Saturday, August 27, 2005
Monday, August 22, 2005
But, I am also going as the minority: that blogs are not an end-all, be-all for a PR campaign, just one tool in a vast array of PR tools that are in our bag of tricks. Heck, RSS is just as good a tool (citing Nooked as an example, disclaimer) as blogs, for getting information out there.
If you want to see me speak and debate, use this Discount Code: JP2005 when they register at for BlogOn 2005.
Which brings me to this: recently, a blogger said I was mad about the FedEx furniture incidence. I first corrected him that dogs get mad, people get angry. But, I thought of it over the weekend.
Am I angry - goddamn right, I'm angry. I'm angry that PR is being attacked, and PR isn't sticking up for itself. I'm angry that the media and journalism has changed to tabloidism or all wire service for newspapers, with no local flavor or value sometimes.
So, part of the reason I am going to BlogOn - right before my birthday - is to defend PR and bring up issues that are allowing PR to be attacked as deathe blogosphere.
At BlogOn, I will ask certain bloggers if they are going to step up and take a stand that PR is not dead. It's time to for PR bloggers to use their positions and platforms for the sake of PR, and push back against this "PR is dead" meme.
And, to just set the record straight, no, I am not discounting blogs - but bloggers seem to discount PR as nothing. Yes, I pitch blogs when appropriate, and I have been pitched as a blogger. And I will continue to do so in a sound and strategic sense.
As Mark Twain noted: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." The same could be said for PR.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Sadly, February in the blog world is like 2 years ago. Now, there are more and more bloggers signing on everyday, and a fresh crop of blog consultants starting businesses. Now, there are stories that are only being picked up in blogs, and then they are being pushed for other bloggers' own agendas and goals. Now is the time that libel is just as an important piece more than ever.
So, before we go off calling people liars in the blogosphere, or saying things that can potentially open ourselves up to libel, I think a refresher course is in order.
Thus, here begins the republishing of a part of an article from back in February. In purple.
Can blogs be sued for libel?
It is inevitable, and has already happened. Blogs have received notices from attorneys that they are being sued for libel, but typical of the blogosphere, they don't take these threats seriously. I have read in various blogs that libel suits are rarely won, or that the blog is protected by the courts. But, if push comes to shove, how many bloggers have the deep pockets to fight a libel lawsuit? Or, are most bloggers like Rakim, digging deeper into the pockets and still coming up with lint ...
Is it worth pushing the boundaries in a blog to get traffic, then end up in a libel suit? Are certain blogs that we all have seen - making fun of ugly people on the Web, making fun of Star Wars fans - worth the potential for a libel lawsuit?
To answer all these questions, I interviewed David E. McCraw, Counsel for The New York Times Co. I figured the counsel for a newspaper as prestigious as the New York Times would be able to provide some good insight on libel for bloggers:
It's going to happen that someone will blog, and the response will be a lawsuit. Look at all the high school journals with compromising photos of friends. It's going to be something that willl be sued over - an intra-high schol suit that won't get major coverage.I also spoke with a local attorney I know to get his views on libel, and Arizona laws.
With blogs now being published under the writer's name, and easily identifiable and writing on public topics, there's no reason why blogs are not being sued for libel.
In public figure libel cases, the public figure has to prove that what's written is maliciously known to be false. The private individual, though, only has to prove that a reporter is being careless - was the individual called? Were questions asked? In reporting, these are the questions that need to be answered to protect against libel.
Bloggers, though, blog on belief. Bloggers are like disc jockeys rather than reporters - they say what's on their mind.
There are three interesting set of legal issues for bloggers:
Unfortunately, many bloggers think that their blogs fall under the protection of the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling. This isn't so. If a blogger posts libelous content that is original, it is still libel.
- Republisher Liability: the site is used to post letters, responses, chat rooms, message boards. For the Republisher site, the Website is a neutral conduit, and cannot be sued. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that such sites - including blogs that republish/link from other sources - are protected against libel.
- Originator Liability: the Website can't be sued, but you can be sued. If you post on a blog, even though it is a neutral conduit and is protected, the originator is open to liability. The safe harbor is not true for everyone.
- Protection against subpoenas: the Website falls under the shield law case, with unpublished material you don't want to testify about. The third case is currently at issue with the lawsuits against the Apple bloggers - and, the issue is whether or not those bloggers are protected as a journalist would be.
Do bloggers deserve the same protection as journalists? On one side, it obvious that bloggers are journalists, and on the other side, people are just having private conversations. Bloggers are trying to sit on both sides of the fence - citizen journalists and personal journals. They want the protection of shield law as a journalist, but at the same time not worry about fact checking since it is just a blog.
Originally, people thought that since blogs had low readership there was no real reason to worry about libel. But, now the way that search engines work, blogs are being easily found - with comments and posts of an unflattering nature.
What happens on blogs now is that posts are being picked up by major media outlets. The lonely, personal essayist is no longer true for blogs. There are now blogs that are influential and being picked up, and if it construed as factual information, there needs to be a level of fact checking. If it is false, the original source - the blogger - may be subject to liability just as much as a newspaper.
Suing a blogger might not be worth the hassle, though. First, you have to prove that people have read the post, that you were damaged by it, then find the person that posted the libelous content, find the court that has the jurisdiction ... it is extremely difficult to deal with these hurdles in an economic way.
It is unlikely that a person of prominence will sue a blog, because of the high hurdle public officials need to take. But, blogs and the potential of libel raise interesting legal issues.
One more thought - In Europe, particularly the UK, libel laws are different. Unlike the States - where it is the plaintiff who is responsible for proving libel - in the UK it is up to the defendant to prove that what they wrote was true. (Interesting side note is that the Wall Street Journal just won a libel case in the UK, proving that only 5 people read the article).
Bartlet Brebner, of The Brebner Law Firm, noted that “First Amendment is such a moving and shifting area of law – new court decisions alter the lay of the land, the jury instructions – that nuances come along and change what can be done all the time.”Why should we care about this in public relations? To protect myself a little bit, I did add that the blog is "my opinions and views" - that it's my views and opinions. But, as McCraw noted, that's not enough protection against libel. Simple labeling that something is an opinion does not make it so - the writer has to use "opiniony" words so that it is easily identifiable as not fact, less factual, while showing the basis of the opinion.
Bart also had a very interesting point on the value of blogs – it’s America’s equivalent of the Hyde Park speaker’s corner.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Are bloggers citizen journalists, and as such is there a responsibility to fact check and get both sides of the story? David Berlind's post brought up the fact checking issue, and it's an issue that will be more and more explosive as time goes by.
Or, are bloggers just bloggers, with no journalistic background, and no need to vet information, just go with the meme of the week, this one being FedEx versus FedExFurniture, and not get both sides of the story?
So, FedEx speaks. I spoke with Sandra Munoz from corporate communications, to get their side of the story, and what will be happening next. Geez, that was so hard it took me all of 15 minutes!
From the conversation:
In response to a comment on your last post, the boxes are not sold, but are given free to our business customers. Mr. Avila ordered the boxes to ship [noted on his blog], but used the boxes instead for furniture. The boxes are a cost to us - we test the boxes for sturdiness, we have them manufactured, we send them to customers. Those are costs that add up, but are a cost of doing business.I also spoke with Jose Avila via Yahoo! Messenger to get his views - excuse typos from both him and me.
We have not officially responded because no one has really contacted the media department for a response. Those people that have called, like a TV station, we do respond to. We did miss the Wired.com request.
Right now, it's about media coverage. Right now, maybe this has run its course with the traditional media, it was the flavor of the week. That's what it is about with public relations - you look at the situation, weigh the damage, and make decisions. You do make your decisions on what you do and do not respond to. And, that's not just FedEx, but that's likely all corporations that are weighing the upside and downside in responding to media and citizen media. You can't always respond to everything, because of timing. Wired.com is a perfect example - the request came in over email, and got lost in the shuffle.
I believe that the first contact with Jose Avila - the official contact - was through the attorney. If we go online and see a company using the FedEx name, it goes to legal. That's not unusual. It's a legal issue.
We're just asking him to respect our rights. Thousands of our employees have built the company to what it is today. All we're asking him to do is respect our name and materials, and stop using them for his Website and his endeavors. That's all it comes down to.
Do we want others to follow in his footsteps? No. Our boxes are for shipping. That is pretty obvious, since we are a shipping company, not a furniture building company. He has proven that the boxes are durable. That is great.
jeremy_pepper: how many boxes did you use?Blogs are information + opinions. And, absent editors (or journalistic values/discipline/integrity) are they really to be trusted? This is an example of getting both sides of the story, and letting the readers make up their own mind - I blog, you decide.
Jose Avila: Im not really sure overall... Each piece of furniture on the website has its number of boxes it took me to build the piece... Those numbers have drastically decreased... being that I’m still shipping stuff fedex, my couch is missing approx 5 pieces, my bed is missing 2 and my desk is missing 1. (I ran out of spare boxes, and so I’m not wasting stuff I grab one off of my furniture to ship with) It’s kinda like playing Jenga.
jeremy_pepper: what are you shipping?
Jose Avila: I ship a bunch of varying items... everything from financial documents, rent payments, samples of software I have written to friends in ca to test. and occasionally other items.
jeremy_pepper: BTW, you used about 370 boxes and materials
Jose Avila: before when I shipped stuff i would have to walk down to the fedex store package it there etc. I noticed at the fedex store (actually a mom & pop fedex shop out here that does ups, fedex etc shipping) they were charging for boxes and it was inconvenient to package it at their location, so i ordered a bunch of boxes to make life easier... I dont have a car so carying what i wanted to ship to the shipping center was a pain.
Jose Avila: it was easier to bring a pre packaged box
jeremy_pepper: were they charging for fedex boxes?
Jose Avila: no they were the regular boxes. (plain no markings)
jeremy_pepper: where's the furniture from your last apartment?
Jose Avila: well, I had a lamp
Jose Avila: from staples
Jose Avila: I was living with some friends (older)
Jose Avila: and well they had a bunch of kitchenware living room stuff etc
Jose Avila: and i borrowed their airbed
Jose Avila: so there was never a need for me to buy furniture.
jeremy_pepper: but you still have to pay rent to them?
Jose Avila: Well i could have pulled out of the lease and screwed them over. The whole reason i moved into the place with them at the time was my brother did not have anywhere to live. (I was sleeping on someone's floor before i moved in) So we got the place in ventura together. My brother was living there for a while with me, I then moved to az. My bro stayed there. When my bro moved out (about a month ago) My roomates started looking for another roommate to take over my room; however, they have turned out fruitless. One thing i value more than anything is my friendship an being a trustworthy person. I was not going to tell my friends that trusted me, that i was going to screw them over
jeremy_pepper: so, why didnt you go the CL route and find a roomie with furniture?
Jose Avila: CL?
Jose Avila: ah... well i didnt even know about craigslist up until about a month ago. I did search roomates.com for a while (in fact i may even still have an account there) However i really dont feel comfortable living with people i dont know. And being that I spend alot of time working at home, I could not room with someone that was partying all the time etc.
Jose Avila: When looking for a place i figured i would get by for a while until the rent in CA was over then i could buy furniture. My main thing was to find an apt close to work so it would be cheap to commute to.
jeremy_pepper: so, what's going to be the end result - fedex wants you to stop using their name
jeremy_pepper: what are you going to do?
Jose Avila: what do you mean by fedex just wants you to stop using their name
Jose Avila: are you saying they just want me to change the URL?
jeremy_pepper: "All we're asking him to do is respect our name and materials, and stop using them for his Website and his endeavors. That's all it comes down to."
Jose Avila: Ive never got that from fedex
Jose Avila: they have never stated things in that nature to me
Jose Avila: did that come from a lawyer or a PR person? we have only heard from lawyers
Jose Avila: The real issue here is that PR was never involved in the beginning....
Jose Avila: had they said something like change the domain name...
Jose Avila: change the colors...
Jose Avila: etc...
Jose Avila: on day 1
Jose Avila: i would have probably bent over backwards to do such things
Jose Avila: Instead being that i felt threatened, I started asking people for advice.
Jose Avila: which lead to stanford law contacting me
jeremy_pepper: so, instead, you're going to just continue?
Jose Avila: I am not ready to make a statement right now about what im going to do... though one is being written and will come shortly.
Jose Avila: but one thing i think is important here is the steps that fedex took... http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/archives/2005_07.shtml#003190 That for example
jeremy_pepper: they took steps to protect their brand
Jose Avila: ok... but are there limitations on what steps you can take to "protect your brand"? can you go bomb someones house to "protect your brand". How far can you legally take it?
jeremy_pepper: that's a little mailer-esque
Jose Avila: what do you mean please rephrase
jeremy_pepper: mailer-esque. over the top statements.
jeremy_pepper: bombing someone's house to protect your brand
Jose Avila: my statement is how far does it go? ... thats just an extreme farther out on the line... where do you place the breaking point
jeremy_pepper: flip side - should a person be using free materials to build things for his own fun and purpose?
Jose Avila: when is it not ok to do something to "protect your brand"
jeremy_pepper: that's up to each company
Jose Avila: so each company can decide if they can bomb a house
Jose Avila: where is the absolute cut off
jeremy_pepper: who bombs houses to protect a brand?
Jose Avila: I am not going to answer that question. I will say that my purpose of doing this is not to go out and say to people "hey go do this" Its to get out there and say hey... its ok to be ghetto... when you are in a bind and feeling down you do not have to be depressed but rather you can be creative and get by. I hopped that someone may see my site and think to themselves "hey... at least im not that guy..." also in my case I have every intention of using the boxes for shipping they have not been converted solely for the purpose of furniture.
Jose Avila: should one be allowed to "improperly use" a law that does not relate to "protect their brand"
jeremy_pepper: should one be allowed to "improperly use" products that do not relate to their "intended purpose"?
Jose Avila: nor am i... hence why i have a lawyer
Thankfully, this story's legs are pretty much exhausted - a few sheep stragglers in the mainstream press - and it will end and the blogosphere will glom onto the latest non-story to be harped on for a week.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
So, why is the FedEx Furniture guy a hero to the bloggers? Steve Rubel writes today that Jose is a citizen marketer, helping show how much he loves FedEx by stealing boxes to make furniture. Jose notes that he does love FedEx, and has used them to ship product.
But, that does not change the fact that, well, those boxes are property of FedEx for its customers to ship out product. That's a pretty cut and dry case. Boxes are to be used for shipping, not to make avant-garde furniture, no matter how cool it might be, or how much the designer claims to love FedEx and use them. Yep, I say claims.
I doubt any corporate communications department is going to rush out and embrace a homeless person with a branded shopping cart. Why should FedEx rush out and embrace a furniture-less guy that decided to use their products for his own purposes and means? To me, it's just a knee-jerk reaction of the blogosphere because FedEx is using the DMCA to claim its intellectual and property rights.
If FedEx didn't crack down, could they start to lose money on more stolen boxes? Colleges are opening their doors right now - think of all the college students, alone, that might be seeking to mimic this lil' effort, and then think of the cost to FedEx.
Monday, August 08, 2005
His other part of the post talks about fact checking and how bloggers and journalists are beginning to cross paths, and that some bloggers are fact checking more - he points to Robert Scoble as one example - and that journalists might start fact checking less. Or, that's how I read it.
This is a good time to draw the public relations community into the discussion. Much the same way writers find themselves wanting to do more or less fact checking, a lot of that has to do with how quickly we can get a response. ...
Thanks to the blogosphere, on relatively short order, I went from writing twice a week to 10-15 times a week and sometimes more. There are plenty more where I came from that are feeling and responding in-kind to that same pressure. But, as the established media community picks up the pace, there are those of us in it who would prefer to keep constant the number of chances we're taking. But if the PR community doesn't also reinvent itself to keep pace with the media revolution by responding to the fact checkers on blogopshere time, it will leave those writers with no choice but to take more chances. I don't know about you, but if I were a PR professional, I sure wouldn't want to be the guy that blew that one opportunity to contain the story that snow-balled into a disaster for the company I represent.
Berlind has some points. And he is the man behind the media transparency experiment, where he shows that everyone needs to be upfront in the whole PR and media dance. Yes, PR does need to work in a faster time frame nowadays. Yes, PR needs to think about responding not only to journalists, but to bloggers and citizen journalists.
But, there are only 24 hours in a day. PR still needs to tier the opportunities and requests that come in to the media department. Unfortunately, some things get tiered higher than others, and because of that, some opportunities are missed or ignored. Is that right? Maybe not, but then again, it is about reach and influence. You need to weigh the opportunities and it's a simple cost/effective measurement. Are you going to get back to a USA Today before you get back to a 3000 circulation newspaper?
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
A veteran of the marketing and public relations industry, Andy has more than 31 years of experience in all facets of marketing and corporate communications. He started his career in the marketing department of a professional sports team at age 14 and has been at it ever since.
During his career he has worked with numerous clients and corporations that are traditional package goods product and manufacturing companies, developed and promoted sports and entertainment events and place based properties, worked for professional and amateur sports organizations and leading entertainment figures, launched a record label as well marketed companies in the new economy and technology sectors in both the United States and overseas. Along the way he has held positions ranging from Communications Officer to CEO. His clients have ranged from apparel, financial services, online marketplaces, meta-mediaries, telecommunications, food products to media, entertainment and sports properties including teams, athletes, celebrities and facilities.
Since 1994 Andy has also served as a Senior Marketing and Strategy Consultant to more than a dozen dot.com startups and B2B, B2C and C2C companies that sell products and services over the web. Prior to starting Comunicano in 1993, Abramson guided The Upper Deck Company’s Public Relations and Sports Marketing efforts after a two and a half year stint in Account Management with Foote, Cone & Belding’s IMPACT group. There he developed and implemented Integrated Marketing programs for a wide range of clients. His advertising and promotional agency role followed a 14 year career in sports marketing with the Philadelphia Wings, Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia Flyers where he served in a variety of capacities ranging from Group Sales Representative, Office Manager and President of the team’s youth hockey operation, Hockey Central/Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs from 1976-1988.
In addition to his daily marketing and public relations activities Andy also co-hosts "The World Technology Round Up," a daily technology webcast that is heard via KenRadio.com and its syndication partners, by more than 200,000 daily listeners around the globe. He has also served as the BBC's Consumer Electronics Market analyst in the USA at CES, and was seen in 46 countries and 45 PBS stations, by more than 11 million people. Along with Rutkowski, Abramson co-hosts the annual San Diego Telecom Council’s GadgetFest, each fall, a preview event of the newest and coolest consumer technology products around.
Often quoted both in the consumer and industry press, Abramson authors VoIPWatch, a daily web-log (blog) as well writing a weekly wine column for the Del Mar Times.
You own a marketing and public relations firm – Comunicano - but decided to go a different route and blog about VoIP and telco. Why is that?
I decided to blog about VoIP as I saw it was an upcoming news category that needed someone to make sense of it for the public and the media ... beyond the news clips we all saw from analysts. When I first launched the blog, I felt there was a news hole that needed filling and someone had to rise to be the interpreter, after the media had already spoken to Jeff Pulver (whom I consider the original poster child for VoIP).
I actually thought about a blog on PR to be called "Pitch Pitch Pitch" and realized there were a lot of so-called "PR experts" already airing their comments and views, many of whom were in NYC and London so the media would have been somewhat polarized by them. And, rather than try to go against some of the bloggers who were already in the PR blogging space, I decided to use blogging as a way to be positioned better, and to, in effect, bring some sanity to an industry [VoIP] that I saw was taking many pages out of the dot.com world of marketing.
What got you into blogging about VoIP – what lead you to start the blog?
I started the blog because of the news hole, the need to find the important stories and comments in one place if you were an executive in the VoIP sector – as a service provider, manufacturer or carrier.
What is ironic is as I meet those folks at conferences or talk to them on the phone, the "C" level and VP level types seem to read me almost all the time ... and often comment on how right my insight is, even though I might not have been briefed by them. That was what I set out to do – prove that blogging, as a positioning tool, is very useful to executives and companies.
You have won clients in the space from your blog – have you found it hard to separate client work and blog posts? Have you had to go beyond to be fully transparent about the relationship? How have you disclosed it in the past?
I disclosed when it was appropriate. In the case of Popular Telephony, I actually stopped blogging about them when they became a client, created a typelist for them on the blog so I didn't omit them, but always allowed or "positioned" the story with others and then chose to comment as appropriate. If no one bit on the story, I would give it a week or so and then blog it myself. I openly have admitted they were a client and don't mask that. Being transparent is key as it relates to integrity.
I've also worked with Parus Interactive (formally Webley Systems) for a short while and would always let other reporters or bloggers get access to the same news I would report. Now I'm helping other companies the same way.
How has it been now that you are both pitching reporters and being approached as a pundit. Do you find it makes the PR job harder?
Actually, no. First, I think being "pitched" by so many PR folks helps me relate to being a better PR person.
And I'm able to separate the two pretty well. I've always been in both worlds as far back as 1974 when I filed news accounts on radio while working for the sports teams in Philadelphia when I was 14. It's all about integrity and professionalism. So many PR folks are neither, that it makes it easier to stand out from the crowd. When I say that, I am referring to how PR people work and talk with the media … not how we compete for business, as there are basically no rules when it comes to that.
I view many competitors as friends, and even hire some "friendly competitors" from time to time … all depending on what is needed.
What are the next steps for the VoIP Watch – do you hope to turn it more into a consulting firm, as a part of Comunicano?
I'm getting into that ... a bit...
Andy Seybold is likely the best example of what I'm doing, but he's moved from the "analyst" to advisor in more ways, while still writing and moderating conferences in the wireless community. I have no problem admitting who I work for, as long as I'm not under some kind of super tight, CIA like NDA ... which from time to time we all have to sign, and then I have to be objective about how I report on the blog as well as be careful about what I write. The funny thing is of late more of the companies with the best ideas have no interest in putting me under NDA.
So, even if it's just to pitch the business or do a one day workshop on something the client has a lacking of expertise of, Comunicano is moving into that analyst/advisory direction as a natural progression of our service offerings.
You balance your blog with your work – how do you find that good blog/work/life balance?
I tend to blog early in the day, mid-afternoon and if I see anything just before I go to sleep.
My fiancée is a physician and we both are always on our laptops. We actually met while I was blogging one day in the hotel lobby of the San Francisco W. We both know that the laptops are an extension of what we do, so we work at the same time and then we log off and go to where we have to go, and live our lives. We call the laptops "the children," and seem to tote them around everywhere except to parties and dinners.
We go to coffee shops with them and she manages her patients' notes online, orders prescriptions when she's on call, so my blogging is a way to keep busy when she's working too.
I also use WiFi and EvDO to stay connected more than the average person. If T-Mobile stats are correct the average account is used twice a month, my use is about twice a day, twenty days or so a month or more. I tend to use hot spots the way people used to use pay phones in the era before cell phones.
What advice do you give new PR people looking to blog – should they go with the PR blog, or blog on another subject?
I think that PR bloging is about saturated. B.L. Ochman, Steve Rubel, you, and really O'Dwyers (even though it's not a blog), PR Week for news, all pretty much have the universe covered. And really, other than for newbies, the old guard isn't into it the right way. They see blogging as a money maker, and don't understand the real purpose: opinion, comment and revealing what's not known, what’s said, etc.
I would think it's better to be a subject matter expert, more than a generalist if you are working your way up. But hey, I'm really a strategic generalist, who knows when to specialize opportunistically.
But I also don't read the PR blogs that much, simply because I'm less into the "PR" gossip set in NY or L.A. or SF than some others who seem to worry about that. I guess if I was running a Hill and Knowlton or Edelman-type of shop I would work that way though, just for positioning
Any final comments or thoughts or advice?
Some quick thoughts:
- Blog responsibly. If you find out you're wrong, correct the post. Don't stand by your guns if the facts are clearly against you.
- Make friends with like minded bloggers and work with one another.
- Don't be an island of one, as it would get lonely.
- Know the meaning of LinkLove and use it when it really matters ... my posts about Yahoo and Dialpad are a clear example of LinkLove being done right.