Monday, May 26, 2008

Social Media Enthusiasts and Their Views on PR

It may seem silly to take issues with social media platforms via a blog, but regular readers of this blog know that I've done that on several occasions when I feel that enthusiasm goes from being a promoter of the new at the expense of the old.

The latest blogger to take issue with public relations and its tactics is Loic Le Meur, a Frenchman who has been involved with a number of Internet startups, including an interactive ad agency, which was later sold to BBDO in 1999.

Le Meur starts off his post by basically saying that PR pros claim to have a "magical sauce" when the precise notion is, in his words BS (to put it nicely). Instead of engaging a PR pro and going the traditional way, Le Meur espouses an updated approach that basically capitalizes on using your social network to the utomost. By doing this correctly, he believes you can do everything yourself better than anyone else could do for you.

He also claims the PR industry holds a number of believes that are patently untrue, including the notion that traditional journalists and media channels hold more influence than social media at large and influential bloggers. Rather than relying on a PR agency to get the word out, he advocates relying on your users and customers to do it for you. In the end, he believes, their fanatical enthusiasm will lead journalists to circle back around and give a company coverage, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

He also advises CEOs and other key executives to be their spokesperson behind their brands. He reasons that the CEO should be the brand, much akin to the way Richard Branson is associated with the Virgin empire.

While there's some validity to the notion that a trusted CEO can be the best person to speak for a company, he completely ignores the fact that messages issued by a company are only one very small part of a communications program. It's not surprising that a serial entrepreneur would view CEOs as the best spokesperson, but he completely ignores the fact that a journalist will see them as a biased source that will only say what they want people to believe. Yes, there are cases where CEOs bluntly and honestly deal with their firm's problems, but even then, they're not the architect of a response in most cases, just the face delivering it. He also ignores the fact that if they're busy serving as the architect of the response, they've diverted their resources from actually dealing with it in the first place; honestly, that's what their customers, clients and investors want them to do.

PR certainly has its problems on occasion, and one of those is the fact that the profession as a whole has done a pretty poor job of educating the public at large in just what the heck it is a PR person does. But equally as disturbing is the fact that there's still this pervasive notion that while you need qualified individuals handling your business' finances and legal needs, PR can be done by almost anyone with the right connections.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Outrage Against Poor Media Relations Practice Continues

When debuted in 2006, the excellent Bad Pitch Blog had the PR community buzzing, as it was the first outlet to aggressively confront poor media relations practices. Unfortunately for the PR industry as a whole, it was only the beginning.

Over the months that followed the blog's debut, it was the subject of articles in many PR trades and was responsible for launching a broader discussion on media relations practices and how they could and should be changed for the better. At the same time, a move grew to "modernize" many media relations tools, including transforming the media release into a new format that would allow the incorporation of multimedia tools and other content and features. The resulting Social Media Release template, which you can read about here is still a work in progress of sorts.

Unfortunately, while the debate over media relations practices and how they should change or adopt is occurring, the reputation of public relations continues to decline in large part because of poor media relations practices. Witness the prspammers wiki, which is basically a collection of e-mail addresses contributed by leading blog authors and other social media enthusiasts containing the names of PR pros from some of the industry's most familiar names.

Problem is, this isn't a good list to be on. The list itself denotes off-target pitches sent to leading bloggers over the past few months, and it reads like a virtual who's who of the biggest firms in the industry, ranging from Atomic and Bite to Shift. The latter is particularly unfortunately because it's Shift that's been one of the main drivers of the social media release.

Ever since the emergence of blogs and other social media platforms, I've become concerned that the industry is too concerned on cashing in on the craze at the expense of strengthening its core competencies. To me, PR as a whole pays too much attention to the development of "new and improved" ways to get its message out and way too little attention to developing messages devoid of hype that clearly communicate what a company is about and why it's worthy of attention.

It's always bugged me that PR is considered a "buzz creating" industry, when I personally believe that if you correctly position a useful product or service, the buzz will come on its own. I also believe this need to always create new and improved tools, while it may be good for the bottom line, is also disproportionately responsible for the industry's high client turnover rate.

Let's hope we start worrying more about the message and less about the medium.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Debates Rage About Usefulness of Twitter

At one time, the phrase social media was synonymous with the blogosphere, since that was the first platform that enabled virtually any Web user the opportunity to easily take a message to the masses.

Since that time, however, there have been a lot of new entrants, including twitter, which is basically a Web-based instant messaging tool that allows any twitter user to follow another, with both having the ability to share updates on what they're doing at the moment.

I started checking out twitter after some technology consultants on a listserv sponsored by a professional organization to which I belong asked others if they were using twitter for business development purposes. At the time, it amazed me that twitter would even be considered something that an attorney or legal marketer would use to reach current and prospective clients, although some in the discussion took up the view that every emerging platform generally has an uphill battle to climb in terms of both adoption and acceptance.

Then today, I was spending some time on MyRagan, a social media platform for communications professionals, and noticed a community member there had penned a blog entry also questioning the value of twitter. Add to that, most of the comments on twitter echoed the view that at this point, most of the "buzz" about twitter consists of stories about its usefulness, or lack thereof, and not much about how anyone's using it in the course of their overall communications strategies.

While that's true, the same could be said about the blogosphere in the beginning and it's certainly evolved to be a useful tool in PR programs, especially when it comes to companies that sell directly to consumers. It will be interesting to follow twitter's evolution and see whether it emerges to become much more than a "new fangled" instant messaging platform or something truly beneficial to business.