PR Rock Stars: A Conversation with Greg Swan
You hear something once, you may dismiss it. You hear it twice, your ears start to perk up. You hear it three times, you start to believe the hype. This has been my experience in getting to know Greg Swan, digital strategy manager with Weber Shandwick here in the Twin Cities.
After my ad agency stint in Des Moines, I interned at the alternative newspaper in Des Moines and had the opportunity to put that journalism side of my PR degree to work and fell even more in love with writing. Shortly after leaving the paper I co-founded and edited a statewide arts magazine dedicated to the arts, Art Scene. When I moved to the Twin Cities and moved into PR full time, I still needed an outlet for all of that arts-writing passion. Perfect Porridge was born.
There are so many pioneering trailblazers across the blogging landscape; it’s difficult to give them all enough credit. I can’t say I regularly read a single blog, but I do make it a practice to skim FriendFeed, Twitter and Google Reader a few times a day and use a sundry of new media widgets and alerts for constant updates.
I have this horribly personal analogy for mining this overwhelming data stream I can’t stop myself from sharing: I imagine myself as an F16 fighter pilot who flips down a 360-degree lens wherein real-time data is piped through the lens and enters the sensory awareness of my consciousness as I fly the plane. I may not directly pay attention to every post or news story, but there is a working madness to the osmosis of skimming hundreds of streams a day and gleaning a general feel for news of the day or what’s really important. That’s how I use social media streams – straight to the brain!
You play a key role on the digital strategy team at Weber Shandwick here in Minneapolis. As we ease into February, how are organizations integrating social media and digital tools into their marketing communications mix differently in 2009? What kind of trends are you seeing there?
Clients and agencies are looking are continually evaluating and evolving their approach to social marketing. Weber Shandwick Digital has a focus on inline communications, meaning we don’t create a stand-alone, traditional communications campaign and bolt on a few online tactics just because. We also rarely deliver solely digital or social media plans. Instead, we craft integrated strategic plans that reflect the audience our clients are trying to reach, as well as the approach that will be most effective in driving advocacy for a specific brand, issue or company.
Advertising, interactive, pure-digital and even events companies are trying to carve out their own approach to social marketing. In my opinion, PR agencies already build campaigns that help a company/brand foster two-way dialog with their stakeholders. Therefore, social media is a logical, next-generation framework for generating the opportunity for this discussion to happen.
Many companies see those kinds of stats, review their own corporate newsroom and take a big “gulp.” We’re helping companies bridge the gap between 1) legacy reporters who may still want a formal news release and a high-resolution photo, and 2) citizen journalists who may want two bullets and a Web-quality photo, plus a digg or del.icio.us button.
Whether it’s a social media newsroom to accommodate unique media needs, a corporate blog for consistently updated information, or a Twitter account for less formal updates, I feel we’re enabling the trend toward corporate transparency and immediacy using new media tools.
As for other trends in the mediasphere and PR industry, check out these other stats from that same study:
* Nearly 75 percent follow at least one blog regularly
* More than 75 percent of journalists say they use social media to research stories
* Nearly 38 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site at least once a week as part of their reporting
* More than 53 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site such as FaceBook or YouTube at least once a month
* Nearly 19 percent of journalists receive five or more RSS feeds of news services, blogs, podcasts or videocasts every week
This blurred gray line between traditional and social media is the reason I’ve tried to stop myself from using the terms “mainstream media” a
nd “new media.” It’s increasingly hard to distinguish the two.
With that said, mass media is still “mass,” yet legacy news outlets now publish their stories online and include comments and sharing tools. I think what’s left of that gray line will dissolve by 2010.
You’re actively involved in both PRSA and MIMA (Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association). In fact, you just moderated an outstanding panel at a recent MIMA meeting at the University of Minnesota that covered digital reputation management. Why do you continue to be so involved in these two organizations? What value does it bring to your professional life?
I highly recommend PR pros join one or more professional organizations. My college advisor was a long-standing APR accredited professional and frequently extolled the importance of accreditation to help shape and restore PR’s reputation.
MIMA is leading the way as the go-to organization for interactive marketing strategies. They also hold less formal, more frequent and integrated discussions about a wide range of topics that help me stretch my thinking beyond PR 101 blinders.
I can understand the challenges professional organizations face in recruiting these days, particularly with 1) the economy tightening our belts and budgets and 2) a Millennial generation who may view their employment as an 8-5 commitment and perhaps not a career that demands investment, education and peer interaction.
I recommend seizing the opportunity to interact with peers at every chance, and the Twin Cities marketing community offers countless opportunities every month.
That’s a great question. I like to be busy and have my irons in lots of fires. But last fall we bought this gorgeous 120 year-old house, and if you were following closely, you may have noticed my tweeting, blogging, tagging, etc. severely dropped off while I refinished the hardwood floors and tended to home projects.
The new P.O.S. album, “Never Better,” is shaping the next generation of hip-hop. Adam Levy (of the Honeydogs) recently put out a kids CD under the moniker Bunny Clogs. I took my two year-old to Rock the Cradle at the MIA a few weeks ago to see Adam and his daughter perform tracks from “More! More! More!” Jeremy Messersmith is another talented singer-songwriter who has recently come on my radar. His track, “Welcome to Suburbia” was my theme song last fall.
You seem to be somewhat of a hybrid in professional terms—you have a keen interest in citizen journalism as the captain of the Minneapolis Metroblog, you work for one of the largest PR shops in Minnesota and you clearly “get” the social media/digital space. What do you see as the advantage of focusing on multiple areas of expertise instead of specializing in just one?
Unlike some traditional brick and mortar trades, public relations is an industry that changes dynamically nearly every day. I’ve found the best way to stay in touch with those changes is to jump into the fray head first.
For example, to be a good PR pro, it’s critical to understand journalism and the natural flow of news. Both the definition of “news” and how that news is reported have changed greatly in the last decade. But it’s not as easy as touring the local newspaper and TV stations and reading the local daily newspaper every morning.
Reporters are scanning blogs, LinkedIn and using Twitter to source experts for their stories. Stories are now often updated after they publish with corrections or better, fresher content. And where do they get that content? Press r
eleases still serve a purpose, but that purpose is fading. Matte releases are headed the way of the Video News Release. With the advent of e-mail, reporters are the most accessible they’ve ever been, yet they’re completely overwhelmed with competing pitches from our peers. Meanwhile, everyday people – citizens – are using new tools to publish, share and tell stories and impact mass media coverage.