Interview: Giovanni Rodriguez

Giovanni Rodriguez is the cofounder (with Rebecca Mitchell) of Hubbub PR, launched in October 2006 and located in the Silicon Valley.

Giovanni Rodriguez is the cofounder (with Rebecca Mitchell) of Hubbub PR, launched in October 2006 and located in the Silicon Valley.

Hubbub uses a network of professionals to deliver its services. Prior to starting the firm, Rodriguez was a principal and partner at Eastwick Communications. He left the firm last summer after four years.

PRWeek: We rescheduled this interview because you were at a conference last week. What was the conference and what was your role there?

Giovanni Rodriguez: The conference was called FASTforward. [It's] one of the few industry conferences that's focused on the future of search.

A lot of people are beginning to understand that search has applications beyond the general consumer world and also has huge applications in the enterprise. That's where FAST [their client] is focused. It's a company that has headquarters in Norway but has a very large presence in the US.

We were engaged to help promote the conference and on its PR programs.

PRWeek: Is there anything that you learned that we should know about?

Rodriguez: The story of search is evolving. If you were to look at that story in a book, chapter one would probably be Google. Google helped to educate the world that search in and of itself is a very valuable technology and a paradigm for accessing information.

The next chapter might be giving those tools to the many corporations, nonprofits, and consumers who can use search to make themselves more powerful. [The way] Google has become very rich and powerful because of search, we believe the next phase might be letting a thousand Googles bloom.

This is a very big story. It's actually quite gratifying for me and my partners at Hubbub because we have experience in search. We've worked for a number of companies in the search market, but also with companies in the contextual advertising market, which is the technology that has made Google, Yahoo, and other search [companies] so profitable

PRWeek: I read this line about your vision on your on your Web site: "To become the PR industry's first agency deliberately designed for the globally networked economy." What does that mean and how are you going to do that?

Rodriguez: Starting with the globally networked economy. What we're talking about here is the flat world that a lot of people have read about either through Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat or theories that underpin Friedman's book.

What we're talking about is globalization and networks that have been enabled because of globalization, high internet connectivity, and new models of working with people across the globe.

While I was a partner at Eastwick, I became increasingly aware that PR was becoming a globally distributed strategy for a lot of companies. Today, if you're a technology company, you have to think globally and it's the only way to think about communications efficiently. When I was there, I had already begun to experiment with some global approaches to managing PR. Sometimes that meant partnering with other agencies; sometimes that meant partnering with one very large agency. But the big takeaway was that we had to partner. It was no longer possible to do everything by yourself.

When starting Hubbub, we decided to strip away everything we were not good at, get down to the core essentials. We believe that those essentials are being able to tell a very good story and the ability to connect with various channels for communicating that story to the audiences that you need to reach and influence.

Having that model, what we decided to do was build a hybrid agency. It's not a virtual agency: we have full-time employees, we have an office, and we have a small staff of core campaign strategists. But we also with a very large network of partners that we can bring in depending on what the client needs.

It turns out that it's a very good model. We've been able to get business rather quickly with both large clients and small clients who understand that this might be a more effective way to do PR. For the work we did for the FASTforward conference, we looked at promoting the use of social media as a vehicle for communicating what was going on at FAST. We already had a partner in that area and we did not need to manage it.

There's a group called the Corante Network and that's lead by Francois Gossieaux and Hylton Jollife who have a really wonderful network of bloggers who are now available to work in teams at conferences to blog not on behalf of companies, but on the event blog. Working alongside Francois, we were able to leverage what they were doing with some of the other stuff we were doing with traditional media.

FAST asked us [if there] was anything special that we could do at this conference that would make it a little more interactive and more enjoyable for the participants. We happen to have someone in our network who's an expert at organizing interactive sessions. Because we have a very flexible model, it was very easy to drop that person in to a session and that session turned out to be one of the most successful at the event.

PRWeek: Was this network difficult to establish? More difficult than a traditional PR firm?

Rodriguez: No. The only way to really do this is to already have a network of people. While I was at Eastwick, I already started making a lot of introductions to best-in-class experts for our clients at the agency and for the agency itself. There's so many people who have decided to strike it out on their own and start their own businesses that it just takes a little bit of social skill and work experience to put together a network. Rebecca and I had been thinking about this for some time so it wasn't too difficult.

PRWeek: You launched in October. Can you talk about what you've done and what you'll be doing in the coming year?

 

Rodriguez: We have a mix of clients both large and small. On the large, we have SAP. We're advising several folks at SAP on social media strategy. That's something we've been doing for several months.

FAST is a fairly sizeable company and they're getting bigger. It's soup to nuts there: all of PR, which includes social media. And by the way, that's the way we see PR. We don't think social media is something separate from it, we don't see it sitting above it. We think social media is a natural extension of PR. In fact, it's given a lot of PR professionals the opportunity to do what they say they do, which is to relate to the public. For a company like FAST, they see PR in that broad way. That's given us the license to do a number of things that are all-important to the PR mix today.

And we work with a couple of high-growth start ups. One of them is called Jajah. They are a next generation voice-over IP company, a little bit like Skype. As with FAST, we're doing everything for them. It's PR but it's also social media.

PRWeek: In light of all the social media and social networking work that you do, do you have any advice? Can you talk about any of the issues facing the PR industry right now?

Rodriguez: Practically every agency is asking itself "How deeply they should commit to learning more about social media?" I think there might have been an open question about [engaging social media] two years ago. We're past that. Where we are today is having the ability to explain to our clients what the business value is for social media. And I think there's a pretty compelling case that the business value has been proven already. There are a number of great case studies that show the effect of social media on the business level. It may not rise to the level of ROI or TCO, but I think it's strong enough that agencies have to take it seriously and need to begin speaking to their clients on a strategic level.

But with things that are new, it's very difficult to get the general population to feel comfortable with it. So I think that the folks living in the Valley might have had an early advantage in that they tend to be less shy and scared away from new technology. But it's not really [about] technology, and it's not that difficult.

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