A Conversation with Christina Lam of Blaze PR and Dan Portnoy of Portnoy Media Group
By UCLA X425 Student Andrew Oldershaw
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
Did you know that slavery still exists? Thanks to the work of one of tonight’s guest speaker, Dan Portnoy, much of the world knows thanks to his work on the short film Kavi (http://kavithemovie.com/).
Forgive the borderline inappropriate reference, but there’s another kind of slavery that exists – exemplified by both the innovations and expertise of tonight’s speakers – and its that publicists rely too much on conventional media coverage when developing strategic plans for clients.
If tonight’s guest speaker discussion was a Twitter feed, one of the trending topics would have been #feedthebeast. And for good reason. As Portnoy points out, a key to any commencement process with a client, project or campaign is a thorough and comprehensive assessment of assets, goals and current stakeholders. Only then can a clear roadmap (with adaptations assumed along the way) be blueprinted and executed. Clearly part of breaking the enslavement of the publicist-indentured-to-media is born from the ability to craft and carve out compelling stories for all the world to see….or to borrow from a classic line in film, “if you build it, they will come.”
So what is “it” and who are “they?”
We’ll get to that. In the meantime, speaking of stories, guest speaker Christina Lam shared some brilliant case studies putting into practice her method of exploring the tales, anecdotes, histories and expertise of her clients for use on social media. From a mixologist’s favorite cocktail to the story of a man who’d been visiting the same fast-food restaurant since he was a child, Lam demonstrated how generating engagement and dialogue with an audience is key to fermenting loyalty, among other benefits.
Lam deftly pointed out a critical step in the discovery process with a new client – “seek the lowest hanging fruit,” she said. While this might seem obvious to a publicist, it was Lam’s ability to articulate just how the process works that provided some exceptional insight for the class. Because, as was pointed out early, creating successful and meaningful engagement via social media doesn’t just mean Tweeting promotional items – it means demonstrating an investment in personal, familial, and niche communications strategies. Telling personal stories, explained Lam, propels social media content, which directly and indirectly impacts brand loyalty in a positive way.
So back to the “it” and the “they.” And this is where it gets exciting. We first need to understand what we’re building and how we’re asking our hypothetical audience to “come.” We are building an engagement. A virtual house we want to welcome people into… a website, a Twitter feed, an ever-expanding balloon of social media content. Tonight’s case studies created an online experience. Their metaphoric structure and inhabitants are defined by client assets, but their architecture is manifest and massaged by the social media expert. This is, obviously, the destination – the “it.” The “they” is an engaged, informed, loyal, influential target audience… donors, consumers, advocates, readers.
Ok, so we want to build a virtual house and invite friends and strangers into it. How the heck do we do that? According to Lam and Portnoy, the answer is strategic, resourceful and compelling content that relies on a consistency of tone, synthesis of purpose and opportunities for the audience to engage (via deals, incentives, emotional rewards, philanthropic empathy, in-the-know edge). Portnoy articulates the obvious with a fresh, intelligent riff; “The things that go viral on the web? Amazing things and amazingly bad things.”
But the mantra of “if you build it, they will come” will not work by slapping together a website, shooting some iPhone video and firing off a handful of Tweets. As Lam and Portnoy demonstrated – it takes a village to bring the flock to the farmhouse… a concert of voices and messages and video and communication, though finely tuned and executed with calculated but creative tactics.