Jan 07, 2010

Porter Novelli Partners with PressLift

Posted by: Stephanie Agresta In: media| social media

Text is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that journalists and bloggers require today. Many communications professionals have been “packaging” up information differently for years. Today, with the launch of PressLift, there’s an easy, new solution that handles multi-media content with more finesse then any other product out there. We’re thrilled to announce that we are partnering with drop.io on the launch of PressLift, enabling our employees and clients to tell their stories in a compelling, innovative, and easy to access format. Here’s the PressLift on PressLift (It’s actually the best way to tell the story).

PressLift LogoThe team at drop.io are some of the smartest entrepreneurs I know. For those of you that don’t know about drop.io, here’s a quick briefing: Their platform enables users to shares files online like documents, presentations, and videos, which are often too big to send in an email.  Using their service is as simple as going to the drop.io website, uploading your file attachment (no registration is required), and sending the custom link or “drop” to the recipient of your choice. They know how to solve problems and they do it with style.

When Steve Greenwood, VP of Business Development, and Sam Lessin, Drop.io’s CEO, came to me to discuss their new product, PressLift, I knew their problem-solving skills were at work again.  Their team came across some revealing statistics:

  • 90% of PR professionals see value in including multi-media with a standard press release.
  • 90% of journalists say it’s important to access multi-media easily.
  • Only 10% of press releases contain multi-media because it is IT-intensive, expensive, and frustrating to upload.

Based on this information, the drop.io team developed PressLift, a multi-media sharing service that caters to communications professionals, journalists and bloggers.  With PressLift, users can rely on traditional news release formats like word documents, but enhance them with complementary multi-media files that are stored and shared in a “PressLift”.  Other key features include measuring and tracking, search engine optimization, embargo period functionality, and FTC guideline compliance.

In the coming months, we’ll be using PressLift to share news about @porternovelli activities (including the upcoming SXSW conference), as well as product information from the many clients we serve. For more information about PressLift, read the official announcement and follow them on Twitter @PressLift.

Dec 09, 2009

ispeakearth. You Should Too.

Posted by: Stig Albinus In: COP15| Porter Novelli| environment| global news

COP 15 CopenhagenThere are not many really important moments in history. COP15 , the United Nations Climate Conference that is taking place in Copenhagen right now, is such a moment. The outcome of COP15 will determine the path forward for the planet: Will we – the world community at large – start making a real effort to curb climate change or will we wait to see what happens?

Some people are using “Climate Gate’”, i.e., the disclosure of private e-mails by some climate change scientists, to claim that global warming is a hoax or wildly overstated. I do believe that the facts and the science provide evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are a serious problem threatening the planet and the future for generations to come.

However, even if you believe that the threat of global warming is overstated, it is hard to find sound arguments for not reducing greenhouse gasses, for not advancing renewable energy sources and not improving energy efficiency.

Many people are looking for world leaders to come to Copenhagen to make decisions about how to address global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We should not leave it to politicians to determine the future of our planet. Our future. We should all step up to the plate and engage in the conversation about climate change and aim to directly influence the outcome of COP15.

Ispeakearth, the campaign that the Copenhagen Climate Council and Porter Novelli launched on November 25, is an opportunity for you to let your voice be heard. Ispeakearth.com is a social media campaign that was launched through a video narrated by actress and environmental activist Cate Blanchett.

We should all speak earth. Go to www.ispeakearth.com and let your voice be heard.

If you were at PRSA this year or saw the chatter on Twitter, you know there was a serious reaction to this video and for good reason:

According to longtime industry professional Jack O’Dwyer, “PR people are communications experts and should only communicate with other professionals, namely experts in the press, reporters and editors… they should not ‘hit on’ average public persons.” 

These sentiments encapsulate the shift we’re seeing within the world of communications today and the divide that exists amongst the traditional and the progressive.  For individuals like Jack who refuse to accept the power of citizen journalism or the impact and influence of blog publications like the Huffington Post or TechCrunch, the story here is simple: change is inevitable.

Social media is a driving force within the realm of communications today; It’s not some fad or over-hyped trend. Fortune 500 companies are increasingly more present in social media channels, traditional publications like CNN and the NYTimes are investing in their websites, and to date, at least 2/3 of the world’s online population visits at least one social network

To dismiss social media is to dismiss change.  Consequently, organizations must learn, explore, and adapt in order to remain relevant in today’s world.

I could harp on O’Dwyer’s sentiments more, but I’m using this as an opportunity to introduce the type of mindset that I’m trying to promote at Porter Novelli, one that is in complete contrast to O’Dwyer’s sentiments above.

Relaunching “Intelligent Dialogue” 

The digital and social media teams are currently undergoing a tremendous effort to do the following at the agency:

  1. Train all global employees to increase proficiency on social networking tools
  2. Create scalable, effective social media/digital strategies for clients
  3. Establish ourselves as a truly social organization

Items one and two I’ll discuss in another post, but for now, I want to share what exactly this third item entails.  In order to truly “get social media”, it is imperative that we as an agency communicate to the public in a way that is authentic, transparent, and of course, social. 

We’ve already taken great strides to do so (this blog was built over a year ago with this same purpose) and hope to do an even better job in the months to come.  With the help of our digital team, we plan on redesigning this blog into an online platform that showcases our thoughtleaders’ voices, but also allows us to have a more open dialogue with the public – partners, clients, employees, and the general public – a true community. 

We’ll also be launching a new interview series on BlogTalk radio and hopefully have more events at our offices where we can learn from local influencers and leaders. 

We relaunched our official @porternovelli Twiter handle and converted it from a static RSS feed into an actual voice.  You’ll also see that on a weekly basis, we’re adding more and more employees to our roster at twitter.porternovelli.com.

There is clearly a lot of work that goes into all of this, but changing the way we communicate as an organization is a project that I am incredibly passionate about.  Change is slow and change is difficult, but when leaders are successful in changing a culture from within – it can be a catalyst for great things.

Sep 16, 2009

Perfect Storm – Part 4

Posted by: gstockman In: thought leadership

Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman Joins President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy to Reflect on the Pitfalls and Possibilities of Turbulent Times

From the global financial crisis to the meteoric rise of social media, the past eight months have been a season of unprecedented change. As there are some signs that the crisis may be easing, it seems a good time to assess what happened. Over the course of a comprehensive and wide-ranging conversation, Porter Novelli’s CEO Gary Stockman and Global President and CFO Anthony Viceroy offer insights and analysis on how the agency managed to not only weather the turbulent times, but also find the inherent possibilities in the crisis and emerge stronger than ever.

In the final part of this interview series (read part one here, part two here and part three here), Stockman and Viceroy discuss the dramatic convergence of public relations, communications and marketing, and what they found most inspiring throughout the economic crisis.

Over the past couple of years, public relations, communications and marketing have all changed—some will say converged—dramatically. What is your perspective on this change and how will it progress?

GS: Communications have changed fundamentally, and that process of change continues to accelerate. In part it is accelerating because companies are demanding that their marketing partners work together to drive results more efficiently. And what you are seeing come out of that is greater communications integration and collaboration. You’re also seeing a creative meritocracy, where the best ideas rule, whether they come from public relations, advertising, direct or digital. Clients are looking for ideas that will help them break through and achieve measurable results, no matter where they come from. I think that’s why there has been this move toward integration, and I think it is a good thing. It is going to not only drive efficiency, it is going to drive higher levels of creativity.

This shift means a couple of things for public relations. It means the need for us to practice what we at Porter Novelli call Intelligent Influence—finding the optimal mix of communications tools and techniques to get people to change their attitudes and beliefs. It also means we are looking to hire people who are passionate about communications, who are engaged in social media and who are fast learners. And increasingly, people who are comfortable with ambiguity, knowing that the communications landscape is going to be changing in another four to six months anyway.

Can you talk a little bit more about that comfort with ambiguity?

GS: Look back to the communications landscape even 12 months ago. Twitter was out there, but people weren’t using it so much. Over the past year, social media has just exploded. New forms and new innovations are coming along almost on a daily basis. When I started in this business, people developed a playbook over time. This is how we do media relations, this is how we do press kits, this is how we do announcements, this is how we do thought pieces. It was not quite formulaic, but there certainly was a playbook. These days, there is no playbook. And when you have no playbook, you have to have all-stars on the field. In my mind, all-stars are people who have the characteristics I talked about: passion for communications, engagement in social media, an ability to learn fast and a comfort with ambiguity—because the game is going to be changing week to week and month to month.

Do you think Twitter will be around in a year?

GS: I do believe it will be around; I think somebody is going to wrap something around it that makes it more mainstream and commercial. Here’s the thing—and I have learned this in spite of my own natural inclinations (laughs)—people have an incredible need to express themselves and you can’t bottle it up. So while half the stuff on Twitter is nonsense, the other half is actually pretty interesting and pretty timely and pretty relevant. And so long as there is enough good content coming out that combines with people’s insatiable desire to express themselves, it is going to be around.

What has most inspired you over the past turbulent year?

GS: People’s desire to be optimistic and believe in things. We need to find ways to inspire more of that kind of engagement, because people really want to be a part of something. And they are more inclined to be optimistic than you would think.

AV: The talent at Porter Novelli has really embraced change better than anyone could have ever predicted. All of us coming in, all the new hires, all the new clients we have picked up – they inspire me. There has been one constant and that has been a winning attitude. In times like this, you are really tested. Talk is cheap. Now is when you see who has the ability to rise above the rest. Every single day our entire workforce has come here and proven they want to win. That to me has been remarkable to see every day.

What has been most encouraging?

GS: Two things. One is the talent we have been able to add. When I look at Peter Pitts and KiKi McLean and Anthony, the addition of that talent is the thing that is most encouraging and exciting. And the other is the response of clients and prospects when we tell our story well.

AV: Well thank you—I’m in good company [laughs]. What I find to be most encouraging is that we are not done thinking about how we can be better. Every day brings new challenges, but also new opportunities to create an organization that is truly focused on great clients and great talent. There are always going to be great opportunities out there. We just have to be relevant in the marketplace, strategic in our insights and flawless in our execution.

What can Porter Novelli provide clients better than any other agency?

AV: A better model—that is strategic insights coupled with strong digital and social media capabilities that produce measurable results for our clients. It all begins with really understanding your clients, their brands and the most effective way to reach and influence consumers who are using or should be using their brands. Our entire global organization continues to focus on executing flawlessly against our value proposition for our clients.

GS: I would say it comes back to our value proposition of Intelligent Influence: Helping clients change attitudes and beliefs by having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. The challenges clients face today are, How do you mount a comprehensive campaign to achieve this, and Are your partners able to collaborate and integrate and bring the expertise that you as a client need to win? I think we do that particularly well. Intelligent Influence is about leveraging all the communications tools out there to help clients change attitudes and actions. We are particularly good at that.

Sep 04, 2009

Perfect Storm – Part 3

Posted by: aviceroy In: thought leadership

Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman Joins President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy to Reflect on the Pitfalls and Possibilities of Turbulent Times

From the global financial crisis to the meteoric rise of social media, the past eight months have been a season of unprecedented change. As there are some signs that the crisis may be easing, it seems a good time to assess what happened. Over the course of a comprehensive and wide-ranging conversation, Porter Novelli’s CEO Gary Stockman and President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy offer insights and analysis on how the agency managed to not only weather the turbulent times, but also find the inherent possibilities in the crisis and emerge stronger than ever.

In part three of this four-part series (read part one here and part two here), Stockman and Viceroy focus on the needs of clients—how some needs have changed and others have intensified—and how some brands’ ability to connect with consumers during the crisis created tremendous opportunities.

So, shifting to a more external focus: What is the primary concern of clients during turbulent times?

GS: I think it really comes down to three words, “measurable results now.” And if you can achieve those results at a lower cost, that’s even better [laughs]. I think that’s the mantra these days. Every client’s business is getting the same level of scrutiny and feeling similar pressures to perform. It really is about who can help deliver tangible, measurable results and do it this quarter, next quarter and beyond.

Some would argue that would drive a mindset of safe bets and short passes. How do you address these very real client concerns while still inspiring confidence and bold action?

GS: It could indeed drive people to short passes and safe bets. But what I would prefer—and what I am seeing, actually—is people thinking more creatively and more innovatively about how you deliver measurable results now. Because, as we were talking about earlier, there are new weapons at our fingertips that did not exist during the last downturn—digital and social media and other approaches that we can use to reach and motivate stakeholders to take action. The question is, how do we leverage those weapons innovatively? If necessity is the mother of invention, I think turbulent times should be the mother of innovation in communications.

AV: The concern of clients today is no different than it was five years ago. It has just been magnified. Clients are looking for the greatest value—growing their brands in a cost-effective manner. Our clients are asking the same question that we have asked of ourselves—do you view this economic downturn as a crisis or as an opportunity? And many of them, like us, are viewing it as an opportunity. Of course budgets are tight, but they do understand that this is a golden opportunity to spend smartly in key areas that will help their brands gain market share. One day we are going to come out of this, and when we do, we will all need to ask, how much brand value and market share have we gained?

Is there a point where it is more prudent for a client to pull back and weather the storm?

GS: There are cases for which that’s the right recommendation; particularly when continuing to push a brand would actually weaken it or damage it. Some approaches and some campaign concepts that seemed terrific a year ago seem anachronistic now. I think there are luxury brands that have to be particularly careful about being out of touch in the way they communicate.

AV: And you have to look at the individual situation. What’s more important to you, market share or cash flow? Provided you are not in a cash flow situation, my personal belief is that you should always be trying to gain market share. And the time to do it is when opportunities present themselves. So, looking at your competitive landscape—when everyone else is zigging, maybe you should be zagging. Again, this is a true philosophical difference between what we believe here at Porter Novelli and other firms. We have not viewed this once as a crisis. We have really seen it as an opportunity to make strategic hires, to talk directly to our clients about what they need and explain to them what should be keeping them up at night. Not everyone is doing every single project with us, but I think this is really how you build relationships in this type of period. Clients really respect the fact that you’re putting their brand first.

It seems there needs to be real sensitivity to the zeitgeist, and there seem to be no easy answers to anything—it just requires a lot of thinking.

GS: It does require a lot of thinking and it requires sensitivity. Take Hyundai as an example, and look at their buyback guarantee. They created an opportunity from the downturn and as a result they have picked up tremendous market share. By not only offering a financial incentive—you lose your job, we buy the car back—but also demonstrating empathy and sensitivity, they came up with something that felt right to people.

That’s a great example of something very traditional in its approach. It doesn’t have anything to do with digital or social media. Has there been a sea change in the perception of social media, where it is no longer regarded as a silver bullet or a magic trick as it was a year ago? Does it now require a much more strategic approach?

GS: Yes, I think that is a very good way of characterizing it. If there was a time when all that mattered was how you said it, today it matters more than ever what you say, whom you talk to and when you talk to them. It is not enough to use social media to spout nonsense; you have to have substance and good concepts and creativity.

AV: That’s why I view us as a client solution service. Because ultimately what we need to be thinking about is how to create sustainable value for clients and help them grow their brands and manage their brands more effectively. I think social media is another way to do exactly that, but next year there will be another medium. Porter Novelli has demonstrated that it is not about embracing one medium. It is about figuring out strategically which media will best serve clients’ needs and help them grow their brands.

My personal belief, and one that is really embedded in this organization, is that you have to be direct with clients. It’s not about selling to clients anymore. It’s about having direct talks of, “Here is what is going on; here is what you need to know.” Because clients know what they know—the real value to them today is the insight you give into what they don’t know.

Have there been any occasions where you have been surprised by the response or reaction of a client to the economic downturn?

AV: There have not been any negative surprises. We have picked up a lot of Fortune 100 company business from our competition by putting tremendous focus on our digital and social media capabilities, and on services that they felt made a difference. So again, an attitude of playing to win as opposed to playing not to lose really comes across when we are dealing with clients.

But are there types of clients who are particularly endangered by a turbulent global economy?

GS: I don’t think there is one category, but I think all clients need to look at the strategies and the messages that they have been using or are contemplating to make sure they are in line with the current zeitgeist and people’s sensitivities. I think empathy and understanding of what your target audience is going through are really vital during a down economy. And appearing insensitive and out of touch is a real danger if you are not paying attention.

AV: Truthfully in today’s news where everything is 24/7, you could argue that every client is vulnerable. You could see brand equity evaporate within seconds based on a negative story or something that gets on YouTube.

So do you think social media presents as many dangers as opportunities?

AV: Well, I think the benefits clearly outweigh any risks associated with it. But like any risk, it must be managed properly. Social media is here to stay; it is clearly being embraced by many and I would say it has been a great area of success for us. But it does get interesting sometimes [laughs]. Right now in corporate America, what we are seeing is the ability to try to understand how social media impacts brands and how to use it in a socially responsible way.

Conversely, what opportunities does a down economy present—for clients, as well as for the internal development of talent and strategy?

GS: A couple of things. One is that the economy can serve as a real catalyst for change. There’s a clarity and a focus that come from a downturn. You can’t afford to have things live in a gray area or to wait and see, so it prompts decisions to be made much more quickly and ambiguity to be resolved faster. In a lot of organizations, a downturn acts as a catalyst for changes that should already have been made. The second area is talent. During a downturn good talent can be more widely available, and smart companies will take advantage of this to add great people.

AV: The opportunities are endless. In an economic downturn, there is no better time to look at the organization from head to toe. If there ever is a time when people are going to get comfortable with change, it is in an economic downturn. Most people will not want to change when everything is going great. But in a downturn, they tend to expect and embrace change more quickly. So when you have a challenging economic environment, you have an opportunity to look and ask, Are we managing talent the right way? Do we have the right people? What further value should we be bringing to clients? How do we get great collaboration? How do we exploit the global footprint that we have? So when you start going down the list, you see many ways to think strategically, and you discover great opportunities for the company and its talent to do more.

Check back with PN.com next week for part four of this four-part series. Next week, Stockman and Viceroy discuss the dramatic convergence of public relations, communications and marketing, and what they found most inspiring throughout the economic crisis.

Aug 31, 2009

Onward! The Interactive Evolution and SXSW 2010

Posted by: Stephanie Agresta In: Events| SXSW| social media

Whether you’re part of an innovative startup, tech-sector behemoth, content creator, or communications professional, there’s only one place you really want to be in March – SXSW.  This past spring, the conference had its strongest turnout yet, demonstrating the immense growth of the interactive world.   
SXSW logo banner for 2010
The conference took place in the middle of some serious tech-sector fallout, too.  You might even recall that TechCrunch was tracking layoffs at a frightening pace.  The recession has done much to complicate our lives, but little to derail the interactive zeitgeist. 

In 2009, “Interactive” has taken on more meaning than ever before. It’s no longer just a micro site – it’s an iPhone app.  It’s not just online – its offline and today we see the beginnings of what has been termed the “web-wide world”. 

Also, there’s no shortage of drama to spark discussion.  MJ’s death brought the interwebs to a grinding halt, United took one on the chin from a little-known musician, and Domino’s spiced up their online engagement after one of their “cooks” spiced up one of their pizzas with his own special ingredient and posted the video to YouTube.

And with that, we’re marching forward to SXSW Interactive 2010.  If the SXSW panel picker is any indication – 2010 is going to be even bigger and better.  When attendees filter into Austin, TX next March, there’s going to be 12 months of case studies, progress and social evolution to digest… and it’s going to be fun. 

If any of the panels catch your eye, we would appreciate your vote at the panel picker! You can see the whole list of panels over at InternetGeekGirl.

Aug 28, 2009

Perfect Storm – Part 2

Posted by: gstockman In: thought leadership

Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman Joins President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy to Reflect on the Pitfalls and Possibilities of Turbulent Times

From the global financial crisis to the meteoric rise of social media, the past eight months have been a season of unprecedented change. As there are some signs that the crisis may be easing, it seems a good time to assess what happened. Over the course of a comprehensive and wide-ranging conversation, Porter Novelli’s CEO Gary Stockman and President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy offer insights and analysis on how the agency managed to not only weather the turbulent times, but also find the inherent possibilities in the crisis and emerge stronger than ever.

In part two of this four-part series (read part one here), Stockman and Viceroy reflect on the rise and power of social media—what Stockman refers to as “a profound shift in the communications landscape”—and how it is changing the content and context of external communications, empowering a creative meritocracy and changing the traditional internal learning model.

You talked about the rise of social media and the unprecedented shift in the communications landscape. Part of what makes Porter Novelli such an exciting agency—and so successful in the realm of social media—is the strong contributions of younger staffers. Are there specific challenges to managing younger workers who have never lived through a down economy?

GS: I think one of the most important things you can do is share perspective. The benefit of being as old as I am [laughs] is having lived through a number of downturns. Some of the Millennials haven’t ever seen anything but a go-go economy. So it’s valuable to let them know that yes, we will emerge from this, yes, we have been there before and yes, we know what actions to take. All those things I think are quite useful in helping younger people understand what’s going on. But I do think these times are particularly shocking for this generation because they really have not been exposed to an economy that was anything but robust.

Recently I asked one of our younger people, “Do things feel differently now? What is the response that your peers are having to the economic downturn?” And she said the thing that affected her most was seeing her friends in other companies being laid off. Her natural reaction was to retrench, put her head down, focus on her immediate clients and not take risks. That was eye opening. But we are determined to keep innovating through this downturn. One of the things we have done this year is to put in place a quarterly award program that recognizes an individual or team who has done the most innovative work—even if the ideas failed. You want to encourage people to do new things, not pull up the drawbridge.

AV: Everyone says their success is all about their people, and it’s true. In the service industry, talent is a great competitive advantage. But what you do with your talent, in my mind, is what sets you apart from the competition. And what we wanted to do in this environment with so much economic uncertainty, when I felt most people would be operating in fear and wondering whether they were going to be downsized, is show that we can be innovative in how we think and really give everyone in the organization an opportunity to come up with big ideas and insights that make a real difference and demonstrate our ability to think strategically.

Millennials are probably brighter than any generation ahead of them. I’m so impressed that the question I get asked the most by our younger generation is, “How can I add value to this company. Our younger colleagues at Porter Novelli understand that their contributions make a measurable and lasting difference in our organization. And a lot of the innovation, and the use of social media, is coming from this group—people who embrace reasonable risk, who understand you can’t do things the same way and expect different outcomes, who are willing to think outside the box. So I think one of the great opportunities we have is to continually think about and challenge the Millennial generation in a way that creates a vibrant organization.

As Gary mentioned, one way to help foster greater contribution at Porter Novelli is through our quarterly incentive program. This program rewards teams or individuals whose work has one of two characteristics: It has added extreme value for a client, or it has offered something extremely innovative that has helped differentiate the agency. We want to encourage a mindset that it is OK to take reasonable risks to create an innovative outcome.

Our clients realize a big idea can come from any person anywhere in our global organization. And when you talk to clients, they are trying to figure out how to grow their brands and they are looking for great insight. And they are happy to take that insight from anywhere in the organization. And I think our younger generation has clearly embraced thinking differently and challenging the norm. And that is the kind of thinking that is going to produce results for our clients.

GS: Absolutely. The trick to managing multigenerational teams, and a multigenerational agency for that matter, is creating an environment where people can learn from one another, from all levels. The typical service organization is built on an apprentice model, where junior people learn from senior people. These days in particular, it is not a one-way street. And we practice what I have been calling a dual-apprentice model, where younger people are comfortable with teaching older more experienced employees the things they know uniquely well, especially in the social media and digital area, and vice versa. Pursuing a strict, top-down learning model doesn’t work anymore. Instead you wind up practicing a model as a learning organization that sounds vaguely socialist: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” A big focus for me personally is cultivating a learning organization where people can learn and teach and influence at every level by employing a dual-apprentice model. You have to do that in order to stay competitive.

AV: One of the great things we are doing is creating Porter Novelli University. If you look at most in-house educational training programs, they tend to cater to senior management. What we are doing is to say there’s great learning that junior people can get from senior people, but also that senior people can get from junior people. It’s a cross-pollination of knowledge sharing. So rather than a senior management training program, we are training the whole organization on a global basis at all levels, and we’re surrounding the training with relevant real-life case studies that are conducive to learning regardless of your level, so that you have an opportunity to share your opinion, your voice, your point of view, and help individuals really start seeing things in a different light.

Do you think the economic climate accelerates a meritocracy, where good ideas rise to the top more quickly out of sheer necessity?

GS: It can. The challenge is to get people to actually put those ideas out where they can be evaluated without being afraid. Dr. Linus Pauling said that the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. That’s especially true in a challenging economy.

Check back with PN.com next week for part three of this four-part series, in which Gary Stockman and Anthony Viceroy focus on the needs of clients—how some needs have changed and others have intensified—and how some brands’ ability to connect with consumers during the crisis created tremendous opportunities.

Aug 25, 2009

Perfect Storm – Part 1

Posted by: aviceroy In: thought leadership

Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman Joins President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy to Reflect on the Pitfalls and Possibilities of Turbulent Times

From the global financial crisis to the meteoric rise of social media, the past eight months have been a season of unprecedented change. As there are some signs that the crisis may be easing, it seems a good time to assess what happened. Over the course of a comprehensive and wide-ranging conversation, Porter Novelli’s CEO Gary Stockman and President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy offer insights and analysis on how the agency managed to not only weather the turbulent times, but also find the inherent possibilities in the crisis and emerge stronger than ever.

In part one of this four-part series, Stockman and Viceroy reflect on their initial reactions to the early days of the global economic crisis, discuss its similarities and differences to past crises and offer perspective on Porter Novelli’s response.

Both internally and externally, managing staff and managing accounts, how have you adapted to the turbulent economic outlook, and what advice would you give others on successfully navigating these times?

Gary Stockman: The advice I have given people has been threefold. One is to keep your head out of your shell. During tough times people tend to withdraw, and that’s a mistake. The second thing is to focus relentlessly on clients’ immediate needs. There will be time to take the longer view; but in the midst of a significant downturn you have to focus closer in. And third is to look for opportunities to position your organization for the recovery. That’s what we are doing at Porter Novelli, and we are advising clients to think that way, too. We don’t know when the recovery will come, but we do know that it will come. And there are things that can be done, right now, to get ready for it.

Anthony Viceroy: This year has been a year like no other. It has been challenging but also has created great opportunities. What has helped us is taking a different approach to these tough times – adopting a play-to-win mentality as opposed to a play-not-to-lose mentality. We really have stepped up our talent acquisition. We have been extremely aggressive in going after top-tier clients. We have looked to improve upon all of our departments, particularly our digital media and social media functions. And we’re really trying to use this as an opportunity, so that when the recession does end, we will have come out stronger. In that way we will be more valuable to our clients.

Gary Stockman: Getting the right talent in place is really critical. And there is a lot more good talent available in a down economy than when there is an outright war for talent taking place.

At what point did you realize that the economic downturn would be so dramatic? Was there a specific moment internally, externally or with a client that crystallized the realization for you?

GS: For me there were several notable moments, including the day in September 2008 when Lehman was allowed to fail. That one took your breath away. The other was when the Madoff scandal broke: not because of the number of people affected or even the amount of money involved, but because it represented such a complete violation of trust. At the time I remember commenting to someone that the Madoff scandal would extend the recession by three months because it added this aura of incredible uncertainty and fear. And unfortunately I think I was right.

The litany of events leading into this recession has meant that restoring trust and rehabilitating reputation is one of the most important things that we as communicators can help our clients do.

AV: For me personally, I think the collapse of Bear Stearns in March of ’08 was a clear signal that something was wrong. While most companies made it through the summer relatively unscathed, the third and fourth quarters saw tremendous panic. Nobody really understood what the impact truly was since everything was happening quickly. You saw a tremendous amount of downsizing or rightsizing in every business. But then people came back after the New Year and realized, “We’re still in business. We still have great clients to service.” And rather than focus on the negativity, our people began asking: “How can we be innovative and creative and develop strategies that really help clients weather this economic downturn?”

How is the current economic outlook reminiscent of earlier periods or challenging business cycles? What did you do then that is applicable, and in what ways are we in uncharted territory?

GS: There are certainly elements that are common to economic corrections, whether it was the dot-com implosion or even back to 1990 and ’91. And there are similarities in terms of what you do to respond to a downturn, such as scaling the business to size appropriately for the work you have, and looking at changes you want to make in the business. But one of the big differences this time is that while we have an unprecedented economic downturn, we’re also seeing a profound shift in the communication landscape. Either of those things would be a sea change unto itself, but when you have both happening, you have a kind of perfect storm.

And while these are all happening concurrently, they definitely have implications for one another. I’ll give you an example. The focus for clients right now is delivering measurable results as efficiently as possible. Social media is able to target and reach people in measurable ways very efficiently by allowing brands to have the right conversations with the right people at the right time – and through the right vehicles. Social media is accelerating beyond what you might normally expect, because its acceptance is being catalyzed by the economic downturn. The economic pressures clients are facing are prompting them to look for ways to get measurable results right now and very efficiently.

AV: You can go back to the mid-’70s to get a sense of this. Even the crash of ’87 didn’t sustain on a global level as long as the one we’re in now. The recession in ’90, ’91 also stands out in my mind as a benchmark. Those were scary times filled with a lot of uncertainty. I remember in ’91 seeing people holding signs that said: “Have MBA, Will Work for Food.” I agree with Gary when he points to the bursting of the tech bubble, and even that, you could argue, was isolated to that sector. Unless you were in that industry you weren’t affected as much as you are today. What we are seeing now is the broad global impact on every business. What has been very challenging for people is to know when the rebound will occur. So the ability to manage has taken on a more short-term process, yet you have to focus on long-term needs, too. You are managing day-to-day for your own business and trying to figure out how to remain cost competitive while creating and adding value that clients want and need.

Check back with PN.com next week for part two of this four-part series, in which Gary Stockman and Anthony Viceroy reflect on the rise and power of social media and how it is changing the content and context of external communications, empowering a creative meritocracy and changing the traditional internal learning model.

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