Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for April 2005

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

Media round-up – April 19, 2005

 Reports that the traditional media are in their final days are somewhat misleading if the New York Times’ latest figures are anything to go by. had over 555 million pageviews in March, an increase of 17% year-on-year with 15 million unique visitors to the site in March 2005, an increase of 10% over the same period in 2004.

Their RSS figures also make interesting reading:

“’s RSS feeds generated 5.9 million pageviews on the site in March, which represents a 342% increase year over year and a 39% increase from February’s 4.3 million pageviews. The sections that were most popular among RSS feeds included: Washington and Business. The feeds have been available since February 2002.”


 Jim Horton points to an Associated Press story on how the newspaper publishers are focusing in on how best to take advantage of the Internet.

“Publishers who successfully navigate the transition will be pleased with the payoff, Schneider predicted. The Internet is “hugely profitable,” she said. “The revenue that comes online goes disproportionately to the bottom line.”


 Andrew Smith recently gave a talk to the UK�s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) on how technology is going to change journalism, he provides a synopsis.

“What we can see as a general trend is that there are many, many more sources than there were. When I started at The Independent ten years ago in May 1995, the main sources of regular information were (in order of ascending importance) paper press releases, faxes, other newspapers, news wires, and the bloody Today program, which always seemed to set the agenda for the day. By the time I left, in December 2004, the sources were: 2 billion web sites, 200 emails per day, other newspapers, news wires and the sodding Today program. (I haven�t mentioned personal contacts in either list because I�m talking about regular sources – the stuff that newsdesks and hard-press daily hacks need to feed the tyrannical monster of the empty page.)

In that time things moved from my being one of only two email addresses on the newsroom floor (along with letters), having to use a dialup modem to collect my mail and thus blocking my phone, to one where everyone had broadband connections right on their desk.”


 Meanwhile the ever reliable Trevor Cook provides a compendium of some recent content that covers the whole (as Trevor mentions futile) ‘blog vs. journalism’ debate.


Written by Tom Murphy

April 19, 2005 at 9:20 am

Posted in General

PR round-up – April 19, 2005

 Matt Smith at the SF Weekly awards  Jennifer Witherspoon – a PR practitioner with Environmental Defense – an honorary “2005 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Public Relations”. Congratulations to Jennifer!



 Speaking of Pulitzer prize winners… Laurie Garrett laments the growing proportion of journalism undergraduates looking for a career in Public Relations.



 Richard Bailey wonders aloud why more in-house PR practitioners are blogging�



 Meanwhile, Jeremy Pepper kicks off the Cluelesstrain – I have to say it�s good to seem some strong opinions�



 Keith Jackson questions the differences between a journalist and a PR practitioner…



 There are many downsides of an international PR posting…. [really annoying free subscription required]



Written by Tom Murphy

April 19, 2005 at 9:06 am

Posted in General

New and notable….

Blake Barbera has an interesting new blog called Wet Feet PR which is a look at Public Relations from the perspective of a new practitioner.

Thanks to Richard Bailey for the link.

Written by Tom Murphy

April 19, 2005 at 8:31 am

Posted in General

RSS… really simple stuff for PR…

 Fergus Burns at Nooked points to a post written by Nick Aster at SiliconValley Watcher on RSS for Dummies

“RSS is so great because it frees you from having to deal with slow-performing websites, flashing ads, poor site navigation and other hazards. You can have content sent to you instead, like a well-organized piece of email. Because an RSS reader can alert you to new entries, it’s great for following the news or finding out when your competitor has posted something new on their website.”


 Meanwhile an indication on the rude health and growth of RSS is the report from  the New York Times that the number of pageviews driven by RSS jumped by 342% year on year (see more in the media story above).


 David Berlind at ZDNet has a piece on the vexed question of how to measure RSS:

“At the very least, even with the technologies we have here at CNET Networks, I can tell how many people are subscribing.  But, absent of knowing how many people are listening, I�m not sure what that�s worth when you consider the fact that it�s so easy to subscribe and unlike with most newspapers, it�s free.”


 Elizabeth Albrycht points to some tips from Bulldog Reporter’s Media Relations Insider on getting RSS on your website.


 Finally, PR blogger Dee Rambeau of DVCO Technology was in touch to let me know that over fifty companies are currently in the process of deploying RSS feeds in their news rooms using PR Newswire’s MediaRoom service which is powered by Dee’s company.

Written by Tom Murphy

April 19, 2005 at 8:28 am

Posted in General