Interview with Ben Foster, VP Digital Strategy at Ketchum and Adjunct Faculty at DePaul University (EUA)


What is the best way to develop PR´s projects in Web 2.0? Searching this answer, the blog PR Interview talked with Ben Foster, adjunct faculty
at DePaul University and Digital Media Strategist at Ketchum.

PR Interview: Let’s talk about the future. What will happen with the PR agencies? The traditional PR will cease to exist? The PR agencies will have to specialize in social media?

Ben Foster: In my personal opinion, PR agencies will evolve with clients to create and distribute stories that are more personalized.  Social Media is helping companies and people consume content in a much more personalized way.  People have highly personal and specific content consumption preferences.  Some prefer video, others prefer websites, and some will still definitely continue to prefer printed material.  The role of PR will be working with clients to create communications that serve as platforms with multiple types of content to communicate a more meaningful and personalized story that the audience prefers through Social and Digital Media.

Ben Foster

PR Interview: Here inBrazil, we discuss about who is able to produce content for social media (PR agencies or digital agencies). In your opinion, who should produce this content? Why?

Ben Foster: Successful content is all about telling a story in the most powerful way possible.  PR agencies are experts in communication and understand that just as there are markets for a company’s products and services, there is a market for stories.  PR agencies know dynamics of these markets and are able to produce content that tells a meaningful story or convey data and information in a easy to understand way.  Digital tools are a very powerful content distribution mechanism, but without PR’s ability to create a solid story based on audience interests and/or consumer insights, the fanciest digital technologies won’t be able to help.

At Ketchum Digital, we have an integrated Digital team that produces digital content in-house.  Better integration with Digital always leads to the best results for our clients.  Having our Digital team involved in the strategy and brainstorming of content immerses them in the details of the client challenge.  The involvement of a fully integrated Digital team at all parts of the process helps Ketchum bring our clients’ stories to life through exciting digital technologies.

PR Interview: You’re a teacher at DePaul University College, where you teach about social media strategies. Which one is the best way to develop a strategy for PR in Social Media? Why?

Ben Foster: When thinking about Social Media strategy, I like to use the phrase, “Don’t be a Cure chasing a Disease.”  In other words, don’t start with a fancy technical solution and then find a problem to solve.  The best way to develop a strategy is to have a strong definition of a company’s business objectives before choosing a tool, message, or tactic.  Too often a business will say, “We need to be on Facebook (or Twitter, or YouTube, or Orkut…), now!” without thinking about what they are trying to do.  I like to use the following steps as a basic framework that can be modified as needed to develop a solid strategy:

Research:  Detailing the business objectives you’re trying to accomplish, researching the audience’s media (social and traditional) consumption behaviors, and then analyzing the current online discussions in topic areas related to the company is the best way to start.  By having a solid understanding of the objectives, audience, and current behaviors, the tactics you develop will be stronger and more likely to achieve your goals.

Program Development: Developing a strong creative program based on audience insights and screened through the lens of business objectives and then creating a multi-generation social media program plan that addresses the business objectives in an integrated, logical, and measurable way is the next part of a Social media Strategy.  Once the program and plan is in place, defining metrics to measure the success of components of the plan helps build internal momentum and leadership support of the strategy.

Organizational Alignment: Aligning agency and organizational resources to execute the strategy is the next critical piece in strategy development.  A very important part of this is online community management and issues and crisis preparedness so a good strategy addresses this by defining the process and protocols to manage online communities and identify potential reputation issues.

Rapid Cycle Implementation: The best way to implement the strategy to achieve long term success is using monitoring and measurements to focus on quickly identifying which pieces of the program are over performing and underperforming.  Some ideas that didn’t sound exciting in a brainstorm session actually turn out to be well received by the audience.  So, by quickly measuring results and determining where to shift resources that are best meeting business objectives a company a company can best achieve their stated business objectives.  However, it’s also important to keep a strategic mind towards the long-term benefits of a program and not end a part of the program that has long-term benefits.  Social Media is all about relationship building, and good relationships take time and energy to achieve.  This is why research around business objectives and audience insights is so important.  By knowing your audience, you can make better strategic decisions around short-term and long-term benefits of components of a program.

Measure, Learn, Apply:  One of the advantages of social media is that there are many metrics to measure that can tell success.  A good strategy is to have a detailed understanding of all the different metrics available to you and use a SET of metrics when evaluating the program.  This is why integration is a critical strategic component of program development.  Understanding how measurements are dependent upon other tactics helps identify pieces that are contributing to the overall synergy of a program.  Once you’ve learned from everything the measurements are telling you, applying those insights to the program and then spreading best practices throughout the organization help build a company’s Social Media skill set that leads to future benefits in all programs a company deploys.

PR Interview: Do you think that the PR agencies inBrazil are prepared to work in social media? Why?

Ben Foster: I learned so much from my time inBrazil talking to my Ketchum colleagues and sharing stories and best practices between our offices.  I can’t speak for all PR agencies, but after talking with Ketchum’s Leadership inBrazil and receiving questions from clients and people who attended my presentation, I am very confident that PR agencies inBrazil are prepared to work in social media.  The reason for this is that everyone is trying to answer the RIGHT questions.  Instead of just thinking of Social Media as a shiny new digital toy, the people I spoke with are thinking critically about the use of Social Media as a technology to solve business problems.  We discussed difficult questions like, What are the best ways to measure ROI?  How do you convince senior management to embrace social media?  How do you integrate activities across Social Media platforms to broaden activities?  How should companies use Social Media to evolve into a Social Business?  These are difficult questions that are critical to answer and after my discussions, I felt that PR professionals were constantly working towards answering these questions in the right way.

PR Interview: Which cases of PR in social media would you like to comment?

Ben Foster: I would like to mention a project on which Ketchum worked in support of our IKEA client. We took a calculated risk and helped turn a unique citizen marketing opportunity into an award-winning campaign as a man lived in one of the IKEA New Jersey stores for a week. When approached by comedian Mark Malkoff about living in the IKEA Paramus, N.J., store for a week and documenting his adventures on the Web, IKEA brought in Ketchum to assess the PR potential. The idea was a good fit for IKEA’s “Home is the most important place in the world” brand campaign and Malkoff was already a known online personality. The Ketchum team advised the client to say yes and relinquish creative control to Malkoff.

The comedian moved into an in-store “apartment” where he was allowed 24-hour access to film anything and everything, including interactions with customers and IKEA coworkers. Behind the scenes, Ketchum worked closely with IKEA to coordinate interviews, ensure clear messaging and anticipate possible issues. Over the course of the week, Malkoff’s team edited and posted 25 short videos of his adventures on and YouTube – showcasing everything from IKEA’s furniture to its on-site restaurant in an entertaining, fun, positive light.

Ketchum helped IKEA and Malkoff take a great idea and give it maximum exposure, resulting in nearly 1.5 million webisode views, 15 million hits to, and more than 382 million positive media impressions. Additionally, the N.J. store saw sales rise 5.5% and traffic to the IKEA Web site increased by 6.8% over the previous January. The campaign generated an ROI of 3.5 cents per 1,000 impressions (CPM = 0.035), causing the client to herald the program as “the most successful PR/marketing campaign in IKEAUShistory to date.”

In 2009, PRWeek honored “Man Lives in IKEA” with the coveted Campaign of the Year Award as well as awards for Best Use of Online Media and Corporate Branding Campaign of the Year.

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Interview with Mauro Lopes, director from MVL Comunicação (Brazil)

Sobre Rodrigo Capella

Rodrigo Capella é diretor geral da Ação Estratégica – Comunicação e Marketing no Agronegócio. Com artigos e livros sobre agronegócio publicados no Brasil e no exterior, Capella é palestrante e influenciador digital do agronegócio. Também é editor do site Marketing no Agronegócio (
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4 respostas para Interview with Ben Foster, VP Digital Strategy at Ketchum and Adjunct Faculty at DePaul University (EUA)

  1. Robby, thank you for visit the blog PR Interview. You can find other blogs in this URL:

    Hugs. Rodrigo Capella.

  2. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks for your time!

  3. Bruce, thanks for visiting the blog PR Interview. Rodrigo Capella.

  4. Bruce disse:

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