Interview: Steve Rubel

CooperKatz VP of client services and micropersuasion.com blogger.

CooperKatz VP of client services and micropersuasion.com blogger.

Rubel is willing to talk at great lengths about the power of blogs, new communications, and their role in PR.

He has netted his firm, CooperKatz, two clients and a new hire from his work as a blogger. Micro Persuasion receives over 40,000 page views per month, a number that has increased month over month since he launched it in May. Rubel talked to PRWeek.com about who he admires, why the blogger should be called Time magazine's "Person of the Year," and what's in it for him.

Q. You've called for Time magazine to name the blogger its "Person of the Year." Why?

A. If you think about the people of the year [feature], [it's] a person or group of people that have had a significant impact on life in America or the world. In the past couple of years, they've chosen groups of people. In 2002, Time chose the whistleblowers. In 2003, [it] chose the American military. [For 2004], Bush comes to mind, but he was already chosen in 2000. When I thought about who had an impact this year, bloggers have had a major impact. If you look at the impact they had on the press, it was huge. They had a big impact on politics. They had a huge influence on American public opinion, particularly upon "influencers" - the cognoscenti.

Q. You started Micro Persuasion in April. Since then, it's elevated your profile in the PR industry, as well as in the media. Could you have increased your profile similarly in a blog-less world?

A. It's not just about my profile; it's about the company's profile. I am a living guinea pig for the power of PR and blogs. In a short amount of time, I'm suddenly viewed as an expert on blogs, which I find kind of amusing because there are people out there who have been out there far longer than I have.

Q. People like Jeff Jarvis [writer of blog www.buzzmachine.com] get their fair share too.

A. He gets a huge share because he's infinitely smarter than I am. If you have something thoughtful to say about a topic, the great thing about blogs is that they're transparent. If did not know my stuff, people would know it in five minutes. Anyone who is out there peddling thought leadership - whether it's for a client or internal - should be using blogs.

Q. You've attracted two clients this year, Topix.Net and PubSub, through your blog. Do you think the same thing could happen to a PR blogger with a Fortune 500 company next year?

A. I could see that happen because it all builds upon itself. The more CooperKatz is out there in the blogs, the more we're in the press, people see momentum, and it's quite possible that they'll choose us. They may choose Richard Edelman also, and I wholeheartedly applaud what he's doing [with his blog]. It will never be the sole decision factor. No one will ever say, "Okay, we've read the blog; sign us up." They're going to want to meet the people and feel the chemistry. But I do think you're going to see agencies pick this up. The great thing about it is you have transparency into the company. Every PR firm is out there saying, "We're great, choose us." The [potential client] then says, "Prove it." And you say, "Here's the case study. Here's the stack of clips. Here's a reference." Now they can say, "Here's my blog. Read it and see what we're writing about." Then it's different. You're exposed and companies get instant transparency into what you're doing. And I think companies like that. Hiring a PR agency is a risk anytime you do it because you don't know if you're getting the right team. If the agency has a blog, it takes a little risk out of this because the prospective client will have more insight into the people who are running the account.

Q. Blogs have jumped from three million to five or six million in a couple of months. Sooner or later, they're going to get old. Then what happens?

A. Every company pretty much has a website. It is still important for them. Some companies spend thousands, if not millions, on them every year. It's still the face of your company. Even though Google says there are 8 billion web pages out there, websites are still important. I don't think that they become individually less important. Any blog can be discovered. I subscribe to search feeds, and that's how I sometimes find the greatest nugget. Yesterday I found a guy that was giving a six-part course on how to blog. I discovered him, and now he's got traffic and more readers. The social nature of blogs and how they can get discovered hides the number. I do believe that every person who wants a blog will have one at some point, but not everyone will have a blog.

Q. What would you do if you never rose above 300 hits a month?

A. It's not about the hits. The greatest stimulation is not even in the traffic or clients that come in. It's in the conversations and relationships I've gotten to make in the past eight months. Jeff Jarvis and I have gone to lunch. He's a great contact to know. Robert Scoble [a blogger working at Microsoft] and I have become great friends over the past eight months. If I have a complaint about Microsoft, I know who to go to [laughs].

Q. A lot of your postings are about the power of blogs and the new media. How do you guard against merely posting evidence that supports a theory of yours?

A. Number one is time. I have a tool that goes out and searches Google News for every variation of the word blog. Everyday, it will pull down everything from 25 to 150 articles about the topic. I don't need to link to everything out there. But I need to point out things that people are not seeing. It's not meant to the body of evidence on blogs. I try to find out things that are relevant to big media. The Dallas Morning News ran an editorial saying, "Hey, blogs are great, but you're liable, buddy." That adds to the discussion. It could become very easy to put everything up there. But I try to find things that others are not finding.

Q. Do you ever worry that people are going to your site just come for the articles you link to and don't read the commentary?

A. They may say, "Gee, I don't care what you think." They may say, "Why didn't you comment on this." I'd like to think that, once in a while, I put a new idea out there that people haven't thought about. Blogs are all about Napster-izing your knowledge. This is a tenet of a book called Creating Customer Evangelists. It's about taking what you know and making it available to anyone who wants to read it. I think people forget that it's about building connections and, with that, it's about building your profile.

Q. It sounds a bit socialist. Isn't it one's nature to elevate one's profile?

A. It is. I'd be lying if I didn't say it was rewarding. But if it weren't bringing visibility to the firm, I wouldn't be doing it. [The blog] is helping the firm make connections. We found an extremely good hire through my blog. We probably would have looked for several weeks. That underscores the power of connections. I'll give a fictional scenario. If I'm asked by a potential client for support abroad, I know PR bloggers around the world. I don't think that's socialism; I think it's networking. One blogger named Halley Suitt [of halleyscomment.blogspot.com] gave me some fantastic advice that Scoble and the others do. She said, "Blog early and blog often. Give me something that no one else has and write op-eds." I try to find things that I think would be helpful, and I'm able to see what people click through on the feeds. Sometimes a very simple thing, like the blogging 101 course, gets the most clicks.

Q. With blogging being such a community, do you worry about the things certain bloggers are doing, like being paid by corporations to post, that could taint the environment?

A. In any walk of life, there will be people with the utmost ethics and scruples, and there will be people who don't. The great thing about bloggers is that the people who are less-than-scrupulous get ratted out. If I were out there using my blog everyday to criticize someone or out there to push my clients to the point of nausea, everyone would be saying something about me. The readership would go down and the criticism would pick up. It's a community that will police itself well. People will need to take the blogosphere with a grain of salt [like] people now take the media with a grain of salt. Eventually you find a blogger out there that you feel you can trust. I'm guessing I have about 1,000 daily readers. These people trust me to give them good information. The minute I violate the trust is the minute I will ruin my reputation, let alone the blog [readership].

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