Interview: Adam Brown

Director of eKetchum

Director of eKetchum

Ketchum recently announced its Ketchum Personalized Media (KPM) practice, which focuses on blogs and the online communications environment.

But the announcement was met with criticism from PR bloggers, who noted the irony that an agency selling this service did not have a blog of its own. Adam Brown, director of eKetchum and global product manager of blogs and search engine optimization (SEO) for KPM, soon took to those blogs to address the criticism. He talked further about the incident with, and also discussed the opportunities that online PR presents, and the importance of synchronizing traditional and online PR strategies.

Q: Tell us a bit about what eKetchum does.

A: eKetchum is the specialty media area of Ketchum. The group is six years old, and I've been managing it for about five years. Our main focus over those years has been developing websites, microsites, and intranet sites for those clients. More recently, we've done search engine optimization for those clients, and we've very recently gotten involved with blog development, blog relations, and helping to launch new blog monitoring tools.

Q: Do you feel that the type of work you do now for clients gets more attention than, say, website development?

A: eKetchum is a little more out-front now with the sexy new tools that everyone is talking about now like blogs and real simple syndication [RSS]. One of the things that has remained the same with eKetchum is our consistency. We want to make sure whatever we're doing online in consistent with what we're doing on behalf of our clients in traditional media. You don't find that a lot when PR firms bring in outside web talent. We, at eKetchum, are PR professionals first and technologists second. Our mission remains the same: Help our clients use and manage these new tools, and counsel our clients on when it is and isn't appropriate to use those tools. When counseling our clients, a lot of times it's more important to focus on traditional media than to perhaps do a blog.

Q: What would be your response to someone who says that online media and traditional media are two different beasts and that you can't be consistent on both?

A: It is a different beast. I think blogs are about an online dialogue. You have a couple of different teams - ad agencies, web shops, boutique agencies, and PR firms like KPM - trying to step in front of prospective clients and say, "We're best suited to help you with this new tool." If you take blogs down to what they are - online conversations - PR [embodies] that more than those other tools. It's about creating dialogues and changing someone's emotions and feelings about something.

Q: There are some PR firms out there that offer a standalone online practice to clients that have another traditional firm. Are all of eKetchum's clients already working with Ketchum for traditional PR?

A: About 90% of eKetchum clients are Ketchum [traditional] clients. There is certainly a place for the boutique PR shops that are focusing on online PR. They are most appropriate for companies that see online discourse as a primary method for communicating their messages. But for most clients right now, online is an annex. It's like you're doing something traditionally and want to do it online as well. For those type of clients, we think our offering is very appropriate.

Q: Do you find when working with other members at Ketchum and talking with clients, that they want PR professionals to handle blog strategy?

A: A lot of our clients aren't sure who they should go to. Even at a Fortune 100 company, if you asked [the executives] [which discipline] owns the management of online content, they would be scratching their heads. If one of those companies had people picketing its headquarters with signs and chants, the executives would pick up their phones and call their PR firm immediately for a crisis communications plan. Well, the same thing is happening every minute of every day online on messages boards, forums, blogs, and There's certainly an educational component here to inform our clients about the situation, show them one of the key pieces of this is monitoring and measuring, and counseling them on how and when to respond. Because, in some cases, it's better not to respond.

Q: What's a general situation where it wouldn't be prudent to respond?

A: When monitoring the blogosphere, you have to identify what's being said and who has said it. Does this person have credibility? Is this person influential? Who heard it? You want to make sure you're not responding to information out there that may come around to bite you. You have to remember that whenever you put anything online, it will be there forever. It's not like a traditional news cycle where, in 48 hours, people mostly forget about it. Something that you may have responded to on a post two or three years ago may queue to the top of a search listing.

Q: Ketchum received a lot of criticism for announcing Personalized Media without launching its own blog. How did you and the agency handle that?

A: We made a decision when we launched KPM to not have a blog, but to utilize the other online outlets [we have in place] to communicate. This is no different than how we counsel our clients that it's sometimes appropriate to have a blog and sometimes to not have one. That's not to say that we will not ever have a blog. That would probably be preposterous. We'll be doing something at some point. There's probably 200-300 blogs in the PR blogosphere. Many of them were welcoming Ketchum to the blogosphere, and we appreciate that. And some were critical that we didn't have a blog up yet. And they're certainly welcome to their opinion and thoughts. So I decided to go and comment on Constantin Basturea's blog [one of the more vocal critics] and a couple of others.

Q: Do you feel that overall PR firms need to have a blog to understand the environment?

A: I think that if they're going to do a blog, they need to do it for the right reason. Right now, in the PR blogosphere, you're seeing that a lot of bloggers - even prominent ones - are doing it for self-promotion. I don't know if a blog is the appropriate place to do that. A blog is about a dialogue or conversation. Certainly, when you develop a blog, you can do whatever you want with it. But when you plan it, you don't want to have to change horses mid-stream. We wanted to make sure we're comfortable with our policy before we launched any kind of Ketchum blog initiative.

Q: Do you feel you were successful in getting Ketchum's explanation for not starting a blog out there to the PR blogosphere?

A: I responded last week saying, "Thank you for those who welcome us to the neighborhood." We want to be good neighbors. I've had my own blog up for four years now and there are other folks at Ketchum that have their own blogs. We're going to continue to have conversations with PR blogosphere - whether it's on a blog that Ketchum hosts or on the comments of others. But we, as an industry, have to realize the huge opportunity we have here. We were a little late to the web, but we now have the ability to work with the blogosphere in appropriate ways and to help our clients, our industry, and ourselves.

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