PR vs. Social Media: #EnoughAlready

It drives me nuts when I hear people argue about PR vs. Social Media. It’s officially replaced the, “Is the Press Release Dead?” debate in my book, which in its own time was so mind-numbingly annoying that my body practically shook (and still does) when I encountered it.

Traditional PR people dismiss the new breed of digital pros as the hipsters of the marketing world. These communications vets ask themselves, “how can these kids who couldn’t even order a drink during the financial crisis possibly think they know more about the financial services field than I do?” And they’re right. What the next gen of marketers have in tech-savviness they lack in experience. It’s not a knock. We were all young once, but it’s impossible to deny.

fish-388346And the digital crew dismisses their older colleagues as out-of-touch traditionalists clinging to the old ways and not adapting with the times. They ask themselves, “how can these senior level marketing people be so out of touch? Don’t they see the world changing before their eyes? Don’t they want to evolve with the times to ensure they’re connecting with their customers in the best way possible and, hopefully in the process, raise more assets and strengthen their reputation?” Guess what, they’re right too.

But wait…. they can’t both be right, can they? The whole “One Side vs. Another,” headline loses its punch when both sides put down their light sabers and make peace, right?

It may be an anti-climactic ending but guess what… it’s the right one, and it’s one that smart financial companies have known for some time now. Just as brands in the past didn’t completely abandon TV advertising when the internet came around, brands today aren’t completely abandoning media relations to put all of their eggs into the digital basket. Instead, they use a balanced, multi-layered approach that combines the strengths of each platform. You don’t have to choose between the two. You can have them both.

As my colleague opined in a recent post, media brands, both traditional and digital, are doing fascinating things today to analyze the performance data of their editorial content to make informed decisions about what and where to publish. This use of data is allowing them to offer more tailored and timely content to their readers, who in turn are reading more than ever.

This is the financial communications space I love working in. The one where two heads are better than one, where people never stop learning new things, where companies finally stop hiding behind the regulatory and compliance curtain (because trust me, you’re losing money over it), and where brands openly take advantage of all the tools at their disposal.

Today’s landscape is new and challenging as hell (and guess what, within 12 months this post will likely be worthless!), but there’s never been a better time to be a financial comms/marketing pro.


Do You Want to Hear a Story?

“We’re entering the golden age of journalism.”

This was said by Henry Blodget, editor and CEO of Business Insider, at yesterday’s Future of Media event, hosted by I Want Media and in conjunction with Internet Week New York.

That line really resonated with me, and not just because it was the closing comment. You see, for the last few years the PR industry has been bombarded with blog posts and happy hour conversations about how journalism is dead. “Newspapers are dying, the old media guard missed the boat on digital, no one wants to pay for content, we’re all journalists now, etc.”

This is all true. Everyone and their grandmother knows that newspapers have had a difficult time adapting to the rapidly changing times. People have opted not to pay for content because there’s so much free news available at their fingertips. And social and mobile have turned all of us into glorified correspondents. You only need to look at how the recent Boston bombings unfolded online to see that the news cycle is vastly different (and better) today.

But if you think The New York Times or CNN are going out of business, you’re out of your %*#@*^ mind.

Before I go further, it’s worth pointing out that the only “traditional” media presence on the panel was Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times, so it’s not as if this was a roundtable full of old print folks crying about their declining ad dollars (and for the record, The Times is doing some really cool multimedia stuff and their iPad app is as good as any). The rest of the panelists were all from the new wave of media outlets, including HuffPost Live, Buzzfeed, and Business Insider. These companies are all using technology to deliver a level of news that didn’t exist a few years ago and they’re now household names in the media world.

I expected everyone to talk about the demise of journalism and gang up on Mark (which occasionally they did, though it was all in good fun and he more than capably answered their jabs). Much to my surprise, though, they did the opposite. They all had a slightly different view of the industry, naturally, and everyone agreed that the way we consume news has changed forever, as is the type of news we consume. But at the core of the entire discussion was the value of good reporting.

Yes, minute-by-minute Twitter updates gives consumers a news experience they’ve never had before, and it can be compelling, exciting and eye-opening in a way most media outlets can’t compete with (almost everyone agreed that Twitter is the first place news breaks). But the fact remains that consumers still want good content and good content is produced by good journalists working for good media organizations. My friend’s Instagram photo of a TEDx event might be cool, but it doesn’t summarize who was there, what was said or why I should care. Yes, I want to see his picture, but I also want to see a video of the event, glance at its hashtag stream on Twitter and have access to an article written by a credible reporter. The photo filters and hashtags tell part of the story but not the whole thing.

Blodget said a great word yesterday, something I haven’t heard in years and something that perfectly exemplifies what I’m trying to say here: “storytelling”. How great is that word? How many fond memories does it stir up inside you? Do you remember being in Kindergarten and listening in awe as your teacher told you the greatest story ever, and then running home to your parents to tell them? Can you visualize that schoolroom from 25+ years ago with the painted hands on the wall and the frayed carpet?

The communications field has been so focused on adapting to “disruptions” the past few years that many of us have forgotten how important storytelling is. After all, isn’t that what we want, a great story? Whether you’re watching a video on your iPhone, catching up on Twitter in the elevator or sitting down at your computer, we just want to see, hear and experience a great story, just as we did as children.

I didn’t expect to attend an event about the future of media and walk away feeling optimistic about the journalism industry, but I did. So think of this the next time someone tells you journalism is dead. It’s evolving, as it always has, and it’s stronger today than ever.

Agree/disagree? As always I’d love to hear your thoughts:, @WaterWallPR, @AndrewHeals


The Need to Unwind

Last week I took my first vacation in almost three years. While some people might perceive that as bragging (“Look at me, I work really hard and I never take off work, blah blah blah”), I assure you that’s not the case. Quite the opposite, and in fact, I’m embarrassed about it. While I’ve always had a strong work ethic I’ve always maintained a very healthy work-home balance. Work is important to me and I’m fortunate to do something that I love, but work is not my life, and it never will be. That may sound like treason to some people, including some of my friends and industry colleagues, but it’s a fact. Work is part of my life, not the other way around.

But that all changed when I launched my own agency last year. Whereas I previously used to focus all my time and energy on my clients (client interaction is by far my favorite part of the job), now I have to think about clients AS WELL as paying rent, meeting payroll, picking the best health care plan for my employees, deciding when to make a hire, etc. I experience every single emotion every single day and after a while I feel like I’m going crazy.

Water & Wall is part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but as many new business owners can attest there’s a thin line between working “a lot” and working “too much.” There are countless studies that aim to identify what makes people productive at work, and “everyone” talks about the value of having a proper work/life balance. Sounds fairly simple, but in the post-2008 economic environment, I think it’s safe to say we all work more than we did five years ago and with much less job security. How many of you have wanted to take a vacation, only to put it on hold out of fear that your boss may hold it against you at some point?

So why take a vacation in an uncertain economic environment and while my business is still in its infancy? Because doing so was for the greater good of myself, my business and my clients. I’m 31 years old and I’ll be damned if I work 24/7 and not take a step back from time to time. I’ll put my work ethic against anybody’s, but everyone needs to recharge their batteries from time to time and we’ve all hit a place at work (and in life) where some quiet time away would do wonders.


 (This basically sums up my trip)

Though I continued to think of work while on vacation and check emails occasionally, I didn’t obsess over it as much as I normally do. The resort we stayed at didn’t offer WiFi on the beach or by the pool (NO WIFI!?!?), and while I cursed that at first, it was a blessing in disguise. I was on vacation to unwind with my wife and have a good time, not to check emails or see what the markets are doing.

And having planned our getaway months in advance, I was able to prepare my colleagues/clients for my absence and do everything I could to ensure the office would continue to plow ahead as it normally does. Much to my surprise, they all wished me well and they were pleased to see me enjoy myself.

Now that I’m back I’m recharged and ready to throw myself back into my work with a sense of excitement and calm that I seemed to lose for a while. In my first week back I’ve already signed on a new client and had to say goodbye to another, so the emotional rollercoaster is still there, but I smiled through it all and can’t wait to go away again next year.

Agree/disagree? Love to hear your thoughts.

What I’m reading now: Wool, by Hugh Howey. It’s a sci-fi series, which really isn’t my thing, but it has a very cool premise. And what really drew me to it was the story of how the author eschewed traditional publishing “rules,” did things his own way and is now happy and successful. I love stories like this.