Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for February 2006

Crisis PR: All that glisters is not gold…*

It’s not often you get the chance to weave William Shakespeare into a post about PR so I’m taking this chance while I have it.

In ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Shakespeare teaches us that just because something is shiny, and bright looking, it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. As Portia’s suitors must gain her hand by choosing whether the gold, silver of lead casket holds her picture. The golden casket bears the inscription: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” – and of course it’s the wrong one to choose.

OK I know you may be wondering where I’m going with this so bear with me. The practice of crisis communication, issue management and reputation management is not something to be taken lightly.

The online world has created an environment where crises or certainly issues, arise far more often than ever before. Furthermore, the established best practices in dealing with a crisis are well established (get the facts, get decisions makers together, provide clear and complete information, don’t speculate etc..). What’s changed is we now have to merge online and offline communication. But just because we have new communications tools does not mean that they are necessarily the best way to approach issues management. Od course we must take into account the online nature of any crisis that arises today and act accordingly.

Research points to the fact that at a time of crisis, consumers are as likely to visit the web site of the company involved, as they are a news or media web site. This is a very significant issue. If you look at one of the industries that is arguably at the forefront of major crisis management – the airline industry – they have adopted the “dark site” as the most effective means of clearly communicating at the outset of a major crisis (read an air disaster). The dark site is, at its most simple, and arguably its most effective, a single web page with the corporate logo, a clear statement on the current situation (based on the facts that are available) and contact numbers, fax numbers and e-mail for those with questions. This page replaces the front page of the site and is update as more facts become available.

So where do blogs some in? Well I think that we can agree that blogs, and specifically corporate blogs, are at their best in providing an engaging new way of reaching and building conversation with an audience – no disagreements so far I imagine. The obvious extension, but not necessarily the correct one, is that they might be good communication practice in a crisis. Not so fast. The answer is it depends.

In many situations the worst thing to do is to begin or engage in public discussion around a crisis when all the facts haven’t been uncovered. This is where speculation enters as an issue, particularly in an online world where it’s increasingly hard (read impossible) to take back what you’ve written.

Rather than just assuming that ‘hey blogs are great for communication, let’s add them to the crisis tools’, we need to think about this. In my opinion the best mass online communication tool for a crisis is the dark site. It’s clear, factual and provides those impacted with the information they urgently need. That’s good communication. What you do not need is a “dark blog” which rapidly turns into an online rubbernecking incident.

So do blogs have a role? Yes I think they can, but the key question is precedence. If you have a well established blog that, as part of its modus operandi, discusses your business, then there *may* be an opportunity to include it in your crisis communications plan. But only when it’s appropriate – typically in more minor crises.

A simple example of this was then GM pulled advertising out of the LA Times because they had issues with how they were being treated by the editorial staff. Not a major crisis I think you’ll agree, and a decision I passionatley disagreed with. But to their credit GM discussed the matter on the FastLane blog – a blog that discusses their business. Now from a personal perspective I disagreed with their decision, but I admired the fact they were willing to provide their reasons and discuss it. I still don’t agree, but I am less critical. A good example. For more serious issues it becomes more complex.

What’s for certain is that, in my opinion, the single worst thing you could do is role out a brand new blog at a time of crisis and cause more noise over an issue that more importantly needs factual information. Blogs are about building conversations, that takes time and effort. Just because they’re the shiny (read golden) new toy doesn’t mean they should be used for everything. Life is never that simple, and remember that Portia’s picture was in the boring old lead casket which bore the inscription: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” – a euphenism for honesty perhaps.


  • If you are interested in some very interesting discussion around crisis communication and where blogs might fit I highly recommend Shel Holtz’s interview with Gerard Baron at the always excellent For Immediate Release.
  • This post was inspired by the blogging article in the most recent issue of the Economist, which is only notable for the fact that the Economist is covering blogs and secondly that one of the people interviewed said “dark blogs” were a great idea… “oh yes thank you I’ll have the nice shiny gold casket please”. Steve should know better.
  • *Thanks to Neil MacLean who was the Antonio to my Bassanio by pointing out my glitters/glisters error. I could try and (ahem) say I was trying to make it more contemporary, but I’d be lying… I just hope my old English teacher Mr. Power isn’t reading this. He wouldn’t be impressed.

Written by Tom Murphy

February 18, 2006 at 10:00 am

Posted in General

Interesting week for PR blogs…

So it’s Friday, busy week in more ways than one, so what to write about? Any interesting news about? Some.

The intersection of tools such as blogs, RSS and podcasting, which foster conversation and communication, with Public Relations, which is all about helping people and organizations to communicate, continues to take place at a rapid pace. (I’m not even a professional poet)

So what best illustrates this intersection? What happened this week that really shows PR people taking blogging seriously? Maybe not what you think – but we’ll get to that later.

Step Forward, Harold Burson. A statesmen of the public relations world, who this week is celebrating eighty five years on the planet and managed to find time to kick off a blog. Fantastic. Now before you all start shouting, I realizing that one entry does not a blog make, but hats off in any case. At the very least it’s great marketing from the folks at BM and deserves more air play than it’s getting.

So on to the second most interesting PR-blogging related story of the week. If you’ve read one single blog this week, you’ll already know that Edelman had acquired A-list uber-blogger, Steve Rubel. This acquisition followed hiring PR blog pioneer Phil Gomes as well as Guillaume du Gardier in France. It’s a bold (and possibly expensive) move for Edelman and along with Richard’s own blog it clearly sends out a message that Edelman, problably more than any other agency, are serious about embracing the world of online communication. Kudos to them.

I used the word ‘acquisition’ in the previous paragraph for a reason. Steve has done an amazing job building his blog from zero to one of the top one hundred blogs in the world. He’s done it through a lot of hard work and it’s great to see someone’s hard work paying off. But of course Edelman didn’t just hire Steve, they negotiated the purchase of Steve’s blog Micro Persuasion from his former employers CooperKatz, illustrating just what a good job Steve has done building his online brand. So hearty congratualtions to both Edelman and Steve.


Of course there is a personal downside to this announcement. Steve kindly referenced me in his announcement. So I guess I now know how the marketing folks at WordStar felt when WordPerfect kicked their butts :-).

Written by Tom Murphy

February 17, 2006 at 9:18 am

Posted in General

Losing control in Manchester….

It’s clear that the benefits of many of the new online tools – blogs, RSS and in particular podcasting – are becoming apparent to a growing number of PR practitioners. Having just returned from Philip Young’s “Delivering the New PR” event in Manchester, it really is fantastic to see the interest in how these tools can impact reputation and communication.

There were great questions, great discussions and while people see the potential of these tools, they also clearly see the potential issues.

For me personally, one of the highlights was catching up with Chris, Elizabeth, Neville, Philip and Stuart (as well as Nicky and the team at Don’t Panic)

At this event, and in other speaking engagements I’ve done over the past few weeks, one of the most interesting things is seeing people really think about the benefits, but more importantly, the implications of “new media” – a term I really don’t like. Yes conversation is good, Yes these tools (podcasts are particularly hot right now) open new avenues for organizations, but there are also issues. If you engage in a conversation then you are going to have to reliquish some control. That’s a major behvioural change for many PR people, but at least everyone recognizes it. There were a lot of interesting questions both on the floor and during the tea and lunch breaks, many of which I’ll discuss here in the future.

It was a great event and the good news is that we’ll be attending a third event in London in May. So someone is listening!

Written by Tom Murphy

February 17, 2006 at 8:18 am

Posted in General

Tag.. I'm going to find out where you live…

Todd Defren… you’ll get yours… 🙂

Four Jobs I’ve Had

  • Packing gifts for on-package promotions
  • Promoting (Bass) beer in bars [try and convince a Guinness drinker in Ireland to try Bass – there ain’t no journalist that comes close to that near death experience]

  • Working on a building site in London [at least I met my wife, though she wasn’t working on the site at the time :-)]

  • One day’s hard labour on a farm during the Summer holidays in my childhood [after seeing the pay rate I decided to change careers]

Four movies I can watch over and over

  • Midnight Run

  • Snatch

  • Lock, stock and two smoking barrels

  • Zulu

NEW CATEGORY: Four movies I HAVE to watch over and over

  • Shrek

  • Shrek 2

  • Wizard of Oz [It isn’t even Christmas]

  • Finding Nemo

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch

  • The Office

  • Yes Minister

  • The West Wing

  • Seinfeld

Four Places I’ve Been on Vacation

  • Castlegregory, Co. Kerry, Ireland

  • Safari in South Africa

  • Vermont, USA

  • Biarritz, France

Four Favorite Dishes

  • Full Irish Breakfast [getting too old for it]

  • Chicken Tikka Masala [Poppodum in Dublin]

  • Any breakfast dish at the Brooklyn Diner, NYC [Yeah I know touristy, I still enjoy it]

  • Anything at home with the family

Four Websites I Visit Daily

  • [what d’ya expect?]

  • [honestly c’mon give me a break]



Four Places I’d Rather Be

  • At home with the family

  • Sitting outside Murphy’s in Brandon, Co. Kerry, sipping a nice cold beer with friends looking out over the Atlantic.

  • Winter in Bethel, Vermont USA

  • Collecting my lottery winnings

Four people I am Tagging

  • My wife
  • My mammy

  • My dog

  • My cat

Unfortunately their blogs aren’t up yet, so this meme branch ends here….

Written by Tom Murphy

February 15, 2006 at 8:58 am

Posted in General

Mentoring the Economist with press releases, SEO and a Vic-20

  • Voce Nation points to an initiative being kicked off by Marisa Staker, the new president of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) at San Jose State, it’s a “a mentor program to match students with professionals, facilitating career development and better preparing students to enter the workforce”. Mentoring is one of most valuable practices, not just for students but for professionals, particularly in a business such as PR where experience adds so much value. Hopefully we’ll see some meaningful online mentoring emerge from the 350 PR related blogs that are now online.

    Just think about that for a moment… 350 PR blogs. That’s a lot of potential advice, discussion and wisdom. We should make use of it.

  • The Economist has published a favourable piece on Public Relations. This is a good thing. I consider myself a pragmatist. I passionately believe in the value of PR (you might have guessed that from the title of the blog), however I also understand that PR can’t do everything. The other elements of the marketing mix remain relevant and important. If we work hard and continue to strive for professionalism, then we have a great chance of further raising the significance and influence of PR – particularly with the growing fragmentation in how organizations communicate. However, let’s not lose the run of ourselves, there’s a lot more work to be done and let’s not forget PR isn’t the only answer.
  • Every single day we find online examples of why PR has a bad image. Yes there are unethical practices (most of which we never discover) but the sheer volume of stupid, ill-informed, intellectually challenged pitches that take place beggars belief. Merlin Mann (of the wonderful 43 folders site) is the latest to call foul. (As an aside: I love the term Interweb, it sums up a lot of things and always makes me smile and often laugh). People please stop and think about what you are doing. [Via David Parmet, Mason Cole and Eric Tatro]
  • Andrew Smith points to a document [PDF] written by David Meerman Scott on the “New Rules of PR”, which if I may roughly summarize, says that press releases can reach multiple audiences not just journalists. Eh? Just for the record this runs counter to the whole theme behind the “power of conversation”. Press releases absolutely serve a communications purpose (I really do NOT want to open that particular can of worms), but surely as we move into a more fragmented media landscape, there is a need for different types of communication, written in a more engaging, less structured manner in addition to our press releases. The press release isn’t dead but then it isn’t the only answer either.
  • The irrepressible Phil Gomes has an interesting post where he calls out that equating Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with PR is bad. However I feel duty bound to point out that it doesn’t mean that PR people understanding SEO is bad. In fact I passionately believe that if you are serious about online communication you need to understand how search engines work, and be in a position to advise companies how to improve their ranking. Let’s not leave it to the cowboys (any longer)….
  • Of course you turn you back on this blog thingy and all sorts of funny things happen, like Jeremy Pepper moving to the big agency world with Weber Shandwick [Kevin Dugan]
  • The folks over at Topaz Partners question whether PR practices are as unprofessional and incompetent as it often appears. They come to the conclusion that it’s probably only a tiny subset that’s causing the problem. It’s something I think I’ll come back to, it appears to me the problem might be worse than originally thought….
  • Given it’s Friday, Colin McKay has a great link to a movie of William Shatner promoting the Vic-20 – Games and a real computer keyboard for less than $300 – I want one now!.

Written by Tom Murphy

February 10, 2006 at 4:03 pm

Posted in General

Value Added PR…

Here’s one for the bad pitch blog. Irish journalist (and blogger) John Collins recounts a recent example of the massive value add offered by many of my PR brethren:

pr: “his this is x from y agency, i’m just ringing to see if you received the release from our client that we sent out this morning?”
me: “ah, yes, i think i saw that one alright”
pr: “ok, thanks” [hangs up]

Ah yes, fantastic. Of course (fast becoming an older person every day) I remember when I can admit to using the “e-mail must have got lost” excuse a few times back in the early 1990’s, but it’s not really expanding the media relations experience is it?

Of course, in fairness to the poor innocent who made the call, I’m sure they were probably forced to do it by their muppet manager who makes them call up all the journalists on the e-mail list so that they can put it in the monthly report. For the love of Jebus (Jebus isn’t a real religious figure is he? I don’t want loads of protestors on the blog so if he is, apologies in advance – if you can’t read this I’ve already deleted the reference in a failed attempt to avoid widespread condemnation – now where was I… oh yeah..) when will people stop and think about what they are doing?

If you are wondering why our poor maligned profession continues to fail in efforts to improve its image, this is a great example.

Written by Tom Murphy

February 10, 2006 at 11:29 am

Posted in General

Stuff and nonsense…

Morning all. Well I’ve been a little slow to post for the past few weeks, which is probably the quietest this blog has ever been. Unfortunately work, combined with a lot of different speaking engagements have reduced blog time. You see it’s true, those who can’t do it talk about it 🙂

I noticed yesterday that I don’t even make the PubSub list anymore, though I’m in two minds if that’s a good or bad thing. The one thing that has given me great solace in this difficult time is that at least the spammers haven’t left me. Nope, they still love my comments and trackbacks. It’s fantastic unrequited love…

Thanks are due to everyone who took the time to share links to various charity blogs. I’ve been surprised at how, relatively speaking, little charity-related blogging is going on. There is definetely a lot of interest from the people I’ve been talking with during my PR talks over the past month.

Speaking of which… I’m finding that there’s still not a very high awareness of blogging in the PR groups I’ve been talking with, maybe 20%, but then as soon as you explain what they are the discussion takes off. People clearly see the opportunity.

I’m looking forward to the next speaking engagement which takes place next Wednesday in the UK (Manchester), where I’ll be attending and speaking at Philip Young’s conference Delivering the New PR. I’m looking forward to catching up with Philip, Elizabeth, Stuart, Neville and Stephen. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t think Serge is attending on this occasion, but it should be another very interesting day nonetheless.

So there you are. Back in the world of the blogging and more updates to follow. I’m sure you are all *really* relieved to read that.

Written by Tom Murphy

February 10, 2006 at 8:24 am

Posted in General