Panel Detail:
The Changing Rules of PR and Corporate Influence in the Digital Age
 
Wednesday, April 30, 2008  /  09:25 AM - 10:40 AM

Speakers
Hope Boonshaft, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Hill & Knowlton
Jason Calacanis, Founder and CEO, Mahalo.com
Steven Rubenstein, President, Rubenstein Communications Inc.
 
Moderator
David Meerman Scott, Viral Marketing Strategist
 
Enormous shifts are underway in the world of public relations, and they are shaking up an industry once seen as indispensable by even the most powerful of corporations.

David Meerman Scott, a viral marketing strategist, moderated this eclectic panel, which featured one of the most interesting and rowdy debates of the conference. The experts panel sometimes clashed as they analyzed where public relations is headed in the next 5 to 10 years, and how the Internet will continue to change the way information is filtered, presented and translated into a format that can move an audience of consumers.

It's a whole new ballgame these days, according to Steven Rubenstein of Rubenstein Communications. "Everything is instant. Everyone wants to cut through all the noise and all the extra info that bombards them each day. The media needs to be able to tell an engaging story and have great content. Stories tend to travel and bubble up," he advised. "Our business is 'nichier' and we need to know it better than those bloggers do, or they'll eat us up."

Calacanis arrived late, and burst into the room full of opinions. "Listen, I'm the one keeping it real," he insisted. "Journalists' relationships with public relations firms are unnecessary and way overpriced." This elicited a surprised reaction from the audience. "I'm saying what needs to be said," he continued. "It's about time we go direct. Who would you rather speak with, the president of a company or his/her PR person? It's not rocket science. And most CEOs want to talk to customers directly as well, not hear information filtered from an overpaid third party who acts like the most important person in the room."

He continued by pointing to Steve Jobs as an example. "He says, 'Look guys, this is my (stuff). This is what it does. What do you think? Like it?'" In this way, he is able to communicate directly with customers on a personal level, and make the necessary changes to improve his product or keep it the same. As a result of this direct communication, Apple is one of the most successful companies on earth.

Hope Boonshaft of Hill & Knowlton injected that honesty is always the best policy. "Tell the truth and get the message across with grace and dignity — in the best way possible," she stated. "All you can do is your best. Sometimes a mess does occur, but we can only do our best to mop it up and move on."

A video clip from YouTube about viral marketing was shown as an example of a new and creative way to market a product. "YouTube is fantastic!" exclaimed Boonshaft. "Look how it helped tell the story and get a message out."

Calacanis insisted that "company heads need to go to parties and do the meet and greet. They need to meet people directly, without any glorified assistants called public relations." But Rubenstein raised an excellent point: "What about when a crisis occurs, what then?" Calcanis conceded that public relations may be helpful in sticky situations.

The panel discussed the need for CEOs to learn to blog, use new social networking tools and learn how to facilitate public conversations. CEOs should be in the trenches, not hiding behind their desks. "You've got to get in the game!" Boonshaft urged.

Scott concluded the session by asking the panelists: "If you were sitting with the 'Governator' and he asked you for the most important keys to blogging, what would you tell him?" The answers included creating an organic dialogue, honesty, creating a platform for information exchange, transparency, respect ... and a little bit of pizzazz.