Everything PR News continues its series of talks with the most influential leaders in industry. Today, we had the distinct pleasure of an eye opening chat with Andy Getsey, Co-founder and CEO of Atomic PR. Director of the PR company most identified with Web 2.0, and the digital revolution, by many, Getsey, Atomic, is one successful combination of communications talent.
For those out there who do not know Andy Getsey, his Crunchbase profile reads like the credits of a Guillermo del Toro film – Andy takes on a lot of roles. This is not to say Andy Getsey, the ultra energetic and ultra talented, leader of the company does everything, he would be adamantly opposed to such an idea, it’s just that the company takes on a bit of his persona – as anyone would expect. And, where Atomic PR is concerned, when we talk about digital PR companies, Andy’s company is the template.
I know from personal experience as a tech journalist from the beginning, Atomic being perhaps the most influential purveyor of online startups – ever.
By any measure one wishes to gauge success, Getsey stacks up as influencer, evangelist, money maker, connector, and down right friendly and accessible. Enough with the accolades already, let’s see Andy’s take on some interesting topics.
EPR – Andy, your company has made a name for being at the leading edge of this digital “revolution,” or what was termed Web 2.0. From the PR and marketing perspective, maybe more than any other company. My first question is; “Are the other big firms catching up? How does Atomic maintain its edge?
Andy Getsey Well thanks! :) I do think bigger firms are trying to catch up. But it’s not easy to just remake a large firm, and it’s not easy to reverse engineer Atomic either.
At Atomic, we don’t really think in terms of having an edge, or doing things specifically to compete with other firms. But, one thing that is true about Atomic is that we designed the agency from the ground up for this environment, and we’ve evolved with the digital revolution – right alongside a number of high profile clients who helped create it. We haven’t had to retool or retrain in the way larger, older firms are doing now. From the start, we’ve approached things from a fusion perspective – part analyst firm, part publisher, part
Atomic has a significant R&D program aimed at developing sophisticated and actionable analytics and other technologies, plus analysis and thought frameworks to help us understand what’s really happening, visualize what we might be able to make happen, then
make it happen. We consistently add staff from non-PR and non-agency backgrounds to expand our perspective, and we’re always actively experimenting with different ways of managing communications among a broad mix of pathways among and between various individuals and communities. Plus we measure everything to the Nth degree to assure a dispassionate, objective view of how things are actually working.
The analytics-enhanced processes have been really key for us. Atomic’s approach was designed around and operates from an analytics platform and related processes that help us understand things differently, create and test hypotheses and execute in ways that have led to many of our breakthrough efforts.
For Atomic, being digital isn’t just about adding social media, video or other digital services in the way you see in the trades. It’s a lot more than that.
EPR – My partner, Mihaela, just published a blurb about your proprietary ComContext analytics platform – maybe the best performance discovery and reporting tool out there from a PR agency. Are we headed to a totally performance based PR & marketing world Andy? What I mean is, will communicators soon be charging by increments of result?
Andy Getsey – Pay for performance will find a bigger place among the other models, I’m sure. It makes perfect sense in a paid advertising scenario. But, there are different dynamics in PR situations involving editors, journalists and dialog with individuals and communities. And, the definition of “performance” is critical. There are a number of factors not under PR or social media agency control that affect sales, sentiment and other critical measures of performance. Product quality, pricing, company behavior, caliber of web experience, caliber of customer service, delivery of product, decisions, or required communications materials by deadline – lots of things. And on the media and blogger side, outside individuals make editorial decisions about whether or not to run content – and about the nature of the commentary that will run along with it. The agreements to represent these various dynamics can be pretty complicated.
Also, in our experience, most of the performance-based compensation concepts advanced by client side executives put most of the downside risk on the agency, even with the factors just mentioned being client side matters. And often, clients don’t envision significant bonuses for upside performance.
In the few cases where Atomic has agreed to performance-based arrangements – we’ve obtained adequate risk and upside offsets that reward and penalize both sides to the contract for their contributions to the performance equation. Without exception, clients have opted out of them after one or two quarters in favor of more standard, hours-based agreements, or they have attempted to negotiate the upside out.
PR and social media firms rely on people to do the work, and they invest hard dollars in payroll and benefits in pursuit of client objectives. This is different from ad models, where technology and media buys provide the scale at little incremental cost. All companies need to make a fair return on the deployment of their assets or they will fail. So if more firms elect to accept or advance performance based compensation models, they will necessarily need to adjust their overall rates and contracts to assure adequate target margins overall across the average of all engagements. And the industry will sort of end up in the same place.
So given all that, I think that the consulting compensation model, where agencies get paid for hours, will keep it’s place among viable payment options for some time to come, even as more firms and clients experiment with performance based agreements.
EPR – A lot of companies profess their “digital awareness & capability” like would be gunfighters posturing out in the streets. You have developed Atomic into a “one service fits all” agency. In fact, Atomic has thrived on being an “all in one” – strategic PR, media relations, social media, SEO, SEM, video, you name it. Can you explain your success, versus a lot of failures out there?
Andy Getsey – I wouldn’t really say “one service fits all” in connection with Atomic. But, I would say that we have always viewed all the physical and digital pathways as part of one thing. They co-exist, overlap and reference each other in ways that are hard to separate. We think this mix is just the way people find information, learn, work, entertain themselves, share and communicate today. So we want to be able to offer all the services necessary for clients to succeed in managing communications across this mix under the Atomic flag, using staff of our own, operating in step with our perspective. This allows clients both a more expansive perspective., tighter management focus and greater efficiency than they can get working with various specialists or with agencies tapping partner agencies to manage a multi-channel program. It’s also more financially efficient, since the client deals with one profit center, not multiple ones as each partner fights to make his slice of the pie bigger.
Apart from the various communications services we offer, we also provide our clients a high level of sophisticated analytics for free. The added strategic value our analytics convey to both sides of the team, along with the mix of services we provide frequently help Atomic teams significantly outperform the results of our clients’ past programs – often on smaller budgets. Strong comparative performance and value is what drives Atomic’s business.
EPR – Changing lanes here Andy, I have asked all the other industry leaders about where they (or their companies) draw the line on accepting controversial clients. Ronn Torossian of 5WPR etched his line in the sand before Gadaffi. Margery Kraus mentioned APCO’s adherence to both internal and the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI). Where do you draw the lines?
Andy Getsey – Because we focus mostly on technology and Web brands, we don’t get involved in religious or political assignments, and haven’t had to grapple with the “controversial client” issue. But we do try to assure “values fit” with all potential clients along the lines of ethics, legality, general good neighborship, etc. A few examples of non-fit that leap to mind are porn, services that allow users to dig up private info that individuals haven’t necessarily agreed to make available, or services that allow people to communicate real time information about the current location of celebs and things like that. Not that these things are necessarily bad, it’s just that we don’t feel Atomic needs to promote them.
EPR – Another question I put to other industry leaders dealt with their “digital footprint,” so to speak. Atomic has been quasi-digital the whole time. So, I would like to ask your advice, instead, for “companies” intent on doing business via the web? Can you offer one piece of advice that will get the “brick and mortar” hard cases into the game fast?
Andy Getsey – Hmmmm – I don’t know who those are…. Tons of studies say the idea of a division between bricks and mortar and online presence is false. From B2B to purely consumer purchase decisions, Web search, site visits, rankings/ratings, social network recommendations and direct opinion from friends and associates all play a huge role in gathering info and formulating opinion about virtually everything that can be bought: whether eventually purchased at a physical location or online. At whatever point of contact is made, a company or brand’s entire footprint can matter – product or service quality, customer experience, articles from media, blog posts, video, original content, etc. So it’s not really possible for a company to be completely without some kind of online presence. The issue is really whether they want to actively participate in it, or leave it entirely to others to define it. Most successful businesses today actively manage their online presence.
EPR – Along these same lines, Scott Allison, CEO and founder of Allison & Partners, discussed briefly how small and mid sized companies have a little advantage where speed and agility are concerned. Do you agree? Can a small company rabbit punch a larger competitor? With the right digital campaigning?
Andy Getsey – I agree that small to midsized companies can often outmaneuver larger companies on the communications front – smaller teams, shorter approval cycles, etc. Speed and agility are rarely negatives. But, end results are not only about the communications; a lot of it is about the actual merits of the thing being bought or sold – and not all big brands are slow or have offerings that don’t measure up. So sometimes it’s not about rabbit punching, but co-existing and finding/owning a niche alongside a big competitor or group of competitors. Often, it’s a bit of both.
EPR – Everyone wants to know what makes successful people tick, where success comes from Andy. I asked all the others who their “hero” or mentor(s) were. Can you share with us?
Andy Getsey – My Dad for the connection between work ethic and accomplishment. My wife Sahar and our kids for keeping it so real. My senior colleague John Stevenson at Krupp Taylor FCB for showing me the power of analytics, technical campaign planning and simplification so early in my career. Brain Eno for his general Renaissance mannishness. The Tao Te Ching as a surprisingly relevant input from the distant past. Partner James Hannon for also rethinking everything all the time. And I learn things every day from all my colleagues and clients – I’m an equal opportunity inspiration recipient.
EPR – Atomic PR, I know from my days as a tech blogger on the receiving end of media outreach, does a superb job of establishing a rapport with the media. As a point of personal interest Andy, can you give some advice to the PR out there lost in this new world of “Twitter” pitches, and the myriad connect points?
Andy Getsey – There’s reams of advice on pitching and relationship building from lots of experts. But, I would just say that it’s about relevance, usefulness and interestingness from the perspective of the other party to the communication first, and about your and your client’s agenda second. Be generous and helpful first, and the rest tends to come.
EPR – So far, I have yet to put any CEO’s out on the proverbial limb. I know you have never been much of a Scaredy Cat Andy, so I put this to you. Is Google’s latest broad reaching campaigning, G + – ITA – Motorola – ITA – Hotel Finder, a master stroke, or a huge risk?
Andy Getsey – These things are usually decided in retrospect, aren’t they? But I’d say they were good moves. First, ITA and Hotel Finder are extensions of Google’s long-standing dominance in search. They make sense, and don’t seem to pose any unfair type of competition – though they pose a challenge for certain other players. Motorola is a strong move for handsets and patents to further Google’s challenge to Apple. The risk in both cases is in potentially alienating a portion of each brand’s customers and partners, but I’m sure Google’s strategists have thought it through and feel the positives outweigh the potential risks. And in the phone/mobile arena, going it somewhat alone hasn’t held Apple back.
Andy Getsey and his Co-Founders, James Hannon and Rebecca West, created a business imbued in every sense with a forward thinking and innovative mindset. Atomic PR’s list of clients is as much a branding exercise for the digital revolution as Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, Facebook, and the rest. “Sony to Netgear, LinkedIn to Photobucket, all about the web, you’ll find Andy’s digital footprints – consulting or representing some of the best. And for a reason.
And, Andy has not stopped at building Atomic, profiting from its sale, or any of his other endeavors either. He is Founder & Managing Director at Theorem Communications Group, is Director of Grayling Group PR’s technology communications, but even more importantly, interestingly, Andy is affable, accessible, transparent, genuine. I think it took him exactly 5 minutes to respond to my request for this interview. So, if enthusiasm, smarts, energy, and digital expertness speak volumes about an executive – well, factor in “nice guy” in the equation and you have a fairly rare human commodity.
You could call this person the nucleus of something immensely powerful – an atomic public relations expert!