Tag Archives: General Counsel

Are Blogs Replacing Press Releases?

Well noted by Steve Rubel on tide turning against press releases in favor of blogging. He cites a recent post by Google’s associate general counsel Nicole Wong on Google’s blog:

Google has come out swinging, defending their stance in the DOJ search data matter. However, they did not issue a press release. Rather they went with a blog post by Nicole Wong, Associate General Counsel. AP takes notice. I think the tide has turned. The press release is dying. Someone ought to do a study tracking daily press release volumes. I bet they’re decreasing in favor of blogging.

He’s probably right. In a way blogs are perfectly suited to companies needing to get the word out there:

  • They’re easy to monitor: Just subscribe to the blog’s feed;
  • They don’t need to include lots of repetitive background information
  • They don’t need to read like press releases. Savvy companies can choose the tone of the posting to fit the subject matter (Nicole’s was legalistic, naturally enough, concluding that “For all of these reasons, the Court must reject the Government’s Motion”.) The previous posting on the same blog was from Braden Kowitz, User Interface Designer, showing users how to add a heart emoticon to Gmail chat;
  • You can overdo the number of press releases but a well-fed blog can never look too well-fed. Too many press releases dull the journalists’ senses, with their forced headlines, jaunty and self-congratulatory style and unexplained technical jargon, meaning journalists may miss a good story because it looks and sounds like all the other press releases.

That all said, there are possible pitfalls:

  • Journalists need to be steered towards blogs, and not many of us know what an RSS feed is. You may be missing a big audience — unless that is your Cheneyesque intention;
  • Blogs can also be poorly written, leading to misunderstandings, missed stories or poor (or no) publicity. Press releases are generally very badly written, but blogs often are too, sounding like they’re starting halfway through a topic. Not everyone reads everything you write;
  • And, as ever, a blog is the beginning of a process, not the end of it. Like press releases, it is no substitute to a good dialog and ready availability of real employees to explain or expand. A good journalist would never just recycle an important press release without, at the very least, checking its authenticity, at best insisting on a phone interview to get more detail and better quotes;
  • So a company blog still needs links to the PR department or author of the blog for journalists. Google has an email address on its blog, but nothing for journalists to follow up on. Sadly an absence of contact names, phone numbers and email addresses is also true of most press releases.

Blogs may be replacing press releases. But they shouldn’t be an excuse not to do things properly and give the media what they need. Let’s not allow blogs to make the same mistakes as Internet press releases have made.

Who Are The White Knights In The War On Spam?

I know this appallingly cynical of me, but I can’t help worrying about the most recent development in the War On Spam. That, in case you hadn’t heard, is the news of a ‘fighting cooperative’ as Jupiter Research’s Microsoft Monitor puts it, between Microsoft and New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer, who have together filed lawsuits against alleged spammers Synergy6 and Scott Richter, among others. Spitzer was one of the key players in the government’s five-year antitrust case against Microsoft.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s good that someone’s going after spammers. And they may well have the right guys. Spamhaus has Richter high up on its list of top spammers, and Spitzer described him as the third largest spammer in the world, delivering 250 million spam e-mails per day. And having Microsoft onside definitely has its rewards: As part of a six-month investigation, Microsoft set up honey traps, capturing 8,000 spam mails in one month containing, according to Spitzer, “40,000 false statements.” New York State will seek $500 in damages for each false statement. Microsoft’s lawsuits, filed in Washington State, seek more than $18 million in damages.

But while Jupiter and others focus on the positive aspects of Microsoft’s improving relations with the government, what exactly is Micosoft doing sueing spammers? While they have the technical muscle to help catch the spammer, (and this is not the first time they’ve gone after spammers in the courts, as TechDirt points out), my suspicion is that spammers are being pursued not because they’re a nuisance to us users, but because they’re getting in the way of making the web a marketers’ dream playground.

Spam is hell for the inbox and is giving a bad name to all forms of e-marketing. That’s bad for us, but more importantly it’s bad for big business, as Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith explains: “Deceptive and illegal spam, like the kind we’re attacking today, is overwhelming legitimate e-mail and threatening the promise and potential of the Internet for all of us. We appreciate the attorney general’s leadership on what is arguably the biggest technology menace consumers are facing. Together we are stepping up efforts to help consumers take control of their inboxes again.”

Indeed, it’s telling that Microsoft has, according to the anti-spamming community, been instrumental in watering down anti-spamming legislation which might have done a more thorough job of stopping junk mail. Of course, I’m not defending spam. It’s ugly, and getting worse. And Microsoft are improving their spam filtering: Outlook 2003 has it, and they just upgraded it again yesterday.

But in helping get rid of it we may unwittingly be committing ourselves to a regimented future online, of standards — IDs, Digital Rights Management, microtolls — controlled by the big corporates. Or at the very least, leave the ground free for spam from the mainstream — mainsleaze spam, as California State Senator Debra Bowen put it: “Microsoft doesn’t want to ban spam, it wants to decide what’s ‘legitimate’ or ‘acceptable’ unsolicited commercial advertising so it can turn around and license those e-mail messages and charge those advertisers a fee to wheel their spam into your e-mail inbox without your permission.”