Thursday, October 29, 2009

Major PR firm sale

News that Michael Sitrick is selling his Los Angeles-based firm to an Orange County-based turnaround firm creates an interesting question about whether more deals could occur.

This story in The Wall Street Journal explains why Resources Connection is creating a one-stop shop for firms in distress. (Note: Some may find it interesting that Michael agreed to be interviewed by the Journal, the same paper he was battling just a few months ago after the Journal broke a major controversial story about an Orange County financier who may have been conducting a Ponzi scheme. But if you know Sitrick, he is a master of dealing with the news media.)

For a couple of reasons, the Sitrick-Resources merger/acquisition makes sense. Most obvious is that companies will continue to be in distress and will need consultants who can offer expert services.

Offering a single location for multiple, related services has been the mantra for major media giants like Omnicom and WPP. Advertising, marketing and public relations all seem to go together, allowing for like-minded management and business operations.

The Sitrick-Resources marriage appears to step out of the safety of symbiotic operations. Yes, the model looks logical. It made sense to the firms involved. But, the question is whether two very different types of businesses can blend operations, two different types of mindsets can aim in the same direction?

How many times have we seen mergers fall apart? AOL-Time Warner seemed like a good idea. How many major corporations are forcing non-core business units to prove themselves? Look at Proctor and Gamble putting the challenge to their acquired units.

One thing the Sitrick-Resources marriage lacks is Investor Relations. I mean, real IR expertise. An IR firm was probably behind the scenes of the acquisition. IR firms do well in both good times, when companies are buying other companies, and in bad times, when companies are buying struggling companies. The merger and acquisition pace has only slowed for brief periods.

IR firms, like Abernathy MacGregor, also specialize in the same kind of crisis communications that Sitrick offers, but most only do it quietly. They have to keep the volume down because they usually are working for publicly traded companies.

Which now leaves us with another question: Is the Sitrick-Resources marriage limited only to private companies and other organizations?

If so, what will the market bear in terms of similar mergers? Will a WPP or Omnicom begin to search for the kind of firm filled with the counselors and specialists at Resources?

Stay tuned. Comments welcomed. Prediction: A few more "like" mergers are coming.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Six things THEY don't have

You are picky when it comes to professional training. I don't blame you.

Especially when money is tight. Which organization do I join? Which conference do I attend? What online seminar is worth the money?

If you are a public relations, communications or marketing professional, either at a company, an agency or on your own - how do I make sense of the multitudes of offers I see daily?

Let me give you six factors to consider when it comes to a convention or conference. In no particular order, here you go. (This should work whether you are a seasoned pro or starting out).

1. The experts. Check out the bios of the panelists. Are they tied to major accounts? Do they look like they have some years on them? Have they moved up quickly in their career? Are they quoted in the trades? Do they hold positions in the trade association or with other organizations? A quick Google search can tell you whether this conference has collected the "top of gamers" or the "desperately seeking credibility" types. Do the descriptions try to "sell" you their credentials or does it become clear you have someone who is going to give you some meat on the bone?

2. The keynote speakers. Yeah, it would be nice if every conference had the complete "A" list, like it would ever happen that Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and the other gurus were all in one place next to a Steve Balmer or another CEO or two from a Fortune 100 company. But keynoters are just the icing on the cake. Some of the best conferences are the ones that focus on great panels, seminars and programs and, maybe, get you an well-known name.

3. The range of programs. I don't know about you, but it seems conferences today are becoming more and more specialized and singularly focused. I used to plan on attending 2-5 major conferences a year with the public relations industry, but because of time (less of it in this economy) and money (same), I need to be on the lookout for the one conference that gives me the full complement of programs. Today, I can't afford to be highly specialized. Today, it pays to get a range of training and experiences under your belt - if only to borrow ideas from another field or medium. A health care tactic or strategy just may be applicable to some of my public affairs work.

4. The networking. Let's face it, it's not only the training, but the networking and the parties that make a conference worthwhile. OK, so the day is ending and you have every intention of running back to your hotel room to get some work done, or read the book you brought along. But, that person from Memphis you just met at the morning session sounded like he/she had some intriguing life stories and was going to grab a drink at the bar across the street. And, he/she invited you to meet her/his friends. Forgot the book. Network. The odds are generally in your favor that you'll meet a lifelong connection who will come in handy someday. After years of attending conferences, I have friends across the country - each with the right, specific answer to the most unique question or dilemma I come across. And, they all know where I work so my company's reputation and name recognition is marketed with just a couple of beers.

5. The location. Vegas? Been there. New York? OK, still have fun there. But, why not pick somewhere new and different? When a conference pops up in a city you've never seen - it's the one and only chance you likely will see this town. At least, not as a layover to somewhere else. I have been fortunate to have seen some very important sites in Philly only because a convention was there. I've managed to see football games in Detroit's and Philadelphia's new stadiums because of conventions. I've been to well-known museums. And, of course, some famous bars. Go ahead. Dream.

6. The price. If you are considering a conference that lasts 2 or 3 days, there are probably 30, 40 or 50 sessions. Maybe more. Now, consider the asking price for a teleseminar or webinar. Take the lowest price webinar and then multiply that by the number of likely sessions you'll attend at a conference. Now, do you start seeing the economies of scale? A packed conference will have a much higher rate of return. Let the boss know this when you ask to have the company pay for this training.

Bonus: An extra tip. Leadership training. Look for the conferences that have sessions designed to make you a manager. Even if you never become an EVP or team leader, these sessions will make you a more valuable member of any team.

So, now look at the PRSA 2009 International Conference and see how these factors line up.

Hurry. The conference is less that a month away. Go to