Tag Archives: PR

On Social Media (PR) Douchebags Who Don’t Actually Do PR

It’s terrible to come out of blog hibernation with a post about not just social media, but social media PR of all things.  Jeebus, as my friend Sue would say.

But there are still waves of hype crashing around us, and riding those waves apparently are some people who call themselves Social Media PR Douchebags — I mean, Specialists.

Nothing wrong with social media PR, as long as there’s, you know — strategy and thoughtfulness driving the program.  But lately I’ve had more calls that go something like this:

“I’m hoping you and your Agency can help me.  You see, we thought we needed PR, and ________________ told us s/he could help, and that we didn’t really need PR at all, what we needed was SOCIAL MEDIA PR, and it sounded smart and kinda cool so …”

(At which point I nod or murmur sympathetically; like a bobby on a BBC detective show, I know where this is headed.)

“But what _______ mostly did is introduce us at some parties; and you know, it wasn’t all bad.  We were a TC50 finalist!  But afterwards?  We realized s/he didn’t know anyone else — any writers or editors outside that particular crowd.  And then it turned out there was no follow-up strategy at all.”

How did your launch go?  I ask.

“S/he told us not to bother with news, that it’s all relationships so we didn’t  need to do releases or launches except for a party.  But here’s the thing:  we are dead in the water.  No one really knows who we are anymore.  We need other influencers, and funding, and like three other audiences that we’re not reaching.  Can you help?”

I resist the urge to say, “Tsk tsk tsk.”   Instead I say, “Sure.”

(Note to haters:  There’s nothing wrong with “social PR.”  There’s a lot wrong with “social” that doesn’t have really smart PR thinking behind it; or that occurs in a vacuum, as if all you ever needed was Yelp, FB and Twitter to educate the world).

Lest you think this is a new phenomenon fueled by Twitter or Facebook?   This has been going on for a while.

In 2006, one of my clients was lured by a Personality (who very much recalls Eminem’s “It feels so empty without me!”)  The Personality convinced my client to fork over a chunk of our budget — even though we’d been doing really well for them.  He promised to Move the Needle for them in the New Field of Social Media, Which A Traditional Agency Couldn’t Hope to Understand.  (Except that, up til that point, he had been marketing himself as a traditional agency…)

But actually, it worked the other way around.  They helped move the needle for him.  He hadn’t had many clients, and they had new media and cloud computing cred.  He leveraged their coolness to get invited to parties, share buzzwords, state casually that old media was dead (very endearing in some circles), and formulate a bunch of tips and aphorisms, sharable and linkable in 140 characters or less.  Not bad, really.

They got… well, I don’t know what they got, but after a bit they asked us to take them back and they reinstated all our budget.  We still landed them in RWW and TC; but also in those weird little pubs that they needed to reach IT buyers; and the Merc.  And the Times.  And the Journal.

The Personality is still Going Strong.   If I were him, I’d think I was on the right track:  He has a new book out.  He goes to parties and speak at panels, he makes pronouncements which are widely re-tweeted without question.  It’s working for him, why wouldn’t it work for everyone else?

But then there are the people that are calling me and my Agency; burned, if not by him, by someone who wants to be him.

So here’s the thing, people:

If you want to launch a company or a service, call me.    We will talk about who your audience really is, and which media  or tribes– old, new, pubescent — you should be talking with to get to them.  Maybe it’s AdAge.  Maybe it’s TechCrunch or Mashable or TIME, or BusyMom or GreebleMonkey.  Or Parents.   Or AARP (hey, don’t snicker; that is one powerful publication).

We will help you figure out what mediums to use to reach them.  Yes, you probably need short video.  Yes, a social media press release is a good idea.   Yes, we’ll figure out a viral plan, and help you put in place a community with a platform like GetSatisfaction.com if you don’t already have one, or something more sophisticated if that’s what you need.

And maybe you should go to a party.  Maybe you should launch at an Event — sometimes there’s a perfect critical mass of the people you need to talk with attending.   But sometimes events just generate noise, and we have to figure out realistically whether that’s your best chance to be heard.  We can do that.  Together.

But parties alone?  That’s just for Social Media (PR) douchebags.  And most likely, the only person who’ll make money is … well, you know.

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Filed under Media, Media Relations, Social Media, Social Media PR, Uncategorized, Web 2.0

Ethics: Where’s Your Line in the Sand?

Professionally… where’s the line you cannot cross?

I was either really lucky or really unfortunate — depending on how you look at it — to discover that line early in my PR career.

At the time I didn’t even think I was doing PR as a career. I was helping out a friend while she was off backpacking in Tibet.

I had been starting to do freelance writing, and I had also worked in marketing and PR. I figured I could help my friend and also make some money to supplement my freelance work.

So I skipped into her agency and dug in. I was 27. She had some great accounts. I was enjoying myself.

But then, there was a crisis. I can’t tell you what it was without revealing all the companies involved, and honestly, I have no idea of the ramifications of calling them out on a blog. So for the moment, let me just say that it would be filed under the insurance clause, “Acts of God:” many people had lost their lives, and crisis communications were called for. For the most part, it felt as though everyone came together — well, and thoughtfully — in a time of great need.

The worst of it passed. I felt good about my work and that of my colleagues. While that one account was serious, intense, and sometimes draining, the others were fun and usually pretty interesting. I was making friends with the beat reporters — men and women who worked at the same papers like the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, where my father had written for 40 years. I took some pride in assessing what a journalist would want to know, and trying to deliver that creatively.

Until the day my boss asked me to spy.

Now, at first, it sounded just like research — pose as a college student, ask some questions. I didn’t mind that.

But later, he asked me to do it again — this time, for a union connected with the crisis I mentioned.  As in, pretend to be a member of the union.

And I realized, he wanted me to spy. SPY-spy. Not research. As in: get admitted to a place under false pretenses and get people to trust you — and get information from them that they otherwise would never give you.

Mind you, my boss gave me this assignment with a warm, confident smile; sure that I’d accept this latest exciting little bone they’d tossed me. They weren’t trying to do anything bad, he assured me. He just wanted to keep his finger on that union’s pulse.

I thought about it. I’m a pretty good actress. Really good, or I was once. And suddenly, I felt like Peter frickin’ Parker — “use your powers for good? or evil?”

And y’know? I couldn’t do it.

I literally found myself staring in the mirror, in my then-studio apartment, with only my cat to keep me company. And for me — trained at Northwestern, daughter of a newspaper editor, pretty much a center-left person, and just a person-person amidst this whole mess… I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t lie — not to those people in the union, not to my parents; and certainly not to reporters whom, whatever they thought, I still considered my brethren. If it ever came out that I had impersonated someone in this union… I just couldn’t do it.

So I went in the next day and resigned.

I walked away.

This meant walking away from what was, for me, a fortune at the time. I hadn’t been doing my freelance work for a couple of months, so there was nothing else coming in.

I upset the Agency that had been taking very nice care of me. My boss was incredulous. Then angry.

I surprised the (big) company to whom my boss had apparently promised my spying abilities.

And it wasn’t like I had a bunch of savings in the bank.

But it was still with a huge shrug of relief that I walked away from that office.

I had found my line that I could not cross; and it was like opening a door in myself: this is who I am; it was what they tell you about boundaries: that, paradoxically, they can be very freeing.

And I figured that somehow karma would take care of me.

(It did. One of the accounts followed me: the local business for Anheuser-Busch — which I had for several years, and had a total blast. And other work. And marriage, and kids, and a couple of series on TLC and Discovery.)

Nothing that anyone’s going to give me a standing ovation for — but it was priceless to learn, so early on, that there were some things I wouldn’t do, lines I wouldn’t cross — places where no amount of money, no threats, were worth my integrity.

And knowing that — knowing that I absolutely can and will walk away if my integrity is threatened — is probably the most powerful weapon I have in my arsenal. People ask me what my “secret” to media relations is; it’s not really a secret. But knowing that I’m not for sale — even if it’s just me knowing that — allows me, I think, a degree of clarity that not everyone in my business shares.

Where’s your line in the sand?

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