Interview with Andrew Smith, Director at escherman

This week for my Interview Series, we have Andrew Smith, Director at escherman, talk about his career path, current role, changes he’s seen in the PR industry over the years and his thoughts on the future of PR.

andrew-111. Before working in PR, you spent a couple of years working as a Deputy News Editor at a weekly UK publishing trade title. Can you talk about your experience working there and why you decided to enter the PR industry afterwards?

I started life as an editorial assistant on the Retail Newsagent Tobacconist and Confectioner in September 1985. In spite of appearances, this was an excellent training ground in journalism. One of my former predecessors in this role at the magazine – Mark Haysom – went on to become Chief Executive of Trinity Group Newspapers  and one of the most powerful people in British newspaper publishing.

Even while I was there, the magazine was suddenly at the forefront of mainstream news developments. You have to remember this was when Rupert Murdoch was revolutionising the newspaper industry in Britain – moving distribution from rail to road, taking on the print unions, Wapping, etc – we were reporting on the same things as national print and broadcast media. I was going to press conferences and working alongside top national newspaper journalists. For example, Raymond Snoddy, the then hugely influential Media Correspondent for the Financial Times would ring me to check on particular aspects of news trade distribution (though as a rookie journalist I confess to being in complete awe of such a titan of journalism).

This was also a time which saw the first new UK national newspapers launched in decades. I covered the launch of Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper and interviewed Andreas Whittam-Smith, the founder of the Independent. I also interviewed Robert Maxwell for the launch of the ill fated London Daily News.

So where did PR enter the frame? When I started as a journalist, I had no idea about public relations (as far I knew, PR stood for proportional representation).

Or rather, I had no idea a whole industry existed to try and provide me as a journalist with material to write about. In those days, we’d get a massive mail sack at the office basically full of paper-based press releases. One of the most useful tools I had was a massive metal spike on which 99pc of press releases would be unceremoniously terminated. I’d get calls from breathless PR people asking me if I’d got their client’s press release and would I be writing about them?

I’ll be honest. My early view of PR from a journalist perspective was not good. But over time, I came to realise that there were good PRs. These were the ones that would provide good information and knew how to pitch me a story.  I also realised that PR people seemed to get paid quite a bit more than journalists. Surely I could do that? So in 1988, I decided to give PR a go. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to journalism.

I started life as a PR executive with a small PR agency. Before I started the job, I had the stereotypical journalist view that my day would consist of writing press releases and taking journalists to lunch. How wrong could I be. Suddenly I had to deal with things like client management, budgeting, campaign planning, negotiation and a whole host of other things that journalists never see. I admit that in the early days, I did question whether I had made the right decision. However, I decided that if I was to stay in PR, I should work for a PR firm that specialised in something I really enjoyed. Hence my move in 1989 to join tech PR firm Keene Communications where I ended up running one of the iconic tech PR accounts of the era: Borland – the rest is history.

2. As Director at escherman, can you give us an overview of your role and the sort of projects you work on?

My role is partly to define what services we should offer clients and to then determine how best we can deliver them. The kinds of projects we mostly get involved with today largely revolve around helping clients best understand how to marry to together PR, social media and SEO into a coherent mix, while also using advanced analytics techniques to measure and evaluate programmes. As a by-product of this, we are increasingly asked to provide training in all of these areas – so this is a growing aspect of the business.

3. What’s a typical day for you like?

I guess the cliche answer would be to say there is no such thing as a typical day ;)

But certainly a lot of my time is spent delivering training workshops, attending client meetings, planning campaigns and keeping up to speed with latest developments in all aspects of digital.

And it goes without saying that I spend time every day using a variety of social and SEO tools to keep on top of everything. Personal favourites included Hootsuite, Nimble, Lissted and MajesticSEO.

4. I read that you were the second PR professional in the UK to begin sending press releases via e-mail in 1991, which is amazing. Having seen so many changes to the PR industry over the years, I’m interested to know whether you think there are some things that have stayed the same? 

I’ve dined out for years on the email press release story. I got exposed to email in 1989 through my work at Keene with Borland.  I joined one of the UK’s first online bulletin boards (CIX) around the same time. It was here I discovered that there were journalists using the service to have online conversations and – gasp – email each other. I think the first press release I emailed went to about 5 journalists. One of them was the then Technology Editor of The Guardian newspaper, Jack Schofield. It was Jack that suggested that Frank O’Mahoney (then UK PR Manager at Apple) and myself were the first UK PRs do to this (although the honour of being first went to Frank).

The point of mentioning all of this is that one of the key things that has stayed the same is the importance of relationships. Looking back at my early use of email, the key thing was that it only worked if you had already established a relationship with someone and taken the time to properly understand their needs. PR has always been about relationships. And always will be. In spite of the huge changes in technology and society over the last 30 years, the fundamental need for building and maintaining relationships with people is more important than ever.

5. With the rise of social media and shrinking of traditional newsrooms, what are your thoughts on the future of the PR industry? What sort of skills do you see becoming increasingly valuable?

I am quite optimistic about the future of the PR industry. At least for those PR professionals who accept the reality of the world we are in and can adapt and change quickly enough.

I’ve been banging on for some time about research that Google did last year which showed that 90pc of all media consumption today is done via a screen – TV, PC, laptop, mobile or tablet. Print represents a tiny proportion of media consumption. And yet much of the PR sector is still mainly focussed on print coverage. And yet Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP basically came out last week and confirmed Google’s research – namely, that there is massive disconnect between expenditure on print PR, advertising and marketing and where consumers spend their time.

Traditional PR skills of creating great editorial style content and relationship building should play well in the screen-driven mobile/social world we are living in. The key additional skill that PRs everywhere must develop is in analytics, measurement and evaluation.  The old excuses that PR measurement was too difficult or too expensive won’t wash anymore. There are techniques available to all PRs that can prove a much more robust connection between activity and measurable impact. For example, Google Analytics is a free tool that can show both the direct and indirect impact of PR and social media against defined goals.  For those PR professionals who are prepared to invest time and energy in these areas, then I’d say the future is very bright indeed.

***To get in touch with Andrew or read more from him, check out blog.escherman.com***

Interview with Mandi Bateson, Head of Social at Mindshare

This week we have Mandi Bateson, Head of Social at Mindshare, discussing her career path, her creative process for coming up and executing ideas, technology trends and skills that are becoming increasingly important for marketers.

Mandi 2012

1. To kick things off, can you tell us a little about yourself and provide a quick overview of your career to date?

I started working as a marketing and events coordinator during a 2 year stint in England in the early 00s. After a few years working in a multitude of B2B marketing communications roles, I was adamant that I would a) never specialise and b) never work for an agency. And yet here I am, loving agency life and in one of the more niche marketing areas in the industry.

I love that I started my career in B2B – I’ve set up forums for real estate software beta testers, created communities of interest for Australian businesses exploring international trade opportunities and used content marketing to generate leads for enterprise telecommunications. For 6 years I worked side by side with sales teams which meant a Monday morning without solid marketing results was a Monday morning I didn’t want to face. Our reports always showed that the strongest source for lead generation was word of mouth which is why I started focusing on social media marketing tactics before they were really known as social.

The past 4 years of agency life have been a rollercoaster – from setting up the social team at Daemon Digital (now TWO Social) to setting up the social team at PR agency Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies) to my current role setting up the social team at Mindshare (still known as Mindshare thankfully). It’s been interesting to see how social is perceived within different marketing disciplines and it will be no surprise that I feel a media agency is well placed to see social come to life.

2. As the Head of Social at Mindshare, does that mean you basically throw parties and sip champagne all day? Or is there more to the role than that?

I have been asked at many a function if being Head of Social means that I’m responsible for the party. When I explain my role is about social media marketing I usually get an apology from the person that they’re not on Twitter.

We look at developing participatory ideas, creating content, influencer outreach, social listening, and communications planning. I spend a lot of time with our clients assisting them with their social strategy, whether that’s because they need help educating their internal teams on how it will be executed or that they need to translate a global strategy to have relevance locally or because they want to integrate campaign activity into always-on planning. Champagne is optional.

3. What would be a typical day for you at the office?

Much like anyone else, there’s no real typical day for me.

I have a fab team which I can rely on to execute our campaigns so I can focus on all the other elements that keep our business ticking along including meeting new clients and getting to know their pain points, internal training and education so everyone’s thinking social, catching up with the client teams to make sure we’re all working towards the same goal, meeting with our media partners to stay up-to-date with their solutions, writing strategies and developing campaign ideas, giving advice on how to manage those tricky social issues that always seem to pop up, tinkering with our planning and reporting templates and process documents, talking to our strategy team about upcoming campaigns and the role for social, attending some kind of training session on either our Original Thinking Framework or one of the company’s professional development courses, and talking to the digital team about social advertising updates.

We have offices in Sydney and Melbourne so there’s quite a lot of work to cover and sometimes all of this needs to be put on hold if a campaign requires all hands on deck.

4. Part of your role calls for a lot of ideas generation and creativity. Can you talk to us about your creative process? Do you switch it on and off or is your mind constantly racing with new ideas?

We always ask “why would they care, why would they share” when trying to tap into a killer social idea. Without wanting to black hat ideas as they develop, getting realistic about the likely audience reaction and how much incentive would be required to get a reaction improves creativity as you really need to be able to articulate the motivators and behaviours of your target market. Seems pretty obvious but it can often make a big difference between how an idea lives in traditional advertising and how it is executed socially.

Strangely enough I find that technology inspires my creativity. Most people will tell you that technology is not an idea – of course it isn’t. Unfortunately though my creativity is restricted by known limitations. To explain myself, here’s a campaign I liked: Flair Fashiontag. Say your friend posts a photo of themselves on Facebook in a cute outfit. You can use the app to tag a piece of clothing in the photo with a Fashiontag, which lets them know you like it, helps you get more info about the item of clothing or accessory and gives Flair magazine content they can use in their magazine. What I liked about this is that I didn’t even know it was possible to tag images on Facebook with something other than the name of a friend. The more aware you are of your possibilities, the more creative you can be.

One lesson about brainstorming that I’ve taken with me is that sometimes you have to let ideas go. I may have thought I had a cracking idea in a brainstorm in 2009 but if you cling onto an idea for too long you’ll find yourself trying to retrofit a strategy to suit that idea and what may have been a moment of brilliance will fizzle pretty quickly or even worse you become a one-trick pony selling social scavenger hunts to every client that comes along.

5. What are your thoughts on the digital landscape at the moment? Are there any technology trends that you’re really excited about?

I think we need to be aware of the consequences of this always-on environment that we’re in. Have you ever taken a break from social media? I try to do it twice a year for at least a week at a time because otherwise I find that my attitude towards social changes as I get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of people, platforms and brands telling me to like this, view that, share with friends, get outraged by this, overshare that. I think when we are trying to understand our audience we will need to know more than just how or when or why they access online properties and understanding their attitude will becoming increasingly significant.

It changes how people react to social media mishaps or crises as an issue that may have received little to no attention gleefully becomes branded as the latest #fail. It shapes who and what we trust as those willing to trade a tweet or a share for a sample freebie dilute their own social currency by becoming background noise instead of a possible “influencer”. The savvy social networker is becoming jaded by mainstream platforms and even more so by the promise of bright shiny new things. For many, tech snobbery is cool and “I don’t have Facebook” is the new “I don’t own a TV”.

I think brands that can understand the dynamics of the overall digital landscape and how it changes the attitude of those using the technology will fare much better than those jumping on the latest trend.

6. What sort of skills do you think will become increasingly important within the next 5 – 10 years?

We’re already seeing this but I think those wanting to work in social media will need to have a few seemingly contradictory skills up their sleeve. The assumption that people are good at either numbers or words is being proven wrong by social media marketing professionals who need to be as comfortable diving into line after line of data as they are writing succinct and successful copy.

The perfect marketer would have the ability to optimise social advertising, write copy appropriate for discovery within platforms or search engines, design and produce content, be able to calmly manage a crisis situation, analyse data like a pro, be an ideas man, be able to articulate the tone of every brand they work on, be able to write and deliver training courses, dabble with code, create media plans, manage media/influencer relations, write solid strategies and have an innate understanding of consumer psychology. A good social generalist will own the specialist field.

***If you want to get in touch with Mandi, say hi on Twitter @mab397 or check out her blog mab397.wordpress.com***

Interview with Ishtar Schneider, Senior Account Executive at Palin Communications

This week we have Ishtar Schneider, Senior Account Executive at healthcare PR agency Palin Communications, talking about her career path, working at Palin, her thoughts on company blogs and emerging PR trends and how she keeps up-to-date with all the news out there.

profile1. Prior to Palin Communications, you worked in a range of roles — from interning at Edelman to community management to media relations assistant — can you give us a quick overview of your past positions?

Haha well there is a fair chunk, I’m one of those people who always likes to be busy. I worked three jobs while doing Uni full time. One of those was as a media relations assistant for my own school – University of San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be hired into that job when I was only a sophomore so I was able to learn a lot through my 3 years there. It was basically entry level in-house PR experience and I got a really great base for my career in that job.

I was also an intern and then asked to stay on as community manager, blogger and stylist for a styling consulting firm in San Francisco called Urban Darling LLC. It was great experience since the company was pretty small and I worked closely with the founder who is a fabulous woman and who taught me a lot about the industry and gave me plenty of exposure to high profile people. I still do the occasional guest blog for them, since fashion is one of those things I never get tired of writing about.

My senior year I studied abroad here in Sydney and was lucky enough to intern with Edelman in their corporate team. I learned a lot and it definitely helped me when I made the big move over here, learning the media landscape in Australia. I met some great people, some of whom I’m still friends with! The PR industry is pretty small no matter where you go.

2. During your studies, you also dabbled in advertising and journalism – why did you settle on PR as your career path?

I’ve always known that PR is the route I wanted to take, not everyone does, but I’m lucky that I did. I took some advertising and journalism courses because I wanted a well-rounded view of the industry. All of those – PR, advertising, marketing, journalism – are so frequently intertwined that it helps to know the distinctions and to have a general understanding of each I think.

3. Can you describe your role as Senior Account Executive at Palin Communications?

As a SAE for Palin (a specialised healthcare agency), I am responsible for supporting the Account Managers on a variety of clients, including Non-profits, pharmaceutical brands, medical devices and medical technology etc. Its a pretty exciting range of projects that I get to work on which makes every day equally fun! I also have a few projects that I handle more autonomously which is great. We’ve just launch an introductory online course in healthcare PR based on industry demand that’s pretty nifty. http://www.chpr.com.au

4. In the past, you blogged for fashion website Guilty Star. In light of the growing demand for original, high-quality content, how do you think blogging fits in the PR industry? Do you think all organisations should have a blog?

I don’t think blogging is for everyone. I think you’ve got to really enjoy blogging otherwise it will show in your writing and no one wants to read what you don’t even want to write. I think organisations need to really identify WHAT the purpose of their blog will be, WHO will be the voice (will you have one main voice or many contributors), and put in the time and effort it takes to make the blog a success.

You can’t just have a blog because it’s what you “should” be doing and expect it to be a rousing success. Interesting, topical, engaging content and a clear voice is key. If you go through all of this and decide a blog isn’t the best thing for your brand/service/product that’s OK! It’s the same as asking is Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram right for every company? The answer, in my opinion, is resoundingly, no.

5. What are your thoughts on how the PR industry will shift in the next five to ten years? What sort of trends and changes do you anticipate emerging?

I think the industry is experiencing a lot of change, especially within the health sector. Something that everyone is concerned with at the moment is regulation in the social media arena. People are rethinking their positioning in that space given recent regulations that state you are responsible for EVERYTHING on your page/account including posts by others and (the biggest shocker) suggested posts/videos.

I think this has PR agencies reevaluating the way they approach social media and this will only continue to change in the future. I think online will continue to grow and I definitely think there’s a lot of exciting potential for us as PR professionals in the next 5-10 years. Integration between advertising, pr and marketing efforts will continue to be the way to a winning campaign. Great article on Mumbrella recently on this – http://mumbrella.com.au/does-pr-deserve-a-seat-at-the-boardroom-table-146969

6. As a PR professional, you have to keep up-to-date with all trending news and topics for your clients. I’m curious as to how you stay on top of this while preventing information overload. I know there were some days where I’d absolutely dread looking at my Google Reader!

Haha yeah it can be overwhelming at times, I try to check things out in the morning before I dive into work and periodically throughout the day when I’ve got a spare moment. It helps signing up to relevant newsletters so that when they come through (there are some daily and weekly health ones worth reading)you can just scan them and move along. Twitter is also great if you follow the right people and/or hashtags. That being said, I think it’s definitely worthwhile to take a break (even if it’s over lunch)to tune out otherwise your work life/pressing activities will consume you!

7. And lastly, what would your number one tip for PR students looking to get their foot in the door?

Stay in touch with people you meet. I’ve been really lucky to have worked for people who were extremely encouraging and supportive of my fledgling career. Take advantage of the knowledge around you and keep in contact with those people (and professors!) no matter where you end up after graduation. Also, be ENTHUSIASTIC! It’s contagious I promise. In my experience if you show people you’re excited to be doing something, no matter how mundane, they will remember that and it will get you far.

***You can get in touch with Ishtar via Twitter or LinkedIn***

Interview with Dan Fonseca, Content Creation Specialist at FirstGiving

This week for my Interview Series, we have Dan Fonseca, Content Creation Specialist at FirstGiving. I had previously interviewed Dan back in June 2011 when he was still completing his degree. This time around, Dan discusses what’s happened since our last interview, his role at FirstGiving, his thoughts on content marketing and more.

headshot twitter1. When we had our last interview in June 2011 you were completing your degree and working at HypeGenius – what’s happened since that interview?

Oh woah, a ton! Well for one thing, I finished up university in December of 2012. I graduated from Northeastern University with a B.A. in Mass Media Communications and minors in Music Industry and Business Administration. It still feels weird being done but I’m getting used to it. I wake up everyday feeling like I’m 13 and  realize I’m actually 23 with a job and bills to pay. I guess I’m a “real” person now.

About a year ago I had the pleasure of interning at FirstGiving with the marketing team. That was a true education. I was given the opportunity to hone my content and social media skills. It was also a great lesson in critical thinking and resourcefulness. I learned a lot of great skills on the fly. It was a baptism by fire I guess you could say.

2. Can you tell us more about your current role as Content Creation Specialist at FirstGiving?

Sure! As the “Content Creation Specialist” I’m in charge of creating all the “sticky” content FirstGiving puts out. This means social media, blog posts, ebooks, webinars, website copy, email marketing, etc. I spend most of my days writing, brainstorming, and even dabbling in the visual/design world. They even let me shoot a promotional video for a new initiative we’ll launch in early April. I’ll let you know when it’s live!

The great thing about working at FirstGiving is the balance between right and left brain activity. A lot of my work is very “right” brained. I get to talk about fuzzy emotions and deal with irrational relationships everyday. However, hard data and analytics drive my content. The marketing team uses Hubspot, Sales Force, and Insight Squared to help hone our marketing efforts. It’s really great to be able to cater to both parts of your brain. I’m lucky to have that opportunity.

3. You’ve worked at a number of different organizations prior to FirstGiving – can you give us an overview of what it’s like to work for a non-profit? What sort of opportunities and challenges are there?

Glad you asked that question Hao. FirstGiving is an interesting case. We’re a for profit company dedicated to helping nonprofits. Working with nonprofits has its unique challenges. They generally don’t have the investment funds you see in for profit companies. It limits their effectiveness and scope. There’s a recently published TED talk about that very idea given by Dan Pallotta. I highly encourage anyone interested in nonprofits to take 20 minutes out of their day to check it out. Dan’s a great speaker.

4. After finishing your degree last year, how do you stay on top of continually educating yourself and developing professionally?

I’ve been cooking up a personal motto recently, and if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to publish it for the first time. For now, my personal motto is “be a critical and creative creature.” I think if you’re simultaneously critical (not cynical) and creative, you’ll be okay. You have to be passionately curious about the world around you. My favorite word is “why.”

Do you want a more specific and concrete answer? No sweat. I watch a ton of TED talks, read blogs, hang around Twitter, and talk to other peers. To me it’s about participating in meaningful and engaging conversations – be it online or in real life. Self education is allowing yourself to make “good” mistakes, not silly ones. Mistakes are learning opportunities.

5. Is your current role on par with what you thought you’d be doing when you first started your degree? Or have there been a lot of pivots on the way?

I started as a Music Industry Major so no, I’m a little ways off but I’m very happy that I strayed. I don’t think I should be anywhere else right now. The responsibility and autonomy I’ve been given is wonderful. FirstGiving has a start up feel that’s fast and flexible. Those are things I value in my life. I’m allergic to unnecessary bureaucracy.

6. Lately there’s been a lot of talk around content marketing – as someone who works alot with content creation, what sort of trends are you seeing emerge?

Quality over quantity. There’s a lot of noise out there and you will only cut through if you craft engaging and sticky content. You have to positively contribute to the conversation you’re in. How can you bring the group (and yourself) up? Be helpful.

Visual content has also continued to grow in importance. Visuals are great for engagement. It’s a fantastic conversation starter. If you think about it as a sales/marketing funnel, visuals are very “top-of-the-funnel” activity. It’s the first conversation. It’s your credibility and emotion, it’s ethos and pathos.

7. What’s next for Dan? Where do you see yourself in five years? 

I wish I could tell you Hao! I haven’t the slightest clue. I joke (not really joke) that once I’ve paid off my student loans I’ll do something irresponsible like some fantastic art project or start a business. I’ve done some aggressive calculations and in five years I should be ready. Ask me that question again then! I’ll have a better idea. Maybe I’ll travel or start a new religion. I have no idea!

***To contact Dan, get in touch via Twitter @whoisdanfonseca***

Interview with Wai Chim, Writer & Digital Content Specialist

This week for my Interview Series, we have Wai Chim, a digital content specialist and published author. With her experience as Head of Content at digital marketing agency, Switched On Media, Wai had a lot of interesting things to say about content marketing and strategy as well as some of the emerging trends in the industry.

profile_pic_bw1. First of all, can you give us a bit of background on yourself and your career path to date?

I’m originally from New York City and have been living in Australia for over six years.  After graduating from university in the US, I took some time off to teach English in Japan and then completed a post-grad degree in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney.

I always knew I wanted to write and after I finished my graduate degree, I landed a job working for a small environmental publication producing quarterly magazines. After a year, I realised that digital was really the future for content and moved to online only. I then moved into a digital content role at Switched on Media, first as a Journalist and then as the Head of Content looking after a team of journalists and graphic designers to produce a range of digital content.

2. I’m really keen to discuss your role as Head of Content at Switched On Media — can you tell us about what sort of work you were doing there?

At Switched on Media, a lot of the projects we worked on were in conjunction with our other digital offerings such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media. We’d do anything like write articles that would become guest posts on blogs or write content for clients’ websites. As the team grew, we began to integrate visual elements into our content offering, such as making infographics and e-books and eventually including a more technical side to include widgets and interactive infographics.

3. Were there any standout projects or campaigns that you worked on that you’d like to share with us?

I think the infographics we did were among some of the best in the market. We used our journalists to research and pull together an interesting story that could then be interpreted by our graphic designer. Because the journalist and graphic designer worked really closely together, we could deliver a great end result. Some of our best infographics we produced for Commonwealth Bank (some examples below). Meanwhile, the infographic we did for ActionAid captured a silver medal in Magnum Opus awards, which recognises standout projects in content.

http://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/news/media-releases/2012/kaching-research/

http://blog.commbank.com.au/your-business/easter-trading-hops-off-the-page/attachment/commonwealth-bank-infographic-3/

http://www.actionaid.org.au/blog/sexual-violence-can-affect-women-n-girls-throughout-their-lives

4. Outside of the clients that you worked on at Switched On Media, are there any particular brands at the moment that you find are really great at delivering content to their audience?

I think a lot of companies are embracing content marketing now, which is really great to see. Internationally, big brands like Virgin Mobile are putting together fantastic content hubs, like Virgin Mobile Live. The fashion and beauty industries definitely lead in this space as well, such as L’Oreal that started with a simple content marketing site makeup.com and this year have partnered with Rolling Stone and leveraged social media to deliver undiscovered music content to their audience.

On the Australian front, companies like Carnival have great editorial websites like Discover Cruising which I think is a good example of providing useful editorial content that’s relevant to a brand. I love some of the interactive infographics that are coming out by brands as well. They really help to draw in the audience and deliver information in a smart, sexy and engaging way.

5. It seems as though a lot of businesses are talking more about content marketing and strategy these days — what are your thoughts on the industry and some of the emerging trends?

As social media becomes more of the status quo and not the shiny new marketing tool, brands and marketers are finally figuring how important it is to integrate all of their efforts, which is why content marketing and content strategy has become so fundamental. Now that companies understand how to build communities on channels like Twitter and how to make quality videos on YouTube, there will be a greater focus on the substance of all of these mediums – and that’s the content. Brands will want to be more efficient, consistent and holistic about the messages they put out on these various channels, so content strategy will become critical.

6. In that case, what sort of skills to you think will become increasingly more important for content strategists?

I think the best content strategists will come from two sources: either a great web designer/developer who knows how craft a good story or a journalist who has a deep understanding of the technical aspect websites and how digital channels work.

The key to a good content strategy is to have a solid understanding of the nitty gritty technical stuff (and that doesn’t mean you have to know your PHP from your PERL but knowing some general HTML and how search engines work) and also the editorial ability to distinguish engaging stories from the riff raff. These two worlds have been pretty siloed in the past but as creative projects move increasingly into a more technical realm, a good content person will be able to make the best of both.

7. As someone who is constantly producing quality content, I would love to hear more about how your creation process works. Are you at that stage where you’re able to just sit down and write when you need to?

For me, it comes down to a lot of time to read and research, to connect the dots between things and come up with something new. I think I have come to a fairly basic creative process where I can pretty much sit down and write a blog post/article/write-up some stats for an infographic when I need to and have it be “good” or “quality content”. But the challenge is that “good” is often not good enough.

For example, bloggers are pretty picky about the articles they post on their sites and just because your article has some good information and facts and a little bit of personality, it might not be good enough for a number of reasons. The bar is pretty high now, especially for the more popular channels and for bigger audiences.

Having said that, the process of creating something that’s GREAT – well that can still be a bit of a hit or miss. Sometimes, awesome ideas come at random times (the shower and Friday night drinks are popular ones) or they might not come at all. And that, I guess, is the mystery of the creative process.

8. I know your book – Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets – was published in August last year. Can you tell us a little about the book as well as your next steps as a published author?

Chook Chook is a project that I had started working on about 5 years ago in my own time. It’s a kid’s book for ages 7+ and is about a little girl growing up in rural China and her love for her pet chickens even though she’s not really allowed to have animals on the family farm. It’s largely based on some of the stories of my parents growing up in semi-rural Hong Kong and village life in China.

I was so amazed when my manuscript was plucked out of the slush pile from the University of Queensland Press and my now publisher actually loved it – it’s a pretty difficult hurdle for many aspiring writers and I’m still really surprised and thrilled that I got in. Being an author is a bit of a steep learning curve although my digital marketing experience has definitely proven useful. I’m currently working on the sequel to Chook Chook as well as a few other stories that have been boiling in the back of my mind.

***If you’d like to get in touch with Wai, visit her website or say hello on Twitter @onewpc***

Interview with Ross Simmonds, Digital Strategist at Colour

This week for my Interview Series, we have Ross Simmonds a Digital Strategist at marketing and advertising firm, Colour. Ross has had extensive experience working in the digital / social media industry and provides some great insights into a lot of content-related topics.

1. To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your career path to date?

Definitely. Well, I’m passionate about a lot of things. Whether it’s sports, technology, hip-hop, social media, camping or super heroes – I’ve got a long list of interests. Of all these things I’d say technology and being outdoors doing new things are where my true passions lie. My passion for these things developed along two very different paths in my career. I fell in love with the outdoors while working as a camp counselor and fell in love with technology when I was kid trying to hack into the back end of video games to customize the games to my liking.

My career started with our public broadcaster the CBC out of University where I developed and implemented a Social Media strategy throughout the region. From there I started my own consulting company called Altego Marketing Solutions. I ran that company for a few years before catching the attention of an agency called Colour who hired me on as a Digital Coordinator where my role further developed into being a Digital Strategist.

Beyond consulting and marketing, I’ve also started a company called dreamr that focuses on bringing unique social experiences to the inboxes of young professionals looking to get out and do something new. As a result, I’m in a lucky spot where I have a chance to embrace both my passion for technology during the day and my love for the outdoors at night (and weekends) – It’s a win-win situation.

2. As a Digital Strategist at Colour, what’s a day in your life like?

It’s actually never the same.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before but it really is different every day as the questions change, technology changes or the challenges change from client to client. An average day starts with a cup of caffeine followed by tackling the first item on my checklist. I like to ignore email for the first hour and focus on the one item I know I need to finish before getting sidetracked with anything else. From there, my work can range from developing a strategic game plan for a client or reviewing the success from a recent campaign. Throughout the day I’m also tasked with project management, campaign development, content strategies, SEO/SEM management and strategic planning. Overall, the days vary depending on the day but one thing for sure; each day is exciting and gives me a chance to provide clients with meaningful measurable results.

2. Your work involves a lot of content development and I just recently read a great blog post you wrote — 4 Ways Obama Won the Election with Content Marketing — which highlighted the importance of content marketing. What are your thoughts on content strategy and the impact it can have on a business?

Everyone says “Content is King” but no one really knows what that even means. It’s a catchy phrase but something that people are still overlooking today as they develop their digital marketing plans. A lot of people are not embracing content as content is one of the most effective ways to generate traction for products and ultimately drive potential leads for services.

I believe that content marketing needs to be deeply injected into every businesses marketing strategy. Whether it’s developing persuasive and optimized content for their landing page or developing captivating or compelling content to make their Facebook posts go viral – Content is key.

Of all the things an organization can do online, ensuring that they have optimized their content is one of those things that can ensure success for their brand. I’ve seen organizations double their traffic and their sales by changing the way they look at content and ultimately embracing the role it plays in todays landscape. I think it’s still underestimated but it’s really the key to standing out and telling your brands story.

4. What sort of content creation skills do you think will become increasingly important in the near future?

I feel reactive storytelling is going to be the biggest game changer over the next few years.

Reactive storytelling is the combination of a top of mind idea and a brand marketing message that is put in front of a relevant audience. It’s an easy way for businesses to make their content go viral but it requires some work.

The biggest challenge for marketers is the fact that you need to be listening and monitoring trends to identify these opportunities. The marketer also needs to understand and embrace the worldview of their target audience. Further more, you need to be willing to take risks and put efforts into reactive storytelling. The best story isn’t going to happen tomorrow, it could happen at anytime and you must be ready to use it for your marketing efforts before the idea goes stale.

If you can share a message that is aligned with your customers worldview and is relevant to your marketing message they are more likely to press “share” or “like”.

5. I was really excited when I found out that Forbes would start publishing content from Quora, I know you had one of your posts published — What Are Some Valuable Business Lessons One Can Learn From Jay-Z? What are your thoughts on Quora and its position in an era where quality content is king?

I love Quora. I think it’s a channel that many marketers are still trying to figure out but one that needs to be embraced.

I’m a huge fan of learning and I think that’s why I spend so much time on this network. The amount of educational content that can be found on here is unbelievable. In many cases, you have any opportunity to receive information right from the horses mouth instead of from a biased third party.

6. You’re also the founder of dreamr, can you give us an overview on what your vision for it is?

In a nutshell, I want to help people optimize their lives for happiness. The team and I are dedicated to creating experiences that are memorable and leave people with something to talk about when they walk in the office on Monday morning. The overall vision is to create a platform that delivers unique social experiences from around the world. I love the idea of doing new things and my hope is that we can share with the world the importance of getting out and doing new things.

A lot of people ask the question: Can Money can Happiness? Well, I think it can. The biggest issue is that too many people are spending their money on things that don’t actually lead to happiness (things) instead of spending it on things that do (experiences).

7. Ok – so you work as a Digital Strategist, you manage your own blog and you have your own business — how do you find the time to do it all?

Adderall.

***To get in touch with Ross, check out his blog at rosssimmonds.com***

Interview with Andrew Tran, Social Media Specialist at Vodafone Australia

This week for my Interview Series, we have Andrew Tran, a Social Media Specialist from Vodafone Australia, who has had a ton of experience working with online platforms, managing communities and running social media channels. Andrew also manages his own blog where he writes about social media and how brands can incorporate it into their business objectives. For this interview, Andrew talks about his career path, his current role at Vodafone, blogging for business and the evolution of content creators. Enjoy!

1. You’ve worked in a lot of interesting roles – community producer, sales specialist, social media producer – can you tell us a little about your career path? How sort of steps did you take to end up where you are now?

Starting from sales I got my break working in eCommerce which gave me a good platform to learn a bit of online sales through SEO and some analytical exposure as well.

After 3 Mobile merged with Vodafone, I was given an opportunity to broaden my skill set in digital with, the intention to come back to the social media realm. I’m very fortunate to have been given the time and space to be on some amazing projects/campaigns, make mistakes and then learn from my mistakes – I think that’s very important in any career path you take.

Nothing beats hard work and dedication in any career you want to be in.

2. What’s your role as a social media specialist at Vodafone like? What type of things do you get up during a typical day?

Essentially we support the business in all things social related. From campaigns, brand exercises to customer care and major projects. My typical day envolves a bit of production work on our blog (http://blog.vodafone.com.au), community handling and, working with my other colleagues to find opportunities to either promote, listen and/or engage with our customers.

3. What sort of strategy do you have to ensure that the Vodafone blog always has fresh and interesting content for the readers?

It’s mostly about looking at the numbers, gathering insights from the data you extract and talking to various parts of the business to ensure that your content is up to date and, relevant to your audience.

Time is also important as you need to experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The key is to gather as much experience as you can but, the funny thing is experience is derived from mistakes you make.

4. In addition to your work with Vodafone, you also manage your own blog. What sort of content do you post on there?

My blog (http://andrewtran.asia) was firstly about anything I saw that was cool and interesting online.

However, over the last 8-10 months, I really wanted to focus on a particular subject, in this case it was social media.

So now the majority of my site features posts that I find relevant for either small businesses and/or students studying this field, but from time to time I’ll still post content that’s can be totally irrelevant to social media but I believe my audience will like.

5. How important do you think a blog is to a business these days?

Blogging has come a long way over the past 4 years. Businesses both big and small need to understand what the power blogging can do and, how it connects with the whole social ecosystem.

6. With the growth of social media platforms and accessibility to powerful tools, how do you think the role of content creators and producers will evolve?

Definitely, you’re going to see more and more people create content but have an analytical side as well. Understanding why you produce a particular content relative to your audience and then being able to back this up is very important.

7. You’ve developed a wide range of skills during your career, from copywriting to community management to video blogging. What sort of skills do you think will become increasingly important, especially in the marketing and communication fields?

Analytics and the ability to understand and provide relevant insights to improve the engagement you have with your audience.

In addition, psychology of your industry will also become important as social media evolves from building and audience to identifying which conversations to engage in and, to be effective in those conversations as well.

8. And lastly, any tips for anyone wanting to start their own blog?

Be clear on what you want to write about, understand who would read it, then tailor what your writing to your audience and, constantly try to look at ways to change it up be it your writing style or the types of content.

***To get in touch with Andrew, check out his blog or say hi on Twitter @iamayetee***

Interview with Thang Ngo, Strategy and Planning Manager at SBS Australia

This week for my Interview Series, we have Thang Ngo, Strategy and Planning Manager, Audio and Language Content, at SBS Australia. Thang has had quite a diverse career path, starting out in the advertising industry before becoming a Councillor at the Fairfield City Council as well as several positions in SBS Australia. Thang talks about his career path, social media tips and his food blog Noodlies.

1. You’ve had quite a diverse career – from advertising to councillor to your current role at SBS — can you tell us a little about your career path?

I graduated with a commerce degree, majoring in econometrics, but really, I didn’t learn much about economics or statistics.

Uni did help me to work out meeting deadlines, a good writing style and being able to work in a team are all really important. That’s really helped me in all my jobs.

For me, my life and my work is the true resume, your colleagues, suppliers, clients use this to base their assessment of you – it’s really like being in an interview every day of my life.

My career is diverse, from graduate trainee, advertising suit, advertising manager, elected local government councillor to my current role at SBS – I reckon I got most of those jobs based on prior knowledge of the way I work as much as my resume and how I performed in the interview. In fact, I’ve sat through very few interviews in my career.

2. You’re currently the Strategy and Planning Manager of Audio and Language Content for SBS, which sounds like a really cool title, but I’m not sure I understand what you do, could you describe what a typical day would be like?

I reckon it’s a broad, ambitious and big picture role. In the division, I’m responsible for the business planning process, external communications including managing community and stakeholder relationships and somewhere in there, I’m charged with innovation, new ideas for the division.

My proudest innovation is SBS PopAsia, the division already had a 24hr digital radio and online streaming music channel that plays the best of Asian pop. The aha moment for me is that music is about image and image is built by video.

I was determined SBS would deliver Australia’s first free to air pop Asian music channel. Everyone thought it would be hard.

In reality, it only took one trip to Korea and lots of follow up phone call and emails. I conceived the idea in May and on Sunday, 4 September 2011 the first show was on air. It rated from day one, tripling the numbers for that timeslot, Facebook likes jumped from around 5,000 to almost 41,000 today.

3. You’re quite active across a range of online platforms, Google+, YouTube, Twitter, what’s your strategy? Do you try and be visible on all the sites?

There’s too many social media platforms and they’re growing every day. It try to keep across most major ones, but by no means all. In addition to the ones you’ve mentioned, I’m also on Pinterest and Tumblr. 

Google+ I’m less of a fan, it has better features than Facebook, especially Hangouts. But really we’re all too busy to migrate all our photos and friends from Facebook to Google+. While I acknowledge Hangouts is a neat feature, the whole Google+ package hasn’t been able to give me a compelling reason to choose it over facebook.

Just to prove I’m not a Google hater, I confess to loving YouTube, why read when you can watch a video? My Noodlies food blog channel started a few years ago and today, there’s over 300 videos and 350,000 views.

My strategy for social media is easy, it’s about supporting other people and socialising interesting content. Of course, it’s tempting to use it exclusively to promote my blog and my content – in the long run, that’s just boring for my followers. And besides, it’s good to support other bloggers, and to promote great content.

4. What would be your top advice to an organisation who wanted to increase their online presence and engagement more effectively?

Don’t use it to blast promo messages about your brand – that really is boring. Use it to research what your customers want – SBS PopAsia uses our Facebook and Twitter posts to understand our customers and what artists and songs they love.

Your brand personality should be reflected in your social media, if it’s fun, then that should come across. If you’re about giving great, responsive service, then make sure you demonstrate it by replying to tweets and Facebook messages.

5. You also have your own food blog — Noodlies — which I think features some really great reviews and articles, although I have to disagree with you when it comes to the best pork roll joint! Were there any particular reasons why you decided to create a blog?

I work in the North Shore and don’t get home to Cabramatta until late. And really there’s only two of us, seems a waste of time, effort and ingredients (how could we use a whole cabbage?!) to cook at home.

And because food there is such an amazing variety of fresh and cheap food in the area – Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Thai, Lao, Malaysian, Iraqi, Chilean, Lebanese etc we tend to eat out every night.

Friends started asking us for recommendations and it seemed easiest to start a blog and refer them to that.

6. Last question, what’s your favourite Sydney restaurant?

That’s such a hard question to answer. But living in Cabramatta where food is fresh, flavoursome and cheap, I find it hard to justify splurging on an over the top meal. See my recent op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald here.

If I’m forced to name one it has to be Hai Au, great authentic Vietnamese food in Canley Vale. It’s home style food, with so many authentic dishes that your mum would serve up. Their new charcoal chicken is over the top deliciousness and I never go without ordering the canh chua hot pot.

***To get in touch with Thang, say hi on Twitter @thangngo***

BONUS: For an inside look at what Noodlies is all about, check out the video below.

Interview with Arik Hanson, Principal at ACH Communications

For the latest addition to my Interview Series, we have Arik Hanson, Principal at ACH Communications. Arik has working in communications for some time and offers his perspective on topics like the differences between in-house and agency roles, keeping up to speed with relevant information as well as the skill sets that are becoming increasingly important for PR professionals.

1. You’ve been working in the communications industry for over 10 years, what has been the most memorable highlight during your career?

Without a doubt, starting my own business almost three years ago. It’s been the most exciting, rewarding and challenging job of my life (I mean, other than parenting).

2. With experience in both agency and in-house roles, what can you tell us about the similarities and differences between the two?

Agencies definitely seem to attract a certain kind of person. You have to be OK with a lot of ambiguity. You have to love solving problems creatively. And, you have to love juggling about 14,531 things at once. You’ll get that on the corporate side from time to time, but it’s not quite the same.

On the corporate side, things are usually just a bit more buttoned up. Conservative. You usually can’t go around the office singing tunes at the top of your lungs at a corporation–at an agency, that behavior is encouraged And, where creativity and seniority matter a bit more on the agency side, MBAs and titles seem to hold more weight on the corporate side (just my opinion based on my experiences). Both have strengths and weaknesses–just a matter of what you’re looking for from a job/experience.

3. Did you enjoy one more than the other?

I enjoyed both for different reasons, but I think I’m an agency guy at heart. I think that’s why I like running my own business so much. Much of what I do on a daily basis is similar to what I’d be doing if I were a director/VP at an agency right now. It’s not all that different.

4. Currently the communications industry is evolving at such a rapid pace with different social networks and publishing platforms available. How do you keep up with the emerging technologies and figuring out which one will be relevant to your profession?

I don’t really. And, don’t let anyone fool you–no one really does. Not if they’re doing their day jobs well. But, there are ways I try to stay one step ahead of my clients (and competition). Speed to information is so critical, so I have tools and processes to get through a lot of content each day, in a very short amount of time. I also do a lot of research for my clients–so that helps keep me abreast of the latest happenings and trends.

5. In 2009 you started ACH Communications, what made you decide to strike it out on your own?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial edge to me. And I’ve always wanted to start my own business–I just never had the unique skill set. Back in 2009, I was a little ahead of the curve in terms of social media marketing and an understanding of that space. And, I have a fairly expansive network here in the Twin Cities. Coupled with my entrepreneurial drive, I thought now was as good as time as any to give it a shot.

I got lucky with a few early clients and things just snowballed from there. What I’ve learned in my 16-plus years in this business is a lot of your success is about luck and timing. Now, I like to think I had a lot to do with that, but prior to 2009 I had my share of less than optimal work experiences and positions where I felt a bit frustrated at times. So, timing was just on my side this time.

6. You’re also the founder of Help a PR Pro Out (#HAPPO); what was the motivation behind launching the initiative?

Think back a few years ago–the job market was a lot rougher than it is now (and some would argue it’s still not that great). Valerie Simon (my co-founder) and I just wanted to help people–plain and simple. We were tired of saying “I’ll do anything to help” to our friends who were out of work–and then never following through. So, we took a stand. Three years later, HAPPO’s still going strong.

7. What skills do you think will become increasingly more important for PR professionals?

Interesting–I’m presenting on this exact topic to the Puget Sound PRSA chapter in mid-June. A few key skills come to mind: advertising copywriting (social ads), programming skills, video editing/production skills and mobile. Of course, traditional skills like writing, relationship-building and project management aren’t going anywhere–we’re just expected to do more now.

8. And lastly, what advice would you give to a PR student looking to develop a long and successful career?

Nurture and feed your network every day. You don’t understand at a young age how important relationships are to everything you do in your professional career–but I’m here to tell you that they matter. A LOT. Feed that network every day and you will be AMAZED at the results.

***To get in touch with Arik say hi on Twitter @arikhanson***

Interview with Lars Voedisch, Principal Consultant at PRecious Communications

The latest addition to my Interview Series is Lars Voedisch, currently the Principal Consultant at PRecious Communications. Lars has over 15 years experience working in the communications industry, working extensively in both in-house and agency. He talks about the evolution of the PR industry, the difference between agency and in-house and provides some great insight for students looking to develop a long and fulfilling career.

1. Looking back on over 15 years of working in communications and public relations, at what moment did you realise this was the career you wanted?

Having worked for a radio station in the past and with a Masters in Economics, corporate communications seemed to be a natural fit of bringing media and business perspectives together.

Since that start it’s the people, the exciting brands I’m working with and the constant change that keeps me on my toes and constantly wanting to learn more. Imagine: Until social media came to play, PR hardly changed for decades. So being part of and to a certain extent even defining the ‘New PR’ is awesome!

2. With your experience in public relations, marketing and journalism, how do you think these 3 industries overlap in regards to common skills, platforms and tools?

Traditionally these three trades are looking after owned (journalism), earned (PR) and paid (marketing) media –and that’s what defined their respective platforms, but in today’s world. While these three areas have their own distinct heritage, objective and merits, you can see that this clear differentiation fades away especially with regards to platforms or tools used.

Basically, these three areas are about reaching out to defined audiences through communication matters with the attempt to influence them; this could mean to educate, entertain, entice or simply inform. So key skills across these disciplines are empathetic communication skills through different means. Especially for PR, this change requires that on top of writing, experts have to get versed in visual story telling through pictures and video.

3. You’ve worked in-house with DHL for many years as well on the agency side with Fleishman-Hillard or Hill+Knowlton Strategies. How did these roles differ in terms of agency vs. in-house?

The main difference is that in-house communications departments are cost centres and constantly have to justify the scope of their existence to the business funding their activities. Agencies are profit centres – so there’s a natural conflict of defining what’s best for the client versus the agencies profitability ambitions

4. Do you prefer one over the other?

Not really as they are actually more alike than most people think: How can your (PR) efforts contribute to business growth. In both roles you have to deal with multiple clients (internal stakeholders, e.g. different business units or geographies – vs. your external clients).

Obviously, when you work  in-house you develop deeper domain and company insights vs. rather broad industry knowledge on the consulting side. So if you are thinking about moving from agency to in-house, better be very sure it’s the right industry and company! On the other hand – not everybody can handle the constant commercial pressure on the agency side.

5. At the moment, with the PR industry evolving alongside communication platforms and the online world, how do you manage to stay up-to-date with technology and industry trends?

The basics of PR don’t really change: While the latest hypes, platforms or channels do change, it is still about how to convey a message to selected, targeted audiences.

Some of the key sources I look at are Mashable, Wired, HBR, Social Media Today, PR Daily and a couple of PR and business blogs and of course quite a few people on Twitter and selected groups on LinkedIn.

6. What skills do you think will become increasingly more important for PR professionals?

Technical capabilities to leverage the new possibilities are certainly more and more needed. But what’s even more crucial is a sound understanding of the economy, politics and how businesses actually function in a changing environment. Especially as a strategic consultant (this actually includes in-house communicators!) you have to first and foremost understand how you can contribute to your company’s or clients’ business objectives – and how to measure your success beyond counting clips or ‘likes’. Therefore analysis and statistics skills are becoming more important.

However, never underestimate the basics of writing and connecting to people. These are the two main skills that will prevail.

7. And lastly, what advice would you give to a PR student looking to develop a long and successful career in the industry?

Read a lot and on diverse topics. Constantly challenge yourself to diversify and learn new things and expand your network. Stay up-to-date on what news and topics are on people’s minds – both as your potential clients or employers as well as the audiences you are targeting.

Last but not least, the most important thing for me is to enjoy what you are doing: look for and actively build an environment where you have fun, spend time with inspiring people and brands you are excited about. At the end of the day, PR is also a creative trade – and for creativity to flourish, you need passion and energy to thrive.

***To get in touch with Lars, say hello on Twitter @larsv***