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Peter Shankman (of HARO Fame) Comes to Chicago

Peter ShankmanYesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by the Chicago P.R. and Marketing Network. The speaker was Peter Shankman — most recently known for creating Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service that helps connect reporters with sources. As a competitor to fee-based ProfNet, HARO has grown tremendously since it started as a small 600-person Facebook group. Now it boasts more than 110,000 subscribers.

Peter spoke about the changing role of public relations, journalism and today’s 370 million micro-journalists equipped with camera phones and a propensity for blogging; about how social media is a tool that allows for an “easier way to screw up to a larger amount of people,” but at the same time to also better facilitate customer service; and about the Internet making it easier today to search for and investigate the wrongdoings of the “old white men” who run our country.

He also outlined five qualities of a successful business or PR professional, which I'll detail here.

1. Transparency

Peter noted that if a company (or a company representative) makes a mistake, he or she must take ownership of that mistake. Being transparent with consumers — and reporters — is critical to ensuring continued loyalty to your business. In fact, Peter noted how research has found that consumers are much more likely to continue purchasing from a business that admits a mistake immediately, over one that is caught after-the-fact.

Case-in-point: President Obama communicated his Tom Daschle appointment mistake the right way.

2. Relevance

How do you reach your audience? Every business needs to consider how their target audience likes to get their information. Is it via snail-mail, e-mail newsletters, a company blog or something else? You need to physically give customers a call and ask. Don’t just send out an e-mail survey to get feedback, or try to convince them of how they want their news.

Case-in-point: Amazon.com expanded its inventory selection after realizing that its original tagline of “World’s Biggest Bookstore” was limiting its reach to consumers. The recent item Peter bought on Amazon? A blender — proof that Amazon listened to its core audience, thus increasing its relevance to consumers.

3. Brevity

The average attention span today is 2.7 seconds, approximately the time it takes you to read a text message (or a Tweet). Peter emphasized the importance of knowing how to write, which is key in getting people to respond to e-mails and for many other forms of written communication.

Three E-mail Categories:

Those who know how to write with brevity – If you fall into this category, you can craft an e-mail that requires a one-word response. It’s very likely the recipient will respond, and it will usually be within a timely manner.

Those who know how to write with brevity, but require more info – If you fall into this category, you can craft a short e-mail, but may require an instructional answer or more than a one-word response. Recipients will likely respond, but your e-mail will typically get flagged and sit in their inbox until they have time to answer it.

Those who don’t know how to write with brevity – If you fall into this category, you craft an e-mail that doesn’t get to the point quickly, and is way too long. People usually won’t respond and will stop reading after the first few sentences (or they’ll follow-up with you after five months and claim the e-mail was caught in their spam filter).

4. Staying Top-of-Mind

Every business should make sure they stay top-of-mind to their key audience so that when someone is in need of its specialized service, a hesitant consumer chooses them and not a competitor.

Case-in-point: Peter relayed the story of how the president of Paramount would pull 10 random names from his Rolodex each morning (after he got to the office early), and just give them a friendly phone call to see how they’re doing. So who would those individuals be more likely to call with a fantastic screenplay or other lead? Would it be Fox, MGM, NBC Universal, or the person who took time out of their day to just say “hi”?

5. Recognizing the Transition to “One Network"

According to Peter, we talk to roughly three percent of the people in our network (whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or some other social media outlet). In the next 24 months, however, he predicts that we’ll all be connected via one network. Everyone you meet – from the plumber to the old lady who lives down the street – will automatically be a part of your network.

Consider the news tickers that appear at the bottom of your TV screen. In the future, Peter says, your “life stream” will instead be your main source of news – fueled not by the media but by the relevant people in your life. The more you interact with someone, or the closer you become geographically, the more they appear in your stream. Think of it as a more sophisticated Facebook News Feed.

This will enable consumers to start doing PR for the businesses they frequent, as great recommendations will spread from person to person within each network. Instead of getting news from the outside in (looking up weekend activities in the newspaper, for example), people will get news from the inside (and simply seek recommendations from friends).

Peter’s reference to the concept of “one network” actually reminded me of a new product recently released by Empathica, a Walker Sands’ client. Called GoRecommend, it’s a Facebook application that allows consumers to share positive brand experiences with friends, even sometimes offering location-specific coupons for the recommender and their friends.

Peter explained that one item that will transition everyone to this “one network” idea is the poken. Essentially a small flash drive equipped with Radio-Frequency Integration Technology (RFIT), pokens will soon be the replacement to business cards. Simply touching your device to someone else’s allows for an immediate swap of all forms of contact info (ranging from your Twitter profile to Facebook page). All the information is downloaded automatically once you plug the poken into your computer.

In all, Peter had some interesting things to say and I would recommend listening to one of his talks if you get a chance. If you want to follow him on Twitter, his handle is @skydiver. You can also check out his book, “Can We Do That!: Outrageous PR Stunts That Work - And Why Your Company Needs Them.”