Other Voices: A Discussion with Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications

 

I have been fortunate enough to get to know Mark Ragan more closely during the past few years. Mark, as you may know, is CEO of Lawrence Ragan Communications and one of the leading figures in the public relations industry. For more than 30 years, the company has been the leading publisher of corporate communications, public relations, and leadership development newsletters and information to the industry. When The Ragan Report launched in 1970, the company made the leap ahead of the industry to position professional communicators as business leaders. Today, the Ragan brand now includes more than 16 targeted newsletters, MyRagan.com, PR Daily, HealthCare News and HR Communicator. In addition, Ragan produces several communications conferences, workshops, and senior-level forums. If you’re on Twitter you probably already know and follow @MarkRaganCEO. Here are the highlights of our discussion.

What is the mission of Ragan and what do you and your team hope to achieve?

We want our customers to think of us whenever they need a question answered or a problem solved.  We want to become their top information source for news, information and practical, real-world advice. But we also want them to think of us as in indispensable resource for training. Need to learn more about social media strategies? Come to us.  Want in-depth analysis of IBM’s new approach to content curation? You’ll find it in our archives.  Looking for staff training on social media policies, listen to our webinar with Shel Holtz.

To support this mission, we’ve adapted the content curation model.  This means we produce original content, but we also ‘curate’ content about PR, social media and internal communications from around the globe.

We launched this new model with the redesign of Ragan.com last year and the re-launch of PR Daily last February (Disclosure: I am a contributor to PR Daily). The results have been overwhelmingly good.  Traffic to Ragan.com has doubled to 160,000 visits a month. PR Daily’s traffic has gone from 40,000 to 250,000 for the North American edition.  PR Daily Europe is growing, but we’re new to this market, so we’re content with our average of 15,000 visitors each month.

This summer, we’ll introduce the new redesign of HR Communications News and Health Care Communications News. Both sites will be designed off the early success of Ragan.com and PR Daily. In the fall, we’ll be launching a new Brand Journalism news site.

Ragan has been around since 1970 when your father launched The Ragan Report. We’ve come a long way as an industry since then. Where do you see the industry headed? Are there trends we need to watch?

The smartest companies are turning their organizations into media outlets. No longer content to wait for traditional media to write about them, these companies are providing news and information about their markets directly to consumers. American Express, IBM, Best Buy, The Mayo Clinic, Southwest Airlines—this is just a short list of companies that have begun to practice what is increasingly being called ‘brand journalism.’ Many of them are scooping up reporters from traditional media and building news sites around their brands. Like Ragan, they too are using the content curation model of mixing original content with aggregated content from bloggers, traditional media and other online sources.

On the internal side of the business, companies will continue to rely increasingly on user generated content produced in internal, collaborative networks, so-called Facebook-type sites behind the firewall. The smartest among them are building mobile platforms so employees can access their Intranets from home or while on the road.

You are a huge advocate for social media. Why has it become so important to the public relations industry?

Social networks allow PR pros to deliver messages directly to consumers. They provide an alternative to the classic ‘beg-the-media-to-write-about-us’ strategy.

Why wait for someone to pick up our news release when we can cover and deliver our news through social channels and online sources?  A great example of this occurred this week when an airplane slid off a runway at Midway Airport in Chicago. Southwest’s PR team covered its own story by getting making sure that consumers got information from its NutsaboutSouthwest blog first. Time will tell if companies can build credibility with this approach. To succeed, brand journalism must be honest and transparent. If it isn’t social media will turn against the organization and ‘out it’ for pushing false information or withholding key facts.

You’ve been busy at Ragan Communications the past year — global events, a new website, additional staff — what’s been the most exciting project for you and your team?

Watching our newly designed news sites take off and become increasingly the top sources for corporate communications news. PR Daily is now the #1 news site for PR pros in North America, though few people realize it. Any check of any web traffic monitoring site proves it out. This has been very rewarding for our editorial team. They’ve worked hard at making Ragan.com and PR Daily thorough, entertaining and conversational.

On the conference side of our business, we’re the most proud of the trust placed in us by the two-dozen companies that now host our events. Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, SAS, ConEd, Cisco, SWIFT in Brussels, The Mayo Clinic, NASDAQ,  and many others.  Their confidence in our events team, and their trust in our product, has helped us reach our goal of providing the best conferences in the industry.

We focus on B2B topics here on this blog. When you talk with communicators what do you think are the major differences between those in B2C and those in B2B?

B2B communicators have a tougher time proving the value of social media. If you’re a company making steel bolts, it’s hard to post big numbers on your Facebook and Twitter pages, and it’s an unfortunate fact of life that the C-suite continues to believe the big numbers equate with social media success.  And yet, B2B communicators actually stand to gain more from social media and content curation. They can build content-rich sites that quickly establish them as leaders in their markets.  The smaller the niche, the bigger the chance that you’ll dominate the news and conversational markets in your industry.

B2B social media has really come into full swing in the past year and companies are doing some interesting things. What are your B2B customers telling you their biggest challenge is when it comes to social media?

Getting budgets approved that divert advertising dollars from traditional media to social media and content marketing programs. However, this is changing rapidly. I am working with a hospital system now that may invest up to $2 million in building its own news and information site—a content site that is integrated into social media and traditional news sources.

You’ve been a big fan of the Flip cam and of course Cisco’s recent announcement must have been a surprise. But let’s be honest, video certainly isn’t going away. Where do you see the role of video in the enterprise?

The Flip is certainly not going away.  Much has been made of Cisco’s fear that smart phones will replace pocket cameras. This may be true with teenagers, Moms and other consumers, but you won’t see internal communicators shooting roving reporter features with their iPhones.  Flip’s competitors—like the far superior Kodak Zi8—will continue to rack up big sales in the corporate communications industry, as will other cam corders designed for higher quality videos.

I also believe that videos will become shorter as editors and producers embrace the reality that people want to ‘snack’ on information. We’ll get to a point—if we haven’t already—where a 90-second video is almost too long.

As for enterprise video, sometimes known as YouTube behind the firewall,  this trend will continue to grow. I met a marketing director at a small, 30-employee firm who is now required to post 60-second video summaries of meetings she attended so others could get briefed on important news. In other organizations, companies are mounting cameras on computers and asking employees to share their expertise with others by posting short videos on ideas and news. Skype and other voice-over-Internet services will continue to be used to bring far-flung employees into global conferences and internal communication summits. And virtual conferences, like the one I participated in at SAS two years ago, will all make use of improvements in worldwide video streaming.

Most people in the PR industry know you via your work life and Twitter feed. So how does Mark Ragan unwind and relax from a busy day in the office?

Well, it helps to have a four-year-old.   We live in a television-free house where the only computer is locked away in my basement office. I try to put my online life away when I arrive at home, but it’s difficult. I am the CEO of a media company in a world that no longer provides convenient news cycles.  What I have done is hire more people, including my first social media editor. She has helped take a huge load off my back by creating our first LinkedIn  communities and keeping up with trends, new tools and strategies. And, of course, large pints of ale  always help. But you would know that, Allan.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

Visualizing B2B Social Media Marketing

Is Motivation the Key to Success?

Getting Your Degree in “Business Acumen”

2 thoughts on “Other Voices: A Discussion with Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications”

  1. Excellent interview, Allan. Thanks for sharing more about the depth of Ragan Communications and Mark’s amazing team. I have deep respect for both you and Mark Ragan and depend on both of you to deliver best-in-class industry and corporate communications insight! Cheers until we have a meetup in London soon! And I’ll bring Mark and Amy with me!

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