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The PR Fuel Mailbag: Blogs, Online Press Rooms, Nosy Bosses, and More

Another dip into the PR Fuel mailbag produced a slew of interesting questions from readers. This time around we decide if public relations departments should have a hand in corporate blogs, how to get attention for an online press room, and other queries from the world public relations.

Question: My public relations firm is currently battling a client over the upcoming launch of a blog. The client wants us to write and monitor comments on the blog. We want the client to be responsible for the content and monitoring of comments. What’s the best course of action?

Answer: Does your contract with the client contain any language which would make you responsible for the blog? This is probably a gray area, as public relations contracts vary from firm to firm, and client to client. Regardless, I don’t see the purpose of a public relations firm as running a blog on behalf of a client.

A blog is a good element of a public relations strategy, but the purpose is to allow companies to directly interact with customers, partners, the public, etc. In essence, a blog cuts out the middlemen — the public relations people and the media — and allows companies/organizations to communicate directly with their target audience. If you believe this, then why would you want an outside public relations presence in charge of the publication?

Now, this is not to say that PR people shouldn’t be involved in the client’s blog. The blog should stay on message, something that PR people can help the blog writers do. The blog should also be a source of public relaitons ideas, whether they come from the writers of the blog or the community that hopefully evolves from it. More importantly, the blog should be used not so much as to generate publicity but to act as a tool to reinforce the company’s public relations message.

The basic idea here is that as a consumer, I’d much rather read a blog written by a CEO, company executive, or an engineer than one written by the public relations department. As we know all too well, sometimes PR people are only told what they “need” to know, and readers most likely won’t be attracted to a blog written by someone with limited access to information. With corporate blogs, I think it’s best for PR people to stay behind the scenes.

Question: My company recently launched a new online press room and we’re debating about the best way to promote it. Any suggestions?

Answer: Some easy ways to generate traffic to an online press room are: 1.) Include a direct link to the online press room in your email signature; 2.) Link to the online press room prominently on the front page of your company’s web site; 3.) Inform media contacts of the online press room and let them know what’s new about it; and 4.) If you really think it will help, issue a press release announcing some other news and slip the new online press room link in there.

Question: Our contract with a client is expiring soon and they’ve told us that they’re going to seek bids for public relations services next year. We’ve been invited to submit a bid, but we’re not very happy about the situation because we feel we’ve done a very good job for the client. We’re a small PR shop and we’ve never been in this situation before. What should we do?

Answer: Budgets change from year to year and sometimes organizations want change for no other reason than they want it. If you did an exceptional job, the client may simply want to see if someone can do the same job for cheaper. The client probably feels that since a small shop did such a great job, maybe they can get even more bang for their buck.

Companies, organizations, and consumers change service providers all the time, and one thing I always tell PR people is not to take it personally. When you’re outside of an organization, you don’t always know what’s going on inside. Sure, the CEO may actually hate your firm and think you did a poor job. By the same token, the CFO may have slashed the public relations budget, or the COO may have decided that he wants his friend’s firm handling the business. You may never find out, so I would submit your bid and not worry about it. At the end of the day, your track record speaks for itself and would obviously give you a leg up if the bidding is fair.

Question: My boss constantly sends me press clippings with notes like, “Why were we not mentioned in this piece?” I often feel stupid and useless after getting these emails, but I try to defend myself by showing my boss communications with the writer and my pitches, etc. How do I get my boss to understand that I’m doing my job?

Answer: It’s always difficult to see a story out there and know that your company should have been mentioned. Unfortunately, public relations consultants can’t control the media, and we can’t control what topics they choose to write about and when. You’ve provided your boss with evidence that you’re doing your job and that’s a good first step. What you should do next is contact the writer with a note saying, “Don’t forget about us! Please keep us in mind the next time you write about this subject.”

More importantly, try to figure out why your company was excluded from the piece. After reading an article that failed to mention my company, I concluded that one of our competitors simply outmaneuvered me, handing an easy story to a journalist based on some of my analysis. Unfortunately for me, someone beat me to the punch. I wrote the journalist and complimented him on his piece, and said that I would be providing some additional data down the road. He thanked me and asked that I keep him up-to-date on developments regarding the story topic. This doesn’t make up for being excluded from the piece, but it’s a start.

Question: One of our business partners put out a press release which had numerous references to us. They did not clear the press release with us ahead of time and we’re trying to figure out if we should make a big deal out of it. What do you think?

Answer: This is a big deal, and you should let the partner know it. Even if the references to your company were positive and you don’t have a problem with what was said about your company, the partner should have cleared the release with you ahead of time. Having dealt with contracts for over a decade, I know that most contracts contain clauses about how companies can use clients’, partners’ and customers’ names, trademarks, etc. in press releases, publicity material, and such. Assuming there is something in your contract to this effect, you need to remind the partner.

The best course of action here is to contact the head of public relations for your partner and let them know that any press release being issued that includes mention of your company must be cleared by your company first. If you don’t have clauses in your contract regarding fair use, get your lawyers to write up a memo on the matter and send it to your partner.

Partners can be a great source of publicity. However, you don’t always know how or why they are going to use your company’s brand. You also don’t always know what exactly is going on with a partner, and in the event of a problem occurring at a partner company, you certainly don’t want your name attached.

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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