November 26, 2007

The Other Side of the PR Fence, Which Shouldn't Be a Fence At All

PR people can't do anything right these days. (Okay maybe these years). It's true--spammers trying to sell you a boatload of nothing are a waste of time and should be called out for their lame tricks. But often times, PR people are actually trying to help in the most efficient way they know how, and they still get blasted by an egotistical editor or reporter having a bad day or a pair of britches on the small side.

I've been on both the shit receiving end AND on the shit throwing end of the PR machine myself. That's because I walk that blurry line, being both a "journalist" listed IN media map, and a PR flack USER of media map (and similar tools) where the journos and the PR flacks intersect (wish i could say connect--but that doesn't happen there).

Anyone having done any kind of media relations knows the reddening sting of a pissed off reporter saying, "You haven't read me, have you?" or "I already wrote about that," or "You're just blindly pitching." And yes, sometimes they're right. But they also fail to take ANY responsibility for how they end up in the endless loop of breaking-news tag.

They know that media map and other tools give PR people infinite details on their every bowel movement. So, if they prefer to be called, if their publication doesn't REALLY cover what media map says it wants to cover, if their beat is wrong, or if they just plain hate PR people and want them to know, then USE THESE TOOLS TO SAY SO. Don't be lazy on the front end and blame the folks who give you fodder for your stories on the backend.

Just like some BigPR SVPs who think they can pull a strategy out of their back pocket to 'build your brand' without understanding your customers, some journalists pull the "blame it on PR flacks" card because it's fast, easy and acceptable to do so. Rather than spell out (and update frequently) on their sites or blogs or in their publications (or God forbid in the tools they know PR people are stuck using) just how they want to interact with us, it's easier to shoot the proxy-messenger. All because an editor is bugged by some pain in the ass emails (news flash: we all get them), hasn't had a good night's sleep, or just plain needs to get laid.

The whole PR industry being broken is not news.

I and those like me have long said that it's badly busted, at least as far as non-public companies and the strategies those companies use to interact with the public and their markets go--and especially in Technology.

For public companies, PR is pretty much what it has always been. A combination of media relations and crisis management. A round robin of announcing good news, winding up with some BAD news, fixing that bad news, and making good news again. All's well that ends well.

For everyone else, all bets are off. In Tech, for example, you have the BigPR firms offering silver bullets in global networks and proven strategies. You have smaller PR firms whose strategies are often blast and follow up. Everyone's aiming to get you ink (or link) and subsequently get you funded and build your brand. Everyone's talking to influencers about thought leaders. Everyone's pitching media about news. All of these approaches are top down: they identify the target and shoot.

They are nothing new.

Something new would be PR people who help clients actually talk TO (not at) their markets. And understand me: clients need help doing this. Manpower, brainpower, and help.

They need help hooking up with customers in new ways, with celebrating their users, with getting the relationship and conversation started.

In Technology -- especially in Web 2.0 -- that is the job of PR 2.0, or at least the PR 2.0 world I'd build if I were Queen.

If I were Queen of PR 2.0, the job of the flack would be all about ENABLEMENT. It's a dumb word, but is accurate. The job of PR 2.0 should be enabling customers/users/participants/markets to DO SOMETHING they couldn't have done as easily without your client's product/service/brains/money.

Get out of the headlines and into the meat of the story.

Find out where there is a community need your client's product or service can actually SOLVE and make it happen. Solve something. Be the intermediary between need and action, between puzzle pieces and masterpiece. DO SOMETHING!

When I want to remember what that feels like, I remember what Albert Lai and I and the team at BubbleShare did, the best accidental no-money-PR-strategy-delivered-via-skype-and-a-hotel-room-and-a-wiki program of its day. My job as the PR person was to find the need. I found it on Doc Searls' blog, because I found a place where we could help.

No one could find a room ANYWHERE in vegas for CES up to 2 days before the event. So what was BubbleShare's product/service: a photosharing app. What was its market - initially bloggers and netizens, eventually everyone. What was the intersection/connection opportunity: Albert going to CES, Doc going to CES, Robert going to CES, Mary Lou going to CES, Mary Hoder going to CES, Charlene Li going to CES, everyone going to CES and no one with a place to stay!

So in one night we launched the Unofficial CES Wiki, which started out as a place for people to offer room share opportunities, leave info on what hotels had what prices, find out who was going and when, and arranging times to get together.

The Wiki turned into an event tool used by bloggers. For example, Charlene Li let everyone know where they could rent a bike. Other bloggers offered to share rooms. And we at BubbleShare decided to host a CES Camp, a hotel-room spot for those Not On the Show Floor to show off their products and services, to hang out, to get the latest stickers and give-aways, and to eat pizza and build relationships.

THAT is the job of PR 2.0.

It's about finding clients you believe in and hooking them up with people you believe in.

There is no $5,000 a month media map tool for this. There are only human beings and social tools for this. There is only living here among clients and their markets.

The tools of PR 2.0 are not Bacons and newswire and press releases with RSS feeds. They are Skype, and email and air travel and the phone; they are friends and the social tools we use to connect.

Well, that's how it would be if I were Queen of PR 2.0.

But for now, I'm a peasant. And as such, I don't have much of a voice on how things go. But with the little bit of voice I have, I will say this to both sides: PR Pros, don't bother journalists without real news. Journalists: Don't act like such asses when a PR person contacts you doing the best they can with what they've got.

And now, you may all resume your job of eating leftover turkey sandwiches.