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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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Good Story, Bad "Invisible PR,"

There’s nothing like getting a story in a big paper about a client or your business. As the press grows more and more hyper-local with each passing day, PR people always need to be thinking of great local angles to make the story work for both the reporter and the client.

Another great thing about PR is to make sure the client or business is the story, not the pitch or the PR person. The Bad Pitch Blog detailed a great example of a pitch so good, it became part of the story. But it worked all the same.

armour-btr.jpgSo, yes, there are times when you have to break those rules to help get the story told. And that’s why my goofy face is plastered on the Your Business Solutions section of today’s Akron Beacon Journal.

Caller, You’re on the Air“, by Beacon Journal business writer, Paula Schleis, sums BlogTalkRadio up with this subhead: ALL YOU NEED IS A PHONE, COMPUTER.

Since becoming the public relations coordinator for BlogTalkRadio in August, Luke Armour said the Web site — which allows people to host their own free, live call-in talk shows — has surprised him in two ways: What it’s used for. What it’s not used for…

[and my all time favorite quote] ”You can host a show talking about your cat if you want,” he said.

Read the rest of the article > >

Hey, if it works, it works. I was pleased I had something to offer. I was pleased I could help craft this story with a local journalist. And I was really pleased that there was coverage of BTR and it was good.

Not so pleased about me becoming the “basement blogger” stereotype, but, hey, at least I’m wearing pants.

Or am I?

The sidebar of the article details some of the fun content on the network.

Photo by Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal

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When a fun idea isn’t a good idea

Saw this in my Twitter feed today from SarahWurrey. Sharpie tattoos for people who aren’t ready for the real thing. The blog post has links to a Flickr set. Cool idea. Read the blog post and be sure to read the comment from Sharpie designer. On a side note, I think it’s impressive Sharpie has people trolling the blogosphere looking for brand mentions.

But this is what you have to think about when promoting a event or stunt. As mentioned in my Forward Podcast interview with Peter Shankman, having the idea is great, but you’ve got to think of everything. Drawing designs on skin with potentially toxic chemicals might not be how you want your brand to be remembered. Hadn’t thought of that? Well, Sharpie has apparently, and you’d be well to start thinking like that if you’re getting into event or stunt PR.

Could it be problematic? Hard to say, but PR people should be in the business of a) avoiding bad press and legal problems b) dealing with bad press and legal problems others have created but not c) creating things that lead to bad press and legal problems. Lesson learned.

Reforestation, Great Social Media Work, Hear Me Roar

Update: An update on the Converseon blog site has some interesting lessons learned about this project. As we pave the way in the new media landscape, we should pay very close attention to the successes and mistakes of others. One thing they don’t mention is that there were two Members Project reforestation initiatives and this one didn’t make the cut. The other one did – with surprising results after little marketing. People need very specific directions and no matter how much planning you do, one single distraction (such as registering) will derail the train.

Paull Young‘s agency, Converseon in NY is doing some great social media work. Here’s something that’s a great cause that really shows their mad skilz. Yes, I just wrote mad skilz. His project is one of the 50 remaining American Express Members Project (you’ve seen the tv commercials) projects. If you hold an American Express card, you have to vote by July 15th in order for this project to go on to the next round. It’s (as far as I know) the only Second Life project in the remaining 50. It’s a virtual reforestation project that also plants real trees in rain forest areas. If this wins, 1 million trees could be planted. Pretty cool. Vote here.

As an added bonus, you get to hear the melodious crackling tones of my voice through a junky mic on the embedded video (rss readers, click Second Chance Trees). I was honored to do it, I just wish Paull had given me a bit more warning so I could have had better equipment more readily available.

Anyway, read Paull’s post about the project that has some excellent lessons on dealing in the social media space. Not only is the project cool, Paull’s really educating us about the process. Kudos. Well, good luck, remember, voting ends this Sunday, July 15th!

Month One

Well, I completely flew by my one-month anniversary of agency life. Taking a deep breath, I thought I’d provide a little bit of a retrospective of that month.

The most difficult aspect of this time has been pairing my education and experience with the realities of what faces me as I sit in my office on a day-to-day basis. There shouldn’t be a disconnect, but somehow there is. People hand me things or ask me to fulfill requests and I have hesitated. Looking back on it, I can clearly see that I have been properly trained, I was just apprehensive about performing a task for which I’m getting paid as opposed to graded. So, what, I can pay to make mistakes, but don’t want to make them when I’m getting paid? Sounds about right.

But it’s more than that. My reputation is on the line. I have a sincere desire to please my employers and supervisors with my work. I have a vested interest in not getting fired. In case you didn’t know, Ohio is one of those at-will states. So they can fire me at will. Ever hear a movie line where the captain of a vessel (boat, submarine, space ship) yells, “fire at will!”? They weren’t talking about a guy named Will; they were campaigning for easier ways to fire people.

And since I now spend so much time in the car, I can really dive deep into the podcasting world and continue to learn more from the loquacious of our field. These individuals take the time to share their knowledge with anyone who wants to listen. Social media is a beautiful thing, not sure exactly what the benefit to some of the podcasters and bloggers is, but for me it’s invaluable. I have really grown to enjoy the chats with the Better Desirable Roasted Communications team of Jenkins and Hopkins. Lee, best of luck to you in your new venture, by the way. I’m wishing you the best.

And am still completely addicted to the dynamic duo at For Immediate Release, of course. But as agency life progresses, I find myself gaining more and more value from Inside PR. Even though they’re a couple of Canucks, I really find their discussions on life on the agency side fascinating and hugely relevant to my life. So thanks Terry and David for the excellent work. Thanks, also, for addressing my insecurities about hockey and the Habs. I wasn’t upset that you used the word, I was upset because you assumed no one listening would know what it meant. I mean, I know you have a huge following in Indonesia, but people in the States know a thing or two about puck. Well, the cool ones.
So if you haven’t gotten into podcasts yet, you must. My only regret is that I only have so much time in the car a week. I have to limit what I can listen to. New people keep podcasting and I’m having trouble fitting it in. However, if Shel and Neville get the FIR podcast down from 90 minutes to 60 or so – I might be able to squeeze a few more in there. Paull and Donna , I’m listening, I really am. Brian, Mitch, you’re on deck. Oh the agony of it.

Happy belated one month to me, I’m looking to so many more. PR rocks.

Laermer’s Vapor Warning & Good Pitches

I read this post and just couldn’t pass up a chance to send it along. Richard Laermer, author of Full Frontal PR and co-author of The Bad Pitch Blog, posted a highly engaging and unique look at pitching, what I would call, fluff. He calls it vapor and I love the way he uses it. My favorite quote is:

Ken will not pay attention because you’ve proven yourself to be a vapor merchant.

Ha, I love it! And that won’t make any sense until you read the post, but you should. Go read it now. It’s a clear cut description of what – I think – is one of the problems with PR these days. This is especially important for those of us about to graduate and be thrust into the field, forced to write releases about the CEO learning to “reply all” and how Ted went from Deputy Manager of Internal Squeaking to Assistant Director of Corporate Hallucinating. And at first, we won’t have a choice, we’re the “new kids,” we ought to just do what we’re told. But as we mature in the business, we may have to do some educating, the student may have to become the master. For the benefit of you, for the benefit of your company, for the benefit of the future of public relations we may have to take a stand and say, “Sir, not only is this not new, it’s not news. Nobody cares.”

And that will be our task, in my opinion. Find aspects of our clients or organizations and MAKE them news. Not empty noxious vapours, but actually turn organizational happenings into news. It can be done, I think, but there’s the rub, eh?

In addition to the Bad Pitch Blog, which posts educational lessons on both how to write pitches and especially how not to write pitches; there is a new blog is on the block. This one is the Good Pitch Blog by Todd Defren. I haven’t had a chance to read much of it, but what I have read is informative and worth reading.

So there you have it, two resources on pitching. Now go on, try to learn something out there!

It’s public, baby, not private

Still learning a great deal about this Internet, World Wide Web, and the blogosphere. Beth and I learned a few lessons early on when we got comments from influential PR bloggers Jeremy Pepper, Elizabeth Albrycht, and Constantin Basturea. Oh, people are actually reading this thing? Uh oh.
It really exemplified for us the idea that people are out there listening. I have the same chance of being read everyday as does the New York Times or other influential PR bloggers. You laugh, but all it takes is a few keywords in a search engine to produce this post. Scary. What’s really scary is how I find out about this. People can comment on your site directly showing that they are not only listening, but that they are joining the discussion. My blog stats tell me when someone has linked to us. I found out that Robert French was blogging about Graduate Observations that way.

Sometimes you find out in unusual ways who is “listening.” I subscribe to the daily PRSA PR Issues and Trends e-newsletter. The first line in the February 15th edition read:

Armour and Farrell’s presentation on Social Media, from the February 8th meeting of the University of Akron’s chapter of PRSSA, are available for download at:
http://homepage.mac.com/lukearmour/PRSSA/FileSharing8.html

I was stunned. “How did they find out about that?” I wondered. Well, duh, it’s on the Internet; it’s public, baby, not private. We had intended that information to be a resource for the people at that PRSSA meeting and for those who couldn’t make it. We never intended for it to be broadcast to the national PRSA and PRSSA membership. It immediately made us a little nervous. What if the presentation was a dud and people are out there pointing and laughing at us. Well, I guess next time we’ll think about that. Robert French tried to persuade me that PRSA wouldn’t have posted it if it hadn’t have been good. He’s assuming that they downloaded and viewed the presentation and the handout, but I appreciated his reassurance all the same. Thanks, Robert.
So what does all this mean for PR?

  1. You never know who’s reading. Monitor the Internet, someone complaining about your product/ service/ company has the same chance of being read as The Wall Street Journal.
  2. Watch what you say. I try to keep this professional, but every time I get a comment or link from a PR person whom I respect I break into a sweat wondering, “have I written anything embarrassing. To be blunt: don’t put yourself in that position if it’s something you worry about.
  3. Have something to say. Bloggers blog to blog. I have a personal blog where I rant and rave and say outrageously ludicrous things. Who cares what I say because my mom may be the only person reading it. It do it for me. But if you’re a business or someone trying diving into social media because everyone else is doing it: remember that having a strategy will indicate if it fits into your plans or is just something you want to do. It will do more harm than good to blog or podcast about something no one cares about or is hastily put together. It’s kind of like a news release. Would you send one out without any actual news? (Of course you would, but it’s never a good idea, that was to be a rhetorical question.) What’s the point? You could save everyone a lot of time, bandwidth, and money if you just wrote newsless press releases, printed them out, and put them directly into the trash yourself.

And another lesson learned.

Kryptonite II – I blinked and missed it

I hate to rehash what amounts to an enormous and severely beaten topic, but I just have to know. Where did I miss the second half of this debacle? From a PR standpoint, this certainly takes a revisit. Apologies if you’re tired of the subject.

For those of you who don’t know (and I imagine a fair many of you don’t, so that’s okay), I’ll try to sum it up for you.

This is an incredibly simplified version. See the links below for more detailed information.

Kryponite Lock is a company that makes, you guessed it, bike locks. In 2004 several videos circulated across the Internet demonstrating how to defeat a certain type of lock style with a typical ballpoint pen. The news originally broke on an “online forum,” and this is important later on. This spells bad news for Kryptonite, right? Well, the blogosphere went crazy and there was quite an uproar even in some traditional mediums. Things got blown out of proportion – as I hope to detail in later posts – because of the mob mentality of parts of the blogosphere. I say “parts of the blogosphere” not all. But I’m digressing.

So to make a long story longer, this went on for some time and finally Kryptonite offered a lock exchange program to replace (here’s a interesting note) not only the pickable locks, but many other locks as well at a significant cost to the company. Sounds great. Word is that Kryptonite suffered irrepairable losses because of this crisis, which could have been avoided if only they had been monitoring the blogosphere. Is this true? Could it have been avoided? Were they not being constantly vigilant?

Well guess what, maybe they were.

Kryptonite has become the poster child for “Blogosphere Monitoring, how NOT to do it,” and why not? Well, because Donna Tocci, Public Relations Manager for Kryponite, argues that they were watching, they knew about it from day one. I did some online snooping and came across several blog interviews with Tocci that range from April 2005, to December 2005 (see the links below for more information). Here are my new thoughts about the issue:

  • Too slow to see? No. Tocci indicates they knew about it from day one. The interviews go into chronological detail (especially the Naked Conversations blog post). Good eye, but it’s what you do with that information that matters.
  • Too slow to talk? I say yes. Donna admits that maybe they could have communicated better. It’s a relatively small company and they had various angles to contend with during this and it affected their communications. Could be trouble.
  • Too slow to act? I don’t think so. Donna makes some great cases for not implementing a plan until they had every aspect covered. Sounds good and I agree. You can’t institute a lock replacement program until you can figure out distribution, storage, costs, etc. This takes time.
  • Too slow to get the real story out? I might have to agree. The initial story broke in September, 2004. The first mention I see of Tocci out in the blogosphere trying to get the real story out is April 2005, then July 2005, then December 2005, and into 2006. In my email conversation with Donna she wrote, “This was just the time frame that we were able to start some conversations.” Again, back to the fact that they had scads to do during the crisis. Is that a good reason to drop the communication ball? No one would agree if asked, but it’s the pressure of the situation that really determines what kind of communicator you are. Let’s all remember this: no matter what happens, you must still communicate. Either way, Tocci did go out and get the truth out. Maybe late, but she was tenacious about telling Kryptonite’s story. All last year she was doing interviews, on blogs, posting comments, replying to emails, being available. That’s good communication. She even answered my email to rehash what they consider a closed topic. And who am I? Just a student, trying to learn the truth, trying to share a case study that everyone already assumed had gone wrong. But I maintain this: It wasn’t as wrong as people said it was, not by a long shot.

I posit that the blogosphere is like TV or Radio News at times. If it isn’t sensational, it’s not going to make the cut. Bad news is always news, but good news is fluff. (At least that’s how some journalists make communicators feel at times – oops, my PR is showing). My point? When it hit the fan for Kryptonite everyone and their grandmother was writing about it, but when the real story comes out, people don’t care. I indicated this to Tocci who wrote, “This is a very big generalization. The news of our lock exchange program did get out lots and lots of people through the internet and traditional media sources. But, yes, as in most mediums controversy ‘sells’.” And that’s why I actually had to search to find the second half of this story. You couldn’t read a PR blog, listen to a PR podcast, or read books about the blogosphere without hearing about this mess when it first came out. But after that I had to search for it. And – oh boy – it’s out there.
There is also a thread of information in the following posts that Kryptonite knew about the faulty locks since 1992 when a British publication wrote about it. I’ve read enough articles to gather that Kryptonite Locks weren’t specifically mentioned, so people are putting too much emphasis on that article. However, brand name listed or not, why didn’t they check it out? Do we have a problem here? In crisis PR we call that a prodrome, noticing circumstances that have the potential to become crises. None of the Tocci interviews go into detail about that, she states the article never mentioned Kryptonite Locks.

But the myth remains, blogs nearly destroyed Kryptonite, blogs discovered the ineptitude of a shoddy company, you have to monitor the blogosphere, Kryptonite did a lousy job, etc etc. You can think whatever you like, I don’t care. What I care about is researching the truth. How many other people did that? From a PR standpoint, It’s true that you need to monitor the Internet, it’s true you need to know what your publics are saying about you. But it’s also true that you need to communicate as often as possible, especially during a crisis. Maybe Kryptonite knew from day one, maybe they could have done more, been better communicators. Even in the aftermath, why does it take so long to get the real story out, over so many channels, over so long a period of time? PR is about communicating effectively, right?

Check out the links below to read interviews with Tocci, opinions and all. If you read on, make sure you read all the comments as Tocci usually follows up to people’s questions. PR flack or honest communicator? I’ve formed my opinion, but let me know your thoughts.