Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for February 2005

New and notable blogs…

 I’m glad to see another PR CEO is up and blogging.  Tim Dyson, CEO of Next Fifteen, whose agency portfolio includes Bite Communications, Text 100 and AugustOne, has a relatively new blog entitled Technology PR.

 

 Meanwhile Barry Reicherter from Porter Novelli has been in touch to let me know that they’ve kicked off a blog called The Thicket. It brings together PR folks in the agency with their advertising, interactive and broadcast brethren.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 17, 2005 at 10:11 am

Posted in General

Readers of the Irish Independent…

Written by Tom Murphy

February 17, 2005 at 8:59 am

Posted in General

Blog Relations… the gift that keeps giving…

Respecting the concept of ‘what goes around comes around’, most PR bloggers don’t name and shame the more inane PR pitches they get.  However sometimes it’s useful to critique them.  After all it’s always good to get a second opinion.

Jeremy Wright isn’t a PR guy, he’s first and foremost a business person and a blogger, and he has some interesting advice on pitching bloggers:

1. Make it personal

2. Make it applicable

3. Make it short and sweet

Good, sound advice.  [It should be noted he also praises a recent pitch he got from “Kevin” at Talon PR.] 

But what’s interesting is that those three rules are just as applicable to the world of media relations. Any decent media pitch should be attempting to emulate them.  However, blog relations isn’t necessarily that simple…

For example, Steve Rubel provides some useful comments on a recent pitch he recieved from a PR person acting on behalf of a software company.

“When pitching a blogger, however, the stakes are much higher. Someone can easily cut, copy and paste your email into a blog post and put it up on the Web lickity split – like I just did. Although not everyone will be as nice as I was in cloaking the identity of a pitch’s author. The lesson here is that the rules of engaging citzen journalists are in some ways similar to working with the pros, yet vastly different.”

Now while I’m not a huge fan of the whole “citizen journalist” theme. Steve makes a great point, there are a lot of similarities between good blog relations and good media relations – however there are also some distinct differences.

Some bloggers, regardless of your pitch will see you as an agent of Satan.  A dirty grubby press agent out to poison, spin and destroy their blog. Reading their blog over a period of time should highlight these “citizens” and their journalism is probably best avoided.

In addition, should you be having a bad day, some bloggers will take great satisfaction in holding you up as an example of why PR is bad, possibly including the entire text of your e-mail along with contact details.

These are the risks of blog relations.  While in the past poorly targeted pitches to “real” journalists were tossed in the bin, bloggers can be a little less unforgiving.

The secret of success is preparation.  Think before you click.  Some bloggers have a strong voice in the market.  Communicating with them, establishing a dialogue is often a great idea.  Just make sure you know who they are and what they stand for.

There’s loads of great, detailed advice on this topic around the “Interweb”. Here are a few immediate sources:

Written by Tom Murphy

February 16, 2005 at 9:18 am

Posted in General

PR Misc – February 16, 2004

 I must say that at a time when the PR business is under more scrutiny than ever, it speaks volumes for Edelman that their leader is willing to step forward and provide honest guideance on good PR practice. 

Richard Edelman’s posts may not be to everyone’s taste, but he is a lone voice in honestly addressing this issue while his cohorts hide behind ‘multiples’ and new HR initiatives. Of course it’s questionable on how successful he will be convincing the silent majority to adopt new ethical practices. Ethics is one element that could significantly impact shareholder value.

 

 Andy Lark gives us a great example of the perils of “internal” blogging.  Just like “internal” e-mail and “internal” memos there’s very little security. Intel’s President, Paul Otellini‘s internal blog has emerged in public and guess what… it deviates from the standard corporate line….

 

 Long time PR blogger Richard Bailey has a most interesting piece over at the IAOC blog on the continuing importance of media relations.

 

 Constantin Basturea has upgraded his blog (and it’s address).

 

 Robb Hecht points out an article by Bill Stoller on getting the media to open your e-mails.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 16, 2005 at 8:49 am

Posted in General

Discussion on a new communications model….

Elizabeth Albrycht has kicked off a discussion on how the merger of new technologies and techniques with traditional communications practices can produce a new model.

It’s a fascinating subject and Elizabeth has clearly undertaken a lot of work in preparing the background.  She is calling for people to participate in the debate, to work through a whole multitude of issues that will affect communications moving forward.

She points to a few of the emerging patterns that will affect this discussion:

* We hear “markets are conversations”, but what does that mean in practical terms about how we re-structure our corporate communications?

* We issue calls for “transparency”, but what assumptions are underlying this call that come from the old command/control approach?

* We (culturally) celebrate (at least in the US) individualism in terms of “superstars” and “experts”, but success in this new world may just rely on collective effort.

* Our strategies for success, e.g., for delivering messages, relies upon an objectification of the audience (people are things, without agency). But now, the audience is no longer passive. What does it mean to have an active audience (people with agency)? How must this new assumption change our strategy for communications?

* McLuhan famously stated, “the medium is the message.” What is the message of the tools we are adopting e.g, blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, etc.? How does the tool itself change the interaction between transmitters – receivers of information? How does the use of these new tools transform traditional power flows? What does that mean for communication practice?

Read it and get thinking….

Written by Tom Murphy

February 15, 2005 at 9:01 am

Posted in General

Book Review: Talespin: Public Relations Disasters

As anyone working in the PR business needs no reminding, the term ‘PR disaster’ has become a synonym in the media for any disaster whether it be an act of god, organizational or individual stupidity, a product defect or an actual PR mishap.  The use of the term ‘PR’ even when there is little of no PR element to the story highlights one of the many perceptual problems facing the profession.

 

When Melissa Weiner from Stray Dog Media contacted me about a possible review of Gerry McCusker’s new book “Talespin: PR disasters”, I was delighted to agree.  Disasters are something I feel every PR practitioner should be interested in.

 

Gerry’s book provides a wide variety of interesting mini-case studies detailing how organizations were damaged through poor PR.

�The term �PR disaster� is most frequently used in newspaper columns and media soundbites where the continual twinning of the terms �PR� and �disaster� by journalists and reporters is applied to anything and everything negative that happens to any company or organization.�

 

The book provides a brief overview of a diverse range of examples, from well publicized episodes such as the failed launch of Coca Cola’s Dasani water in the UK, and Sherpardson Stern & Kaminsky’s e-mail woes to less well known hiccups such as Volkswagen’s disasterous UK direct mail campaign.  Following each example, McCusker provides a brief summation of the issues and highlights some of the many useful lessons to be learned.

 

For me, one of the great elements of a career in Public relations is that you never stop learning.  If you want a job where nothing changes then PR is probably not for you.  PR is dynamic, the climate is always in flux and no matter how well or badly things are going, there’s always a surprise around the corner.  It’s one of the reasons why I am always interested in finding out how different companies handle different challenges facing their organization.

 

Talespin provides a rich variety of different disasters.  Some ultimately led to successful outcomes, others fatally damaged the businesses concerned. It serves to illustrate that the elements that can damage an organization go far beyond the boundaries of PR, and illustrates the need for every department to understand the PR implications of their daily work. 

 

One of the problems for anyone interested in finding out about different PR campaigns, is that it’s rare that you can get a real insight into what went on in the background of a given issue.  The most popular sources of this information, namely PR case studies and PR award submissions, typically only provide the most basic details on a campaign and provide little or no insight into how the practitioners concerned actually dealt with challenges and opportunities as they arose.  The nature of PR means that this detail, the most interesting element, will only emerge at a much later date – if at all.  Looking back at a past PR disasters in the cold light of day is a far different proposition than having to make major decisions in the midst of a crisis when you are besieged with partial information, differing advice and a landslide of media inquiries.

 

If I have one tiny criticism of the book, it is that it doesn’t really get under the skin of how the PR teams successfully or unsuccessfully dealt with the issues.  While there’s a huge diversity of case studies, I kept finding myself hoping for some more detailed cases, some more inside track on how the PR team dealt with the crisis.  What were the internal and external pressures? How did the crisis build from the inside perspective?  To be fair that’s a shortcoming of any book of this sort.  People are understandably reticent to allow sensitive internal information to be published publicly.

 

On the other hand, Talespin does provide a wide range of thought provoking crises.  As you go through the book you find yourself thinking through the crisis as it unfolds, and developing your own plans for solving it.  That in itself is an interesting and challenging exercise and in many ways provides a far more satisfying experience than many of the growing number of self-help PR books you’ll find strewn across the physical shelves of your book store or the virtual shelves of your favorite online book seller.

 

Is Talespin the ultimate crisis communication bible for your desk?  No.  But then it doesn’t try and fulfill that role.  I think it provides some very interesting real-world examples of how PR impacts the entire organization.  For non-PR business people it provides a useful collection of business scenarios that highlight the requirement for PR skills at all levels of a company.  For the Public Relations practitioner it provides a diverse collection of examples of just how badly many organizations have dealt with crises. 

 

It’s a timely reminder that every practitioner needs to think clearly in times of crisis, while many of the missteps seem incredible in the clear view of hindsight, they were planned and implemented in good faith at the time.

 

I’d love to see Gerry plan a second book, this time with fewer cases but more in-depth analysis from the PR and business perspective. 

 

I recommend Talespin for anyone responsible for a company’s good standing whether they are in marketing, public relations and/or senior management. As with everything else, prevention is always better than the cure and reading this book will make you think long and hard about the potential for your company to end up as a PR disaster.

 

Footnote:

  • Thanks to Melissa Weiner from from Stray Dog Media for providing a review copy of the book.
  • Talespin is widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble)
  • Read Trevor Cook’s review and his interview with Gerry McCusker
  • Read Philip Young’s review
  • Read Jim Horton’s review

 

 

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 15, 2005 at 8:32 am

Posted in General

New and notable blogs

 David Parmet has kicked off his new blog “Marketing Begins at Home”

 Alain Jourdier has re-vamped his blog “Marketing Bytes Man”

 Interactive PR is a relatively new blog looking at how different media affect PR [via Drew]

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 14, 2005 at 11:56 am

Posted in General

The new world of Public Relations is pining for the fjords…

One of the problems with having a blog is the temptation for knee-jerk (that should probably be finger-jerk but that sounds a little rude) reactions to content you read online.  You read something that you either really agree with or irks you and the obvious reaction is to post a strongly worded post. I am fighting my addiction to impulse posting and have starting making a habit of purchasing a nice coffee to give me some time and perspective.

Religon is also something I try and avoid here, but in looking at the Public Relations business, its practitioners and its detractors, its challenges and adopters is there better guidance than:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Reality Check

Ladies and gentlemen, Public Relations isn’t going anywhere.  Public Relations is not dying, but Public Relations is slowly changing.  When I say slowly, I’d like you to think of the speed with which glaciers around the globe shaped the Earth’s landscape. Yes PR is changing that fast.

The vision of a new, rapidly emerging conversation-based democracy, is in my humble opinion, way overblown. It’s a vision and like all visions it will take a long time to pass – if ever.

PR’s problems continue unabated.

There is no question that the Public Relations industry has a myriad of major challenges. There are a significant number of practitioners (though still a small minority) engaging in unethical pay-for-play activities.  The profession’s image is appalling and it is actually getting worse.  The practice of even the most basic tools of our trade e.g. media relations is often ham fisted and amateur.

The human species evolves faster than the PR industry recognizes and adopts new technologies and techniques.  Its professional bodies, have to date, failed to address the shadier practices of the few – practices which no right thinking PR person could ever condone.

These are fundamental challenges � but that�s all.

The New York Times� article �Spinning Frenzy: P.R.�s Bad Press” does a good job illustrating these difficulties.

One good thing that has arisen from the whole Ketchum-Armstrong Williams affair is that it has forced the PR establishment to come out and take a stand on ethics.  This is a positive step, albeit late and a little self-serving.  However these headlines aren�t slowing down the big profit business of astroturfing.

Big, medium and small sized PR firms continue to leave their ethics at home while �working� for companies and industry organizations.  For many, the call of the PR dollar is far more attractive than the lonely high ground of ethics and good practice. Money talks.

Changing Practices

The other chestnut that continues to roast gently on the open fire, is how the advent of new tools such as blogging will kill, maim or damage Public Relations.  I am unconvinced. Yes these developments will slowly change PR campaigns.  They will add new tactics and demand new thinking on how to best communicate with an audience.  But that�s it folks.  The slowly moving PR machinery will eventually assimilate blogs, RSS and Wikis in the same way the fax, phone and the tabloid have been assimilated.

Even the profile of Robert Scoble in the Economist which includes the potentially incendiary sub-head: “Does Robert Scoble, a celebrity blogger on Microsoft’s payroll, herald the death of traditional public relations?”, acknowledges that:

�(Scoble) thinks that there will always be a place for traditional PR, with its centrally controlled corporate message, alongside the spontaneous cacophony of blogs.�

Of course there will always be a place for �traditional PR�.  Traditional PR is concerned with effective communication with an audience. This transcends the tool and the channel.  PR people will eventually � don�t hold your breath � embrace blogs and they will take their place in the PR armoury alongside press releases (yes press releases), face-to-face briefings, telelconferences etc.

It�s good that some PR practitioners are embracing and demonstrating these techniques ahead of the curve. These practitioners are showing the way, but don�t think your fellow practitioners won�t follow, they will, in their own good time.

Pragmatism

On a personal level I will continue to criticize what I see as shoddy, unethical practices.  I will continue to highlight the potential of new technologies, but with a realization that market forces will decide how Public Relations evolves.

PR isn�t dead or dying.  It�s helping individuals, corporations, non-profit organizations and industries communicate.

It�s big business.

Hopefully the growing community of PR bloggers can continue to provide insightful commentary on the industry, aggressively address unethical practice and encourage faster adoption of new techniques and tools that can radically improve communication.

But at the end, the PR business isn�t going anywhere� well not quickly.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 14, 2005 at 10:39 am

Posted in General

"The Future of PR is not E-mail" – Charles Arthur

Ah it warms the heart to hear a journalist calling for PR people to use my pet project: RSS.

Charles Arthur, who writes for the UK Independent claims that e-mail isn’t the future for PR

“Perhaps then I�ll find out who�s really got something interesting to say, and who was just emailing me on autopilot. I still think the future lies in RSS feeds – which resemble, in concept, the wire services that national journalists get on their desks, and to which they pay much more attention than any press release, in whatever form. Interestingly, I spoke to the PR person I mentioned earlier – who told me that there are now RSS feeds for one of their clients, as a result of our conversation. Bonus points to the company for moving quick. Let�s hope many follow.”

As any regular readers (and there are a few of you) know, I am a well established RSS fan.

But I temper my enthusiasm with pragmatism.

RSS is a very valuable addition to our existing armory of telephones, web sites and e-mail clients but it’s not enough on its own.  Like everything in life, choosing the best tools for the job is the secret to success.  RSS saves time, provides timely alerts to your audience and can ensure that your story cuts through the spam clutter, but it should always be used in conjunction with other tools.

 

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 11, 2005 at 3:25 pm

Posted in General

Employee blogging needs some good old common sense

Everywhere I turn online these days I seem to read yet another story about someone who has been fired for blogging, or more accurately they have been fired for something they have written about their employer in their blog.

A quick search on Google (one of the most recent organizations to fire a blogger interestingly) reveals any number of these events.

I’m sure that in some of these cases the blog posting has only been an excuse for some manager who has been waiting to remove someone. However, even allowing for that, these recent spate of blog-related sackings raise some in interesting questions regarding how employers and employees can happily co-exist in the era of the public private diary.

Like everything else to do with good blog relations we should start with some good old common sense.

For the employee:

1) Think before you post…. you can discuss first amendment rights till the early hours of the morning but the reality is that what you write about on your blog is in the public domain from the minute you click on the publish button. Just because you’re participating in the “free love” world of blogging doesn’t mean that criticisms of your boss or employer will be less damaging – to you AND your boss.

2) Understand your working enviroment…. Some employers are less controlling than others. Some enjoy public debate and enjoy your independent critiques of their business and management style…. some won’t. Be sure you have a clear understanding of your employer’s position on these matters.

3) Use your common sense…. No employer will be happy with you broadcasting confidential commercial information over the “Interweb”, whether it’s future product plans, unannounced customers or the rumors you heard about how the company will probably miss the quarter from a friend in the finance department. These may sound far fetched but you’d be surprised. If you are unsure about something then ask your manager and document it. The best rule of thumb is that if you are unsure then err on the side of caution.

For the employer:

1) King Canute got wet…. As the number of bloggers continues to grow, there is a growing probability that some of your staff will or are already blogging. Acknowledge that fact and put in place a plan to deal with it.

2) Embrace blogs….. Employee blogs, either inside or outside the firewall, have the potential to make a positive contribution to your business. Find out who is blogging and why. Find out how you can support them.

3) Help your staff blog…. Most companies have clear implemented policies on employee usage of e-mail and the Internet. Consider having a similar policy for blogging – not for the purpose of censorship – but to help staff clearly understand what behavior and content is acceptable. The last thing you want to do is drive employee blogs underground.

A number of people have already published suggested corporate and personal guidelines for blogging, here are a few examples:

Personal blogs, when written with good old fashioned common sense, can benefit the individual and the employer.  However, straying from that path into confidential information, personal criticism or other related areas will damage both parties… to use an Irish phrase… a bit of ‘cop on’ goes a long way.

Addendum:

On a closely related topic, Jeremy Pepper today has a post on “Blogs and Libel” which includes interviews with  David E. McCraw, Counsel for the New York Times and a local Arizona attorney.

“It’s (a blogger being sued for libel) going to happen that someone will blog, and the response will be a lawsuit. Look at all the high school journals with compromising photos of friends. It’s going to be something that willl be sued over – an intra-high schol suit that won’t get major coverage.

With blogs now being published under the writer’s name, and easily identifiable and writing on public topics, there’s no reason why blogs are not being sued for libel.”

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 11, 2005 at 8:15 am

Posted in General