Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Can I can get a big cup of STFU please?

How many times can you beat a dead horse? Apparently, every quarter if that horse is the PR is dead meme.

Well, this time it's more a slow build kicking of the horse: the recent meme started with the launch of Cuil, and Robert Scoble not being pre-briefed. There, he decided that he's done with the PR game.

Robert fed the fire with his recent post highlighting a company that he found through word of mouth - albeit a company that is not a mass consumer product, and likely will do okay with little PR.

It bubbled up in other posts - from Steve Rubel (who seems to forget that he's in PR and collects a pay-check at the world's largest independent PR firm), from TechCrunch, from Mashable. All people that have and continue to profit from PR people and PR firm relationships, with scoops and sneak previews. Here's the usual TechMeme crowd putting their voices into the one-way conversation.

A more balanced POV came from ReadWriteWeb - the pro's and con's of what is happening in PR.

So, here's my .02 - there's nothing new here. There's nothing new being said, just the same things every year (or is it every quarter now?).

I have written in the past that we need to train and educate. It's simple, and yet the firms aren't fully embracing it.

And, Ryost made the most pointed comment on Twitter to my first eye-roll on the situation: PR will become more valuable as newsrooms continue to shrink.

The fact is that social media is ONE part of public relations. A SMALL part, if you are a good PR person or firm. The other parts are traditional media (while it might be shrinking, it still reaches that middle part of the country), analyst relations, events, and more.

PR is about relationships. It's about relationships so much that Lowe's went to Abraham Harrison for it's recent project because of its relationships with people at Lowe and because of their relationships with bloggers. See - it's about relationships.

It's also about writing, about talking, about conveying a story. But, without those relationships, there's nothing there. And, unfortunately, with the industry's reliance on technology - let's email, let's launch a blog, let's get Twitter, let's do this and that ... well, you're failing in PR.

As my friend Andy Abramson (and, full disclosure, my firm) notes, it's BAM now: Bloggers, Analysts, Media. You need to have the right mix for the right story, and it's never one size fits all. Go and try to do local PR and see how far the social media only strategy works.

Social media is just a tool in the PR mix. And, it's just a good tool in the mix for certain clients and brands. For technology and consumer technology, it's great. For consumer goods, it's great. But, it's NOT the only thing. The PR bloggers - on some level - have become so enamored with the tools, that they are unable to take a step back but have become lost in their reflection like Narcissus.

But with the current posts - just concentrating on technology only - even the companies with no PR are not going to survive. You need to be able to tell a story, have trained executives that know what and what not to say in public, you need to have a plan.

The thing is - it's not just PR people that need to educate. It's bloggers and social media people. There are certain social norms that are kept in the norm, but seem to be ignored and broken in social media.

Now, I'm not talking about the embargo fiasco with Jeff Pulver; the PR person there should have not sent out a mass email, should have sent individualized outreach, and just asked the simple "do you do embargoes" without all the news.

I'm talking about being invited to press conferences or events. That invitation means that you are getting special insight - and by blogging guesses on what it is, just to be ahead of the curve - provides no real value to the readership, but is just guessing and hurts the press conference because the PR firm is inundated with people that want to be included in the press conference.

There goes that exclusivity and news hook.

So, here's my simple rules for public relations professionals.

1. Develop relationships. If you are a PR person - at any level - and cannot call up a reporter (not email, but pick up the damn phone) and set up a lunch to talk ... the you are not providing value. From the AAE to the SVP, you need to have relationships. If push comes to shove on a client deadline, everyone should pick up the phone and pitch and land a meeting. If the SVP is so detached from the media and client, what value is there?

2. Read. Not just blogs, but media. Traditional, social, new - be on a steady diet of media, so you think beyond today's news and come up with trend pieces and stories.

3. Think beyond today. It's not a race, it's a marathon. It's the long term strategies that work, not the panic. A good PR person never sweats, never panics but is calm.

4. For the PR bloggers that are calling for PR to be dead - if you believe that the industry needs to change, go to your local college and teach a session or two. Mentor students that email you - if memory serves, I have responded to and helped every college student that has written to me (War Eagle, my favorite PITAs) - both in the US and internationally. Instead of bitching about the state of PR, go do something.

I'm not prone to think PR is dead or dying. I do believe there are issues, but also talk to junior staff, help out when I get bad pitches (hey, I get them a lot and respond back to them), and try to help out for the most part. Instead of just talk, walk a little.
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