Levick Communications, Kaplow & Widemeyer: Branding the Branders

As promised, today we continue our assessment of the actual digital engagement of America’s top 25 PR firms. As in the past, examining some fairly simple traits, or what we call a “digital footprint,” can reveal a lot about a company’s investment in online communication.

Yesterday we placed three firms under the microscope where their online footprint is concerned. All but one of those, Cubitt Jacobs & Prosek in New York, exhibited a very limited engagement of the online community. Interestingly, even CJ&P seemed blind at the moment their brand was mentioned in the news. None of the companies even bothered to respond.

Today we look at three more of America’s top PR gurus.  Levick Strategic Communications, Kaplow, and Widmeyer Communications are the 19th, 18th, and 17th most successful PR firms on O’Dwyer’s list.

The modern PR innovation

They want engagement? Watch this!

Richard Levick, CEO of Levick Strategic, must at least understand the import of knowing how to use social media channels, he is pretty engaged compared to most CEO’s. If you ever heard of “leading by doing” then you will understand why Levick made the effort.

Where company blogs are concerned, Levick has, by far, the most refined and connected of those we have seen so far this year. Let me tell you that is a lot of praise coming from me. Though the frequency is not up there where it should be, Levick’s Digital strategist Patrick Kerley knows what he is doing. I’ll bet $50 he comments or tweets about this kudo within 24 hours of the posting. Let’s say a refined company blog is one of the biggest indicators of a company’s real online strategy.

This company is one that has integrated nicely considering the core value they offer. Being a superb crisis and litigation management firm, this does not exactly sit well with pure online wizardry always. But it is clear Levick understands the value of each component in traditional and online branding and operations. Just their dogma reflects at least a jurisprudential clarity where digital channels are concerned.  In simple terms, they can describe the exact value of blogs and other elements – lawyers have to know these values.

Litigators and razor sharp crisis people need a tailored reflection like the one Levick exudes. Let’s put it this way, if I needed a crisis team right now, I would be emailing Richard Levick. On the “con” side of the equation, Levick does not totally buy into the digital conversation. This is clear. They know how to use and manipulate the channels, but have not yet had the need to fully utilize it. The statement below relays this too. Nowhere do they make any bones about “using” the digital audience. Maybe they are too transparent here?

“Levick is the acknowledged leader in digital and social media strategy, pioneering online campaigns that advance thought leadership, build reputations, change minds, and bulletproof brands.”

Levick's face is professional

Levick’s Bulletproof Blog is one of the best around

Kaplow says they are changing conversations.  At first glance, so you follow me, the company appears wired to the  gills. Twitter engagement is clear – not Waggener Edstrom, but clear. CEO Liz Kaplow’s obvious creativity and drive are evident everywhere on the site. But apparently prioritization has left Kaplow’s actual footprint dissipating in the sand. The blog is tailored but of minimal effort, Twitter for the CEO and other key players is lip service, their “Kdrive” social/digital element is superb in theory – yet hollow as of yet. The limited video segments on Kaplow’s YouTube channel may explain why a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, scrutinizing what Kaplow is saying with their online branding here, it’s not as simple as you might think. For someone who has analyzed as many websites as I have, Kaplow is clearly caught in a developmental stage. Face it, not every agency has unlimited resources like Edelman, Waggener, and APCO (among some others) – Liz’s creativity and development of all the elements is obviously behind on workmen and dollars perhaps.

YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Blog, rich media, cases, razor’s edge site design – all the tools to help brand the bejesus out of a client – its clear they are under development. When this gets done will make a huge difference for Kaplow. I like this agency for even more rapid growth. Evidently I am not the only one – Foursquare just picked them as AOR. “Changing” is what Kaplow said – a rare instance of a claim ringing true.

Kaplow covering all the engagement bases.

Kaplow is obvously engaging – a monumental task when considered

Widmeyer is an online entity that I would classify as a big hair buxom bleach blond. At about 11:30 PM, any weekend at a local nightclub, the Widmeyer’s of the darkness enchant – that is until they turn around to reveal Miss Piggy. From CEO Scott Widmeyer’s participation to the company’s various online engagements, anyone can clearly see a mediocre attempt at conversing. Sorry, it’s just blatant.

The website has more bells and whistles, more apparently “digital” bling, than virtually any other PR site I ever saw. Share-this-a-way, share -that- a-way, the causal visitor must surely think they have entered Universal Studios. Despite the menagerie of apparently rich content, Widmeyer is another agency just reaching out toward two way conversation. This company is still in broadcast mode. An updated blog is a sure sign the firm knows what is needed. Evidently the design is new.

“Our new look reflects our core values, as well as our new attitude. Streamlined and innovative. Results driven. Fiercely independent.”

Big hair and fingernails does not a true beauty make

Big hair and fingernails does not a true beauty make

Let’s get something straight. When the CEO of a firm is inaccessible, not engaged, distant, even if that leader is the best there is in the business, people will assume he or she does not want to engage them. The company follows the leader in all things, believe it or not. Scott Widmeyer is accessible on the face of it, but connecting on Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Facebook? He is not there – except for Facebook that is.

Margaret Dunning – Chief Strategy Officer, Jason Smith – Principal Partner, Henry Engleka (No Connect)- Principal & Managing Director, David Cantor (Call Me?) – Senior Vice President, Ron Cohn (Yell Loudly?) – Senior Vice President, all the way down the list to Ben Finzel – Senior Vice President – that’s how far I had to dig to find someone to connect with digitally. I am all about fairness, anyone who knows me knows this. For Widmeyer and firms like them understanding branding is fundamental.

The message sent these days via online channels cannot be underestimated. This link leads to a page where Widmeyer professes the right buzz, but nowhere in their leadership or depth is true engagement so far indicated.

What does this say? What’s good for one firm, is good for another.

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