Why do so many people hate PowerPoint presentations?

Who’d have thought that a topic as mundane as, “I dislike PowerPoint presentations. They are impersonal and only help those who have difficulty speaking in public. Am I wrong on this? Must PowerPoint be the only way and light?” on LinkedIn’s PR & Communications Professionals forum would garner 129 comments!

Many people mention the obvious: speakers who use PowerPoint slides as a crutch, slides that have too much text, presentations that overshadow the presenter, etc. However, that’s not the fault of the tool, it’s the fault of the presenter.

Very, very few people now are good presenters. Partially, this is because companies no longer offer the same level of training. When I worked for a PR agency (many years ago), presentation training was standard. We learned to be comfortable in front of audiences of any size, how to make eye contact and engage the people we were speaking to, rather than at.

Our clients hired us to train their staff before they presented at trade shows and conferences. We also designed their slides (real slides, not PowerPoint) so that they were clear and entertaining. We listened to our clients present, told them what we heard (versus what they thought they said) and helped them present information so that people could listen to it and absorb their message.

The results were more polished than many of the presentations I see today. They weren’t thrown together on the plane to the conference; instead they were designed to complement and enhance the subject. Many times now when I see people present, I doubt that they have ever practiced it. There’s a world of difference between the information that people can absorb when they read it versus when they hear it. When you don’t practice a speech or a presentation you risk losing your audience because they can’t follow you.

PowerPoint has made it too easy to cheat, too easy to cram too many words onto a slide, and too easy for the presenter to hide behind the slides.

In the end, it comes down to the presenter. Presenting to an audience is an art. But too often it’s become an afterthought.

Are companies embracing digital PR with new job titles?

Last year when he published “Sticks and Stones” Larry Weber wrote that companies would need to hire new types of people, in new types of jobs, to fully leverage and embrace social media.

Here’s an interesting interview from Larry Chase’s newsletter with Chris Nadherny, Mr. Nadherny is a senior director of the executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart, where he is a partner and has led the Digital and Direct Marketing practice since 1997. It gives an idea of how this concept is playing out in real life.

You can read the full interview here. I’ve pulled out some highlights.

Recent Placements in Top Marketing Jobs

Larry Chase: You recruit for Fortune 500 companies. What kind of placements have you made recently?

Chris Nadherny: We worked closely with JCPenney to identify, assess and recruit a head of Digital Marketing. It’s a part of the ecommerce program but specifically responsible for all search engine optimization, search engine marketing, mobile, affiliate, banners and the like.

The candidate we placed had been with [multichannel retailer] Coldwater Creek in its ecommerce business. She was responsible for all Digital Marketing, segmentation, positioning and various digital channels.

LC: Do you see a lot of people with a traditional Direct Marketing background making a smooth transition to Digital Marketing?

CN: The catalog companies were some of the first people to grab onto the Internet and Digital Marketing.

As the funding that’s going into Digital Marketing has increased, the Digital Marketing role has become prominent across the organization. We have seen a move to upgrade the talent as a result.

At one time, a company might have started with someone who was an Internet Marketing specialist. As the business has grown and succeeded, they’re finding at the next stage that they need someone who brings more maturity in management leadership and financial acumen.

Are Internet Marketers Too Specialized to be CMO?

LC: We at Web Digest For Marketers also look at specific disciplines such as SEO and Social Media. Do you find a lot of people come up the chain through those disciplines?

CN: Yes, but the danger of someone being in a specialist role and focusing solely on mobile, social or SEO is that he/she has a view of part of the equation but not the entire equation. We recruit at the more senior level, and our clients are looking for people who can lead and manage the entire equation.

We also placed the head of global online services for Hilton Hotels in a role that is responsible for all the Websites, content, marketing on the sites, analytics, creative and so on. The client wanted someone from the travel and hospitality industry, and we came across some good people but not with experience as broad as our client wanted.

We convinced them to look at an individual who had been with Chrysler and was directly responsible for its Digital Marketing strategy, Websites, search, analytics, lead generation for Chrysler and had previously been with (the agency) Organic.

What convinced this client at Hilton to look at someone from automotive was the parallel between providing services to dealers across the country and providing hotel services across the country. In the end, the client did choose the person from Chrysler.

Demand for Talent Outstrips Supply

LC: Do your clients prefer to hire within their categories, or do they want someone from outside their business?

CN: Generally, they prefer to hire from within their category, but it’s really on a case-by-case basis. Although 1998 was really the first “e-Christmas,” we still have not had enough time to fill the talent void.

LC: So, the supply has not really caught up with the demand. Will it?

CN: It will take a while. Things continue to develop at a rapid pace. A lot of our clients feel that as soon as you get your head above water, and you think you understand what’s going on, something else happens that you need to test and develop.

Can You Get to the Top with Only Digital Marketing Experience?

LC: Are there people at the top of Fortune 500 or major marketing companies who have spent their entire careers only on the digital side, or do they have traditional experience?

CN: Digital-only experience is less common because in those roles, you also have multiple marketing-channel environments.

Someone who understands just digital is often viewed as too narrow in perspective. If they have always been in digital and are younger, then they have probably been in more entrepreneurial organizations and didn’t always gain management training and discipline along the way.

For someone who’s coming up directly through Digital Marketing right now, it’s very easy to be passionate about the space, and there are a lot of reasons to want to be there. But, at some point, they’re going to run the risk of being compartmentalized or curtailing their advancement because they haven’t broadened their skill sets

LC: Will those at the CMO level be mostly traditional people with an innate understanding of digital or the other way around?

CN: I can only go by my experience, but here are another couple of casepoints:

We recruited the president of direct at [women’s clothing retailer] Charming Shoppes for all their ecommerce. He had come from Sears, where he was responsible for the Website, ecommerce and the catalog. Before that, he was in management positions with Forrester [Research] so he had gained management leadership all the way.

LC: So, you really need a balance.

CN: Another great example, and a rare profile, is the person who was heading up Digital Marketing and ecommerce for QVC. Before that, he had spent a number of years with JCPenney in the stores environment, where he had hands-on retail experience, worked on the catalog and then migrated to Internet merchandising and marketing.

Moving to a pure [Web environment] and leading that effort makes him very unique, having tried-and-true tri-channel experience.

LC: Which attribute is hardest to find?

CN: A progressive career track within a limited number of companies. In other words, some career stability and not a series of job hops. We always like to see someone promoted within a current employer and not always having to switch companies for the next title. We also look for business and management maturity.

Skill Sets You Need for the Big Leagues

LC: How does company size affect what you look for in a candidate?

CN: It depends on the size of the company. The types of skill sets and qualities or traits you seek in candidates for a company that does less than $50 million a year in ecommerce are very different from those for a company doing more than $1 billion.

For a smaller company, you’re looking for someone with more hands-on experience and an entrepreneurial outlook, with a distinct building mentality, an ability to influence resources within a matrix environment, and a certain resourcefulness and ability to impart a sense of excitement throughout the organization.

Contrast that with a larger ecommerce effort, where you’re looking more for broad-based business leadership and top-level credibility with the senior executive team. It takes a greater level of complexity in scope and scale. You’re also looking at more international experience and exposure and increased financial acumen.

Darn those “bothersome” clients!

Recently I’ve been following a few threads on the LinkedIn, including one on sharing media lists with your clients.

I stated my opinion on that in an earlier post.

However, what’s struck me most about the ongoing discussion is the disparaging way that some of these practitioners talk about their clients.

This is the comment that really made me stop and go, wow.

I would not want my hard-earned relationships with my media friends “sullied” by bothersome clients.

I hope this woman’s clients don’t read that forum. They might not “bother” her with their business if they did. It makes me cringe for her.

Maybe I’m just especially lucky, but my clients are smart, savvy and accomplished. I can’t imagine they would do something so egregious that they would embarrass me and ruin my relationship with my media “friends.” I like to think of my relationships with clients as partnerships. We work together to accomplish a defined goal.

I also can’t imagine that my media contacts, many of whom I’ve known for decades, would shun me if a client where to call them and say something stupid. Sure, they might call me and poke fun, but they wouldn’t cut me off. Editors need us as much as we need them — today every newspaper and magazine is short staffed and if we bring them stories that are relevant and well written, they will always take our calls.

Really, we must remember that our clients are the people who pay our bills. We work on their behalf. That shouldn’t involve ridiculing them or making disparaging remarks. If a client really doesn’t appreciate your skills or talents then don’t work for them. But don’t make fun of them behind their backs.

PR is more than media relations.

To many people public relations = media relations, and that includes practitioners. We have PR professionals that guard their media lists like gold and are looking for ways to quantify the value of their “clips.” Yet, at the same time they want to establish that Public Relations encompasses a broader scope of activities.

Practitioners who want more need to focus on strategy rather than tactics. I have nothing against media relations, but it is just one way for companies to reach their publics with their messages. I think practitioners have fallen into this trap because it’s relatively easy to quantify. Look, they say, this press release ran in a gazillion small newspapers and was picked up on websites globally. That means that more than 8 gazillion eyeballs saw your message and that’s why you pay us the big bucks.

Ironically, current evidence points to a diminishing role for traditional media. Readership is down. Staffing is down. Increasingly magazines and newspapers are closing down their print presence in favor of online media and turning to citizen journalists for news and content. In light of these trends aligning your business with traditional media may well bring about the demise of your practice. Yes, there will always be practitioners who have the ear of the top journalists at the best publications, but as for the rest of us? Better to focus on more ways to communicate your client’s messages.

Increasingly I see opportunities for companies to contact their prospects and customers directly — enewsletters, websites, webinars, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all create ways to engage your customers in a dialogue and communicate your messages directly with the people  your client/company most wants to reach. Not only are these methods direct, they are also measurable. Everyone is feeling the pinch of hard economic times and it is essential that communicators can show how our efforts support the sales function.

Sure, moving into new areas will take time and education. You need to be able to show your client that these methods are effective. You may also need to explain to them that any activity that influences their target audience’s perception of their company is public relations, not just media relations. It will benefit everyone.

Sharing media lists with clients.

One topic that I’ve seen discussed on PR forums repeatedly is whether or not you should share the media lists you develop for an account with your client.

For me, that’s been a moot point. In the past 25 years I’ve had clients ask me for their media lists a grand total of . . . never. If they wanted it, though, I would gladly hand it over. Why not? They paid for it. After all, it’s just a list. Anyone with a subscription to Bacon’s, Vocus, or MediaPro can create a list; there’s not a lot of magic there.

Many of the practitioners who say they would not hand over a list (and there are plenty) seem to feel justified because their contacts are “private”. I don’t buy that. What the client cannot do is immediately recreate your relationship with the journalists and editors that you have nurtured over time. A list, or a contact at a publication, does not guarantee a result. I hope that my clients hire me because of my ability to successfully place articles on the topics that are most important to them in the publications that reach the right audience.

I think that folks who don’t want to share their lists are worried that the client will take that information and try to “wing it” on their own. If that’s the case, they have a larger problem because their client does not perceive that they are adding value. In that situation, often the best choice is to hand over the list and move on!

Analytics saving California Social Services Agency Millions

I know lots of companies that don’t measure the performance of their websites or enewsletters. On colleague of mine told me that he had a “gut feeling” about what works for his company.

However, when you look at what you can learn from studying your stats, it’s eye-opening. Many of my clients are truly surprised to find out what information their constituencies find most interesting, which pages on their sites get the most traffic, and which of their pearls of wisdom are generally ignored!

Now the Alameda County, Calif., Social Services Agency  has found that using analytics can save taxpayers a lot of money.

In July of 2009 the county agency launched a $1.5 million business intelligence and analytics package from IBM that integrates six systems in order to give caseworkers a nearly real-time look at how and when clients are using various social services.

Bingo! This is the beauty of information shared on the web. You can measure it. You can track responses, view traffic patterns and look at referring urls.

Now, you don’t have to spend $1.5 million to do so. In fact, for someone just starting out, a free program such as Google Analytics is a good start. I use it for several of my own sites and for client sites.

As a result of what we’ve learned from collecting data over a period of time one of my clients redesigned their site and changed the type of information that they presented. For example, we found that the FAQs section of the site drew the most visitors. As a result, we started putting the information that we felt was most important for customers to know in that section. We also found that there was an enormous need for basic educational information which drove us to create several tutorials.

As for e-newsletters, knowing which topics attract the most readers is valuable from an overall perspective but critical for sales people who want to learn more about the customers in their territories.

I think that one of the greatest barriers to installing analytics programs is that people are afraid what the measurements will show; that their programs aren’t performing as well as they should. My take on this is different. To measurably demonstrate the value that public relations and marketing communications adds to a company you must be able to provide the data and you must establish a benchmark for your current success. After all, you can’t improve your outreach if you don’t know there’s a problem.

Make your video shoot successful

Recently I responded to an RFP to produce a “virtual plant tour” video. As part of the proposal each team was asked to identify best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Here’s some of what I wrote:

Best Practices

  • Plan well: the videos that are the most successful are the ones that are planned properly. This means using storyboards and shot lists to plan out exactly how each portion of the script will be illustrated.
    Shoot additional b-roll while you’re on site. Today’s viewing audience is used to fast-paced video with many transitions. You never have too much video but it’s easy to end up with not enough.
  • Spend enough money to make the video look good. Your video will be around for a long time. Many of our clients are still using videos that we shot a decade ago. Hiring a cinematographer who knows how to light properly and use equipment that will produce a quality product that will warrant your investment.
  • Shoot in High Definition. Some clients believe it isn’t really necessary but we disagree with you. HD is now the standard – even on YouTube. If you shoot it in another format you immediately label your information as dated. Even when shown in smaller formats it is apparent as HD is a different aspect ratio than standard video.
  • Think small as well as big. YouTube is now the second largest search engine and one of the largest broadcast channels for video in the world. When you plan your big corporate video, think about how you can break it into modules and show them on YouTube. This approach will help you reach a broader audience very quickly. If you don’t have your own YouTube Channel, this would be a good time to set one up.

Biggest pitfalls:

  • Not hiring a professional scriptwriter. Conveying information via the spoken word is different from writing articles or brochures. Including a scriptwriter on the team – someone who is familiar with how to meld words and images in a package that is easy to listen to – makes a huge difference. I know many folks think they can do it themselves but if you’re hiring a camera crew and spending the amount of time necessary to do a video, don’t skimp on the writing.
  • Trying to shoot it yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Your customers can tell when you shoot your own video and they are generally not impressed. Think about the message that it sends: we don’t (or can’t) invest the money in doing this professionally. Flip videos are great but unless you’re going for that Blair Witch Project effect, will backfire.
  • Shooting “from the hip”: if you don’t plan your video shoot it’s easy to end up in the editing suite with not enough footage to illustrate your script.

Video is definitely making a comeback now that the bandwidth exists to watch it online. With some pre-planning and vision, your next video project will be a success that lasts for many years.

Do your projects have “legs”?

In this economy, the best public relations projects are the ones that can gain your company exposure in several venues. If you’re going to make an investment, it’s important that it has “legs”. In other words, that it’s something you can use more than once.

For example, if you have a subject matter expert speaking at an industry conference, you can leverage this investment in time and preparation in several ways both before and after the event:

  • Promote the presentation before the event. This helps position your speaker as an industry expert. A little extra work can reap significant rewards by making each of your efforts work more effectively.
  • After the event, turn the presentation into a Webconference or Podcast. This is a great way to reach the people who couldn’t attend the industry conference but who are interested in the topic.
  • Write an article based on the presentation and place it in an industry trade publication.
  • Use the information as the basis for a White Paper on the subject. If you post this on your Website you can harvest email addresses by requiring that people register to download the paper.
  • Feature the topic in your company newsletter (or e-newsletter) by linking to the article, Webconference archives, or White Paper.

YouTube EDU Efforts Profiled on AP

I’ve written before on the benefits that Colleges and Universities can reap from using enhanced YouTube channels to reach their target audiences. A recent AP news story gave some more insights:

College too expensive? Try YouTube


It might seem counterintuitive to look for higher education alongside Avril Lavigne music videos, but the video-sharing site has become a major reservoir of college content.

The Google Inc.-owned YouTube has for the last few years been forging partnerships with universities and colleges. The site recently gathered these video channels under the banner YouTube EDU (http://www.youtube.com/edu).

More than 100 schools have partnered with YouTube to make an official channel, including Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale and the first university to join YouTube: UC Berkeley.

There are promotional videos like campus tours, but the more interesting content is straight from the classroom or lecture hall. Many schools have posted videos of guest lecturers, introductory classes and even a full semester’s course.

At a time when many are finding college unaffordable and the ranks of the unemployed are swelling, free higher learning can sound like a good way to spend some free time.

“There’s a huge appetite around the world for people to better themselves, to study subjects that they either never got a chance to or haven’t studied in a while,” said Obadiah Greenberg, the strategic partnership manager for YouTube.

In the past five years or so, colleges and universities have been increasingly opening their doors digitally to the public.

“That Ivory Tower reputation may be even more dated than the advent of YouTube,” said Scott Stocker, director of Web communications at Stanford.

In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the MIT OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu) with the plan to make virtually all the school’s courses available for free online.

As a visitor, one almost feels like you’ve somehow sneaked through a firewall. There’s no registration and within a minute, you can be watching Prof. Walter Lewin demonstrate the physics of a pendulum by being one himself.

Last December, MIT announced that OCW had been visited by more than 50 million people worldwide. But why would institutions that charges a huge price for admission give away their primary product?

Ben Hubbard, program manager of the webcast project for the University of California, Berkeley, believes it has always been a part of a university’s vocation.

“The mission of the university has been the same since our charter days back in the 1800s,” said Hubbard. “It’s threefold: there’s teaching, research and community service. Probably in the 1800s they weren’t thinking of it as the globe, but technology has really broken down those barriers of geography.”

In 1995, Berkeley launched its webcasts (http://webcast/berkeley.edu) with video and audio webcasts of classes.

In 2007, Apple created iTunes U, a service that allows schools to make material accessible only internally by students or externally by anyone. Most schools do a little of both.

Tools like iTunes U and YouTube EDU not only benefit the community and those called “lifelong learners” curious for a lesson or two in engineering or economics. But these services are powerful marketing tools that ultimately only provide one dimension of the college experience, schools say.

“We all see that the real value in a college education goes so far beyond the lectures that faculty give,” said Stocker. “It’s a way for people to get a taste of what the Stanford experience is, but you’re not getting a degree and you’re not getting direct interaction with faculty.”

Is Public Relations in a Golden Age?

According to Larry Chase, in his latest issue of of Larry Chase’s Web Digest for Marketers, Internet marketing is giving Public Relations an additional boost.

PR packs new punch online.

The Internet has brought a golden age to Public Relations. Pre-Internet, there were bottlenecks between those who wanted to reach an audience with news and the target audience.

You had a fixed number of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV outlets, networks, etc. But, with millions of people using Yahoo News, Google News, RSS feeds, blogs, email newsletters and the like, press releases have a new, reinvigorated life online.

If you send a newsworthy press release, you can reach the end user, news outlets and the blogosphere all at once.

But, wait: It gets better. You can track the success of that press release. You can see how many Tweets, blog mentions or pickups by syndicated RSS feeds it collects.

Press releases enjoy a new life because they are (when done right) content-driven. People turn to the Internet for commercial as well as editorial content. Display ads don’t convey as much information as a press release.

I certainly agree with much of what he said. However, I don’t think that the advantages provided by the Internet stop at press releases. In fact the ability to reach your customers and prospects directly through Websites, forums and blogs provides a level of access previously unparalleled.