In the interest of full disclosure, I work with Porter Novelli in my day job - my PR team is in Boston.
In fact, it was about social media we talked about at lunch two years ago when I was in New York for Blogger Social. Enjoy the conversation
When we met a couple of years back in NY, I found your background fascinating - you know a lot about trend research and the advertising world, two areas in which I'm starting to work more.
In an ideal world, I would work at a think- and do-tank, so I'm a bit jealous of your amazing career focused on global intelligence. How did you come to the decision to transition for JWT to Porter Novelli, a PR agency?
Marian: My decision to join Porter Novelli was all about my interest in the global public relations industry, a desire to work with Gary Stockman, and Julie Winskie, and the folks they had organized as the senior leaders of the agency, and my recognition that I was never going to learn social media, or live it, sitting within a global advertising agency, because the biggest budgets of the biggest clients would be focused on mass communications, not narrowcasting to communities of relevance, until critical mass get to Twitterville, Facebook, you name it.
It’s a numbers game for the biggest brands and I wanted to be on the other side of the equation to experience first hand influencing the influencers through the earned message. Think of it as a “small is the new big” mindset on my part.
It was a plan and one that helped me garner new expertise, and helped Porter harness some of my energy and focus of an ad person who doesn’t believe “Not possible!” is an option, that every challenge is just a “How now?” opportunity. I wanted smaller and more strategic and they wanted creativity and a new look at their business offerings. It was win/win, I hope.
Was your focus exploring alternatives to traditional advertising? Do you see a better future in PR?
Marian: I think the focus is in the conversation, and conversations can’t be stage managed or micro-managed. It’s all about the “trialogue”—and that’s DIALOGUE in today’s context where it is TRIAL by peers 24/7/365.
PR people are more nimble with message points and strategic discussions but they don’t have the confidence that advertising people have (or maybe PR people have sounder judgment); it’s a juggle, and the future will belong to those who can be bold and ethical and transparent about what works and doesn’t and about how they are living their missions and work.
People will have better futures not industries, but I do think that folks who can be brave and work stealth have a serious advantage in tomorrow’s competitive climate.
Since our conversation, you have been a much more active participant Twitter and authoring the PN Intelligent Dialogue blog. Have you found the experience fulfilling? How much does your direct involvement help you feel you understand its dynamics well enough to explain them to the Porter Novelli teams and the agency customers?
Marian: I had no choice but to practice what I was learning and the blog has been an incredible opportunity for me to publish regularly beyond what I have written for CNBC.com, and Forbes.com, and occasional bylines in trade publications in the U.S. and the U.K.
But, for me, total immersion was via my Twitter handle and the commitment to crowdsourcing to answer my questions about where the consumer and where businesses and governments are heading. I find it an amazing resource and it’s even an addiction because I consume information in a non-linear learning mindset, and it fills me with brain snacks all day every day.
I have not gotten used to some of the cynicism or the negativity of the blogosphere and probably never will, and I experienced it first hand when I wrote for CNN.com on boomers and was BLASTED on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—I mean BLASTED.
I think there is a huge difference between tackling a topic and disagreeing and the kinds of anonymous personal slams I got from people who found my hypothesis about boomer values (first wave) being replaced by more moderate cusper values.
The content of what I said or what others said isn’t important as much as first hand I have lived the management issues of firestorms online, and also of the great days, like my Tweettoremind.org project where we have already raised $150,000 to help wounded warriors through social media activation.
My new thing is a belief that the near future is grassroots activation and that everyone of us should spend 10 hours working on a local campaign so we can understand the genius of how campaigns work. David Plouffe is my new marketing rockstar; I think that understanding how he harnessed the power of the social web for the Obama campaign is my number one near-term mission.
From the corporate side I have not been impressed with agencies over the years. Creative that did not sell and account teams that did not understand the business have by and large been a problem. Social media is transforming work, the dynamics and business models. Yet, it seems that many agencies have underestimated this shift. As an agency that was born around building relationships with publics, does Porter Novelli find it easier to transition to integrating social media?
Marian: Change is always rough but Porter Novelli has hired Stephanie Agresta, Internet Geek Girl, who I met through the Pepsico corporate tweetup to head social media and she is making it easier and easier for us to take the promise and make it real.
Our team in Austin has been very active in social media for a while, and this helps, too—as we say in the new ad campaign, we were the digital AOR for SXSW before we could Tweet about it. So we have authentic claims, and you’re right, it ain’t ever easy.
As a client, I know I can be demanding of the team, and I've found them very open to working with me on developing ideas and programs. This is quite rare. Is it reflective of the PN culture? Perhaps you had a role in expanding that aspect further?
Marian: The teams are all about embracing change and fighting the sameness so when a good client enters the picture, we go from good to great. Just look at what we have accomplished with Pepsico from April 1st till now:
We did the corporate Tweetup as a simple favor, a trends presentation, and then won Internet Week and then BlogHer, and we have had massive engagement with their organization and key constituencies on their behalf in the digital world.
Credibility and value are the currency of social media. Companies are struggling to figure this one out, especially those that are used to think in terms of their messages. You have an advantage over internal resources in companies: as an outsider, your advice may be followed. How does PN you work with companies to help them build better relationships with their customers?
Marian: We provide objective feedback and insights on what’s just around the corner and also real-time monitoring of the dialogue, with suggestions on how to jump start different discussions with the right people at the right time.
One right conversation is a PN objective but it’s not a scripted discussion in 2009, but rather a well-received, well-moderated trialogue where we can get client information disseminated and have their chosen messages understood. The age of broadcasting and command and control are dead—this is narrowcasting in the time of everyone is connected, communicating, and has comments.
Our best advantage is our knowledge of brand and reputation stewardship and the mastery of the new tools for listening, engaging, and expanding the trialogues. (Dialogues are very last year, I type, laughing.)
You work on trending topics. What do you think is in store for agencies in the next 3-5 years? Will PR agencies rethink their dependency on mainstream media? How is PN integrating bloggers in its media outreach?
Marian: Narrowcasting, digital media replacing paper and broadcast, big getting bigger and small being unique.
What is your personal secret sauce? How do you influence your colleagues and team?
Marian: Just sheer intellectual curiosity and passion for change… I like working with young people, motivating them to make themselves more interesting and engaging…
Who would be your ideal client?
Marian: Pepsico has been this spring and summer—they’re fabulous in the social media space.
I should add that the team I'm working with is readily open to working with me and with other teams, like the brand and ad group from a different agency - in other words, we are one team. This is the only way I've always worked with agencies and providers. When it's a partnership, everyone wins.
These were my questions. What questions do you have for Marian?