David Perry on social media, authenticity, micro blogging and challenges for PR pros

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David Perry is the CEO / founder of David Perry & Associates, Inc. – an award-winning full service strategic communication firm based in San Francisco

Perry serves on the Executive Committee / Board for ChinaSF whose goal is to attract and retain Chinese investment and business expansion into San Francisco and the Bay Area. He has applied his strategic communication expertise for a diverse range of clients spread across the globe and continues to grow in his role in ChinaSF.  You can read more about him and his multitude of projects here

In addition to his communication work, Perry is the host/producer for the weekly LGBT Show, Ten Percent, which airs throughout California. As a journalist, Perry has written over one hundred articles, and contributed to dozens of national publications. He has represented clients in the United States, Canada, China and Europe.

Perry is a forthright communicator and is a strong proponent of a journalistic approach in the PR business. Wordsmith Consulting talked to him about his company, PR challenges in today’s world and the growth of social media. His responses were as insightful and forthright as one would have expected.   

As the founder of David Perry & Associates, a strategic communication agency, what challenges does a PR agency face in today’s fast paced PR industry?

David Perry: The biggest challenge today is the same as it’s always been for communication professionals: providing accurate, useful and timely information on behalf of our clients. The difference: today we live in a 24/7 information age when ‘accuracy’ is too often trumped by the desire for ‘speed.’

Witness the recent snafu of KTVU TV in Oakland, CA releasing the racist phonetic names of supposed Asiana Airline pilots following a crash at San Francisco International Airport. The news desk was so concerned about “being first” that they forgot the first rule of being a journalist: to be correct and accurate.

It was sloppy and sad. PR people need to understand that we are journalists at heart – we’re not sales people. Our job is to provide useful, accurate information on behalf of our clients.

How do you keep your information authentic to overcome this challenge in the PR business?

David Perry: I try to read broadly and get information from as diverse outlets as possible – about clients and the current media market – not just by reading ‘friendly’ outlets or ‘the usual suspects.’

Everyone with an email address is a media source, today. Whether they’re credible or not – that’s an entirely different story. 

What are the most commonly used PR practices in the world today? How many of these PR practices are no longer as effective?

David Perry: All PR is about story-telling. It used to be about convincing other people to tell your story. Now, we can tell our own stories via social media. The news release isn’t dead, but – it is on life support.

There’s still a role for PR professionals to craft news releases to memorialize an event or a client happening. However, those ‘long form’ submissions have been completely subsumed by social media especially by short form micro-blogging and instant news / content generation such as smart phone videos.

No where is this more the case than in Asia where social media usage dwarfs that of the US and Europe. 

What do you think needs to change about the approach towards media in current times with social media and blogging on the rise?

David Perry: What needs to change is this – we (and by we – I mean communication professionals) need to re-dedicate ourselves to being accurate, emotion-free and grammatical correct. I’m so tired of hearing my colleagues blame bad spelling and grammar on ‘auto-correct.’ We need to take the time to get it RIGHT. And, if we get something wrong – or accidentally spread incorrect information, we need to fix it, apologize and move on.

Being ‘first with the news’ — I feel – is much less important than being accurate. We need some old-fashioned journalistic standards re-applied to the new media landscape.

How has social media changed the way PR agencies offer their services?

David Perry: Social media has changed everything. PR agencies and professionals used to need to know how to write and whom to pitch. Now, they need to be their own ‘media outlets.’ Anyone with a social media presence is their own TV station nowadays. 

When did you include social media in your Public Relations services portfolio and what made you take that step?

David Perry: We started offering social media the year that Facebook started and we got our own YouTube channel immediately. I knew right away that this was the beginning of the end for TV station-generated-video.

You have worked with clients in China. How different is the approach to PR in the country and what challenges do you face while working as a global partner in terms of cultural and regional differences?

David Perry: Even with the gradual opening of China to non-Chinese journalistic practices and PR techniques, there is still a good deal of suspicion there about the industry.

Since most media is state controlled/owned, the question Chinese businesses ask is, ‘why do I need to influence the media? If I’m a large enough company (ie, state-owned or affiliated) the media will cover me.’

What they don’t understand is how social media has changed that equation and how more and more western media is infiltrating and influencing Chinese media.

How important is it for company’s management to be actively involved in PR strategy? In your experience, do you think companies take and understand PR as a strategic tool in enhancing reach and managing perception?

David Perry: So much of what we do is explain what we do and how we do it to clients. Corporate clients understand marketing: I pay for this, I get that. PR is totally different. It’s relationship building and maintenance. It’s not always ‘tangible.’

In many parts of the world like India and Pakistan, PR pros are referred to as ‘spin doctors’ and ‘liars’. What do you recommend for PR companies in south asia to handle and manage this perception?

David Perry: No PR professional who ‘lies’ or ‘spins’ deserves to be in this business. We need to brand – and re-brand – ourselves for what we are: Communication specialists.

It is our job to communicate better than our clients so that media (legit press, bloggers, social media outlets, etc.) takes us seriously and doesn’t doubt us. I hate the term ‘spin doctor’ and I’ve never lied for a client, although I have fired clients who thought they could get me to.

What gives you an edge in your client services over other agencies?

David Perry: With regards to China, I / we travel there frequently. Our vice president and two associates speak Mandarin. We work hard to understand and respect the culture. We genuinely love and are excited about China. Any western PR firm that thinks they can ‘do China business’ without spending significant time in China is nuts, and frankly, not serious. 

What is your take on blogging and content marketing? As a growing trend in established markets, blogging seems to have become a norm for businesses. Do you advise or run blogs for your clients? If yes, then why do you think blogging is effective?

David Perry: I advise regular ‘micro blogging’ (Facebook, Twitter, RenRen, Weibo, etc.). However, I rarely recommend long-form blogging. Only clients who have the time – and sufficient bandwidth, site traffic and content – to undertake regular blogging (at least twice weekly) should do it.

What kind of measurements strategies do PR companies need to adopt in modern times?Is social media a separate vertical within PR or do you recommend generating reports that combine social media and PR to go hand in hand?

David Perry: Social media is media. The reports that used to only mention TV, radio and print should now also mention social media stats right alongside. 100,000 people read about you in the “NY Times” or in “China Daily” or the same amount referenced that article on “Facebook.”

There’s no difference. It’s how we / you magnify that initial message that is important.

How important is it to develop crisis communication expertise within companies? Do you think that in-house resources can be trained to handle and manage PR crisis situations?

David Perry: Crisis communication preparation is key for every large business. Ideally, such things should be handled in-house, to give credibility to the message. However, few companies are truly prepared for a true crisis. That’s why outside counsel like us, get called in. 

What do you believe to be the biggest challenge for PR pros in coming times and how can they overcome/ manage this challenge to grow in their careers?

David Perry: The biggest challenge is staying true to your core beliefs: don’t represent clients you don’t like, approve of or resonate with. It’s possible to write nice words about something you don’t believe in (although I never do it) — but it’s totally impossible to be authentic, live, in real-time, in front of a camera or a microphone without believing in what you’re saying.

You cannot manufacture authenticity. You either have it, or you don’t. And if you don’t – get out of this business.

Interview by Ayesha Sajid  




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