Yet another blogger vs. public relations brouhaha. Can you stand it?
Two days ago Steve Rubel set the industry chatter wild yet again when he posed the question, "Is PR becoming obsolete?" It's a bit of a broken record but one worthy of an attempted listen. So my quick answer, of course, is no. And truthfully if one reads Rubel's blog in depth he's saying no as well. What he's done is made the exceptional point that traditional pitching efforts are being perceived as spam and that the current model needs to change. With this I wholeheartedly agree. I do not think he's ready to grab a pitchfork and run PR out of town -- as if he's going to viciously bite the hand that feeds him?
At the heart of it I think the piece of Rubel's post that ruffled so many PR feathers was his reference to Robert Scoble's blog lauding a "PR-less launch." Rubel doesn't necessarily agree with Scoble but he does call out the point that some bloggers may not want PR's help anymore. In his post, Scoble wrote:
There’s no reason to go crazy with a PR firm if you build something that people want.
The broken record soon after made the noise of a screeching halt; soon followed by screaming and even some bandwagon jumping from Michael Arrington at TechCrunch. Some of the PR types with the loudest megaphones -- such as Todd Defren and Brian Solis -- immediately responded to the issues posed by Rubel, Arrington and Scoble, making yesterday the day that the PR industry went into crisis management mode for itself.
I happened to be talking last night with George Hulme, former InformationWeek senior editor and now primary security blogger, who has been a tech journalist since 1992. It occurred to me mid-conversation that he would be a good person to ask about whether or not tech bloggers need PR (having rejected my pitches many moons ago, I knew he was very discerning). I asked him, is PR obsolete?
"It's complete bunk. The more bloggers the greater the need for PR," Hulme said.
In fairness of full disclosure I do not practice traditional PR any longer but it's still a craft close to my heart and one that is terminally misunderstood. I don't claim expert status but I've been on all sides of this issue from daily news journalist to copy editor to PR agency professional to in-house PR professional to independent blogger to where I am now.
That said, I am not going to spend the next 600 words or so defending PR. Mike Volpe of HubSpot already wrote a fantastic primer on how PR agencies should be used and Jeremy Pepper, the oh-so-soft-spoken blogger that he is, published a fiery and spot-on piece about the craft itself. What I want to do is put some of the onus the bloggers.
Scoble did publish a second post yesterday that attempts to explain his position on PR and what he thinks tech bloggers really want out of it. Unfortunately, while he made some great statements about the need for true innovation and gave due credit to a couple of good PR folks, he only further muddies the issue at hand.
A couple snippets:
If we just go to press conferences, or only deal with embargoed news, and report on the same news everyone else is reporting on, well, then, just what reason is there for our business to exist?
PR people are doing themselves a disservice when they just treat journalists and bloggers like cattle. Every time I get an email pitch it reminds me that I’m being treated like cattle.
I wouldn't take issue with this if he had kept it to solely what he wants from a PR professional but he spoke for all tech bloggers. Which made me think, "Maybe Scoble doesn't know how PR people can really benefit him?"
So here's a very short primer for Scoble or anyone else:
- Understand that PR people are "information brokers." Their primary goal is to connect those in the know with those who want to know. While some "pitching" needs to be done, the better ones also recognize when to step to the side and let the rest flow naturally.
- Be open to relationships. Let the PR people do some of the footwork for you. Granted, you need to check your own sources and do your own research, but if you build the right relationships there's no telling what a PR person will do for you in terms of helping you find content and gain access to the right people.
- Feel free to ignore the bad pitches but don't ignore the good ones. Or if one is good but they just don't have the right timing, encourage the PR professional by telling him or her that it's just bad timing. Just because a pitch doesn't resonate with you at that moment does not make it bad. PR people, in some ways, are like children. If you tell them they did good they're going to remember what you like -- and maybe someday become one of your most trusted resources.
- More often than not, PR practitioners need to go back to their clients (internal or external) acknowledging that there was *some* type of feedback fromt the journalists who were pitched. Recognizing that it is not reasonable for a journalist to respond to every email, journalists, bloggers and other industry influencers should take note that most PR folks' hands are forced to follow-up until they get some sort of response. So, many times a simple "No thanks" or "Not at this time" response will ease the pain of the dreaded "flack follow-up."
- Also remember that PR people can be stoic roadblocks if they want to be and many times, no matter the journalist or blogger's prominence, can keep you from getting a story that you really want and could choose to give the exclusive to a different yet equally influential reporter if you don't have the right relationship in place.
- FINALLY - It is the PR person's job to bring you a good story and help you find a specific angle. But do not hinge your inability to find an original angle on the PR person. If a blogger is good he or she can sit in a room of 20 other writers and find a unique angle and blow it out into a smart story. Newspaper reporters in all walks of life deal with the same information as everyone else, but find their own slants. Take the baseline information and pursue additional resources to make it unique.
In fairness to Scoble he does make a few good points in his blog about PR best practices with bloggers, such as PR people making sure they find an interesting angle beyond the product itself, or positioning material or a suggested interview for the type of blogger on the other end of the phone/email/IM. I agree with him that this makes the news much more compelling and helps open up the writer's creativity in terms of differentiating him- or herself apart from the pack. But this isn't groundbreaking -- this is good PR. These are the same fundamentals that Mark Coker taught me eight years ago when I first jumped the fence.
All said, this whining about PR versus bloggers versus social media versus my aunt's dog Fido is getting old. Nothing is this black and white. I'd really like to see the PR industry weed out the bad seeds who don't understand how the media is shifting or get the fundamentals in building relationships with bloggers/reporters/editors/etcetera. I'd also like to see bloggers take the PR people who do get it a bit more seriously and see them as a resource rather than a roadblock. I think if we all inched a bit further to the middle there would be a lot more success on both sides.