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The real reason the PR agency model is broken

I’m not a career agency guy. I didn’t cut my teeth at Spong. I didn’t work my way up from intern to VP at Weber. I just don’t have a ton of experience in the agency world.

But, I did spend time at two agencies earlier in my career (Concept Group–a small marcom shop in St. Paul, and Beehive–a PR shop in St. Paul).

And I can tell you this: The agency billing model is broken.


Sure, we’ve read all about this before. And sure, it’s probably not changing any time soon.

But, most of the articles I’ve read don’t touch on the REAL reason the model is broken.

It doesn’t reward your top performers.

Think about it. Agencies make money when they win big accounts. Big accounts = more billable hours. More billable hours = more money for agency owners.

But not necessarily more money for top performers.

Sure, top performers raise up the ranks faster than others. They might earn more money in the long-term due to their work ethic, ingenuity and innovative spirit.

But, they’re not rewarded on a day-to-day basis for those things. In fact, the system actually rewards those who work SLOWER and more INEFFICIENTLY.

Take the following scenario.

Let’s say Joe needs to write a blog post for a client. Joe is a high performer, so he’s pretty darn efficient. He can bang out the post in 5 hours, including research, writing time and editing.

Sue, on the other hand, is a middle-of-the-road employee. For the same request, Sue can write the post in 10 hours.

Who made the agency more money? Sue, right? 10 hours vs. 5 hours.

What’s more, Joe was efficient. So, his reward for that efficiency? TAKE ON MORE WORK! BILL MORE HOURS! MAKE US MORE MONEY!

That’s a broken system, ladies and gentleman.

I know I’m simplifying it immensely, but at the crux of it, that’s the problem as I see it.

Now, I don’t know what the solution is. And, truth be told, I don’t care. Thankfully, I don’t run an agency–and I don’t have any aspirations of doing that any time soon.

All I can do is tell you it’s broken.

I’ll let the agency owners figure it out.

photo credit: days of our lives via photopin (license)

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How five early-adopter brands are using Facebook Live

As you probably know by now, Facebook unveiled live video for brand pages earlier this year.

Among the earliest adopters were a host of media outlets, Red Bull and Dunkin Donuts (they gave a behind-the-scenes tour of one of their test kitchens–see below)

Since then, a number of other brands have begun experimenting with Facebook Live (I’ve sent the following post to a number of clients who are thinking about experiment, too).

But, much like Meerkat and Periscope, live social video remains a bit elusive for brands.

Like I’ve said before, live social video might be the “next big thing”, but when it comes to publicly-traded companies who answer to shareholders and have an awful lot to lose, live social video is just another risk many companies aren’t willing to take just yet.

Why? Because of the unknowns and the uncontrollable nature of live video.

That said, it’s been interesting to watch a few of the known “early adopter” brands start to play with Facebook Live. So, I thought we’d take a peek at what some of these early adopter brands are doing.


General Electric

What have they done? Beth Comstock, vice chair at GE (that really sounds like a fancy title, by the way), held “Office Hours” on Facebook Live recently. In what was clearly an experiment (Comstock even says as much in the intro below), Comstock took questions from the audience (and in advance) about navigating change.

What did GE do well? Stationary camera made the 34-minute video much more watchable. In some of the other FB Live videos I’ve seen so far, the camera is moving far too much. Keep that camera steady!

What could they do differently? 34 minutes seems awfully long for a live video. I might shorten it. Keep it under 10 minutes. Few people have 34 minutes in any day to watch that length of video.



What have they done? Target staffers give you a behind-the-scenes look on th set before Gwen Stefani’s new video went live earlier this year.

What did Target do well? Nice additional social execution of a huge campaign earlier this year.

What could they have done differently? Overall, the video was very dark. I get it, they’re in a studio. I get it, it’s phone video. But, if it’s going to be that dark, maybe you don’t do live video. Also, I didn’t feel like the video really offered any “behind-the-scenes”-type of content. Basically, a staffer walked around the set for a minute-and-a-half. Your audience needs more than that, Target.



What have they done? Two Monsanto employees lead a tour of the Monsanto campus beehive.

What did Monsanto do well? Nice camera-work by the Monsanto folks here. Not too shaky, yet they “zoomed in”, when necessary and gave you a very up-close-and-personal look at the beehive.

What could they have done differently? Again–kinda long. I just thought it kinda dragged on. But, one purposeful strategy some of these brands might be trying to take is making the videos 20-30 minutes long to try to capture more attention in the “live” setting during the day.



Mayo Clinic

What have they done? Mayo has done a few of these live Q&As with a physician. In this case, the doc was Dr. Joseph Sirven.

What did Mayo Clinic do well? As with the other Q&A live videos Mayo has done, I love the “live” Q&A aspect (which is really confined to the last 2-3 minutes of the video). Great way to use the tool.

What could they have done differently? Dr. Sirven answered some of the questions from the community in the broadcast, but I noticed a few in the comment string that they didn’t address (and Mayo didn’t respond to a single comment in the thread). I’d probably go ahead and do that, too. Especially if they promoted this post in newsfeeds.



What did they do? Gave fans some “exclusive content” by providing a couple of interviews with the people behind the “cognitive dress.”

What did IBM do well? Camera work and narration were solid (although, as noted below, hard to hear at times). I like the idea of expanding on an existing event by giving fans a bit more context around something they’re clearly interested in (cognitive dress).

What could they have done differently? Sound quality wavered throughout. Clearly, they were in a loud room–I might have tried to find a little more quiet environment for the shoot. Could have accomplished the same effect–the background noise added nothing.


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Executive announcement news releases – productivity wasters or useful PR tools?

Back when I was working for other people, I had a job where I had to write and post a steady stream of executive announcements.

Oh, you know the drill: “Gary Jones joins Company X as executive vide president of ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.”

If you’ve been in the PR business for any length of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Exec Announcement

These news releases are then sent out in hopes of liberal “pick up.” (read: very short mentions in newspapers, magazines and web sites in your industry).

Sounds easy and pain-free, right?

Except here’s the thing: It’s not. In fact, not only is it not easy and pain-free, it’s actually very painFUL.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Allow me to walk you through the process, as I remember it (it’s been a while–bear with me).

First, the executive team shares the news with you that a new EVP will join its ranks. You are tasked with writing a news release on the announcement.

You write said news release–probably takes you a couple hours in terms of researching and writing.

Then, you submit the release for approvals.

And, the fun begins.

Your executive team weighs in.

One by one.

Each one has changes.

Some of the changes actually contradict one another.

Some then have additional changes when they’ve seen what their colleagues change.

The CEO even has changes. And, their nit-picky, small changes.

You revise.

You submit for final approval.

Again, individual executives weigh in.

It’s like they didn’t even see it the first time.

They tweak the headline.

They insist “executive vice president of ya-da-ya-da-ya-da” should be capitalized.

They change their minds. Again.

You revise. Again.

You submit for final approval. Again.

The CEO says she has a few more final changes. Calls you into her office.

You revise. Again.

You submit for approval. Again.

Legal says they’d like to review. They have changes.

You revise, because, well, it’s legal and you like your job.

You submit for final approval.

Your boss weighs in. She hasn’t responded to other emails because she’s been traveling.

You revise again.

You submit for final approval.

Finally, mercifully, it’s approved.

You distribute with media.

All told, the process takes two weeks. It also took upwards of 15 hours including time to research, write and seek approvals.

15 hours.

So, here’s my question: Are these corporate exec announcements a complete waste of productive time? Or, do they have some semblance of value in today’s information-rich climate?

It’s a tough question.

On one hand, there’s little doubt these types of news releases are supreme time-wasters. The example above is hardly an exaggeration. In fact, I’m quite sure I’ve lived it a few times in the past.

On the other hand, these types of announcements do get picked up. They do make a difference (albeit a small one). And, most importantly, they are HUGE ego strokes for your executive partners.

In fact, I might argue that’s the number-one reason these types of announcements even get written.

It’s all about ego. My name in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Business Journal. The Wall Street Journal.

So, from that perspective, maybe this whole thing is worth the time. After all, relationships are key to our roles. And, keeping our executive partners happy is pretty darn important.

But man, I could really use those 15 hours for a few other tasks…

photo credit: 150902-D-HU462-021 via photopin (license)

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How–and why–I changed my social media sharing and participation habits

I’ve been hearing and talking a lot lately with folks about the way people are creating and sharing differently on social networks.

Much has been written recently about Facebook, in particular, and how fewer people are creating and sharing content there–and what that could mean for the future of Facebook (and social media, in general).

SM Sharing

So, I started thinking about how I create and share on social these days. And, as I reflected, I realized a lot of my views and opinions have changed over the last few years. And, as a result, my actions have changed, too.

Overall, I’ve definitely trended toward creating and sharing less–which, according to many reports, is part of the trend.

For me, my behaviors have changed for a few different reasons:

Family activities have ramped up.

As our kids get older, family and kid activities are taking off. Basketball practices, gymnaastics, more studying, band concerts. It all adds up. And it all takes priority over sharing the latest moment on Facebook. When my kids were younger, it was actually easier to be more active online. They went to bed earlier. They didn’t have as many activities. I had some degree of “downtime.” That’s over and done with now 🙂

My life really isn’t that interesting.

No really. Here’s my life right now: Work. Sleep. Kid stuff. Maybe golf. So, unless you want a steady stream of pics of me on the golf course, there’s not a lot for me to share (visually, at least). I know this was a key part of the discussion as social media started to gain popularity–who cares what you’re eating for lunch? Why do I need to see 40 pics of your new baby? Maybe some of that has caught up with me. Maybe I want a little of my privacy back. It might be a combo platter. Whatever the case, I just don’t believe I have as much to share as I did 3-5 years ago.

I don’t want to add to the noise.

Sure, I definitely have opinions on a number of topics. Truth be told, I probably have too many opinions and too many topics. But, so too does everyone else. And sometimes I just feel like I’m adding to the noise around a particular topic. This is why I look for specific topics and themes to comment on within Facebook these days (sports, golf, personal stuff). I usually tend to stay away from politics completely. I tend to stay away from the “topic of the day”. Sure, I discuss key topics as they relate to PR/marketing–but my approach there has changed, too. 3-5 years ago, I would pile on to the conversations my peers are having on Twitter and Facebook each day. Today, I’m just getting a little tired of it. Case in point, the recent “should brands tweet when a celebrity passes away” conversation. We’ve been having that discussion for 5-7 years now–AT LEAST. I’m completely bored with it. My opinion has not changed. And, neither has the discussion. Again–I just don’t want to add to the noise.

I was an early adopter.

For the early adopters (like me), Facebook and Twitter are now going on 7-9 years old. That’s 7-9 years of constantly posting and creating content. That has wore me down the last year or so. The first few years, it was super fun and exciting. We were breaking new ground. We were blazing new trails. Now, it seems like work. It’s heavy. It’s hard. It’s not as fun. Huge bummer.

So, what does my social sharing and participation look like today? It’s actually pretty simple. I’m actually still producing almost the same amount of content as I was 3-5 years ago–I’m just “participating” less. Here’s my routine/approach.

Still blogging 2-3 times per week.

I’m still writing 2-3 blog posts per week. If you’re a blogger/writer, you know how much work that is. Nothing to sneeze at. I’m still putting in 8-12 hours per week on the blog. I continue to do this for two big reasons: 1) I have to–it’s a big part of my job and new business strategy, and 2) I LOVE to write. I started this blog because I love to write. And that’s why I continue it each week.

Sharing and repurposing blog posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

All part of the blog “promotion” process–share on Twitter and Facebook, and repurpose some posts on my personal profile on LinkedIn. This participation and sharing is minimal.

Posting pics on vacations/trips on Instagram

Besides the “big three”, the other social network I participate on is Instagram. And 80 percent of my Instagram involvement these days comes on vacations. I might post once in two weeks, but I’ll post 15 pics in 3 days on a long weekend up north. I mean, if you’ve been to the North Shore, you know why. And, I’m taking my family to Yellowstone in four weeks. So, get ready for about 456 pics of buffalo, bears and moose in a week-long span 🙂

Bulk of time = scanning/lurking

The irony is I spend the bulk of my social media “participation” time these days lurking. I’m constantly scanning Facebook and LinkedIn for articles and tidbits I can use for: 1) The Talking Points Podcast, 2) The Talking Points e-newsletter, 3) Clients, 4) Professional development/learning, and 5) Personal interest. This is the flip. 3-5 years ago, I was actively involved on Twitter and Facebook. I was posting much more on Instagram. Today, I’m a total lurker. I’m not a “content creator” on social networks. I’m a contributor. A scanner.

I’m sure my sharing and participation approach will continue to morph and change. For now, like I said, I’m happy being a lurker and semi-regular contributor of longer-form content. Maybe that will shift again soon. After all, my kids are now 8 and 11. They’ll undoubtedly be on Snapchat soon. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a “Snapchat influencer”, make my millions and retire to the North Shore.

Stranger things have happened.

photo credit: Open Space with Ron via photopin (license)

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The most essential–and overlooked–skill in PR

With a headline like that, you might expect me to talk about something like media relations skills, or video editing skills, or maybe even writing skills.

But, while all those skills are essential and key to today’s PR counselor, what I’m thinking about is actually more more basic.

But still just as essential.



No, I’m not talking about typing on your iPhone. I’m talking about typing on an actual keyboard.

Yes, typing is the most essential and overlooked skill in PR.

Think about it.

According to most experts, a “competent” typist can type in the 40 words per minute range.

Pros can type in the 70-80 words a minute range. I was curious how I ranked, so I took a quick test–turns out, I’m pretty fast (78 words per minute!).

Now, those who never learned to type are relegated to the “hunt and peck” method. While I’ve seen some people perfect this method and actually type pretty darn fast, the truth is it’s generally slower than those who use the “touch” method (a technique you probably learned in high school or college).

So, let’s do the math. The average “hunt and peck” typist probably types in the 20-30 words per minute range. Meanwhile, I’m typing in the 70-80 words a minute range.

Let’s say you had to type up a 2,000 word blog post. According to my math, that would take me 28 minutes to complete at 70 words per minute.

The hunt and peck typist? An hour and forty minutes.

I saved a whopping hour and ten minutes just because I knew how to type.

Talk about productivity advantages.

Now, think about how much you actually type in a given day.



Blog posts.

News releases.

Feature stories for the intranet.

I mean, isn’t our ENTIRE day spent typing? If we’re not in meetings, we’re working at our desks. Which means, we’re typing.

So, typing is a skill we practice every single day. And, depending on your job, it may be the skill you use most in your day.

So, most essential and overlooked skill in PR? Am I right?

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