Interview: Bob Wallace

A veteran editor and reporter with a number of telecom trade publications, including InformationWeek and Telecommunications magazine, Xchange Magazine executive Bob Wallace recently spoke with PRWeek about, among other things, the merits of online versus print publications and the shortcomings of trade show keynote speakers.

A veteran editor and reporter with a number of telecom trade publications, including InformationWeek and Telecommunications magazine, Xchange Magazine executive Bob Wallace recently spoke with PRWeek about, among other things, the merits of online versus print publications and the shortcomings of trade show keynote speakers.

PRWeek: There seems to be a lot of consolidation of telecom publications.

Wallace: We just bought one, too: Billing and OSS World. It's a magazine, Web site, conference. All outlets are continuing to struggle with how to come up with an optimal blend of print, online, events, custom publishing.

PRWeek: Is the problem figuring out how to make money online?

Wallace: That's something that not just traditional telecom companies, but all the content companies, companies like HBO, are saying they want to do – to go beyond basic TV and get to these other distribution outlets, but they don't have any ad models, subscription isn't going to work, things are constantly changing. They all want to be there, and are putting their toe in it, but not their leg. And the business models don't make the content companies sleep too well as night. It's basically being able to keep track of what your audience wants and how they want it. I used to think that weeklies were the best way to reach people as far as print magazines. But then I thought about myself: I used to get and read Sports Illustrated religiously for years and years and years. Now I don't have time; once a month I get ESPN The Magazine. The basic news of who gets traded or suspended, you get blitzed with that even if you're hiding in a bunker somewhere.

PRWeek: So it's a trend of either getting something immediately online or getting long-term analysis from print?

Wallace: Exactly. That's the balance you've got to strike. People have different things they want to find out in different frequencies. If you want the in-depth stuff, the monthlies are the way to go.

PRWeek: And people who work in telecom are probably even more likely to get their information online?

Wallace: Right. And it's incredible how it changes how I do my job. I don't really use the phone much anymore. People call me but if I need a quote from somebody or want somebody to comment on something, I'll send an email and ask, ‘What are your thoughts on this?'

PRWeek: What's helpful or not about how PR people provide information?

Wallace: First of all, the big broken thing, if I were speaking to a PR 101 class, and I'm not saying I want people to call me 24/7 365, but still people just default to only contacting [with] you when they want to pitch a briefing, because a show is coming up or they have a press release or maybe if they're going to be in your area. Not only do I want to be contacted in times other than that, but it has to be communications where they're not working off a press release, they're not working off a script. OK, say AT&T and Qwest are clients. I want you to be calling me once a quarter or once a month telling me what your clients are seeing in the industry. This is their experience with customers, standards, bodies – real world stuff, because you can only cover so much of an industry that changes daily from behind a phone and laptop. They probably think they don't want to bother me. But that's the kind of contact that I would take 15 times over the kind of default we've gotten into now, with people pinging me on news releases or upcoming trade shows. [Also], when I started off in journalism, every company had user groups, broken down by vertical industry or product line. It was a turkey shoot having the customers all in one place, learning about products. I haven't seen much of those in a long time.

PRWeek: Are companies afraid of negative reports coming from them?

Wallace: Some do it, but it's a very controlled event, with theatrics and non-content. There used to be a lot of independent groups but a lot of them went away.

PRWeek: What do you get out of trade shows?

Wallace: The things I like the most are the focused shows, on a specific topic, like CES, which is consumer electronics, or Telco TV, which is all about telcos offering TV services. I get far, far less from these big shows that try to cover the waterfront and don't focus on any specific area. It's such a general show that you may have nine vendors you meet with, and you know what? All nine are coming to talk about completely different things. So how do you piece together trends and connect the dots if nine different people talk about nine different things? Also, most people will say about conferences that they're less than enthused about [the] keynotes. People cover keynotes almost by default, and the running joke is the keynote that's finally going to be one with news is the one you skip. I don't want entertainers giving keynotes. Corporate executives are fine; just make sure they say something. They very rarely say anything candid. This year I saw a lot that were just kind of updates on products.

PRWeek: And some presentation can seem dull?

Wallace: Yes, horrific. When I go to shows that are considered to be outside telecom, but are really intersecting, like cable shows or broadcasting or TV, it's night and day. Telecom/networking/communications could learn so much.

PRWeek: Is telecom as innovative an industry as ever?

Wallace: It is. And that's a point I would hit on for PR people – how can you talk to me about your company or products and what's going on with the larger market? These markets are already intersecting. [Sometimes] people in the telecom industry act as if it's the only industry, but everything affects everything else. Telcos that sell you long distance want to get into the entertainment business with content and TV services. Microsoft wants to get into your house with Xbox 360 and other things way beyond software or operating systems. Cable companies, the content companies, the broadcasters, have these great assets and are trying to figure out how to secure them, how to use wireless and the Internet and find a business model to monetize it. So you have to talk in a broader context about what's going on in the world, and not just the telecom industry.

Name: Bob Wallace
Title: Executive Editor
Outlet: X-Change Magazine
Preferred contact method: bwallace@vpico.com
Web site: www.xchangemag.com

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