Have you heard the one about the Irishman, the American and the (sort of) Dutchman..?
Organising a conference on something that is as new and fast changing as the New PR (whatever that means) is a challenge. You don't know who will come, you don't know how much they know about the subjects - definitely plural, they were certainly diverse - and in the case of Making the News at Sunderland yesterday, you haven't a clue whether the speakers will be any good.
Naturally I was pretty confident in Chris Rushton's presentation, How to get newsrooms to notice PR; we work together and I had heard him present in Portugal a few days earlier. But after that it was all down to instinct.
I chose Tom Murphy to deliver the keynote because PR Opinions was the first PR blog I ever read and continues to be the first I read. But - and it is a big but - many years experience as a journalist have taught me that being able to write well and being a halfway engaging personality are nothing like being one and the same thing. And being an engaging personality, with ideas, and being able to project them in a conference presentation... Well, it's a tough call. Tom doesn't even post a picture on his blog so no clues there. In the event, being the only one working on a glitzy tablet PC and chatting on a mobile, while holding two conversations at once, did lead me to the right person in the hotel bar.
I chose Elizabeth Albrycht because, as a blogger, she is ferociously clever and full of ideas. At least on paper, she is. Would hard-headed practitioners be even vaguely interested in a set of powerpoint slides that needed Patrick Moore to interpret? A step of faith, indeed.
I figured that as Stuart Bruce also faces the world as a politician, he would at least be able to say something - but then again as someone who has spent too long fighting to stay wake while listening to local councillors, I wasn't sure this was an advantage.
I had at least heard Neville Hobson - he once interviewed me about PR ethics for his podcast - so I knew he was capable of coherent speech, but being able to ask questions is not quite the same as being able to answer them (as I often demonstrate myself).
So Thursday evening, collecting people from the airport and getting to know each other over a meal, was tense for me. To make it worse, we had also invited two Sunderland students, including the unofficial but justified "best PR student blogger in the UK", Stephen Davies, and Euprera secretary general Anne-Marie Cotton... Scrutinised fom every direction, the potential for disaster was huge.
The point of all this is that everyone one of them was superb, and I think this says something quite profound about the emerging forms that the EuroBlog 2006 Symposium in Stuttgart is grouping together as 'social software'.
I simply don't think it is possible that I could have managed such a high hit rate of success from reading books or articles by the speakers; I certainly couldn't have done it from reading their CVs. But by reading their blogs, all of which manage to allow their personalities to show in subtle, unobstrusive ways, I had formed what turned out to be fairly accurate assessments of their personalities.
The obvious answer is that we staretd off with something in common. We are all bloggers who are self important enough to believe someone else cares what we think about PR; this may be true but it doesn't go far enough. You only have to go to a football match, play or a gig to know that sharing an interest is not by any possible criteria a good way of making sure you will meet people you like or ever want to even speak to.
I suppose I was drawn to people whose blogs suggested they were naturally good communicators, and good communication often involves a lot more than words.
Maybe I was simply very, very lucky, that if I tried it again at least one, two or even all of the speakers would be a complete disaster.
Maybe, but I still think there is something inherent to these new social softwares that is different, and if so, it does indeed carry important if as yet underdeveloped implications for those of us involved in thinking about ways of managing communication and managing reputation.
I think our job just got a little easier - and an awful lot harder.