In the rapidly growing space of interactive online communications, Voce has established itself as a thought leader in Digital Advocacy programs scoring clients including Yahoo! and Discovery Channel. In a market that is developing even faster than its participants can track, Voce is looking to have a major role in the dialogue by seeking out Silicon Valley‘s foremost DA advocates and visionaries. To that end, it is with great pleasure that we announce the newest addition to the Voce family, Mr. Colin Crook, Supervisor.
Tiffany: So, you’ve just finished your first week here at Voce…is it what you were expecting?
Colin: Mike Manuel decided to go on vacation my first two weeks so I’m left to my own devices a bit. Believe it. I am really looking forward to working with him in the DA world, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but it’s been enjoyable. The people are great… very funny.
Tiffany: Tell me a little bit about your background and what brought you to Voce.
Colin: Well, I’ve worked in high-tech PR for several years. I would say a few years, but it’s time to be honest with myself. It has been several. Most of that time was spent focusing on backroom enterprise technology, data center servers, storage and enterprise software, but about a year ago I began working with the non-profit organization the Mozilla Foundation, prior to the launch of Firefox, the organization’s open source web browser.
I was heading-up PR for the project and we decided to do things a little differently reaching out to a diverse group – internet and open source enthusiasts, as well to tech, business, and consumer media. Our pitch focused on how stagnant the browser market had become and we helped leverage an already existing user community to assist in the day-to-day operations of PR. The average internet user was frustrated by the onslaught of pop-ups and viruses Internet Explorer had succumbed to – we used various online advocacy means to help educate the public.
The program worked out pretty well and more than 1 million people downloaded the browser the first day that it was available. Building on my Firefox experience I worked with some other really cool players in the open-source space like SpikeSource and company out of Orange County, CA called Medsphere. Those experiences started showing me how important digital advocacy is becoming in corporate communications, particularly for emerging and new technologies trying to leverage existing user groups in the online world. Influence and education has so much more to do with what appears in The Wall Street Journal, although that’s still a big part of it.
As far as what brought me to Voce, it started with a conversation I had with Matt Podboy and later Mike Manuel. We started talking about our experiences around DA and I became interested in some of the things that Voce had done with online and viral marketing. We stayed in touch, one thing led to another, and now here I am.
Tiffany: Do you see online communications taking precedence over ‘traditional PR’ in the coming years?
Colin: No, I don’t think that will happen. It’s pretty clear that online communications is growing, and will continue to grow, but it’s just one tool that companies should use when developing a well rounded communications strategy. There are communities being formed online around products and companies daily and more and more people have an active voice. The influence and education an ‘average’ user has is growing quite strong. In fact, I don’t like the term “average” user. Something we’ll tackle another time…
Tiffany: Interesting. How did you get excited about open source in the first place?
Colin: Out of personal frustration, actually. I was at home one night trying to pay a couple of bills online and found myself getting irritated because I kept getting pop-up after pop-up. I spent ten minutes just clicking the little “x” to close windows and realized that it was actually more time consuming for me to pay the bill online than it would have been to write a check and put it in the mail.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but last season Dave Chappell did a great skit about how if the internet was a real place – like a mall – it would be awful to visit. You’d have viruses flying at you, dirty old men offering things that could make a sailor blush and solicitors stopping you every time you walk a round a corner. As silly as it sounds I could totally empathize. This was when I was introduced to the Firefox browser and that was my introduction to open source software. A community of passionate, very smart people had built a better browser. It was more secure, more trustworthy, had a sleek design and great features. After you get into it, and convert to an open source enthusiast, you realize the ‘traditional’ software model is becoming commoditized, with a couple of big companies dictating consumer experience. We all have our opinions of course. To me, this really means companies will have to adjust to what their customers want, and a lot will want the benefits of open source software, so companies will have to adhere.
Tiffany: If you had to pick one thing, what are you most looking forward to professionally in the coming year?
Colin: I think helping to show companies that wouldn’t necessarily consider digital advocacy as a means of influencing new groups of people, educating existing customers and even releasing news into the market, that it’s a viable thing. Something they need to take advantage of and embrace.
Tiffany: Can you give me one big PR prediction for the second half of 2005?
Colin: Sure, Matt Podboy breaks the record for number of times in a month the phrase ‘I came here to do two things, drink some beer and kick some ass. And I’m almost out of beer,’ is uttered. (record is 14 set by Steve Kerns of BitePR, in late 2002)
Tiffany: Enough about work. What are your interests outside the office – is there anything in particular that you like to do for fun?
Colin: I manage to keep myself pretty busy and get outside as much as I can. I coach a high school basketball team in addition to my work here at Voce. I am the assistant varsity coach at Terra Nova High School in Pacifica. I’ve been in the program for three years now and we should have a solid team this year. We return all five starters so if it goes sour, it’s obviously the coaching.
I also play softball with a bunch of friends every Tuesday night and basketball on Wednesdays – we call ourselves Dr. Handsome and the Ugly Finders and the Starship Troopers, respectively. I recently moved to San Francisco and have been having a great time getting better acquainted with the city. Basically, I take off more days than I’m allotted, travel a ton and explore the California coast as much as possible.
Tiffany: Any big plans for the summer?
Colin: Well I just got back from New Orleans for a friend’s bachelor party. Great time. I recommend going on an air boat swamp tour next time you’re there. Will be in Detroit for a wedding in August (my 92nd this summer) and am going to take a trip with my Pop back to Pittsburgh, where his father grew up. We’re going to go to a few Pirates games, check out the old homestead, that kind of thing. Should be a lot of fun.