PR Industry News

For those solo PR pros…

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We’re proud to offer a powerful yet still reasonably priced media monitoring platform, and the fair pricing model is one reason we are fortunate to serve a number of solo Public Relations practitioners.

This is a group that we love to work with, and we spend time researching what individual practitioners need from a monitoring platform. Truth be told, it’s not that different than what any other company or agency wants from a monitoring platform: fast, accurate results from traditional and social media channels; a robust set of tools to help analyze, export, and report the data; and offer those things at a fair price.

The Solo PR Pro Twitter chat, hosted by Kellye Crane, is a great spot to listen and learn–so, if you’re a CustomScoop client with your own PR/Marketing practice and you haven’t participated in her chat, I encourage you to put it on your calendar for next year (the last chat for this year was held today). And, if you’re interested in the community, please take a moment to respond to Kellye’s survey.

Social Media Tug of War

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tugofwarAn old boss of mine used to describe finding the right niche for his employees by co mparing running a business to driving a bus. In order for the bus to run smoothly, all the riders need to find the appropriate seat. I could groove on this notion, because after a certain amount of time at one seat on his “bus,” I switched to another and found it a far more comfortable ride. The idea is that the more comfortable an employee is in their role, the happier they’ll be—and happy employees are good for business.

But what about the tools of business? Do they need their own seat on the bus or should they be a part of the whole?

Todd Defren recently questioned whether it was necessary to segregate social media into its own division within PR firms. He rightly argues that social media skills should be a part of every PR pro’s arsenal; why bother having social media “specialists” or “divisions” when everyone at an agency should be learning how to use new media to more effectively communicate their clients’ messages?

The idea of a social media “expert” is something I’ve seen batted about plenty, on Twitter in particular. I recall Jeremy Pepper and Kami Huyse’s recent engaging back and forth regarding whether anyone should really call themselves an “expert” in social media. According to Jeremy, no one is a social media expert, and shouldn’t bother trying to be one—what they ought to be doing instead is using social media knowledge as just one more tactic in a wide-ranging set of skills. We don’t need social media gurus operating behind closed doors, separate from the rest of the profession. What we need is education, from the student level on up. Segmenting social media into a specific department will only encourage those who willfully don’t get it to continue to not get it, and to feel entirely justified in their ignorance. This is dangerous; that ignorance is no cure for the industry’s current reputation crisis.

Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer of the Bad Pitch Blog appeared on Luke Armour’s podcast today, and dedicated an entire portion of the show to the recent poor publicity for the PR profession. Someone pointed out that journalists complaining about annoying publicists are actually nothing new. What is new is the level of publicity this whining is getting. No reporter back in the day would publish the names of every publicist who drove him batty with spammy press releases, and no newspaper editor would allow it. Bloggers are their own editors, and some of them have quite a bit of juice, pushing the issue of poorly managed PR campaigns into a very hot spotlight.

This brings us to a new issue raised by Geoff Livingston: which facet of business “owns” social media? Is it truly PR, or do marketing and advertising win out? Jeremy has already argued that advertising, with its slick, sexy campaigns, will win the day unless PR shapes up. My reaction to these debates tends towards the idea that there is room in social media for many different aspects of business. Why the talk about winning relative “ownership” of such a complex medium?

Perhaps, because social media is all about building relationships and engaging communities, people assume that public relations should be the only industry that can truly understand how to best utilize those relationships. Not to mention that traditionally speaking, advertising and marketing are more about manipulation and trickery, and talking at an audience rather than with a community. But much has been made recently of the ways that public relations as a profession has been forced to change with the times—who is to say that other aspects of business aren’t also being forced to make those same changes?

Just look at mainstream media. Is there a major newspaper operating online right now that doesn’t have its own blogs? Even the curmudgeonly New York Times has gone 2.0, allowing reader comments on its online content.

The social media revolution has far reaching implications. Attempting to allocate it as a single resource of a single element of corporate America is a misguided and futile effort.


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I’ve been struggling with blogger’s block the last couple days. Plenty of thoughts and ideas swimming around the brain, but none of them seem to want to come out and play when I sit down with a white piece of paper. Hugely frustrating. The white piece of paper is my least favorite part of the writing process.

How does the old saying go? I love to write, I hate to start. Once I get going on a post I could be clacking away at my keyboard nonstop for as long as it takes. Before that, however, I could stare at the blank screen, brow furrowed, pen tapping against my chicken-scratched notes, for ages.

Which is, of course, why I invented JotPourri! It’s been a while since the last one, so I figure it’s as good a cure as any for my current state of blockage.

Just a few things I’ve been thinking about lately.

First, what the heck are these guys thinking? Is this one of those “any publicity is good publicity” type deals? I covered this story in the Jots last week, but a fascinating follow-up is that one of the principals of the fight has left comments to the post adding more fuel to the fire. I can see standing up for one’s self as a good quality, but…I just think he’s coming off even more petty than the emails posted made him seem. Perhaps, since one of his comments specifically defines his firm as “aggressive,” this sort of antagonistic behavior reflects well on him in the eyes of the clients seeking his firm’s assistance. I just have a hard time picturing any prospective client, even one looking for a particularly aggressive firm, being impressed with these rants. What do you guys think, am I off base? Is any publicity good publicity for these firms? Or does stuff like this only add to the growing anti-PR sentiment in the blogosphere?

Next up, have you tried Utterz yet? While my initial fervor for this new social media discovery (it was all the rage at PodCamp Boston 2) has died down somewhat, I still check it once a day and plan to continue contributing my own multi-media micro-posts. Listen to my most recent Utter (a few of my thoughts on Facebook’s “social ads”) here.

I find that with some new media tools, once the hoopla dies down, so do the number of users (after initially really enjoying it, I haven’t been on Pownce for weeks). I hope that doesn’t happen with Utterz. It’s engaging, simple to use, and could add real value to the online conversation. My only gripe is that finding friends proves a little difficult. I definitely have not added all the contacts I’d like to; but this is a minor gripe for now.

Finally, something that’s been circulating a while. I posted on it over at my personal blog, but have continued to consider it since then: should PodCamp always be free? A topic mentioned in several post-PodCamp Boston blog posts and podcasts discussed the official removal of PodCamp Rule #4—that PodCamp must be free. While you can certainly still organize a PodCamp that is free-of-charge for attendees, you are no longer required to do so. Some may lament this development, but I welcome it. If PodCamps are growing at such a rate that organizing them without asking for at least a deposit from attendees is becoming unfeasible, isn’t that a good development? It means that the community of folks dedicated to bringing new media to the mainstream has exploded, doesn’t it? While it is disappointing that about half of those registered to attend PodCamp Boston weren’t able to attend, the numbers still tripled what they were last year…who knows what future PodCamps will bring? And if a fee becomes necessary to support the growing numbers of campers and make the event even better, then it’s a change I wouldn’t mind at all.

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PR missteps

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There were two major PR missteps that caught my eye recently, and the response to both was predictable.

First, FEMA’s “fake” news conference. I’m not sure whose bright idea this one was, but good grief, someone should have put the brakes on this the second the idea came up. For those who haven’t heard the story, FEMA staged a news conference and populated the “audience” with its own employees to ask questions. Inevitably, the press discovered the background of those asking the questions, and FEMA was rightly called out on this charade. Dumb, all the way around on FEMA’s part, and totally avoidable.

The second misstep is a bit more complex, but still should serve as a reminder to all in PR that social media has changed the landscape. Last week, the AP reported that it had evidence that Comcast “throttles” or “blocks” BitTorrent applications on its network. This allegation was the buzz of many blogs (and the allegation was actually first made in a popular forum back in May), and in response Comcast issued a very carefully worded statement that appeared to come directly from its legal department, with perhaps a brief pass-over by the PR department–maybe to check for spelling mistakes.

Essentially, it said that Comcast doesn’t do any of this “blocking or throttling” but that it has the right to “manage its networks.” That sounds like perhaps they don’t do it, but that they hire someone else to do so. Which is exactly what Consumerist pounded on, in no fewer than four separate posts on the issue in two days. And that’s just one blog. The coverage has been extensive.

Both instances involve some level of deception, which is exactly why the general public doesn’t trust PR. Both entities have had these incidents added to their respective Wikipedia pages (Comcast; FEMA), so there it will live. Both entities have lost at least some credibility and trust.

One of the most important skills of a PR practitioner can possess should be the ability to say no to ideas that could harm the organization he or she is representing. Ideas like these–a fake news conference or elaborately parsed explanations–need to be viewed through the lens of new media.

PR practitioners need to ask: does the risk outweigh the reward?

UPDATE: Potomac Flacks is reporting that the FEMA official responsible for the fake news conference did not start in a post he was to have begun today; his record is being reviewed due to his role in the flap.


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Social Media Top Five

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Do things seem a little stagnant this week, or is it just me? Normally when putting together a Social Media Top Ten, I just rattle things off the top of my head, hardly even needing to check with my page to fill in the blanks.

But this week, I’m having a harder time…Maybe it’s not social media, it’s me. Or maybe the countdown to PodCamp has caused a freeze on all other things social media.

Regardless, a Top Five is better than a Top Zero!

5) John Wall’s Guide to Drinking: One of the dynamic duo behind Marketing Over Coffee presents what I like to call “Networking Over Alcohol,” a guide to drinking in networking situations without losing your head (or your lunch).

4) Boston Blogger Dinner: EMC generously sponsored dinner and drinks for Boston-area bloggers last week, and I continue to be amazed by the turnout to these social media meet-ups. With over 1,000 more people coming to PodCamp Boston 2 than last year’s event, I probably should not have been surprised. Great turnout, great people (Jeremiah Owyang, Doc Searls, to name a couple), perfect pre-PodCamp event.

Speaking of PodCamp…

3) PodCamp Boston 2: More than 1,200 people are currently registered for PodCamp Boston, starting this Friday. Be on the lookout for plenty of live-tweeting from me, starting Thursday night from Blogtoberfest at the Pour House. But will PodCampers from the area be able to focus, with the World Series going on?

2) Twitter and the Playoffs: Twitter has played a huge part in my enjoyment of the 2007 baseball playoffs. A lifelong Sox fan, I’ve always lived and died by the team and spent every October freaking out over the playoffs. This October, I was doing it on Twitter, and I wasn’t alone. Watching each game with my laptop running, Tweeting my frustration and elation, was truly great. I can’t wait to watch the World Series games with the same folks in person, at PodCamp.

Speaking of live Tweeting…

1) Has live-Tweeting replaced live-blogging? Lately, I’ve been turning to Twitter to follow events. This issue particularly came up over the weekend, where Kevin Dugan, Paull Young and Constantin Basturea were all Tweeting from the UGA Connect conference, and checking in on their Tweets was far more effective than reading blog posts later on. Paull argues that the blog posts are necessary, for “posterity,” I can get behind this, but think the Tweets are best for real-time coverage. Thoughts?


Social Media Top Ten – Vacation Edition

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It’s hard to remember, when one exits their normal life entirely to spend an entire seven days trapped inside a cruise ship with no phone signal or Internet capability (unless I wished to pay a whopping buck a minute in the Internet cafe) (a temptation I succumbed to for 15 whole dollars minutes of frantic email checking on day 5, I admit it), that the world of their normal life keeps chugging along. This is a cliche that everyone uses when they get back from an “unplugged” vacation, but hey, cliches are thus because they’re true, eh?

As it turns out, while I was sipping on umbrella drinks and snorkeling with sting rays, a whole heck of a lot of stuff happened in Social Mediaville (not to be confused with Margaritaville, where I was also hanging out).

So what better excuse for another Social Media Top Ten? Without further ado:

10) Google acquires Jaiku – How will this affect Twitter? My fearless prediction, as stated in this morning’s Jots: it won’t. Twitter is where the party is, and where, I think, the party will stay. What do you think?

9) Ford pulls off a snazzy social media release that left the PR blogosphere buzzing.

8) SMT10 founder Bryan Person calls for “death of resume,” wants a social media resume instead.

7) Tom Foremski claims that traditional PR is running on fumes and just about dead. Flacks worldwide get to work on their social media resumes.

6) Strumpette retires, blogosphere cries havoc and lets slip the blogs of war, confessing things I’d never heard before about Amanda Chapel’s offline activities. Check out Robert French, Geoff Livingston and Eric Eggerston’s posts for interesting discussions on the legacy of the popular, controversial “Ms. Chapel.”

5) Blogstring gets new look! Okay, so it’s shameless self promotion, but I needed one extra addition here, and I happen to dig our new design. Thoughts?

4) Oh, how meta of me. In his SMT10 (well, five really), Doug Haslam lightheartedly mocks the social mediaizing of everything by suggesting a “social media note from your mother.” Actually, the entire post is quite funny, good on Doug for bringing a little humor to these topics.

3) Jeremy Pepper posted a series of great posts from the Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago, one of the few rundowns I saw out there; check it out.

2) Blog Action Day – Bloggers worldwide today took part in Blog Action Day, a movement to unite the blogosphere under a single issue. Today’s issue was the environment, did you partake?

1) Global PR Blog WeekConstantin Basturea calls for ideas for Global PR Blog Week 3.0. I have no doubt that this event will bring together some of the smartest PR pros on the web, and I can’t wait to participate.

Mooninite Marketing

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Now that the dust has settled around last week’s marketing stunt that went horribly awry for Boston-area commuters, what lessons can marketers take away?

In his excellent post on the fiasco, Todd Defren declined to address a key question: Was this stunt even an effective marketing campaign? (A question that naturally leads to another: Was it worth all the trouble?)

If Todd doesn’t mind, I’d like to grab that baton.

First, was the stunt a good idea?  Todd mentions the “any press is good press” angle, which I think implies that this campaign was getting any press at all before the Boston ruckus. Media coverage from the other cities indicates that some people did notice the odd little light displays, but there were certainly no terrorism scares in these cities, and definitely no national media attention.

As a word of mouth campaign, I think this project was ill-conceived, even without the bomb scare implications.  Without an accompanying billboard or print media ad campaign, the stunt’s success relied entirely on the average American’s ability to recognize a character from an obscure cable cartoon, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”  Without the attention on the terror scare, it is safe to say that this campaign would most definitely not have resulted in a week’s worth of free national media coverage and endless blog chatter about the program.

The terrorism scare then, while a nightmare for Boston commuters, turned out to be something of a boon for Turner Broadcasting.  If nothing else, there are far more people today who have heard of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” than there were a week ago (count me as one of them). And while the two young men hired to place the devices aren’t doing the company any PR favors with their silly grandstanding, they certainly are keeping the event—and the cartoon—in the news.

The stunt has also inspired an online viral response, exactly the kind of word-of-mouth companies hope for when they go to the trouble to start their own viral campaigns (usually with limited success, as the Wal-Mart fake blog and other similar projects have proved). Boston website Bostonist links to a song parody of the incident, a short video and a “whack-a-mole” style online game.

No one would argue that anyone behind this campaign intended to cause a massive panic and shut down the entire transportation infrastructure of a metropolitan area when this idea was conceived. The scare and the resulting viral buzz are entirely accidental, as all the best viral campaigns are.  That is why companies attempting to create their own will almost always fail.

One must wonder then whether there is a marketing exec somewhere turning secret cartwheels over this gaffe, even as they issue public apologies—and if other companies will make bungled attempts to imitate this sort of accidental publicity with stunts of their own.

The Latest from PR Blogs

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CustomScoop recently launched an effort to provide a daily update of the latest posts from PR bloggers.  Our editors pick a few key posts each day to highlight that give a good flavor of the conversations taking place, as well as links to posts that have innovative or provocative thinking.

The service is called PR Blog Jots and is available free in blog or email format.  Just visit to check it out and learn more.

I personally find this to be of great value because it allows me to spend a few minutes each morning checking out industry discussions that I might have otherwise missed.  I encourage you to try it out for yourself.

Mass Customization is Means Readership Growth for Smaller Pubs

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Bulldog Reporter has an article today that outlines the findings from a recent study conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. The study finds that while readership of national papers is going down, readership of local papers is up, and they attribute this transition to the fact that readers prefer content that is tailored to their interests and geography.

This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s used the internet to tailor campaigns to each specific recipient. Even just adding the person’s name to an email can have significant impact.

For PR practitioners who measure the results of their efforts, this means that the way we define a “win” will change. We will no longer aim for placement the big names in media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or whatever it may be for your industry). Instead, rather getting coverage for your business in 20 local papers may just have more impact than that one “big” placement you got framed for the conference room.

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