We have questions, people have answers. In this interview, Attention! PR Founder Curtis Hougland discusses, among other topics, the new communications landscape, what monitoring and analytics vendors he works with and how he counsels clients when they ask, “Should I respond to that blog post?” Hougland created two new media practices at both Ruder Finn and Middleberg + Associates before forming Attention! Clients include Mashable, IFC, HBO, Consumer Reports, A&E, WWE, Estee Lauder and Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.
Tell us about some of the programs you’re working on with these clients. How are their PR goals similar or different?
Word-of-mouth is a dominant goal for our clients. They recognize the increased competition for consumer attention–how there is simply more competing media.
So, we are focused on cultivating word-of-mouth, which has become the most influential factor in purchasing decisions and brand relationships.
What blogs are on your daily reading list?
My RSS reader spans tech blogs such as Mashable and Lifehacker, media blogs such as Buzz Board and PaidContent, political blogs such as Daily Kos and Huffpo (there goes my political anonymity), fashion and beauty blogs such as Second City Style and Spoiled Pretty, and of course, my guilty pleasures, Consumerist and Curbed.
What do clients want more/less of, given the current economic conditions?
Clients want more data-driven PR. They are requesting campaigns with greater transparency and measurability. Understandably, companies are less likely to embrace innovation without understanding the tangible return. This is good news for social media, which is far more measurable than traditional PR.
Can you speak about vendors Attention works with for social media monitoring and analysis?
We work closely with Collective Intellect, which has the best core technology. CI offers both excellent low-touch and high-touch solutions. Visible Technologies is also creating some intriguing engagement tools as well.
A common question from clients is “should I respond to that blog comment?” Can you walk us through a few scenarios where you’ve received that question and what your counsel was?
Follow these steps
1. Identify the blogger’s authority
2. Evaluate the post for accuracy first, and then evaluate the tone and sensibility
3. If the blogger is high-authority (50+), the post is factually incorrect, and you understand the tone of the author, then email them a link to the correct content from your site or a peer third-party (most of the time)
4. If the post is not factually incorrect, it really helps if you have a relationship beforehand so you can have a conversation with the person. Ultimately, you develop an instinct about whether to respond, but remember that they want to hear from the brand-they want to engage. Just don’t email anything you don’t want to see online.
Do you use “social media press releases” in pitches? What are your thoughts on this relatively new tool?
We focus more on one-to-one engagement and managing clients’ social presences. The 2.0 releases have some value, especially in natural search, but they are still releases.
How can an agency best work with clients in regards to Twitter?
First of all, we can guide them on best practices-how to monitor Twitter conversations, how to integrate Twitter into their overall campaigns; how to use Twitter in marketing, communications, customer service; how to functionally aggregate multiple feeds onto a website; what is the etiquette in tweeting and following; and perhaps most importantly, how to evaluate the success. We also communicate through Twitter in a similar way to blogs. Guy Kawasaki just published a great primer How to Use Twitter as a Twool.
What do you look for most in a new hire?
Smart people who live out loud online. It is often difficult to train a PR person to eschew pitching in favor of sharing. So, we look for people who are comfortable communicating in the medium regardless of their previous field.