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Vocus Users Conference 2010: Media speakers throw gauntlet at PR pros

June 11: Wrapping up this year’s conference, attendees were hit hard with messages from several of the speakers. Both David Meerman Scott and Brian Solis dropped a gavel down challenging public relations professionals to get really good at their jobs in the next decade. The collective gasp from the audience could be heard in the break rooms it was so stunning. Brian Solis (pictured on right with Vocus chief marketing officer Bill Wagner), founder of FutureWorks, a social media company, led a discussion titled Engage or Die. And Scott’s softly named topic New Rules of PR delivered a one-two punch when he advised not following the legal department’s advice when it comes to handling public relations responses to disasters.

Scott, who is the best-selling author of a marketing book called “World Wide Rave,” challenged communications professionals to be change agents when handling these disasters. “You don’t have to consult the lawyers,” he said, referencing how one of his previous clients refused to combat the rumor that their product caused cancer because the legal department told them not to publicly respond. One conference attendee who worked for the federal government stood up to ask how to handle a situation where the PR department would like to publish information online and their superiors say no. Scott’s response was to either challenge them to do it anyway, or think about moving on from the company.

Scott emphasized urgency during his presentation, as he gave more examples of PR opportunities lost on companies watching from the sidelines – not just in social media, but in traditional media as well. When business software and hardware systems company Oracle acquired Market2Lead.com, they put a few sentences on their website about it that were, as Scott put it, “very North Korea like” in their brief ubiquitiousness. He immediately consulted Market2Lead.com’s competitor, Eloqus, of which he is on the board, to contact major media outlets offering a detailed and insightful response they could quote, since clearly, Oracle wasn’t going to do any media outreach. It worked. A major newspaper in San Francisco picked it up.

Scott went on to poke fun at stock photography used in most annual reports, websites, and PR materials. “Who are these people?” he yelled while pointing to a stock photo of six adults sitting around a board room table. “Do these multi-cultural, smiling people work at your company?”  Instead of using photos like these, he suggested using real people from the company, which was a sentiment echoed by Daniel Helfman from Jason’s Deli at a panel the previous day. Scott complained of getting about 200 pitches a week, 98 percent of which he said “suck.” Try earning attention, he emphasized, by creating clever content.

Brian Solis suggested during his panel that companies find the reporters and editors who have been laid off due to the shrinking traditional media industry and hire them as their new CEO – Chief Editorial Officer. “This is the end of publicity as we know it,” said Solis, who refers to himself as a “recovering PR professional.” Control is so PR 1.0, he explained. “This isn’t about pitching anymore.” Today, it is about being a hybrid of traditional and social media, being relevant, being in the now, and still building personal relationships whether online or in the flesh.

The audience applauded loudly for the speakers and seemed to exit the room stunned by the command to go home and shake things up. In case they were wondering if the social media revolution was here, the solid examples provided by the speakers should leave no room for questioning. The message was clearly “do it and do it now.”

As a fun posting to lighten things up a bit, Scott posted a list provided by journalists of the most overused terms in press releases:

  1. Innovate
  2. Pleased to
  3. Unique (48,095 uses)

— Rebecca Bredholt

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