Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Defence of Lois Whitman

Someone has to do this, and someone has to say what this really is - it's not just an attack on one PR person, but it's an attack on the PR industry as a whole.

I am not here to condemn Lois, but rather defend. Nor am I here to condone her actions, but rather speak to the PR industry about such actions - as well, as speak to others as a PR practitioner.

So, today she is being held up as everything wrong with the PR industry, because of her actions regarding CES. Yes, her actions and her own defence (or lack thereof) come up lacking - Phonescoop would not care about the clients her employee was pitching, and the laziness of just blasting the whole media list has its own consequences (for example, see Chris Anderson's blacklist) - but it is still a common PR practice, especially during trade show season. And, it is because we are under the gun to get X meetings at the trade show.

I, myself, have received three emails from one PR person asking why I have not responded to the first email ... maybe because I am busy and not attending CES as media/blogger this year?

And, yes, Lois and her PR firm has the distinct honor of being called out by The Bad Pitch Blog; I know Kevin, and I know that it takes many offenses to be publicly called out.

But, I'm here to defend Lois - not necessarily because I think she deserves to be defended, but because PR people are missing the bigger issue. It's another typical attack on PR, and not necessarily warranted. While she is quite a character, and seems to not notice how the game has changed, but added New Media to the firm's name in 2001 (hey, she was an early adopter!) to keep abreast of the latest buzz word game.

In today's world, though, public relations is becoming more and more relevant. With the media shrinking, freelancers becoming more and more prevelant, and, well, online media (or new media or social media) become fragmented where you need VERY targeted outreach to reach the right audiences, well, the PR executive and firm is the perfect choice. And, that includes all the social media / networking brouhaha. Who is better off talking to people than public relations? The classic generalist is trained to work with the media, the public and to engage in discussions, not just one-way messaging.

As for the start of this recent PR is dead meme, but let's put a face to it (with Lois) - it started with the embargoes are dead meme, which is just as dumb, if not dumber. The embargo is based on a working relationship, and when a PR person or firm gets burnt by a reporter or site, you stop working with them (giving them the pre-briefs), and shoot them the news at the same time.

And, really, 90 percent of the embargoes for start-ups are worthless. It's not embargo worthy news, they aren't public companies. You don't send off a release under embargo without getting a verbal or written "yes" that they will honor the embargo. That, again, goes to laziness.

In the era of new media, social media or whatever, though, the embargo might be on its last legs. However, for a public company, it does not. You want to pre-brief reporters on upcoming news, but that pesky SEC stuff gets in the way. So, you do under embargo - usually backed up by an attorney.

During the dot-com era, News.com was infamous for having the fast trigger finger. During the Web 2.0 bubble (or whatever you want to call the recent past), it was Mashable that was whispered about as fast posters. So, if you are a smart PR person that values your relationships, you don't pre-brief or embargo them - you give them the news the same time you send it out on the wire. If you don't get the hit, you don't get it.

And, yes, even I have been burnt by the verbal embargo. Back in the day, I pre-briefed two outlets: WSJ (my choice and person) and AP (the partner's choice and person). AP went early, and burned my relationship with the WSJ reporter and killed the better story (told from my POV, rather than the partners). It happens to everyone, but the good PR person learns from it and redoes the strategy for the next news cycle. Or just briefs.

But, back to Lois. While the PR bloggers love a good dog pile to attack another PR person when they come under fire - and in these economic times, it's a bigger blood sport than usual - with this highly visible and somewhat personal attack on a PR firm, it's an attack on all of us. It's another shot in the PR gut that we're dead.

And, well, we're not. 

We're more important in a recession than ever before. But, if your PR firm or PR person has time to post in the middle of the day, you really should question what they are doing for you. Or if it is themselves they are thinking of first. PR needs to be client first, PR person second. Not the other way around. 

And that also is hurting the PR industry.