Susan: Gini Dietrich is the founder of Spin Sucks, an online community for PR people working for a better industry.
She is also the founder of Chicago based Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing and communications firm.She’s the author of books, including “Spin Sucks” and “Marketing in the round.” She’s also a very popular speaker, and she joins me today. Thank you Gini.
Gini: Thank you, Susan. I’m very happy to be here.
Susan: I absolutely love the name “Spin Sucks” because it says exactly what so many people feel, and increasingly, people associate that with PR in general.
Gini: You’re right, they do, and I think it’s two-fold. I think that business executives who didn’t come up through the marketing ranks to get to the top seat don’t really understand PR. They think of it as magic. They know they need it, but they don’t understand why or how it works, and the other piece of it is the measurement.
You know, for so long we measured, and I put “measured” in quotes, by media impressions and advertising equivalencies, and the industry as a whole has done a terrible job of saying, “This is how we affect sales.” And some of it is hard to do, because it’s more of the softer stuff, you know, the awareness and reputation management things, but today, with the web and analytics and access to data, we have the opportunity to really dig into some of that stuff, and I don’t think as an industry as a whole, we’re not doing that.
Susan: That’s really true. Creating objectives that are actually measurable, I mean, you have your goals and objectives that are clearly measurable against things that you can really look at and say, “Okay, did we drive this many people to a website?” Finding those things is hard, and it’s very hard to even get, because it’s a profession, well, I think that’s the way it is in so many professions, there’s this digital divide, those who came up before and those who are willing to embrace it. It’s very hard to make that transition for a lot of people.
Gini: You know what’s funny, because I was in a meeting with a client, and he said, “The problem is that I’m a digital immigrant, so I’m having to translate my experience into the digital web,” and sometimes that’s really hard. And when you think about it from that perspective, as if you were an immigrant coming into a new country…excuse me…wrong tube…
Susan: Wish I could hand you some water. But you’re right about the digital immigrant perspective, and that’s a fascinating phrase. I was doing a podcast with somebody, and he was talking about digital natives, and he said, “Yes, the rest of us are just tourists here.”
Susan: So, you know, we’ve been in the digital space for a long time, but it does take, if you were not raised with it, you have to immerse yourself in it the way you would have to immerse yourself in another culture.
Gini: You’re exactly right, and that’s a great way of looking at it. You do have to immerse yourself. And people look at it from the perspective of, “I don’t have time” or “I don’t see the value,” and really, until you do it, you’re not going to see the value.
So you fight this uphill battle of, okay, you’re not going to see the value and you’re certainly not going to make the time if you don’t see the value, but you’re not going to see it unless you do it, and so you fight that, “I need you to make some time to test it out and do it,” you know?
Gini: So you’re fighting this battle all the time. We fight it with clients quite a bit.
Susan: Yeah. Well, it’s a little bit like saying, “I’m going to fight that the world is round.” I mean, the world has moved on. It’s your choice whether you want to live in the now, or whether you’d like to live in a past that doesn’t exist anymore.
Gini: Right. You know, the other thing about it is I think, you know, right now, of course, we’re straddling through a different generation.
Gini: And so many, and I’m going to make a gross generalization, because it’s certainly not the case for everybody, but so many of the business leaders are baby boomers.
Gini: They say, “Okay, I understand that this is the way it’s going, but the people who make the purchase decisions right now are my peers. They’re my age. They’re not using the Twitter or the Facebook. They’re not on the internet,” which is baloney, but…
Susan: Yeah, that is, yeah.
Gini: They think about it from that perspective, and what they fail to understand is that the millennials and the Gen-Y, that’s how they make their decisions is all online, and whether or not they’re the decision-makers today, they’re influencing the decisions.
And they’re the ones doing the research, they’re the ones looking for the companies. They’re the ones that are doing all that.
Susan: They’re the emerging leaders, and not only that, what we see and what we are even involved in is they create alternate realities, so if you are not embracing your next and the current generation of customer that you’re just ignoring, then they will literally just create something new and better that speaks to them.
Susan: And your company will become the dinosaur. You will go under. It is as simple as that.
Gini: It is as simple as that. I totally agree.
Susan: But it is a fascinating time, and also a fascinating, we are at such a critical time, we have all of these issues and we can discuss them more now, so they’re more in the open, but we’re also at tipping points on the environment, on wealth and equality.
We have these issues that really threaten to dismantle everything that are in place right now, and I’m seeing a lot of head in sand, and PR being used to support head in sand.
Gini: Yes, yes, and yes. Part of it, I think, is, and this is more on the agency side, you know, you have these big global conglomerates that it’s hard for them to change, because they’re so big, and it’s like, you know, having the Titanic move in a different direction.
Susan: Yeah, slow boat.
Gini: Yeah, so they’re the ones that are still leading the charge. Now, there are some agencies that, you know, have added on digital capabilities, but what I see over and over and over again is the agencies that have done that, those departments don’t talk to the, what I’ll call “traditional” PR departments.
So you still have it siloed, you still have it completely separate, it’s its own profit center, they’re not sharing best practices, they’re not sharing profits, they’re not sharing revenues, they may be sharing clients, but they’re not sharing budgets very well.
Gini: They’re certainly not talking one another, and I think that’s part of the issue, and until you have more organizations like Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble that are really sophisticated and ahead of the curve and demanding that their agencies behave differently, it’s not going to change. It won’t change.
Susan: Well, and the baseline we start with is that every organization is being re-imagined from the outside, whether it wants to be or not.
Gini: Right. You’re absolutely right. It’s not up to the PR people to message and tell people what they should think, it’s up to the people now, who say, “Wait a sec, you may say that your company does this, but actually my experience is this, and I’m going to go tell all my friends about it.”
Susan: Exactly, and you may say that you do this, and you’re into social responsibility, but in fact, you’re putting $1 million in for the billions that you’re spending to actually create the problem that you’re putting the $1 million against.
Susan: And you know, there’s this concept that the PR department can and should be the contents of an organizations, and we really like that. We just think that it’s been given a lot of lip service over the years.
Gini: It has been given a lot of lip service, and you know, I think it does boil down to that whole, you know, “People don’t really understand what PR does.” I mean, it’s been glamorized in Hollywood. You know, Wag the Dog came out probably 20 or 25 years ago, and I remember people saying, “Well, wait a sec. You go and you create a way so that people don’t ask about the President’s affair?” And you’re like, “No, of course that’s not what I do.”
But it has come down to that, and I think the other thing that’s happening is there are some people who have an enormous amount of time and like to find reasons to prove people on the internet wrong. They’ll go to organizations to your point and say, “Well wait a second, you may be putting $1 million into this, but I’ve done all my research, and I’ve found that you’ve spent billions of dollars to create this, and you’re part of the problem.” People will do that research, and it’s astounding, but they will do it, and they will find it, and there’s no amount of PR that can get you out of that.
Susan: There isn’t, and there shouldn’t be. You know, I’m actually grateful that we’re moving towards a time where everybody can be held to account, because I think we’re out of time.
Gini: We are out of time, and you’re right, there’s so many things happening. I mean, with the environment, women’s issues, all of these things.
Another thing that’s happening is kids are growing up in a completely different realm than we did. It used to be that we had mean girls in high school and we were going through the whole self-esteem issues and hormones and all of those things that teenage girls go through. Now, they have that, and they have the mean people who get behind computer screens and tweet or email horrible things. I mean, it’s horrible.
What you’re finding is that administrators are saying, “In my 20 or 30 years of experience, I’ve never seen kids have to deal with something like this.” So, we’re dealing with all of this new stuff, and nobody really knows what to do about it.
Susan: Our technology has exceeded our humanity.
Gini: I think you’re right. That’s a great, great quote. In fact, when you tweet this, use that quote.
Susan: You know, we have the capability, but we don’t have the nuance to really understand how you resolve this safely. Even now, they’re having symposiums on killer robots.
We’ve created technology that we know will exceed us, in terms of capability, and we’re now having to sit back and think, “Okay, we’ve unleashed this on the world, but there’s a very good chance that it’s going to turn around and realize that we’re part of the problem, since we’re threatening the atmosphere, so how do we protect ourselves from our own creations?”
Gini: You know, I think it goes to the conversation at the PR level, which is a very macro level in and of itself, but at that level, it’s the honesty, it’s the transparency, it’s being accountable to our actions, you know.
It’s not saying, Penn State comes to mind, “We’ve discovered that we have this coach who’s abusing our athletes, but we’re just going to pretend that it’s not happening until it comes out.” You can’t do that anymore. You know, it used to be that a crisis would happen in an organization maybe once, twice if it was horrible, you know, some organizations never had a crisis ever, and now, you could have a crisis every day if you’re not doing things the right way.
Susan: I think, too, of McDonald’s, who’s really embraced trying to open up their processes and film them so people can actually get behind the curtain, but they’re still plagued with some of the old thinking.
I think particularly of the older woman who was badly burned by the coffee and how vilified she was, and how she became the punch line. Then with the internet, all of a sudden, you could actually see the pictures, and they became widely shared, and the video that went around. The whole story changed, and they never counted on that. They counted on being able to dismiss on old woman as being money-grubbing, and did that.
Gini: And did, you’re right, did.
Susan: But, we live in a time, where the truth will out. You and I are both fans of Jay Baer, friends with Jay Baer. I love his concept on that, the truth will out, always.
Gini: Always, it always will, and always has, it’s just going to come out more quickly now.
Susan: Very quickly, at the speed of a few types on the keyboard. You mentioned something about women, and cyber bullying being such an issue, but I’m also fascinated by PR and journalism, as well. I mean there’s the Joel [inaudible 00:13:22] case, but just generally, we’re in professions, well particularly PR, dominated, well at least, most of the practitioners, and I don’t know what the stats are, but that are wildly overrun by women, and most of the leaders are men.
Susan: Isn’t that interesting?
Gini: It is interesting, and I find it fascinating.
Susan: Yeah, I do too. I do too, and I find it fascinating, I’ll be in circumstances, some of them quite official, and I will see a room full of women defer to the men.
Gini: That just makes me shake my head.
Gini: It just makes me shake my head. We’ve come so far, and yet we haven’t at all.
Susan: It’s really true. There’s still that glass ceiling or the glass cliff, you taught me that phrase.
Gini: Yeah, the glass cliff is the whole idea that women are put in positions of power when an organization is struggling, so that they become the scapegoat.
So yeah, I’ve been put in this position of power, and I’ve been given the challenge of turning this organization around, but really, when it doesn’t turn around, I become the scapegoat, not my predecessor, the guy before me, I become the scapegoat.
Susan: Yeah, not the one who set up everything that I’m now having to deal with.
Susan: Well, it’s like the claim with Obama, when he took office, he inherited such a mess, you know, that a number of black comedians were saying, “Sure, give it to a black man now.”
Gini: Right, right. It’s really interesting being in Chicago, of course, we were heavily involved in all of that, and it was sort of, we all talked about, just in social circles, how you wouldn’t want that job, because it was such a mess. There’s nothing he could have done to be successful, nothing.
Susan: Nothing, I agree, and you know, the whole political system is such that I don’t know how you get in and get anything done, first of all, it’s deadlocked there anyway, and then, second of all, to get elected, you have to make so many deals and owe so many people so much, how can you actually accomplish whatever it was that was on your agenda?
Gini: It’s hard. I mean, think about it you run for any office or position, like I was on the board for PRSA, which you guys have CPRS, but same thing. Being on that board, and eventually I became President, and I had three things I wanted to accomplish when I was President.
I accomplished one, because of all of the politics and all of the things you have to do, which always made me shake my head, because, of course, it’s a volunteer organization, and you don’t get paid for it, right? And people would complain about stuff, and you’d be like, “Oh, if you’re not happy with that, then why don’t I put you in charge of the committee?” Then, of course, they back off, right? So, if you can’t accomplish anything at that level, think about it at the level of running a country.
Susan: Yeah. It was almost unfathomable.
Gini: It is, you’re right.
Susan: So, tell me a little bit about “Spin Sucks,” the online community that you’ve started.
Gini: Well, I started the blog in 2008, no, when did I start it? Did I start it in 2006? I can’t remember now.
Susan: I think it was 2008.
Gini: Was it 2008? Okay, thank you. Yeah, that sounds about right. Almost six years? Yeah, that sounds about right. We started it, really just to figure out what this blogging thing was, because Todd Defren [SP] at Shift was blogging, who else was blogging? David Armano may have been blogging. John Bell at Ogilvy was blogging.
I mean, there were very few people that were doing it, but we were sort of watching this from an agency perspective, the agencies we respected, and what the leaders at those organizations were doing. So, we thought, “Okay, well, let’s try out this blogging thing, and see if it makes sense for us to introduce to our clients.” It was complete and utter disaster. I’m not even going to sugar coat it. It was horrendous. The fact that we kept it going astounds me still to this day. I have no idea why we did, because it was so bad, that any other initiative I would have pulled the plug on immediately. It was that bad. I have no idea why we kept it going.
Susan: Now, when you say it was that bad, what made it that bad? Like, what was, so bad, about it?
Gini: First of all, every September, our anniversary is actually on September 11, which is kind of silly, but for out anniversary every year, I republish the very first blog post, and every year, I look at that on my computer screen, and I think, “What was I, I don’t even understand what I was trying to say. Think what?”
Susan: Cringe worthy.
Gini: It was maybe 100 words. It didn’t have any links. It was just like some random thought that makes zero sense today. I have no idea.
Susan: We’ve all been there.
Gini: Wow, but it’s funny, I like to do that to remind people. You know, there’s this big conversation happening right now about, “Is the age of the independent blogger over, and can independent bloggers compete?” And it makes me really angry, because absolutely you can compete.
I mean, I started as an independent blogger who failed my way through two years before I figured out how to do it. And people say, “But yeah, you have a team.” But I didn’t have a team. I built it to have a team. I think that makes me really angry, where people say, “Well, the independent blogger age is over.” I just don’t agree with that. If you set your mind to something, and you have a vision, you have a content platform that you’re trying to achieve, you can absolutely get it where you want it to be. Is it going to happen tomorrow or next year? No, but it is going to happen.
So, yeah, it was a complete and utter disaster. It was terrible. In 2010, I started to really focus on it and try to figure out, you know. I had no search experience, I had writing experience from the PR perspective, right? News releases and feature stories and things like that. My minor in college was creative writing, so I had some writing experience, but writing a blog is a completely different beast. You know, I was talking about how to immerse yourself in social, that’s another thing you have to immerse yourself in blogging. I still to this day contend that PR professionals, if they are pitching media, should absolutely, 100% keep a blog, because then they will understand what it’s like to be pitched, and how horrible it is. It’s horrible. It’s horrible.
Susan: I totally agree. We actually have had pick up from media, too, just from our blog, as I’m sure you have, too.
Susan: There’s so many great realities that the digital age has brought to the forefront. One of that is that people value what they discover more than what you tell them, and so when you create something that resonates, whether it’s a reporter or a consumer, but they find it, they actually give it more value than something where you’re pitching, pitching, pitching.
Gini: Right, right.
Susan: Because out natural inclination is to walk away from somebody who’s saying, “You got to do this.”
Gini: Right, right. You’re absolutely right, because, I mean, think about it from your own perspective.
Gini: Even if you’re just in a clothing store and a pushy sales person comes up to you and says, “Oh, this would look great on you, you should buy this,” your inclination is to walk away, but if you’re given the time to walk through and browse, then you might actually buy something.
Susan: And make your way to the changing room. It’s true. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked away from something that I was just pulling off the rack thinking, “Hmm, would that look good on me,” when somebody says, “Would you like to try that on,” and my first instinct is always, “Just looking,” and put it back.
Gini: I think that’s the natural instinct for most human beings.
Susan: Yeah, and the other thing is finding opportunities for people to co-create, because, again, people value what they co-create more than what is handed to them.
Susan: The digital age lets us do that, and for people who haven’t gotten in, I mean, one of my favorite quotes is, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is now.”
Susan: But there’s never an ideal time. You know, you always feel late to the party, always.
Gini: Always, yes, always. We felt late to the party, absolutely.
Susan: Yeah, and you probably felt late to the party when you started. I know I felt late to the party when I started, and then we completely rebranded, actually this year and completely redid our blog. Even then, I felt late to the party, but it’s already paid off massively.
Gini: That’s awesome. That’s great.
Susan: Yeah, it is, it’s wonderful, but part of it, you know, we embrace the outsider culture, as well, because with think that’s when innovation comes from, and defining and embracing that niche was really important for us.
Gini: That’s so true. You know, Brad Ferris, I don’t know if you know him or not, he’s not in PR, but he’s a business coach, he’s here in Chicago, and he writes a lot about issues that business owners face.
Every time I get his newsletter, I’m like, ‘Yes, that is what I’m doing right now.” It’s like he’s reading my mind. But he talks about that in his newsletter this week, it’s finding your niche. How too many of us go out and say, “Yes, we can be all things to all people, because we have a company to build and we have to bring in revenue,” and we say, “Yes, we can do all that,” but really that’s the dumbest thing you can do.
Susan: It is. You can’t be all things to all people, and finding out what excites you, because it’s really long hours as well. You have to actually do what matters to you. I think we live in an age when just doing things for the sake of doing things, I think that’s part of a byproduct of a bygone era.
Gini: Yeah, yeah.
Susan: So, you have to work very long hours, as you and I know.
Gini: You do, and I think technology also enables that, because it used to be you’d go on vacation and the worst you’d have to worry about was putting on your voicemail saying you’re going on vacation, right? Now, you’ve got your voicemail and your email and all your social networks, you know, all of this stuff, all this information, and people contacting you comes from all these different places that the vacation world is gone.
Susan: Yeah, there’s no off switch.
Gini: There’s no off switch.
Susan: And the immediacy, the expectation of immediacy.
Gini: A friend and I were just talking about that. She said, “I’m trying to train myself to stop answering immediately, because when I’m in a meeting or when I’ve decided on a Saturday that I’m going to have a technology free day, people get really angry that I haven’t responded immediately.” She, of course, has set the expectation that she will, and now she’s having to redefine that expectation.
Susan: There’s a lot. Boy, we are in such a transitional time.
Gini: I know.
Susan: Well, Gini, it’s been an absolute delight to talk with you.
Gini: You too. I feel like we could do this for hours.
Susan: I know, we could. Well, I’ll have to have you back on. I hope you’ll come back on.
Gini: I would love to come back on.
Susan: That would be amazing. Thanks again very much. I love your blog and I haven’t had a chance to completely read the book, but I have bought it, so I’m looking forward to that.
Gini: Well, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.
Susan: Oh, thank you.
Gini: Spin sucks. There you go.
Susan: Spin sucks, but not necessarily PR. PR is redeemable.
Gini: Not necessarily PR, right.
Susan: Thank you so much.