Monday, May 15, 2006

Is the PR Industry Too Ga Ga Over Blogs?

A survey sponsored by the Manhattan PR shop Makovsky & Co. and conducted by Harris Interactive, showed only a tiny percentage of Fortune 1000 leaders are using blogs to either communicate to their customers or build brands.

In writing on the issue after the study's release, Makovsky chief Ken Makovsky says that "given the fact that blogging can help to make or break a company's reputation, it continues to surprise me how few corporate leaders are taking the control of their destiny in the blogosphere." (As an aside and a point of disclosure, I worked at Makovsky for a time just before the bottom of the technology market).

It seems to me that this whole hoopla over blogging and its potential financial ramifications for PR has dot-com era written all over it. I think more PR pros, especially considering many are in NY, should go to the middle of 42nd/Broadway and ask people passing by how many of them actively read blogs. I would posit the number would be quite low. And if you also asked them whether their opinion of a company was influenced by a blog, I think the number would be even lower.

I bring up that last point because before anything is going to be anywhere close to revolutionary, there has to be a significant uptrend in interest. Yes, blogs are read by many, but I wouldn't go as far as to call them mainstream at this point. In my opinion, the main promise blogs currently offer to consumers is the ability to easily publish to the Web. At the heart of it, a blog is a specialized Web site that can be launched in minutes, requires no real knowledge of HTML or Web editors, and is relatively simple to administer.

All those benefits are nice, but they don't generate any money -- at least not yet. Please note that I'm not lumping blogs together with communities like Myspace. The latter has much more potential, since it's a destination of sorts, just like Yahoo!, only with the aim of serving a particular demographic.

Am I the only one that thinks the industry is going a bit too "ga ga" over both the PR and financial implications of blogs? I welcome the opinions of all interested parties.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blogging's Financial Impact on PR

Not surprisingly, every time a new innovation comes out, it's immediately followed by a hail of predictions about both how the offering will both change the face of business and how that innovation will allow people to make scads of money.

Blogging is no different. First, the social activitism it affords most anybody with a 'Net connection and the time/inclination to do it, meant that mainstream journalism as we know it was on the way out. This smelled so much like dot-com era hype, I just had to laugh a bit, but at least on the surface, it potentially had some truth. The only real thing that was likely to stop it from happening is the fact that in a country where you can't even get 50 percent to vote, I don't think you'll have "average Joes" starting to blog en masse.

Nevertheless, a number of both well-known and not so-well known people within the PR industry have started blogging in the last couple of years, ostensibly to help further position themselves and their firms as thought-leaders in the industry. Like everything, I believe there are some good blogs and some that aren't exactly must-reads. However, I think anybody who wants to blog should contribute to the overall discussion of the industry.

The issue of just who is best qualified to represent the industry in the blogosphere became rather heated issue, after a guest columnist on former FT journalist Tom Foremoski's blog appeared to suggest that because blogging represents, as he put it, the "delicate olive branch of PR," it should only be handled by a few industry luminaries. Bite Communications' Andy Bernstein did happen to mention that his boss, Tim Dyson, would be one of them.

Not surprisingly, he encountered a hail of comments, and later redefined his views to be that some sort of quality-control system should be instituted, likening blogging to an open-source movement such as Linux where it's necessary to make sure that things function in a proper way. However, even after that redefinition, I'm still not sure I get it. How do an OS and PR compare? An OS has to function correctly or everything else that's dependent on it will not. Instead, PR is more of an "art" where things are continually refined, in part because it's a very subjective industry. In other words, you might have an idea, a client or a pitch that you think is just "the bomb," but it fails to float when you actually start to pitch. When that happens, you have to go back to the proverbial drawing board and come up with a new approach. Jokes about Microsoft functionality aside, you don't see software makers doing that very often.

In addition, Bernstein calls blogging a "killer app," again recalling visions of the year 2000. What's killer about it? Is it nice? Yes. Liberating? Yes. But does it make any money for anybody? Change who anyone votes for or buys from? Not likely. Bernstein seems to be among those in the camp that blogging stands to make a lot of money for PR firms, and that only a certain few are likely qualified to be thought leaders in that area. Again, this harkens back to 2000 when PR firms were putting out press releases about the next "value-added solution," and while that generated a large temporary increase in revenue, it also caused many shops to encounter very choppy waters over the next few years.

My suggestion: How about we just keep doing what we're best at? At the end of the day, when you put all this fancy jargon aside, we're called upon to advance the work of our clients in a way that best fits their business models and goals. Perhaps at some point that will mean blogging, but as long as you have millions reading and viewing traditional media outlets and a relatively small percentage of the overall 'Net audience blogging themselves or even reading blogs, I don't think it should be out biggest concern today.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Implications of Podcasting Still Uncertain

As was the case with the emergence of blogs, the debut of podcasts prompted many in the public relations industry to herald the new medium and challenge practitioners to find a way to capitalize on it or risk foregoing opportunities that would be awarded to first movers. However, a new survey shows that while most PR pros know what podcasts are, a much smaller minority are actually using them on a regular basis.

For those unaware, podcasts function as a sort of "audio blog," allowing subscribers to sign up for audio content that can be automatically delivered to computers and portable audio devices, often for free. These are most commonly offered by purveyors of audio content, such as technology news, as a way to bypass traditional distribution channels like terrestrial radio and reach consumers directly.

Sponsored by the Dallas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, the survey found only 8 percent of the 109 survey respondents had published a podcast. An equal number said they were unaware of what podcasts were, while 61 percent indicated they were aware of podcasts, but hadn't published them, and 23 percent said they had listened to or actively subscribe to podcasts.

Despite the low number of corporate communicators using podcasts, there are several Web sites dedicated to communications-related podcasts. These can all be found at the Podcast hub Podcast Alley.