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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Andy Lark with Lessons for Today's Business Communicators
This is another in our series of posts about the New Communications Forum "Blog University" held this past week in Napa, California.

Andy Lark gave a rousing keynote talk. He spoke about how blogging is changing the way companies are communicating about their businesses and relating to their customers.

Andy is an executive with Sun Microsystems (although he soon will be leaving). His pedigree is important because it gives an idea of the emphasis a Fortune 500 company places on blogging.

He started off by showing a Flash presentation entitled "EPIC 2014" portraying one view of the future of media. If you haven't seen this 8-minute presentation, take the time to have a look right now. The premise: in the future, each and every one of us will have a part in creating news and content, and computers will stitch that news together into personalized stories for us. It's wild stuff, for sure, but we're closer to it than you might think.

Setting the tone with that opening video, Andy's talk was free-wheeling, forward-looking and thought-provoking. He covered a huge amount of ground, but I only have room to highlight a few of the many great points he made:
  • The ability of PR professionals to control a company's message and public perception is waning. Power is shifting to the individual, especially individual bloggers. Many more people will be writing about companies and their products, and even more people will be reading those messages. Those messages are not coming from the communications professionals who work for your company, but average citizens over whom you have no control.

  • Press releases as a method of getting out a company's message are on the decline. However, PR flaks are not dead. Their role is simply changing. Rather than creating canned communications, a larger proportion of their time needs to be spent on monitoring blog messages about their companies and clients. Viral marketing campaigns will take a bigger chunk out of marketing budgets. Marketing communications and PR professionals need to know how to use news feeds and feed readers in order to track what is being said about their companies. He says you need to be aware of the top 8 blogs in your industry, you need to read them, and you need to engage and make comments on them.

  • PR professionals also need to find more authentic ways to relate to customers, such as creating official corporate blogs and helping corporate executives communicate with the public in their own voices. He says some CEO bloggers have writing coaches who correct their typos and help with style (you suspected that, right?). Andy warns that companies need to watch out to make sure these blogs are authentic voices -- authenticity matters.

  • He seemed to suggest that 100% transparency when writing a blog is not always realistic or desirable. If you are too open and reveal too much you can lose your competitive advantage. He also noted that in publicly-traded companies, how open you can be depends on the position of the person writing a blog. For instance, a Robert Scoble can be more transparent because he is not a legally-designated "insider" official who is bound by strict SEC laws. However, the vice Chairman of General Motors can't afford to be as open in his Fastlane blog, because he makes all sorts of decisions that if casually revealed could sway the stock price and have serious legal ramifications for him, the company, and its shareholders.
Lots of great stuff from Andy -- I could have listened to him for a lot longer. Read more on Andy's blog. NOTE: The photo was snapped after the conference when Andy took a few minutes to mingle before he headed out. He's engaging and like most Aussies, down to earth.

(UPDATE: A reader emails to tell me that Andy Lark is originally from New Zealand, not Australia. Oh well, at least I was in the right hemisphere.)
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