Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

Summary: All of the fighting between bloggers and public relations makes me think that some bloggers don't really know how to successfully work with PR types. Here's a primer.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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?"

Next: A short primer on how to use PR people -->

So here's a very short primer for Scoble or anyone else:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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."
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Thanks to my buddy Tim Whitman at Schwartz Communications for the help on the primer. See what I mean about good PR people?

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Yes and No

    You make a great point based on your
    confirmations. Though I think what makes more
    sense, and dollars, isn't just information.
    Mediabroker(r) seems more fitting to play each
    side, as actions speak more loudly than just
    words and it pays the bills too.
  • RE: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

    What I liked about Scoble's post was that he gave some constructive feedback on how best to work with him. It would be good if other bloggers did the same so that we can actually work with them on their terms. Perhaps then they won't see us PR folks as the enemy.

    And thanks to you for giving bloggers suggestions on how they can work with us. Definitely good to see some solutions on the table.

    Hopefully this will help keep another round of PR bashing at bay (at least for another few months!).
  • PR is best done openly

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with PR types responding to blogs and news articles, provided they:

    1. Do it in their own names.
    2. Clearly identify the institution they represent.
    3. Respond in a logical and professional manner; even if the writer of the original item is completely hostile to everything one's employer stands for. The biblical proverb about a soft answer turning away wrath works very well in a PR context.
    4. Are absolutely honest. Explain your employer's position as best you can, but no lying and no distortions. If you want people to listen to you, then they have to trust you.

    All of the shilling and astroturfing just breeds cynicism. It's hard to have an intelligent discussion if people think everyone has an axe to grind (no insult to fellow talkbackers intended).
    John L. Ries
  • RE: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

    It is very easy for people to blame the media, medium or vehicle when in fact it is incumbent upon the organizations to create a good product.
  • RE: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

    I think I'm exhausted from all this. We're all in it together so why would anyone make a statement to try and cut people out? I do PR for a living. It's hard, tough work. It's thankless enough as it is, so it's fairly discouraging to see bloggers and journalists put our profession down. We work hard for you. At the end of the day, we're all cattle and until we've all walked a mile in each others' fields, we could consider keeping some thoughts to ourselves. That is one thing PR people have learned to do perhaps better than anyone. Sometimes I attribute that skill to fear, other times to wisdom.
  • RE: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

    A good PR person would work to already have strong relationships with bloggers and journalists alike *before* they pitch. If a blogger found a PR flack annoying, it is likely that a journalist found them annoying too.

    Profesionals in my field need to start making the transition to social media themselves- blog, connect with people in your area of expertise, bloggers and other PR people who share your interest, on sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Just going for the "hit" and not building relationships makes one a broadcaster, not a Public *Relations* professional.
  • RE: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

    Nice post. I'm an accredited PR professional and a blogger. I thoroughly encourage the blogosphere to go after bad PR people. Your tips are spot on. It's about relationships. Good PR people build them. Bad ones work around them or ignore them altogether. When we work together with respect and clear communications it can be great. It's incumbent upon PR professionals to educate their clients about what PR can and can't do and manage those expectations.
  • This bit is bunk

    "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."

    The first sentence is nonsense. It is NOT the PR's job to do for you what you should be capable of doing yourself. To expect that is the mark of a lazy journalist. The PR's job is to get his client's message across - very different.

    This one: "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"

    Might be true for others but a good journalist works around obstructive PR.

    And this: "So, many times a simple ???No thanks??? or ???Not at this time??? response will ease the pain of the dreaded ???flack follow-up.??? - do you have time for that? PR rule #3: If I don't answer your email it's cos I ain't interested. DO NOT pester me. I haven't got the time to mess around.
    • It's not bunk...

      It's part of the truth. Ask any person who has done PR. If you read the whole big of the first part that was essentially my point -- a good journalist can find a unique story no matter what is put in front of him or her (as a matter of fact, I wrote that). But in addition to getting the client's message across good PR people do help in story development and trying to find angles that appear to the specific reporter. If a PR person is good, the reporter doesn't even notice that he or she is being spoonfed. Happens every day.

      True point: re the good journalists can work their way around PR roadblocks. True in some cases. But a PR person could be roadblocking from the inside without the reporter even knowing, in terms of information released.

      As for the last point, agreed, again not the point. That message wasn't intended to influence PR people to keep following up on the same story. But if a blogger wants to build a relationship with a PR person, or wants to stop getting pitches that aren't a fit, a quick "go away" is sometimes mutually beneficial. If top tier reporters have time to do it, then bloggers certainly do.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • Re: bunk

    My main point was - and maybe I wasn't clear enough - Scoble shouldn't be talking for all reporters and bloggers. They are all different. I've had some agree with these steps and some, like you, disagree wholeheartedly. Just further proves that none of this is black and white.
    Jennifer Leggio