There Are No Public Relations Lessons To Be Learned From Any Media Property

Every so often, when I want to feel true pain, I subject myself to one of the single worst websites on the internet – PRDaily – a snake eating its own tail of PR people in denial about their relevance to the world at large, with the occasional summary of how a big company spent millions of dollars and how PR people were at some point involved. They also love to make posts, just like the rest of the industry, about lessons you might learn about PR from something not related to PR, such as The Lessons You Can Learn About PR From Bird-Brained Historically Inaccurate and Genuinely Terrible Rap-Musical Hamilton.

This awful screed is an example of PR people searching for relevance and importance in popular culture, a truly depressing and embarrassing pursuit. This is the career version of buyer’s remorse – when you realize the job you do is not exactly the most important in the world, instead of saying “hey, at least I get paid money and people are happy,” you say the following:

The post, “7 PR lessons from ‘Hamilton,’” is the platonic form of these “how do I make this about PR” posts:

  • Incredible stretches of interpretation to make something from X media thing about PR: ““I am not throwing away my shot.” For PR pros, this phrase has many applications. There’s only a small window to jump on a social media trend or be the first to the table with a clever phrase that stands out online. Often, you have one chance to successfully pitch your story in a way that piques reporters’ curiosity.
  • Totally nonsensical shit: After Burr, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson approach Hamilton with evidence suggesting that he embezzled funds, Hamilton publishes “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” which outlines his torrid affair with Maria Reynolds…If members of your organization have messed up, whether they’re employees who have overstepped or an executive who is trying to cover up misconduct, persuade them to get ahead of the narrative. This involves coming clean and being transparent with the crisis, along with taking responsibility for the fallout and outlining reparations or ways it won’t happen again.
  • An attempt to make PR seem more important through stretches of logic: “I want to be in the room where it happens.” PR pros can sympathize with Burr’s outburst in Act Two. For communicators, it’s all about getting a seat at the strategy and decision-making table. To ensure your place, focus on being a business professional who can expertly communicate, instead of a communicator with some business knowledge.
  • Some sort of point about how, despite making an entire post on PR’s relevance, you have no actual control over anything that happens in the public: “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Remember that you don’t control the narrative of your media coverage nor social media engagement. Reporters are there to tell stories their readers will want to read, not elevate you and your organization. Members of your online community might sing your praises or criticize your practices, but they want to have a dialogue with you, not be blasted with additional brand copy.

These posts are some of the most cynical, putrid deposits in PR, and, while seemingly harmless, are part of a larger issue of misleading and gaslighting young PR people into believing that they have a larger affect on the world than they do. By making these posts about PR lessons from a big famous thing, you are telling the PR person that everything is about PR, that PR has relevance to everything, that they are more important than they think and that their world can be seen through the lens of PR.

By leading PR people to have a greater degree of self importance, you relax the need for critiques – both of oneself and of the industry at large – and a genuine ignorance of that which may cause you to be better at your job. The irony is that these same people who love these posts also talk about how the PR person isn’t the story, while at the same time trying to feel as important as they possibly can. It’s fine to not be important, it’s fine to not be popular, and it’s fine to not have relevance to every piece of modern culture.

I really do mean that, and I want to be clear to PR people that just because your job can be described as sending emails at scale or writing lots of documents, that’s totally fine. You are in a well-compensated industry with lots of work. You do things that do have an affect on the world, though those things may be someone else’s achievements, and that’s okay too. Your job isn’t as interesting to describe as, say, a doctor’s, or a lawyer’s, but guess what? It’s also nowhere near as hard to do and requires far fewer qualifications. You don’t have to make up why you’re important, you don’t have to puff it up, you have a good job, and through said job you likely have a better chance at working at the companies you want to work at than most people.

Please, stop trying to pretend we’re more important than we are. Be happy with what you’ve got.

The post There Are No Public Relations Lessons To Be Learned From Any Media Property appeared first on The Future Buzz.


Weasel decisions

One way to make a decision with a team or a partner is to clearly make a decision. Have a budget, do the math, lay out the risks and the options and decide with intent.

The other method is to weasel your way forward.

Act as if.

Be presumptive.

Hide relevant facts or conceal your fears.

Avoid talking about the real issues, figuring that you’ll figure it all out as you go.

When you are uncomfortable with here, and it’s really tempting to want to be there, it’s easy to weasel your way forward. It feels urgent and appropriate. It rarely is.


Your “Years Of Experience” Are Meaningless

Hello, you! I hear that you have 25 years of experience in the communications field, and have worked with the Fortune 500. I myself have put on my own website that I have a certain amount of experience, and that I have worked with the Fortune 500, the Fortune 100, hell, I am the Fortune 500 now. I have become one with them, I am a rat king of Fortune companies, rolling around consuming matter both edible and otherwise.

In all seriousness, though, nobody cares. Sure, there’s the immediate gut-check of “have they done stuff before,” but for the most part if you’ve encountered any PR manager or CEO who’s tried to order you around, they’ve brought up how many years they’ve been doing their job. They have said that they have 30 years in PR, doing corporate communications, and that as a result your thoughts are both invalid and stupid.

Your years in PR are apparently what give you the ability to do your job, not your actual achievements or things you’ve done with your own hands.

This rant bubbled up in my skull because I was recently forced to read posts from the Public Relations Society of America’s recent banning of a member from said forum for asking very clear-cut questions about things like “why do we say we are making money when we are losing money” and “why do we hide who is doing the financial audits” and “why have we not had a new CEO in 18 months.”

The forum posts, which I won’t share because they are private and every one of the whiny babies who likes to post about how much they love public relations would go completely insane if I did, are mostly people repeatedly saying that Mary is being mean, and also how many years of experience they have, and how many years they’ve all sat around talking about how good PR is in their PR group for PR people.

Note, if this comes off as a petty grievance – it is! This is my website, not your website.

For the most part, I realize that people need to justify their existence through whatever things they believe to be valid. It’s a tough world out there, and we’ve all got things we hang on to when we’re feeling a lack of self confidence. But PR people have this insane attachment to how many years they’ve managed to not get fired, or how many years they’ve managed to stick around in a field where the barrier to entry is having an email account.

I want you to take a minute to think about any time in your life that you’ve told someone you’ve had X years of experience in something as part of an argument or management situation. If you’ve said it in a pitch for new business, fine, we all do that, but if you’ve said it in a conversation to justify your argument, it’s invalid and stupid. I have known many, many communicators that in two years of time in PR have more experience than someone who has 15 years of micromanaging and making 22-year-olds cry because they messed up the bullet points on an agenda.

In fact, I’d argue that if you have 15-25 years in marketing or PR, there’s a decent chance that you have inverse experience depending on what you’ve done with your career. If you’ve done the thing that many PR people do – found an agency, hire 15 people, distance yourself from the work, or perhaps move in-house somewhere with a big time and an agency – you’ve probably put yourself in a position of “management” that’s divorced from the actual practice of marketing or public relations. If you’ve done that, every year that you choose to not do the actual job and choose to just do “strategy” is kind of like thinking that you’re going to lose weight by spending hours planning workouts that someone else will do.

This is an issue with corporate America as a whole, but nowhere is it more obvious that it’s a problem than in marketing and PR.

I’ll be writing more about the big problems with the PRSA soon, but for now that’s all I got. I couldn’t work out a featured image for the post so I put a picture of Jim Carrey as the mask. Smockin’!

The post Your “Years Of Experience” Are Meaningless appeared first on The Future Buzz.


Where to Start When Leading Through Crisis

I don’t take the opportunity to write about how I lead Portent as much as I’d like to.

As an agency dedicated to creating positive change and driving engagement for our clients, our attention has little room to slip as the brands we partner with look to us as guides through uncertainty.

Over the past five months, my role has shifted focus due to the environment we find ourselves in today. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. We navigated a social justice moment that re-sparked a movement. And we are approaching what may end up being the most intense election cycle in many of our lifetimes.

Through that, we’re expected to keep the lights on and continue to push our clients forward. We’re expected to drive results for our clients. We’re expected to show the path forward for our people.

Running a marketing team is hard. Leading a marketing team through crisis is even harder. And to be honest, I couldn’t be more impressed with how our leadership team has led over the past five months.

Yes, this is a proud agency leader moment.

The environment we continue to find ourselves in for the foreseeable future demands a shift in approach to leadership. It’s evolved for the better, and I want to share how we made that change because I don’t think it’s only relatable to folks who find themselves in leadership roles at a marketing agency.

We’ve relied heavily on these principles over the past five months to guide the Portent team. And while many marketing agencies find themselves in a fragile place as client budget drastically fluctuate, I couldn’t be more proud of this agency or optimistic about our future together.

Be Transparent

Yes, it’s cliché.

It’s cliché for a reason.

We opened up the books for everyone to see internally. We’ve shared all of the wins and all the losses. We’ve talked about what success looks like, and we’ve talked about what happens if things take a turn for the worse. We started doing live Town Hall events with anonymous Q&A sections. Our leadership team answers every single question.

Somewhere towards the end of March, I lost count of how many times I said, “I don’t know.” I’ve felt vulnerable saying that as the agency’s leader, but sometimes, “I don’t know” is the truth and the truth builds trust.

But this honesty is just one part of the puzzle; equally important is what follows. After I say, “I don’t know,” we figure out how to right-size a path forward to fit our needs.

Everything is on the table for everyone to see.

Provide Space

It’s time for more agencies to actually take care of their people.

I’m tired of meeting good people who have been taken in only to be spit out at the end of their agency career jaded by the industry as a whole.

No matter the role of the people on your team, the lives of those team members have changed significantly in the last five months. For most of us, the easy change to see is to a remote-based environment filled with Zoom calls and little opportunity for personal connection. But the impact this “new normal” has had on individuals stretches farther than our professional lives, and continues to evolve and change.

Why do we still expect our team members to work in the same way or need the same things they needed at the start of the year?

Since March, we’ve reshaped our approach to billable hours, time tracking, last-minute deadlines, and unreasonable client requests to better protect our people.

Our benefits have changed and will continue to change as we navigate uncharted waters. Proactive communication, effective prioritization, and better-disciplined project management keep us on track to get through what we must get through. The leadership team has hounded (in the best of ways!) their team members to take paid time off through all of this.

That approach provided everyone in the agency more space; to flex when they work and are in a flow, to flex when their mind isn’t with the agency and our clients, and to flex when the daily news cycle is too much to take an eye off.

Guess what? Engagement from the team is stronger than it’s ever been, and client retention—despite today’s environment—is as high as we’ve ever seen it.

Get Feedback

Lead with genuine empathy, and you may find that you receive more openness and honesty than you ever did before.

Remember that part about not knowing what to do?

The questions, conversations, and input we have received during this time continue to directly shape what we do and how we do it.

We’ve always worked to get feedback, but the cadence, openness, and directness of it has substantially increased this year. Thank you, again, to all of the Portent team who has helped here.

Looking Forward

And while we remain remote and dispersed for the foreseeable future, I think many would agree that in some ways, we’ve grown closer than ever as an agency.

Yes, there have been bumps along the way, and I don’t expect us to be in the clear anytime soon. But we’ll continue to be transparent, provide space, and get feedback. I mentioned earlier that the external environment caused us to change our approach to leadership and adopt new principles along the way. I’m an optimist; I believe we will eventually settle into a new normal free of constant crisis. And when we do, these principles won’t change.

The post Where to Start When Leading Through Crisis appeared first on Portent.


Opportunity is in the Gap Between What you Know and What you Don’t

I once worked with a mathematician to develop risk mapping tools. Aside from the occasional bruise from playing ice hockey, he didn’t look or sound like a stereotypical scientist. However, the way he processed information and thought about problems produced radically different ideas. My colleague was able to operate not knowing, in the gap between the observed and the uncertain. The risk modeling tool the firm could develop thanks to his work was the most useful I’ve seen so far. It was also the simplest to use. Prevailing culture rewards people with answers. Yet, the longer you can hold yourself…


The do-it-yourself at-home surgery kit

Here’s a rusty knife.

Here’s a video I saw on YouTube once.

Here are some instructions I read on Quora…

Okay, how hard can it be?

Actually, it might be very hard. Actually, expertise has value. Actually, just because someone said it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Or useful.

Experts aren’t always right. But I’d rather live in a building built by an expert, fly in a plane designed by an expert and yes, have surgery done by an expert.

Even barbers get trained.


How to Use YouTube to Supplement Your Paid Search Efforts

Paid search is a highly targeted marketing strategy with the ability to find users who are uniquely low in the funnel and ready to convert. A user who is not only problem-aware but also solution (product/service)-aware and potentially even brand-aware is exactly the type of person that makes paid search a strong ROI producer for many.

There are limitations to this, however. There are not endless amounts of people who fall into the category of low-funnel who are actively searching. This is especially true for more niche industries or brands, but all businesses experience this limitation in some way.

So, what can we do to push that limit further and maximize potential reach and return for paid search? The answer is to have a full-funnel approach that looks at the entire user journey. While it’s easy to get blinders for only the super high converting lower-funnel efforts, don’t forget the importance of upper-funnel strategies.

One upper-funnel strategy to consider to fulfill this need is YouTube advertising.

Why YouTube Advertising

There are a few solid reasons to explore YouTube advertising to supplement your existing paid advertising efforts. Here are my top three.

It’s Huge

The obvious first reason to look towards YouTube for advertising is the sheer volume of users. YouTube touts 2 billion users; this represents a third of all internet users and a quarter of the entire world population! This makes it one of the largest audiences you will find anywhere.

But while volume is great, the real benefits are in the targeting available and the cost.


YouTube has robust targeting options, including geographic, demographic, remarketing, and, most importantly, interest audiences. Interest-specific audiences like affinity audiences and in-market audiences are available in other forms of upper-funnel strategies, like Google Display Network advertising. But there is just so much content on YouTube! This provides really powerful opportunities to reach people who are uniquely qualified while they are consuming highly-relevant content.

Low Cost

Finally, the cost to advertise on YouTube in a brand awareness strategy is low. YouTube advertising has a few bidding options to choose from that depend on your goals for the campaign, ranging from conversion-focused strategies to maximum CPM strategies. Choosing the right one depends on your needs. But in general, you should expect surprisingly low costs, considering the quality of views you can earn.

How to Get Started

I won’t dive into the nitty-gritty details of how to launch a YouTube campaign here. Hubspot has a great summary if you are trying to get this going for the first time and need some direction. You can also look to the Google Help article on creating a video campaign. What I will focus on in this post is the strategy side of things.

From an advertising strategy perspective, there are a few things to keep in mind.


As mentioned, there are many targeting strategies available. And because of the very large amount of content being consumed on YouTube, you can get very granular without limiting your reach. To attract new users consider targeting strategies like:

  • Affinity audiences
  • Custom affinity audiences
  • In-market audiences
  • Custom intent audiences


Layering these types of strategies into more basic targeting like demographic, geographic, life events, and similar audiences will help you reach the right people for your goals.

Video Content

The type of content in your videos and how you format them should reflect your goals as well. Google/YouTube offers a few different types of ad formats. Some of the video options are:

  • Skippable video ads – Seen most commonly before a video but also can be seen during and can be skipped after 5 seconds.
  • Non-skippable video ads – Seen before a video and the viewers must watch before they can view the main video. They are typically 30 seconds, but some are 15-20 seconds.
  • Bumper ads – Non-skippable videos but usually shorter, up to 6 seconds before the user can watch their main video.


A few best practices to keep in mind when developing your videos are:

  • Include a call to action
  • Have an early hook to earn attention before a video is ignored or skipped
  • Include a brand name and/or logo early on for the same reason
  • Re-cut old content to repurpose it for the format you want rather than produce new content every time

Focus on the Right KPIs for Your Goals

If you are using YouTube to fill the upper-funnel as a supplement to your paid search efforts, it’s important to look at it through the right lens. You may have some specific target ROAS or CPA that you use for most of your Google Ads efforts. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting video ads on YouTube to meet that standard. That is not the goal.

Instead, focus on metrics that help you understand and optimize brand awareness, views, click-through, etc. Google Ads offers a wide range of metrics for different goals that you can consider to judge video performance better than your traditional conversion metrics. They have some prebuilt reports that focus on different goals for:

  • Views – views, average CPV, video played percentage
  • Audience – max CPV, view rate, earned subscribers, earned likes
  • Branding – max CPV, views, impressions
  • Conversions – max CPV, views, conversions, conversion rate


For an upper-funnel strategy, I recommend focusing on either Branding (my personal go-to) or Views. View rate specifically is a great metric as it includes more than just when people saw your ad (impression). It shows you how often they engaged with your ads (actually watched or clicked).

What to Expect

The main takeaway from all this—as it relates to paid search—is that you are trying to grow what is already working well.

When the whole funnel is working to introduce new users to your brand and move them down to a point of conversion, you should expect to see things like a rise in branded searches and increased conversion rates for other paid search strategies. People will be more aware in general, and when they do interact with your brand, they will be more likely to convert because they aren’t entering the funnel at the bottom.

That is true for all upper-funnel strategies, including YouTube advertising.

The post How to Use YouTube to Supplement Your Paid Search Efforts appeared first on Portent.


The non-urgent advance

Not a retreat, but a chance to advance.

Set up a zoom room. By yourself, perhaps. Weird but do-able. Or possibly, bring a coach or a colleague. But only one person.

No phones. No internet besides Zoom.



Spend four hours in isolation, with nothing to do but figuring out what’s scaring you and what you’ve been avoiding.

Spend half a day figuring out the difference between urgent and important.

If you’re too busy to do that, it’s probably because you are spending too much time on the urgent.