The week in PR: Blacklists, sex, education and breaking down walls
Well, the week started with the shot heard round the world, 21st century style: Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired, blogged more than 300 email addresses that had spammed him in one form or another -- mistargeted pitches, unsolicited newsletters and so on -- in the past 30 days. And this followed right on the heels of Marshall Kirkpatrick's 5 bad pitches post the previous week.
I'm sure that a large number of the folks outed in Anderson's email were just in the wrong place (his email box) at the wrong time (October 07). They made a mistake. Do they deserve to be raked over the coals forever? No, and they won't be. They may never get off his list but I doubt it will ruin their reputations or their careers.
And some of them don't have reputations to ruin. Being on the Anderson blacklist won't affect them in the slightest because they will just get another email address and spam away. They don't care, and they never will.
Nevertheless, much online conversation ensued. Most commenters sympatized or empathized with Anderson's plight. Some approved of the tactic. Others understood the motivation but didn't approve of publishing the email addresses. The rant also spawned endless analysis of the state of PR, manifestos for change and the usual apologies for the bad behavior of the profession. [Too many to count, too many to link. To read the many screeds, here's the Google search and here is Technorati for the terms "Chris Anderson PR" ]
Some commentary was good, some less so, but, really, it all felt like more of the same to me. Public outcry over bad PR practice, much gnashing wailing and wringing, promises to do it better, to make it better, god damn it. But it doesn't seem to get better. Not really. This blog is almost three years old, and the more things change...
The responsible practitioners of PR -- the good guys -- are still faced with unrealistic client expectations, a societal attitude that PR people are guilty until proven innocent and really bad PR practice from some members of the profession. Witness the truly juvenile behavior from two flacks, and I use this term deliberately, who used Anderson's rant as an excuse to engage in some mutual, public mudslinging and attempted client poaching. Perhaps someone told them that any PR is good PR? Umm, no, and if that's the sort of advice they give their clients...
And mixed up in the commentary was a theme started the week before by Jeremy Pepper in PR will lose Social Media to Advertising Because of Sex, a manifesto of sorts for PR to change its ways or risk losing the "fight" for social media to the dreaded Marketers.
This is a far more interesting topic. No, not because of the sex. The title of the post was just a tease. Good tactic, that. I'll have to use it someday :-)
In my opinion, we have to look at this conversation, this communication with our customers, with a completely different lens. Keep seeing it as a battle for supremacy, nobody wins. Not PR. Not marketing. Not the companies. And definitely not the customers.
In a post after the Anderson rant, Jeremy calls for better education, and that's a start. But I don't think it's enough.
We have to break down the functional walls between PR and marketing. PR isn't the rightful "master of social media" because of its traditional role as counselor, any more than marketing is because it has been the traditional channel to the customer. You have to be able to do both, and you have to be willing to give up some of the most deeply held, profound assumptions about the "right" way to do things in the parent disciplines.
For example, press releases. Still useful, whether new or old form, when communicating with journalists, including journalistically inclined bloggers. Usefulness to customers. Not so much. The detached, impersonal format just doesn't tell them everything they need to know. Now, neither does a hyped up direct mail piece. Sure, direct response has its place, but it is generally to encourage action, not to share information.
I firmly believe a blogger wants a meld of both. An honest, open, relevant communication with a clear benefit statement that tells her WIIFM. What's In It For Me. To do this, you have to know, really know, what is in it for her. [Sidebar: I expect journalists would be happy if they got this much honesty too. More on that another time.]
The best social media marketing people won't be PR people. Or marketing people. They will have a skill set that blends both disciplines. Whether you are at an agency or in a company, start developing this -- in yourself, in your teams.
Stop worrying about whether PR or marketing is going to win. The answer is neither. And both.
The only thing that's certain? If you keep thinking of it as a fight, with a winner, you will be the loser.
That, and if you spam Chris Anderson, one strike and you're out.
Time to start breaking down some walls.
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