Posts about pr

PR and the new architecture of information

PR, flackery, public information, press agentry, whatever you call it, its mission has always been spin: telling their side of a story. But in a world of links, in our new architecture of information and news, PR and original sources of information have a new role and responsibility. They can’t just spin anymore. They have to inform. In some cases, they even have to perform a journalistic function.

In the past, flacks could live behind the scenes, working stories and reporters and trying to push their client for coverage or get their angle into coverage. They were hidden. That began to change when a highly competitive, fragmented media world made access to celebrities — of show business, business, or politics — more valuable, putting the PR person in the role of gatekeeper. The press had until then acted as the gatekeeper to the public; now the flacks guarded the gates to the more valuable asset: the stars.

The dynamics have shifted again thanks to the internet, for now links and searches can take us directly to the source of information: a company’s, politician’s, or government agency’s site. This sounds like nirvana to the flack: direct access to the public, bypassing those damned reporters and editors. Fine.

But this also places a new responsibility on these original sources: We’re going to expect them to tell us the truth. We come to them seeking information about a product or a pubic stance or an action. If they give that to us, then great. They earn a place in that new architecture of news and information. But if they fail, if they give us incomplete or false information or try to hide behind spin that can always be unspun, then they risk new penalties: We won’t trust them, their products, brands, and clients and we will warn all our friends at twice the speed of spin. There are new penalties for misbehavior.

So this isn’t just about a new ethic of information necessitated by the link and search. It is also about a new form of self-interest for those who say they are in the business of public relations and public information. We’re the public and now we can not only come to you directly, we can penalize you directly when you lie to us.

That is one of the morals of the Edelman Wal-Mart blogging mess: The agency tried to hide in the old ways of PR but once exposed for its manipulation ended up doing more harm to itself and its client(s) and brand than if it had just done nothing. That was the message I would have tried to deliver to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association if I’d decided to go (see the post below) but I decided it was not the right venue and that it would deliver the message from the negative side.

There is a positive side to this message: Now that you have direct access to your public and now that the public can come directly to you for information, then give it to them: competely, honestly, openly, easily. If you have a good product and service, if you treat your customers with respect, then that becomes the best public relations you can have.

Word of my mouth

When I turned down the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s invitation to be the guy to deliver 40 lashes to Richard Edelman after his PR firm’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco, I said I’d explain my thinking. So here is my essential argument:

You cannot buy our word of mouth. It’s ours. You cannot buy buzz. You have to earn it. The only way to get either is to create a good product or service and to treat your customers with respect by listening to and being open and honest with them.

That’s it. No trade associations needed. No conventions. No codes of ethics that people sign and then find loopholes through. No star chambers for errant marketers. Just tell the truth. It really is that simple.

If you want to market, then do what marketers do: Buy ads. The nice thing about an ad is that it
is a transparent act of marketing. An ad comes with its own borders around it: You buy space or time to tell your story to my public, who can tell that you bought it and can then judge whether you also managed to buy my integrity and soul. The ad, by its very form, puts that relationship clearly out in public. Ads also support news and entertainment, and have for a century or more, and so I hope they also start to support blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and all that. When you don’t buy an ad and try to influence us behind the scenes, for money or not, then you get in trouble. And you should.

Markets are conversations that you can’t have without us. And we own our end of that conversation. If you try to buy it, you are trying to compromise our integrity, honesty, openness; you are trying to corrupt us and our media and we will judge uyou accordingly. If you try to hide what you’re doing, you are lying to us and we will catch you. And it goes beyond that: If you try to sell what you know about us without our involvement, you are stealing the wisdom of the crowd and we are the crowd.

That’s why I object to the notion that there can be a word-of-mouth industry. It’s our mouth and please don’t try to put words in it.

Now the folks at WOMMA say they stand for doing things right and folks I know said I should give them a chance. I’m sure they are nice and earnest. But, frankly, I didn’t see it as my job to tell them how to tell us stuff. I do not want to start a parallel practice to media training: word-of-mouth training, the science and art of manipulation. God help us.

And I did not see how I could win ending up on stage with a professional spinster; it’s like going on The Daily Show thinking you can be funnier than Jon Stewart. If I’m blunt and direct and say I can’t understand how Edelman et al could have fostered this screwup, then I’m likely to face a hostile crowd. If I try to probe how Edelman’s organization could have so cavalierly ignored his own word and whether that came from a corporate and industry culture of spin and loopholes or from other orgaizational problems, I’d be playing the company consultant and I really don’t care to. If I don’t zap him with sufficient voltage, I’ll be seen as a sell-out. No win. So I chose not to go.

There was one reason I did consider going and that’s in the next post I’ll write, above.

Your advice, please

Give me your word of mouth, please. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association just emailed me to come to a confab they are having in December to question Richard Edelman about his firm’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco and more. No holds barred, they say. I’m not sure I want to do it. I don’t much like the fact that there is a Word of Mouth Marketing Association; I don’t want them buying our mouths and thinking that they can rent buzz and our opinions with it, corrupting the space. I have avoided the organization in the past. I also don’t want to be seen as a soft-ball pitcher. Nor do I want to be the convenient snarker. Then again, it is a chance to get warn and scold. I told them that I would ask your advice. With one exception (he/she knows who she/he is), I want to hear from many, not only with advice on whether I should do this but if I do, what my goals should be.

: LATER: Here is the WOMMA questionnaire: Are you cricket?

And nothing but

Edelman PR is throwing water on its own PR fire following the fakey Wal-Mart blog. Richard Edelman outlines a series of steps they’re taking. I’d say it’s really quite simple and can be boiled down to this: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Lie, hide, fake, fool, or buy people and you lose. And I’m not being smart-assed. It really is that simple. And the more complicated you make the rules, the more loopholes you end up building in. It’s just like Mom used to say: Tell the truth and everything will be fine.

News, faster than the speed of spin

In the Observer, Peter Preston notes that the internet is beating the bejesus out of London’s tabloids. And at Eat the Press, Rachel Sklar notes that news now spreads faster than a flack can pick up a phone:

. . . the news about Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic tirade was broken online and disseminated immediately via the internet, before traditional print outlets had the chance to do their reporting and, more importantly, before Gibson’s people had a chance to react and spin accordingly . . .

The internet is often acccused of making news spread too quickly, before journalists and editors can vet and verify — fog of war, and all that. But Rachel finds the considerable advantage of news outrunning spin. Sometimes, news is best served raw.

Amanda exposes herself

For those following the Strumpette saga, “Amanda” has exposed her/him/their self in the comments below:

If you did just a little research, you’d readily find that there are 5 people that write for the character “Amanda Chapel.”

Why a character? Two reasons:

1. It provides us a platform (brand) where we are able to draw attention to some of the hypocritical issues that presently plague PR.

2. It’s safe. This shields us from ad hominem arguments which are a mainstay of net discussion. See, in the “flat world,” Jeff can rally 6 million people (as with Dell) with pitch forks and torches very well. Regrettably, that comes without any real depth. That, by definition, is a mob. Mobs like hangins.

Our motive is simple to check the blog hype, especially in PR, and to do that without retribution.

Kind regards,

– Amanda

PS Regarding Edelman… They get our attention a lot because they are some of the most prolific blog advocates in PR. We’ve come to call their “Me2Revolution,” the Me2CommieBastards.

He/she/they are still trying to take the easy way out, though. I emailed “Amanda” and said:

I still want to push you on the anonymity/pseudonymity of “Amanda.” Yes, it’s cute. Yes, it lets you go hyperbolic. But as PR (communications) professionals, I’d think that you’d want to get credit for your ideas. Or to put the question another way: What does attacking the ideas of others do for your business?

They complain about bloggers being snarking mobs but then they create a character to do nothing but snark from behind a veil.

By the way, the assumption from all the prior sleuthing is that Amanda is a creation of at least one person in this bunch.

: I still prefer Rex’s theory, from the comments below:

Just a theory: Nick Carr is Amanda Chapel. Or maybe Nick is John Dvorak.

: The Amandas respond in email:

We are our words. The motivation is exclusively within the art. However, Guernica, Strumpette is not?

Oh, gag me with a PR schwag pen. I don’t buy it. Art? Hardly. Amusement? Why? I still don’t see the business motivation from a bunch of flacks so clearly is intent on protecting big business. Perhaps this is just their last will and testament.

Fake breasts

OK, now that that little bit of performance art with Strumpette is over, I’m left fascinated by the psychology of the troll.

Clearly, Amanda is the figment of someone’s wet dream. Even I, high priest of transparency, couldn’t see anyone writing a bio like this. Yes, it’s a shame those “perfect perky boobs” aren’t real. Amanda has no visible Google tracks prior to this blog; a person without Googlelife is our modern equivalent of a vampire with no image in a mirror. Many others have tried to track down Amanda. They point their accusing fingers at Brian Connolly, who shares trollish tendencies and IP addresses — and an unusual interest in a certain PR company — but who denies it. I don’t much care.

What interests me is why someone goes to all this trouble to troll. What’s the agenda? Who’s the real target? If this were terribly sophisticated it could be an effort to spoof and ridicule bloggers or PR people. Naw. It could, indeed, be performance art or a book proposal: How I fooled those damned bloggers. It could be someone who hates PR people trying to make them look bad. It could be a case of missing some meds (or secretly longing for a sex-change operation). It could be a vast PR conspiracy to say what PR people have to be too polite to say — after all, Amanda, Chris the alleged intern, and this guy Connolly all hail from Chicago. Coincidence? Yeah. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories; the world’s not that organized. I think this is simpler: Amanda has a hard-on for Edelman. “She” attacked Steve Rubel when he joined them; she went after me only after Richard Edelman defended me against Chris the alleged intern. I have a suspicion that Amanda lost a few clients or a job to Edelman. Who cares?

But this vendetta or spoof, whatever it is, takes a great deal of effort. Amanda’s site is elaborate and she clearly has lots of time or little life and can spend what she has leaving theatrical snark on blogs all over. The troll lives to attack. Like Hezbollah or Al Qaeda, they lurk in the shadows and strike for sport, never building, only destroying. The troll is usually chickenshit, hiding from plain view and open conversation. I don’t get that. I have too much ego not to say what I have to say under my own name.

What amuses me most about this show is that Nick Carr thinks he has found his soulmate: a marriage of trolls. I fear that he’s in for a surprise not unlike those shlubs who think they’re going dating on Dateline. Your dream girl isn’t what you think. She’s all silicone.

: UPDATE: See the comments or this post above: Amanda exposed.

The age of customerism and producerism

Forget consumerism. We’re not just consumers anymore, as Doc Searls has taught me well. We are customers with our money in our fists, spending it wisely and joining together to spend it more wisely. And we are producers who can compete with the companies that thought of us as mere consumers.

So nevermind caveat emptor. This is the age of caveat venditor — let the vendor beware — and caveat creator.

But too many of the the venditors and the creators don’t realize it. Witness this open letter to me from Amanda Chapel, a PR person calling herself the Strumpette, who is desperately trying to fend off the ratty masses now known as empowered customers at her clients’ gates. She is emblematic of old one-way companies and of the PR people who tried to protect these companies from their customers with a shield of spin.

Chapel is disgusted by the whole Dell Hell affair and because of it she calls what I write the Communist Blogifesto and calls me “some malignant corporate subversive” (which, I suppose, beats “worm“).

Listen to yourself: “behind me a mob with pitch forks and torches storming castle Dell;” “we are the bosses now;” “companies have the opportunity to hand over control to customers.” That’s not inspiring a “conversation” comrade; you’re yelling “fire” in a crowded peasant theatre. And that’s it! This is all really about audience and venue. The “revolution” you promote is about a mob and leveraging its disappointments, hopes and fears. . . . What “Wake up Corporate America, You’re Being Watched” is all about, is inciting a riot and boldly trying to hold the theatre owner hostage. The message is clear: “Surrender your property, or else!”

No, we’re just leveraging our money, our property, our collective buying power, our wise crowd, and our voice. If we get good products and value for our money, we’ll buy more and can now tell others to do so; we can market your products, if they’re any good. But if we get bad products and service and value for our money, then we have every right to be mad and to warn others — our friends.

That’s not a mob, ma’am. That’s a market.

Chapel insists that companies should not care about their customers, only their stockholders (whom she mistakenly lumps together as “the bank”).

As it relates to Dell, you think Michael Dell gives a shit about you. He doesn’t. He reports to the bank. He cares about Wall Street. I, the stockholder, am his main concern.

I respond in her comments:

Michael Dell may very well not give a shit about me or his customers. Seems so. But if that is the case, then he won’t have much of a company anymore and he will ill serve his stockholders (not bankers).

No, you’re wrong, the customer is ultimately in charge. It’s my money. I won’t give it to Dell because I don’t trust Dell. I know more people who won’t either. He doesn’t run a monopoly; he’s not in charge of the cable company, phone company, or even newspaper. We have choices. That is the ultimate power.

And she responds, in turn:

No. That’s a fallacy. He should care about a good product and an identified market. That does NOT necessarily mean individual customers. . . .

You have one vote. I suggest then that you don’t buy Dell. Period.

Anything more than that is an attempt to hold Dell and its shareholder hostage. We don’t owe you anything!

You — since you to speak for Dell — owe me a product that works. You owe me service that serves. You owe me reliability and value. You are the ones holding me hostage; you have my thousands of dollars and I have your bad products. I not only have the right but the responsibility to tell others about my experiences with Dell.

But I’ll say again that I didn’t organize that mob. The mob organized itself; I merely provided the convenient town square on which to light those torches. This is how the internet works: It brings us together and we learn from each other.

You see, in the old days, you could screw one customer with one bad product or you could insult one customer with bad service. But no more. Now, when you deal with one customer, you deal with all customers.

That, ma’am, is the real public relations. That is dealing with your public as your customers.

And that is the real branding. Your brand is your reputation, your trust, your value. You don’t own your brand; your customers do.

But Chapel hates such talk. She says:

In business, “control” is a fiduciary responsibility. Stock is property. Management is paid to increase the value of shareholder property AND to act as custodians. It is a “duty.” Simple as this: this whole “ceding control” and “open borders” mentality, at the very least, threatens shareholder property. Hype aside, the downsides of your revolution are fairly predictable and surely greater than the yet-to-be-measured upsides. Imagine shareholder activist(s) sharing the podium fully with the CEO. That’s just plain silly. It will happen the same day the CEO decides to blog the annual meeting. NEVER!

Here she is mixing the roles of customer and stockholder. But nevermind. Let’s keep going:

Here, this is the linchpin to your whole argument. You grossly overestimate the value of the customer relationship. Excuse me, businesses don’t really want “relationships” with their customers. It’s too expensive, it’s too messy and the return is nominal at best. Not even the most prolific hooker wants a personal relationship. Our job is to anticipate needs/wants/desires and then present clients with something special. If I did my homework, I will be rewarded; if not, I will be punished. The money is on the dresser. End of transaction.

No. Business Week reported recently that the stocks of companies that have a reputation for building strong relationships with customers outperform those of the rest of the market. Your customers are your business, damnit. And businesses that don’t understand that — monopolies aside — will die miserable deaths.

But what you are proposing is actually more than an added burden of a personal relationship… it’s a platform that actually servers to organize the wackos. It gives them (you) a big microphone to express social retribution. You expect me to let you and your mud-booted-torch-bearing mob into my house?! If I run out of shotgun shells maybe.

What’s that empty clicking sound I hear? We may be wackos or worms but we have the money you want. Nya-nya-nya.

It’s amusing that Chapel calls all this communism. It’s the ultimate in capitalism. Capitalism is all about choice and we can choose not to give our money to companies that give us bad products or treat us badly or even that do not listen to what we want.

Chapel concludes:

Which brings me to how I, the stockholder and Michael Dell’s boss, would have responded to you, Edelman and friends, and your reaction to Dell’s new blog. I’d have ordered the thing shut down immediately. I’d fire the idiot who launched it in the first place. As you noted in your letter to Mr. Dell, he closed down one of his consumer forums and has a corporate policy of not talking to your customers on blogs. Michael’s smart. And he’s doing exactly what we pay him to do.

What we see here is not only the death of the old f-you company but also of their court jesters, the old-style flacks. Painful to watch, isn’t it?

: LATER: Scott Karp does an excellent job cutting through the crap and clouds to get to the point:

eff Jarvis and Amanda Chapel (aka Strumpette) are going at it over the Dell issue and in the process are stirring up such a heavy cloud of ideology that it’s hard to get your bearings. I thought it was worth trying to boil it down to some simpler, less ideologically-colored observations and lessons:

– Companies used to be able to get away with making crappy products and offering crappy services because they were able to mass market people into submission and because consumers didn’t have a way to make their unhappiness widely known.

– Thanks to the proliferation of content (both “professional” and “consumer-generated”) and content channels, mass media and thus mass marketing are now dead, so there is no longer an effective way to sell crappy products and services.

– Through blogs, video sharing, and other platforms for cheap content creation and distribution, individual consumers now have a powerful way to spread the word on crappy products and services on a large scale.

The lessons for companies:

1. Make better products and offer better services, or your business will likely suffer.
2. If you make mistakes, listen to your customers and fix the mistakes.

There it is a nutshell, without a single “ism.”

I think his second bullet, about teh lost of an effective way to sell crappy products and services, is important and new to this discussion.