public relations, social media

Like it or not, bloggers are reporters too

One of my job duties, in addition to working on content creation (blogs, YouTube, etc) and writing stories for the university newsletter, is handling press calls.  I really like dealing with the press, especially out here because I get along with so many of them, including the local bloggers. I can hear some of your now:

Bloggers?  You have to deal with bloggers?

Yeah.  And I’m always working to get answers to their questions, or send them information about what’s going on around campus without forcing them to jump through additional hoops that the members of the traditional media don’t have to deal with.  Many bloggers covering your organization want to be given the same treatment and respect that you will give other members of the mainstream media.

Back when social media was called “new media” it was being heralded as a new way for people to engage in civic journalism – turning average people into journalists.  Now those people are taking advantage of these tools to write about their own communities, loves, and hates.  As PR professionals, we have to be ready to treat them like any other journalist, because you never know when that one blog post you didn’t respond to will be the one that the NY Times journalist will read and base a story around.

For those of you who haven’t read The Long Tail yet, run – do not walk – to read this book.  One of the concepts I came away with was the idea that a blog post can travel up the Long Tail graph, from a blog with relatively few readers, to one read by thousands or hundreds of thousands of people a day with a few link referrals.

Instead of blowing off these bloggers, even those who disagree with you, think about engaging with bloggers.  Answer their questions when they send them to you.  Send them information via Twitter – no hard sell, just a quick tweet asking if they would be interested in XYZ.  Follow them and pay attention to what they say before you need to contact them for anything.  Engage with them, on their terms first (via their blogs) and then on your blog after you develop it.

What do y’all do to engage these new reporters?  Have you held an event for bloggers only?  Is this something you’d be interested in?

public relations, social media

Organizational Evangelism, or “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

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internet, public relations

When does what "you" say interfere with who "YOU" are in PR?

Recently I (and quite a few other people) wrote about the recent Twitter-gate post of Ketchum VP James Andrews. As I’ve explained already, I thought it was a mistake, and if he had a problem with where he was, he should have given constructive criticism. However, he was there to share his knowledge of social media with FedEx employees and his Twitter post got turned upside down before the end of the day. It sucks, and he got a bit of the raw end of the media dished at him.

As usual there is more than one side to a story, and Mr. Andrews gives his side of it here. This is a learning exercise for all of us on the importance of counting to ten before speaking when angry (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson), but as my fiancee says when I screw up, “No one died, move on.”

So we are moving on to a question that’s been bouncing around my mind for a while. When you’re working in public relations, where is the line between the “public YOU”, that is connected to your business or clients, and the “private you,” where you’re allowed to have personal opinions and viewpoints that might not always be sweet and nice but shouldn’t cost you your livelihood?

When I was working at a former gig, a memo floated down from on high, stating that we were not allowed to write anything for any electronic outlets, or we’d be fired. I was told this included blogs (hence the reason I blogged under a pseudonym for many years). Since I wasn’t a writer, I didn’t know if that applied to me, but as an employee, anything I wrote, even on my own time, appeared to be held to this standard. (in fact a friend of mine got suspended a couple of weeks without pay for writing something for an online-only outlet).

Regardless of where you work, when you are off of the company time and dime, should you be forced to take Ari Fleisher’s advice to Bill Maher and “Watch what you say?” This is especially prevalent in public relations, the field that thousands of us toil in daily. We are seen not only as employees, but due to our profession, representatives of our respective companies. (or as in the case of Mr. Andrews’ Twitter-gate, representative of not only his firm, but also the companies we represent)

As people in PR talk about “Brand You,” the idea that what you write/podcast/etc. is connected to the “you” brand, discussion is moving closer towards the idea that the “you” brand, and the “YOU” brand are interconnected – allowing your employer to connect to and impose upon your online/social media persona. If these two brands are interconnected, then everyone must be careful about what they post, whether privately or for their employer, as the perception is these actions somehow reflect their employer.

On the other side of the equation, corporate America needs to change enough to realize that people are people. They are going to react to things that happen to them. If you watch CNN’s iReport or FoxNews’ YouReport pages, people have taken on the mantle of citizen journalists in a big way, and are reporting news in a pixel instant, because seconds have become too long now. Social media (previously called “new media”) now allow anyone to write anything anytime.

By recognizing the importance and influence of communicating through social media outlets like Twitter, employers will go a long way in providing their companies with the key element it needs to succeed in the social media-sphere: a personality.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? In this new media world of 24-hour iReporting and the all-day media cycle, should PR people be forced to represent their organizations 24-7?

Edit: Peter Himler has a great post, and an interview with Edelman’s Social Media maven Steve Rubel here.

public relations

TechCrunch and Embargoes. What’s the problem?

I’ve been reading about Michael Arrington (the guru behind TechCrunch) and his decision to no longer honor embargoes asked for (demanded?) by PR professionals when certain stories are sent to TechCrunch.  This has apparently caused quite an uproar in certain quarters of the PR community, with comments flying back and forth on the post at TechCrunch and throughout the Blogo/Twito/Globo-Sphere, with people picking sides.

The first thing that hit me was how this sounded like Gina Trapani’s wiki where she whipped out the ban-hammer and listed the PR companies that she got tired of spamming her personal email address and gave people a quick and easy way to include these companies (5WPR, Ogilvy, Edelman, etc) in your spam filter. There were a lot of big PR companies being called out, and a few New Media PR companies that appear to have been caught in the wake of e-blasting out stories that people don’t want to read.

The following thought was, PR people still use embargoes?  Seriously?  I mentioned this to a co-worker last week and she asked the same thing.

Embargoes were usually used to give news companies (alleged) “exclusives” or dictate to a media outlet when they could run with a story.  Big surprise, they only succeed at pissing off journalists/media outlets while getting ignored part of the time anyway.  Then you get pissed, and they get more pissed, and it spirals down from there.  And unless you’re a company crucial to a media outlet’s coverage, or large enough to have an impact if you decide to stop sending info their way (like Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Google, etc), then the media outlet doesn’t need to change the way it does business.  You do.

Reporters and editors, especially of New Media outlets, wouldn’t care if most of the companies out there stopped sending them press releases.  In fact, all of them would probably start popping open the bubbly in celebration.  When I was still working at the local newspaper, I was in charge of manning the fax machine (yeah I’m dating myself a little bit here) in addition to my regular duties.  In my time at the paper, less than a dozen releases ever made it past the trash can.  Most of the people the sports department (where I worked) reporters spoke with already had personal relationships with the writers (coaches, players, sports info officers) and knew to contact them personally and didn’t need the fax waste.

Contrast that to when I was working at my first PR firm, on the other side of the “send” key.  We’d invested in some “media relations” Web site, with a database of thousands of reporters and (allegedly) how to get in touch with them, forms set up to enter your own press releases and the potential to blast them to thousands of reporters, whether they wanted your information or not.  I watched as one pitch went out to over 2,300 business reporters all over the U.S. (Somehow I don’t think the farm business reporter from the “Peoria Pittance Proper” really cared about the NYC client’s pitch)

When you use these pitch-fest programs, you don’t have to know any of the media outlets you are e-blasting.  You don’t have any personal relation with the reporter you want to get interested in your stuff.

That’s what a lot of PR now a days is missing.  Public relations is kind of a misnomer for what needs to be done.  It needs to be called “Personal relations”.”  Too many PR professionals, especially when pitching nationally, are still depending so much on these databases or yellow books of media contacts.

Please, my fellow PR peeps, if you are going to use one of these databases to pitch a story nationally, at least make sure the person you are calling a) covers the area you think they do, and b) wants to receive your email.  Chances are they don’t. And then you’re making the rest of us look bad.

Push vs. Pull

A lot of PR needs to start shifting from the idea of pushing press releases to some kind of “narrowcasting,” creating meaningful content for your specific target audiences that they can then pull to their desktop/email/browser.  It’s the difference between forcing your message onto someone or getting to know them and letting them be genuinely interested in your information.  Your audience probably won’t be as big as you’d like – but the media landscape has been shifting from large distribution channels to many more, but smaller, means of communicating to your target demographic. (think about the difference between network TV and cable – while network TV has a larger audience, you can better target a narrow audience by selecting a cable channel that matches your audience needs (food network, SciFi, etc) and tailoring your messages to match not only your audience, but that specific channel.

And finally, for those PR people complaining about Mr. Arrington or Ms. Trapani’s actions.  Remember, TechCrunch and LifeHacker are their media outlets, they get to decide how they want to run them.

media, public relations, Technology

It’s called “You”Tube for a reason

I was thinking about this post while giving a presentation in class this evening. We had an open ended assignment where each person presented on a topic related to the mass media. Being interested in online communications, I focused on Web communications by mass media outlets. That got me thinking about bloggers (which I wrapped up the presentation with) and how people in my profession should look at content creation vs. pitching to bloggers.

A lot of PR peeps are looking at how to pitch bloggers and other A-list social media mavens instead of working towards creating their own content.This is fine, but it’s as if the mindset of PR people around the globe continues to be:

“I’m in PR. I’m used to pitching people, sending stuff out. I must pitch the “media.” I’m not going to create my own content. I don’t shoot video, and sound like I gargled with rusty razor blades.”

Trust me I know where you’re coming from. I don’t have that creamy radio voice either and am more “Body by Buddha” than “Body by Jake.” Ya know what, that doesn’t matter. It’s all about authenticity. It’s about your company becoming the media outlet, instead of waiting for reporting from the media which may never come. It’s about PR person as civic journalist (or corporate journalist) than traditional “pitch man.”

(This also matters to you and your personal brand. You are your own Hollywood director. But wunder-dude Chris Brogan has a lot of great articles on this. I may give my own humble take later (but read Chris first))

Your company should become part of the conversation, not just treat bloggers/podcasters/et al as one more media outlet to just pitch to. Remember, it’s called “YOU”Tube for a reason. Use it to create your online brand, then your company will piggyback on the “you” brand (if you identify yourself as working for that company).  Then other bloggers might get interested in your product/organization.

And your first efforts don’t have to be Hollywood-esque. Just get some practice time in with your camera and some software. Here’s a little footage of me practicing around with my Flip Video Camera and the Sony Imagination Studio software. There’s also more relevant footage (PR wise) that I shot for work located here.

public relations

Turning Up the Voltage

I was reading Chris Brogan’s blog this afternoon (where anyone interested in getting better with social media should go) and found this post interesting.  Chris talks about ratcheting up your ability to get through information, especially when dealing with social media, faster and faster (think Ben Johnson on steroids, then crystal meth fast).

The problem starts up when you don’t know where to look for information.  Like me, sometimes I finally find out what’s going on only to turn around, write a brilliant masterpiece you have all come to know and love ( 😉 ), get something online and find out I’m still behind the curve.  It’s like the saying goes, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.  It’s just a matter of not getting caught off guard too often.  Two questions are, how can you get the information synthesized fast enough, and in this day and age of instant online media, how can you get faster?

P.S. Chris, if you have any ideas on staying up to speed, I’d love to hear them. 😉

public relations

Is There a Future in Blogging?

Earlier today I was listening to NM political blogger Joe Monahan as part of a media roundtable. He was a decent member of the panel, making a few good points about social media, but at the end he really blew it. He was asked about the future of blogging and he said that blogging had reached its heyday a couple of years back and that blogs would start to fall by the way, much like some of the mass media outlets that have shuttered their doors in the last decade – the market would decide which blogs will survive.

Joe’s looking at the story of blogging as an independent source of revenue, he had discussed advertising on blogs, or blogging independently as a career – like he does. He’s not thinking about the use of blogging and other social media in a business setting. That’s the future of non-independent, non-hobbyist social media use.

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media, public relations

Heads Up Corps, Be Careful How You Blog…

Because starting May 26th, you could be arrested and thrown in the dock in the United Kingdom for misrepresenting your company as a consumer (Walmarting Across America comes to mind here).

The legislation is already in practice in Europe, the UK is just getting into the act a little (fashionably ?) late.  On one hand this can be good because it’s going to cut down on the amount of BS astroturfing that companies and their PR firms do.  It’s a kind-of enforced authenticity.

Is this a good thing?  Isn’t it better if people know that a company isn’t communicating authentically of their own accords?  The press, and other bloggers, are more than happy to shine a light on the astroturfing efforts of those corporations and PR firms.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Online news organizations, like the newly created New Mexico Independent or well-established PR Watch, are sprouting up to watchdog various organizations and report the news without fear or favor (if not partisanship).

And another question I’d like to ask is, for activist groups throughout Great Britain – do these rules apply for them as well?  Will the same group of activists who misrepresent themselves as a greater number of people (think about the blogger equivalent of a phone bank calling talk radio shows to comment) be subject to the same rules and punishment?  Ad Age explains the law as applying to “Brand Owners” and Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club, or the Christian Coalition, or Wake Up Walmart are all brands and should be subject to those laws as well.  All things being fair and all that.

What this means is that companies and organizations should be authentic and true in their online communications.  A lesson to corporations, activists and PR firms around the world: if you represent themselves truthfully when dealing with online and social media communities, they can avoid a lot, if not almost all of, these kinds of problems.

It will be interesting to watch Great Britain in the upcoming months and see what happens.

Hat Tip: Ad Age

Management Consulting, social media, Strategy

Heads Up Corps, Be Careful How You Blog…

Because starting May 26th, you could be arrested and thrown in the dock in the United Kingdom for misrepresenting your company as a consumer (Walmarting Across America comes to mind here).

The legislation is already in practice in Europe, the UK is just getting into the act a little (fashionably ?) late.  On one hand this can be good because it’s going to cut down on the amount of BS astroturfing that companies and their PR firms do.  It’s a kind-of enforced authenticity.

Is this a good thing?  Isn’t it better if people know that a company isn’t communicating authentically of their own accords?  The press, and other bloggers, are more than happy to shine a light on the astroturfing efforts of those corporations and PR firms.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Online news organizations, like the newly created New Mexico Independent or well-established PR Watch, are sprouting up to watchdog various organizations and report the news without fear or favor (if not partisanship).

And another question I’d like to ask is, for activist groups throughout Great Britain – do these rules apply for them as well?  Will the same group of activists who misrepresent themselves as a greater number of people (think about the blogger equivalent of a phone bank calling talk radio shows to comment) be subject to the same rules and punishment?  Ad Age explains the law as applying to “Brand Owners” and Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club, or the Christian Coalition, or Wake Up Walmart are all brands and should be subject to those laws as well.  All things being fair and all that.

What this means is that companies and organizations should be authentic and true in their online communications.  A lesson to corporations, activists and PR firms around the world: if you represent themselves truthfully when dealing with online and social media communities, they can avoid a lot, if not almost all of, these kinds of problems.

It will be interesting to watch Great Britain in the upcoming months and see what happens.

Hat Tip: Ad Age