First Impressions: Why Would Someone Want to be VP of Social Media at Ketchum?

Today I saw Twitter pushed past its professional limits. Pamela Rocco Von Lehmden, a Senior VP at Ketchum (a well-known PR firm) tweeted the following: “Ketchum seeking VP of Social Media. Interested? DM me @pamelavl.” This might appear like social media outreach, except for the fact that Ms. Von Lehnden is relatively inaccessible.

Someone like me, or in fact most anyone who would read her tweet, cannot DM (”direct message”) Ms. Von Lehnden because she doesn’t “follow” me on Twitter.  In order to DM someone, they must be following you. In the case of @pamelavl, she only follows 113 people (at the time of writing) so her “outreach” effectively goes to the 113 people she knows best. What she did wasn’t “wrong” but it doesn’t make any sense.

It gets a little worse. Before the tweet above, she sent another one that included a link to a job description, which would be awesome except that the link just goes to a page where you can search for jobs at Ketchum. Then, she re-tweeted her own tweet (for no apparent reason). Not very helpful. Maybe an intern or recent college grad would ignore all of this and jump through these hoops of social media mishaps for a great summer job, but would a highly-qualified social media expert at the VP level? Ironically, the true maven they’re looking for may be turned off from applying.

This follows on the heels of a completely different Ketchum social media mishap involving a certain employee  (Mr. Andrews) who tweeted some negative thoughts about Memphis when he was on a business trip there to deal with a big client, FedEx (which is headquartered there). This turned into a bit of a scandal about the blurred lines between personal and professional that I won’t relive here – but suffice it to say that this incident reflected poorly on Ketchum.

The career section of the Ketchum website claims that, “Clients who choose Ketchum ultiamtely choose us for only one reason – our people.” If that’s the case, I hope that the behaviors Ms. Von Lehmden and Mr. Andrews have exhibited are not representative of that of the company’s employees.

Wal-Mart or GM or Mass General Hospital or Hermes or Cadbury or Borders could be forgiven for having some employees screw up their tweets or other social media outreach. It happens. But a lauded public relations firm whose entire job is relating to the public? Not that I’m applying for the position, but were I to be recruited into the job of Ketchum’s future VP of Social Media, I’d expand my portfolio to include an educational agenda with the goal of protecting the rest of Ketchum’s employees from embarrassing themselves and the company. Sophistication perceived is sophistication achieved.

Cross-posted at True/Slant.

Update: Cam Burley asked via Twitter if there was a job description available. Response from Von Lehmden? The same link that goes to a generic Ketchum job search site.

Update 2: Here is a link to the job description (on a non-Ketchum site).

Update 3: Nicholas Tolson has some interesting additional analysis below in his comment.

Update 4: James Andrews, mentioned above, a former Ketchum VP and Director of Interactive, very recently left Ketchum to form his own firm.

Update 5: According to Wikipedia, Ketchum is no stranger to scandal within the public relations industry.

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This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.

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34 Comments For This Post

  1. Ed Bisquera Says:

    How very ironic. Kind of hilarious actually, but probably not intended Twitter faux pas, though. At least I’ll be willing to bet that.

    I’ll have to keep an eye on this post and her tweet and the job position. Curious to see who ends up with the job.

    Is Pamela on LinkedIn as well? I wonder…probably so. :-)

    Good post!


  2. Jeremy Caverly Says:

    WANTED: VP of Web Development & Online Technology
    Please FAX Resume to 202.222.1234 or MAIL to P.O. Box …


  3. Line Storgaard-Conley Says:

    Very good point, and I think that maybe this is why a lot of big PR firms are hiring social media/digital strategists to help them educate internal staff about appropriate ways to use social media. At least it seems that there are a lot of those jobs out there right now.

    Just wrote a social media policy for the non-profit I work for to insure staff here does not make the a similar mistake. Not that it would have the same implications as an “expert” making the mistake. Every company, non-profit should have a social media policy.

    Looks like the job might be a challenge.

    Great post!

  4. Ernesto Says:

    It makes perfect sense that they’re looking to hire a professional. Looks like they could use the help.

    Nice catch Mark!

  5. Ari Herzog Says:

    The irony is greater if you don’t describe PR as public relations but people relations. Twitter accounts can not be created artificially, bur require manual form fields to fill and submit. Despite how autonomous a Twitter account may be, a person created it.

    Unfortunately, if one is not shown how Twitter commands and processes work, one will commit errors like the above.

  6. Nicholas Tolson Says:

    Couple other details:

    1) The link to the general job opps page is different in each of her tweets, which means that instead of using the same tracking URL and copying pasting the one she already made, she’s going back to the (same unhelpful) page and re-shortening the URL each time.

    2) Did you “View all positions” at the aforementioned job opps page? There’s no listing for “VP of Social Media” at all.

  7. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Nicholas, thanks for doing some legwork on this. I didn’t actually check the job listings to find the one for VP of Social Media. Somehow, that is a screw-up on someone’s part. And I like the info! Interesting.

  8. Rachel Kay Says:

    Interesting post Mark. I know Ketchum is a great agency. You don’t grow to that size and boast that kind of client roster without knowing what you are doing. I’ll also give them credit for hiring someone to lead social media efforts – it sounds like they may need some extra instruction there and they see that.

    I agree with you that she should ask for DMs if she isn’t following anyone – doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’d suggest she be more liberal with who she follows back. While I’m just a small shop – I make new business connections on Twitter all the time. I doubt if I closed myself off to intimate conversation I’d experience that. You can find value in some expected and unexpected places.

  9. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Thanks Rachel. This isn’t really a question of how good a PR agency Ketchum is. It’s about the perhaps growing perception that their employees regularly bungle the art of relating to people using social tools.

    As for them creating a position that deals with social media and digital strategy, as an outsider I feel this should have been an obvious thing to do about a year ago (at least). So, big whoop in my humble opinion. (And their job description could be summarized as – Do everything digital!)

  10. Rachel Kay Says:

    Mark – I’m playing devils advocate here :) . I’m am very familiar with the FedEx situation – I read all the commentary about it. Yes, it was a stupid thing to do without a doubt. The reason you will rarely see me give an opinion on Twitter on topics like politics, religion or even use abbreviations like WTF or OMG is because I feel as though I represent my clients and I need to be very caution about putting my best face on. But there are times when I have tweeted things I shouldn’t have. I think that guy made a stupid mistake and I have a feeling he regrets it everyday. Social media gives us to much opportunity to make such mistakes.

    In regards to the position – I’d need more information. Maybe they had someone in that role who recently left? They are my professional peers, so I may be a little more forgiving (even though I really am opinionated on how PR people execute their jobs.) I do believe they might learn something by following other PR people and listening – there are some stellar pros on Twitter. I think your post is insightful, and I’ll continue to watch how it pans out.

  11. David Mandell Says:

    Sounds to me like they really need a VP of Social Media. Some might see it as an opportunity.

  12. Mark Drapeau Says:

    David, oh sure. I bet hundreds of people will apply for the job, even after reading this. My point is that some extremely savvy people might shy away because of the first impression that Ketchum gives (compared to peers like say Ogilvy or Porter-Novelli, where I haven’t heard similar stories).

  13. Elias Says:

    She is in PR. Maybe she did that on purpose to get more PR out of your blog which I think she did. I doubt someone in this business not knowing how DM on Tweeter works. C u around dude :-)

  14. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Elias, if a powerful global PR firm actually has a purposeful strategy of using socal media amateurly to get me to talk about a VP job on my tiny blog, they’ve got bigger problems than I thought. Seriously, I doubt it.

  15. Elias Says:

    Good Point Mark

  16. Catherine Ventura Says:

    Crafting a voice in the Social Media sphere is not an easy thing, nor is tweeting well while representing a client or an employer all that easy.
    Having said that, let’s parse the message and take a look at the style with which @pamelavl tweets. A quick glance shows that she is a very hurried tweeter, often letting misspellings slip through (”parmasean” “faries” and “pan-fryed”). She sometimes forgets to capitalize and clearly doesn’t proofread. She tweets in a breathy, girlfriend style and yet she is comfortable with hashtags.
    She signed up in August of 08 but did not tweet again until March 12 of this year. Her tweets in March and April were in an adult voice, then things get shorter, more colloquial and more conversational in June. By July she is much more business oriented, tweeting about a client and the open job position. She also uses Tweetdeck for the first time in July, demonstrating, with the lack of attached URL to the job posting tweets, that she is not yet handy with how to shorten on Tweetdeck.
    She is only following 114 people, but I think it is more significant that she only has 195 followers. She is not someone who has yet set out to build a gigantic following. And while we might conclude that it is disingenuous for her to say “DM me”, she may, in fact, have been talking to her actual friends (and not, as difficult as it may be for us to believe, to our illustrious selves!) while letting headhunters and HR conduct the actual job search.
    I think it might be a tad hasty to chalk her tweet up to ignorance or arrogance and to link it with the Andrews/Fedex incident. I think she was talking to her friends.
    Nonetheless, what it does show is that no one is tweeting in an empty forest and even if you do think only 114 friends are listening, it is a very public medium. As an employee of Ketchum, her tweets do represent Ketchum, so hopefully the new VP of social media will bring in someone that can help Ketchum tweeters develop distinctive voices and content that support the Ketchum brand and their clients while still allowing employees to build personal relationships.
    I give her the benefit of the doubt.

  17. Jessica Gottlieb Says:

    I hear that they want you to show up sober at an office. Like more than once.

    So I’m not applying.

    Oh, and my husband wouldn’t give me permission anyhow. (See! I can be just as ridiculous as they can!)

  18. stephanie smirnov Says:

    I said on Twitter a day ago that I thought Mark was “riding rough” on Ketchum, but breached etiquette by not having commented here first.So mea culpa. Now that I’m here, I see that Rachel and Catherine have already voiced my views. Disclosure, I’m in PR so it’s relatively easy for me to empathize with the Ketchum team. Mark says they should’ve thought to create this position about a year ago. Consider this: believe it or not, many big, conservative clients–the kind drawn to a big global shop like Ketchum–were themselves not as likely as smaller companies to be brave or flexible enough to devote large chunks of their mktg spend to social meda;good or bad, agencies are in the business of profit (esp those run by holding company overlords), so is it really so strange that a year ago, perhaps without blazing client demand,an agency trying to control costs as the economy was beginning its free-fall would not invest in additional senior headcount like an interactive VP? As with any story, there are multiple facets, some of which we’ll never know. Yes, another Ketchum employee blundered digitally. So there’s 2 out of how many thousands worldwide? Would be good to hear from them on the topic. Meanwhile, I’m in Catherine’s camp: benefit of the doubt.

  19. Mark Drapeau Says:

    I see lots of excuses made for Ketchum. The subject of the article is a senior VP of global PR firm, not an intern at the corner store. This is one of those, if you don’t know what you’re doing don’t do it at all because it might reflect poorly on your company stories.

    But it’s not like I’m calling for her resignation or anything. Look at the title of my article, the focus. The question is, when senior folks like Ms. Von Lehmden and Mr. Andrews are gaffing social media in a high profile way, wouldn’t someone really talented have their doubts about taking a VP of Social Media job at Ketchum, just through due diligence? That’s the environment they’d be working in.

    I’d be happy to hear from Ketchum. Unfortunately they’re either actively ignoring this article (which is fine) or not monitoring that people are chatting about them (more likely IMO). Note that Ms. Von Lehmden hasn’t tweeted for two days. It’s likely no one is monitoring conversations about the company as part of their job. They need a VP directing Social Media worse than ever.

  20. Alisa Cromer Says:

    Great blog, it reminds me of certain tweets by media companies (”our twitter expert is on vacation this week”) that have been panned in the onine trade blogosphere. I would love to have an occasional blog,( “The Cheeky Tweet”?) on how online pubishers are using or misusing Twitter for news or marketing. newmediahub, which is currently read by about 1200 publishers of city sites and other local sites, mostly newspaper, radio and television, so they have off/online issues and lots of non-new media types in their organizations. Let me know if you are interested in doing a guest post or?

    Alisa Cromer

  21. Catherine Ventura Says:

    Good points, Stephanie, but again Mark, this was not a gaffe; she insulted no one, put no client in an unfavorable light. It was simply demonstrating unfamiliarity with the mechanics of Twitter and with the mechanics of Tweetdeck. A gaffe in OUR world perhaps, and not the best skill set to show to clients, but then she is not the Social Media Veep. It does highlight the importance of an all-too-rarely used Twitter tool, however: the “delete” button. When something escapes me on TweetDeck without a URL (or sometimes with ONLY a URL because I clicked too soon) I simply delete it, and repost. Old school, but perfectionist and effective.

  22. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Catherine, sorry, you really don’t get it. It’s not “our world” – it’s the world of precisely the person she’s trying to recruit. A public relations exec using social media poorly to recruit someone to be the chief of social media is…not smart.

  23. Catherine Ventura Says:

    Ahh, Mark, but I am the kind of person they are trying to recruit and I’m not put off at all. As you and several posters note, it shows they *need* someone and most social media folks I’ve met are very helpful people! Given that the job is a city with an incredible pool of social media talent, no doubt they’ll get the direction they need very soon.

    Great job, though, highlighting an additional nuance to the McLuhan truth: how well you use the Medium is part of the Message too.

  24. Natalie Michelson Says:

    Interesting post. I think it is definitely less than ideal to make these little Twitter faux-pas when marketing for a position. Granted though, as Ventura pointed out, Lehmden is not herself the Social Media VP, and the whole reason for these tweet-outs is a need for one :P .

    That said, one of my concerns with this sort of thing is that I think that it is much more difficult for a recruiter to evaluate a person’s fit, talent and experience for a job when they themselves have a very limited understanding of it.

    I’m not saying that a person need be an expert him/herself to judge an expert (which would be a serious chicken/egg issue)- just that the further you are away from one, the harder it will be to judge one… :P

  25. Sally Says:

    Great article. Even if Pamela isn’t interested in improvement, there many others out there listening and learning how to communicate better.

  26. Garza Girl Says:

    @Catherine Ventura — ditto. I’ve been recruited for this kind of gig. I’d have to be drunk or dumb to do it again.

  27. Sasha H. Muradali Says:

    Very interesting article.
    That’s like the new social media manager at the NYT who has not tweeted in over a month.

    re Update 5 — So is Hill & Knowlton.

    hmm, I’m job hunting, for the hell of it, as I’m not VP level, I wonder if I ask her about it she’ll respond to me at all?

  28. antje wilsch Says:

    wny does a PR firm have a WIKIPEDIA page??????

  29. Mark Drapeau Says:

    I might note that this is about more than just one or two people’s behavior. This is about *reputation* – case in point: try googling “Ketchum Twitter” or “Ketchum social media” –> almost everything that comes up is negative. The question is, will this turn off people from applying to be the VP of Social Media? Maybe. Should they be concerned about this? Yes.

  30. Sandra Lee Schubert Says:

    I have worked with small businesses on creating their social media profiles. I always suggest they follow certain people to get an idea of how they handle platforms like Twitter. The idea is to observe what is the conversation going on and how do individual and companies handle this conversation.

    Having said that the worst case scenario is working for someone who has a vague idea of what they are asking their employee to do.

    As an example- at my last company they wanted a website and wanted to show up on Google’s top searches. They would ask me to call up our hosting company when the site was not top listed with no concept of keywords or SEO. They had a vague idea of needing an online presence without the knowledge of what that meant.

    Another example- my friend was told she needed 1,000 followers in a month because her company wanted a Twitter presence without the understanding of the relationship building involved. To that end I see her chatting up the big name celebrity Twitter people but ignoring other people. She barely engages in a conversation with me, her friend, and does not reply when I comment on an article she posts. I understand she is under the gun to develop a profile her company wants but I think it highlights the misuse of Twitter by cultivating a celebrity conversation and ignoring the very audience (readers of your site) you want to attract. I want to engage with her and not watch a conversation with celebrities.

    I think to Mark’s point you want to work for someone who has a good understanding of the job. Otherwise you are subject to their idea of what the jos is about. If Ms. Von Lehnden had tweeted a question or request about how she could improve her tweets that would show an openness to engaging someone who may know better then she about the whole process.

    Catherine Ventura makes a case for Ms. Von Lehnden learning curve and I for one am willing to allow that for anyone. Despite the popularity of Social Media it is still a new field for many people and companies. We can all falter on our first steps.

  31. Meghan Says:

    Pamela doesn’t even link to on her Twitter bio.

    Enough said.

  32. rick clancy Says:

    Clearly, Ketchum needs help in this area as do many companies, institutions and PR firms. Social media is an obvious opportunity for sensitive PR pros who are by nature good listeners and good communicators. Hopefully, Ketchum will still be able to attract someone who sees their need as a real opportunity.

  33. Donny P.B. Says:

    Great post Mark – interesting article. You’re right, enough of all these Ketchum excuses, and how dare they ignored your previous post. But I’d be curious to know if you’ve made any social media mistakes in your life ever and drawn critiques from fellow netizens. How did you deal with that? Perhaps these folks at Ketchum could learn a thing or two from you.

  34. Jessica Gottlieb Says:

    In thinking this through a little more, I’m thinking Ketchum is wise to know they need a social media veep.

    Having worked with Ketchum a number of times I’m thinking of two that they could promote from within.

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