Yankee doodle hand shandy...
I've been away. But you knew that. I'm back now though.
I was in America. There's good news and there's bad news.
The good news is that we're still much, much better than they are. Particularly at this PR lark. Honestly. It sounds like a really flippant thing to say (flippant? Me?) but I swear it's true. For various reasons (that we've alluded to before) we have to work much, much harder to generate genuinely effective results. We're more creative anyway (as Amanda at Strumpette has also been pointing out) but a tougher environment pushes us even further.
It's a societal thing. When things are designed so that the minimum effort achieves an acceptable result, people get lazy. When they get lazy they get fat; when they get fat they find it harder to move so they get even lazier...they're trapped in a vicious circle.
When you're a PR who controls access to the senior execs in an NYSE or Nasdaq-listed corporation, it's very easy to get lazy. When you have to scrap tooth and nail for interest in a foreign company amongst an indifferent press (at best) it's essential that you get creative. And creativity fuels great PR.
I'll tell you what else I found out. The US is really struggling with social media. Which is tricky, because they're also obsessed by it. Digital this, digital that...blogs, mash-ups, provider pass along...they're full of buzzwords, that's for sure, but they're not doing it very well.
This is societal too. People often talk about the great service that you get in the States; the "have a nice day" philosophy. It's true. In every shop, bar, restaurant, taxi...crikey, even public convenience...that I walked into I was greeted enthusiastically by someone wanting to know how I was feeling or how they could help (by stepping the fuck away from me was the answer in the gents, in case you're wondering...).
The thing is, it's false. None of them were genuinely that interested in how I was feeling...they were interested in how much I might spend in their shop. You can see the lack of conviction in their eyes...these are just words used to start a dialogue that might lead to a transaction.
And this is the central problem that our American cousins are having with social media; they don't do genuine conversation. They just can't bring themselves to let go of the central message enough ("I'm here to sell you stuff") to come across as authentic. I tried it in a few places and you don't have to scratch much from the surface of a personal conversation with a member of staff to realise that there's absoutely no substance to it.
I've heard a few times recently about UK social media specialists working for US PR groups who are spending all their time flying back and forth across the Atlantic to help their Amercian colleagues "get" authentic social media. I'm not sure that they will (but I'm here and ready to help).
One of the presenters at the event, when espousing the need to get digital in everything we do, said that "community is an art." I'd agree (funnily enough, she was a Brit). But then, as we know, all the greatest artists are European.
Interesting stuff though.
What's that? The bad news?
Oh yes. The bad news is...they've still got all the money.