Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The absolutely positively only PR lesson you need to learn from Bridgegate to be a better PR person

Pick up the fucking phone.

NB: I'm testing out Upworthy-style headlines for my posts. You like? 
NB: There's likely going to be an uproar about ethics and such from organizations that purport to represent PR. Ignore them. Those groups don't do PR in a real world, but in their own little fantasy worlds. The sky is probably pink there and there's only black and white, no grays.
NB: If you don't know what Bridgegate is, and you're in PR, you're really depressing and should learn to read all news. Here's a link.
NB: FUD always works. Always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nine Years of Blogging - And The Voice Doesn't Change

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_13488822_mini-cupcake-with-birthday-candle-for-nine-year-old-isolated-on-white-background.html'>jojojojo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>My blog-iversary was July 2.

Nine years of semi-blogging on this Blogger platform that I pretty much refuse to leave, even though I have jspepper.tv to do something with (the eventual idea was to aggregate everything on one page but my About.me page does that well enough anyway). Plus, hard to replace SEO for 9 years.

In the 9 years - yes, 9 years, longer than most other people besides a handful of others - I have seen people come and go. I've seen the "popular" bloggers in public relations turn to social media advocates, and then fall to the side of less importance because they, well, never stuck out their necks on issues or just followed trends. I see the new group of SM bloggers that have risen to the top - some are cream, some are artificial, powdered cream - and while the cream is imparting wisdom, the powdered kind is glomming onto hot topics and rehashing others' posts, with no original content or thinking.

I've also seen the original group of PR bloggers just say fuck-it-all and give up on PR and SM blogging, and start following their other passions. And, well, most of the time I don't blame them. That small group was relatively close, meaning we'd talk and share ideas and information and while somewhat competitive, were a community. Yah, that's pretty much gone nowadays except with a few good people. But that is how media works, and at the end of the day, blogging and social media are ... just media.

So with the past 9 years, what has stayed consistent has been voice. While the focus and topics have varied a bit, the voice has always been the same: saying things that others want to say, but don't. For better or worse - and I'm at least cognizant that it has helped and hurt my career - it's who I am, and pretty much what you see online on Twitter or on the blog is who I am in the real world.

And if you have met me at one of the many Mom conferences I've attended, you've seen that in person. I'll say what I'm thinking, somewhat filtered, but still saying what needs to be said. As one long-time BlogHer and real friend notes, the people that don't like it are the ones that just aren't comfortable with themselves, and that's their problem.

At least that straight-forwardness has lead to a speaking situation. I'll be in Atlanta in October for the Aiming Low Non-Conference, talking about what it's like being straight-forward. It's something that more people should probably do in the space.

So what's next for the blog? It's not like I write that much here, but I do get yelled at by people to write more (yes, I could name drop, but it's not my style) and that what I have to say needs to be said. And, I do want to keep pushing the envelope in PR and social media so need to finish and write more. That's pretty much my promise to the possible audience I have here (although I still write just for a handful of friends).

And there are a lot of posts that will be the usual things that no one is really saying. So what's in the queue and just need to be finished? Things mocking the #PRDefined as an exercise in why PRSA is irrelevant; how community has become a nonsensical term, and abused by people; the battle between "fuck you, pay me" and "hell no, we won't pay" and; how PR has lost its way.

And of course other things that pop up, and need to be addressed.

Will I write these things? I'm going to try, but with all the other things out there - like work - and wanting to blog more on my food blog, it is a challenge to find time for a life/work balance, that includes blogging.

But, well, shit needs to be said - and very few people are saying it publicly, and that's part of the problem. I'll stir it up again.

Hopefully for another 9 years - and maybe on an updated look.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Morning QBing: Missoni for Target

So this weekend, I went to Target to buy some stuff - you know, essentials like orange juice and Pop-Tarts - and pick up some Missoni for Target socks.

Yes, I knew there was a run on the Missoni products, but I figured I was safe with socks ... but nope for both Targets (they're 1 mile away from each other, don't ask).

Credit to Target - they did an amazing job with the pre-launch; they were in men's and women's fashion magazines, there was a great buzz built up for the launch.

PR issues for Target - they were wiped out of products almost immediately, and the website was unable to sustain the traffic. And there are close to 35,000 Missoni for Target products on eBay ... and reports of 44,000 at the beginning so people were just buying to sell, and not buying to wear or use. And that's not even taking into consideration the possibility of products hoarded by employees ... .

Questions that this leads to - is it really just a one-time event, and there are no more Missoni for Target products to be sold? According to the stores, that was it. And the website was totally wiped out too. Why weren't there limits placed at the stores for what people would buy, how many they could buy, and, well, the sizes? It's obvious that people were grabbing and buying, especially with all the XL sizes on eBay. And will other top-tier designers avoid Target because they will wonder if their products will be pushed to eBay almost immediately (likely no, because it's about money paid out).

So the reality is that while the public might be upset and annoyed that they didn't get what they might have wanted (I wanted socks, even though I don't wear shoes), Target made money and the stock did rise. For shareholders, and communications employees, that's key. The crisis with the run on goods to re-sell on eBay and the crashing of the site are just blips.

But it's going to take time to repair some of those relationships ... and yet, at the same time, create more demand for the next big designer (so expect a bigger run for the goods). You would expect the company to address the issues on Facebook - actually, there are a lot of issues it seems like they need to address - but it's just a bit of answers and probably not as much as they could/should be. Of course, with a large company like them, it's hard to address every issue. But the anger and disappointment on the page is quite palpable.

All in all, though, it's a push on whether Target will have any long-term issues. People forget, profits went up, and life goes on.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Fools Rush In ... to new Social Media Sites

Google+: it's the hottest thing in social media since, well, the last hottest thing (is that Empire Avenue or Quora or something else I'm missing?) But like all hot things, you get burnt if you jump in to fast.

Now, we already had the Google+ social media posts - to the point that most of them are just drafting on a hot news item. Are most of them newsworthy or, well, necessary? No. Hell, some of them have just been based on the announcement.

Okay, here's the skinny: Google+ has launched, and a land rush of social media and PR people - and technology pundits - got access. And they're claiming that Facebook or Twitter or the both are dead. And then we see a commotion about brands, and what are brands going to do and when are brands going to get on Google+, blah blah. And that's the thing - while there might be some value for businesses and Google+, thus far it's too early to tell what it might be, although a good explanation of what brands might be able to do is from Forbes.

But let's take a ride back to yesteryear and look at a little site called ... Second Life. Back then, the PR people (and digital, since we weren't calling it social media yet) were pretty hot for SL and getting brands there. Unfortunately, there was little thought put into it and it was a huge hype machine. Now while I did recommend SL for certain projects - for a large furniture chain, I recommended putting one location in SL and be able to buy virtual furniture for your home, as well the real furniture for your real home - it made sense as it fit into the community. Brands jumped in, and got burnt, because they didn't get that SL was (and still is) a community and you can't force your way in. That seems to happen to much of social media, nowadays: no understanding of the community aspects.

With Google+, as Lauren Gray noted on Facebook, are the brands that are jumping onto Google+ those that are ahead of the curve in social media, or ones that want to appear that they are? I think most of us would say latter, especially those of us that have a view of the past. 

I like Google+ so far, but haven't delved too deeply into all that it offers. Why? Well, I haven't taken the time to just sit down and dig in. But right now, I'm taking that walk down the hill approach.

If you look at how brands adopted Twitter and Facebook, it was a more natural process, more organically done. The push by SM/PR people onto Google+ is too forced, a bit too hysterical. Too many people are running down the hill.

When you run down the hill - and yes, this is totally a Colors reference - you lose focus and can only get the one. When you walk, take the time to really get a good view of the landscape, you can get them all.

Take the time to actually play around with Google+ and then wait to see what Google does with it - and if it sticks around, or goes out like so much Buzz or crashes into the surface like a Wave

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Death of Transparency

Looking back at the 8 years of blogging (and now social media - well, take that back 15 years to Usenet and enthusiast site days), there are a few things that become evident: nothing really changes, but everything changes.

One of the things that's become very obvious recently, though, is the death of transparency. Well, maybe dying or dead is a bit hyperbolic, but transparency is fast becoming a thing of the past as more and more people push their own agenda and conveniently ignore transparency for their own goals. You can see it on Twitter, on Facebook - especially Facebook groups - on Quora, and naturally on blog posts. It's a not-so-hidden agenda that comes out after 2 or 3 tweets, or an "innocent" question in a Facebook group or Quora that leads to a "miraculous" answer that is the person's own company or client.

Transparency used to be a big issue for bloggers. Well, at least for the public relations bloggers. One of the first bigger discussions of it came about because of character blogs. Many people, including Steve Rubel (whom I argued with about the issue) and Robert Scoble (who used to be a Moose) felt that character blogs were bad things. Character blogs weren't fully disclosed, they weren't honest or transparent. This mainly came about because of the launch of the Captain Morgan blog and the "controversy" it created.

(As a side-note, I would have linked to the discussion on Steve's blog ... but he's killed his original blogs. Beyond raising questions on the issues of dead links across the web, does the full deletion of a blog and its archives smack of the dismissal of transparency? Does it fit into my whole view of the death of transparency?)

As the years passed, it seems amusing that this would be an issue. We have characters on Twitter and Facebook and while we know that they are not real, we accept them as the entertainment they are and applaud brands for engaging their audiences - the right audiences - in any way you can reach them. Nobody would attack Jack In the Box as lacking transparency because it's understood that it's a brand talking to its fans, engaging on Facebook or Twitter.

Me? I looked at the situation with meh, and that we (the PR bloggers and other early bloggers) weren't the audience, but it was for college students (of legal drinking age, naturally). And did they care about transparency when it came to a character? Not really, it was just something fun.

I was - and still am - hyper about transparency. Call it the egalitarian in me, or the Libra. Back in the day, too often I would see people tout articles on their blogs as "amazing" or "great insight" and then click through to see ... it was self promotion. My point-of-view then, and now, is that it's not hard to tag a blog post as self-promotion, or even a Tweet with #me or some hashtag. The question on transparency there then and now is if it's a great article because the person is in it, or would be a great article that they would have posted or Tweeted without the quote. My guess is the former ... hence my calls for transparency or honesty.

But this all seems quaint - as transparency disappears. I'm not talking about disclosure - the FTC holy grail - but transparency. Dare I say it, but does transparency not matter anymore? Is it - gasp - dead?! And while I think many people do care about transparency (well for others, not themselves), is it a low priority issue for us as we have, well, real life things to worry about (work, personal, love, etc). Transparency, in the scheme of things, is a small issue many of us don't have the time to process.

The world was much easier when it was just PR people that were concerned with this (it's not ironic that the Morgan blog was done by an ad firm - if memory serves). We could debate the issues in our academic way, and come to an agreement that while transparency is important, we all can do it in our own way (which never really works anyway).

And because we all had the background in PR, the transparency issue wasn't an issue that we took lightly - now we would accuse one another of not being transparent or disclosing things, but it was still pretty much above the board. As an aside, I know someone is going to comment that my view on transparency is in contradiction to my view on whisper campaigns - which isn't true. You don't need to be nontransparent to whisper - in fact, it's better to be upfront that this is for company X.

But yes, that is where public relations has always been above the board: we tend to be transparent with the public and press for our clients. We share news and information, and tell the story. As opposed to other marketing practices.

Lately, though, I am starting to see too many PR and SM people trying to be clever or subtle while fishing for information ... and doing it just to get a client mention or have others do work for them. Not very transparent. Or posting tweets about a client article ... with no disclosure it's about a client. Public relations is losing its center, forgetting it's the storyteller in the marketing mix - but with transparency - and is just becoming bullhorn with no thoughts in social media.

But this is also not surprising. With the flattening of social media - the barrier to entry is pretty much non-existent - we see many practitioners come from a background of anything (real estate, retail, unemployed with no discernible skills), and not really grasp the basics of marketing or public relations. Not fully understand the need for a fully transparent conversation but the view that "engaging" is all it is, no matter what tactics need to be taken. And with that, we get a lack of transparency but hits and mentions coming to the forefront in social media.

The death of transparency is one of the downsides of social media; it happens because no one speaks up anymore about the issues and the need for transparency, and happens because the general public might care, but doesn't have the time to obsess over the issues. But for too many in social media, it's about getting paid and that's it. No thought on transparency or anything else, just the ego.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CSR's Misguided PR Strategy - or Just Say No! to CSR

Have you ever watched Archer? If not, why not - not that that's the point of the post - but you should be watching Archer because it's great social commentary. OK, it's just funny. This past year, Isis (the spy agency in Archer) decided to go green as those "liberals in Congress are giving away money" and it's about leaving money on the table and get freebie tax benefits by going green. So Isis goes green - for a little bit - and installs low-flow toilets and those new bulbs.

You ever get the feeling that most corporations go into the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program with the same thinking? That if this makes us look good to the community, well it's just one of those fun terms that public relations and marketing people bring out when they want to put a happy face on a client or organization. Especially when it's less than a happy, go-lucky place.

CSR is also one of those things that most people roll their eyes at because it's not usually done for the good of the community, but it's done to make it seem like the company cares. We have all worked with companies that claim they want to go green, so let's tie ourselves to Earth Day!! and then, well, donate some small amount or something.

Of course, that's not for all companies or corporations. Some corporations do care about their communities, care more than just about the touchy-feely ... but it does raise the question if CSR is even a real thing, or are we moving into a social good mind-set (corporate philanthropy with social media twist). Of course, add the adjective "social" to anything and you have a killer program...

Looking at it from a PR angle, well, of course there's a great public relations (and, well, social media) aspect to all CSR programs (don't deny it). Should companies be undertaking social good or CSR programs just for the PR sake, or should there be more? And looking at recent articles, going green and all that doesn't mean an increase in sales ... which is why most companies are doing it.

It's questions like that that lead me to reach out the Dr. R. Edward Freeman from Darden School of Business at University of Virginia. Plus, got to geek out with my philosophy side again (business ethics, Kant theories, utilitarianism and all that fun stuff - for me).

Dr. Freeman is the thinker behind stakeholder management - and the man who wrote the book on it. In a one-liner, corporations act in such a way to benefit everyone with a stake in the corporation: the community, workers, shareholders, customers. With stakeholder management, CSR becomes unnecessary.

You note that CSR is different than managing for stakeholders - and that if managing for stakeholders is done well, we can just drop the CSR movement. What exactly do you mean by that?

If we are fulfilling all of our responsibilities to customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and financiers, and creating value for them, what does it mean to ask "are we socially responsible". Oftentimes CSR can serve as an excuse not to fulfill those baseline stakeholder responsibilities, or it serves to apologize for, rather than prevent harmful consequences. Take care of stakeholders and CSR takes care of itself.

While there is a major difference between the two, why does CSR have such a high public relations value? Are companies engaging in CSR for the right reasons, or is it just PR games?

There are many reasons that companies engage in CSR. Some are good reasons and some not. I resist the temptation to comment on all companies, or to reduce a complex issue to a simple motivation.

While managing for stakeholders DOES include employees - and making it a better corporation for them - how does that extend to employees being ambassadors for the brand? What is their duty in managing (or in CSR)?

Surely you want to run your company so that your employees believe in what they are doing, and are willing to say that they believe in it. If that is being an ambassador for the brand, then its a good idea. More generally we need to think about, as my colleague Andrew Wicks has argued, what makes a "responsible stakeholder". After all if companies have responsibilities to stakeholders, don't stakeholders have a responsibility to companies?

Especially this month - Earth Day month - companies all tout their green initiatives, and many feel forced. What would stakeholder theory change that companies wouldn't have to PR and tout their efforts for one month (be it Earth Day or breast cancer month in February)?

Again…this is a matter of taking one's responsibilties seriously…as many companies do. It is the old story about business that only profits and shareholders count, which give rise to questions like this. Businesses create value for their stakeholders. Many companies take that seriously. Its not a matter of "just PR" etc. It's quite real. It's the business model.

Is CSR a real viable business solution that dovetails with stakeholder theory? There are companies that are doing it to just check off a box on a list, but does stakeholder theory make it more viable, make it more aligned to business goals?

Stakeholder theory is about the business. It is also about ethics and responsibility. WE have to learn not to separate these ideas, as the old story does.

With stakeholder theory, it seems like the cost of any program is okay if it brings value to the community or employees, while most CSR has an underlying increase sales premise. How can stakeholder theory improve the bottom line?

Absolutely not…Business is about creating value for financiers, customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Their interests need to go in the same direction. Stakeholder theory is about finding ways to put these interests together, not break them apart as your question assumes.

__________


Now this doesn't mean that I'm not pro-companies doing good - just wonder if it should be a PR strategy. And as noted above, it's not just about PR but about all aspects of the business. It's why there are businesses and corporations out there that I think understand this - not ones that most people think about, but those that reach out to communities and do it under-the-radar and not looking just for publicity.

While at the Mom 2.0 Summit, one of the sponsors was Let's Play from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Here's a great idea - work with a playground organization (Kaboom) that works to place playgrounds in cities for children to have a place to play. Think about that- a large corporation that rallies communities to build playgrounds in their communities. That's more of a social good and investing in stakeholders than a stodgy CSR program. It speaks to actually caring about the communities that are your customers. And while at Mom 2.0, one of the breaks was sponsored by Let's Play, where attendees could go help build a (badly needed) playground in New Orleans.

Or look at the recent social good campaign by Seattle's Best - the Brew-lanthropy Project (yes, cheesy title). What Seattle's Best did was reach out to its drinkers to find local non-profit organizations for a $5000 donation and a coffee makeover (as they note, most non-profits have terrible coffee). So while that part is a little bit of branding, the fact that Seattle's Best reached out to its community on Facebook (and through bloggers - like me - that they met at BlogHer Food and other events) to generate community awareness and community involvement: local efforts to help communities be just a little bit better.

Should more companies move beyond CSR thinking into a stakeholder management thinking? Of course - but movement like that takes time. It could make the world a better place, but more importantly do actual good for a wide range of people.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hyperbole meets Hypocrisy: Googlegate

If you're in public relations, you've already heard about Googlegate. Simply put, Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller to conduct a FUD whisper campaign about privacy and security against Google.

It's a joke. No, not that B-M undertook such a campaign (or how badly it was handled) but the hyperbole from the press that borders on Foghorn Leghorn declaring the 'shock, I say shock, of the PR game' that they are intimately involved. The "smear" of the campaign that is just so shocking that it's going to be the downfall of Google, Facebook and journalism (or something) ... when it's just another day at the office.

Or the hypocrisy of public relations executives that are claiming that they would never undertake such a campaign for a client, never have done a FUD or whisper campaign and how bad and evil it is. Right, keep saying that and repeat it to yourself the next time a client asks you to share information (either client or competitor) with the media. Yes, that's a whisper campaign. Or, well, keep lying to yourself so you can claim the moral high ground (for whatever that's worth).

Or the innocence - oh the poor innocence that will be severely beaten out with each campaign - of the students whose souls' will gain a little bit of grey with each call or email to a reporter to give them background. It's called public relations - and it's like knowing how sausage is made: you don't want to, but you guys are now in the sausage business.

You see, this is just a standard operation in public relations; It's even more common in public affairs. It's called spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt to deposition a client. A whisper campaign is just what it sounds like - you call up a few people, meet them in person, and feed them information in that Bourne way you know you always wanted to do.

What's sad/bad here is how badly handled this campaign was by two former journalists - two journalists that should have had the connections to successfully undertake such a campaign and instead were blind emailing bloggers and reporters (really, email!? How quaint) with whom they didn't have deep relationships. The fun irony is how poorly the tech reporter treated PR people - hi kettle, it's pot!!

So here's a primer for anyone that wants to undertake a FUD/whisper campaign:
  • If you have no relationships - real deep relationships - with reporters, you're fucked and going to fail (see example above)
  • If you are using email, you're missing that verbal part of whisper. It's called a whisper campaign for a reason ... it's verbal.
  • Have real information if you're doing a FUD whisper campaign, e.g. "Hey, I heard product X doesn't work from these people, you hearing the same thing?" (Look at how easy that is - AND you just depositioned the competition at the same time you were doing competitive analysis and digging!!)
  • In this age of social media, well, the rules don't really change: have relationships
Have I ever undertaken a whisper or FUD campaign while working for a client? I am not at liberty to answer that, but anyone that has been in the industry - especially technology - has done a whisper campaign of some sort. Or gone on background to a reporter at some time (and yes, fed information about competitors while on background). And if you're smart, you think of ways to position your company over the competition and feed that information to friendlies.

As for the "ethics discussions" that have sprung up around this - really, we're going to have a discussion about how the sausage is made? There's good PR, there's bad PR and then there's that gray PR. And in the PR world, it's all about gray.

If PR is upset about anything, it should be about how poorly this campaign was done. In reality, the issue isn't the campaign or even the lack of transparency. It is about how badly the campaign was executed.

For another great, balanced take on it, make sure you read Stuart Bruce's post.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My Life as a Mommy Blogger*

I'm a Mommy blogger*. I might not blog about raising a baby or poop or child-rearing issues. I might not blog about life at home, the trials and tribulations about raising a family, but I'm still a Mommy blogger.

(*Not actually a Mom (or a Dad at this time) and don't blog on Mom or Dad issues.)

But I do nurture and help others grow with my blog and working with others. So in that sense, I'm a Mom (or Dad) to others.

Even though I'm not really a Mommy blogger, I am part (and an early member) of Clever Girls Collective and I do attend the conferences that are part of that community, such as Mom 2.0 (first time attendee), BlogHer (8 time attendee) and Evo (first time attendee, when it happens). The plan is still to get to Blogalicious, Blissdom and others. In other words, I attend the conferences that really matter.

But this is about labels. This is why I embrace the Mommy blogger title. Because, well, too often, people knee-jerk and just lump all female bloggers into the "Mommy blogger" category. I experience it all the time when I try to explain to people that I don't do SXSWi but will continue to go to BlogHer ... "why do you go to that, it's only Mommy bloggers?"

It's not. And for those that think that way - ironically, usually the same social media people that sheep herd mentality go to SXSW question why I go to these conferences - well, you just don't get it.

A few weeks ago, I was at Mom 2.0 - and was able to meet up with women that are the top of their game (be it vidcasts or blogging or social media). A conference that had panels that was advanced thinking for an advanced audience, that people attended and participated and asked questions. You had a community (that's what differs at these conferences) that listened and took notes and engaged with the speakers (and the audience) and spoke about the future of media with heavy hitters across the gamut.

But that's the thing people don't get - and the problem with just looking but not seeing. These are not Mommy bloggers. These are women that write on a wide variety of topics. Through the years, I've met female bloggers that write on:
  • Food
  • Politics
  • Law
  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Romance / Love
  • Medicine / Health & Wellness
  • Money and Finance
  • Green / Eco blogging
  • Gender
  • Technology
  • Sports
  • Publishing and Media
  • And, yes, even parenting
But the joke of social media people only talking to social media ... you're missing the point. Look at any nuclear family, and it's the woman that controls the budget. In a conversation last night, I talked to a friend who is starting her Mommy blog and we talked about household budgets and who really controls it. It's the Mom - not because she has the time, but because she tends to be smarter with purchases.

Big brands, if you want to reach social media people, keep going to SXSWi and missing the point on reaching audiences that are interested in your products and have real audiences and communities.

So for all the Mommy bloggers out there that I have met over the years - and the non-Mommy females that I have met - Happy Mother's Day to you. All my love for you, what you have done with your communities, and all you have helped me with the past years (and bringing me gifts - total call out to Jennui and link love to her - and being my LA mom ... yes, that's you, Erin).

And from my other LA Mom, Kimberley Clayton Blaine, a special Mother's Day gift and love for your Mother (psst, use the M2MTV coupon code at SonyStyle.com on the T99 digital video cameras for her special Mom Day gift).


And to my own Mom, love you lots and thanks for everything. Happy Mother's Day. :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Has PR Lost the Fire in its Belly?

Originally, I had this titled "Has PR lost its balls?" or just the more declarative "PR Has No Balls". I'm sure either would be great for clicks, however, it's a serious question.

And one I was speaking to an old friend about in the industry - and the person's response was "I know that I don't push back as much as I used to on executives or media - but it's just not worth the fight."

That's bad, isn't it? No, not condemning my friend as I know what the person means. While not everything should be a battle, too much has become a "meh" situation that just isn't worth fighting.

We've become so tired of the good fight, that we just go with the flow. And, yes, that's a lot of what is happening in public relations nowadays: the real seasoned communications veterans who wear their battle scars with pride are getting tired of the fight, and the new "senior" people - more like junior staff without the experience to do what is needed and right - just going along for the ride.

But a few other things that have passed my screen the past few months have made me think about this topic more and more - as well as conversations I've had with people.

First, let's look at the Tim Johnson / TechCrunch post. No, I will not link to the post. If you're in public relations, the presumption is you know the issue and likely have an opinion - that is wrong. Yes, I'm friends with Tim and writing about this from that perspective, but even if I wasn't his friend, my POV wouldn't change that much.

When did it become wrong to push back on a reporter? Isn't fighting for our client supposed to be what public relations, in particular media relations, all about? While I don't fully condone Tim's tone of voice, I do fully support his doing the right thing for the client (and, yes, this would have been a much better phone conversation than email conversation).

The saddest part of this whole situation? The piled on attacks by junior PR people (or SM people). Those that have been in the industry for less than a handful of years that have been ready to throw Tim under the bus and condemn him as wrong to dare push back on TechCrunch. Or in the case of the SM people, those that have no clue about PR sure feel good lecturing about PR.

Um, okay, are these the people we REALLY want working for our agencies, on our accounts, to push forward our story? Is this what we're teaching the future PR leaders? Don't fight for what is right, but just take it laying down and rollover for any press? So if there's a wrong article, should we just sit there and take it because we don't want to offend anyone?

Second was this post by Frédéric Filoux on "The Communication Paradox" that reminds me of my interview with Jack O'Dwyer back during the Global PR Blog Week in 2004. Sadly, the two posts are almost 180 degrees from each other.

In the interview, Jack noted that: Right now, there are very bad forces affecting public relations. We are supposed to be a bridge for the press to get to CEOs, not a barrier, but the industry has fallen into the trap of blocking access for the press. There is this tremendous force that is trying to convert public relations into advertising, especially at the conglomerates, and that will be the downfall of public relations.

In the post, Frédéric noted that high-tech corporations have terrible communications - "do such poor communication" - and that PR is employed to stonewall and, to quote, "Most hires are expected to be docile; initiative is strongly discouraged by paranoid upper management layers."

Plus, with all the ways to get content, the stonewalling seems to be against the grain of what you would want to do - get the story to as many people as possible; as a side note, what's the most amusing (saddest?) part of this is that the Web 2.0 companies and PR firms that love to smash corporations for having old news rooms, etc are the ones with no newsrooms, no press contact information, no logos or other content for the public. Go look at your favorite Web 2.0 company that doesn't have senior PR people and try to find information - a press release, a press contact, a logo, past coverage. You rarely will be able to find that information.

When did PR forget that our job was to be that bridge to the public, to the media and turn into stonewalling, Heisman posing professionals? When did we forget to push forward, to be the voice of clients and do the right thing?

For fuck's sake, I sure hope that's not the future of public relations, because we might as well just shut it all down.

Now, me, personally think this change in PR - this loss of testes - began in the dotcom era. That's when many agencies stopped being partners to their clients, and became admins. It's when firms became afraid to push back and have the clients do the right thing, because they were afraid of losing the client and the money.

So from partner to admin for the agency world. PR firms went from being valued partners for strategy, tactics and counsel to admins doing the shit work for clients (and surely billing for it) that meant taking orders. We went from valued partners to replaceable admins, not being that distinguishable than others. We went from the ability to manage expectations to just being yes-men without any thought.

All of this reminds me of lessons my first boss taught me (yah, I can write a book on the advice): protect the client. As agency PR people, we're the air cover for the client, protecting and having the client's back. And that means being the fall-guy at times, but that's what the senior people get paid the big bucks for: to give the smart counsel and strategy to the client, and give air-cover with well-thought out answers and more for clients when they are under fire from press or executives. Is it a fun job?

Well, no, but it's our job.

And that is what seems to be missing. In fact, that seems to be discouraged - don't stick your neck out or give counsel that might be contrary to what the client claims or thinks they want (no, do what they want, watch it fail miserably, but bill), even if what they want is not the best for the client. And senior staff pushes people to just give counsel that the client wants to hear, not needs to hear. And don't manage expectations, because that's letting the client down if they aren't great results.

Yes, I'm speaking from experience when I write that paragraph: pushing back on the client, then getting slapped down at the office for doing the right thing in protecting the client. For being told just to do what the client wants, not what's best for the client. And that's not right. And that's what gets us from the adult table to the kiddie table - we lose our seat and standing with the C-suite if we just become yes-men.

And we're seeing this more and more with social media (we can talk five years ago and replicate that conversation with blogs or podcasts): we just do what the client wants without counsel that might discourage the activity but replace it with a more custom-approach for the client's space. The reality is that social media isn't a one-size fits all but client's get caught up in the shiny and it's the agency's job to put on glasses and suss out what's good and bad, getting client's amazing results.

What can public relations do to get its groove back? We need to go back to the past where we are a full partner. If we don't man up, push back and do what's right for the client and, in a way, public relations, we'll be relegated to continued admin work and, yes, we will likely just be the outreach for social media without having a seat at the table to come up with the ideas, the strategies, the smart tactics for our clients and to push forward to integrated communications.

Now, I am not casting a wide brushstroke against all public relations, but it is something that people need to think about for the future. I know teams at various public relations firms that do the right things for the clients, man up and do the right thing by example.

But the rest of us - where's the fight? Where's the pride? Where's doing the right thing for the client? And, well, manning up and standing up for what's right for our clients? Or do we want to be glorified admins?

PR should totally have the BSD mentality, knowing that it's the top dog and top of its game. We've lost that, we've become eunuchs and let social media "gurus" and "experts" walk in with the BSD mentality ... when they have nothing there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PR in a blogger versus journalist world

Or to be more exact, what is the role of public relations (not publicity) in a world where journalism and blogging continue to butt heads?

It's a conversation I've been having with friends and industry colleagues, and should be front and center for people in the industry.

But no, this is not a PR is dead meme, or blogging is dead meme or any of those memes that crop up every year (heck, just today Journalistics had the "PR doesn't change" version of the dead meme).

This is questioning where PR falls now, through a few recent incidences. When PR blogs, are we bloggers our journalists? And extending that with Jay Rosen's SXSW post - why is there still that division? And with that division, where is PR fitting in - or should we not worry about the division, especially with the rise of community relations, aka social media?

So it comes down to this: when PR professionals blog, are we bloggers or are we journalists? As gatekeepers and bridges and, well, examples for our clients, should we hold ourselves up to a higher level and standard than other bloggers? Should we take that extra step to verify and report?

While I can understand the desire for opinion pieces, even those can and should be based on facts. I should know - it's what I did in the college paper: opinion pieces that were still verified with sources. Picking up a phone (or emailing) isn't that hard.

So as PR bloggers (and yes, I am purposely ignoring social media blogs), do we have an obligation to get the full story, to tell a full story?

Do we have a professional courtesy and obligation to other PR people to get their client's (or clients') side of the story, to present the other side, even if it's just an opinion piece?

If we are supposed to showcase best practices internally and externally for both our junior staff and our clients, we have no choice but to go the extra mile, to take the extra step.

To take it further, as PR bloggers, can we just use the excuse "I'm a blogger" and get away with it? Should there be that line anymore between blogger and journalist? And, well, isn't that line a bit tired and old, and let's be honest, fucking lazy?

With all these fights between bloggers and journalists, is there really that much of a line anymore? With the disappearance of trade press (especially B2B technology), where do you go besides bloggers who specialize in those verticals? If we uphold those bloggers to a higher degree of veracity, why should PR bloggers get a pass when they are just "blogging" and not being a journalist?

When we approach (or, come on, pitch) bloggers, we hope that they post the story with as much background and news as possible, and if there's a mistake, we go back and tell them and hope for a correction. Nay, we should demand a correction if there isn't one forthcoming.

Shouldn't we demand the same from ourselves? Is there really a line anymore between blogging and journalism, or is that all just the lazy excuse for not doing the homework, possible due diligence or good writing?

The funny (sad?) thing is that this debate of blogger versus journalist still going on out there.

The one panel I would have liked to see at SXSWi was Jay Rosen's on the psychology of the blogger versus journalist fight (also read his pre-SXSW post on the subject).

Both blogging and journalism serve a function, both give the public information and tell stories. But as noted by Rosen, "blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people." And on the flip side, Rosen notes that bloggers try to keep that "outside the system" cred that allows them to say "I'm just a blogger" - which also means we can be lazy and biased (as bloggers).

As he notes, neither are right. Bloggers can no longer be outside the system as the Internet has flattened everything. And while journalists DO put themselves out on the front lines quite often - a great piece by Simon Dumenco in AdAge encapsulates with a bit of snark - there are also bloggers out there that are on the front lines of war zones, disappearing and dying. The Internet has flattened and equaled many things out, and that includes content.

As for PR people, what does that all mean? For PR bloggers, stop doing the whole "we're allowed to be lazy and bias" because it's bullshit. Man up, and own up. For PR people and outreach, well, the best line is from Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

At times, we need to draw a line in the sand for outreach and community relations. We can't hit everyone; but at the same time, we're that bridge for media and bloggers to our clients and companies, and we can engage and help out there (which is why Facebook, Twitter and other forms of electronic media and communications have become so valuable).

BTW, yes, I do hold PR bloggers up to a higher standard than social media bloggers; PR is based on journalistic values and social media is based on well, who knows sometimes. There's so much less transparency in social media, that that is a whole other blog post.