Friday, August 28, 2009

Journalists think they are overqualified for PR

It is a known conceit that journalists think they can do our jobs better than we can. But it's rare that a journalist will say that while applying for a PR job, which Kansas City Star columnist Mike Hendricks did in an email exchange that ended up in on the Bad Pitch Blog.

I have met more than a few journalists who have crossed over to the dark side and been successful, but I have also met a few journalists who have flamed out because they underestimated how difficult it is to serve multiple masters or how much work goes into getting positive coverage.

Just saying.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10 ways PR has changed in the last five years

1) PR used to be a face-to-face business. You took clients on tour, set up meetings at trade shows and competed in softball against various publications. Today, none of those face-to-face relationship building exercises are as big as they used to be. Budgets have restricted travel plans and most magazines don't have enough staff to field a softball team.

2) With a few exceptions, no individual media player has as much power as they did five years ago. As a result, today PR people have to cast a wider net to reach more media people to achieve the same market penetration they hit five years ago.

3) Bloggers don't take press releases. They want the inside scoop on the story. Most stories don't have enough angles to satisfy more than the most important bloggers.

4) Print is dead. Young people proudly boast that they don't read hard copy magazines. Worse, most PR people don't read hard copy magazines or newspapers, thereby burning down the house they live in.

5) Digital = viral. And that's not always good. Ask Domino's.

6) Blogs and Twitter mean every company has a lot more spokespeople and unhappy customers have a bigger microphone.

7) In the words of the Bill Clinton campaign, "It's the economy stupid." Social media is cheaper.

8) Embargoes are dead, which makes it harder to judge how much coverage will hit, and for that we can thank the bloggers.

9) Because social media is measurable, metrics really matter and we are only just beginning to learn how to count. Then again, not every PR practitioner is happy that her clients know exactly who is reading what.

10) We are only on the front edge of change. Just as email killed the fax business, social media is gutting traditional media and the collateral damage is killing traditional PR.

If you have more thoughts, I would be happy to hear them.

Bylines, another reason people don't trust PR folks

Reading this NY Times article about doctors who put their names on bylines penned by drug companies reminded me of how few people outside of PR are aware that bylines are a tool of the trade. Outside of the public relations and marketing circles, most people assume the name on the byline is the article's author, which is exactly what everyone on the dark side wants them to think. And, we are comfortable perpetuating that deception

Is it any wonder that PR people aren't honored as pillars of integrity?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Killing embargoes cuts both ways

Bloggers killed embargoes; there is no doubt about that.

Last week, Bobbie Carlton posted a great blog explaining what embargoes were and why PR people used them.

When done well, an embargo made sure that every outlet had the chance to print the story at the same time. More importantly perhaps, embargoes gave reporters a chance to report on a story, not merely rewrite a press release or announcement.

Back in the day, a good PR pitch had a customer and an independent analyst who could competently talk about pain points and product benefits. If you didn't have those pieces of independent corroboration, it was hard to sell a story to the media because a smart reporter does not trust a vendor's word. An enterprising reporter might even want to reach out to her own sources. It takes time for a reporter to interview all those people and talk to the vendor, let alone synthesize all of that information into a coherent story.

Embargoes gave the reporter time to research the story without the fear of getting scooped. It also meant every reporter got a chance to write the story because the vendor did not have to play favorites and everyone who wanted to cover a particular product launch could.

As much as reporters like to complain about embargoes, like so many other things in PR, the reporters' interests were served by the arrangement.

Many people give TechCrunch the credit for killing embargoes, but they only delivered the final blow. Long before TechCrunch formerly said no thanks to embargoes, PR types rarely briefed bloggers ahead of an announcement. Everyone knew bloggers weren't in the embargoed circle of trust, and as everyone knew the lay of the land, everyone played nicely in the sandbox.

Once TechCrunch got large enough to influence buying decisions, it had enough power to dictate the terms of the PR relationship. Money talks. In TechCrunch's case money loudly shouts that it will do whatever it damn well pleases. TechCrunch said they would no longer honor embargoes and almost every other blogger fell into line.

Bloggers play a different game than traditional media and their rules of engagement are different. That's fine as long as their rules don't change without warning.

Rules of engagement in PR are like an umpire's strike zone in baseball. Every umpire has a different one, but regardless of whether the umpire's strike zone favors the hitter or the pitcher, the player just wants the umpire to be consistent in his approach. Players go batty, so to speak, when the strike zone changes throughout the game.

In this case PR pros are baseball players, without the million dollar salaries. With consistent rules of engagement, we can decide when we want to give a reporter or blogger the news and they can decide whether or not to run the story.

Back in the days of embargoes, a good PR pro knew if an outlet was going to run a story. If a reporter conducted an interview, she usually wrote a story. If you gave a reporter embargoed information and she did not think it was worth covering, a good reporter would let you know that up front.

Once bloggers decided not to honor embargoes and thus tip their hand about whether or not they would cover a story, a PR pro's ability to predict coverage became more difficult. If there is one thing PR people want, it's the ability to set expectations and to tell a client how much coverage he will garner from a big launch.

Without the crystal ball, it's a crap shoot that, like so many things with social media, leaves PR people a little uneasy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What I saw at the Podcamp Boston or the #pcb4 revolution

First, let me confess that I was only able to attend the Saturday session so my thoughts are constrained to that day, but it was a full and fruitful day.

Everybody was talking measurement. The sessions that promised to explain how to measure the results from Social Media programs were filled beyond capacity. As with most marketing programs, the proof is in the numbers. To repeat a worn cliche, in these times building brand awareness isn't enough to move skeptics to open wallets. But most of the attendees left those measurement sessions underwhelmed. While the presenters had some good information, the general feeling was that the attendees showed up at a restaurant expecting a three course meal only to find bland appetizers on the menu. That said, Radiant 6 was a conference sponsor and they should have been happy to hear the news that to marketers measurement is still a four letter word.

I can do it, but how much do I charge? As the new economy has forced many mid-level managers to become freelancers, these reluctant entrepreneurs have had to learn how to bill for their services. If the measurement meetings filled the seats, attendance at the billing conversation flowed out of the door. By all accounts, Partner Dynamics's Melinda Moses, who presented "How do I Package and Price My solutions for SMBs," didn't disappoint the standing-room-only crowd.

Open Spaces create great conversations. At least as often as not, I learned more by chatting with random people in hallways as I did in the conference sessions. Pure serendipity, bumping into friends and learning about sessions they attended or sessions they planned to attend later. This is by design. Podcamp Boston organizers made sure there was plenty of open space and emphasized the Law of Two Feet, which meant that people got up and walked out if the presentation wasn't to their liking.

Conversations about social media lean toward the descriptive not the proscriptive. The more I talked to successful social media practitioners, the more I realize that most of them are making it up as they go along. That's not a bad thing. Actually, it's empowering. It's like being on the front edge of a land grab in fertile territory. Not everything you plant will bear fruit, but a lot will. If you can catch the first wave, you will be selling into an unsaturated market. Even the "What's Next" conference theme played into the spirit of exploration and experimentation.

There is a disconnect between what draws marketers to social media and what draws normal human beings to participate. No where is this more evident than around privacy settings. Most users want their friends to know which restaurants they frequent or which vacation spots they plan to visit in the next five years. Not surprisingly, the information is extremely valuable to marketers. In the middle of one presentation on job searches, a few attendees said they only share the barest information on the public profiles, but that defeats the point of participating on these sites. In the rush to monetize social media, they have forgotten the social in social media.

This post isn't the place to explore privacy settings in social media. For more on my thoughts on that, you can go here or trust that I'll return to the topic soon enough.

There are 250 million people on Facebook. If marketers cannot figure out how to make money from that captive, but walled-in audience, without scaring them with privacy concerns, we most definitely will find out what's next.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Advertisers get personal or Big Brother knows how you spend your money

It's all about the metrics. One of the chief difficulties marketers have in selling their wares to the C-level office types is being able to prove that it works. Being able to link a marketing program directly to revenue, well for a marketer, that's like a Popsicle on a hot and humid day.

Now, thanks to Geomentum, advertisers are inching closer to capturing their Holy Grail, knowing exactly what ads move customers to spend money. On a large scale this is nothing new. For a while now, marketers have used technology to track consumers browsing habits, watching those clicks turn into cash, but Geomentum's technology makes it possible to understand how individual households will respond to a particular advertising vehicle, television, billboards or newspaper insert.

Cablevision in New Jersey, yes that Cablevision of Jeff Jarvis fame, has a program that targets individual households by demographics for television commercials. While that system does not let the advertisers learn names of the individuals customers, you have to believe that's not too far off because as a society we have traded privacy for convenience and savings.

Anyone who has bought a house or tried to rent an apartment lately knows that if you want a roof over your head, you have to let someone look deeply into your financial life. The paper trail says more about you than any resume or biography.

Less conspicuously, but perhaps more ominously, we've also made a bargain with supermarkets and other purveyors, accepting loyalty cards that bring savings but take away anonymity.

While the loyalty cards do provide savings, they also track the purchases of the supermarket's best customers. According to various sources, supermarkets receive the bulk of their profits from just under 25 percent of their customers. Loyalty cards let the supermarkets know just what those customers buy and make sure the shelves are stock with that particular shampoo or pitted olive.

Worried that we have too easily given up too much information about ourselves, conspiracy theorists and privacy purists have sounded alarms that have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Although privacy advocates have won a few battles, some of their battles with Facebook come to mind, the long-term edge in this war decidedly favors the information gathers.

After 9/11, conservatives who once worried about the government having too much information about us, pushed through the PATRIOT Act, trading privacy for security. Perhaps they realized that the cost of living in the modern world is privacy.

But the very people who used to worry about the government having too much control over our lives invited Big Brother to listen to our calls and search our emails.

For most of us, the convenience of giving up personal information is worth the perceived benefits, but for those who don't want to give up their personal information--for what ever reason--they are swimming against an overwhelming tide. When the government and corporate America's interests align, they create an undertow that sucks us all down.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The flexible English langauge

Going back to basics, I picked up Grammar for Dummies the other day. It's one of a bunch of books that I have on the subject, though I confess that in this I am an inexpert student, as my friends never tire of reminding me.

Not through my hand alone, American English is under attack because of the informality of the digital age. To the our grandparents tell it, the introduce of email and texting, have assaulted the language of Shakespeare and Chaucer. According to those traditionalists, we are fueling the flames of hell with style manuals of all kinds.

I am, however, a person who believes in the flexibility of grammar and words, which drives the strict grammarians batty. But when our forefathers and mothers reached these shores, the English they spoke and wrote combined with the native tongues of other settlers from other nations, resulting in the polyglot we have today.

As a country, Americans hold the belief that world history (and the English language) starts with their birth, and change should only occur on thier terms. Unfortunately, that believe smacks up against the other core American values of exploration and self-determination. The country was founded by a group of explorers who made up a new form of government and a Constitution flexible enough to be a living document 220 years later.

Is it any wonder that we also look at language as malleable, at least as it's interpreted within a given set of rules?

That said, have fun finding all the typos in this post.
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