Ike Pigott is a senior communicator with the Red Cross and a blogger. I recently sat down with him in Washington, D.C., to discuss his involvement with the Red Cross and his new position as Communications and Government Relations Director for the Red Cross in the Southeast Region. He will be responsible for working with local chapters across five states, including Ala., Fla., Ga., Miss., and Tenn. We followed up that visit with this interview. We talked about his new job, his experiences blogging and the contributions he has made in social media, like the Red Cross-branded RSS Alert System.
Ike has long been on my blogroll. He is always a good read and has contributed a number of valuable tools and insights. He also is known by bloggers for his perceptive comments, which I hope he will continue to make. However, he has announced that he will stop blogging at Accentuate the Positive 2.0 for the foreseeable future.
The New Job
Kami: Last week, you posted that you wouldn't be blogging anymore, why?
Ike: The new job… (sigh). I've been selected to be the Communications and Government Relations Director for the Red Cross in the Southeast — a five-state region. I've been really fortunate to work with some great people, who have helped me turn my communication skills to good use… there will be a LOT of crisis communication involved here.
Kami: What will be your main responsibilities?
Ike: I'll be helping [Red Cross] chapters with communications issues, and putting a real emphasis on developing volunteer capacity. The same holds true on the Government Relations end — helping build bridges between local Red Crossers and our government partners. That's so crucial when it comes to disaster response. I'll feel somewhat like Frankenstein's Monster: Half the year, I'll be in response mode, the other half in preparedness and capacity building. I'll be on the road nearly half the time. But still based in Birmingham
About PR and Blogging
Kami: I know your background was in television news, when did you finally make the leap full-time into public relations?
Ike: I started Positive Position, my consulting firm, back in 2002, while I was still working in television news. I did a LOT of pro-bono work, and we had to build firewalls into the system so there would be no appearance of impropriety in coverage. The real break for me came as I left television in January of 2004. I went to work for the Red Cross in Birmingham, and they were alright with me taking freelance assignments, as long as they were on my time and didn't conflict. So, as I left TV, it was a really scary time for me.
Kami: I am sure, how did you learn your new craft?
Ike: I had a lot of strong emotions about leaving, and I needed to express them.
I wrote an entry that turned my career path into an allegory — leaving the comforts of an island prison — taking risks. I got some good feedback from that, and started playing around. That's when I started learning about blogs. I started Accentuate the Positive in September of 2004… I really started it as a “value add” for my clients. I was literally writing for an audience of about five or six.
Kami: Who did you read in those early days?
Ike: You know, I was really naive about this stuff. I did some Googling for PR and media relations, so I found a couple of blogs and started reading. I can't remember who came first, but I recall seeing Jeremy Pepper's name pop up a lot, and B.L. Ochman. I was so new to PR; I was trying to absorb whatever I could. The REAL impact of blogging slapped me in the face the day that Peter Himler “discovered” me. I can't even remember the entry, but he said some real nice things about the point I was making, and that I brought some personality and humanity to it. It wasn't what he said that got my attention — it was the fact that he found me at all. I realized then just how flat the blogosphere could be. I realized that I didn't HAVE to be a big name to build an audience. I could just be myself and the audience would be drawn to content.
Kami: Did you have a blogging strategy for building an audience?
Ike: I picked up the blogging pace, and slowly started amassing a readership through comment links. I wanted to write for the layman, who might one day BECOME an impromptu spokesman. I fear though, that most of my readers knew more than I did! I kept my posts within a certain framework:
1) No link-farming.
2) Object lessons
3) Short enough to be read in one sitting
4) Long enough to bring a perspective.
Branded RSS Reader
Kami: You have made a real contribution to the PR community with the Red Cross-branded RSS Alert System you developed. Tell us how that came about?
Ike: Our implementation of the branded reader was designed to fill a specific niche. The goal was to find a foolproof way to push information to our newsrooms – cutting down on incoming call volume in big disasters. Since only 5 percent of internet users ACTIVELY know how to pull in RSS feeds, I had to make it painless.
I researched until I found Newsplorer, an RSS reader that fit my criteria:
2) customizable, with feeds and skin
3) pop-up alerts.
Kami: Has it worked for your organization?
Ike: I've had a lot of interest both inside and outside of Red Cross on how to implement this. The best test of that will come with the next big disaster. The nice thing about it being built on a Blogger engine is the additional ease of e-mail posting for our communicators who aren't web-savvy — and the Audioposts. The audioposts have blown us away. Every time we do an audiopost related to a disaster response, we own local radio. It's so easy to record, and the distribution is flawless.
Kami: How do you see yourself utilizing what you’ve learned about social media as you forward to get out the Red Cross message of preparedness and response?
Ike: Once we get out of hurricane season, I'd like to try my hand at implementing a massive multi-user WordPress installation, and bring the blog-based Alert pages to every media market in those five states. Obviously, we'd like to communicate two-way with our stakeholders and clients, but these alert pages aren’t the venue. We don't have the time or resources to monitor and moderate comments, so those are turned off. It's more of a one-way tool in that regard.
Kami: Do you have any ideas on how to open up more two-way conversation?
Ike: We can certainly open up additional channels — I see paving the way to having some of our younger and more energetic volunteers blog and vlog about their experiences with the organization. Working with Red Cross is more than fulfilling — it's addictive. If we can get others vicariously addicted to community service through a volunteer's blog, then recruitment and retention can only get better.
Kami: And the most important question, will you stop in from time to time to visit your old friends in the PRosphere?
Ike: I'll still comment from time to time. Some people think my comments are smarter and more valuable than my posts! I will have to put my blog on ice, though. And I'm not sure about how I am supposed to feel. But Positive Position will resurface one day.
Kami: Thanks Ike, your readers and I will surely miss your voice. Stay in touch.
Ike: I appreciate that, now I've got to run to a conference call.
Photo by kamichat