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.

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16 comments

  1. Hi. First,whatever you think about PR people who also like to HELP other PR people, and therefore BLOG, DEFENSE will never be spelled DEFENCE. Unless you are somehow on DE FENCE about this subject, in which case, the SPACE would have really added to the humor, and negated your ignorance.

    Sincerely, grassroots PR person

    PS- anyone who hires a PR person who can't spell, ask yourselves, should I be in charge of hiring?

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  2. @nevergambleonlypoker - thanks for playing but that's the English UK spelling of defense. It's a holdover from my philosophy days.

    Bye-bye.

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  3. I see it a little differently, Jeremy. I think the "bad PR example" meme has started some really important discussions in PR on how to have better relationships with press and do our jobs better - even for people like you who are already great at what you do. In that sense, I think these discussions and "outings" have helped PR rather than hurt it, as you suggest. Discourse is positive.

    Yes, it is incredibly discouraging to read post after post with commenters saying that "PR is dead," etc. But I challenge you to find me a person who really thinks that even good PR needs to die. It's people like Lois that the media needs to stop in their tracks - not the good folks.

    To me, the solution to "PR" spam is simple: The media just needs to block people who are spamming them. But I guess that would be a little less entertaining, wouldn't it?

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  4. Um, I don't get it. Without equivocation, are you saying:

    (1) Spamming people is a good idea

    (2) Spamming people is a bad idea

    (3) Spamming people is a bad idea but it's good for business

    It's (1), (2) or (3).

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  5. To start, I think the approach Lois took was inexcusable, and a poor reflection on our industry. I shared it with my staff, although if they need to be reminded not to send emails like that they are probably in the wrong industry. But I chose not to join in the public bashing with comments, because I highly doubt that will win me the favor of media that has already denounced the PR trade. I think PR people often believe that if they join the chatter, those press people who may dislike PR people will say "hey! XXX is doing it right! Let's be BFFs!" It isn't the case. Those people are simply adding to the attack; adding to the anger against us. Let's just do good work and build relationships instead of adding fuel to the fire. Let's work hard so bad apples don't ruin it for us professionals.

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  6. You had me going there for a second about defending Lois. Right on about this being about the industry, though, and not her.

    Something that's been bugging me about this whole debate-- people are down on embargoes as a misused tool-- and yes, they are often done wrong-- but basically, it is asking a trusted media source to hold on to news in exchange for getting enough info beforehand to write a good story. The main culprits here are the idiots who don;t know how to conduct a proper embargo (sending info then asking for embargo-- omfg-- and trusting publications known for breaking embargoes) AND the media who break their promises.

    Some of the ire is misdirected, though, and should be aimed at the "exclusive." These are seriously misplayed all the time. When we talk about. What the hell is an exclusive anyway? If the news is good enough, everyone will want to write it- if it's crap news, then an exclusive comes off as a desperate attempt to polish a turd.

    Oh- and not going to CES? If you want, we can pretend we are there- I've had people on occasion think I was at conferences I was not attending. Good fun.

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  7. If you want proof that the PR industry isn't dead (or going away), read through the comments after the "Embargoes are Dead" post at TC. The first time I glanced through, I was feeling pretty blue. But then later I went back to read them. In doing so, you see how misguided so many of the PR-bashing entrepreneurs are and how much they would benefit from smart PR.

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  8. Agree on exclusives being overused - they are only for important news from important companies and for the most part - no one cares anyway.

    And I'm sick of getting emails from PR people offering me (me!) exclusives when they are obviously just spamming a list.

    But Lois should know better. I've done CES and that media list is broken down by beat and she should know who she was pitching.

    Hey Doug, can we extend that stay at home idea to every conference? Just tell people we're there and for them to email us their news?

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  9. Unfortunately, I have disagree with any defense of Lois' actions. Frankly, under the gun or not, being underprepared is a poor representation of the client. They're paying their PR pro to be prepared and expect they are going to be prepared BEFORE they begin any work on behalf of the client. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in over the years before going out on my own where I heard a PR person explain not being able to answer a question from a prospective client by saying "I'll learn about it once I get the account." I wanted to fall over when I heard that. Were I the client, I'd always respond "NOT ON MY DIME YOU WON'T" to that kind of stuff.

    Secondly, going after the media or bloggers and getting embroiled in a debate over who's right or wrong when it comes to any criticism is not only bad for the practitioner, but the profession as a whole.

    Unfortunately, anybody who's spent time on the other side knows how painful it can be to be on the other side of pitches. Under the gun or not, there's simply no excuse for not being prepared. I honestly wish my fellow PR practitioners spent as much time improving their skills and the perception of the industry as they did arguing with journalists/bloggers.

    This is why we have such a struggle earning a seat at the table and have the highest client turnover rate of any professional service.

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  10. hmm..
    you are professional.. :D
    nice post...
    you have nice blog..
    nice to meet you..
    have a nice day.. :D

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  11. It was an professional one and great article.I thank you for sharing this posts to us.

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  12. I think Lois has been in the business a little too long. She has lost her "aloha" when it comes to media relations.

    Remember: It's only PR!

    If you're looking for a diversion to this lack of humility (and who isn't?), check out my list of the top PR trends of 2009 at:

    http://danieldurazo.com/2009/01/14/public-relations-trends-for-2009/

    Best,

    Daniel Durazo

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  13. thank you
    nice blog

    ReplyDelete
  14. thanks... very good blog
    best site

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  15. Thanks for the article!

    -Dan from Public Relations Los Angeles News

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  16. If you want proof that the PR industry isn't dead (or going away), read through the comments after the "Embargoes are Dead" post at TC. The first time I glanced through, I was feeling pretty blue. But then later I went back to read them. In doing so, you see how misguided so many of the PR-bashing entrepreneurs are and how much they would benefit from smart PR.

    ReplyDelete