pussyfoot around serious issues in the hope that PR (misunderstood as spin-making) can create a buffer between reality and appearance.
Unfortunately, it is easy for PR professionals to accede to this agenda under various pressures from clients and upper-management. And we have ourselves to blame if we are not taken seriously in the boardroom.
To advance my previous argument for PR’s place in the C-suite, one reason why we’re not there yet, is this: When PR professionals successfully mask the truth to get a positive story where a negative one could have resulted, we get applauded for solving the problem. The recognition may feel good in the short term. But in the long run, the profession takes a beating because we don’t get respected for helping to steer the company in the right direction.
“The best advice any public relations firm that premises its work on truth can give a client is that if you’ve got a problem, fix it – ‘fess up, tell what you’ve done to correct the problem and move on to the many positive things you are doing… …Trying to help a company mask its problems with other initiatives or justifying a p.r. approach with utterances that clearly don’t connect with the reality of a client’s situation is a true disservice.”
And might I add – it’s a true disservice to both our clients and the profession.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 13 Apr 2007
[Disclaimer: This article is not directed at any individual or company in particular. I mean to point out a fallacy in common thinking about PR – a deeply-rooted error in traditional PR practices that seems innocuous, but threaten to jeopardize all the good that we are doing today.]
I stumbled upon a post on the Hass MS&L blog that discusses “the value of online media monitoring”. It makes a case study out of the KFC/Taco Bell crisis – the company was shamed by the news media earlier this year, when rats were found scurrying around in one of its restaurants.
The main point of the article: Seven hours is all it takes for a company’s reputation to be smashed when issues are left unmonitored. And it ended with: “If this company had media monitoring and crisis monitoring someone could have called to move media crews away from the front window or covered the front window where dozens of media outlets had set up shop filming and getting customer reaction shots.”
It is a useful post, because it emphasizes the importance of media monitoring and crisis management. And it presents a very compelling timeline that shows how fast a company’s reputation can “go south” when crises are left unchecked today.
But I am troubled that it was overly preoccupied with the case for monitoring, covering up, and responding to appearances. I understand that PR professionals are concerned with the public image, but I’m disheartened that there was no mention of, or apparent regard for, what’s really needed immediately after “monitoring” – apologies and meaningful action.
Yes, we do have a part to play in a crisis, but we shouldn’t prioritize ‘transparency’ above meaningful action. Neither should we conceal the truth. We must understand that corporate transparency is not something to be manipulated. But we must charge ourselves with higher standards of integrity in a business landscape that’s increasingly transparent.
And I advocate 360-degree pro-activity – understand what goes on in the day-to-day operations of a company, and hold every department accountable to the public. Public Relations should not be just about conversations with the public, but also ensuring that promises are kept after all the talk is done.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 05 Apr 2007
In naming an agency effort that deals with the complexities of PR in our very wired world today, Ogilvy PR has nailed it with ‘360 Degree Digital Influence’. Few agencies can do better because “360 Degree Influence” is exactly the challenge that businesses face today in reaching out to the public and other stake-holders, and influencing them. (Well, almost the perfect name. I think ‘digital’ wrongly puts the spotlight on the technological aspect of the media revolution. It is primarily a sociological change, with technological second. But that’s another post altogether.)
The Case for 360 Degree (Digital) Influence
Corporations today are forcibly more transparent than before; with citizen journalists probing at every outlet, and with the power to draw public attention – for good or bad – vested on every employee from CEO to janitor.
Rohit Bhargava in his post on Corporate Bloggers and the Rise of the Accidental Spokesperson offers an insight into the complexities of PR today. He points out that individuals “working for an organization and blogging, but are not considered official spokespersons” can become ‘accidental spokespersons’; and he cites the example of Robert Scoble who became that very accidental spokesperson who humanized Microsoft to the rest of the world.
Similarly, outside corporate walls (and payrolls), there are customer evangelists who speak more for a company than the designated spokespersons or individuals from the corporate communications team itself. Mike Kaltschnee of HackingNetflix.com fame is one such example. So great is his influence on, and for, the online DVD rental service that Steve Rubel constantly talks about what Mike does for Netflix.
The Naked Corporation and its Many Public Faces
The point is – there are more faces to a company today than there were three years ago; and there are more public inquirers in the form of citizen journalists. The world is rife with ‘Accidental Spokespersons’ like Scoble, evangelists like Kaltschnee or unwitting newsmakers like the Comcast technician who fell asleep at a customer’s home while being put on hold by his own company’s customer service!
The Changing Role of PR Managers
In recent months, I’ve been thinking about the role of the PR manager amidst all these changes. The dynamics of PR has changed, but observably, the role of the PR manager hasn’t. And it should. With public spotlight on every inch of the company at all levels and in all departments, the PR manager has to stop focusing on mere publicity and media relations. He has to start influencing public relationships through every department and at every level of the company’s structure – orchestrating, in effect, a concerted PR effort.
The Concerted Effort
John Cass, in his response to my previous post on “Being transparent…”, accurately observed that “many public relations professionals were [not] formerly in the business of creating trusted relationships with customers directly, though certainly maybe indirectly.” He added that “product builders, customer service people and the people who traditionally were the first contact with customers were responsible for creating trusted relationships.”
Now, when you realize that customers (with the power to blog and to be heard online) ARE the Media as well, you can’t help but wonder about the need for PR counsel in Customer Relations, and the many other functions within the corporation.
Why PR Has to Lead
Because PR professionals have the skill-set to deal with the intricacies of public relations and corporate reputation, the PR manager/director must take the leadership reins in preparing the company to deal with the ‘360 degree’ landscape of digital influence.
John Cass observes that “blogging is a team effort that borrows many skills from the public relations profession, [and] also much from other professions.” And that is true. This is why PR must be considered in every aspect of the business; for counsel on the impact of every business function on public relations.
Clearly, PR (in the true sense of the word) is no longer the sole responsibility of the PR team, or designated spokespersons. The reputation of a company and the relationship it has with the public lies in the hands of many.
And the PR manager must lead this concerted effort with an effective strategy – energizing employees to be effective spokespersons, engaging customer evangelists and integrating them into the media and marketing strategy, holding customer service accountable to stringent demands that corporate reputation is built upon etc.
Earning Our Place in the C-suite
Along with this responsibility comes PR’s opportunity to prove our place in the C-suite.
It begins when CEOs recognize that corporate walls have vanished and that the company – like it or not – is made more transparent than ever. And there is a need for effective counsel in the C-suite, because in the ‘transparent organization’ phenomenon lies both danger and opportunity:
Danger, for the company that does not have its house in order. And opportunity, for strong companies to bring vital relationships with the public to a much deeper level.
The way to do it?
Before developing strategy at the C-levels, corporate PR managers must first earn that trust and equip themselves by understanding how every department in the company operates and its intrinsic relationship with the public. When they do, they will see their (transparent) company as it truly is. And this understanding will enable them to forge relationships with the public that views the company, not through the windows of the CEO office or the communications department, but through every pore. Only then, can Influence be truly 360.
PR’s Catapult into the C-suite – Direct Impact on the Bottom-line
John Bell affirms that today, we have an increasingly important place in the boardroom because social media has greater impact on stock prices than before; and “traditional marketing is going in only one direction”.
We need no more evidence than corporate crises like the Kryptonite lock case, or the numerous research papers that forecast higher online expenditure. The imperative is now on CEOs to bring PR into a calm boardroom with a solid game plan; rather than yank them in later with the panic button.
Everyone thinks 360 anyway. It’s time we do too!
Walter Lim points out that another motivation to think 360-degrees – is simply because everyone else does! Even if ‘traditional PR folks’ don’t think so, journalists are even more aware today, of a company’s many public faces. This means that more reporters will want to talk to bloggers with a point of view on customer service, and interview the shop-floor operators who sit 10,000 cubicles away from the HR directors.
If there ever was a motivation for those holed up in ‘traditional media’ to embrace the mandate to think 360-degrees, this is it!
And a final point – natural progression. The world is clearly moving towards greater social public disclosure. Financial standards, food and drug labeling and manufacturing data, amongst many other aspects, have to abide by stricter standards of social disclosure than before.
Sure, we could wait for a global public disaster the likes of Enron, before bringing PR higher up the management agenda, or we could be proactive in creating constructive transparent relationships at all levels of the business.
It’s your call.
Uncategorized Melvin Yuan on 05 Apr 2007
I’ve created a page – PR Apps (for lack of a better name) – to list web applications that will be useful to PR professionals and agencies.
This is definitely work-in-progress. Flickr, YouTube and other tools that enable PR professionals (or any web worker for that matter) to do more / be more productive, deserve to be on the list, but I will only list them along with tips on how to best apply it to our work.
If you wish to contribute to this list, please send me an e-mail with links to the application and your blog post on how to make full use of it. I’ll be glad to add it in.