PR, Bloggers and Teeth
Should PR people read blogs? Or more specifically, should PR people read the blogs of those people they’re pitching? Or, more specifically, should PR people read the blogs of people they’re pitching and take personal events, comments and references into account when they’re making their pitch? Answers to the first two questions are pretty obvious, but I’m not so sure about the third one. The issue has come to the fore with Microsoft mega-blogger Robert Scoble, who has written about the sudden and serious illness of his mother on his blog. But he’s still getting pitched by PR companies:
It’s amazing how many product pitches I’ve received in the past few days. Even in phone calls. Do they not read my blog? Do they have no clue what’s happened in my life in the past five days?
The discussion in the comments that follows is interesting, and revealing, as is this interview with PR giant Richard Edelman. I have great sympathy for Robert, but this episode inadvertently raises all sorts of questions — about blogging, about PR, about the community that builds at the intersection of blogs, comments on blogs, and the conferences that bring such people together. I’m not going to pass comment on Robert’s choices but here, for what they’re worth, are some thoughts about this grey area:
Having a blog:
A blog is a great way to share, but unless it’s password-protected, you’re sharing with everyone, forever. That means opening up your life to some great people, but it also means you’re opening up to the whacko across the street with a gun. Be ready to share with people you may not want to share with. Because you already are.
Conversely, it’s fine to be personal on your blog, but unless your blog is entirely about your personal odyssey, don’t expect everyone who reads it to relate to or deal with you on all the levels you write on. Some people may have enough friends already, and just be interested in your professional comments on how to put ships in bottles.
Being a PR person pitching a blogger:
Pitches should never be made by phone without an email requesting a chat first. Phone calls are no longer as acceptable as they were; they are now as intrusive as a foot in the door.
PR people should find out if their mark has a blog, and if so, read it. For background, and to make sure the person is not on holiday or in the middle of a gender-change. It’s good to include some reference in the pitch to the fact that the blog has been read but there’s really no need to be smarmy. (“I’m a huge fan of your blog since before you started writing it and your post about how spammers are really annoying was just so spot on I had it tatooed in its entirety on my children’s foreheads.”)
A PR/journalist relationship can be as close as lips and teeth, but teeth can bite, and should. (The teeth is the journalist. Please keep up.) A journalist will always, if not today then at some point in the future, write something the PR person doesn’t like about their client, and the PR person needs to be ready for that. So should the journalist. The two can be best buddies, but I find that makes it harder to do one’s job, and be seen to be doing one’s job as a journalist al dente. So I keep my personal distance. That’s just me. I think it was the BBC’s John Simpson who quoted someone as saying that people should always feel a journalist at the table was a menacing presence. As a journalist you’re not there for the people you’re dining with, you’re there for your readers/viewers.
If that’s true of journalists, then I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t also be true of anyone being pitched. The pitchee — whether blogger, opinion shaper, or journalist — represents an opportunity for PR to get their word out. So anyone accepting pitches should have teeth. And be prepared to use them.
If you have teeth, you can’t expect — indeed, you wouldn’t want — PR to take your personal life into account. They can be nice about it, but it shouldn’t affect their pitch, and whether they’re nice about it or not, it shouldn’t affect your likelihood to bite. After all, you’re both supposedly on office time, and office rules apply. It doesn’t mean not sharing your personal life, but it means either being ready to have people say “sorry to hear about your cat’s demise, would you be interested in reviewing our new kitty litter?” or leaving out those parts of your life from your blog that may muddy this relationship.
Robert’s overall experience as a mega-blogger is an interesting one in itself, and should be studied in much greater detail. There’s a transparency there that is refreshing and I believe it has influenced the direction of technology blogging, PR, journalism and the whole environment in which technology has evolved. That’s quite a powerful contribution. But I feel we’re still tweaking the edges of this intersection and, perhaps as with many other parts of this new world, we may find the lessons of the old world still apply.