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Bloggers vs PR – The Aftermath

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Aaron Brazell of Technosailor hosted an incredible and informative roundtable to discuss the state of PR, reporters, and bloggers. The conversation was focused on five questions and included the answers of Doug Haslam, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Cathryn Hrudicka, Marc Orchant, and yours truly.

Following is the complete Q&A with my answers to help make it easier to read. The complete balance of everyone’s answers are available at Technosailor. (Also scroll down to the bottom to download this as a Word doc or read it on a white background.)

Question #1 - What do you think the biggest challenge is for the Public Relations industry to fully embrace social media?
What if we asked the question this way, “Should the PR industry participate in Social Media at all?” There are several pundits who have flatly said that “PR is too stupid to participate in Social Media” and therefore shouldn’t have a seat at the new marketing table.

After all, Social Media is about people.

In the eyes of many PR is associated with used car and snake oil salesmen or far worse, lazy flacks that have no clue what they’re talking about.

Yes, it’s true many PR people simply don’t or won’t ever get it. The other thing is that, as in any industry, there are also opportunists in PR who simply see Social Media as a new golden ticket and in turn, are selling a new portfolio of services without having a clue as to what Social Media really is and how it works.

The challenge for PR in Social Media isn’t any different than the challenge that already exists for them in traditional PR. For far too long PR has taken comfort in blasting information to the masses in the hopes that something would stick. Until recently, the industry really hasn’t seriously considered requiring people to learn about what it is they represent, why it matters and to whom, how it’s different than anything else out there, where customers go for information, and how it benefits the customers they’re ultimately trying to reach.

The lack of presence or the drive to inject these questions into the PR process and also take the time to answer them genuinely, without marketing hype, is perhaps the greatest inhibitor of PR’s legitimate entrance into Social Media.

Question #2 - What does the concept of “brand” mean to you and how do you see the concept of brand protection (or the concept of “open source brand”, so to speak) being transformed in the internet age?

The brand is something altogether different today than it was BSM (before social media). The brand used to be something dictated by corporations and reinforced by marketers and ultimately evangelists.

However, these days, many marketing and business executives foolishly think that they can still solely control the brand and the corporate messages 100% when in fact people are also contributing to brand identity and resonance.

Social Media zealots preach that participation is marketing, and indeed it is, but there are ways to do it right and ways to completely f it up. One thing is for certain is that covering your ears to customer commentary taking place in social networks and the blogosphere and repeating “la la la la la” over and over pretending like it doesn’t exist IS NOT participating.

It the era of social media companies have no choice by to relinquish control, well somewhat, to those who chose to discuss it openly, in public forums that are in large part, actively contributing to the extensive influence enabled by social tools.

That doesn’t mean that companies can’t help chart the course of a brand, businesses just need to take into account that people now have voices and there in lies a new opportunity.

Let’s not forget that a good brand, or a terrible brand for that matter, evokes an emotion bond.

The true “open source brand” will acknowledge and leverage the “voices of the crowds” in order to extend and mold brands for both now and in the future – by connecting with people.

Again, Social Media is about people, not audiences, and therefore, brands affect people and in turn evoke emotional responses. The smart marketers will learn how a brand relates to the various markets they wish to reach, why it’s important, different, and helpful, and connect with people directly to help them. This reinforces the brand and service attributes we ultimately hope to carry forward.

Question 3 - How can bloggers work more effectively with PR people?

Yes it goes both ways…

I think it all starts with couples therapy.

Blogger, “All they do is spam with me this and that! They don’t care about me and my needs!”

PR, “They never listen to me…It’s like whatever I say is ignored no matter how important it is to me. They just don’t care!”

Seriously though, bloggers can benefit from maintaining a strategic and advantageous relationship with the right PR professionals. Love them or hate them, good PR people can still be a helpful part of the news and information process. They can and will work for you.

I think we all learned that running the names of lazy PR flacks in a public forum is definitely one way to send a clear message. Social Media is fueled by people and their peers, so running things in the blogosphere definitely makes things very personal. But there are also other ways to ensure that PR people “think” before approaching bloggers.

One way is to send positive feedback to those that do it right. Send notes to management in regards to those who do it wrong and remind them how to do things correctly. Or, simply block the individual from contacting you again – but in the process let them know why.

We recently had a lazy PR associate who ignored repeated points of advice on how best to reach out to bloggers. Aside from the lip service we got, he continued to do things the spammy way…blasting lists of targets with impersonalized messages with irrelevant news releases. Within one week, this person was called out by two bloggers, one of whom decided to cc: everyone at my agency lambasting his approach and well, basically, calling him stupid. Names are one thing, and probably inappropriate, but the message was loud and clear and this person was now directly humbled among his peers. And, most importantly, it spotlighted a problem that required correction, while also reinforcing the need for other people on our team to remember that this entire process is about people. One news release doesn’t matter to everyone! Subsequently this person is no longer with us.

Yes it takes time for bloggers to respond rather than ignore things, it also takes an extraordinary level of patience and understanding, but it helps PR adapt and learn. Using the example above, one email inspired 15 people to do things better.

Another way bloggers can work better with PR is to clearly say somewhere how they wish to be contacted, what they are looking for, and advice for cutting through the clutter. Submission forms are not helpful.

We should all be in this to learn together. And, for those that don’t want to learn or embrace evolution, then they’ve sealed their own fate.

Evolve or die!

Question 4: Is “outing” a wayward PR agency or individual an effective way of dealing with the problem of misfired pitches?

Quite honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often as it has been a serious problem for decades.

Chris Anderson’s post sent a jolt that reverberated throughout the entire industry. It was a painful reminder that complacency and spam do not belong in PR.

There are also several blogs dedicated to exposing spectacularly horrible moments in PR as well as exposing bad pitches and the people behind them – and they’re gaining in popularity.

The game of PR has largely been enjoyed the comfort of existing behind-the-scenes and this exposure and public ridicule is forcing PR out of its comfort zone, which at the end of the day will only make PR stronger and more effective.

Now whether or not running the names and email addresses on the Web was a good thing, however, is complicated to assess as there are many factors and ramifications for doing so.

On one hand, it scared the sh!t out of everyone and brought much needed attention to the need to improve things in PR.

On the other hand, it starts to raise privacy issues and taboos that can lead down a scary path affecting everyone involved in the business of public relations and media publishing. And, all of these conversations at the moment are only addressing the symptoms of much bigger problems that face PR, including unrealistic metrics and a complete misunderstanding of how PR really works by clients and corporate execs.

Exposing names and contact information is a steep penalty to pay and quite honestly, it’s somewhat irresponsible. There are other ways to get the same result and impact without forcing individuals to publicly pay the price for the ills of entire industry. Note, my only reservation here is names versus contact information. Running names is a leap, but I can support it. Running contact information crosses the line.

I think that “some” lazy flacks have learned their lesson and many more have been alerted to the fact that they are the epitome of what’s wrong with PR.

Very few PR “Pros” are out there building relationships with the public or people. Most don’t bother to spend the time to really learn about what they represent, why it matters, and how it’s different than everything else out there. And, without that understanding how can anyone realistically believe that influential reporters and bloggers are going to pay attention to their generic pitch?

Question 5: What advice would you give to your own industry in engaging the other side?

Chris Anderson summarized it best, “I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I’m interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that.”

What’s it going to take for PR to reflect that sentiment and honest plea for relevance? It should be common sense. But it’s not. Common sense is all too uncommon in almost everything we do these days.

So to help PR “pros” stop pissing-off bloggers and reporters and start building meaningful relationships with them, here is a list of things to live by:

Remember this is about people

  1. What do you stand for? Answer that first before you try to convince people that are busier than you why they should take time to stop what they’re doing to pay you any attention.
  2. It’s more than doing your homework. To some doing homework is building lists. Figure out what you are representing and why it matters. How does it compare to other things. What do people need? What are their pains?
  3. Practice saying it aloud in one-to-two minutes or less to a friend or in front of a mirror. Seriously. It works. If you don’t get it no one else will.
  4. Less is more. Find the right people, not just because you read their profile in a database, but because you read their work and understand their perspective.
  5. Engage in conversations outside of when you need something.
  6. Build relationships not lists.
  7. Humanize the process and remember that this is about people
  8. Stop whining and making excuses. You are responsible for your actions so arm yourself with what you need to be successful.
  9. Stop sending press releases without summarizing what the news is and why it is IMPORTANT to the individual person you’re sending it to.
  10. Remember the reputation and the future of PR is on you. If you’re not in this to do your job better, then ask yourself why you’re here. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

Resources:

Chris Anderson’s post about blocking lazy flacks

My open letter to Chris Anderson

Intro to Blogger Relations - 101

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