Monday, October 27, 2003

International Links to POP!'s Blog!

Okay, going through the Blogger stats, and found these links to POP! Public Relations and my blog.

The first is in Portugeuse from Jornalismo Digital.

The second is the French Blog, Outils Froids.

Both are links from mediaTIC, although I could not find the POP! blog there. But, I don't read French and it's too hectic a day to Babelfish it.

But, with my limited Spanish, rusty Hebrew, and ability to say 'Hello' in Italian, I really need to touch base with my friend who is fluent in Chinese, French, Portuguese and Italian to get her to lend her language skills to the agency.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The Fun of Product Placement

I have never been a big fan of product placement, as it is even harder to measure than public relations itself. Okay, great, you get a client's product on a television show, but does that really bring in shoppers? Does that move product off the shelf?

A recent freelance project that I worked on, the client was very hyper about product placement, particularly on primetime. The person that ran the account claimed to have a ton of Hollywood connects - claim is the operative word here - but the product never made in on television, which is why that his agency lost the project to a New York public relations firm.

Why was the client so hyper about product placement? He was convinced that it worked because his prior company's products were on Friends, and his New York public relations firm had tons of product placements on primetime television shows. But, as an insider told me, if the company had been in the press more, and spent less worrying about being on television, the sales might have been better. She had noted that the best thing for the company was that Oprah took an interest in the product, and that had less to do with the PR firm and more to do with luck and a good press story.

Anyway, in Ad Age, Barry Diller sorta dumped on product placement as nothing "particularly effective."

Firms pay big bucks for product placement, and I wonder if the money might be better spent on guerilla marketing or other public relations ideas.

The Industry Analyst Dance

A posting on Corporate PR is about Industry Analysts and how the dance has changed to where the latest gatekeeper tactics are that PR firms and corporations are only able to book appointments through the Websites - which, naturally, never get responded to.

It's a vicious circle - PR firms such as POP! need to talk to analysts to get analyst quotes for the press, analysts need to learn about the new clients and businesses out there but have come under the gun to get more clients signed on for their services. Therefore, the analysts cut back on PR briefings, and push for paid services, which annoys PR people and neither endears the agency nor the analyst firms to the corporations. Follow that?

I have had a different experience with the boutique analyst firms than PR Opinions recent posting on the subject. His posting bemoaned the recent pay-for-play push that has permeated the system, but as well as the advent of boutique / specialized analyst firms ... hmmm, sounds like the world of public relations.

I find the boutique analyst firms are a little smarter on the selling of the services - it's not as much a hardcore push, but rather the softer sell. But, that could be the specialized analyst firm I have been involved with in the past. In the end, though, I prefer working with the IDCs and Gartners of the world - I trust their numbers more, and they have the better cachet with the mainstream press, and I think their word carries more weight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Return of the Phone! (Homage to the Mack)

From O'Dwyer's Web site, but since I can't link if you don't have a subscription, here's the whole article ... .

Phone-based pitching is making a comeback, according to a poll conducted by the League of American Communications Professionals.

LACP's poll results show e-mail pitching remains as the preferred pitch conduit for PR pros, with more than 2-in-5 (41%) of all respondents choosing this format as their top choice.

Phone-based pitching ran a close second by pulling in 36% of the votes, according to LACP, which revealed the findings of its "September Quickpoll" in its October membership newsletter.

This is a "trend worthy of noting," said LACP in pointing out e-mail pitching had dropped five percentage points from 2002, while pitching via telephone increased by 10 percent during the same period.

Coming in third in the poll was face-to-face pitching, gaining 25% of the total vote, down three percent from the year prior.

"Forty years ago, it was not uncommon for a communications professional to head down to the office of the local newspapers to pitch a story," said LACP.

"Most surprisingly, fax-based pitching virtually disappeared in 2003, down from 2% last year," said LACP, which noted 20 years ago fax machines began to emerge as a communication medium between pitchman and reporter.

"One medium continued to get no votes whatsoever for two straight years: the mail," the LACP said.

The funny thing about this, is that public relations is ALWAYS about the phone pitch. I loved when we would hire people at the agency that had phone phobias.

Unless you're a chicken shit, then you may as well be someone's bitch. Oh, and the homage to the Mack is a reference to the Mark Morrison song "Return of the Mack" released in the mid-1990's. Good song.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Ever Devolving State of PR Practioners and Blog Relations

Boy, do we suck. I really can't put it in a much nicer way, after reading this in Dan Gillmor's blog (okay, he might not be the most most pro-PR journalist in the world, but he is a blog pioneer and has been with an observer and journalist with the Merc for quite a bit).

Fine, that would not be as bad if the posting had not been picked up by Steve Outing of Emedia Tidbits, a self-titled "group weblog by the sharpest minds in online media/journalism/publishing," that's on Poynter Online.

I know that the PR blogs have gone around and around on the stupidity of some public relations professionals for spamming blogs without any concept on what blogs are, or how to target blogs for coverage. I am going to be guilty this week of blogging my PR blog compatriots about a POP! client's product (hey, it's an online press room with XML feeds!!)

But, come on - how desperate is an agency's client to actually pitch the comment sections in a blog? How pathetic are large agencies to have junior people posting comments, and hiding their identities (which, come on, are not that hard to figure out?) How stupid is PR becoming to go to such stupid lengths that only alienate and piss off journalists?

Everyday, it seems that our industry devolves a little bit more, and it's time to take it back!! Viva la revolucion!

Embargo that NDA!!

While talking to a source/friend of mine, he was lamenting (okay, pissed for 30 seconds) about embargoes. His wonderful escapade happened yesterday, when he was pitched by a public relations firm a pretty interesting story - but two other news sources were pitched the same story.

The PR firm had asked for verbal embargoes, but my friend's company does not agree to embargoes, and ergo not honour them. Not a pretty hard concept to grasp, is it? But, the PR firm was livid, and was giving him tons of grief today for breaking the story. I'm sorry, but the agency is being stupid for thinking a verbal embargo was going to stop a young reporter from running with a good story.

I have always thought that verbal embargoes are as good as the paper they are written on. When I was in-house, we were pitching a partnership deal to the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. I had counseled against embargoes, but was gung ho for having a written non-disclosure, but the other company did not believe that their reporter would screw them over. The Journal reporter was my beat reporter, whom I trusted but still knew was a reporter. The AP reporter I had never worked with, and knew piddly about him. Of course, within 10 minutes of the conversation and interview, the AP reporter ran off and broke his verbal embargo and posted the story on the AP wire at 5.00 PM (he was supposed to wait until 8.00 PM, so the Journal reporter could post it).

Because of the relationship I had with the reporter, we were still able to get a print story, as well as a nice sized Web story. But, the fact was that the verbal embargo had been broken, and we had no real recourse beyond bitching and moaning.

When I was at the large agency, we worked with reporters at long-lead magazines on non-disclosure agreements (NDA) all the time. We had the NDAs put together by the corporate legal, and the reporters had no trouble signing them, understanding that it was either honour the NDA or never see product early. It was a pretty cut and dry arrangement - reporters understood that the company needed to keep the product under press wraps, but wanted to get press when the product hit the shelves, and not three months later. And the company understood that there might be some leakage, but that in a cost/benefit analysis, the benefits outweighed the costs.

So, on that point, would I use either embargoes or NDAs at POP! Public Relations? Of course, you have to, especially if the client wants them to be used. Would I go with verbal embargoes? No, unless the reporter and the publication refuses to sign a non-disclosure, which I have run into. But, with those reporters, it is usually someone the firm has a long-standing relationship with, and you know he's not going to stab the company and the PR firm in the back. Especially if he/she wants news before it breaks again ...

An addendum: a friend pointed out that NDAs are the same thing we preach to our clients: There is NO such thing as off the record!! We teach our clients during media training there is no such thing as off the record, and why would a verbal embargo be any different? A reporter is only doing his job - selling the paper by beating his competitors to the punch. Wouldn't you beat your competitor to the punch if you had the opportunity?

My response was that, yah, but NDAs are a little bit more binding - people are scared when they sign stuff. True, but sad.

Monday, October 13, 2003

The Ubiquity of US Radio and Its Overall Meaning

Gonna make a wonderful logical jump with this post, but go with the flow and you'll see my point. Maybe.

Anyway, when I am writing, I like to rock out. It is just one of those things - I need to have a beat going and it gets me into a writing groove.

Since I am writing a byline today for a POP! client, I have been listening to the BBC's 1Xtra - and it made me notice something about US radio - it's boring. 1Xtra is an interesting station - they have DJs that talk, they mix and play what they want; maybe there is a playlist, but it is not the same 20 songs over and over.

In the States, though, it does not matter which city you are in, the stations sound exactly the same as your hometown radio. And, the ubiquity of Clearchannel or Infinity or Emmis makes sure that what you hear in Phoenix is the same that a radio listener is hearing in Los Angeles, or New York, or San Francisco. There is no originality, or risks, and that sameness is mirrored in the written press. No matter what city you are in, the amount of local stories seems to be insignificant and fluff, while the same party lines are repeated over and over in the written press.

Is that a slam on reporters? While there is some laziness in journalism - just like there's laziness in public relations - journalists have a hard job as the last line of truth for the public, even if the public does not necessarily understand that.

One of the bright points of blogging and the Internet is that there is a new line of 'journalists' - people that dig and find that new angle or new story, which the 'mainstream' media then picks up.

This plays into what should PR people be pitching? Stick with the mainstream, or target blogs as well? The online publicaitons have been a target for awhile, but what about the personalized blogs? And, what affect have blogs had on the public? Have blogs been changing the public and media, or is it more that mainstream media have been using blogs as background for larger stories?

If you look at the dot-com era, a few sites (while not atypical blogs) did change the face of journalism and were referred to in the media.

While I may not like these sites, and would love to sucker punch some of the people, these sites have dug up the dirt which has lead to more articles.

In no specific order, they are: The Drudge Report, DotCom Scoop, The Smoking Gun, F**ckedCompany, Debka - I am sure there are others out there, but these sites had and have an impact.

See, I told you that the radio would point back to a point!

Friday, October 10, 2003

Annenberg's Take on the Flack/Hack Dance

From I Want Media's email newsletter (a great compendium of news stories on the media) is a link to USC Annenberg's Online Journalism Review on how the Internet and online resources have changed the relationships between hacks and flacks.

The article is mostly a rehash of what has been discussed on the PR Blogs - good and bad press rooms, using email efficiently - but it is interesting since the reporter does point out that these tools can be boons for the reporters as well, and not just what PR people can use to get more press.

Just think it is interesting that Annenberg is writing about online tools for PR, and noting that press rooms are important for both reporters and PR people.

The full article is here for your further edification or debate ...

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

It's in the Stars

Back in June or July, I started talking to Stephanie Armour (no relation to the hot dog empire, I asked) about age discrimination and reverse age discrimination. While it may sound like a whine, there is both types of discrimination, but it appears to be more acceptable to discriminate against younger people. Being younger, and not having a family to support, I was able to pull back from the job search and begin my own agency - and I realize that not many people have that luxury.

One of the points that I made to Ms. Armour was that I am not really that young - I'll be 32 on October 21, and am accepting gifts - but that I am 'cursed' by looking younger than I am. For awhile, I did think of dying my temples gray, and I grew facial hair which actually made me look younger. Hey, I'm not balding, and I have 3 gray hairs - two in my beard and one in my nose (don't ask). People have pegged me at anywhere from 21 to 26, which will be nice in a few years down the line. Yes, it's such a cross to bear.

Have I been discriminated against in the past because I look young - yes, information got back to me through the grapevine that while the ability to do the work and my experience were good fits, that the people were shocked at how unseasoned I look. Blah.

From that article, I did have a radio interview today with the PM drive time host of WSPD 1730 AM in Toledo, Ohio - Denny Schaffer. While I have done television and some television media training, this was the first time I ever did a radio interview, so was naturally nervous. But, Denny is another good ol' boy from Michigan (he's from Flint), so I let it go with the Michigander flow. We discussed the article, and I agreed with Denny that a lot of people are out of work, and noted that public relations itself took a nasty hit during this economy. Denny seems like a really nice guy, and the interview went really well.

One point that I forgot to mention is that large agencies - caution, big agency slamming - tend to cut senior people and their great experience for the much lesser salaries of junior people. Is there any wonder that boutiques are making a comeback? And, unfortunately, senior people seems to include any PR person with more than 5 years experience - cut them to free up salary and bring in two ACs is always the right answer.

So, one cool thing about this is that I'm part of the third most viewed story today, and fifth most emailed story...

Why does this all matter? Well, it is fun. But, someone I work with peripherally attacked me for doing the article, asking me if I thought it through. He had this attitude that it was a dumb move. On the contrary, I did think it through, I believed it is a valid story and thought that it might bring in some press. But, that really threw me for a loop - the person is an older business person, and made me rethink the story. Before doing the story, I spoke to a few colleagues in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and they agreed that it would not be a bad story to do.

So, had to double check with some PR people I work with, and some reporters. Hey, I'm a young agency, and I can't be too risky.

One mentors said that "I think it's an amazing coup, evidence of your superior skill as a PR practitioner."

Another mentor and advisor said that "Amazing. You really are a media wizard."

A local Arizona reporter whom I worked with in the past said it was a nice write-up for me, and congratuated.

Another reporter whose input I value highly said that what he got it from the article was that "you are someone who recognized there's a problem, understands that it could be construed as whining (you said that in the quote) and has dealt with the problem by starting your own business - sort of like, 'f**k you, you won't hire me, i'll go out and do it myself.'"

He added "plus, you're not that young ... i think by being 31, it shows that you have experience in the workforce and such."

The kicker was this week's horoscope from Rob Brezny's Freewill Astrology:

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about," wrote Libran Oscar Wilde, "and that is not being talked about." You won't have to worry about the latter problem in the next two weeks. The number of discussions about your character and behavior will probably exceed that of any other 14-day period in the past five years. Fortunately, the astrological indicators suggest that a relatively high percentage of the gossip flying around will be benevolent and even flattering. It will be a good time, therefore, for a marketing campaign or networking blitz.

That pretty much calmed my mind today - like it wasn't a busy day with client work and meetings, that I would need to have someone throw a monkey wrench at me and rattle me.

But, the stars say all will be good... plus hockey season started today, so all is good :-)

Thursday, October 02, 2003

The Inanity of Big PR

A couple of stories from the past few days.

A friend of mine is a director of communications, and was on the subway and talking to another PR person. This PR person works at a top-5 firm (in size), and his job description is "client services."

He goes on to tell my friend that he never really talks to the press, but maybe once every few months.

My friend is in shock - he's another generalist, pushing about 4 releases a week for the company, on the phone at all hours with the press, and doing the hand-holding with the executives.

His comment to me? How the f**k could a client services person know what to say to the client, if they are not in the trenches pitching to the media and analysts, knowing what the media is saying about the client? Then he started laughing at the inanity of it all ...

Another inane large firm story - although this is more a stupid-boutique-pass-the-buck-leave-your-bad-habits-at-the-large-agency story. Ironically, the perpetrator is from the same large agency as above!

Here's a little piece of advice for those that have been downsized at large agencies, and might be going to smaller boutiques - leave your crappy habits at the large agency. Which means: no passing the buck, taking responsibility, praising instead of just tearing down junior people. You know, be a real supervisor now that you are at a smaller firm.