Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Desperately Seeking Smaller Fish

I’m learning a great deal lately just by finding talented, insightful people to follow on Twitter and within the blogosphere. For instance, I’ve been following Steve “Repman” Cody for at least two years now as he blogs about reputation management; his business partner Ed Moed also blogs. I just started to routinely read Beth Harte’s blog about marketing communications. Brian Clark at Copyblogger offers really great insight into how to craft content for social media—or any media, for that matter. And I was recently led to an excellent blog by Drew McLellan at McLellan Marketing Group.

Really good stuff from all of these folks, and others like them; I endorse all of them if you’re interested in staying abreast of trends in advertising, PR and strategic communications. But I find it interesting that all of them have one thing in common—they are company leaders, top of the food chain. Steve Cody and Ed Moed are each managing partners and co-founders at Peppercom, a NYC strategic communications firm with offices around the world. Beth Harte is principal at Harte Marketing Communications outside Philadelphia. Brian Clark is an entrepreneur. And Drew McLellan spells it out best on his blog by describing himself as “top dog at McLellan Marketing Group.”

Nothing wrong with any of this; I’m glad to have access to people of this caliber. But it seems that the big fish in marketing and communications are so much more likely to be the ones who are blogging. Why don’t I see as many smaller fish sharing their insights?

One reason could be that I’m just not looking hard enough. It could very well be that there are account execs, creatives, PR professionals and project managers out there blogging or tweeting about what they are learning in their day-to-day experiences in the trenches. If they are out there, and you know of them, please let me know—I’d love to read their stuff.

Another reason may be that the blogosphere has become somewhat top heavy. While social media invites all of us to the conversation, it is still so new that many of us carry with us the baggage of traditional media rules of engagement. For instance, traditional media rules dictate that only certain individuals, called “spokespersons,” have the right to say anything on behalf of their company. Now it may be that the smaller fish working in the trenches aren’t actually speaking on behalf of their companies, but may feel as if their voices and opinions will somehow reflect upon their employers, and their employers may not appreciate that. Especially in this economic environment nobody wants to lose his or her jobs because of an innocent faux pas.

Maybe, too, we as leaders (yes, I must admit that I’m near the top of the food chain in my organization, as well) are not doing as much to encourage those working for us to put their opinions out there. Again, the old corporate mindset, while touting teamwork, is really about hunkering down and doing your job. Speak when spoken to. And above all, don’t waste time. If you’re blogging, then you’re not working for me. I’ve experienced it personally in my career. If that’s still the case, then we as leaders must encourage our teams to offer their opinions, whether in our own meeting rooms or within the larger venue that is social media.

For example, I was recently at a meeting of RAMA—the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which is an arm of the National Retail Federation. It was a good meeting, but again the speakers were all big fish—chief marketing officers, published authors and company leaders. At one point I turned to my graphic artist and said, “You know, I really would like to hear from someone like you next year.” Why? After a while the stories all start to sound the same, when they are coming from people working at the same level. We need to hear from those subordinate to us in order to keep the ideas fresh and real.

Finally, it may be that the smaller fish in the trenches don’t feel as if they are making a difference—or if they even can. The fact of the matter is that they can and do make a difference. Their work is our bread and butter. But they may feel as if they are underappreciated, in which case why bother telling anybody what’s on my mind. We may never know if this is true, but we can all work to recognize their hard work and invite them to share their work with others.

In summary: big fish—keep on blogging. Your opinions are valuable. But small fish—start blogging, and tweeting, and texting and sharing your opinions. As marketing communications continues to change, it is your experience and insight and we all really need to hear.


  1. Art, thanks for the mention and listing me with such great company, I truly appreciate it!

    Here's the irony... I am a small fish. ;-) I have worked within companies for the past 15 years, only recently venturing on my own because I was laid off from my job in December. But, compared to larger companies/agencies around Philly & the blogosphere I am a small fish indeed. And that's the beauty of social media, it gives us all the opportunity to share our thoughts, opinions, experiences etc. and to be a voice in a big, brave new world. It doesn't matter if we are a minnow or a shark.

  2. That's a really great point, Beth, and one I had not considered, so thank you! I'm curious to know, however, if you blogged before going out on your own, and if not, why you may have not. Might add some additional context to my thoughts above.

  3. Hi Art, yep, I started The Harte of Marketing in June 2008 and my Twitter account in May (I believe). I'll be having a 1-year blogging anniversary soon. ;-)

    The reason I started blogging was because I wanted to have a voice, share my thoughts, explore different topics and to hone my writing skills. I think the only people reading my blog at the time was a small circle of marketing & social media friends that I met online. They were kind enough to keep reading, commenting and sharing my posts.

    I, like you, like to hear/learn from the 'little fish.' That's why I read so many blogs! There are a TON of great and interesting people out there and I am grateful that they are willing to share their thoughts and let us learn from them. At the end of the day, they aren't really little fish...they are large voices.