Curtis Hougland launched one of the industry’s first online public relations practices in 1993, working with Internet pioneers such as CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, Microsoft and Sprynet, and went on to create new media practices at Ruder Finn and Middleberg & Associates, where as creative director he was developing and managing social media campaigns before anyone in the PR industry had even heard of The Cluetrain Manifesto. After a brief absence from the public relations business—he founded and sold Film Movement, which pioneered the simultaneous release of movies in theaters and on DVD—before creating Attention PR in late 2006.
Attention, its website declares, “cultivates word-of-mouth measurably for our clients through authentic social media.” In other words, unlike established, mainstream agencies that are seeking—many of them quite successfully—to integrate social and digital media into traditional public relations programs, Attention is wholly invested in an approach that emphasizes conversation, dialogue, engagement, and participation, a democratic approach to communication that capitalizes on the increasing willingness of ordinary consumers to act as brand ambassadors and the power of the Internet and social media tools to amplify the voices of those consumers. That alone would be enough to set Attention apart from the competition, but under Hougland’s leadership the firm has placed a heavy emphasis on measurement, including “soft metrics” such as volume and tone, “web metrics” such as blog links and natural search, and “hard metrics” such as data capture and unattributed sales.
During the firm’s first year in business it added 12 new employees and more than a dozen retainer accounts resulting in 2007 revenue in excess of $2 million. Clients include beauty and fashion brands such as Estee Lauder, Coty and Bluefly; media and entertainment companies such as HBO, Columbia Records, and Consumer Reports; sports brands such as Rocket Racing League and CBSSports.com; consumer products companies such as Procter & Gamble, Advance Auto Parts and The Company Store; and technology brands such as IAC Consumer Applications and Portals, SocialMedia.com and Collective Intellect.
The firm handled one of the first international viral video campaigns for P&G’s Hugo Fragrances across seven countries using traditional media relations, social media relations and paid rich media; it executed one of the first truly “micro social” campaigns for HBO to support a trial of its new broadband service exclusively geo-targeted in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets; it launched SocialMedia.com, the first advertising network for widgets; and it created a disruptive campaign aimed at fans—and critics—of American Idol, one of the most watched shows in history, through a blog, VoteForTheWorst.com.