Conference Report: BOLO 2011

The BOLO conference was held at the totally hip and retro Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona with its beautiful saltwater swimming pool and cabana boys (and girls) delivering umbrella drinks. Two days packed with speakers and case studies, a poolside cocktail reception and a rooftop farewell dinner were included in the conference fee.

BOLO stands for “Be on the Lookout” for new social media marketing techniques, strategies and tactics. Bret Giles of Agencyside in Phoenix is the founder and key organizer of this annual event. Scott Stratten, author of “Unmarketing,” opened the conference with the keynote address. He discussed about how employees of companies and corporations are the embodiment of the brand. That moment of truth, when one representative of a huge corporation can turn a bad experience into a great one, is the whole premise of “unmarketing.” Instead of thinking of ourselves as marketers, he wants us to focus on delivering great experiences to our customers, whether it’s in person or in online engagement.

His premise framed my entire experience at BOLO. I went through the many presentations and case studies thinking about how to help my clients engage with their customers, and how my agency can engage with clients in a way that connects  one human being to another.  I came out of BOLO thinking about ‘human relations’ as opposed to ‘public relations.’

Susan Baier of Audience Audit  gave a case study presentation with Christine Tieri of about a campaign they developed for Zoots, a dry cleaning chain in Massachusetts. Through online research done with Survey Monkey, they were able to identify four persona types that use the dry cleaning service. They segmented the dry cleaning market by characteristics that motivate each persona. They were then able to develop an advertising campaign that resonated with each persona.

Previously Zoots was pushing their pro-environmental cleaning methods as their strongest brand trait but through research they learned that their customers were looking for convenience, good service, meticulous cleaning and a company that loves their community from their dry cleaner. The good environmental practices were an added bonus,  but not necessarily the strong motivator that Zoots previously spent the bulk of its marketing dollars to promote.

I also loved the case study from Jeffrey Harmon of Orabrush about “the engagement loop” developed by a group of college students to launch this simple tongue cleaner into a major brand sold online and in Walmart stores nationally.

BOLO’s combination of great speakers peppered with case studies that I felt I could implement in my own business the moment I got back to the home office, was both energizing and motivating.  So many  agencies are complaining that business has gone down the tubes, however BOLO inspired me to believe that engagement, rather than ‘push marketing,’ is the key to marketing results in this new era.  Engagement through online networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as mobile marketing, Google ads, and good old fashioned customer service is the key to our future.

We were reminded by numerous speakers that people want to do business with others that they know, like and trust. Social networking helps people to know, like and trust us, however the rubber hits the road when customers come to our place of business (like the Hilton), and we deliver on our brand promise.

So where does “old fashioned” public relations fit in to BOLO? There wasn’t much (if any) discussion of media relations, press releases, or press events, although this conference wasn’t promoted as a PR professionals’ event. That said, there were many PR pros in attendance, eager to improve their social media skills. As PR professionals, I think we would be well served to think of our profession as building relationships between human beings, one at a time, rather than communicating with some mass amorphous  ‘public.’

Nancy Marshall owns Nancy Marshall Communications in Augusta, Maine, and has been doing PR for nearly 30 years. Her agency handles the Maine Office of Tourism as well as numerous other clients. Her agency site is at and her blog is at She was recently presented with the 2011 Edward L. Bernays Achievement Award from the Maine Public Relations Council, which is the highest recognition for a PR Professional in the State of Maine.