It Began With A Book -- Interview with CRT/tanaka VP Geoff Livingston & President Mike Mulvihill

05/14/2009

Recently I attended a networking event in Atlanta and found myself deep in conversation with a young woman who told me how critical transparency is to a social media campaign. I smiled and nodded in agreement. But my thoughts were flashing back to the thousands of other discussions I had with marketers over the past 5-years when the concept of developing marketing campaigns build on transparency along with authenticity, honesty and passion verged on preposterous. Or more simply put people thought we were crazed. (Diva Marketing post 8-29-05 .. see tip #4)

As we move into 2009 social media is finally taking its rightful place as a credible marketing strategy. Buzz words like transparency are part of the hip new marketing vernacular. However, social media marketing is more complex than buzzed conversation. Social media marketing goes beyond a YouTube contest or a Facebook app. 

Some companies and agencies are acknowledging effective social media marketing is not just  tactics and technology; but that social media begins with an integrated strategic approach. Recently my friend Geoff Livingston closed the doors of his PR agency Livingston Communications. He shook hands with CRT/tanaka and cinched the deal to bring his firm into their world to ensure that as CRT/tanaka moved further into social media they did it "right."

CRT/tanaka's newest VP - Geoff Livingston and agency President - Mike Mulvihill agreed to tell Diva Marketing the back-story and their vision of how social media is impacting the public relations business.

Toby/DivaMarketing: The acquisition of Livingston Communication by a larger agency is quite exciting and the dream of  many small shops. How did you establish your (and Livingston Communication’s) credibility to the extent that CRT/tanaka began serious talks? 

Geoff LivingstoGeoff livingston _interview 5_09n: I think Now Is Gone was really the thing that established my credibility in the business, and to the extent that CRT/tanaka was interested in purchasing me. The book’s theories on communities seems to have stood the test of time, and our continued work over the past couple of years has backed up the talk, so to speak.

Plus I had a failed acquisition, which while not a pretty thing, certainly demonstrated that such a path was a possible outcome for me. 

Toby/DivaMarketing: What role will you play at CRT/tanaka and will your responsibilities differ from what you provided clients at Livingston Communications?

 Geoff Livingston: I really have three roles in my mind.

One) Turn CRT/tanaka into a socialprise, an organization capable of using and engaging in conversations across the line and internally for business use.  This is the Holy Grail that so many of us envision, and so few organizations have attained.  We’re already engaging across the board, and I anticipate a much more dangerous company within six months.

Two)  Serve current clients with social media services that deliver meaningful results, and build new clients that continue building our presence in the space.  Again, our differentiator will be our ability to deliver real programs that work.

Three) Continue serving the employees and growing our business in the Washington, DC region. Home is where the heart is  :-)

Toby/DivaMarketing: How has social media changed the way agencies are doing business?

Geoff Livingston: I think agencies still don’t know how to deal with social media. Some firms do it better than others, but the transparency and results orientation that it creates has been a tough pill to swallow.  

Additionally, social media transcends departments.  So I am in the interactive department at CRT, but right now I am mostly working on PR and event projects.  I am also working on an ad campaign, too.  So social media cannot be defined by a silo.  We realize that and there’s a lot of flexibility to move in between groups, but you see the issue that agencies and companies face.
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Toby/DivaMarketing: It appears that the agency was incorporating social media offerings to its clients prior to Geoff coming on board. What did Geoff/Livingston Communications bring to the party that others did not offer?

Mike m Mike Mulvihill, president, CRT/tanaka:  Geoff and his team understand how social media fits in with other marketing disciplines.  Rather than looking at social media as a stand alone, they understand how it works hand-in-hand with traditional marketing to advance ideas, concepts, products and services by engaging consumers and influencers in a conversation.  He is a great fit with our culture and his team shares our ethos.  It was just a great fit from day one.

Toby/DivaMarketing: How has social media changed the way agencies are doing business?

Mike Mulvihill, president, CRT/tanaka:  Oh, yeah.  It’s a brave new world out there.  Social media is something agencies have been trying to harness and our industry has made some messy mistakes trying it on for size.  And I think that’s because agencies in general are trying to shoe horn social media into a traditional media message push-out approach.  We want to control it. 

But social media requires an entirely different approach to engaging people into two-way conversations.  It  provides feedback. It carves out its own path.  And because of that, social media is scary from a control point but quite genuine, credible and self-regulating. 

If agencies have not changed the way they are doing business by integrating social media into all that they do, then those agencies are not looking out for their client’s best interest.  For us, we are incorporating social media in our strategic approach to each client’s business just as we would any traditional communication or marketing executable. 

About CRT/tanaka CRT/tanakais a Virginia-based independent public relations firm.The firm focuses on consumer, health and corporate issues, with accounts in sports marketing, beauty, fashion, home furnishings, health, food & beverage and financial. PR Week ranked CRT/Tanaka as the thirty-second largest independent PR agency in the United States in 2008, with 2007 revenue of $10,515,113. The ranking also notes its staff total of 71.

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Comments

Thanks for sharing. As a media consultant I too grapple with the role of new media. Traditional media is still important. The key is how you blend the new and traditional. In many agencies, new media is seen as an add-on and a source of new business. It's not part of overall integrated communications strategy. I also find that senior management delegates new media to more junior members of the staff. They are engaging more out of necessity than choice. Though I think that is beginning to change.

Posted by: Dan Greenfield on May 14, 2009 11:23:01 AM

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