Going for that 25 Percent

There's been a lot of talk about the 25 percent. It's supposed to be this great answer to all that ails PR and ways to fix it. It's great that there's all this talk about the 25 percent ... what about the 75 percent that is still screwed up?

What do I mean? Well, let's take a look back at recent events: Tello versus Arrington; Alaska Airlines versus Jeremy Hermanns; Six Apart versus anyone that dares criticize them; Everyone versus Kryptonite. There are tons of examples, but these popped into my head.

Well, what's so important about these? Well, it shows that blogging is not that elusive 25 percent, but that we need to worry about the other 75 percent, such as "who is an official spokesperson" for a company. I like Six Apart, for the most part. They seem like a nice company, blah blah. But, after Anil came to my blog, I called them up for a simple question ... is he an official spokesperson? After a lot of avoiding the question - Apple PR people rock - and talking about what the future might hold for me and for PR and for blogging, I finally got an answer. No, not an official spokesperson.

And, that's the issue - the old 75 percent of PR is where we craft messages, and in a crisis everyone sticks to that message. Is that such a bad thing? No, because PR can be transparent and honest about a crisis, and that's what you are looking for. What is a PR person if they don't have the balls to cut off a reporter, and their OWN spokesperson? Useless - and in this new era of PR, do we need those types of PR people?

That leads me to ask - well, what is PR to do with that 75 percent that we are used to working on, if we have problems with people commenting for the company. That's where PR comes in (to help craft messages), and where a blogging policy comes in. Were those comments from Alaska Airlines? Were those comments from Tello employees or its PR firm? I don't know - but the IP addresses (while they can be spoofed) usually don't lie. And, well, it's not just blogs we need to worry about - it's message boards, where I am working on a fire for a client because, well, engineers like to talk.


The Schedule - Originally uploaded by philgomes.

But, there is that whole issue with the 25 percent. Do you remember that Gawker story on that poor PR person?

What happened there? By no fault of his own, Brandon became the story. He stupidly - yes, stupidly - pitched Gawker on a story for KFC. First, Gawker always seemed more ghetto than KFC to me. It's more a Popeye's type publication (best biscuits, btw and I am ghetto fab). And, second, read the freakin' blog. Gawker is like Page Six without the Murdoch cash. Would you pitch KFC to Page Six? Not unless there was a good tie-in to Lindsay Lohan.

That's why my personal hero right now is Phil Gomes. While others are talking about the 25 percent for personal gratification and to pretend to be leaders - notice the Wiki has died already - Phil is out on tour for Edelman speaking about the 25 percent. Kudos to Gomes, because he gets it (as his tour pic shows).

And, that's why this news is news - I know that I am not going to affect change sitting in Phoenix, but need to be in the trenches and the foxholes in San Francisco at a large firm. I hope to help them not make such mistakes, be their Phil Gomes. And, btw, this is the only time you'll see me blog about them.

But, the story isn't about me, and shouldn't be about me. It's about the most important PR lesson, that seems to be forgotten in the era of PR bloggers ... the story is about the client, not the PR person. Some of us are forgetting that, hoping to keep our A-list (no, not me, because I just don't care) and looking for free invites to conferences and pimping for speaking opportunities. It's not about us - the best PR people I have ever worked with knew that. They were never the story, even when they were the spokesperson. It's about the client.

That's a lesson we should all remember.

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17 comments

  1. Amen, Jeremy. And kudos to Phil Gomes, too.

    One of the problems is that - even within PR itself - there is this perception that the message that is agreed upon and applied to a crisis will be some sort of spin, rather than an honest answer.

    It is as if so many people no longer give PR the benefit of the doubt. Now, that is a problem that all 100% need to address.

    The 25% is just as guilty, sometimes.

    Finally, re: "the story is about the client" - I agree, especially in the context of PR bloggers. I would also add that the #1 PR rule is that it all starts with understanding and targeting the client's audience(s). Some PR bloggers seem to be seeking their own audiences and not those of their clients.

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  2. Jeremy,
    Excellent points.
    The good thing about blogging is that it gives everyone an open forum.

    The bad thing about blogging -- you guessed it -- is that it gives everyone an open forum.

    Any one who blogs -- esp. if it's connected to one's work -- can have his/her own little media empire. The great communications prophets leading the pack.

    We all have ego and take pride in our work. However, our best work in public relations is done behind the scenes. The planning, the counseling, the relationship-building with media and clients or our employer.

    I think -- hope -- most PR bloggers know that. Therefore, the PR, media and blogging moguls among us are the rarity. It's just they are at the forefront often, and don't do much to give PR pros a good name. (It plays a bit in our credibility as professionals.)

    It's about results for the people who hire us. Not about status.
    Good luck at WS!
    -- Mike

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  3. Great post Jeremy!

    I think PR people are beginning to think of themselves as celebrities and newsmakers (especially certain bloggers). They like to google themselves and see how many times they can find their names.
    If you focus on the client and get results for them, and the rest of your career will take care of itself.

    Of course maybe I'm just jealous ;)

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  4. Wow! I wake up, turn on the computer, and suddenly I'm treated to props from Jeremy!

    Hey, Rick! Can I have the day off? *8-)

    WS is very lucky to have nabbed you. I hope you let 'em know it, too. If not, I will.

    Thanks again, bro'. Richard (East-Bay Richard, that is) and I will show you 'round the nickle-dime when you're in town.

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  5. As always, a great perspective Jeremy. Though I hate to see you go to a competitor - I've always been impressed with your efforts to legitimize and guide the use of blogs as an effective PR channel. Good luck in your new role and working to keep the focus on the client in a world that is increasingly seeking "gurus" to help explain the growing influence of the blogosphere. I have no doubt you will keep rising to the challenge.

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  6. Jeremy,
    Wow. Congratulations on your news. It's nice to read elsewhere that you'll be maintaining your blog, it was our fear that you would somehow be silenced. And that's the last time I'll mention that.
    Great post, a fantastic look at PR, blogging, and assorted crises from 30,000 feet up. Gotta step back from time to time and catch a glimpse of the big picture.
    Thanks for your insight and inspiration. Keep up the great work, we'll be watching.

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  7. Regarding whether I'm a "spokesman" or not: Why does that matter? You can have a real conversation with someone who's got real opinions and insights into a company that you've got an interest in. Whether it's in someone's title or not, or whether there's a designated contact for designated audiences, wouldn't you *rather* have a more direct engagement with a company (or brand) that may or may not reflect official company positions?

    If you were a newspaper, or even if you merely were aiming to be a neutral party focused on information instead of opinion, then it might make sense to focus on those designations. Given that you're a blogger who enjoys (and is good at!) the give-and-take that's intrinsic to the medium, doesn't it make sense for us to communicate as is appropriate for this medium?

    And as regards "Six Apart versus" anyone: It's hardly fair to characterize our reactions as even remotely negative to anyone who criticizes us. I'd say we're much more likely to acknowledge what we do wrong, highlight what we do right, and then try to talk about whatever's in between, perhaps by sharing more information. I probably shouldn't rise to the bait when I know your larger point isn't about that one line, but I don't think it's a fair representation of our company. You could probably argue that you feel that *I* am thin-skinned or whatever, but that's not all of Six Apart, is it?

    Should PR professionals have a policy about random folks like me popping into comments? Sure: They should work with us. That's what our team does, in addition to excelling at the 75% you're talking about. It's not an either-or, 25-versus-75 thing.

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  8. Anonymous3:58 AM

    Hi Jeremy,

    Firstly, kudos to your latest posting!! I second and third your opinion that its always about "The Client" and this is one of the lessons I have learnt right from my first job (thankfully, I had a great boss!!) And this is something that I hope to get more of a chance to implement being on the clients side now!! (although this is debatable - but a PR Person is a PR person - clientside or Agency)

    Secondly, I would like to congratulate you on your new assignment :-) (I passed up an opportunity to join WS in India for QuEST -just FYI)

    Great thoughts and lots of learnings from your blog!!!

    Cheers!
    Romana

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  9. When I first became acquainted with both Phil and you, you were both entrepreneurs...Phil with Dryden and you with POP. Now that you're both back in "big agency land" I'm not inclined to listen as closely.

    While I understand the difficult economics of running your own small consultancy and the attractiveness of selling out, my experience leads me to beleive that real change and real leadership occurs outside of the big agency space. I'm willing to be proven wrong, but I think you'll find it challenging to affect change management.

    Good luck on your new career...the Bay Area is awesome...so you'll have that going for you!

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  10. Dee, really sorry to see you say that. While I cannot speak for Phil, those that know me know that I am who I am, and that not much changes no matter where or for whom I work for.

    I am an advocate of what you and your competitors do: better online press rooms. So, not sure for the shot across the bow of my ship.

    But the reality is that change comes from the inside - not the outside - and I learned that sitting in Phoenix or Denver isn't doing much for the industry.

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  11. JP,
    must have been my morning crankiness...I didn't mean it personally yet when I re-read my comment, it did sound a little biting. My apologies.

    I am sad anytime an entrepreneur throws in the towel! I'm a firm believer in small business being the place where real, meaningful change can take place.

    I also feel that good ideas of passionate people get sucked up in the beareaucracy of big agencies...much like the ideas of a rookie politician who thinks he can make a difference.

    I know that your opinion will continue to be loud and be heard and I'll be listening. My cynical side says that you'll be "quieted" within the halls of BM.

    Good luck with the move!

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  12. Dee,

    I can tell you -- from experience -- that the big-agencies-versus-small-agencies rhetoric is crap and, frankly, I expected better from you. There are well-defined markets for both.

    In my particular case, I had to go to a big agency in order for my ideas to be respected and heard. (You'll remember that they shuttered the agency blog when G2B became Dryden, which is why there's a six-month gap in the Blogservations record.)

    When I wrote my first piece about PR and blogs for ExpertPR in 2002, my then-CEO told me that the article was a waste of time, as was blogging (Agency size: 65).

    In 2003, in a meeting with a prospect, I was told not to blog because "No one wants to hear from a PR person who *thinks*." (Agency size: 3)

    Do I have to check off a couple more boxes before I do something these days? Sure, but at least I'm supported and the company is hands-off my blog. I sure *wasn't* supported before.

    Yesterday, Edelman debuted its official podcast. That would have *never* happened at any of the medium-to-micro-sized agencies I had worked for. I've also helped shape the engagement policies of companies in a very wide variety of industries -- another opportunity I was not afforded before.

    Considering the personal/professional growth reasons that formed the basis of my decision to work here, don't even get me started about your insinuations about "selling out."

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  13. OK, now that everyone else has had their say....

    Congratulations on your new gig! I hope you love it.

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  14. Kudos, Jeremy. And ignore everyone that gripes, criticizes, or slags "big agency" life. Pay them no mind. And if you do decide to engage them - feel free to point out that out of all the agencies that have hired bloggers - or people to talk about blogging ('charlatans' is my favorite word these days), one particular firm happened to hire someone with actual experience in the field - not just powerpoint skills. Most of these yahoos couldn't build a successful blog of their own if you spotted them links from Instapundit every odd-numbered day.

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  15. Jeremy, congratulations on the new job. Looking forward to your new blog with the new company.

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  16. I have been reading a great book (Oldie but Goodie) called Leading Change by John Kotter. He talks about how changing the culture in a company required buy in from the grassroots, not simply a top-down push. The leadership must indeed buy-in, but the other 75 percent must too.

    I think that it is true that we need to focus on making public relations effective rather than glamorous (Lizzie PR), and the client is indeed the star.

    As for your "defection," I am happy for you and hope that you will help drive the at-large changes that are needed in our profession. As a small agency, I identify with your pain of not being able to make a big enough difference. I love being independent and will try to do it in my own way, maybe through the PRSA platform, and a little at a time with my clients.

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  17. Jeremy,

    I think the most interesting blogs are the ones, not of bizznizz but, that of which are more concerned with the personal life of its author. Thats just my opinion which aint worth crap. I like the perso/professional approach Phil has achieved, though I have noticed since he began working with Edelman 'HIS' blog has become much more perso and less professional. But, its nice to be able to read about my friend.

    I've also noticed that you speak your mind and I respect you for that because not many people in your profession do..

    It's amazing that in Mr Rambeau's, criticisim of your decision to 'move on' he does not once quote, refer to one instance, analyze one fraction of your decision but simply calls you a 'sell out.' What's even more amazing is that he asks to be challenged on it. I'll be nice..

    Anyway, good luck with the move and if you get bored ask Phil for my number in the bay area and we can hang...

    R

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