Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for February 2005

You don't actually need to bottle stupidity…

In my previous post I referenced Phil Gomes‘ view on why he doesn’t feel the need to rush to the defence of the PR profession. I also referenced Andy Lark‘s thoughts on transparency. When I was writing the post, I didn’t think the two would come together quite as quickly as they have.  Let me explain.

Two incidents I read about this morning brought both issues into focus.

News that Burson-Marsteller’s astroturfing on behalf of the bromine industry has been called out by the Center for Media and Democracy isn’t a surprise to anyone.  These ridiclous industry-backed “think tanks” staffed by PR flacks (I hate that term, but it’s appropriate in this context) bring this business and profession into disrepute.  This isn’t about communication ladies and gentlemen, this is about subterfurge and at best grey propoganda.

I won’t speak on behalf of others, but it says nothing to me about Public Relations, as I practice and understand it.  Furthermore, as a consumer, I find it distasteful and dishonest. Unfortunately no one cares.  As long as there’s money to be made, there will be organizations and individuals interested in grabbing it regardless of the consequences. This is where I begin to agree with Phil’s thoughts.  There is no blood on my hands so to speak, I am happy to criticize these practices, but I also accept that my criticism will do nothing to change the practice.

The problem with Andy’s PROTS idea is that you’ll find the only people willing to sign up will be the people who have nothing to hide.  Those operating in the murky underworld will stay there, happily counting the unmarked bills that are passed their way (I’m imagining the retainer being handed over in a dark car park).

So deception is reality to destroy an old PR adage.

But deception happens in many ways. Another incident I read today served to show just how stupid some marketing and PR people are in trying to create these deceptions.

If you’re planning some online marketing programs there’s something you should be aware of.  It’s really quite easy to track your identity.  It’s important to know that, particularly if you’re planning some really “clever” viral marketing ploy.  Ah yes, following some fantastic ground coffee and a nice danish pastry, you came up with a great viral campaign for your client.

“Let’s pretend we’re students, then we can target bloggers and get a whole viral marketing thing going.”

“What a great and unique idea! Let’s do it!”

One word: Stop.

Stop before you do more damage than good.  In the first place what you are suggesting is unethical – and if I’m expected to call unethical practice in PR, I’ll do the same for the rest of the marketing function.  Your mediocre attempts at hiding your real identity will, in all probability, fail.  The result of your actions will be, best-case, that you make your organization look like buffoons and worst-case you do serious damage to your client and your employer’s reputation.

Unfortunately this post is too late for the big brains over at Ogilvy. Oh yes.  Following the well beaten track of  “students” who are actually married, overweight marketers, Ogilvy have kicked out a blog outreach campaign posing as students.  I kid you not.  And what brand you may ask is all this sneaking around designed to promote?  Why American Express obviously. Obviously.

What a stupid stunt…. oh the vagaries of rhyming slang.

Bjoern Ognibeni, a freelance marketing consultant in Germany, was the recipient of one of these incredibly intelligent pitches.  Unfortunately for the clever agency folks, Bjoern was able to track their IP address all the way back to their danish pastry filled modern offices.

Read the post, heed the lesson.

I’m off for a danish.

Written by Tom Murphy

February 8, 2005 at 10:40 am

Posted in General

PR Misc – February 08, 2005


Things have been, and continue to be, a little crazy work wise, which is a limp excuse for a significant lack of posting recently.  Hopefully things will return to normal later in the week, in the meantime I can relax in the knowledge that there’s loads of interesting PR/Marketing posting going on elsewhere.  Here’s just a taster…..

 In the aftermath of various people and organizations failing to disclose their vested interests, Andy Lark wonders aloud about transparency for communicators.  There’s no doubt this is a growing issue, particularly in the ever changing web of content, links and opinions, but is there a way forward?  Andy, building on David Berlind’s idea of a Journalist’s Online Transparency System (JOTS), suggests a Public Relations Online Transparency System (PROTS).

“PROTS would cover a whole range of ground. It might include protocols for using third party spokespeople. And the use of anonymous spokespeople. In this instance, transparency is greater than anonymity. In other words, say who you are, what your title is and what you are saying. Don’t hide behind the veil of “spokesperson”.”

(David has some additional thinking on JOTS here.)


 Trevor Cook reports that, following his acceptance of an invitation to participate in a panel session at a Hill & Knowlton briefing on blogging, the invitation was rescinded because:

“….management didn’t feel ‘comfortable with presenting someone from a competitive agency as a speaker at one of our own events’.”

Petty, and ridiculous are words that jump to mind.  Why invite him in the first place? Is it any wonder PR practitioners aren’t taken seriously….


 Trevor also has posted an interview with Gerry McCusker, author of Talespin, a book on PR disasters.

“Talespin came to me after a non-PR pal got enmeshed in a PR disaster and when he relayed his plight, I wondered how many other people had had similar brushes with PR gaffes. Research showed there were numerous cases. And as someone who’s proud of my PR career, I wanted to show the complexity and perils of the PR arena so that people realised the skillset involved in executing good PR and the pitfalls we face. And if the book strikes people as an informative and enjoyable read, then that’s great, too.”


 Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson have released their sixth PR podcast (you should really be listening to these). This week’s installment includes discussion on the Superbowl, Armstrong Williams, Steven Phenix’s call for PR people to stand up and be counted and an interview with Noah Acres.


 Phil Gomes has a very interesting post on why he’s not prepared to defend PR – because it doesn’t need it…

“So, I’m answering this blogosphere-wide question by not answering it: I have absolutely nothing to apologize for, or defend, by working in public relations. There is a very high probability that you don’t either. Is PR “necessary?” Well, I have a role in business and the mediasphere and I do my best within that role. Like I said earlier, on most days I even enjoy it. That’s good enough for me. I have engaged in my profession honestly, holding the needs of my clients and a resolute respect for the mediasphere in the absolute highest regard. Likely, so have you.”


 Personally I never know how to handle these things on this blog, but I think it’s worth noting that David Parmet, a PR practitioner, contributor to Gaping Void and someone who often adds a lot of value by way of comments to my regular ramblings has been let go. If anyone needs some PR brain power they should look his direction. Proof that every cloud has a silver lining, David plans to kick off a specific PR-Marketing blog in the near future.

“I�ve been in and out of the PR agency world since 1997. I�ve seen the boom, the bust and the alleged recovery. I�ve worked with some folks who �get it� and some who think that controlling the message is what we are supposed to do…. There�s a lot of fear in the air. The agencies fear the clients, the media and the real possibility of missing the Next Big Thing�.”


Written by Tom Murphy

February 8, 2005 at 9:56 am

Posted in General

I love PR….`

Well, I am snowed under at the moment, so my planned disertation on the wonders of Public Relations and why PR is necessary will have to wait.

But in a vain effort to remain true to the spirit of Steven’s initiative here’s something:

“I love PR because your friends don’t understand what you do and your mother always wants to know why your name isn’t in the paper.”

And here’s some Technorati tags to confuse everyone… , ,

Written by Tom Murphy

February 4, 2005 at 8:05 pm

Posted in General

Why I love PR Friday…..

Steven Phenix, a PR practitioner in Austin Texas, who is the owner of another new PR blog has been in touch regarding an idea he’s had in kick starting a grass roots campaign to “help raise the perception of the public relations industry?”.

He says:

“I’m growing tired of defending my avocation and I’m concerned that the actions of one agency might ultimately affect the fortunes of us all.  I’m also concerned that as Congress goes forward with its investigation that the reputation of the industry will further decline.”


His plan is as follows:

“So this Friday I’m proposing that all of us in the PR blogging community devote a post-or two-to why we are necessary, how we make an impact or to simply what we respect and love about this industry.  My hope is that our contributions will create somewhat of a buffer zone of online goodwill that will hold up no matter what befalls us next.”

<!– D(["mb","


I’m not telling you what to write. rnNor am I asking you to even link this campaign back to me or my blog rn(though I wouldn’t fight you if you did). rnHowever, for the online unity of this campaign, please include the phrase rn"PR is necessary…" and the following tags:



href="" rel="tag">Public rnrelations</a>, <a href="" rnrel="tag">PR</a>, <a href="" rnrel="tag">Advertising</a>, <a rnhref="" rnrel="tag">Marketing</a><p></p>



Additionally, if you have suggestions on how to improve on this campaign, rnplease don’t hesitate to contact me.





“,1] ); //–>

Now from reading his blog,  I suspect Steven has a dual purpose here, however, it’s all in a good cause. So I’m in.


If anyone wants to post their opinions, but they don’t have a blog, I’m happy to post them here on your behalf.


Lemme know….



Written by Tom Murphy

February 3, 2005 at 1:36 pm

Posted in General

PR Misc – February 2, 2005

First up some interesting content if you’re in the mood for a read…

 For anyone dealing with industry analysts Tekrati is a fantastic resource. They’ve just published the first part of a report on The State of Analyst Weblogs – currently only 10% of the 350 analyst firms they track have well established blogs.

 Alice Marshall provided a link to Lois Armbash’s blog Metaforix. She has some excellent notes and thoughts from the Forum last week as well as a range of other interesting posts.

 Greg Brooks points out an interesting article on positioning over at Don Crowther’s 101 Public Relations which uses airlines to provide real-world examples.

 Last, but by no means least, a blog that has already been widely covered but one which I only got around to reading today.  Margot Wallstrom is Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication at the European Commission.  In effect, she’s responsible for ensuring that the Commission improves its communication with over 450 million Europeans – and as one of them, I can confirm that is a major challenge. Her blog is a breath of fresh air, amidst the usual humdrum of European local and regional bureaucrats. The fact that she’s prepared to provide a human side to her work, bodes well for us all.

Onto other news…

  I hadn’t spotted this previously, but it appears that the Portland Development Commission’s investment arm is in deep water over a leaked PR memo.

“Its suggestions aren�t always subtle. As a response to the possible criticism that the PFF-funded Armory project in the Pearl District is over budget and out of control, the memo says, �Change the subject and create messages about the leading-edge energy systems.�

  My mother always taught me that what goes around comes around.  It’s a lesson I learned early and have enjoyed watching it happen again and again and again in my personal and professional life.  Max Clifford, the leading UK publiscist, who masterminds a disprorportionate number of tabloid sleaze episodes will have to pay �100,000 compensation to some of his previous victims. I’m sure for Max the sum of �100,000 is a pittance, but it’s the principle that made me smile.


Written by Tom Murphy

February 2, 2005 at 10:36 am

Posted in General

What color is your propoganda?

I think by now that the whole Ketchum episode has been suitably covered here and elsewhere.  I’ve no interest in going back over the various machinations of the affair, if you’re interested, a quick search in Google will provide all you need to read.

However, Andy Lark pointed to a very interesting op-ed from Alan Kelly (nee Applied Communications).

He makes the sensible point that the core issue here is not the medium or PR’s role in it but disclosure. 

“What we have in the case of DoE-Ketchum-Williams is not the impropriety of influencing public discourse. What we have are three parties that failed to disclose their roles in their attempts to influence that public discourse � grey propaganda, to be precise… Many professionals, academics and associations idealize PR as a management function for building trust and reputations. But trust and reputation exist in marketplaces and, as such, they must be defended and asserted in the context of competing forces. That mere fact requires PR professionals to operate as advocates, not simply ministers of goodwill and good ethics. This is not to release our fated trio from blame. Fairness in the process of advocacy is paramount. But hedging on disclosure is what has taken us out of bounds, not � dare I write it � disseminating propaganda.”

It’s worth a read…


Written by Tom Murphy

February 2, 2005 at 9:58 am

Posted in General

Don't you call me a spin meister…

There was some very interesting feedback both in comments and e-mail to my post on addressing PR’s perception problems. I thought the comments (and some other recent postings elsewhere) justified a second post.

A common theme was that while the good repuation of the majority is sullied by the acts of a select few, the profession’s inherent resistance to change is also hurting the business as a whole:

Dave Taylor wrote:

“As with any profession, I suggest that it’s important to differentiate between The Profession itself, and the people who are in the profession. For example, I don’t think that either the legal profession or even car salesmen are inherently bad or slimy, but I certainly have come across individuals who I wouldn’t trust with an old rock, let alone my personal business. Further, I think that public relations is changing because of the Web, and while there are some folk who are denying this, the reality is that the Web has changed everything, particularly communication, both private and public. Companies that aren’t starting to think about how the Web and weblogs have changed the reality of their business and how they interact with their customers are going to find themselves irrelevant and obsolete.”

John Brissenden is in agreement with Dave:

“For all the ignorance surrounding PR there is no question that practitioners and clients have done themselves no favours. Too much of the industry is backward-looking, closed to new ideas, in denial when it comes to the ethical contradictions of PR, and regards serious academic – critical – study of PR as having nothing to offer practitioners. I think that can change, and I’d be interested to hear from practitioners with their views.”

I’d agree with much of the sentiment in these comments. We as a profession don’t do enough to both dispel the myths and address obvious cases of malpractice – and the professional bodies and associations are rarely to the the front on our behalf.

Peter West makes an interesting point, that while there is an innocent majority, we shouldn’t forget that there remains an institutional minority whose focus is on the “dark arts” – the very activities that have created the anti-PR environment within which we operate today:

“Good PR people help journalists by bringing to their attention stories and facts that might never come to the public’s attention. PR makes for an excellent home-based business and there are thousands of small PR agencies that work diligently to help their clients get the publicity they deserve. Now as a former vp of a national public relations company, I can confirm there is a dark side to PR. It is extremely well funded and motivated to put the “proper” spin on their clients’ reputations. This situation has always existed and likely always will. The good news is these well-dressed flacks are no match to one solitary journalist in search of the truth. The challenge is to find one well-trained, motivated investigative journalist. They are hard to find in these days of instant news coverage.”


So how do we address these issues?

Elizabeth Albrycht has some suggestions:

“But, attention aside, how do we go about this shifting of perception? I don’t think we can do it through the traditional command/control style marketing/advertising/PR techniques that the vast majority of our profession are still completely tied to.  Creating a committee or another ethics document is not the answer. Participatory communications just might be.  Engaging in the conversations that are occuring around the blogosphere, for example,  as identifiable PR people.”

I have tried and failed on many occasions to engage with people online who have trotted out the usual uninformed sterotypes about PR. In the majority of cases their response is “you would say that” or “you’re trying to spin us”.  In all cases they have been unable to provide me with any hard facts or personal experiences that have driven their beliefs.  Rather, it’s mostly been a case of rash generalizations.

But I think Elizabeth (and check out her post for a lot of very interesting comments on this topic) makes a valid point.  One of the major reasons behind this perception problem is the yawning vacuum.  PR people rarely engage with detractors, there is no culture of calling out poor practice.

The more PR people publicly address these misconceptions, address shoddy work practices and highlight unethical behavior, the greater the chance that the discussion will at least move beyond these traditional stereotypes.

I don’t expect this situation to change in the near or medium term.  This is a long term project.  But the more practitioners stand up and meet issues head on, the faster we can at least expect a balanced discussion.  Don’t rely on your professional body, get out and do it yourself.


Written by Tom Murphy

February 1, 2005 at 11:37 am

Posted in General

PR Podcasts, newsletter, analyst relations and a new blog….

 Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz have released their fifth weekly PR podcast.  This week’s installment covers the New Communications Forum and GM’s FastLane blog amongst other items.  They also recently released two interviews from the New Communications Forum with Jeremy Wright and Fergus Burns. Loads of PR related listening there.

 Bacon’s have released the latest issue of their Expert PR newsletter.

 The Knowledge Capital Group have built a very successful business focussing on helping vendors to work more effectively with industry analysts.  Their latest newsletter tackles the Gartner-META merger and they have some sensible advice for companies working with recently married couple:

“We reiterate our recommendation to not enter into any new, nor renew any old Meta subscription based services until both Meta and Gartner management can tell you why you should.  Given what has been communicated so far, we feel that the chances of you getting what you want from the transaction and not having at least some of the value of the subscription vanish are very slim.  I know, it sounds harsh, but here is why we think this is just smart business…”

 Speaking of industry analysts, Forrester deserves a lot of credit for their approach to client relations. 

Unlike many of their peers, who often treat vendors’ analyst relations people like something they have found at the bottom of their show following a walk in some long grass, Forrester have put together an “Analyst Relations and Marketing Council”. 

The council provides (amongst other things) PR and analyst relations staff in client firms, with an opportunity to meet each other (online and in-person) to discuss relevant issues.  The most recent call covered dealing with negative analyst reports.  It was an excellent Webex session with contributions from a wide array of professionals on their personal experiences, issues and potential resolutions of analyst-related problems. It was an excellent session. 

Kudos to Forrester – I realise it’s a sales tool for them, but it doesn’t negate its value.

 Amy Bellinger was in touch.  She describes herself as a former Public Relations practitioner, who now has a blog that deals with effective online communication customer care professionals… sounds like PR to me!

Written by Tom Murphy

February 1, 2005 at 10:42 am

Posted in General