New leaders of new media

Most PR pros know what a blog is. But some are blazing trails and prescribing truly revolutionary new media programs for clients. Erica Iacono profiles four of them

Most PR pros know what a blog is. But some are blazing trails and prescribing truly revolutionary new media programs for clients. Erica Iacono profiles four of them

Mike Manuel
Online strategist, Voce Communications

In addition to providing counsel on the new-media portions of campaigns, Manuel also heads up the agency's digital advocacy service, which is focused on helping clients understand how to navigate the new media environment. And it certainly helps that he's part of that environment himself. Since 2004, he has authored the Media Guerrilla blog, a move sparked by dealing with clients who wanted to learn and understand the phenomenon. "I wanted to be in a position where I could provide them with some pretty good counsel," he says. "For me to do that effectively, I basically had to jump in and be part of it, versus just sitting on the sidelines and watching."

Since then, Manuel and Voce have employed blogging tactics for a variety of clients. In 2004, the firm created a corporate blog for Yahoo that served as the mouthpiece of the search group. More recently, Manuel says, the company has worked with Sony USA to create a blog for SOCOM Navy Seals, a new video game. The blog went behind the scenes to show gamers how the game was created. In the 48 hours following the October 2005 launch, the game attracted a record-breaking 48,000 online players, something Sony attributes partly to the blog's ability to connect with the gaming community, Manuel notes.

In the new media environment, one of the biggest mistakes PR pros can make is to use traditional PR tactics. "A philosophy of ours is that we don't pitch bloggers," he says. "We don't believe it's the best way to engage with that community. We think it's more problematic than beneficial for any corporation to be doing that." Instead, Voce occasionally employs offline tactics, such as meeting with influencer advisory committees.

"At some point there has to be that face-to-face interaction," he says.

Mike Spataro
EVP, Web relations and new media, Weber Shandwick

Spataro, who has focused on new media for almost a decade, leads a group at WS that has implemented new-media strategies for a variety of clients. The agency recently worked with Verizon Wireless to develop a podcasting series that invites users to learn about cell phones with such capabilities. Such work, Spataro says, is something that should be part of any good agency's arsenal going forward. In fact, his group regularly meets with companies to evaluate new technologies and see how they can fit into the PR practice.

While incorporating technology into an industry that has traditionally been based on relationships can be intimidating, Spataro says that it is a change that is inevitable. "The next generation of PR pros is going to have to be a bit more knowledgeable and savvy," he notes. "The PR pro of the future is going to be someone who will not only possess great PR skills, which will always be important, but they're going to have to be digital communicators to deliver messages that are based on the technology and lifestyle of today's consumer."

Alan Rambam
SVP and partner, Fleishman-Hillard

Rambam heads up the Next Great Thing (NGT) practice, which focuses on the youth market and, therefore, more often than not is incorporating new-media tactics into clients' campaigns. Its recent work with Cingular involved developing video blogs and other content, including original newscasts, for its Web site, www. Instead of issuing a release about Cingular's sponsorship of the band All American Rejects, NGT commissioned someone to conduct interviews with the band and then posted the content on the site. Some of the branded entertainment is then available for users to download to their cell phones. "We're distributing the information that's targeted to our consumer," he says.

"You want to recognize... that there are things you can do to personalize that information."

One of the biggest mistakes PR pros can make, he says, is to dismiss new media as a fad or something only common among the younger audience. "Take it a few more years, and [those teens] are going to be P&G moms," he says.

It's important for PR practitioners to realize that the new-media space is ripe for the taking, he says. "We understand the uncontrolled space, and that's where it's going," he adds. "This is our space. We just need to be a lot more aggressive in letting clients know that it's our space."

Rick Murray
EVP and GM, diversified services, Edelman

When Wal-Mart wanted to highlight its relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina, Edelman helped it set up a blog that told stories about the relief efforts from the perspective of employees. "Blogs allow you to tell a [story] in your own terms," says Murray. "When written with honesty and a huge sense of passion and authority, they're going to reach an audience in a credible way." This is just one of the many projects Murray and his colleagues have worked on using new-media technologies.

Educating clients about those new strategies may be the most important thing to remember. "The first thing that we say is, "Before you pitch, you have to listen and learn the news environment,'" he says. "Research is really at the heart of it."

And unlike the Internet, the learning curve on recent new- media tactics will be months and not years, Murray says. "People that see this as yet another tactic are going to do their agencies and their clients a tremendous disservice," he says. "People who really embrace this as a dynamic change are the ones who will win."

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