No more boring press releases: Redefining the relationship of PR, traditional media and bloggers

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It is kind of amazing how convergence happens.

Last night, I finally got to attend the Phoenix chapter meeting of the Social Media Club. The room was packed, and it felt so good to get out from behind my computer screen, and see some real live human beings that I had only met before through email, like the spunky Francine Hardaway, Dave Barnhart, Matthew Moran, and John Seiferth

The topic of the meeting was the new Social Media Press Release, which was developed by PR Squared and attempts to upgrade the decades-old format of the traditional press release so that it includes places for "Web 2.0" stuff like links, graphic files, video clips, del.icio.us tags and rss feeds.

The problem it attempts to solve is making it easier for journalists or bloggers to learn about a story, and have quick access to useful background information that is not strictly text-related.

It has its skeptics, like Teresa Valdez Klein of Blog Business Summit who wrote how this snazzy new format of the press release wouldn’t keep her from ignoring it, much like she does with "old school" press releases.

I voiced a similar concern at the meeting last night, from the perspective of a blogger who is beginning to get traditional press releases since my readership has increased.  Sometimes, they seem to come out of the blue with no context, and make me feel very uncomfortable since I am afraid of hoodwinking my hard-fought readers with thinly veiled advertising.  I wondered if any other bloggers felt uneasy receiving press releases from PR firms.

I talked about it in my  How to avoid fright-inducing link sharing techniques, inspired after writing about Joel Splosky’s review of a Sprint phone that was thrown at him by an eager PR firm. 

Here is where the convergence comes in.

A few months back, I had a wonderful interaction with APCO Worldwide, a communications firm that was working on behalf of Greenstone Media, the first women-owned radio network championed by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda.  They wanted to involve a number of women bloggers in conversation about the launch of the network.  Their approach was no-hype, conversational and open, and resulted in a once-in a lifetime opportunity for me to interview Gloria Steinem and fly to New York to meet her in person and attend the opening the launch event for the network. 

This morning, David Wescott who works for APCO, sent me a summary of the "points of consensus" from a recent roundtable discussion about how PR Firms can best court bloggers:

January 9 Blogger Roundtable Consensus Points

The blogosphere is a trust-based medium where credibility varies from source to source

Anonymity offers certain protections, particularly in political discussions, but it also can

create doubts as to the validity of information and the interests of the writer.   These issues

are addressed effectively when writers have the ability to speak openly and directly as an

advocate. 

A new phenomenon in the blogosphere is the degree to which traditional media will follow

blogs and react to them.  This places greater importance on the accuracy of the information

published on blogs and the transparency bloggers display.  In political blogging, this writing

does not exist in a vacuum and there are some methods of accountability, such as FEC

reports and scrutiny from other bloggers.

One of the challenges PR Firms face is the varying standards bloggers employ.  Some

bloggers consider themselves journalists and operate accordingly, while others see their

blogs as personal journals expressing opinion.  Still others take pride in revealing sources or

publishing information meant to be “off the record.”  PR firms have to understand the rules

each blogger adopts to work constructively, and there is no blanket ethical code binding

bloggers.

Blogs have self-policing tools the mainstream media lacks.  Comments can show up in a

blog contradicting an original post, while publishing a “letter to the editor” can happen days

or weeks later, if at all.  Other bloggers often work to correct the record; this is common

between political blogs at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Relationships remain the most effective currency in working with bloggers.  Generic press

releases are generally ignored – or worse.   Further, some bloggers are inherently skeptical

of being “pitched” by a PR firm – the act itself implies that there is an issue to be spun.  PR

firms have to do a better job explaining to bloggers that their work is often nothing more than

the outsourced extension of an overworked client.  To cut through the clutter in bloggers’

inboxes, bloggers rely more on information from familiar sources.

Participants in the forum included bloggers Pat Cleary from Shopfloor, William Buetler from Blog PI, Joanne Bamberger from Punditmom (Joanne, I know you read my blog, so share the inside scoop in the forum, ok?), Joe Sudbay from Americablog and David All from The David All Group.  PR Professionals included Evan Kraus from APCO Worldwide, Kathy Cripps from the Council of Public Relations Firms, Aedhmar Hynes from Text100 Public Relations, John Bell from Ogilvy Public Relations and Matt Shaw from the Council of Public Relations Firms.

Speaking as a blogger who had a very positive experience with a PR firm employing these practices, I am encouraged that we are trying to improve the way that we all connect, support and inform each other.

What do all of you think about the new relationship between traditional media, PR firms and bloggers?  What should it look like?  And will the Social Media Press Release help?

7 Responses to “No more boring press releases: Redefining the relationship of PR, traditional media and bloggers”

  1. First of all, it was GREAT to meet you. I know there is a ton I can learn from you and I am looking forward to every lesson.

    As I am completely ignorant about the subject of press releases and PR in general, the meeting was an eye opener for me. I learned a lot from simply listening and observing.

    What I can say is that any shift from old to new thinking is a shift in the right direction. People, businesses, industries, or governments that are not flexible and are not willing to adjust when new technologies or new ideas come around are sure to lose eventually.

    Thanks again Pam – You are a powerful leader driving new thinking and new ideas. Cheers –

  2. Fritz says:

    Despite the cool format, I am extremely biased against ANY kind of press release. Have had to read and be party to the production of press releases, my view of PR is:

    1. PR = Organized Lying
    2. Anyone quoted in a press release did not actually create their own qoute, somebody else did
    3. The only people who pay attention to press releases are people who write them and their competition. “Buyers” think they are BS (see no. 1 above)

    However, I will return time and again to sites that offer excellent content.

    Go Pam Go!

  3. This is an awesome topic that I’ve thought about since I started marketing my own site. The difference between traditional PR and blogging (on my budget) has been huge. But I’ll continue to do both as they do tend to go to different markets/audiences. Here’s how I answer your question:

    1. I’m guessing people are still clueless about this, and this year things will be more solidified.

    2. It is ALL about REAL relationships, and respecting bloggers. How can PR help bloggers? Are they “better” than bloggers? What about that article a few weeks ago (I think in the WSJ) about how bloggers were losers (sorry, I don’t have a reference, perhaps you remember – the author went on to talk about how bloggers aren’t real media).

    3. The social media press release format won’t hurt but if I get one I’m going to do lots more research and get other links to come in.

  4. PunditMom says:

    Wow, Pam, who knew this would get around! I was honored to be asked (I was actually a stand-in for Mom-101) and it was an interesting session, especially being the only woman blogger there.

    I thought it was interesting that the PR firms, and their clients, are so intrigued about reaching out to bloggers. They, as did the “guy” bloggers, seemed fascinated by the whole notion that many women bloggers are forming networks to have their voices be better heard and have more bargaining power with advertisers.

    I don’t know what the relationships will look like, but I’m guessing that most bloggers will view themselves as MSM reporters do — people who are willing to talk to anyone, but with a healthy dose of skepticism and willingness to investigate.

  5. Miiko Mentz says:

    Hi Pam. This is my first visit to your site. I love your blog! What a great niche and title.

    I, too, was at last night’s meeting. It was great to hear all the different opinions and thoughts on the topic.

    TimK, I totally agree with you regarding the blogosphere being about relationships, and your point about receiving information that interests you. If you offer something of interest to the blogger and/or reporter, then your chance of she or he writing about your news improves.

    The SMPR seems to be a natural evolution of the traditional press release. For the most part, I like the SMPR idea/suggestion that quickly evolved after Foremski’s post regarding the death of the press release.

    But TimK, you nailed it on the head. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you got the news, whether it’s a phone call, an in-person meeting, an email or a press release, if it fits a reporter’s coverage area, is newsworthy, AND the reporter/blogger is interested, then you’ll get your press coverage.

    I also find that talking to reporters is still the most effective way to not only peak their interest, but get them to agree to write the story. The SMPR is a great follow-up tool so the reporter has what she or he needs to write the story, but (in my opinion) a conversation is still the most effective way to secure press coverage and rise above the noise, especially when you are still establishing a relationship with the writer. After you have a relationship, then I think it’s fine to just send the SMPR as a stand-alone item. But a phone call is still king for traditional press coverage!

    It will be interesting to see if the SMPR catches on outside of tech circles.

  6. Tim King says:

    Hi, Pam. I don’t have any compunction about being contacted for PR purposes… But I haven’t yet seen an offer I liked.

    I believe that last point sums it up: PR in the blogosphere is about relationships. Snazzy new formats with links to RSS feeds and Del.icio.us pages won’t help. But give me information that I want and that I can use, and I’ll be interested. It’s more like a B2B sales experience than traditional PR.

    -TimK

  7. Thanks for your kind post, and for coming out. I’m excited about the vibrancy of the Phoenix tech community again 🙂

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