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My Mea Culpa New Year’s Post

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Ugh, I am the world’s laziest blogger. I didn’t manage to hit any of the usual bloggy post milestones — no “Happy holidays to my readers,” no “Year in Review,” no “Predictions for the Year Ahead…” I’ve been too busy this holiday season shredding my carpal tunnels playing Guitar Hero and poisoning the Russian with turkey tetrazzini I made with, uh, slightly aged turkey leftovers. 

HOWEVER. I do want to take this occasion to wish you a very heartfelt and belated Happy New Year. I can also say to all my Russian friends (and those who love them) — Merry Russian Christmas. I wish everyone who comes in contact with this blog all the best for a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for reading my scribbles. It means a lot to me, it really does.

To make myself feel a little less slackerific and prove that I have actually thought recently about this industry of mine (not just turkey salmonella and Guitar Hero), I am sharing a video interview I did before Christmas with the one and only Owen J.J. Stone a.k.a. “OhDoctah.” For those of you who don’t know, Owen is a brilliant vlogger and social media consultant who actually knows his stuff and doesn’t spout jargon at you all day. No snake oil, just smarts and a WHOLE lotta charisma. To know him is to love him, which I learned the moment I met him at the 140 Character Conference in LA last fall. You can find him here and here on Twitter or at his company website (IQMZ).

Anyhowdy, we sat down to jaw about public relations and social media; check out our conversation here.

Image via.

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Should PR People be Part of the Story?

December 7, 2009 7 comments
Back in the days when publicists plotted from behind the scenes: Uber-flack Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) with columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in “The Sweet Smell of Success.” 
 
My first exposure to public relations came not in an agency but on the client side. I wasn’t in an official PR role but was working as an executive assistant to designer Donna Karan right at the time when her company was exploding in size and visibility. Donna was besieged with press requests from all corners of the globe 24/7. As keepers of her calendar, it was our job to coordinate all interviews with her communications team, a task of insane complexity and relentless pace.
I learned a lot during that time, namely that I did not want to pursue a career in fashion PR. I’m no stranger to crazy, but fashion PR is crazy crazy. At the helm of this insanity was Donna’s head of corporate communications, Patti Cohen. Patti was — and still is, I’m sure — a whirlwind of frenetic energy with bright red hair and swags of black cashmere wrapped around her tiny frame regardless of the season. I’d sit in her office discussing calendar details while she juggled a phone on one shoulder, whipped through the master calendar (paper!) looking for 15-minute increments of Donna’s day to dole out to WWD and Vogue like a mama bird feeding her babies…all the while chomping on raw sunflower seeds she kept in a big glass bowl on her desk, right next to the towering arrangement of Casablanca lilies and a mason jar full of impeccably sharpened black pencils.

 

The wall behind Patti’s desk was covered floor-to-ceiling with Donna’s press hits. For all I know Patti started tacking them up there when Donna first started the company and never stopped — by the early 90s, when I was there, several layers of magazine articles and photos and newspaper clippings had already accumulated. It was a gorgeous pastiche, and I’d pore over it whenever Patti got wrapped up in a call and forgot I was sitting in front of her.  One day I asked Patti why she wasn’t in any of the photos to which she replied, “A good publicist is never in the picture.”

 

That stayed with me for years. Not only did I put it into practice, sidestepping photos with clients at public events whenever I could, I also passed it along to the many young publicists I went on the manage at other companies. Somewhere along the line, Patti’s advice morphed into this:

“A good publicist is never part of the story.”

Except now…we are. Or at least, we can be. Sarah Evans talked about this during a panel discussion I moderated recently on how Twitter has changed journalism and PR, and one of the points she made was how boundaries have blurred among PR,  journalist and blogger roles. There are journalists who blog, bloggers who do PR consulting, PR people who blog… It is in fact quite possible for PR people to participate in on-line conversations about their client through blogging, micro-blogging, status updates, photo sharing, and so on.

So all due respect to Patti, I believe it’s okay for the publicist to be part of the story, or at least the conversation. I do it, but only with disclosure. I’ll tell you if I’m blogging or tweeting about a client, and it’ll be an honest reflection of my feelings.   For example:

I started taking pictures recently at the client events I attend. I’ve got the Droid megapixels, why not? There was a time when those pictures would only have been shared internally at the agency but now, why not share publicly? Especially when apps like Whrrl make it so easy.  Here’s how I captured the action at a client’s launch event last week:

So what do you think? I’d love to hear from other communications professionals on how they’re handling the transition from being behind the conversation to participating in the conversation about their clients and brands.

No More Kissing at Work

November 5, 2009 2 comments

I found this tweet from my colleague @TorontoLouise this morning:

 

 

Yes, @TorontoLouise, a thousand times yes. What better time to practice good hygiene than the onset of flu season. Especially since H1N1 vaccines are so hard to find, at least in the U.S. (I bet they have loads of them in Canada, they probably even come with a little quilted bag for your hand sanitizer and chapstick.)

 

Then I got to thinking, let’s go one step further. Let’s just do away with kissing in the workplace altogether. (Kissing as in air kissing clients, not getting busy on the xerox machine with hot co-worker.) Because you know what? KISSING AT WORK IS AWKWARD.

 

 

 kiss1

 

 

 

 

 

Awkward. (image via)

 

Kiss 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian and awkward. (image via)

 

kiss3

 

 

 

 

Middle Eastern and awkward. (image via)

 

I hate kissing at work.  My mom always said etiquette was created so people know how to behave and can feel comfortable in any setting. The problem is – there is no etiquette for work kissing. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it –do you pull an air kiss or do you make lip-to-skin contact?  If you kiss one person in the meeting, do you have to kiss all of them? What if you’re in town seeing clients and it’s your second day of meetings? Kiss on the second day?

 And the cultural differences, oy. One cheek? Two cheeks? The Swiss do it three times for chrissake, what if you forget the third kiss? Ever pull away from a Swiss colleague after only two cheeks? Not pretty. They’re leaning in all puckered up and you’ve moved on, any attempt to complete the transaction at that point will probably result in injury. And the Swiss may be neutral but they can be grudge-y if you embarrass them. (People of the Russian Orthodox faith do the triple-kiss too. I’m married to one, it makes kissing very confusing.) 

Oh, I’ve heard nightmare stories. One of my colleagues tells of a work kiss gone horribly wrong, with a male client no less. She’s greeting him at an event, she initiates the Single Cheek Manouver, he turns his head ever so slightly and whammo. LIP KISS.

 

People, he had a mustache. The humanity.

 

I have my own inappropriate work kiss story. I was kissed by a colleague on the top of my head once. I realize I am not the most presidential of agency presidents but nevertheless – the top of my head? A little respect here, people. I kiss my 6 year old son on the top of his head for crying out loud. It was a year ago, and as you might have guessed, I still haven’t recovered.

 

Did you know there’s a WikiHow entry on how to air kiss? We shouldn’t need wikis to tell us how to kiss. Clearly the world’s gone mad. Look, I’ve got enough stress in my life. Oprah and @marielhemingway are telling me to simplify so here’s one thing I am forthwith no longer doing. 

I’m done kissing at work. I realize this might leave colleagues and clients bereft for the moment but I am quite sure they will thank me one day. And so will you.

True Hollywood Story: DeVries PR at the 140 Characters Conference/LA

November 4, 2009 8 comments

  screen 

Image via Jon Cronin and Whrrl)

Our agency sponsored the “140 Characters” Conference in Los Angeles last week, supporting a two-day exploration of what conference organizer Jeff Pulver calls “The State of Now” and the effect of the real-time internet on culture. We created a DeVries PR Buzz Lounge in the lobby of the Kodak Theater, a place for everyone at the conference to recharge and connect. We kept them stoked with free caffeine, cupcakes and ethernet connections. We also thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if we could capture video sound bites from conference speakers and in something close to real time, send those sound bite packages out across the interwebz to give people at home a taste of what was happening at the conference. You can view and share these segments at our DeVries YouTube channel; meanwhile, this is a bit of what went on behind the scenes as we worked to bring our Buzz Lounge concept to life.

Sunday, October 26th

8 PM: Heading for LA tomorrow. I have convinced my boss that it is a good idea for DeVries to sponsor the LA edition of the “140 Characters” conference. I tell him it will demonstrate our commitment to and understanding of the cutting edge of social media. I also tell him it will enable me to stalk Jeffrey Hayzlett of Kodak, my current CMO crush. Hayzlett doesn’t know it yet, but he really wants to work with DeVries.

9:55 PM: Packing on hold. Time for me to live-tweet this week’s episode of “Mad Men.” Evidence of how cutting edge and Twitter-savvy I am.

11:00 PM: Back to packing. Based on the NYC 140conf dress code, I am going casual. I tell my team to wear jeans and heavy black-rimmed eyeglasses so they fit in with all the geeks digital influencers. I also suggest they don’t shave but am shot down since most of them are women.

Monday, October 27th

7 AM: Airport. Never have I seen a security line this long. I ask airport worker lady where the Elite Access line is. She points to a queue of people that snakes around itself and out of sight like a coiled serpent of unhappiness and misery.

7:40 AM: My line has moved forward three inches. I feel very Elite.

12:00 PM: West coast time! Hollywood here we come! Meet driver at baggage claim. Tell him I’m waiting to meet my colleague Danielle who’s flying in on a different airline. Realize that airline is two terminals away. It seems driving two terminals away to fetch Danielle will inconvenience him. I’m confused because I’m pretty sure I’m paying him.

12:02 PM: Try to reach Danielle on her cell to get her to take a tram to our terminal. I worry driver will do me bodily harm if I can’t make this happen STAT. Try to explain why it’s important we find Danielle because she’s my awesome video blogger correspondent but driver doesn’t seem to care.

1:00 PM: Danielle located and secured in SUV. Relief. I have my video blogger, without whom our whole sponsorship concept falls apart.

1:30 PM: Check in at Roosevelt. Rooms not ready.

2:00 PM: Rooms still not ready.

3:00 PM: Rooms still not ready. Resolve for the 800th time never to stay in a boutique hotel again.

4:00 PM: Head over to Kodak Theater to meet Thom, our brilliant event designer. Jeff Pulver himself lets us in so we can check out our space in the main Lobby.  I’m pretty sure Pulver can tell by looking at me how cutting-edge and Twitter-savvy I am. Meanwhile, Thom has outdone himself and other than the fact that in-house caterers are not allowing us to bring in our special cupcakes, things are looking great for tomorrow.

5:00 PM: Cupcake-gate resolved. We pay extra money so that we may offer red velvet goodness to conference attendees. This turns out to be a very good investment.

cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The photo is blurry because we had to refill the cupcake trays at warp speed to keep up with consumption. I’m not kidding. Image via Heather Meeker and Whrrl)

8:00 PM: Pre-conference-party sponsored by RealPlayer. Connect with beloved Twitter friends Jessica Gottlieb, Heather Meeker and Shelly Kramer, meet many amazing new people with whom I exchange cards, and watch in amazement as Owen JJ Stone aka “Oh Doctah” downs five Long Island Iced Teas without breaking a sweat.  

 

me and owen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and the man they call “Oh Doctah” (image via askohdoctah)

10:00 PM: Realize I’ve offered four people jobs and proposed marriage to three others.  Time to call it a night.

 

VIP party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(That’s the DeVries crew in foreground, slightly out of focus at the end of a long day. Back of my head and Kathy’s reveal impeccable highlighting upkeep. Danielle is making shadow puppets while Jon mimes the use of a handheld electronic device. Image via RealPlayer)

Tuesday, October 27th

8:00 AM: Showtime!

pulver and danielle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Danielle and cameraman extraordinaire A.J. making it happen in the DeVries Buzz Lounge, interviewing Jeff Pulver on the State of Now. Image via Jon Cronin and Whrrl)

The next two days pass in a blur. Because one of our Twitter Critters falls ill, we end up short-handed which means less time for all of us in the auditorium watching speakers, more time hustling in the Buzz Lounge. But that’s fine, since much of the conference action is taking place right here on and around our white lounging sofas and lucite bar stools. We are packed from the time the conference doors open till they close at night. I go home at the end of Day One covered in cupcake icing. Danielle and our crew from Pack Media Online  are tireless, wrangling speakers for interviews (including my CMO soulmate Jeff Hayzlett) and turning around beautifully edited packages on impossibly fast timing. Jon and Kathy are working the keyboards, tweeting and retweeting our video content along with all the other amazing insight coming from the Kodak Theater stage.

It is a glorious experience. Oh Doctah recaps it beautifully (as only he can) here. And this is our final highlight reel in which Jeff Pulver offers  what may be my all-time favorite quote about Twitter: “At the end of every tweet, there is a person.”

Update: While we were grabbing footage in the Buzz Lounge, fellow sponsors RealPlayer were doing a great job documenting what was going on inside the theater. Check out their videos here.  Oh, and here’s footage of my CMO boyfriend Hayzlett doing a striptease and definitely not pitching his brand *at all.* 

Posted via email from Stephanie Smirnov’s Posterous

PR Mama Guest Star: Scott Henderson

September 23, 2009 13 comments

Time for another PR Mama guest post, and what the hey, let’s hear it for the boy…again. I had such a good time hosting PR Cog last time, I decided to invite another one of my favorite social media dads over to discuss balancing family and work life in this crazy business of ours. And by the way, as I’m about to dive into a roiling sea of estrogen at the Type A Mom Conference over the next three days, this may be the last you hear about men and dads for a while.  

Scott Henderson is currently the cause marketing director for MediaSauce, an Indiana-based agency that helps corporations and non-profits create and implement online strategies to achieve transformational growth.  I first encountered Scott when he left an epic comment here at PR Mama that really should’ve been a full post – it was full of such great stuff, I printed it out and carried it around with me to meetings for weeks. I liked quoting Scott in discussions about cause marketing; it always made me sound smart. The post I had written that inspired Scott’s three-screen comment was in praise of his terrific work with Tyson Foods and the Pledge to End Hunger campaign (if you remember the Social Media Smackdown at South by Southwest last year, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Filling My Dad’s Shoes

What makes us so special? Moms and dads have had to balance parenting responsibilities with social and work duties ever since we created this thing called “civilization.”  Like most men, I judge myself as a father using my own dad as the gold standard.  I’ve been blessed with two loving, encouraging parents.  My mom and dad have given me a lot of love and attention in my life.  They’re not perfect, but they have done a great job.

My dad, “Dr. Bill” as everyone in the neighborhood called him, has always been in my life and there for some of my highest and lowest moments.  He was the all-time quarterback for the neighborhood football games we played in our front yard.  No matter what the sport, he made a point of showing up for my games and even coached when he could.

He and I tackled a number of projects for cub scouts and school.  While we didn’t win any blue ribbons, we did rack up a shoebox full of participation ribbons (this was before kids received a trophy for everything). The single proudest moment of my teenage years came when my dad was there to see my only first place finish at a swim meet in high school one early Saturday morning.  It meant so much to me that he was there to cheer me on and treat me to a post-meet celebratory breakfast.  

Grandpa Bill and Ethan: Scott's father and son reading together

Grandpa Bill and Ethan: Scott's father and son reading together

Unlike Dr. Bill, I travel a lot for my work and that’s something I have had to figure out on my own.  Don’t let me fool you – I’m still trying to find the right balance. Every job’ve had since college has involved a good deal of roadwork.  It’s not that I loathe it.  On the contrary, I enjoy traveling and couldn’t imagine having a job that kept me in one place all the time.

In fact, I am writing this post while on a work trip to Champaign, Illinois.  Giving my calendar a quick glance, I see this is my fifth work trip in six weeks.  That’s a lot of disruption for our three-person family.

For the past eight years, I have said goodbye and given that “one last hug and kiss” a lot to my son, Ethan.  He’s never known me not to travel in his eight years of life, but it’s not something he wants.

Before I left last night, I decided to interview him as part of this guest post.  Here’s what I learned:

  • He likes when I bring him home souvenirs like the small White House I picked up from a gift kiosk in Washington DC. 
  • He also likes it when I bring home sweet treats like the delicious goodness from www.thecrispery.com.
  • If it were up to him, he would make it a law that dads would never have to travel without their families.

When I take the time to think about it, I realize that my son is forming his gold standard for fatherhood by how I’m doing as his dad.  That’s an amazingly heavy responsibility, especially with all the traveling I do.  I hope he will feel one day about me as I do about my dad.

scottYou can connect with Scott on Twitter or at his personal blog.

 

 

 

Blogging in the Pee-Wee League

September 15, 2009 3 comments

I feel kind of inept at blogging sometimes. I’m playing in the pee-wee league for one thing, by which I mean I’m not self-hosted. If I were self-hosted, I’d have lots more neat widgets on the blog and zippy graphics and my very own domain name. I don’t even know what all else it means to be self-hosted. But I figure I’d finally have a blog that’s a bit more polished and functional and also by the way wouldn’t look like every other wordpress blog with the “Cutline” theme. And best of all, I’d be able to invite people to e-mail me at stephaniesmirnov@stephaniesmirnov.com. How cool is that.

I work with a very patient guy named Jon who is our Director of Digital Strategy. He looks just like a Director of Digital Strategy should. He has a beard, lives in Brooklyn, drives a Mini and is married to a talented artist who’s also French (which makes her an artiste). In other words, he’s cool, as digital people often are. Unfortunately for him, his office is within hollering distance of mine and also, he reports to me. So although he has actual work to do — with clients, for example — he does double-duty as my go-to guy for Stupid Blog Questions. Like when I was setting up PR Mama last year, stuff like:

Hey Jon, so what’s the difference between a category and a tag?

Do I need both?

How come my tag cloud doesn’t look as cool as the one on your (self-hosted) blog?

What do you mean 2000 words is too long for a post?

Where do I get nice pictures for my blog posts?

Is it stealing if I find it on Google images?

What should I call my blogroll?

Do I have to call it a blogroll, is it breaking the rules not to?

How do I get the Twitter widget on my sidebar?

What if I want the little bird icon, how do I do that?

Am I allowed to hyperlink more than one word, or will I get in trouble?

Can you get kicked out off WordPress  if no one reads your blog?

 

And so on.

I’ve wised up a bit over the past year. I hardly ever bother Jon anymore. But today I decided it would be a good idea once and for all to just pack up the whole PR Mama show and schlep it over to WordPress.org. Because really, enough with the pee-wee leagues. I’m ready for some midget football (do they still call it that, by the way? Why am I guessing not?)

I find myself in need of Jon’s help again. I call him into my office and this is what goes down:

Me: I need a domain name, right?

Jon: Right.

Me: I wanted “PR Mama” but someone took it. It’s something having to do with Puerto Rico.

Jon: You really should consider registering your own name.

Me: Is that important?

Jon: Well, it’s really all about building your personal brand these days so…yeah, you probably should.

Me: But how do I do that?

Jon: [directs me to Yahoo Small Business]  Let’s see if stephaniesmirnov.com is available.

[We’re told that it’s not.]

Me: How weird is that? Some d-bag took my name. Now what?

Jon: Go ahead and click on it and let’s find out what bozo is sitting on your name.

[A few clicks reveal that in fact, I am the bozo sitting on my name.]

Me: Oh, right. I forgot I did that. So I own the domain name, even though the Puerto Ricans own PR Mama.  That’s okay, right?

Jon (inching towards door): Right. That’s good.

Me: Does this mean I can get better widgets and a cool Twitter bird and an awesome e-mail address?

Jon: Yeah, sure, you’ll be able to do a lot more with the blog now. Did you say you’ve got some WordPress designers teed up? I’m  sure they can help you take it from here now that you’ve got the domain registered [translation: my work is done here, can I go back to my office now?]

So stephaniesmirnov.com is primed and ready for action. I am ready to assume my rightful role as a Big Digital Kid, at long last. The moving van hasn’t backed up just yet but stay tuned for news as I make the leap over to WordPress.org. (Question is, will my go-to guy come along for the ride?)

Categories: Agency Life, Digital, Work Tags: , , ,

PR Mama Guest Star: It’s a Boy!

September 8, 2009 12 comments

I like this guest posting thing and am officially on the hunt for other mothers working in PR, especially those who work in offices. Is it me, or are we underrepresented in the blogosphere? We don’t even have a proper acronym. There are SAHMs, WAHMs…what’s the label for broads who squeeze into Spanx and schlep to offices every day? WOOHMs (moms who work out-of-home)?  Maybe WIOMs (for moms who work in-offices)?

I prefer WOOHM (rhymes with womb).

So while I’m off scouring the internets for PR-focused WOOHMs to guest post here (’cause they’re my tribe and I learned at BlogHer that I gotta find my tribe) I thought you might enjoy a little gender-bending diversion. That’s right: a guest post from a PR Papa.

As PR guys go, it doesn’t get much better than PR Cog. As many of my social media pals know, “PR Cog” is the pseudonym for a PR practioner here in NYC who chooses to blog anonymously about our industry because, as he’s said, “someone’s got to.” Cog is smart, funny, accomplished (I think…if only I knew where he actually works) and always there to lend a digital helping hand to a colleague in need. And he’s a dad, father to two young “coglings.”  So without further ado, I give you this view from the other side, that of a working PR dad:

Same Conversations, Different Audiences 

I’m relatively new to the world of PR.  Most anyone who follows me knows I basically came into it because I previously worked in my area of PR specialty — the clients feel comfortable talking to me and I did a significant amount of writing in college for an extra-curricular project, so I’ve got most of the necessary tools in my toolbox.

Needless to say, it was trial by fire — learning as I went along.  I still do, in fact.  Some from my colleagues and more recently, the wonderful group of people on Twitter and (specifically) my cohorts at [shameless plug] PRBreakfastClub.com

As my responsibilities grew over time at my agency, I found it increasingly difficult to balance the time at home with the Coglings (an hour or so in the morning and another in the evening before bedtime) and work.Inevitably as soon as I’d arrive home, there was some sort of crisis — a lost briefing book for a client on the west coast, the limo service for the desksides has to cancel because of Fashion Week and I need to track down a Town Car to play driver, or (one of my favorites) Client A sues Client B and both call us for the work.

Recently, based on a tweet  from the exceptional Heather Silverberg  I’ve realized the balance problem isn’t caused by the schedule, but because I’m having the same conversations at work as I am at home.  You doubt it?  Try this conversation on for size:  

Cog [to child]: Cogling, do you want to wear your red shirt or green shirt today?

Cogling: Yes.

And now this:

Cog [to client]:  Did you want to start the meetings at 10 or 11 during your visit?

Client:  Yes.

Same conversation, different audiences.  Same result, too.  Unanswered calls (one across the room, one across the country) seeking an actual answer and a look (or sound in the case of the client) of confusion that the question was an ‘or’ proposition and that both can’t be done simultaneously (ok, I guess Cogling could’ve worn two shirts, but we’re not letting him know that’s an option).

Think this is only a one time problem?  How’s this?

Cogling [playing next to Cog while he reviews some emails]:  Daddy, can I have your little thing? [He was referring to the iPhone, people….the perverted jokes are my territory.]

Cog: Sure [handing over phone after loading one of the games].

Cogling [after Cog moves to the laptop to continue reading emails]: Daddy, can you show me Moon pictures on that?

Cog: Sure [loading up some moon videos on YouTube].  Can I have the phone back?

Cogling: I want them both.

And now….

Cog: Client, great news, the Wall Street Journal loves your story.  They want it as an exclusive.

Client: Great.  What about the Times?

Cog: Well, if we give it to the Journal [with emphasis] as an exclusive, we can’t leak it to the Times.

Client: Why not?  I want them both.

So, for all the other PR Daddies out there, consider all the frustrating calls you’ve had with clients lately.  If they feel oddly familiar, it might just be because you’ve had the conversation with your own very special (and short) live-in client.

PRCOGPR Cog is a PR Pro at a mid-size Manhattan PR agency, and father of two Coglings. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and at two blogs: PR Cog’s Gear Grindings and PRBreakfastclub (of which he is editor).