PR Roundtable Discussion: Industry Advice

I hope you’ve been enjoying the past week of discussion. Links to all the questions and responses by the participants will be linked from the bottom of each entry. This is the final question that the panelists answered. Thanks you again to Marc Orchant at Blognation USA, Cathryn Hrudika from Creative Sage, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Doug Haslam of Topaz Partners and Brian Solis for taking the time and really delivering this stuff on very short notice. You guys, rock.

So here we go. The final question on this Friday.

What advice would you give to your own industry in engaging the other side?

Brian SolisBrian Solis: Chris Anderson summarized it best, “I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I’m interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that.”

What’s it going to take for PR to reflect that sentiment and honest plea for relevance? It should be common sense. But it’s not. Common sense is all too uncommon in almost everything we do these days.

So to help PR “pros” stop pissing-off bloggers and reporters and start building meaningful relationships with them, here is a list of things to live by:

  1. Remember this is about people
  2. What do you stand for? Answer that first before you try to convince people that are busier than you why they should take time to stop what they’re doing to pay you any attention.
  3. It’s more than doing your homework. To some doing homework is building lists. Figure out what your are representing and why it matters. How does it compare to other things. What do people need? What are their pains?
  4. Practice saying it aloud in one-to-two minutes or less to a friend or in front of a mirror. Seriously. It works. If you don’t get it no one else will.
  5. Less is more. Find the right people, not just because you read their profile in a database, but because you read their work and understand their perspective.
  6. Engage in conversations outside of when you need something.
  7. Build relationships not lists.
  8. Humanize the process and remember that this is about people
  9. Stop whining and making excuses. You are responsible for your actions so arm yourself with what you need to be successful.
  10. Stop sending press releases without summarizing what the news is and why it is IMPORTANT to the individual person you’re sending it to.
  11. Remember the reputation and the future of PR is on you. If you’re not in this to do your job better, then ask yourself why you’re here. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: Let people know how you’d like to communicate but also, get over yourself, roll with the punches and deal with standard operating procedure. The good PR agents will do a good job and the rest will always be there. Ultimately, I’ll happily write about a great product that came in with an awful pitch and I turn down the opportunity to cover crappy products that come in via great pitches all the time.

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: I work both sides of the fence so I guess my advice would be to both side to do the following: be respectful, clear, and consistent.

On the PR side ““ know who you’re pitching and don’t waste the blogger’s time with pitches that are way off topic. Deliver a well- crafted pitch, supported by as much relevant information as you can assemble. When I get a pitch that contains a logo, screenshot, “money quote”. and sufficient background on the company or product, I have everything I need to begin thinking about what my coverage will look like. If I have to go fishing for this information, the odds are I won’t.

On the blogger side ““ invest the time in educating a PR contact abut who you are and what cover. This information should be on your blog. If it’s not, assuming that every PR rep has read the last month’s posts (or more) and intimately understands your topical focus and opinions is wishful thinking. There are simply too many blogs out there and he tools that do exist for researching the medium are less than great. So make it easy for the people pitching you to do so effectively. And when they miss the target, try first to course correct before blowing them off – especially when dealing with agency folks. You may not be interested int he client they’re representing today but who knows about tomorrow?

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: From the PR side, the first thing I would say is: “it;s not the other side.” Of course, this applies to all media. I approach PR as on the one hand helping our clients get attention, but on the other hand helping proifessional communicators get good stories. Stop worrying about “closing the deal” and start worrying about helping media present stories that will engage, educate or entertain their audiences.

Cathryn HrudikaCathryn Hrudika: Re: PR Roundtable-My answer to Question #5Inbox
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Question #5: What advice would you give to your own industry in engaging the other side?

Cathryn Hrudicka: First, I would advise other PR professionals and initially resistant clients to get over their fears and misconceptions and learn all they can about blogging, podcasting, vblogging, and relatively new mobile apps, like Utterz. Next, they should do some creative thinking about how they could use these resources to have a real conversation, build community, brand themselves and share their messages. I would encourage them to start their own blogs and other channels for their own content. Next, they should learn about the key bloggers, podcasters and other content providers they might approach who would be interested in their story or news. They should learn about these journalists’ individual beats, preferences, styles, and approach each one accordingly.

I would advise other colleagues and clients to learn about the key social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, etc., and strategically create profiles on the ones most relevant to their audiences and their messages. Then they should observe how people converse with each other on each network, and figure out how to enter the conversation. Instead of simply learning new ways of “pitching,” or simply making promotional announcements, it’s really all about the conversation and the innovative ways of interacting that are possible now.

Indeed, they should keep up with the newer, constantly evolving ways of writing “social media press releases” and developing an online media room-but first, it’s how each blogger and content provider wants to be approached. We have to continue this dialog between PR professionals and content providers, because the technology, social networks, channels and protocols will continue to evolve at an ever-increasing rate. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the practitioners on “each side” will do a better job when we all have a more open, ongoing conversation.

Thank you all again all panelists. I hope this series has been productive for both sides and all involved. Talk to you next week!
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PR Roundtable Discussion: Outing Bad PR

I hope you all have been enjoying this week of PR conversation with respectable bloggers and Public Relations folks. This is a tricky area where real progress has to be made to try to bridge the gap between the two sides. Often, PR sees social media as a quick, cheap, expendable method of promotion while bloggers view PR in light of horribly misfired pitches.

We continue the conversation today with our panelists.

Is “outing” a wayward PR agency or individual an effective way of dealing with the problem of misfired pitches?

Brian SolisBrian Solis: Quite honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often as it has been a serious problem for decades.

Chris Anderson’s post sent a jolt that reverberated throughout the entire industry. It was a painful reminder that complacency and spam do not belong in PR.

There are also several blogs dedicated to exposing spectacularly horrible moments in PR as well as exposing bad pitches and the people behind them ““ and they’re gaining in popularity.

The game of PR has largely been enjoyed the comfort of existing behind-the-scenes and this exposure and public ridicule is forcing PR out of its comfort zone, which at the end of the day will only make PR stronger and more effective.

Now whether or not running the names and email addresses on the Web was a good thing, however, is complicated to assess as there are many factors and ramifications for doing so.

On one hand, it scared the sh!t out of everyone and brought much needed attention to the need to improve things in PR. On the other hand, it starts to raise privacy issues and taboos that can lead down a scary path affecting everyone involved in the business of public relations and media publishing. And, all of these conversations at the moment are only addressing the symptoms of much bigger problems that face PR, including unrealistic metrics and a complete misunderstanding of how PR really works by clients and corporate execs.

Exposing names and contact information is a steep penalty to pay and quite honestly, it’s somewhat irresponsible. There are other ways to get the same result and impact without forcing individuals to publicly pay the price for the ills of entire industry. Note, my only reservation here is names versus contact information. Running names is a leap, but I can support it. Running contact information crosses the line.

I think that “some” lazy flacks have learned their lesson and many more have been alerted to the fact that they are the epitome of what’s wrong with PR.

Very few PR “Pros” are out there building relationships with the public or people. Most don’t bother to spend the time to really learn about what they represent, why it matters, and how it’s different than everything else out there. And, without that understanding how can anyone realistically believe that influential reporters and bloggers are going to pay attention to their generic pitch?

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: Only as a last resort after trying to deal with them directly. If they’re unresponsive and refuse to show any courtesy or respect for the value I place on my time I suppose I might call them out publicly.

Frankly, I’ve never had to consider this sort of doomsday scenario. I think a unilateral “outing” with no prior attempt at achieving a more diplomatic resolution is unprofessional and ill-tempered.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: I don’t know yet, it’s only been a few weeks since I first tried it. To be honest, it’s such a huge problem that I don’t know if my experience in calling out specific people was worth the cost it incurred in hurt feelings. I don’t think I would do it again and I’ve apologized personally to all of the wayward airheads (I kid!) that I called out a while ago on my blog.

Cathryn Hrudika: I know that “outing” incidents have happened recently, and I suppose one can see pros and cons. On the one hand, if a large PR firm is “outed” that has been notoriously slow to get the message, or a particularly egotistical and seemingly lazy PR practitioner, there is a tendency for some people in the industry to feel smug and think it has done some Cathryn Hrudikagood, even if someone suffers public embarrassment or a reputation is damaged. In one sense, this seems to reflect the current mindset of a society where tabloid stories pass as news, and potentially damaging, confrontational accusations pass as “therapeutic confrontation.”

Personally, it’s not my style. I prefer honest, open discussions, like the constructive one we’ve been having on this PR Roundtable, where real information is exchanged as well as individual opinions. If someone, an individual or a PR firm, needs to be confronted, then I think it should be done with a certain amount of civility and respect, or else, in private. Some of the recent cases we’ve seen smack of mere ego gratification by the “outer,” rather than serving any real constructive or educational purpose. If an individual blogger or editor felt that he or she needed to confront an errant PR professional, surely it could have been done respectfully on a one-to-one basis, or in pitch guidelines that could have been posted on their blog or web site and also delivered to the agency in question. The only positive result might be that a few of these “outing” episodes did set off a much needed discussion about how we need to update and improve public relations practices, and what next steps should be taken. After all, if we are attempting to model the ongoing conversation, rather than the spam pitch, then let’s also model it in the way we handle an errant-or perhaps uninformed-practitioner.

It would seem preferable for PR industry trade associations to take a more proactive and progressive role in training their members adequately in newer public relations and social media techniques. Most of the effective re-education and discussion I’ve seen has been in nontraditional organizations that were created in the past few years by a small number of progressive PR and marketing professionals, such as the Social Media Club-not in the more traditional trade organizations. This training and mentoring should also occur in college and university programs in marketing, communications and public relations, so that younger PR professionals entering the field receive the most up-to-date guidance in the ever-evolving changes that are occurring in our industry.

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: Is it effective? Yes. No PR person wants to see their name on a “bad pitch” list and would do anything not to be publicly ridiculed. I have no problem with outing in that sense, though I wouldn’t necessarily take part in that sort of behavior unless severely provoked. What Chris Anderson did in his Long Tail blog– publishing the email addresses of 300 bad pitchers — is a real price PR people must pay, whether fair or not. The best answer to a “bad pitch” complaint is to send a good one– it’s worked for me.

The final segment of this roundtable is tomorrow. The panel will wrap up address with some takeaways for the industries they are in. Hopefully someone takes away some wisdom from these folks who are in the trenches of the industry.

PR Roundtable Discussion: Engaging Public Relations for Bloggers 101

We continue the PR/Blogger Roundtable discussion with Doug Haslam, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Brian Solis, Cathryn Hrudicka and Marc Orchant.

Brand is a matter of some discussion – and we did that yesterday.

How can bloggers engage public relations better?

Cathryn HrudikaCathryn Hrudicka: The lines between public relations professionals and media content providers are blurrier than ever, as many PR pros also blog, and produce podcasts and video content. So we’re playing one role in one context, and the other role at other times. That should give us better insights as PR professionals into how to converse with bloggers on behalf of our clients (or ourselves), because we know what it’s like to be a blogger and have other people pitch us. It’s also vital to realize that bloggers are very individualistic in their preferences, content and styles, and approach each one accordingly.

Bloggers could engage PR people more effectively by learning who the key PR representatives are for the people or topics they’re most interested in covering. The bloggers could be more proactive in approaching PR people to request background information or access to an interesting subject to interview. Actually, the top bloggers who also have more traditional journalism backgrounds are already doing that. There are so many bloggers, though, some who are lesser known, and it becomes difficult for PR pros to keep track of them all, what each of their individual preferences are, and what they prefer to cover. Bloggers could work at cultivating relationships too, instead of thinking of all PR people as “flacks” to be avoided.

Several prominent bloggers have made it a point to tweet on Twitter, announce on Facebook or on their blogs how they wish to be approached by PR pros, what topics interest them and don’t, and the best ways to contact them. For instance, B.L. Ochman has provided samples on her popular “What’s Next?” blog, of good and bad press releases and examples of how she wants to be approached by PR people. She has stated a preference for short, concise pitches with bullet points. In contrast, Robert Scoble (Scobleizer blog, PodTech) has mentioned that bullet points put him to sleep, and he prefers imagery and description in PR pitches. At various times, he has also requested that PR pros contact him via Twitter or Facebook messages, rather than by email. It is very helpful for bloggers to provide specific information like this so that PR professionals know immediately how to most effectively and efficiently participate in an ongoing conversation with these bloggers. Being aware of what events specific bloggers attend, and making a personal connection with them at these events, is also a key to forming an ongoing relationship.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: We can tell PR people exactly how we want to be communicated with, we can be flexible when they need something else and we can expand our horizons regarding our area of coverage. For example, I would like PR people to send me their clients’ OPML files, to send me bullet points about any release ahead of any launch, to provide access to the product or service being pitched and to be available to answer questions instead of asking me for an hour long CEO phone call.

Further, I’ve been considering a revision of my standard policy against covering mobile technology. I get so many pitches for it, it’s clearly a direction things are going in.

I also think that bloggers can be friendly with PR people and show them how to use tools like RSS readers and Twitter, when appropriate.

Brian SolisBrian Solis: I think it all starts with couples therapy.

Blogger, “All they do is spam with me this and that! They don’t care about me and my needs!”
PR, “They never listen to me”¦It’s like whatever I say is ignored no matter how important it is to me. They just don’t care!”

Seriously though, bloggers can benefit from maintaining a strategic and advantageous relationship with the right PR professionals. Love them or hate them, good PR people can still be a helpful part of the news and information process. They can and will work for you.

I think we all learned that running the names of lazy PR flacks in a public forum is definitely one way to send a clear message. Social Media is fueled by people and their peers, so running things in the blogosphere definitely makes things very personal. But there are also other ways to ensure that PR people “think” before approaching bloggers.

One way is to send positive feedback to those that do it right. Send notes to management in regards to those who do it wrong and remind them how to do things correctly. Or, simply block the individual from contacting you again ““ but in the process let them know why.

We recently had a lazy PR associate who ignored repeated points of advice on how best to reach out to bloggers. Aside from the lip service we got, he continued to do things the spammy way”¦blasting lists of targets with impersonalized messages with inappropriate news releases. Within one week, this person was called out by two bloggers, one of whom decided to cc: everyone at my agency lambasting his approach and well, basically, calling him stupid. Names are one thing, and probably inappropriate, but the message was loud and clear and this person was now directly humbled among his peers. And, most importantly, it spotlighted a problem that required correction, while also reinforcing the need for other people on our team to remember that this entire process is about people. One news release doesn’t matter to everyone! Subsequently this person is no longer with us.

Yes it takes time for you to respond rather than ignore things, it also takes an unusual level of patience and understanding, but it helps PR adapt and learn. Using the example above, one email affected 15 people.

Another way bloggers can work better with PR is to clearly say somewhere how they wish to be contacted, what they are looking for, and advice for cutting through the clutter. Submission forms are not helpful.

We should all be in this to learn together. And, for those that don’t want to learn or embrace evolution, then they’ve sealed their own fate.

Evolve or die!

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: Use them to help you. Tell PR people what you want, and let them in on the conversations, so long as they participate as, well, a participant, and not just a bald shill. The best way to increase the percentage of quality communications from PR is to post a policy somewhere on your blog or site that sets down your rules of engagement– do you want press releases? Would you prefer to hear from PR in comments? What topics do you want to hear about? There is nothing PR people like more than being told how to communicate with you.

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: I have a great relationship with many PR folks and I think the secret is to take the time to get to know them well enough to be able to speak frankly with them. I try to always make a point of educating a PR firm representative what my areas on interest and focus are. If they pitch me on something completely unaligned in their enthusiasm to get some coverage, I can then reference back to that conversation and remind them of where my interests (and those of my readers) are.

Just recently, I sent a quick “no thanks, not interested” response to a PR person (internal to the company in this instance). She replied asking if I would prefer not to hear about the company any more. I told her to please keep me on her distribution list but to understand that I would only follow up or write about their news if it was relevant. I’m interested in the company, think what they’re doing has value, and occasionally find something they’re doing appropriate for my readers. By clearly laying out the ground rules for engagement, she doesn’t have to waste cycles following up with me and I don’t have to expend energy saying “no thanks”.

There will always be unsolicited and completely inappropriate pitches landing in my inbox. I’m resigned to that. Too many PR “hacks” simply shotgun a press release to a big list hoping something will stick. And I’ve found a simple solution. It’s called the Delete key. If I don’t know who the sender is and find the pitch completely off topic to my blogs, it’s gone. If that rep really want me to cover a story, they’ll follow up (the good ones do) and we’ll begin establishing better communication and understanding.

That’s it for this segment of the Roundtable. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the panelists views on “outing” wayward PR folks. This should be interesting.