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PR Intelligence from Your Peers

An amazing event is taking place online and it’s one that could help reshape how we think about public relations. The Global PR Blog Week 1.0 is what it’s called and it bills itself as “an online event that will engage PR, marketing and business bloggers from around the globe in a discussion about blogging and communications.” In a nutshell, some of the most intriguing PR and marketing minds from around the world have been brought together to discuss the online world and how it applies to the business of marketing and public relations.

Reading through the articles and, in some cases, essentially white papers, I’m awed by the expertise of those involved. I thought I’d take this week’s newsletter to go over some highlights of the first few day of the event and make some comments of my own.
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“Re-thinking PR”
by Trevor Cook

Cook argues that the new medium of blogging presents a serious challenge for PR professionals.

“Many people are getting more of their information filtered through blogs,” Cook writes. “This means that they read the blogger’s take on the article before they click-through to the article. Our messages now have to get through the journalist and then through the bloggers who link to it.”

Despite the change in the media landscape – where bloggers now decipher the media’s message, or, decipher a company’s message (which is deciphered by the media) – Cook says the way to get into the game is still quite simple.

“It’s about relationships, stupid. Our clients will have to build reputations for honesty and openness and show a willingness to mix it in the marketplace of ideas on a far more equal footing than ever before.”
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“Jay Rosen: PR Needs to Stand for Real Transparency”

Steve Rubel conducted an interview with Jay Rosen, chair of the New York University Department of Journalism. The interview covers a variety of journalism and related topics, but also touches on public relations.

“I think public relations should first understand that to the extent that its art is a form of ‘spin’ – whether it’s reasonable spin, accepted spin, good spin, bad spin, terrible spin – it is selling a service for which there is less and less value, and less mind is paid to it. Spin was possible in the era of few-to-many media, and a small number of gatekeepers who could be spun,” Rosen said.

“My advice to PR people,” Rosen continues, “is to help citizens become more so – more sovereign over information goods. Spin is not a good. Neither is a brick wall, or a blatantly one-sided story that cleverly coheres because it leaves out every single inconvenient fact. Public relations, if it wants to do good, should stand for real transparency in organizations, and genuine interactivity with publics.”

I have to admit, Rosen’s remarks don’t surprise me. He comes from an actual journalism school and, to be honest, I’ve always been suspect about the academic view of journalism (said the college dropout). While journalism professors and students don’t live in the same bubble that many academics do, they still live in a bubble and it’s usually defined by syllabi, not experience.

To answer Rosen’s last comment: if only it were that simple.

Rosen should know better than anyone that the media is its own spin-machine and one more difficult to control than the PR spin-machine. And I tend to believe that you have to look at PR, and the media for that matter, on a personal level. Consider a story about an argument you have with a friend. When relaying the story of the argument, you’ll certainly be one-sided to some extent and, yes, you’ll leave out “inconvenient fact[s].” I’m not suggesting that the spin coming out of the PR industry is as painless as that which comes from a personal conversation, but it’s no greater than that which occurs between the media and PR at almost every level of discourse each day.

I do agree with Rosen’s sentiment that “spin” is becoming a more difficult proposition each day. However, I think this is too a general statement to apply to the PR profession, which is also about promotion and delivering a message that is straightforward and truthful.
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“The New PR: How to Use Your Blog to Get Placements With Key Media Sources”
by Don Crowther

A rather basic primer for using a blog to basically become an expert source, but a good primer at that.

“Pure information may generate one-time visitors, but personality is key to creating a following, both within the media and your industry. Controversy creates coverage and reporters, editors and producers are constantly looking to balance their stories by finding experts to weigh in on both sides of an issue,” Crowther writes.

I can certainly attest this, having started what was basically a blog (I don’t recall if the term was being used in 2000) to do original reporting and then turning into not just a pundit, but a columnist! And transitioning back from a journalist to a source has actually been a little easier than I thought. During my first week on the new job, I’ve already gotten been quoted twice as an “expert” again.
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“FCC Chairman’s Blog Spins Off Message in Age of Participatory Journalism”
by Chris Bechtel

Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell has launched a blog (with the help of some interesting friends) and the idea is probably sounding better than the execution already. Powell began his blog by asking readers to comment on the ever important issue of digital television. However, readers were more interested in other subjects, such as the FCC’s recent indecency rulings and telecommunication regulations. Had Powell’s openness backfired?

To put it simply, yes, and I’m not surprised. Take it from someone who spent the past two years covering the FCC – most people at the agency are woefully out-of-touch. But this isn’t about the FCC in as much as it’s about how difficult it is to control your message in an age of participatory journalism.

Do you censor comments from people? Do you simple stop allowing people to comment on posts? If that’s the case, why bother with the blog format – why not just call it an online column? Unless people like Powell are willing to discuss issues that readers are discussing, why bother? This reminds me, I have a lot of readers’ email to respond to and I apologize for not being better at this.
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I don’t think I can urge my readers enough to check out The Global PR Week 1.0. There is some amazing insight being put into the public space and it’s being done free of charge! A lot of the topics being discussed are relevant to our everyday PR responsibilities and I, for one, have already picked up some good pointers.

I also think it’s important that people take some time to add their thoughts to the comment pages of various articles. There’s certainly not enough discourse in this industry as firms battle for clients – and ink. I think if you take some time to read through the articles and add your own thoughts, the entire industry will be better for it.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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