A culture of collaboration

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers. PRWeek's Eleanor Trickett, Michael Bush, and Keith O'Brien were in Chicago for this year's third Regional Forum.

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers. PRWeek's Eleanor Trickett, Michael Bush, and Keith O'Brien were in Chicago for this year's third Regional Forum.

Elly Trickett  (PRWeek): What is the state of the local economy and how is business going in the Chicago area on a macro scale? And how is the economy affecting the way you are doing your jobs?

Robert Kornecki (Burson-Marsteller): The economy here is pretty good. I wouldn't say it's robust, but it's favorable. A lot of the economic indicators are on the way up. Chicago is a market where you can have nice, steady gains year after year. There's a mutual fund business here, and its whole business philosophy reflects the Midwest economy, and that's the tortoise vs. the hare. Most of us who have done well in the PR business in Chicago subscribe to that philosophy.

Linda Hadley (Porter Novelli): I agree. But what I'm seeing is really intense competition by many agencies for seemingly modest business. It makes me feel like everybody is going after everything as hard as they can.

Kornecki (Burson): I'm absolutely seeing that, but you have to be judicious about the business you want to put resources against. Most of our growth has come from existing client relationships and spot projects as opposed to big gangbuster new client relationships. I don't think in the Midwest there are generally many client opportunities that are in that million-dollar plus category. That's been my experience. You find that more in New York and Washington where companies are willing to put a lot more money into PR programs. So I think you have to be judicious about the business you pursue.

Hadley (Porter): I agree with you a lot. We try to factor on how we go about something by whether we really, really want to work on that business as opposed to really, really wanting to win that business.

Keith Burton (GolinHarris): Across the region, we're seeing a lot more integrated business opportunities. The Midwest is not known for a lot of large clients, but when you do have major projects, that can be fairly significant, and whether that's a half million dollars or $2 million to $3 million, there are significant opportunities that come along.

Marita Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): From the midsize agency perspective, we're seeing more and more midsize agencies competing with Omnicom-size agencies for smaller projects. From our standpoint, it's also invigorating to be able to compete with the bigger agencies and still win because it shows we're able to win because of our strategy and not our size.

Nancy Brennan (Manning Selvage & Lee): I think a lot of our opportunities are through are integrated partners. We found a lot more of those recently. But what I think is interesting about those is that in some cases the competition isn't always who you think it is. Because with all this integration, we do more than media relations, as all of us do, and as the definition of public relations becomes broader than word-of-mouth, you start to bump into different competitors and I think that's a factor as well.

Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): Are you finding because you're working with other agencies within your group, you're finding competition within your own shops as to who leads what?

Brennan (MS&L): I don't think so. In working collaboratively with any partner agency you have some ground rules up front about who is going to handle what part of the business. But in a larger competitive sense, who does what, that can be confusing to clients about who they should go to for prospects.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Let's look at it from the client perspective. What are some of your thoughts on these points?

Christine Cronin (Chicago Bulls): Big companies might go with smaller agencies because of specialization because you may have that specific target and reaching them is what that agency specializes in.

Ronald Childs (Flowers Communications Group): Although there is a spirit of competition in the Midwest you also see a lot of cooperation. There have been many, many instances when we have been invited to participate and partner in new business pitches with a number of the agencies around this table.

Trickett  (PRWeek): For the past two or three years many of the large agencies have been working hard to promote their own specializations while the generalist label was a little more desirable a few years back, so do you have any thoughts on smaller agencies being labeled specialists?

McGhee Williams Osse (Burrell Communications Group): Clients are turning to [small and midsize] agencies for efficiencies. In our particular discipline, the Chicago area is very robust. There are probably more black-owned and targeted agencies in this area than any other. Many of us have national accounts, but just from the standpoint of who's here and who's surviving over time, I think Chicago is a very healthy place.

Michael Trevino (Allstate): There was a point in time when we thought of hiring big agencies because of the broad spectrum they brought to the table. But the reality is that even at big agencies, there are greater strengths in some parts of the agency, so we're willing to go to smaller specialty agencies. At the end of the day, we're looking for the best service provider and counselor for the project. In some cases, the issue may be relatively small and require the specialty of a smaller agency that understands that market.

Julian Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): One of the things I used to hear when I was on the agency side a few years back was relationship versus bottom line finances. Are you getting a Jr. account executive or a Sr. level person.

Trickett  (PRWeek) to CKPR: You have three offices outside Chicago so how do you manage the issue of making sure the client has senior level council but at the same time someone they can have an ongoing relationship with?

Joel Curran (CKPR): An agency our size, we try to be consistent. With our integrated clients more than likely we're going to integrate so for the clients where we have an advertising promotion and digital component we have a client bill of rights and say we will guarantee them senior level talent. What we try to do is make that promise up front that the director of the office or VP will touch the business and we back it up and we're open and transparent with our hours and reconciliation's and offer clients access to our invoices online and time sheets. So at the end of the day we pledge a certain amount of time and we try to stick to it.

Hadley (Porter): You have to get the right person to do the right work. That's the value of that.

Curran (CKPR): What clients tell us is that they want to have that relationship established up front. We have clients all over the US who work with our Chicago office because there's a greater deal of trust and because of the Midwestern values. I don't have the statistics to back it, but it seems like in Chicago we're able to hold on to clients a lot longer than we would in other markets.

Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): We have a client in Birmingham, AL, who purposely looked for an agency in the Midwest because its experience with East Coast agencies just wasn't to its liking. They are wonderful people who are looking for partners and they are people who are looking for individuals who are down to earth, not saying New York isn't, but it's a totally different culture, so they purposely did an RFP in the Midwest because of that.

Maril MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): Several people have said that in Chicago you can call anyone, and they'll help you. Any competitor will genuinely help each other. There is still collaboration in the Midwest.

Burton (Golin): A lot of young people come here to intern because they feel they'll learn more and actually work inside the agency and work with clients in ways you can't in other markets. I spent a lot of time in Dallas, New York, and Washington, and I never see what I see in this region. Chicago has always been known for its diversity and its ability to work together.

Childs (FCG): I tell PR majors at colleges to look at Chicago. A lot of times they're on their way to New York to do this "New York thing." But I tell them to take a look at Chicago because there's healthy competition that has a cooperative spirit. If we see a piece of business that's not appropriate for us, we refer that business to someone who's better suited to handle it.

Lisa Miner (Museum of Science & Industry): As large as Chicago is, I think it's a very intimate city. Chicago is friendlier and more nurturing to its junior staff. I know colleagues who had equal title to me in New York or LA and were never given the level of responsibility I was, and that's unique to the city. Here, you have junior people brought in on business pitches. And I mention that to friends in New York, and they say that's unheard of.

Brennan (MS&L):  I've worked in a couple of different markets now and for me the differentiating point is there's a sense of responsibility and accountability to your client and a sense of accountability and responsibility to team members. Which I think is a little bit of a different feel when you move into other offices. It's not just collaborative with clients but they [team members] work very hard together to get to a place for a client as a group. They all get ahead in their careers but they understand that to do really good work they have to work together.

Cronin (Chicago Bulls): The attitude going toward is a lot more positive.

Hadley (Porter): It's the integration issue and it's that collaborative nature of the Chicago area and it's easier to work across borders and geographies, to work across other agencies in or out of your network and that's a Midwestern-trait.

Miner (Museum of Science & Industry): And for as large as Chicago is I think it's a very intimate city and that all circles are connected. You really find the same circles and that makes a difference. Chicago is friendlier and more nurturing to its junior staff. I know colleagues that had equal title to me in New York or Los Angeles were never given the level of responsibility that I was given and I think that's unique to the city. Here you have junior people brought in on business pitches. And I mention to that friends in New York and they say that's unheard of. They say they'd be behind the scenes up until 3 a.m. making the binders for you to go in with. You're seeing more young people with supervisor and senior titles than you see in other markets.

Kornecki (Burson): There's more of a nurturing attitude and atmosphere in the Midwest than there is in other markets. I think we just pay more attention to our people and junior staff here.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Is that through formal assistance such as mentoring and training?

Miner (Museum of Science & Industry): I think it's also the attitude of the people taking you under your wing and understanding the importance of mentoring and understanding that someone gave someone else a break at one point and you need to pass it on and I felt that and really try to remember that as I get contacted by future graduates. It's very unique and when I'm asked about moving or relocating I couldn't imagine it.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Is there a lot of migration out of this market to New York and other markets?

Childs (FCG): I don't think there's much of it. When I talk to students, that's their initial mindset-they're going to go to New York or Los Angeles and get into entertainment PR-and they think it's going to be rosy. You can go to New York and make coffee or you can come to Chicago and hit the ground running and get projects to work on get some real responsibility.

Curran (CKPR): I started my career in Los Angeles and I wish I would have started here because even though I had great training at Disney and Fleishman-Hilliard I think I would have got more nurturing in this market because I see when we recruit from all of you guys, they come in and have great training. Thank you very much for that by the way. There's this great young professionals group in PRSA here in Chicago and it's the biggest one of all the PRSA chapters and if you go to one of their meetings I think you realize these guys are really networking with each other. They are helping each other get a leg up and I haven't seen that in any other market I've been in and I think that bodes well for our future. I think we'll flourish because of the talent we have here, the talent is going to increase. We've all talked about integration and that's probably our future and I think you're going to be able to do integration from any market for any client so why not Chicago. People are going to keep coming back here because that's not going to change: who we are and what we do.

Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): One of the things that we have already found is that as you grow and look for new talent, the great ones are already entrenched and love what they do and they are there because they have been well trained. We found that it was harder to recruit great talent in Chicago. We attempted to recruit a few individuals from New York and ship them here but we discovered either they didn't fit in the culture or they were too abrasive and clients didn't like the abrasiveness. On one hand, abrasiveness in media relations is great, but they didn't fit into the culture or the marketplace so what we found is that it became hard to fill a position and it would be a year later before we found the right person because you all have the great talent and when you're growing it's hard to grab that great talent so redemption is big issue for us.

Burton (Golin): We do these meetings every year and the area we talk about most is middle manager and I think whether McGhee and I are talking about her firm or my firm it's the same issue and this is the hardest retention area. When you're a younger person coming in to the business and you're emerging and you develop then you reach the senior account executive and senior advisory level and these are the men and women that are in highest demand because they have client interaction and they represent us with our clients and they are still at a point where they are very affordable. And I'm seeing a larger disparity now in what's being offered to these men and women, I think it's because they know that, regardless of size, they are in a great organization and if they produce an attribute that someone wants, that's a tremendous value and people will pay for that. I think in Chicago that's the one thing people know, it's a strong area that we have to continue developing and we can't overlook because it's the future of the business here, having those middle managers who really do great work.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Who is hiring right now?

Burton (Golin): We all are.

Trickett (PRWeek): What types of resumes are landing on your desk? What are the shortcomings?

Miner (Museum of Science & Industry): When you talk to college kids, entertainment PR is coming up more and more. I can't tell you how many people, whether they're looking to me for a job or looking for me to help them out, who want to do special events. It's impossible to find someone who wants to write and talk to journalists [because] they are intimidated by that. Now, it's just this outpouring of people who think PR people are celebrity publicists or professional party planners.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Where is that coming from?

Cronin (Chicago Bulls): [That's coming] from celebrity magazines; they want to work for Paris Hilton. These people don't understand the core skills of journalism. That's why I think a lot of agencies are going after graduates of journalism schools. I was a journalism major, but was looking for another outlet to use my skills instead of writing for a newspaper.

Williams (Burrell): I think young people think that [PR] is just glamorous. We get the same thing all the time. The people that work on the engagement side doing events they're on the road 60% to 70% of the time and for a young person getting out of school the traveling can be exciting but they'll burn out soon. It's hard for us to find people at the director level. We get entry and junior-level people, but from the director level and above that's the area where we have the most difficulty in attracting people.

Trickett  (PRWeek): How many years do you classify director? 

Williams (Burrell): Years of experience, anywhere from 8 to 10 years.

Trickett  (PRWeek): How do you creatively get over that 8 to 10 year problem?

Kornecki (Burson): Some agencies are overtly aggressive and target everybody who works for your organization and it's to the point of being abusive. And we've actually had complaints from some of our staff about certain recruiters being overly aggressive in trying to recruit them and we're talking about recruiters from other firms.

Brennan (MS&L): I would echo that. In the last year particularly the agency recruiters have gotten a lot more aggressive. It's become a war for talent.

Kornecki (Burson): We do tend to recruit from one another because if you're in the agency business you like to have somebody from an agency background. But there's a point where you should pull back and not try to focus on any one firm or firms to take talent from because they are really just hurting the market and escalating salaries to appoint we can't compete with.

Hadley (Porter): We have had people leave under those circumstance and come back six to eight months later.

Brennan (MS&L): I haven't found at the really junior level people come in and want to do special events. I think within lower middle management positions there's always this process of leveling expectations about how quickly they can step up and be involved in things. There are a lot of smart kids out there who know a lot and one of the biggest challenges for us is they walk in the door and the expectation is that they are going to be at the table with the client offering strategic council. You can run into that but I think there's just a maturing process they have to go through.

Keith O'Brien (PRWeek): A few agencies seem to have their new-media practices based out of Chicago. Is that because of the influx of new talent coming in and saying, "We have to look at blogs"?

Curran (CKPR): We found that resumes for our digital group went up 20% to 30%, and they come from San Francisco, LA, and Austin, TX, these digital hot spots, and people want to come to Chicago. [But] I don't know if this is going to develop into some great digital zone any different from any other market right now, but we're an integrated shop and it's been a real benefit for us to say you can live in Lincoln Park and have a great life and do what you do, so it's been good for us. What I heard this morning is markets like Atlanta and other markets that are smaller trying to compete on the digital front whereas in Chicago we feel like we have talent and people who can do those things and they are here but I don't know if it's ever going to blossom into some industry. I think it's a part of what we do.

Burton (Golin): You could look at some firms and know that a media relations practice may be housed in a specific place because you have a core group of people who are really talented in that practice.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Have there been any changes in the past few years about what the Chicago market is known for, the sectors or the practices that drive business?

Burton (Golin): I think if you really understand this market you know that on the agency front two agencies that have developed here in this market are Edelman and Golin Harris. And I think they both pioneered, early, consumer marketing. And among this group consumer marketing will always continue to be a very strong outreach. I can tell you going back through the time I've been here that it's about brand equity and the shops that operate here understand that and they bring value to that work and I think even in markets outside of Chicago whether it's developing a multicultural approach or developing an approach around a brand this market is really well know for that. It may not be as large a practice as you sometimes find in other markets but there are excellent practices and I think they are world class in the work they do. Certainly in consumer and corporate communications and multicultural work I'll place the firms that are in this market in the ring with any firm in the world in terms of the work that they do.

Childs (FCG): When it comes to ethnic media, specifically African American media Chicago really was the incubator for all the African American media across the country. It's the home to a number of publications and gave life to Johnson Publishing Company, which for 50 years pioneered the African American magazine business. A lot of what you see nationwide when it comes to African American media, Chicago was the origin of a lot of that and still is.

Trickett (PRWeek): How are you finding diversity recruitment? How far have you come, how much further do you need to go, and how are you doing it?

Kornecki (Burson): That's very challenging, and we have such a long way to go. And it's unfortunate because there are a lot of great professionals who come into a big agency environment, but there aren't enough people [like them] to make them feel comfortable, and as a result, they go back to either a big company where there's a much higher level of diversity, or they go back to a specialty firm.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Are you saying that's because you haven't been able to achieve a critical mass to make an environment they would feel comfortable in?

Kornecki (BM): Yes.

Burton (Golin): Could I just add a different perspective on that? I was in Las Vegas at the Black Public Relations Society conference, and the African American Society is one segment, the Latino society is another, and the Asian society is another and I have said for a long time it's not about the candidates, it's about getting out and connecting with these candidates.

Osse (Burrell): That's a very refreshing attitude to hear. If you look at this industry as a whole, African Americans account for only about 5% of it. All of the historically black colleges and universities are wonderful places to mine talent. The thing we worry about as African-American agencies is the big guys coming and taking our people because that's the logical place [for them to recruit].

Robert Dale (RJ Dale Advertising & PR): We have a slightly different view of this at RJ Dale. We talk about the lack of diversity in contracting opportunities as opposed to the lack of diversity in integrating the staffs. What we're pushing for and what we're hoping for is corporations to begin looking at black-owned agencies as viable options for RFPs they issue. I don't think we've ever gotten the RFP for general-market work from any of these corporations. There's an undue burden on the large agencies to expect them to go out and diversify their staffs when the folks just aren't out there. So what the big agencies end up doing is taking people from one another. The other thing is that it's a culture shock for black kids who haven't worked in that environment. We had a great intern that we wanted to keep and she got hired away by a big agency that specialized in real estate and she had a background in real estate and she only lasted about six months because the expectations placed upon her outside of her job were more than she was willing to deal with. Expectations in terms of how she talked, how she interacted, what her interests were and what she did once the day was over. She was just not equipped to deal with those types of things and she just found it very challenging and was more than she could handle.

Trickett (PRWeek): Are the specialized agencies - the black- or Hispanic-focused ones, say - also diversifying their ranks?

Dale (RJ Dale): We're doing it. We have white writers, a white general manager of the interactive division, and a white production manager. It's partly a conscious effort, but I think more than that, the kind of people we are looking for to service the kind of business we have and the kind of business we want, they have the profile and background for that, and they also happen to be white. Quite frankly, we see that as slightly advantageous in terms of talking to white clients. They tend to feel a little more comfortable, especially when they come to our shop and they see that it's an integrated environment. That eases some of the apprehension, especially if you're being considered for an assignment that's not black-only and skews multicultural toward general market.

Osse (Burrell): We have a very diverse staff. About 35% to 40% is non-African American. In terms of attracting business, we don't go looking for any particular color person. We want people who have a passion for what we do and have a passion for multiculturalism. You need to love it, understand it. Some kids are attracted to us because they think it's cool because they get exposed to all the different forms of music and the artists, but it really is about having a passion for it. So we go beyond what the color of the skin is and [look at] what's in the heart and in the talent.

Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): I remember [in an earlier job] I was the only African American on staff. So I sought out people, and I remember the first call I made was to Ron Childs after reading a report and seeing his name. He was talking about this organization called the Black Public Relations Society. And I asked him, "Hey, what's going on with this group?" And we started meeting, and it was refreshing to get a group of professionals together whom I could learn from. I agree there are some people who get overwhelmed by what they don't see, but at the same time, if you don't see it, find out where it is.

Trevino (Allstate): One challenge we have is attracting people. We're out in the suburbs, and it's more attractive for young people to be here [in the city] than 25 miles north. So finding talent is challenging for us, but from a different perspective, so a credit to you for retaining that talent, and while it may be shifting from agency to agency, it's staying right here.

Burton (Golin): I just want to make this one point on our BPRS chapter here in Chicago and give some credit to the work it's done. I think in the United States, and I've had the chance to see the leadership, know the leadership and see what it does, there are chapters in other markets but I think the Chicago chapter has really been the lead chapter. And I'm always honored to go and see the work that's done every year. I want to make one point to this group, we came together in January and we're planning with a group of people for the curriculum for the international conference of PRSA and I remember distinctly one comment from Mike Haslett from Ketchum made, he referred to an article in The Economist which said the reputation of what we do is rising but the reputation of the people who do it does not. And I think our problem very often in our business is that we don't do a good job of defining the attributes of our business-what it is and where it's going-for men and women who are coming or re-entering our business. And I think we have ourselves to hold responsible for that, there's no one outside of the business to hold responsible but us. And I think we have a calling to do more with it. And I love it when we have these forums and I always like to raise the issue because I think it is our responsibility.

Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): To the point you made earlier about entertainment, I think MTV has such an impact on our culture. And so when you have a certain reality TV show that has a special on PR and you see the Paris Hiltons and P. Diddys and all the other people, people think this is what publicists do, I think what you see a lot of kids doing is coming out of school and saying 'Hey I saw that reality show and this is my perception of public relations.' When people like myself are quoted on the record about Mayor Daly or Senator Obama, people don't think public relations they think politics. The mine incident in Virginia, the first thing I'm thinking is 'Oh wow this is a big tragedy.' But no the tragedy is the PR people who are behind the company. When you look at these things like crisis management, reputation management and corporate communications I don't think people see [what goes into it], especially in a lot of historically Black colleges and universities, which I came from, there wasn't a major in public relations it was mass communications. And I think a lot the kids coming out of the Hispanic and Asian cultures alike, there's not a natural tract for public relations. But I think one thing the Chicago agencies do well is the training and internships. But in terms of the perception of our business we have to do a better job of defining the terms of kids coming out of college especially for the diverse candidates, how do define our business to people.

Trickett  (PRWeek): What's the corporate perspective on this issue?

Trevino (Allstate): I have a couple of thoughts. In terms of hiring interns, one of the challenges we have is attracting people. We're out in the suburbs so all of you provide great opportunities for young people to work in your firms with a variety of experience and challenging work. And so that's the fact that they're in Chicago, it's more attractive for young people to be here than 25 miles north. We have a fairly sophisticated corporate communications shop and lots of opportunities but there is the lifestyle issue so what we're finding is opportunities to bring interns in and we're getting more and more focused on recruiting interns from a whole variety of schools from across the country. We're paying more attention to them and understand the kind of opportunity they present to come in to the firm and begin to stay with us. So finding talent is challenging for us as well but from a different perspective because like a lot of big companies in the Chicago area, they tend to be out in the suburbs. So a credit to you for retaining that talent and while it may be shifting from agency to agency, it's staying right here. We're looking for talented smart people who have a passion for the work. In our shop we tend to think about PR and communications much like you do and we think that it's a discipline that's unique and somewhat unique inside of Allstate. We're looking for smart people that enjoy the work and have a passion for it and know how to write and are focused on a career opportunity and it can be tough and we are doing some work with recruiting with some colleges around the country and we're in that season right now where we have interns running around the company.

Trickett (PRWeek): How do you approach multicultural marketing?

Trevino (Allstate): We do work with agencies, but for us, they tend to be on the advertising side as opposed to PR. On the PR side, we look for those who speak Spanish because that's a huge opportunity for us to be on Spanish-language television, as well as newspapers, not only in Chicago but in our offices all around the country.

Trickett (PRWeek): How are you dealing with this new, dynamic media scene?

Hadley (PN): We're trying to train both our staff and clients how to use new media, particularly blogs and podcasts, because clients are increasingly coming to us and want to know how to handle the world of blogs, and we want to make sure we have people who can give them a consistent set of advice.

Burton (Golin): I have to tell you, new media today really has more influence on the culture of an organization than any other thing. Bloggers are really the most trusted source of information today, they're credible and available, and they really influence what major media may often report and what employees say inside of the organization.
Trevino (Allstate): We do and ironically we've been throwing a bunch of interns at it. Part of our job is that it's so big it's enormous. We had a meeting earlier this week about blogs and how to measure it and how do we pay attention to it. We get 2,000 media hits a month; some of those hits are in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and they hit 2 million readers, so as I think about blogs and the new media, it's all relative. There are messages that get out to a universe that is read by those blogs, but how do I weigh that against what the Journal wants to talk about? Certainly, at some point they will mesh, and blogs will drive what the Journal or the Times is writing about, so I have to figure out how do I manage both of those.

Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): One of our greatest challenges is educating our clients on the importance of monitoring blogs and their influence. You can show them that blogs increased from one time period to another, but right now, they just see them as people talking to one another and not realizing that the information is like Pinocchio's nose - it keeps growing and growing, and somewhere along the line it hits the media, and then the misinformation has been translated that way.

Hadley (PN): The flip side of that, which I agree with, is the visceral urge to respond to it. There's something about the way things are reported in blogs that makes you want to reach out and punch someone. You have to counsel [clients] on where to respond.

Gomez (HealthInfo Direct): Have you been able to persuade clients to respond with accurate information? From our client side, they say 'Oh my God no!' out of fear that there would be additional negative reaction once you inform them that you are from the client side and that their information is wrong.

Burton (Golin): I'll tell you what's funny though, today and if you follow these groups like Technorati, they have the ability to reach inside and show you what the conversations really are and I have been saying to clients for years there may only be three or four really dedicated people on those message boards and for you to overreact to that means you may change your reputational stance or do something more harmful by reacting to the wrong things. I think the next real movement is to really understand the blogosphere and the depths of it. I think the question about new media is a great one, because young people who come in they want to see the application of podcasting and new technology and I'm not sure our clients are always ready for that new technology.

Green (Sen. Obama's office): I call the blog the "forever" story. A lot of reporters have blogs, and after their story [is published] they continue the conversation. There was a situation where we needed to respond [to a blog post] because we wanted to make sure the information about a vote and our stance on a particular issue was correct. Since then, not only do we have a daily monitoring report, we have a daily blog report that I send to Sen. Obama every day and say, "Here is where you have been listed in the blogs, and here are the things we're going to respond to because they could end up in The New York Times."

Brennan (MS&L): Clients are coming to us wanting to be proactive and deliver messages through all available channels and reach out to influencers. What we're finding is there needs to be a lot of hand-holding in terms of expectations on what they're going to say and how it works. It's not only helping them monitor and digest what they're seeing, but participating in the discussion with the true understanding of the value of that discussion, what they're going to get, and what some of the risks are.

Curran (CKPR): We're seeing more pitches where we have to bring new media to the table. We're finding they'll open up the dollars if you show them you can employ new media into some of the space.

Cronin (Chicago Bulls): We are embracing new media with the Bulls and looking toward podcasting. We have some players who have blogs. It's a good way for the players to be out there and talk about what they want to promote.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Does anyone here blog?

Brennan (MS&L): I've participated.

Childs (FCG): I have my own blog.

Burton (Golin): Have the Bulls set up a policy practice or a scope of what the players can and can't do with their blogs?

Cronin (Chicago Bulls): There's a scope of what they can do and say. Ben Gordon recently posted on what he thought was going to happen in the NBA Finals. We don't want them to get too political and we want to keep the focus on basketball.

Brennan (MS&L): Mark Hass has a blog and he uses that as a tool to communicate with the whole staff. It's part of the agency.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Who here works for agencies that have internal blogs?

Burton (Golin): We have clients that have blogs. We have once client who's CEO writes his own blog. He writes them about the right things and in his own voice. And I would not encourage people to do it unless they are willing to do it that way. You also have to be willing to write when things are bad [and talk about] about things when they aren't so positive.

Kornecki (Burson): Harold Burson celebrated his 85th anniversary recently and he established his own blog. And Mark Penn who is our new global CEO has started his blog. And basically, Mark's view is that if people inside the company really want to know what's on his mind day after day they really have to get into the habit of going to the internal site and see what the boss is thinking about. And I think that's going to regiment people in a way to get more accustom to doing it. Everyone's doing it, but my question is always who's listening? You live in age where everyone is on information overload and we're accustomed to trying to control the message for our clients and our organization through advertising and PR but when you're in the blogosphere you lose absolute control and who's listening to which party and I think it's going to create mass confusion. The challenge will be greater for us as communications professionals to filter through all of that and make sure our voice on certain issues is being clearly heard and I think it's going to become very, very muddled out there and there will be no real truth anymore.

Trickett  (PRWeek): What effect has the advent of blogs had on the media you traditionally deal with in Chicago?

Childs (Flowers): I see [new media] as an opportunity, and I'm not just talking about the blogosphere. I'm talking about satellite radio and podcasting. It gives you more media contacts.

Burton (Golin): What I find interesting about blogs on the consumer front is that it really presses our people to stay ahead of trends-social and marketing-and younger people understand that. Everything really is 24/7/365 and it may not be uncommon for Mike [Trevino] to wake up in the morning or even in the middle of the night to find out that something has happened in Virginia that he has to respond to. And I think it's a time intensive issue, not so much technology but staying ahead of it in terms of time. I think that's a real issue for a lot of us today.

Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): For our shop we have been able to extend our message. When the big immigration debate was going on one thing that was difficult for us was making sure that message got out to the Hispanic market and there's a language barrier there so it wasn't enough to do an interview with La Raza or Hoy newspaper so we did viral e-mails. The e-mails asked constituents to call Senator Obama's office to say vote no on this immigration bill in the House. And we had the interns reply to the viral marketing to get our statement out in to the public so it could be e-mailed around. I few talked to a radio station we'd tell them 'That was a great interview but could you turn that into an MP3 file and put it on your website'. Or if they have a blog, ask them to put excerpts of the interview on the blog. We want to get our message out there in as many ways as possible so people can hear it in a number of different ways.

Brennan (MS&L): The fact that remains is that for many of our clients they are still trying to understand this whole new media segment. So they still want to see it in the newspaper and hear it on the radio. So in as many ways as it's changed, our relationships with the old-line media are still very important. 

Trevino (Allstate): We've done some research on blogs and whether we should start our own. But as practitioners, we have to sift through the opportunity and view the new media as new media and realize that it's not appropriate for everyone. It's a tremendous opportunity, but there's also an opportunity to be smarter about how we use it and realize that it's not a cookie-cutter approach, even though it is so pervasive.

Trickett  (PRWeek): Are there any local issues or stories that you wanted to bring up?

Kornecki (Burson): The vitriol you see in political campaigns here, and the election is not going to be held for a while, but the amount of negative advertising, and this is certainly not a reflection of PR, we're seeing in the gubernatorial race is really revolting.

O'Brien (PRWeek): How do you run a campaign or day-to-day operations based on the good, is it driven by the public wanting blood from its politicians or is it more that the politicians are forcing it down the throats of the public?

Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): Good government is not on the campaign trail, good government is opening a library or opening a school. The mayor would say 'Alright this might be what we have to do, but my best work can be served when I'm announcing an after school program, not by running four or five months of negative campaign ads.' It's such a political city that politics is always pervasive but it spills over into other businesses.

Miner (Museum of Science & Industry): It's getting worse and then people scratch their head when there's a low voter turnout and it's because people are just disgusted that this has been going on for so long. And you see more and more business leaders throwing their hat in the ring and they're getting pulled into it and it's very disappointing and it's turning voters off more and more.

Burton (Golin): I don't think people really grasp what's going on in our media market with regards to the Tribune Company. It's enmeshed in this internal battle with the Chandler family and what will come out of this will transform the way media is owned and operated in so many different markets around the US. And we haven't seen the end of that yet. It will be a while before that happens. Chicago Public Radio is also changing very much in this market.

Julian Green (Sen. Barack Obama's office): It's a tough market here. When I was on the PR side as a junior account executive and have 200 page media lists at the end of the day it's still about relationships and if you don't call a reporter back or say no comment you could be out of a job and I don't care about iPod or blogs or any of that. People still read reporters they know and trust in Chicago.

The participants

Nancy Brennan
Managing director, MS&L

Keith Burton
President of Insidedge, GolinHarris

Ronald Childs
Media relations director, Flowers Communications Group

Christine Cronin
Corporate comms coordinator, Chicago Bulls

Joel Curran
Managing director, CKPR

Robert Dale
President, RJ Dale Advertising & PR

Marita Gomez
Partner, HealthInfo Direct

Julian Green
Press secretary, Sen. Barack Obama's office

Linda Hadley
Managing director, Porter Novelli

Robert Kornecki
Midwest market leader, Burson- Marsteller

Maril MacDonald
Owner/president, Gagen MacDonald

Lisa Miner
PR director, Museum of Science & Industry

Michael Trevino
Director of corporate relations, Allstate

McGhee Williams Osse
CEO, Burrell Communications Group

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