Friday, July 22, 2005

The editorial process

Tremendous piece here at Blogspotting on the differences in preparing a blog post versus a story for the print edition of BusinessWeek. Everyone - I mean everyone - who has ever written a blog sanctioned by a media outlet or tried to get a story into one should read this.


Blacklisting PR pros

There's an ongoing meme about creating a blacklist of irresponsible PR folks, the gist of which is nicely summarized here by Shel Holtz. Basically some bloggers are beginning to complain that PR practitioners are sending out these horrendous blast emails that contain gushing prose, overembelashed copy and most importantly a lack of understanding as to what the blogger writes about.

It's a legitimate complaint. There's nothing worse than a useless email. I'm not exactly a household name in the PR or movie industry and yet I've gotten a few unsolicited pitches that have made me shake my head in wonder. Just what these people hope to accomplish with this kind of tactic is beyond me. Not only is the blog community too savvy for this kind of tactic the general audience is as well.

So here's a little tip for pitching bloggers, take directly from the "Introduction to Blogs" white paper I wrote for Bacon's Information:

1. Expose all potential conflicts of interest or corporate ties right off the bat. If these relationships are not admitted initially, the blogger will find them. By being upfront, you have inoculated yourself to some extent against a potential backlash that could cause negative publicity for your company.

2. Be familiar not only with the blog you are pitching but also with other blogs linked from that site that cover the same topic. Remember that blogs thrive on a sense of community. Bloggers want information to be shared and are not as concerned with exclusives as traditional media outlets.

3. Personalize your pitch. Don’t just include their email in a blast mailing of a press release. Bloggers like to feel special and a generic email is likely
to fall on deaf ears.

4. Remember that blog writers, in order to stay relevant in the eyes of their readers, need to be honest above all else. They will publish their unvarnished opinion of a product - warts and all. Keep in mind that the risks associated with blogs need to be accepted along with their potential benefits.

5. Like traditional media outlets, the more popular blogs are the often the most
difficult to break into. Find a mid-tier blog for that first impression and let the story work its way out from there. Because there is a good deal of cross-linking among blogs within a niche, if one picks it up there is a good chance others will report on the story or do their own investigation. By incorporating some form of blog monitoring, you will be able to see how effectively this works and react

To that I'd now add your company or agency should make RSS feeds available for releases and other announcement. If a blog writer covers your industry they'll subscribe to the feed and get the important information that way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Google takes over the moon

Not really but this is pretty cool.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

The PR tool set

I've been thinking about this for a while now. What tools should a public relations practitioner have at their fingertips? I'm not talking about basics like the ability to write. I'm talking about actual tools to use.

  • The press release. I don't care what Steve Rubel or others think, the press release - or at least the release format - is here for a while. What I think most people are missing when they get caught in this arguement is the distinction between the tool and the delivery method. Speaking of which...
  • Multiple mechanisms for delivery. Editors, beat writers and now blog writers are increasingly savvy in terms of separating the wheat from the chaff. And they want to do that on their own terms. If someone prefers e-mails you should be able to deliver information via e-mail. If someone is really digging the functionality of RSS aggregators then you should be able to deliver information in an RSS feed.
  • Audio/visual content. This is especially important for those products or services that look cool but are hard to explain. An online press room should be fully stocked with video of anything that translates well visually. As far as audio, podcasting is of course the latest trend in this area. It really doesn't matter, though, if you're producing regular installments of an audio program or just have a couple interviews with your CEO available online. As long as they are downloadable and not just streaming. Streaming audio/video ties the end user to their computer and eats into their valuable time. By allowing the files to downloaded and transferred to someones MP3 player you are respecting their busy schedules. It's called time-shifting. Learn about it.
  • Knowledge of a company's operations. I'm not talking about strategic overviews and corporate philosophies. I mean the nitty-gritty of what goes on in the bowels of a company. Spend at least one day every other week or so listening in on phone calls with clients. Learn what sales people go through to close a sale. Learn what client services has to do to save a contract. If you don't know what goes on in the trenches then the message you're crafting will only represent the executive perspective and that's about 5% of what a company actually is. Without people making and taking phone calls, driving out to massage the ego of a honked-off client or hearing what the people on a loading dock are saying about the company you're missing out on points that could be useful.

There are more and I'll get to them at a later date.


Friday, July 08, 2005

My one and only post on the Plame case

I'm going to address this once because I feel I finally have something substantive to add to the conversation.

Prosecuter Peter Fitzgerald is not a loose cannon. He is not dangerous. He does indeed have brakes. He also knows what he wants and will not stop no matter what ideological impediments there might be. For years he operated here in Chicago as almost the only man in Northern Illinois willing to look deeply at the goings-on in and around City Hall. If he thinks something is wrong and someone broke the law then I'm willing to give him the keys and let him drive.

Fitzgerald was appointed by Rep. Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) to be independent. Peter Fitz was not beholden to the bi-partisan combine that runs the state and built a reputation here as a fair and truth-speaking individual.

As far as my take on the legal issues at play here, I think Miller and Cooper should be applauded for keeping silent. I also think they should go to jail for not revealing their sources. Privilege is broken when one party commits or admits to commiting a felony in my mind. And that's exactly what happened. Someone outed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA agent. That act is a crime. Amplifying that is what the journalists who printed that information is a crime. Yes, I also think Robert Novak should be called on the carpet for this. (Actually I just think Novak should be run out of town on a rail because he's a partisan jackass, but that's a different issue)

Time, Inc. needs to think about repairing their image now that they've taken such a drubbing over handing over Cooper's notes without his consent. What they did was the right thing but it didn't play well and they never told their side of the story effectively. They relied too much on legal issues and didn't pull on enough emotional heartstrings to build the rational for their actions.


Great minds think alike

This past Monday's edition of For Immediate Release included a comment by Sebastion Keil. Sebastian is a blogger/PR practitioner who was looking for input on launching a blog for a car rental agency he works for. The idea had been floated in a meeting of the CEO blogging as well as including posts from the cars. More accurately, an in-house writer would make up a story about where one of the agency's cars had been and include pictures. Sebastian knew Shel and Neville had voiced strong opinions on character blogs in the past so was interested in their feedback.

Not only did he get their opinions but also thoughts from others, including yours truly. Here is my response in full which I left in the FIR comments section.

I had some thoughts on the story of the car rental agency that wanted to start a blog not only including CEO content but also stories from the cars. I think think there’s a nugget of a good idea here.

First, though, I completely agree that this should NOT be mixed within the CEO’s content. Two seperate things, two seperate blogs. Instead of being from the car, though, give customers cameras and allow them to start a travel blog. Then the company can take the photos and upload them to a photo gallery. Of course highlight what car was used on the trip and what office(s) the car was rented/returned from.

Doing this gives the customer some sort of control and begins a conversation. The customer then will say to their friends “Check out my blog! It’s at www.(name of the agency).com/myblog.” It seems this doesn’t cross the line into fictional content but instead gives the customers a cool point to start talking about the company.

Now what's interesting about this, and Shel mentions this in today's show, is that three or four other people dropped similar comments as well. They all focused around giving the customers a voice (and a photo gallery) and play up the viral/buzz effect this could have for the company. When you give people a modicum of control or a voice they will tell their friends about it.

Sebastian replied that while this was a great idea but his client was very conservative and would never consider giving customers any outlet to voice their opinions. Shel brings up the inherent possibilites of some customers not having great things to say about their experience and what that would mean in terms of cherry-picking which blogs would actually see the light of day and which would be resigned to the garbage heap.

So I leave it to you as a discussion question: Which is more important to you or your client - Offering customers an open forum for engagement or ensuring the corporate voice is the only voice of communication?


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

RSS issues

When I logged into my Bloglines RSS subscription folder this morning I saw 996 posts since I checked it last on Friday. There's no way I'm sorting through all those. I'm going to skim some but for all I know I might skip over an announcement that Microsoft challenged Mozilla to a cage match for browser dominance, Google has annexed Austria or that Steve Rubel has been nominated for the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court. If any of those things happened you won't read about them here today.

Part of this has to do, I suspect, with Six Apart's updating of their servers. Apparently this move includes them republishing everything on their servers. While seamless for the services users, it's not for the readers of blogs hosted on SA's system. It means everything is going to be seen in my reader as NEW. Did they know about this?