Category Archives: Web 2.0

Bloggers, PR and spam

First morning of “semi-retirement.” Not bored yet. And I ran this morning at 5 a.m. in the rain. I guess habits are tough to break. Good.

But just to demonstrate that I really don’t have much to do, here I go into an area that I really know nothing about: contacting bloggers with information about stories. I won’t say “pitching.” I hate that term. But I recognize that it is an important part of the PR business — and maybe becoming even more important these days as bloggers move under the publicity tent along with so-called traditional journalists.

Anyway, I came across two interesting perspectives and conversations on bloggers, PR and spam. One is a post by Brian Solis on his PR 2.0 blog: “Making Mistakes and Amends in Blogger and Media Relations.” The other is by Todd Defren on his PR Squared blog: “Open Letter to Gina Trapani of Lifehacker.” I’ve been reading both blogs regularly based on the recommendation of Bill Sledzik and ToughSledding.

And I don’t know Gina Trapani — and I’ve never read Lifehacker.com, where she is the lead editor. For all I know Lifehacker is a site for cigarette addicts. Probably not. Apparently Gina is one of the growing number of bloggers who are influential in a host of industries. For PR people: Batter up!

So here’s the rub — as described by Todd Defren. Gina Trapani has “blocked” e-mails from a number of PR firms and individuals — because the “pitches” were, in her view, unsolicited and not relevant. And I think equally to the point, the e-mails were going to her personal e-mail address rather than the one at Lifehacker designed for news releases, etc. (Although Todd Defren in a post this morning raises some questions about that.)

I’m not sure that Brian Solis is looking at the same situation or writing about spam in general. But in any event, if you are interested in this subject take a look. Both Todd and Brian make excellent points. As does Kevin Dugan on The Bad Pitch Blog. Sledzik recommended this one as well. Is there a pattern emerging here?

I guess Gina feels– like Chris Anderson before her — that some PR people have been pitching her curveballs. Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

Now if Bill Sledzik were writing this post, I’m sure he would have some insights to share on public relations. Some lessons learned. I won’t attempt to head down that high road. But I have to chuckle because in many ways this situation strikes me as a cross between deja vu all over again (Yogi Berra knew something about bad pitches) and Jerry Seinfield’s Soup Nazi.

Here’s why. It seems to me that we are going over the same lessons that should have been learned way before Web 1.0. Know the publication. Establish — to the extent possible — a relationship with the reporter (blogger?). Send him/her only information about stories that are likely to be of interest. Have the balls, oops, to tell clients or employers that some stories are just never going to make it in print, online or anywhere else. And I guess in this new world of Web 2.0 — if he/she doesn’t want e-mail to come to a personal e-mail account, don’t send it to a personal e-mail account. Gee folks. This isn’t rocket science. But unfortunately many PR people are shameless when it comes to, ugh, pitching. They have no clue. Too bad. It’s been my experience that most are ethical, professional and hard working.

And I give Todd Defren credit. He goes out of his way to apologize and make the case that what happened was the exception not the rule. And Brian Solis provides an equally compelling explanation as well. In an era when TV talking heads are in bed with the Pentagon this doesn’t strike me as the most important media relations issue facing this nation. But then I never had to earn my income based on client or employer expectations of story placements. Thank God.

I hope we are not heading down the road to the day when bloggers or traditional journalists think that blocking contacts from PR people is the right or only way to go. That won’t work. Seems like this should be a mutually beneficial arrangement — based on mutual respect and professionalism. Gee, just like the old days. Before Al Gore invented the Internet.

And Gina — and others — c’mon. Give us a break. Do you really want to be the blogging equivalent the Soup Nazi? That didn’t turn out so well for anyone. Remember?

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The Pope goes digital

I really didn’t want to lift those words from the Reuters headline. But, hey, it’s Friday afternoon and I’ve been reading and grading final projects and papers for about 30 hours this week. OMG

Anyway that’s how I came across this story, first mentioned in the Buzzword column in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. Yeah, even the Wall Street Journal can provide a mindless diversion at this point in the week and semester.

Here are the lead paragraphs from the Reuters story:

Pope Benedict will text message thousands of young Catholics on their mobile phones during World Youth Day in Sydney in July, hoping going digital will help him better connect with a younger audience.

The Pope will text daily messages of inspiration and hope during the six-day Sydney event while digital prayer walls will be erected at event sites and the church will set up a Catholic social networking Web site akin to a Catholic Facebook.

The idea makes sense given the audience. Give the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict credit for trying this. And he certainly worked hard to boost the image of the Catholic Church in the United States during his recent visit here.

So if the Pope is embracing social media, can the CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations be far behind? LOL

And I wonder what a digital prayer wall is? Sounds like something Bear Stearns should have checked out a few months ago.

And I know I’ll get into trouble for writing this — but here goes.

The article says, “Australia’s Catholic nuns are already praying for good weather for the Pope’s visit.”

Shouldn’t they be twittering?

Arianna and the military pooh-bahs

Well, Arianna Huffington has it right. Where are the mainstream media when it comes to looking at the relationship with the TV talking-head military pooh-bahs and the Pentagon?

The New York Times broke this story April 20. I’ll let Huffington provide the overview in her post “Shameful Days: Why Won’t the Media Pursue the Pentagon Propaganda Scandal?”

“On April 20th, the New York Times published its expose of the Bush administration’s use of Pentagon-approved, prepped, and financially-enriched ‘military analysts’ to appear on TV to sell the invasion of Iraq, and then put a positive spin on the occupation — even as conditions on the ground deteriorated.”

And the point?

“How big a story was it? John Stauber of the Center for Media and Democracy called it the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq war.

“So it only stands to reason that a story this explosive would quickly become the subject of extensive follow-ups by TV and print journalists, and endless debate on the political talk shows,  right?

“Wrong.

“Instead of opening their reportorial and analytical floodgates, the mainstream media have all but ignored the story.”

Arianna Huffington has it right — although she failed to mention my April 22 post on this subject, “The New York Times and military pooh-bahs.” But, hey. At least I tried. It doesn’t appear that many others did.

That’s a disgrace. Or as Huffington says, “The last ten days have been among the most shameful in the history of American journalism.”

Given that we just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the great “Mission Accomplished” spectacle, it’s hard to make the case that the last 10 days have been among the most shameful in American journalism.  As usual, I digress.

But maybe it speaks to why more and more people are turning to sites such as The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report for news and commentary. The New York Times reports that The Huffington Post in February had 3.7 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen Online.

Yet here’s the rub. It takes the resources of the titans of journalism — The Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc. — to investigate and publish these kind of stories. And maybe in an era of declining newspaper circulation and increased pressure on financial results it’s no longer worth the effort. If that’s true, we’re in deep doo-doo.

A crisis management proposal

Poor Eliot Spitzer. I thought he was spending his time screwing the Wall Street rogues who got their jollies by destroying shareholder value. So it goes.

And if the photo on the front page of The New York Times this morning is an actual reflection of reality, Spitzer’s wife, Silda, doesn’t look like a happy camper. Wonder if she is thinking about whether it is too late to get the deposit back on the summer vacation rental property? (You’ll most likely have to pay the $1.25 and get the deadwood version if you want to see Silda standing by her man.)

But as I was thinking about this during my run this morning, it occurred to me that the standard public relations crisis management tactics are so very, well, Web 1.0. You know. It’s the equivalent of a public confessional:

First: I’m sorry. I apologize. I beg for forgiveness.

Then: Pick one or all three. I failed my (fill in the blank). I know I’ve violated the (fill in the blank). It will never happen (fill in the blank).

Here’s my modest proposal to improve this with the use of social media.

Create a video for YouTube. And require that this be done for every elected official immediately upon assuming office. Then you are ready to go when the inevitable happens. No need for the obligatory news conference. And no need to include the spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend in the video unless he or she has aspirations for elected office at some point.

And I’m not an advocate for prostitution, legal or otherwise. But from what I’ve read, the women involved in this situation were charging between $1,000 and $5,000 an hour for their professional services. That’s about what Spitzer will most likely now have to pay to crisis management experts if he wants to salvage his reputation and career. As someone who had to hire a New York-based crisis management company a few years ago, I can assure the Governor he is about to get the screwing of a lifetime.

My advice. Resign — and hire a book agent.

Update: After I hit the publish button, I saw this article in The Washington Post, Ritual of Repentance.

Podcasting and garbage trucks

Sorry, couldn’t think of a good headline for this post. But this was what I was thinking about during my run this morning: podcasting.

I have an iPod, but I don’t use it much. I never run and listen to music. I figure that the chances of me getting hit by a garbage truck at 5 a.m. while running in the dark most days is pretty good. And if I’m going to check out of the Hotel Ohio, I would prefer not to do it while humming along to Gretchen Wilson singing Politically Uncorrect.


Actually, I got the iPod with the idea that I would listen to podcasts while driving to Kent State. But even on a bad day I’m only in the car for about 45 minutes. Some of the podcasts on public relations and communication topics are just getting warmed up by then. At best, most are just recordings of talking heads – but unlike TV, you can’t even see the heads.

Saying that, I’m not being critical of those who are producing podcasts. Someone needs to be out front on this; I’m obviously not the one.

And maybe it’s just me. So I asked the students in my PR Tactics class how many of them listened to audio podcasts (as opposed to episodes of Lost, etc.). Nary a hand shot up in the affirmative. Did they download and listen to music? Yep. But listening to 90 (OK, maybe 60) minutes worth of crisis communications strategies doesn’t appear to be high on the charts as yet.

At that point I figured that podcasts were pretty much like AM radio: Good to have when you can’t get any other reception but not much value otherwise.

Then yesterday I read an article on AdAge.com, Marketers and Content Providers Tune in to Podcasting’s Potential. The article raises a number of excellent points about advertising and reaching new audiences, but it also focuses on content.

And content here – as elsewhere – is king.

I’m not an expert on Web 2.0 (or most anything else for that matter). But I know enough to recognize that even with all the new technology people – listeners, readers, friends sitting talking at a local bar – still want interesting, engaging and informative content. And they aren’t going to invest a minute’s worth of time – let alone an hour’s – if that expectation isn’t met.

I didn’t originate this saying, but I use it a lot in class: What’s in it for me? From the standpoint of strategically using podcasts as an effective public relations tactic, I don’t believe we have answered that question as yet. Maybe we will.

But it’s going to rely on content that is professionally produced. Anyone remember the early days of industrial video? I do. After a while just showing a poor-quality video in a dimly lit lunchroom wasn’t good enough. Today there are media outlets – such as NPR – that are producing excellent podcasts: interesting, engaging and professionally done. Something tells me most organizations don’t have the resources to match this kind of professionalism. And I would swallow hard if I had to approve the cost of producing a professionally done podcast – without knowing how effective it is going to be.

At some point we’re going to have to take a critical look at podcasting – and blogging? – and ask if the results warrant the time, effort and expense. I still don’t see a lot of discussion of this topic of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called new media. I expect that will happen as clients/organizations are encouraged to spend more money on these tactics.

Still for everyone out there pushing Web 2.0 without considering effectiveness and results, I’m sure what I said was not politically correct. Gretchen Wilson anyone?

Public relations, running and the new year

Well, it’s New Year’s Day. And I’ve already completed my first run of 2008 – five miles in a 30 mph wind. Hope that running into the wind is not a sign of things to come for those of us in public relations and public relations education this year. But stick with me for a minute or so. I have another point I want to make about public relations as we start the new year.

I know it may seem strange that I run at 5:30 a.m. on a holiday. But I’ve been doing it now for 20 years or more. And fortunately, my wife, Mary, is understanding and forgiving of this minor (major?) flaw in my behavior.

We’ve been married for almost 34 years. I’ve been running mostly in the very early mornings for 25 years. I guess she figures it’s too late for me for any meaningful therapy.finishline.jpg

She has also been a good sport about all of this. Since I get up most days, weekends included, at 4 a.m., we rarely go anywhere that keeps me up past 10 p.m. And the worst thing that can happen is that you invite people to dinner, knowing they may want to linger until, uh, 10:30 or later. Mary on the other hand has some really well-adjusted friends who like to go to events, parties, plays like normal people. Thankfully I finally learned how to work the remote control for our TV. And our dog appears to enjoy my company.

I’m not anti-social, far from it. Consider almost any New Year’s Day from years past. My friends who I met through running – Walter, Jerry, Matt, Joe, Ziggy, Carol and a host of others – would meet very early at Walter’s place in Barberton. We’d run four or five miles – even in the days before global warming. Then we would toast the new year with orange juice and Champagne. None of us were ever awake at midnight for this ritual.

We don’t do that any more. Many have moved from the area. Some prefer to run now – or more likely bike — when the sun is actually shining. Some have reached the age – as I guess we all will – when running just isn’t all that much fun any more, or it’s too hard physically to get out there most days. Men’s senior tennis anyone? As you get older, the road gets both longer and shorter. (I included that last line primarily for the poets who read this blog. I’m trying in my writing to be more lyrical.)

So, guys, thanks for so many great runs, conversations and memories. I thought about all of you a lot as I was out there this morning. And I’m going to talk in this blog throughout the year about some of our runs – and share with others some of my memories about the friendships I’ve been fortunate enough to make on the run.

And maybe there is a public relations lesson here as well. PR is about relationships – in the long run. As a group of runners, we really didn’t have a lot in common, particularly in the early days. We were of different ages and backgrounds. We had vastly different jobs, views on politics and social issues, sports and just about anything else you could name. But we talked as we ran – and we had great conversations. We didn’t always agree. But over the years we developed solid relationships based on trust, honesty, fairness and empathy – and civility.

Too bad as public relations pros we can’t replicate that with employees, customers, shareholders, students, reporters, etc. I’ll bet if we could, our employers and clients would benefit and public relations as a profession would be held in much higher regard.

I agree that social media, Web 2.0 and all the new technologies are great tactical advances. But I’m not sure that the new technology will help us create the relationships that we need with people inside and outside our organizations. It may, in fact, do just the opposite. Does anyone actually pick up the phone and talk to a reporter these days? Do CEOs and college presidents still meet and talk face-to-face with employees, faculty and students? I hope so. But it’s hard to tell. I don’t see many in the blogosphere talking about those kind of things these days. Maybe over time I’ll be able here in some very small way to help spark an ongoing conversation about the role of what I’ll call traditional face-to-face tactics in public relations versus the new tactics related to social media and Web 2.0. We’ll see.

Oh, and Mary. You know I don’t make resolutions. I have enough trouble remembering what you have asked me to get at the store. But I’m determined to be more flexible with my schedule this year.

Would 10:15 p.m. as a curfew be OK?

Also, Mary seems to be warming up to this new activity of mine, blogging. Just yesterday I was in my office at home searching for some obscure Web site. She yelled enthusiastically: “C’mon. We have to go. What the hell are you doing up there.”

So it goes.

Photo of me completing the Columbus Marathon in October 1985. 

Public relations, baseball and the news media

Well, here we go again. I wrote in this blog on Dec. 18 about “Baseball’s black eye. Any PR problems here?” Now it’s time for Roger Clemens to take the mound.

I thought about this today while getting my five miles in on the treadmill. Nothing like a cold rain at 5 a.m. in December to keep you inside. And I was in Pittsburgh yesterday, visiting my parents and brothers and their families and talking about football, baseball and other equally important things.

So how did Roger Clemens get involved in all this? Well, he’s a star pitcher (now maybe permanently retired) with the New York Yankees and one of many named in the Mitchell report who was linked to using steroids. But Clemens denies this. And this situation provides a lesson in public relations , media relations and crisis management.

First, Clemens has denied the allegation – most visibly – in a video that he made and then posted on his own Web site and subsequently on YouTube. 

Chris Albrecht, in an article titled “Clemens Makes His Pitch on YouTube” on newteevee.com has a really interesting perspective on this use of YouTube, one that should interest PR pros involved with media relations and crisis communication. Albrecht says, “Clemens sidesteps the pitfalls of traditional press conferences, and gives us a glimpse into the future of public relations.”

Go ahead. Take a look. But then come back. I’ve got a few other points to make.

And they involve working with the so-called traditional media. In addition to trying to take control of the story with his YouTube video, Clemens has embarked on a series of interviews with reporters, broadcast and print. He is scheduled to appear on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Jan. 6, for an interview with Mike Wallace. And Clemens apparently is going to talk to other reporters in conjunction with the “60 Minutes” interview.

Interesting strategy. Here’s my take.

  • Clemens says the Mitchell report was inaccurate, he never used steroids and he wants to protect his reputation. If he is being honest, he should have been more aggressive in making his case earlier. He didn’t step up to the plate until days after he was associated prominently with the allegations. Maybe Web 2.0 changes the game of crisis communication, but it has been my experience that the sooner you can respond the better.
  • If Clemens is going to be interviewed by Mike Wallace and others, he better not try to hide anything – and he better talk straight and honestly. Remember when Mark McGwire and some other heavy hitters appeared before Congress to testify about steroid use in baseball? When asked directly if he had used steroids, McGuire’s tongue turned to mush. What did he think he was going to be asked about? The designated hitter rule?
  • In this regard, Clemens would be well advised to prepare for the interview and seek the counsel of PR experts in this area. If he strikes out on “60 Minutes,” well, the game may be over. And I hope Mike Wallace does a better job interviewing Clemens than Larry King did in a similar situation with Paris Hilton. I also hope Clemens is telling the truth. Wouldn’t that be refreshing, coming from an athlete and a celebrity?
  • Yet I wonder why reporters are giving him a pass until Jan. 6? Gee, every time I was involved in a tough story, reporters were fairly insistent that I (we?) provide information and access to interviews immediately if not sooner. Maybe with Web 2.0 it is a new ballgame. Or maybe Clemens is enough of a celebrity that he can control the media.

This should be interesting. If the YouTube strategy works (again, look at Albrecht’s article), we can expect many PR pros to give it serious consideration. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that will be a good thing. Get your story out honestly, quickly and as completely as you can. Yes. But if the wizards in our organizations think they can hide behind the curtain and control the news media, well…Play ball!