Friday, September 30, 2005

PR Spokesperson of the Year

CommCore Consulting is working with PR News to find a PR spokesperson of the year.

When I interviewed Andy Gilman, the founder of CommCore, we had discussed the role of the PR spokesperson, and what it takes to be a good one. It ties into CommCore's core specialty, media training, and really is an area that seems to get little attention in PR: the spokesperson.

But, if you think about it, the spokesperson is a key part of PR, the public face for a corporation that sometimes has to fall on the sword for the good of the company. If your spokesman can't perform on message - or just mispeaks - all the PR work goes down the drain in one quick soundbite.

For more details, and how to nominate someone, check here.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Are we drinking too much Kool-Aid?

Kool-Aid is a great drink. It has a great mascot - Oh Yeah! - with tons of great childhood memories, and is the subject of a great line that was not used enough during the dotcom era, is definitely not being used enough during the Web 2.0 era, and seems to be ignored during the Blog/Podcast era.

Often times, bloggers think that they are the end-all, be-all. If it's in a blog, it must be true. If a meme starts in a blog, it's the truth and should be taken at face value. If a corporation (besides Apple) gets taken to task in the blogosphere, it better damn fast bow down to the power of blogs, or there'll be hell to pay. Or, not really until the story appears in a main media source.

Often, PR bloggers answer for everything is to blog. Don't understand the blogosphere, and want to understand it? Then you have to blog. Stuck (or bankrupt) for ideas for a campaign that's strategic or sound? Launch a blog, or a bunch of 'customer' blogs, touting the product and the company.

Well, maybe we need to rethink this. Blogs are tools - I can't say that enough - but are they a tool that are understood by the mainstream public? While the new buzz is on Podcasting - and, there are a bunch of great ones along with really, really bad ones 'across the' country - are they having that big an impact with the public? Or, are we looking at blogs and Podcasts with technology blinders on?

Well, if an article from Reuters today is any indication, we need to rethink this "blog, blog, blog" and "podcast, podcast, podcast" mentality.
Proponents of the latest Web trends were warned Tuesday that the rest of the world may not have a clue what they are talking about.

A survey of British taxi drivers, pub landlords and hairdressers -- often seen as barometers of popular trends -- found that nearly 90 percent had no idea what a podcast is and more than 70 percent had never heard of blogging.

Yes, the US is different than the UK, but I wonder how different the survey would be in the US. If I can walk to the Starbucks near my office, and ask various people about blogging or podcasting and get blank looks, I know that the penetration levels are not there yet. If I get asked what that green thing is - um, my iPod - and then have to explain what an MP3 player is in the same neighborhood, well, that makes me wonder about Arizona and if the digital divide might be more than just economics, but geographical as well.

Sometimes, it's time to push back from the table and stop drinking and eating, and take off the rose-colored glasses and see what is really happening out there. It's common that people get caught up in the hype, and forget that there is a whole country out there, and that the Bay/Valley and New York might be influential, but that consumers/customers tend to live in those other states ... and they buy just as much.

Oh, the line is "drinking the Kool-Aid." A line that is probably more fitting is one an old boss used to say: "eating the dog food" or "eating the dog shit," both which are interchangeable, depending on the mood. Right now, we might be drunk on the Kool-Aid and have eaten too much dog food.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bad Pitches Aren't Just for Blogs

Bloggers like to think that they hold exclusive rights to getting bad or inappropriate PR pitches, but that really is the exclusive right of mainstream journalists. This past weekend, there are two great examples of why sometimes PR people and publicists - yes they are different - sometimes need to rethink what they are doing.

From the San Francisco Chronicle's Alan Saracevic comes this little ditty - trying to profit off the hurricane Rita and Katrina. Of course, it comes in the form of a pitch from a PR firm. Saracevic does the same thing that other journalists usually do when they print pitches in the paper, and goes classy by redacting the firm and the PR person's name - why can't PR people or bloggers do the same? - but does print the pitch.

I wonder, though, if this courtesy is going to stop with the desire to fully blog pitches.

Anyway, as Saracevic notes:
Where do you even begin to hate this PR pitch? I mean, to use the death and destruction of the entire Gulf Coast to promote your Web site is not simply obscene, it's psychotic. Only an Internet firm would see profiteering as a virtue, although I suppose they're still learning the corporate ropes.
Then I got to find via Romensko this ditty of a story from the Modesto Bee, with publicists trying to win favor from movie reviewers by sending them gifts.

The only problem: the reporters can't keep any product. You see, most newspapers have guidelines that say you cannot accept gifts more than $25 (well, that's using one paper I used to work with as an example).

As the columnist writes:
And it's a total waste. No one writes or chooses favorable stories or reviews based on swag. Plus, it's unethical to keep it. So we hand over anything worth anything to our bosses, and when the holidays roll around, it's auctioned off in a buildingwide Book of Dreams benefit sale. At least that way, a little money goes for something worthwhile.
Now, don't think I am disregarding mailing media kits. Not at all, because they are quite affective. For the Holiday season, I am in the midst of pushing out media kits because it works. You get the information into the hands of people that are more entertainment or general audience oriented that are not techy, but want the photos and information in a way that they can use. It's called pitching to targets, and pitching in a way that they want ... which is why dropping email for RSS, or dropping releases for blogs, is not always a viable solution.

But, gifts for gifts sake - or just schwag - doesn't work, and rarely does.

It's funny, though. What I am speaking about at BlogOn 2005 is how to pitch bloggers, and how I have been pitched as a blogger. It should be an interesting turn of events, because I really don't believe that there is a difference in pitching, just a difference in audiences. Should I pitch a blogger that could care less about a product, or pitch a non-Java mobile application to Russell Beattie? No, because that's just dumb pitching. And, that's what hurts PR more than railing against surveys by top global PR firms that are trying to push the industry forward: pitches that are not targeted nor thought-through to the end. Or, what we used to just call bad PR.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Media training and politics

Well, looks like the still-being-repaired levees are not holding up to the rain from Hurricane Rita.

In MSNBC's article, we get to see two sides of media training: over training and not enough training.

On the one hand, the Army corp of engineers is over media-trained, by not even using words like "flooding" or "overflow" or "waterfall" - instead he goes with this beauty of a quote:
"We have discovered an overtopping on the industrial canal," Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mitch Frazier told local radio.
I think he means that the levees are not holding up, and it's flooding again in the city. Yep, as the article begins with ...
Dozens of New Orleans blocks were underwater after rain poured over a patched levee in the form of a waterfall at least 30 feet wide, confirming fears that the city's weakened levees would not be able to handle the additional rainfall.
Now, compare the engineer's quote to the Governor's about people that are not evacuating.
As for those who refuse to leave, Gov. Kathleen Blanco advised: "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms with indelible ink."
This is a nice example of either no media training, or a total lack of empathy and common sense. It's not like she did such a stellar job with Katrina - there's enough blame to be spread around to everyone - but now she makes a nice Holocaust/Nazi analogy and shows a total disregard and lack of caring for her constituents.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Global PR Blog Week II:
PR, Blogging, and the New PR Meme

This week, the Global PR Blog Week II has launched. There's been a lot of articles - I think the count is at 57 - with a wide array of viewpoints on both sides of the fence. There are the hardcore blog enthusiasts, the hardcore PR is an art camp, and then there is the middle, that views blogs as tools for PR.

What did I write on? Well, I wrote about PR and Blogs and where is PR going now. My first two opening paragraphs - well, the two first meaty paragraphs - are below.
More than a year ago, the first Global PR Blog Week took place, with PR bloggers from around the world participating in pushing the world of public relations into the next stage, where blogs and wikis would become standard operating procedures for public relations firms. Now that a year has past, that is happening. But, unfortunately, at the same time something else has happened: the PR is Dead / the New PR meme.

But, the PR is Dead meme is just that – a meme. Last year, for the first Global PR Blog Week, I interviewed various pundits in the industry, including Richard Edelman and Jack O’Dwyer to get their views on the changing of PR, and what was happening in the industry. From that humble beginning sprang the PR Face2Face interviews, where I usually ask the de rigueur question on blogs and PR.
To read the full post, and others, please visit the Global PR Blog Week II blog.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is it OK to blog a reporter's response to a pitch?

Or, how to burn bridges with reporters, analysts and/or bloggers. ;)

Today, Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek wrote that he stepped out of the office, and returned to 25 email pitches, and likely a few phone calls ...

And, then wondered if it would be okay to blog a company's story pitch. As Baker queried:
Now that we're opening up the process and making things more transparent, is it OK to blog our interactions with PR? This would give more perspective on how companies are pitching their line and positioning themselves. My feeling is that blogging pitches is OK, but journalists should make it clear that the conversation is on the record. Otherwise it can look and feel like an ambush.
Well, first on the blogging pitches - I have no problem with it, because my pitches tend to be short and to the point, which is how all pitches should be (in my opinion). Now, blogging pitches is one thing. Would I feel comfortable with a full conversation thread being blogged? Not really, as with email threads the PR person and the journalist go into specifics, and possibly share information that is not for public consumption ... yet. Yes, I have IM conversations with reporters, and go into "background" for stories - and would I want that blogged about? Of course not, but I also believe that most reporters would not want to burn a PR person, or a source, by blogging conversations willy-nilly.

But, will Baker assume that someone has read his blog ... or this post ... and accept that any pitch is on the record? Any call? Or will he state it each and every time he has an interaction? Having worked with Baker, I think he'll disclose each time.

Mike Manuel did bring up a good point in the comments, that David Berlind did have a media transparency blog, where he was blogging full email threads - but, at least according to one person I know who he did blog, he was asking permission first.

This makes me wonder if I do need to add that "not for blogging" footer to all emails.

Baker did continue with an interesting point:
The flipside: How about PR people blogging their interactions with journalists? They certainly have a right to. It's up to them to decide whether doing so is in the best interest of their clients.
This did make me smile, and chuckle. Not a full LMAO or ROFL, but a smile.

Why? Well, because you will never see a PR person blogging who and what they pitched. First, the clients will then see which reporters/bloggers did not "buy in" to the pitch, and well, for some PR people, that pitch ratio would be pretty low and lead to a new agency.

Plus, as I noted above, I am friends with reporters and analysts. Some of them I like, some of them I love, and some I just tolerate and have a voodoo doll that was a gift from Shandwick. Am I willing to risk these relationships by blogging our interaction? While some think I am crazy, I'm not insane. That would be a fast way to work your way out of PR.

Let's not forget that the relationship between PR and journalism is already too incestous in the eyes of the public. For years, I've heard the "80 percent of news stories come from PR pitches" line - I never can confirm this stat - but, think how the public would react if they realized that a lot of what they read/hear/see are from pitches. Truly good PR is behind the scenes, where the public does not know we are operating.

This relationship is a reality, and a necessity. Journalists rely on PR people for research or background on subjects. And, that's part of our job: making it easier for the journalists and getting them information, and research. I have gone beyond normal PR duties for reporters, getting them information on my clients and others, to make the story better. And, that's part of PR.

As for being pitched? Well, any blogger that has a modicum of a following will get pitches. I get good pitches, I get bad pitches, and as a PR person I will reply in a nice manner to say - hey, thanks or hey, read my blog, I don't cover that. Most of the time, the PR person thanks me and makes a note that I want mainly PR related stories. Rubel notes that he wants people to pitch via Del.icio.us - me, I'm not that picky. Just email me - we're all in this together, trying to help make the industry better.

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Tenacity and Single Mindedness

Today, Simon Wiesenthal passed away.

Whether or not you agree with what he did, you have to agree that he was a great man that was doing great things. You have to admire his single mindedness, for bringing justice to the world and exposing those that tried to hide behind "oh, that was long ago."

There is a lesson here for PR people, and, well, for anyone. Set out a goal, and achieve it.

While Wiesenthal did not think he would be chasing Nazis for the rest of his life, but just a few years, he built his passion into a Center, which pushed the belief that all people should be treated equally, and to fight racism and anti-Semitism, as well as to try and stop any sort of Holocaust again.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Glamming Bloggers

On Friday, C/Net had a story on Glam, a new fashion Website that is launching at DEMO.

Now, DEMO is a great place to launch, but I just say that because I respect and like Chris Shipley ;) - read my interview with her here.

What caught my eye was that from the Website, in the About Section.
EXECUTIVE WEB 2.0, COMMUNITY, AND BLOGS EXECUTIVES

Catherine Levene: Formerly VP, Product, Business Development, and Strategy, at New York Times Digital, Showtime Networks, and Firefly.

Peter Hirshberg: Serves on the board of directors of Technorati.com, former CEO of Gloss.com and Elemental, and an Executive at Apple Computer.
If memory serves, this is the first of the new dot-com's to have a division with Web 2.0 / blog executives.

This, in itself, is interesting. Here's a company that is not only going to be embracing blogs and the Web 2.0, but has actually assigned executives to it, and is promoting (well, sorta promoting) that fact.

What I am interested in is:
  • What are the plans for the blog executives? Are there going to be podcasts and vlogs?
  • Where is this going?
  • What are the implications for PR and Glam?
  • And, whose decision was this, and how much are blogs going to be integrated?
    • Can we expect to see member blogs?
I hope to get someone from Glam over the phone, or over email, to answer these and dig a little deeper. Right now, though, this is a fun time to see companies launch like this.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

CMP goes to Vlogging with The News Show

Recently, TechWeb reported on a study from Outsell, Inc that claims that blogs and free content are hurting B2B publishers, because readers are going elsewhere. The interesting thing about the article is that CMP, the publisher of TechWeb, are B2B publishers.

Kevin Dugan, Strategic Public Relations, had another take on the report: that it was hogwash. Dugan then points out how publications can marry blogs - keeping that revenue stream - with traditional publishing.

Well, CMP has already done that (maybe to protect some advertising dollars) by launching The News Show, which is being hosted by John Soat, a 15-year veteran of InformationWeek (look halfway down for his bio).


I spoke with Soat, to find out more about The News Show, as well as the opportunities for PR professionals and firms.
While we have a dedicated URL for The News Show, it is also being hosted on the homepage for TechWeb, InformationWeek and other CMP properties. The News Show is a way for us to get a vlog product out there, to get video on the Internet for CMP, but we wanted to do something original and unique, to have a streaming news show that is daily and topical. There are other news sites that do offer streaming video, but we feel that The News Show is different enough and more of a news angle that will appeal to the audience that already comes to TechWeb and the CMP properties for news.

Right now, we are getting our bearings on what we have right now, and how to continue to improve it for our readers and our audience. We are hoping there is a sweet spot: news summaries, news analysis, and more. We want this to be the beginning of a multi-product vlog rollout, to have different vlogs on various CMP properties that work for each audience.

And, yes, The News Show will be original content versus just reading stories from CMP TechWeb and our print publications. Yes, we are going in that direction.

The fact is that while technology news is a large and vibrant source, it is a subset of the larger news model. What are we going to do that is original? Part of it is the vlog, with sit-down interviews of the news makers in the industry.

One big differentiation is that unlike other vlogs out there, The News Show is being done by experienced technology journalist professionals, who are able to get to the meat of the subject in a different way. I, myself, have more than 20 years of technology reporting experience, and the other CMP vlog reporters bring the same depth to The News Show. And, that does show when you watch the vlogs.

Right now, there are 20 correspondents who are equiped with Webcams to generate video content, who are encouraged to do it at conferences, or just on the street interviews. We are using Webcams and video cameras to get footage, and are editing the videos to get a polished product out to the audience. Plus, we can do a piece in a relatively short time, as it is needed with vlogs.

As for pitching from PR firms and in-house PR people? Yes, we are taking pitches for the show. This opportunity and new job has given me a new working relationship with PR people, a different one than I have in the past 20 years.

What we are doing is so new, that I am working with PR people to put things together: I come up with ideas to generate video for the show, and work with PR people to be able to shoot interviews or have them set-up the interviews. This isn't B-roll or stock video footage, but we set-up a Webcam with the CEO and the CTO of a company we want to interview. We work with the PR person to set-up a camera and help film, while I interview the executive over the phone, and then I get sent the video. It's a new relationship, where we come up with new ideas.

The News Show is a new step for us. We want this to be an interactive media, to interact with the audience in a direct way. We want the audience to send us email, to send in video segments that they have produced. We are strong believers in the citizen journalism movement, and are hoping that the audience does participate in The News Show beyond just watching the clips.

Plus, starting today to get more people involved, we are giving away Webcams for people that come up with the best ideas for video segments.
To me, The News Show is a way for a B2B publisher like CMP to fire back at the bloggers - they are offering a daily, morning vlog to its audience that brings original, newsworthy content. It's like the grown-up, tech/geek version of Rocketboom, but with real news.

I just hope we never see Soat lip-synch as Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes.

Now, while this might not be a traditional vlog yet, look for CMP and Soat to add a key ingredient for it to have more vlogging cred: commenting. The News Show already does have an RSS feed for the video content, is working on getting a blog set-up for the site, and is looking at having a comments section added to each show.

But, the thing I want to highlight is that - like traditional publications and Websites from CMP - The News Show is open to pitches. This is something that PR needs to think about for the very near future (like right now): pitching Podcasts and Vlogs. Here is one vlog - The News Show - that is open to pitches, and is open to working with PR people.

That's a good thing for our industry ... damn, should have pitched him some stuff while I was interviewing him.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Blogs versus Copyright

If this is Monday, then it must mean that there's a new blog meme out there. This one is that Lego Blocks is stupid for trying to protect its copyright, and get people to use the correct term for the company.

I am not sure why, though. The blogosphere seems to take offence at any company that wants to protect its copyrights, as seen by the FedEx meme - people, it's over and you can stop talking about it now - and now by this slightly astroturfed meme regarding Lego blocks.

Now, after reading the note on Legos.com, I had a theory why Lego had that message on that Website, before pointing to the official site: brand protection. In trademark law, if a term becomes common vernacular, the company holding the trademark loses the trademark. It's happened before, with Bayer and Aspirin. Aspirin used to be a trademark, but it became the generic term for that chemical chain pain killer. Currently, both Kleenex and Xerox are running into the same situation, and in the South, any soda is a "Coke" - which could lead to issues down the road. Even Apple has jumped into the fray, with rumors of cease-and-desist letters going out to Websites using the term iPod (notice the name change to iLounge?)

But, apparently corporations are not allowed to protect their trademarks because it's bad citizen marketing. Why? I'm not sure why protecting a trademark or products is bad citizen marketing, but by reading different blogs, I guess it is. FedEx bad. Lego Blocks bad. Apple - well, Apple good, but that's because it's the underdog attacking other underdogs. While the wording could have been a little less harsh, it's still a point that the company wants to get out there ... which is its right.

So, it's funny that at tonight's Pepcom Holiday Spectacular (PDF) I should run into the people from Lego Blocks. I got to speak to none other than Michael McNally, the Senior Brand Relations Manager for Lego (very cool business card). I asked him about the "issue" with Legos, and guess what? It's the reason I thought it was!! Lego Blocks is trying to protect its trademark, but that's verbotten in the new world of blogs.

Maybe it's time to feed the same medicine to bloggers. Let's see if they enjoy their brand - personal brands - being used in ways that they might not like. Maybe then they'll understand the corporate rationale for trying to protect a brand.


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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Perry, the Vlogging PR Dog

What happens when you have an old Logitech camera, a dog that is well behaved, and a person slap-happy from putting together a report ... you get a dog sniffing a camera.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What could it be??!!



It'll be so big, it will blow your mind! What is it? What can it be? When will it happen?

All these questions will be answered soon ...

Digital Divide, Hurricanes and Disaster PR

Right now, we are witnessing one of the most mind bending times, something that might leave an imprint in the national history on par with 9-11. We are witnessing the after-effects of a devastating natural disaster, and that the Hobbesian state of nature sometimes does occur when government does fail its citizens.

One of the most interesting things that seems to have been glossed over is that this is the best example of the digital divide. As Richard Edelman has pointed out, this is a clear example of blogs and Wikis and the new media failing. Why? Because the people abandoned in New Orleans are the ones on the other side of the digital divide: the poor, the unrepresented, the forgotten. Those people that we pretend we don't see when we pass them on the street, ignoring their pleas until it's too late and we cannot ignore them anymore. Now is a time were we cannot ignore them anymore.

Now, the Blog A-list are swooping in to play the saviour, in a somewhat patrionizing way. They are putting up Red Cross banners and bookmarks, writing about what is not working and what is working, writing about the great evil federal government (or how great it's doing), and offering solutions.

It reminds me of the line from "A Few Good Men": I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.

Less talk, more action. While we can sit in front of our computers, and pontificate on what can be done, there are people that are out there doing good deeds with their hands and hearts - truly getting their hands dirty. There are people out there donating what can be donated, there are people opening their homes for the displaced.

Which leads me to another point. Right now, we seeing a lot of press releases or blog posts about companies donating money and time. In times of disasters, actions speak louder than words. While these companies should be commended for donating, what is the value of putting out a press release? Have a message document ready, if the press does ask what you are doing. In the rare instances, like if you are a company that tends to be attacked for everything (Walmart), yes, you do need to put out a press release announcing what you are doing for the people in the area. Otherwise, reading about your donation on your blog or a press releases makes me wonder what the PR strategy besides "me-too" might really be.

And, while New Orleans is getting the bulk of the press, let us not forget the other victims in other states. Let us not forget how this disaster first impacted states from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, and now will impact many more due to the relocation of half a million people. Who, really, is looking after them? While we will might forget this storm in two or three weeks, like we seem to do all others, there are people that will live with scars forever.

When all is said and done from this great storm - and the storm of activity online - the folks on the "other side of the tracks" will likely only gain one thing from A-listers: they'll inherit their wind.