00:52 AM

Silicon Valley PR firm Voce is building a business around its blogging expertise

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher.com

Voce Communications is a PR company that likes to go against the grain--a quality that never fails to catch my attention. When its competitors were fawning over dotcom clients in 1999 (many accepting payment in shares), Voce was snapping up big enterprise clients. These were companies that already had a business model, rather than dotcoms in search of a business model.

Now Voce is moving against the grain again. Local PR companies such as Outcast, Text 100, Bite PR and Horn Group are intently focused on winning large enterprise clients. Voce revealed to SiliconValleyWatcher.com that it is working with the biggest dotcom of them all: Yahoo, the world's largest Internet media company. And what is it doing for Yahoo? Helping set up its blogs, helping it publish internally-generated content and involve thousands of readers.

My colleague Dida Kutz and I stopped into Voce on a recent Friday lunchtime (10-Dec). It's something I like to do, visit with local PR agencies, chat about what we're doing, what they are working on, the mood of the industry, etc. Voce is also the home of Mike Manuel of Media Guerrilla, one of our favorite PR bloggers.

We met the three founders of Voce, Richard Cline, Dave Black, and Matthew Podboy (cool name) and many of the team, plus the man himself, Media Guerrilla Mike Manuel. (This is a great example of the power of blogging; I would never have noticed Mike if he weren't writing his blog--- this shows that you have to publish to your communities.)

We had no idea that Voce would reveal its relationship with Yahoo--it had not made it known before. We met Nancy Evars, who is working at Yahoo running the Yahoo Search Blog. And we met one of the superstars of the blogosphere, Yahoo engineer Jeremy Zawodny, who writes a hugely popular blog from his vantage point within the engineering group at Yahoo Search.

We talked about blogs, and what blogging means, etc. And it wasn't long before I realized that we were all talking about the same thing: how to produce compelling, high-quality content; how to be editors and reporters. We were all, essentially, talking about how to produce quality journalism. Because you can't fool the readers.

At Yahoo, Nancy was saying that the Search Blog has had a tremendous response from readers; but also, has been extremely well received internally by senior management. Nancy also said that Yahoo has collected lists of the most influential blogs, and that it pays particular attention to what those bloggers are discussing.

When Jeremy spoke about his blogging, it sounded like good old-fashioned journalism to me. It was about how to tell a story, and tell it honestly. In journalism it's fine to have an opinion, which lends itself well to blogging; but the content also needs authenticity. And you can't fake authenticity for long; your readers will know when it's not there, or not coming back. "Do you always keep it real?" Jeremy asked. (Did I tell you that Jeremy is a natural journalist?) Let me put it this way: if you can't keep it real, don't say it (...or use a pseudonym!).

Richard Cline spoke about how Real Networks hired Voce to engage in online discussion groups on the subject of Apple's refusal to open up the iPod platform to competing digital music vendors. This was a successful project because the media spotted the debates and took up the Real Networks angle on the story.

Matthew PodBoy and Dave Black spoke about how they managed to persuade their client, JotSpot (very cool application BTW---more on that later), to use the power of the blogosphere for their recent product launch. Joe Kraus, the CEO of JotSpot, initially resisted, but finally gave in. What they got from Kraus's blog was a far higher response from the target market---software developers and corporate IT experts---than through any media coverage. This is a key point here because JotSpot received a lot of media coverage when it announced its wiki-like enterprise application in the summer, largely because Joe Kraus was the first president of the early 1990s search firm Excite.

(I remember meeting with Joe in about 1993, Excite was one of the leading contenders going after Yahoo's success. Excite promised a search engine that had semantic capabilities: it could distinguish the search term "bond" from "James Bond," "chemical bond," or any other bond out there. That never came about...and it merged into Excite@home, which just seemed to sit there, next to a very bright, electronic animated billboard on 101... .until it went away and its former office became a "see-thru" building, one of many.)

Back to Voce... Matthew Podboy said he is working on putting together a committee to create a collection of best practices around blogging for PR professionals.

There's a lot more to say about Voce and the work they are doing. And it's very similar to what we are trying to do at SiliconValleyWatcher.com: figure out how to use the blogging format and the blogging software to publisher compelling content and, very importantly, maintain ---at all costs--- that trusted relationship with readers.

(More on this topic in numerous future articles...!)

By the way, in real-life Mike Manuel does not look gritty or grainy like his photo. He is clean-cut and mild-mannered, although he says he has come under pressure to replace the photo. Dida said he looked like a heroin addict; a colleague agreed; and his wife wants him to change that photo, too. I think he just looks a bit hung-over. I sometimes feel grainy in the morning too.


Dida's companion article on the Yahoo's ability to turn its geeks into marketing mavens.

Voce Communications

Yahoo Search Blog

Media Guerrilla