OK, I'm sorry I ever used the line about seeing a future for PR people who insist on clinging to command and control strategies in the restaurant service industry. It was my first speaking engagement related to Naked Conversations. I wanted to be edgy and memorable, which I apparently was, but what I said that day at BlogOn has been misquoted and misinterpreted ever since. I can live with that. But some people see me as a former PR practitioner who has turned against my former profession and that is just not true.
I am saying what I'm saying without glee and with a sincere hope that people still in the practice of PR will see the problem soon enough to be part of the solution. Not all of them will, I am convinced. Condemning what I have to say without actually listening to what I have to say will not make the problem go away. Hell, it won't even make me go away.
The big problem for the PR industry is not blogging. Blogging is part of the solution. The big problem is that as an industry it has lost its credibility. The Edelman Trust Barometer, a poll conducted annually by the world's largest PR agency, finds PR people rank lower in credibility than lawyers. And, unlike lawyers, PR people are in the image business.
This is PR's problem #1. I will address that issue in a future in this ongoing series. Shel Holtz, one of the PR practitioners whom I most greatly respect seems to think I've argued that all press releases should be spiked, because we now have blogging. I pay close attention to Shel because he has credibility with me, a great deal of it even though I've never met him. He has that credibility because I've been reading (and listening) to his blogs since before I started my first. I mention this to demonstrate how blogging is part of PR's solution, but I digress. Shel also thinks that I confuse PR with media relations, but I don't. PR people do a great deal more than that. They are part of strategic communications teams. The most effective practitioners interact directly with company CEOs, not the marketing teams.
I do not think all press releases should be spiked. I do think a great deal of them should be spiked. I think those that still go out, should stop trying to be marketing documents, and try harder to be flat informational documents.
I learned about press releases from Regis McKenna, the founder of the first technology PR agency who was universally considered a marketing guru, back in the early 80s when I worked in his agency. He taught that press releases should be factual statements delivered with the editor in mind. In fact, it was fine with him if they were just notes to editors and analysts who mattered. The key was to have the relationships with editors and analysts who mattered. For that reason, each media list was hand-selected so that the releases would go only to the editors, we practitioners knew mattered. "The editor's job is to write the glowing stories, not ours," we were taught. "And the client needs to trust us."
So general practice at a good many agencies followed the concept of the editor as customer. The release's job was to let the editor understand that something had happened that you considered newsworthy. The editor would then call the PR person who would then facilitate a direct conversation with the client.
It was all pretty simple. Until the Internet came along and marketing people discovered that press releases could be read by anyone who wanted to read them. So they went from information documents to full-fledged marketing documents, and committees of marketing people would cram in adjectives and phrases, then legal departments would then neuter by placing fine print disclaimers about forward looking statements at the end of the release. The purpose of a great many releases was no longer to inform editors. It was now an attempt to generate buzz.
Press release almost never tell bold-faced lies, but they do play a game of inches in attempt to mislead. They try to make minor implementations seem like major innovations. All too often the fluff and puff by claiming "firsts," and "mosts" even when those firsts and mosts don't matter. Most observer will tell you they contain "spin," a term I hated when I practiced PR, because spin sounds like a PR kind of word for "lie."
Shel, it would be an impossibility to eliminate all press releases. First, public companies are required to have them. Second, press releases are a legitimate way of communicating information. But information and marketing hype are different things. The Blanche Dubois policy of telling the truth the way it ought to be, has no place in public relations, or at least it should not.
Industrywide, senior people should take a look at the philosophy and process of writing press releases. And they should think long and hard about the issues of credibility and press releases.
In Naked, we talked about the difference in an auto company releases a fat, elegant press kit to accompany a new car launch, and a team of mid-level engineers blogging for two years about their struggle to make a better car. Which communications medium would you believe?
But there is a place where I do believe blogging can effectively replace traditional marketing, particularly the press release--the start up. While it makes sense for companies like General Motors or Proctor and Gamble to issue releases, why should an unknown, unbranded company with an untested product spend north of $10K a month trying to get editorial attention?
If they have new technology that makes a difference, like Riya or Mike Davidson's Newsvine, won't they get further by just blogging? As BJ Fogg has pointed out, stealth, for a startup is over-rated. A company can begin the process earlier, and get prospects involved in making the product or service better? This is one way that blogging can help credibility.
So would a PR program dovetail it? In a large company, I think The answer is yes. But in a start up, where there is resources are always limited, I think having a blogging program and a traditional program creates diluted focus and defeats both programs.