All posts by Eric Berto

Public Relations at South by Southwest

We’ve had it on our calendars for months. March 10-15, Austin, TX. South by Southwest.

Maybe you have a client making an announcement there. Maybe a new, young startup out to change the world. Maybe you represent a global brand rolling into town with a caravan. As a communications pro, you have a game plan. You’ve got your metrics and deliverables all set. It’s time to put those away for a minute.

It’s time to figure out how you’re going to be a part of the amoeba-like mass that manages to keep in a constant state of motion. How do you, as a PR/communications counselor extract personal and professional value from an event such as SXSW?

Meeting in meat space

Jason Falls and Becky McCray at SXSW 2009. That's how I get down..

I can’t stress enough just how important relationships are. Even in today’s world of perpetual connectivity, it can be difficult to foster and grow a relationship without being present. Without being part of the conversations that happen in the real world. Without interaction. That’s why in order for you to extract value from SXSW, you need to embrace the subtitle of the conference: Interactive.

Set up coffees/happy hours/brunches with the folks that will be there that are outside your core list of media. Recognize other influencers such as the corporate bloggers of your company’s customers or analysts that tend to create more real-time content.

It’s really hard to be a part of the mix from our offices. It’s difficult to maintain the currency of the PR industry — relationships — when the majority of people that we interact with are based at least two states away. There is inherent value to meeting with somebody in person.

Disconnect and connect

SXSW 2009
Me and @Hawaii, aka Ryan Ozawa at SXSW, 2009.

As you look at the events that your clients want to be a part of beyond SXSW, keep a part of your planning dedicated to “how can I serve my clients aside from hosting meetings?”

You’re going to recap the event. Why not add a little color to it? If you’re at a tradeshow, fire up the video recorder of choice and take a tour of the show floor. Set up a Tumblr, Posterous account or posts for your company or agency’s blog to document the event in real time. I also like to take pictures at the events I go to.

A few folks have written posts recently either defending why to go to SXSW or why not to go to SXSW. In my opinion, it is one of the single-most conferences you can attend as a PR person.

Conversations go both ways

Do you follow folks on Twitter? Do you subscribe to their RSS? Maybe it’s as easy as having a two-sentence “nice to meet you” email in your drafts you can send 30 seconds after you connect with somebody. The point is, you just met somebody, foster that relationship. You never know who you’re going to meet.

A community or relationship does not occur spontaneously. They must be curated, maintained and developed. By having a strategy in place of how you as an individual communications counselor can continue to build your own little community after each event, you will see a significant increase in your event ROI.

As we look forward to South by Southwest, community building should be one of the guiding factors of our presence down there. In order to influence the conversation, we must be part of the conversation. We must become influencers ourselves in order to influence the influencers. This is why we go to SXSW.

Why are you going to SXSW?

Unicorn Metrics

Caution: I am not a Social Media “Expert,” “guru,” “ninja” or “shaman.”

When we counsel our clients about what metrics are important for measuring a successful communications campaign, we often lob oral grenades such as engagement, influence and interactions. These kinds of metrics make you feel great.

But they don’t really exist. They have the possibility to exist and some folks have come close to making them a reality, but for the most part, these metrics are figments of our social media dashboard’s imagination. They’re Unicorn Metrics. Continue reading

Make your press materials user friendly

What if I told you that shiny stock image you just spent an hour searching for didn’t help you? Or if I said that the hundreds of dollars you’ve given iStockPhoto has actually hurt your site?

Recent research from renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests that “users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand. And users ignore purely decorative images that don’t add real content to the page.” (emphasis his) So, what does this mean for public relations?

Press pages need to be user friendly
Nielsen used eye-tracking studies to show that unless the photo is of the specific person or product being researched, most website visitors will skip it. The screenshot below is from his study and shows that the relatively low-quality photo being used on this Yale contact form is essentially wasted space. Continue reading

Agenda-free networking

Crowd raising arms at party in night clubPublic Relations and communications is largely about shaping perception. But how do we control our own? How do we make sure that we are being viewed as a valuable member of our community and not as the annoying flak?

Now, this isn’t a post about personal branding, which despite my dislike for the phrase, is a real aspect of our lives that we need to be aware of as we actively broadcast nearly every aspect of our lives online. How we carry ourselves and how we interact with a wide range of people affects how we are perceived as communications professionals. Continue reading

Get Coverage Where Your Customers Are

Rolodex Filled with Business CardsAs communications professionals, we all have our “holy grail” of coverage. Maybe it’s the Wall St. Journal or the New York Times. It could be Vanity Fair or Pop Sugar. Maybe it’s Spin or Maxim. But does the pursuit of a clip to put in a frame come at the expense of pursuing solid coverage in smaller trade or audience-specific outlets?

The importance of trade press and niche outlets is hard to argue against. For every TechCrunch, there  is a Commercial Construction & Renovation Magazine. Keeping this in mind, I was intrigued when I saw a tweet from somebody that I respect that he was compiling a media list for an upcoming announcement.

So, I called up Allen Stern, who is the founder of Cloud Contacts, which scans, transcribes and connects your business cards on social networks, email services and CRM systems about how he approaches PR. What makes Allen’s perspective valuable is he is also the founder and editor of Center Networks, a news blog that focuses on start ups and Web apps.

Continue reading

Embrace creativity

Woman holding coffee cupPublic relations pro: Caffeine-fueled typist and story teller.

We spend a lot of time discussing tactics to reach bloggers and other influentials, the latest tools for our arsenal and how to make our campaigns more successful. What we lose sight of sometimes is the art behind what we do. So, I want to spend some time talking about how to make ourselves better. How we can better tell a story. How we can be a better artist. Continue reading

Mobile PR

Businesswomen Holding PDALet’s face it, PR isn’t all about sending press releases to anybody with an email addresses (or who likes pizza). Sometimes PR is about how to reach people without the use of media.

I recently sat in on a brainstorm for a client that will be launching a product. We were debating video when the idea of a slide show popped up. I quickly said that would not work. And when asked why, I simply pointed to my mobile device. Continue reading


Sometimes old PR tactics work the best.
Old tactics, new results?

In the business world, thinking outside the box is the unofficial motto. In public relations, we’re tasked with being creative thinkers. Our clients want us to find different ways to get in front of influencers and, ultimately, customers.

But we are so quick to focus on what’s next, sometimes we do it at the expense of what’s current. Continue reading

Let’s get engaged

What would it take for you to marry a brand? In Brian Solis new book, “Engage,” he lays out his rules for businesses, brands and individuals who are looking to utilize this newfangled contraption called social media to boost their bottom lines.

I had an opportunity to not only read the book, but also to chat with Brian about it.

Q: Tell me: Why this book; why now? Continue reading

FINRA Issues New Social Media Guidelines

Checking Stock Market ListingsA word of advice: I am not a lawyer. Nor am I a registered financial adviser. This is my opinion only and should be treated as such. For guidance, consult your legal counsel.

If you are in PR, IR, corporate communications or social media, chances are you’ll run into fun rules such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Regulation FD and FINRA guidelines. One of these things these rules have in common is that they are behind the times.

But the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has taken a pretty large step in modernizing the rules that financial services companies must follow while engaging in social media and PR. You can download the FINRA social media guidelines as a PDF. Continue reading