Ken Kaplan is the Broadband and New Media Manager in the Consumer and Social Media Team, which is part of the Global Communication Group of Intel. He embodies a new generation of PR: “Today, PR is not about messages, although they are in there. It’s about telling stories that connect to trends and that are helpful to people,” Ken says. “You tend to want a better laptop next time you want to buy one. At that point, we want to be there when you need it. We want to help you.” As I was listening to Ken telling me how passionately he loves his job during breakfast at Il Fornaio, I couldn’t help thinking that thanks to employees like him, Intel is more than “Intel inside,” it’s also “outside.” His charisma brings back the great words of one of the most amazing fathers of the Silicon Valley, Robert Noyce, who co-founded Intel in 1968 (after co-founding Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957): the focus of a great company is not “How do you relate to the rest of the world,” it is “How does the world relate to you.” How can you best do this? By having employees who are born media producers, of whatever kind this media may be – as is the case of Ken.
“Follow your inner moonlight…” Ken majored in philosophy, “almost by accident,” he says. He accumulated classes until he realized that he had enough credits to graduate. But he took writing too, and journalism, and mythology, and basically followed his heart, until he settled for his one and only goal, living in San Francisco, or more precisely, in North Beach to get into the Beat Culture, in search of both lost time and novelty. He wrote for North Beach Magazine for free – “but I was getting free books about Beat poetry,” he remembers fondly, and interned in 1991 at KRON, then affiliated with NBC, for 5$ per day. He was to stay at KRON for nine years; in his second year, he became their first publicist. “The experience I got there is invaluable. I was exposed to local news, documentaries, cable channel and, later, to the newspaper’s online component. I got to see all of that grow and, after a few years being dismantled, and I grew a lot from seeing that. I was able to work inside the newsroom, inside the cable channel and go downstairs to sit with the Web folks. I got serious know-how, especially I learned how to edit video, story-telling, how to write succinctly and I also understood real teamwork by learning how to deal with many different editors on your work.” All of this ended the day he received a call from a former executive producer at KRON, Larry Bozman, who had moved to Intel.
2000: Ken’s leap year: Ken’s life changed completely – or rather, everything he liked was restaged with a wholly different backdrop. He joined Intel and got married (with a beautiful Italian, Gabriella Bruni, currently a Ph.D. student in Classics at Berkeley) and was soon to have two children (Damian and Selene). Ken was not into technology and Intel was not looking for yet another technologist, but the computer chip company was looking for somebody who had good communications and relationship building skills, somebody who knew how the media works from the inside. “This was an exhilarating time that is so close and yet seems so far away,” Ken reflects. “The heydays of technology on television. In the late 1990s, CNBC was all over in the Valley. Local affiliates were reporting on technology every day. ZDTV had debuted in 1998 and became TechTV. In 2000, when I joined Intel, TechTV and CNET we’re covering technology as a lifestyle. We were very busy with broadcast media relaitons. Everybody wanted to cover technology.” Then, the bubble deflated: “Technology became not as important and was no longer leading the news. The local guys weren’t coming and doing live shots a couple times a week like they had done for the years prior, but something else was happening at the same time and it was big!”
A glimpse at Ken’s worlds: you can navigate inside and through as well as zoom-in/out the pictures and videos – and also in full screen.
Video, audioblogging, all-out blogging… and the PR metamorphose: “Everything was moving online and the big thing was video. So we started to put our B roll online, and here again, my background served me well. It was a new opportunity for creativity.” Then, podcasting came around. Although he was not a technologist (and maybe because he was not a technologist), Ken was on the lookout for anything that would serve his passion for helping people to tell their story. He had never met Dave Winer, but he knew instantly what audioblogging would bring even before the term “podcasting” was officially coined. “I had been doing work with radio; trying to get folks on radio, you have to get a story and help them to be good at telling that story. Podcasting was taking us into another realm – almost like TiVo. You get it when you want to. You can save it. Now, we could create stories that weren’t just for today, or this week, but something more evergreen. So we started using podcasting to give life to interesting stories from inside Intel and sharing them. First, we would just turn on the mike and turn it off and then we really started real production, often editing and making these podcasts better for the audience.”
New media, and even more importantly, new delivery channels have changed the style and even the nature of PR. It’s not about shoving information into the head of journalists or people. “Of course, we still write press releases, but press releases have a simple core purpose: here is what happens, how it happens, here is where you get more information. PR becomes interesting for both PR people and its audience, when everybody can engage in the story. “Now, we all get the real voices. It’s awesome to hear the story from the person that experienced it. So if we have an engineer who was really key and instrumental in shrinking a transistor and all the challenges they went through – it’s geeky, but hearing it from the guy who really struggled and did it with hundreds of people around the world, that’s fascinating.”
Getting people to edge of the company: Since 2005, Ken has been an advocate for “getting people to the edge of the company,” to use an expression he first heard from his friend Jeremiah Owyang, who is now at Forrester. PR pros who are control freaks are becoming a thing of the past: “The old PR school was all about having only specific people on the edge. It wanted to control the message. In a world where everybody can get any information about virtually anything, what does “control” really mean? Nothing. Today, PR are not simply people whose job it is to regulate information. Our job is to evangelize our company as well as we can. The more well-informed experts we get to edge of the company, sharing their passion for Intel and real-life experiences, the better. Also, and as importantly, our job is to listen to people. That’s why engaging with them is what we do. We are not working with IT experts or OEMs only, but also with everyday people who are using our technology. They can be a source of inspiration when they share interesting ways they’re using technology and even hearing what they’d like their computers to do better. Today’s social media is a two-way street. We all are participants.” Ken is well aware that corporate blogging has its challenges, that putting too many microphones out there can also generate some noise, but he is also confident that solutions can always be found when needed, especially when there is a culture of trust and openness inside a company.
Contrary to common belief, many large corporations such as Intel, and through employees such as Ken, are extremely well versed in all media and social media and have embraced them wholeheartedly – and often more sincerely than multiple mid-sized companies or even start-ups. The reason for their ability to soak up innovation so quickly and so efficiently? The quality and the strength of their internal corporate culture enable them to trust their employees and leverage their skills, creativity, humor and their kindness.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-roll“: “B roll” also refers to footage provided free of charge to broadcast news organizations as a means of gaining free publicity.
Ken Kaplan shares video and photo blog posts on the Inside Scoop http://scoop.intel.com. More about Ken Kaplan and the Intel’s blogging team: http://blogs.intel.com/technology/authors. Ken also has a personal blog (Movin’ Ahead, http://kenekaplan.wordpress.com). Note that Ken recently reported on Adrian Chan’s Social Media Personality typology (http://www.gravity7.com/blog/media/2008/12/social-media-personality-types.html). He views himself as fitting the “Creator” and “Harmonizer” types. Look for these features next time you meet PR people!
About Jeremiah Owyang: I strongly recommend that you read an excellent post he wrote in May 2008: http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/05/29/the-many-challenges-of-corporate-blogging/
For short reminder of the history of podcasting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting. Also see the article: Audible revolution: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/feb/12/broadcasting.digitalmedia