Thursday, May 13, 2010

Brave New World

In the universe of the practice and profession of public relations -- or communications management -- the brave new world is social media.

The field of PR is all about relationship-building, and what better way to build a relationship than through the Internet? Be it Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or whatever the application "du jour," the future of public relations will be grounded in social media. As the title of the new book by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge suggests, the digital revolution is actually "Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR."

The notion that social media is the trendy topic among PR professionals was clearly in evidence at the 2010 Communicator's Conference entitled "Making Your Case: Selling Your Strategy, Your Story and Yourself" held at the Governor Hotel in Portland on Wednesday, May 12. The conference had both keynote and breakout sessions: many focused on the use of social media in public relations.

As the Immediate Past Chair of the North Pacific District of the Public Relations Society of America and a public relations instructor at the University of Oregon in need of portfolio reviewers, I was naturally interested in attending the conference. Unfortunately, I waited too long to register: the conference was sold out by Friday, May 7. However, my friends in the Portland Metro Chapter found a way to get me in, and I didn't even have to sneak in through the dumbwaiter.

Keynote speaker Chris Brogan noted that attention spans of many are easily averted; we're not just talking 500 channels here, we're talking 1,000 distractions. Messages are easily lost.

So how do you maintain the attention of your audience? His answers were interesting. To paraphrase: "the more things change, the more they remain the same." This could have been the conference theme. He assured us that he would not suggest anything new so much as distinguish how communications have been altered by social media.

The big change, he noted, is velocity. Used to be that a 24-hour turnaround for customer response was okey-doke. No more. If you don't get back to a reporter with an answer to a question almost instantaneously, you're probably hiding something. Another change is mobility. With smart phones like iPhones and Blackberries, communications are nearly moving at the speed of light (note the folks in the second row in the photo below).

Noontime keynoter Jim Signorelli believes that whatever the medium, the message need to be memorable. To sell your story, you need to facilitate empathy in your messaging, and instead of "unique selling propositions," you need to address "unique value propositions."

Finally, closing keynoter Peter Shankman contends that just because we can reach more people than ever before using social media, in shorter amounts of time, it doesn't mean you know what to do with them once you have their attention.

His advice for social media mavens who want to be successful in communicating with their audiences? Instead of becoming proficient at texting -- NALOPKT and AWGTHTGTTA -- Shankman suggests learning a second language, preferably English.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Music Man

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny arrived in Eugene on Sunday, May 2 for a concert at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, and Rebecca, Gina, Jory and I -- along with Jory's friends Ryan Wilson and Kevin Maloney -- had front row seats.

The Grammy Award-winning jazz composer had been to Eugene a number of times over the years, but this concert promised to be something completely different. Usually supported with a group of world-class jazz musicians like pianist Lyle Mays, Metheny would appear solo at this show. But this would not be your typical "unplugged" concert: on the contrary.

Fascinated with the "player piano" in his youth, Metheny has spent the past several years inventing a music-making machine called an "orchestrion," an elaborate contraption with pianos, percussion, vibraphone, bells, marimba, bottles and other sound-making instruments that he plays with his guitar.

Defined as "a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band," the complex devices are operated by means of a large pinned cylinder (think player piano). Developed by German and Czech inventors in the late 1700s, the orchestrion peaked in the 1920s during the Jazz Age.

Having lapsed into obscurity, Metheny has resurrected the orchestrion, but with an thoroughly updated and highly computerized version of the 18th century device (above, right).

Opening with two beautiful -- but dangerously sleep-inducing -- tunes, he wisely broke into his "Orchestrion" album, which livened things up considerably. From there, the tunes were impeccably choreographed. The concept seems to work, because his computerized "band" is in sync, both in terms of his new stuff and his classic material from albums like "American Garage."

Becky thought the visual backdrop of the orchestrion was distracting, and she had to close her eyes to fully appreciate the music at times, but I found the device interesting. The individual instruments would light up when utilized, which helped me track the action. Hey, we're both right, depending on your perspective.

In retrospect, the concert was excellent, though the crowd was a bit on the light side considering the artist. Pat Metheny played old tunes and new, with a variety of guitars, and he remains a virtuoso and innovator in the wide, wide world of jazz music.

Herring and Associates

An annual tradition, I took a road trip to Owl Farm during Earth Week to -- as "The Wizard" proclaimed to denizens of Emerald City prior to embarking for the land of "e pluribus unum" in The Wizard of Oz -- "confer, converse and otherwise hob-nob" with my fellow owls.

Actually, I was taking advantage of a Horizon Air special: $140 roundtrip from Eugene to Seattle. Although many use Facebook for strictly social purposes, the Eugene Airport uses its site for -- among other things -- to market specials and super-saver flights to clients, a bonefide business application for the social media site.

So, on Thursday, April 22, my friend Paul Turcott (AKA "Raoul") and I hopped the quick 50-minute flight up to Sea-Tac, rented a car and proceeded over Stevens Pass to Owl Farm for a summit meeting with friends Lupe Marroquin, Kelly Tjaden and Frank Czubiak.

The purpose of the summit? To plan for the coming season of adventure in the high country, of course. Though Lupe will be recuperating from a knee injury, plans include hiking the Icicle Ridge Trail from Stevens Pass to Gustav's Brew Pub in Leavenworth, and several other junkets.

We also conducted the seasonal rituals -- burning slash piles and floating the river -- while enjoying good food and company with Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster playing on the laptop in the background. On the way back to Sea-Tac, Raoul snapped this pic of me (below) before breakfast at Sandy's Waffle Haus in the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth.

A great trip, I spent quality time with long-time friends, participating in the usual pagan rituals while connecting with the spiritual world. In short, it was nice celebrating Earth Week with creatures of the earth.

The only ones missing were the owls. Oh, they were around; we just keep different hours.