Blogs  / August 14, 2013

Digital Marketing is the science. PR is the art.

by Rebekah Iliff

A few weeks ago I had the elitist pleasure of joining a slew of folks much brighter and more accomplished than I at Dell’s #InspireHouse in the Hamptons.

I was met at the door by a very sweet Ellen Kampinsky, Senior Editor at Newsweek/Daily Beast (if I had a specific “starstruck face” I would have been donning it at that moment); then about ten minutes later I ended up in a conversation with Jigar Shah – who I thought was just some dude with a great sense of humor who asked really smart questions. He’s the founder of SunEdison and is essentially the voice of the “Impact Economy.”


But one of my favorite “unearthings of brilliance” came in the form of a conversation with Stephanie Losee (Managing Editor of Dell) as we bonded over the fact that every mosquito within a 100 mile radius must have sensed our “white girl skin” and flown in on their private jets for a mass feeding.

As we sexily swatted at bugs, we got to talking about Dell’s strategic approach to marketing and how the current landscape is ripe for, if not encourages, brands to publish their own content and treat themselves as a newsroom of sorts.

The result of this conversation was, of course, me asking her if she would be willing to do an interview for our blog.  She kindly agreed, and I can say with great affection that she hits the nail on the head in almost every way.

Read. Enjoy. Think. And share. Then do. This is really really good stuff…

Ok, first things first, how are your legs looking from those bites?

Oh my God. I looked like a carrier for a new and highly contagious disease that infects its victims only below the knees – for like two weeks. My dermatologist gave me a cortisone cream so toxic I had to wash my hands before I could touch my face. What about you?

I’m pretty sure I have permanent scars. We may have to start a support group…

Anyway, down to biz. Let’s start here: what does your day-to-day look like at Dell?

No two days are alike. I have a hard time imagining a job with a routine, since I’ve never had one. I’m based in San Francisco and work 100% remotely, traveling to Round Rock for events and periodic check-ins. In the course of a week I have a number of meetings with various teams who work on Dell’s content, and I juggle multiple projects that move the needle from where Dell is to where we want to go in terms of having an elegant, audience-driven content strategy.

Right now I’m working on a pan-corporate, global owned-property audit, and I’m trying to figure out how to launch Tech Page One TV and Dell Books. I also blog, edit stories on our media channel Tech Page One, evaluate content and media partnerships, speak about content marketing, and try to purge jargon from our communications.

For starters.

Content marketing is obviously getting a lot of lip service in terms of how it fits under the “PR Umbrella.” Why is this suddenly the case in your opinion?

I don’t think it’s getting nearly as much attention as I would like it to, actually. When journalism was disrupted, PR was disrupted. It’s definitional. Yet as with journalism, I think there is a certain amount of grieving for the past that people need to move through before they can confront the new reality and lead instead of react. I think content is the future of PR, and should be.

PR has always owned a company’s media relationships; communications professionals have always served as quality control and connected the company to its audiences via articles in publications. PR agencies often have several staffers who were career journalists. If they can address the disintermediation of media by recognizing the shift from outbound marketing (advertising) to inbound marketing (blogs and other editorial content in social), they can increase the impact they have on the organization by showing them how to do it right.

Worst pitch you’ve ever gotten?

“I want to write for you. Would you look at my site and tell me what topics you’d like to see me cover?”

Ugh, really?

Yep. I know. Doesn’t seem possible.

How does working for a brand differ from working for a news organization like Fortune?

In practical terms, brands aren’t set up as news organizations. We don’t have the infrastructure, so we have to assemble it from a combination of internal and external resources. And the conversations are different. At Fortune, we would literally stand in the hallways and debate the finer points of crafting long-form journalism. At Dell, we sit in conference rooms and on calls and debate the finer points of inbound marketing and SEO.

I’m thrilled I had those early conversations then so I can have these current conversations now with a big education in traditional publishing tucked into my back pocket. It makes me feel like I have the authority to help determine where my profession is going, and bring the audiences I used to reach via magazines to one of the companies that used to buy the advertising that paid my salary back at Time Inc.

Thoughts or insights on the future of journalism? How is it changing?

This is what I think about every day. Maybe every hour. Here’s my take: journalism was always a business. I know I’m not the only Time Inc.-trained writer who noticed it at the time. Journalism has moved from publications to corporations, who are speaking directly to their audiences rather than relying on traditional publications and TV networks to create the content that attracted audiences so that companies could advertise to them.

That’s it. It’s not a mystery.

I never liked the fact that we were limping along trying to pay for investigative reporting and political reporting using advertising dollars, so if this shift is pointing out the flaw in that system, I’m gratified. As long as companies are transparent and use their budgets to pay for the high-quality content that publications used to print, it can even be a journalist re-jobination program. Again, not for investigative pieces. I’m talking about “news you can use”.

Best advice for those coming out of communications/PR programs and actively seeking employment?

Hone your writing skills; take a(nother) class. When I ran a strategic writing consultancy, I conducted half-day trainings about better business writing for communications professionals. Often their managers would sign them up, and they’d feel a little insulted to find themselves sitting in my classroom.

The journalism school grads who ended up in PR always raised their hands first to let me know they didn’t belong there. Those were also inevitably the people whose writing needed the most work. And also the people who gave me the biggest raves and said they had learned the most from the session.

What excites you most about working for Dell?

Dell is an incredible place for green-fielding. I think it’s partly a byproduct of being founder-led by an entrepreneur, and partly a byproduct of being a 29-year-old company. Dell is old enough to have incredible resources and talents, but it’s young enough not to have put in place so much process that new people are told that this is how we do things, period.

If you have an idea for moving the company forward and you’ve got the goods, they’ll let you give it a go. And if you can prove your idea one step, one metric at a time, they’ll back up their support with budget. I’m continuously amazed.

If a startup is building a blog, what are 3 things they need to understand in order to be effective?

#1 – It’s not about you.

#2 – It’s not about you.

#3 – It’s not about you.

Parting words of wisdom for PR pros?

Think for your organization. Don’t wait for them to tell you how to help them create compelling content that will be shared, or how to tie the company’s events, activations, and messaging to great content.

Digital Marketing is the science. You are the art. You can’t have great content without both. But if you don’t step up now, content will live entirely in Digital Marketing, and your moment to be more relevant to the organization than ever will have passed.

That’s an amazing articulation of PR. Can I steal it?

All the greats do.

Stephanie LoseeAbout Stephanie Losee

Stephanie Losee is the Managing Editor of Dell Global Communications. A former writer at Fortune and editor at PC Magazine, Stephanie co-wrote the nonfiction books You’ve Only Got Three Seconds and Office Mate, which was selected as Reuters’ Business Book of the Week and has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times and Time to The Wall Street Journal and People. Her essays and articles have appeared in several anthologies as well as in O, the Oprah Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Salon.com, the Huffington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others. She has appeared on CBS’ The Early Show, CNN Headline News, Fox Business News, and NPR, as well as on BBC Radio and other television programs and radio shows across the country and in Britain, Europe and Russia.


Follow her on Twitter: @slosee

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