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    Online observations of public relations, marketing, advertising and social media; the occasional frivolity; and The Rundown show notes. Jump in, the water's fine.

    Please Note: Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its constituents.

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Lego Letting Go

This article by Daniel Terdiman titled Hacking’s a snap in Legoland from CNET really gives one pause. Can this really be happening? Can a company really be letting go and allowing consumer evangelism to help them?

Personally I find this a) great and b) really surprising. Joseph Jaffe had quite a problem with the Lego brand last September (2005) because Lego didn’t seem able to let go. Jaffe took issue with the fact that Lego had (i.e. posted on their website) insisted that people refer to the wonderful colored put-them-together plastic bricks as Lego bricks, but not as “legos.” As it turned out, Lego was just trying to defend their brand name.

Allen Jenkins sums it up nicely on his site or you read more on this topic at Jaffe’s original post. Either way, check out Jeremy Pepper’s commentary on the Lego brand situation.

That aside, this may seem surprising that Lego – or any company – would hand over so much control to its consumers. Or, should I say, allowed them to hack with such passive pleasure. Read Mr. Terdiman’s article and get back to me. One excerpt from this article that hits the PR nerve is this:

Scherer [senior producer in Lego’s interactive experiences group] explained that Lego has to walk a fine line when it comes to allowing access to its systems but that the company recognized the value of letting users adapt the tools to their needs.

Wow. So, the trend is letting go and sharing control. Will this continue? Will others follow? From a PR perspective, how do you counsel this? How do you keep people from freaking out about control? Better yet, should you? I’m certain the answer, like most others, is “it depends.” But it depends on the situation today. Yesterday it would have always been a resounding “no.”

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PR has its own shoes

Big nod to Steve Rubel for finding this juicy article from the Economist about PR filling the shoes of the stumbling advertising business. At the onset I was enjoying it. But the more I read the less inclined I was to not grit my teeth and clench my fists. The unsettling began with this phrase, “PR is an increasingly vital marketing tool” and then proceeded to offend me even more. I took particular issue with this segment:

The goal of PR is usually to secure positive coverage in the media, and the well-worn tactics include calling a press conference, pitching stories directly to journalists, arranging eye-catching events, setting up interviews and handing out free samples. But as PR profits from advertising’s difficulties, it is taking up a host of new stratagems—and seeking to move up the corporate pecking order.

In his book Value-Added Public Relations Thomas L. Harris admits that PR is a great tool for marketers because it gives marketing the credibility factor. Well, yeah!

I don’t know what your personal definition of public relations is, but I do not define it by how it is used by marketing. Can marketing and public relations work together to achieve some great goals? Yes. But I get really tired of people – marketers, advertisers, or any other communication people – who refer to public relations when what they are really talking about publicity. Is publicity a part of public relations? Yes. But I also consider advertising a subset of marketing. I mean, doesn’t advertising belong to one of the Ps? Promotion? Can public relations be used for promotion? Yes, excellently so, but that doesn’t mean that public relations is a marketing tool. It’s making the role of PR subservient to other parts of an organization and I disagree with that. PR is an entity in and of itself. PR is about communicating with the organization’s publics – all of them – not just consumers. Excellent PR affects the environment in which an organization exists, but not just to sell or create buzz about products. The article also goes on to say:

Some PR firms see an opportunity to move up their clients’ hierarchy—becoming not just service providers, but also purveyors of strategic advice to senior management.

Yes. PR is a strategic management function. Management function, not marketing tool. I do wholeheartedly believe that PR should have the ear of senior management; PR should be at the table. But it is not a tool for any specific part of the an organization, like a hammer, it is the arm that swings the hammer, that works in tandem with the rest of the organization.

The article, in my opinion, covers some interesting ground and makes a good point. Advertising is struggling and PR is stepping up to fill those shoes, but I just disliked the wording of the piece. Maybe I’m being oversensitive or unrealistic, but that’s just how I feel about it. Someone convince me otherwise. PR has its own shoes.