Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for April 2005

A nice PR stunt that went

Credit where it’s due.  The folks at Opera Software compete in a very demanding marketplace.  When they’re not fighting the might of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, they’re faced with the momentum of Mozilla… and to top it off they actually sell an Internet browser for money.

For the latest release of their eponymous browser, the company’s CEO, Jon S. von Tetzchnerat, told staff that if the downloads topped 1 million within four days of it’s launch he’d (ahem) swim from their headquarters in Norway to the US….

Guess what? The target was met.

So into the water went the CEO (with his trusty PR executive in a rubber dinghy) and low and behold the dinghy sank, the CEO had to “save” his PR colleague and the attempt was cancelled 🙂

Fantastic PR. A great use of humor and proof that clever thinking can reap rewards without the need for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Further reading

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 27, 2005 at 11:14 am

Posted in General

PR Miscellany – April 27. 2005

 Kevin Dugan has documented an interesting example of competitive blog relations.  Forrester analyst Charlene Li’s blog covered some new developments on Google‘s personalized search services and Yahoo‘s PR team were quick to respond. 

 Pete Shinbach points to an interesting NPR report on how Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew used his uncle’s theses to create effective Public Relations techniques.

 Jim Horton has published an interesting paper on the conflicts between marketers and PR consultants…

 Jeremy Pepper has an interview with Al Golin, chairman of Golin Harris.

“Too many young people are not in touch with today. That�s why I am still in the business, because I am very curious. I always want to continue to learn, and being curious is one of the most single important things in PR. I love it when a young kid asks me a lot of questions. I hate it when people don�t ask questions. I rather have too many asked, than not enough.”

 Stuart Bruce offers some thoughts on RSS, in particular on the need for localized, segmented RSS feeds to address different audiences.

 The Red Couch, a project being led by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, has an interview with Jonathan Schwartz on Sun’s blogging efforts.

 I meant to post this story a while back.  If you want proof, for once and for all, that PR’s value is linked to it’s lack of control, here’s a great example.  Siebel‘s PR folks did a great job promoting the achievements and vision of their CEO Michael Lawrie.  They secured excellent profiles and got him on the cover of a number of magazines, including Information Week and EWeek, the week of April 4. The stories were positive, demonstrated good vision, had good third party support, then just over a week he was fired by the board….  You have my sympathies. Don Tennant at Computerworld has some observations on the matter.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 27, 2005 at 9:31 am

Posted in General

Don't use technology just because it's there…

The widespread adoption of e-mail caused a lot of people to get lazy.  Rather than calling someone or setting up face-to-face meetings, people started using e-mail for tasks it is not suited to – just because it was easier.

For example, think of all the executives who have blasted their management team via an e-mail, only for their communication to make it outside the firewall and harm their business.

I am hoping we’re not going to see a similar trend with blogging.

Steve Rubel points to some recent examples of interviewees who were unhappy with the quotes attributed to them following media interviews. They both decided to highlight the perceived errors on their weblogs.

Now I don’t have any particular issue with that, after all blogs provide a great platform for opinions, however we shouldn’t view this practice as an end in itself.  It’s also important that if you’re (justifiably) unhappy with the result from an interview you should contact the journalist and discuss it.  That’s what building relationships is all about and that is the cornerstone of good communication.

Let’s look at an example. 

John Battelle was unhappy with the quotes attributed to him in a New York Times story on Google by Saul Hansell:

I now see the Times piece. Well, it sure makes me out as anti-Google. I did say everything that I am quoted to say, however the context is off on the first section.

However, Saul posts a response pointing out that the comments were in fact in context and John recants.

Now there’s nothing wrong with using a blog to put forward your side of a story or your opinions, but just because it’s an easy way to respond doesn’t mean it’s the right way. 

There’s no question that transparency is a two-way street and in that vein, I believe that the journalist deserves a right of reply, contact them and raise your concerns in a constructive manner, often you’ll discover that you were incorrect, often you’ll discover they were wrong but at least you have closed the loop and are free to post your side of the story.  Of course the positive aspect of the Battelle-Hansell episode is that there is a conversation taking place.

I would however recommend that before you decide to post about how you were misquoted, you think about the best, most beneficial way to address your percieved injustice.  Good communication isn’t a one way street.

Footnote:

In Steve’s original post he states:

“I can see a day coming soon where other senior execs will say, “Mr. Reporter, send me your interview questions and I will post my responses on my blog.” This won’t fly for everyone, but it will for those who have been burned and are powerful enough to exert such control.”

My view is that it’s highly unlikely that any journalist would ever agree to such terms.  I also fervently hope that if any executive was stupid or ignorant enough to try it, that the journalist, in the spirit of transparency, would post the executive’s request in a prominent position in the publication or website or blog… Executives demanding control over media content isn’t about the new era of transparency, conversation or openness. No folks that’s old fashioned control.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 27, 2005 at 8:54 am

Posted in General

Blog relations since 2003…

Issues Dynamics has launched a new blog practice or should that be a ‘blogger relations’ practice.

While it’s good to see a PR firm embracing blogs – though I’d strongly argue that blog relations should be part of the agency and not a seperate entity – this is not exactly breaking news given the number of new blog relations practices that have been launched over the past year, but what’s very impressive is that Issue Dynamics have been performing blog relations since 1993, now that’s vision….

From their press release:

“Issue Dynamics, Inc., pioneers in blogging and Internet services since 1993, has launched a formal Blogger Relations Practice”

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 27, 2005 at 8:14 am

Posted in General

Defending the PR religion from bozos…………

Never a day passes without me reading some self-proclaimed guru making unfounded claims about the evil of PR and the death of the media as we know it.  In my more naive days I often rose to the bait and took them to task, even today I am often drawn inexorably towards hitting reply or adding a comment, but I’m on the wagon.

My name is Tom Murphy and I’m a recovering defender of PR to bozos

Ignorance, it seems to me, is one of the biggest challenges facing Public Relations.  For too long it has suited the wider PR industry to keep what we do under wraps.  We’ve strived to keep the secrets of the ‘PR magic circle’ and now it’s regularly biting us.  It’s biting us because the veil of secrecy has allowed unscrupulous flacks to implement unethical programs and it’s biting us because even mundane PR activities are now seen as major manipulation – even when they clearly aren’t anything of the sort.

The answer my friends isn’t blowing in the wind, the answer is education.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Yesterday Richard Edelman posted a well thought out entry on how the PR business must address the misperception of Public Relations.  In essence he outlines five elements:

  • We need to showcase the diversity of PR practice (i.e. it’s not all about astroturfing)
  • We must promote transparency
  • We must actively counter accusations about PR
  • We need enforecement against rogue practices
  • We need to do this as an industry

I think Richard’s points are well made.

I’ll even let him off the sneaky Edelman promotion he managed to work into the post. But there’s one area he has missed: Education.

Much of the misinformation that circulates about PR, is built on ignorance. What the PR industry needs to do, in addition to Richard’s steps above, is to work with the media to help consumers understand how the media works, how PR works and how the two intersect. 

As I mentioned above, our industry has, in the past, been reticient to “open the kimono” but the time has arrived.  If people understand the media process, they are in a better position to interpret the media, understand different viewpoints, appreciate the subtleties of a story.

It would quickly nullify much of the sabre rattling we have to listen to every day.  Of course this approach also requires the media to get their houses in order.  No more paid product placements on TV, disclosure on financial interests etc.

But in a world where consumers are educated on the media, PR starts to get back to what it is actually about: good communication.  PR practitioners must begin to realize that the illusion of control is just that, an illusion.  The Internet has created an environment where information flows freely.

What I think we need to do, is work with the media to educate the audience.  This should ideally begin in school.  Given the importance of the media, kids should be taught how it works, including PR’s role.  This is an important element of helping to clarify what PR is, and equally importantly, what it’s not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your mummy didn’t think you were a spin doctor?

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 26, 2005 at 9:17 am

Posted in General

This is the best PR blog I've ever read… really…

It seems a week doesn’t pass when another instance of PR or media deception doesn’t surface to once again destroy consumer confidence.

Armstrong Williams and Ketchum have been the poster children for the past few months, but new targets are appearing to take their place.

The latest, James Oppenheim, is a particularly nasty departure. 

Appearing on a local TV show in Austin Texas to review toys for kids, Oppenheim promoted a number of different products including a  personalized photo album from Eastman Kodak.

The only problem was that Mr. Oppenheim was paid by Kodak.

On a subsequent appearance on NBC’s Today show, he once again promoted Kodak’s product – though Kodak says it didn’t pay for that particular mention.  That was obviously Oppenheim’s favor to Kodak. And they weren’t alone.  Of the fifteen products he plugged on NBC, nine were former clients and eight had paid for plugs on local television.

The Oppoenheim episode has opened up a big can of worms.  It appears that there’s a booming industry for TV talking heads promoting products for cash with no disclosure before, during or after their segment.

The Wall Street Journal names a few more:

  • Corey Greenberg – Today show’s Tech “Editor”. He charges $15,000 for mentions on local TV.  Past clients include Apple, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Seiko Epson, Creative Technology and Energizer.
  • Katlean De Monchy – Occasional fashion contributor on Good Morning America.  Paid for mentions by Sam’s Club, DSW and Faviana.

Rachel Branch, a Sony public-relations official, says one of the things Sony likes about Mr. Greenberg is his credibility. “Viewers like him because he’s able to communicate about a product without showing bias,” she says. Mr. Greenberg also comes cheaper than some of his competitors, Ms. Branch adds, without elaborating.

Mr. Greenberg defends his local paid work, saying he’s providing valuable news to consumers. He says he wouldn’t do paid work for a product he didn’t believe in. Mr. Greenberg says his business resembles a magazine that collects money from advertisers and then reviews products marketed by the same companies. He says he can maintain a wall between his business and editorial practices. “I am a one-man magazine,” he says.

Mr. Greenberg says he labors to keep his “Today” appearances distinct from the paid work. He says on “Today” he is giving specific recommendations; on satellite tours, Mr. Greenberg says, he talks generally about gadget-related issues, such as battery life. As a general rule, he says he won’t mention a product on “Today” until six months after a paid mention. He says he’s rebuffed “high five-figure” offers “to place a product on “Today.”

Yeah Right.

As long as someone is willing to pay, there will always be someone willing to take cash. These “editors” are misleading the public, providing, in effect, advertising services for companies without any disclosure. 

It’s completely unethical and unless the TV networks get hold of this practice they will be endangering any credibility they have left.

There’s no doubt that large manufacturers are shelling out cash to these schisters because it’s a cheap way to get products into mainstream TV programming – with strong endorsements to boot.

These people have to be stopped, discloure should be mandatory. It’s another example of the shady intersection of the media and commerce.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 25, 2005 at 11:37 am

Posted in General

PR Firm settles LA lawsuit for $5.7 million

According to an Associated Press story Fleishman-Hillard has settled it’s legal wrangle with the city of Los Angeles for $5.7 million.

The lawsuit arose from accusations by city officials that the PR firm were inflating their bills.

Richard Kline, who replaced Dowie last year as head of Fleishman-Hillard’s Los Angeles office, said the firm wanted to settle because some of the billing fell below its standards. The company also worried about litigation costs and damage to its reputation and business in the event of a trial.

“We apologize and take responsibly and now we’re trying to put this behind us,” Kline said.

The company, he added, has since strengthened oversight of its financial reporting, hired independent accounts to conduct routine audits, and forced employees to certify the accuracy of their billings, among other measures.

In January, a former Fleishman-Hillard executive was indicted in a wide-ranging criminal probe of city government. John Stodder has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of wire fraud in an alleged scheme to overbill the city’s Department of Water and Power by $250,000.

Written by Tom Murphy

April 25, 2005 at 10:44 am

Posted in General

A game of hide and seek for the PR professional…

Effective communication with an audience demands that you understand who your audience is, where they are, how they find information etc.  This isn’t rocket science, it’s more like PR 101.

Where do you find information? There’s probably a number of answers: magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, mailinglists, industry associations, your archives and maybe search engines?

It has always amazed me that the Public Relations profession hasn’t made a bigger effort to assimilate search engine optimization (SEO) into the PR tool kit. 

Be under no illusion folks, Search Engines are how people are finding information(1).

Search Engines are increasingly becoming the most influential means of information gathering online.  They have major implications for any client you are working with.  Whether you are trying to help them reach potential customers, compete in particular product categories or protect their repuation, search engines are a key element in those activities.

My perception is that there’s relatively little knowledge on the black art of SEO among practitioners.  Rather than owning the practice – after all it’s a logical extension of our other responsibilities – it seems PR is happy to let others handle it.  That’s a big mistake in my book. 

Another mistake I see is that everyone is beginning to talk about blogs as the nirvana of SEO.  Blogs are certainly a good tool in helping to improve SEO, but they are not the answer. How search engines measure and rank web sites is consantly changing as they try and stop people manipulating the rankings, therefore anyone serious about SEO must have a better understanding of how it works, rather than just trotting out blogs as the answer.

SEO involves a whole range of activities, a lot of measurement, fine-tuning and hard work.  I strongly advise you to invest the time to learn and understand how it works before your client starts asking you awkward questions.

Quote from the MediaPost article:

“Search is inextricably tied to your reputation,” said David Dunne, general manager and director of worldwide operations for interactive at Edelman, the largest independent public relations firm. “Your audiences seek answers in search engines, where your messages are competing with those of NGOs, class action firms, and special interest groups.” Dunne said that an entire Web-presence strategy is key, not tactics in isolation. “You need to listen, identify trends, and watch communications around a brand to gain insight and the opportunity to respond on multiple levels.”

More resources:

(1) 84% of Internet users have used search engines and 56% of users use them every day. Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Written by Tom Murphy

April 22, 2005 at 9:44 am

Posted in General

Hopes for PR rumours rises with the re-launch…

In a move that will bring happiness to anyone interested in the practice of dishing good old PR industry rumours in the UK, Spin Bunny is back up and running following a hiatus caused by an unnamed PR agency and their lawyers.

How long before we get other regional alternatives? 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 22, 2005 at 8:57 am

Posted in General

The press release isn't even pining for the fjords….

The beauty of the Internet is that everyone can be a prophet.  Whether you agree or disagree with someone’s opinion, they have the right to profess it.

One of the PR memes that one regularly comes across on the Interweb, as we business folks sometimes call it, is the impending death of the poor, unloved, unappreciated press release.

This bastion of media relations, which has quietly done its job since the advent of modern PR, has been abused, taunted and consigned to the scrap heap more times than I care to mention.

But for all the consternation, and the talk of new eras in communication, it remains a key piece of PR collateral, an instrument of information.  The humble press release doesn’t complain, it just does its job.

Now before you all ready your knives for the comments section, I am all too aware of the drawbacks of a press release.  I am also very aware (without the need to purchase a book) of alternative approaches to the press release, but I  believe that the low-tech press release still has a future.

This post was inspired by Shel Holtz a long-time Internet PR practitioner who shares my belief that the humble press release still serves a useful purpose:

Press releases should be written for the press. The fact that they appear elsehwere is incidental. How much trouble would it be to add something like this to the press release boilerplate: �This release was written for the press. A consumer news release on this topic is available at…�

None of which suggests that company executives shouldn�t blog. Opening a channel of communcation between an organization�s leadership and key external audiences is one of the best business uses of blogs. But it doesn�t eliminate the need for press releases any more than the introduction of e-mail eliminated the need for telephones and faxes. 

You see in this new era of communication, with its information overload, its ‘new new thing’ mentality, one tenet of successful communications remains constant.  The starting point for every single successful communication program begins with the audience. 

Who are we trying to communicate with and what is the best way to do so.

When you start a web site project you start by getting an understanding for who will be visiting the site and what information will they want, what format will they expect it in etc..  These are the key starting points.

I give a lot of lectures on the ‘new media’ every year and while I cover all the new notable developments such as blogs, RSS, podcasts etc., I always make a point of stressing the continued importance of traditional tools and techniques.

For example, Blogs provide a fantastic channel for companies to engage in 1-to-1 communication with their audience, and to provide that audience with a new side of the organization – to foster a conversation if you will.

However, if I am looking to purchase a computer, while a corporate blog is a worthhile addition to the manufacturer’s site, I will also want to look at features, specifications, pricing details, service offerings etc.  In summary I’ll want your typical product page.

Similarly, press releases provide a well understood means of official communication for an individual or organization. If you are looking for the latest news you will seek the press release.  Furthermore for statutory reasons press releases are an essential record of a company’s performance and history.

There is nothing to stop you using blogs to supplement the press release.  In fact we now have a wide array of tools for targeting our audiences including webcasts, web pages, telephones, face-to-face briefings, blogs, bloggers, RSS, e-mail, instant messaging, bulletin boards, mailing lists and intranets.  But that doesn’t negate the need for a press release.

A competent PR professional will use the best tools at their disposal to successfully communicate with an audience. 

In the unlikely event that you think I am some sort of luddite, I should mention that I pitched my first blog over three years ago this week. I have added blogs as a core tool in most of my communications programs, but I still use press releases and they still provide a useful tool.  By all means embrace the ‘new new thing’, but never forget the basics of good PR practice, they are a timeless essential.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

April 19, 2005 at 9:55 am

Posted in General