I was able to spend some time last week interviewing Justin Kistner of Voce Communications via email about PR firms, the shift of attention from mainstream or “old school” media to bloggers, and some thoughts on the PR industry as a whole.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm
I’m a blogger and new media strategist living and working in Portland. I am engaged to my beautiful fiance, Christine, and we’re thinking about moving to the Bay Area in a couple of years. I came to Voce from Jive Software where I worked to build up the visibility of their brand and blog on the web. We were able to build significant traffic to their blog and website, as well as built relationships with target media contacts and analysts in their space. Sam Lawrence, their CMO who I worked with the most, was listed first of seven corporate evangelists being called the next Robert Scoble’s.
I got introduced to Voce because they were one of three PR firms that were selected to pitch Jive for business. I was drawn to Voce because I think they have the magic formula for a modern PR firm: strong traditional PR skills and genuine commitment to innovation. I connected with Rich Cline and Mike Manuel right away. I felt like we spoke a common language. One thing that sold *me* was that 3 of the 7 users that WordPress brags about on their homepage are Voce projects: Yahoo, Sony Playstation, and eBay. That’s strong street cred for a PR firm in my book! Mike has put together a strong social media team, too. It’s been great to work with the strong players at Voce and I’m excited to see what we’re going to accomplish together.
Marshall Kirkpatrick had asked earlier on ReadWriteWeb (and Twitter) that PR Firms send him an OPML file of feeds for themselves & their clients – you were one of the only folks to respond…
I first heard Marshall ask for an OPML on Twitter.
Did you already have something like this put together or did you create it as a result or seeing Marshall’s note?
We didn’t have anything together when Marshall first asked. I started by direct messaging him on Twitter to ask if anyone else had responded. He said no, but if I pulled together a good example, he would be glad to share it as a model example. I sent out an internal email to ask everyone for the feeds for their clients. I emphasized to Voce that we needed to respond quickly because another PR firm might be working on it. I was able to send him an OPML within 8 hours of the request, which is a pretty quick turn around. After I sent it off to him, a few more replies trickled in. About to send off an updated version of the OPML file, it suddenly occurred to me that I would likely have semi-frequent updates. That lead us to creating a set of feeds including a Yahoo! Pipe of client feeds and a Tweetpeek feed of Voce Twitterers, which could be updated on our end and pushed out to Marshall automagically.
Has anyone else (other than Marshall and I asked for this information?)
A few more people wrote blog posts based on your and Marshall’s posts, and they subscribed. We plan to put together a section on our site that offers these feeds as an OPML, individual links, and email. Not everyone is as savvy about feeds, so we want to make sure our followers can take our news in whatever format is preferred by them. I expect us to innovate more in this space doing stuff like offering a “hotline” where people can subscribe to breaking news from us via SMS for those that want the scoop. Smart options like these should drive additional subscriptions.
I had my virtual assistant in India pull together a list of the “Top 25″ PR Firms serving the tech crowd in Silicon Valley – what she found was interesting:
- 23/25 had a press release area
- 1/25 required registration & approval to even access their non-embargoed press releases
- 1/25 had an RSS feed
- None had RSS feeds or OPML available for their clients
Mostly I think the demand for OPMLs from the media hasn’t been strong enough to push PR firms to offer them. I think this current meme of Twitter pitching and OPMLs of client lists will drive the first wave of PR firms, like Voce, to meet these needs. Once the market catches onto the extra value and efficiencies we early innovators are seeing, the rest of the PR world will adopt.
I also attribute the poor feed support to resistance to change. Many PR professionals are used to a world before feeds and Twitter. Commenters on Marshall’s post shared some of their concerns: Some see it as a loss of personal interaction, some feel like it’s an unreasonable request to place on the PR professionals, and some said it was rude to ask them to do it in different way than they want to, like email. All of these concerns are related to a lack of experience with feeds. The reality is that feeds are not about replacing communication channels like email, Twitter, or IM. They are an intelligent way to exchange data and easy to set up. If a PR professional has a relationship with a media contact, they will still be able to reach that person.
How do you see the PR industry changing as a result of the ongoing shifting of coverage – particularly in the tech world – away from traditional media and more towards blogs such as ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, and others?
I think traditional media and blogs are on a collision course toward each other. The NY Times now has comments and social news buttons. Read/WriteWeb is starting to look more like a “real” publication than a blog. In the future, I suspect people won’t see a difference between old media brands and “blogs”. I think the word blog will fall out of favor and we’ll just see it all as media. All media will have social elements with ranges of formalities in the tone and research that goes into the content.
The PR firms that will be successful in the future will be the ones that are flanking this transition period from both sides of the collision between traditional and new media. I know at Voce, we intentionally employ people with a range of knowledge between traditional and new media tactics. We take the exchange of knowledge between everyone in the company very seriously. Voce hosts “brown bags” that are continuing education events lead by and done for Voce employees. Additionally, we have people that work outside of the Silicon Valley, such as Josh Hallett in Florida and myself in Portland, as a checks and balance for the echo chamber effect. Mike, my boss, refers to it as our “East of Reno” strategy.
Some interesting thoughts — Justin, thanks for taking this time to spend with us!