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  • Wearing the public relations hat!

    Wearing the public relations hat!

    This post is clearly with me wearing my Public Relations hat.
    Public Relations has, forever, been a case of classic irony, where instead of being celebrated as a phenomenon that encompasses most aspects of life; instead of being seen as a complex and rigorous science managing relationships with a variety of stakeholders, it has been – in the worst case scenario – been looked down upon as ‘spin’ or – in the best case scenario – simply seen playing a limited role of garnering ‘publicity’. Media relations has perhaps, by virtue of being the most ‘visible’ interactions of a public relations professional, unfortunately, led to the latter conclusion.
    A case of bad reputation, for the keeper of reputation itself.
    Traditional media was, until very recently, a key tool for information dissemination, influencing opinion and behavior and therefore an important participant in the public relations process. Cut to today, and a new layer of influencers has been added along – the individual/s. With blogs becoming carrier of opinion and with many now carrying mainstream and business news, a la traditional media, a new task has been added to the typical public relations professionals life – blogger relations. Sounds simple!
    Like you disseminate information to journalists, do the same for bloggers. Where is the problem? Well, that is the problem, bloggers are NOT EQUAL TO journalists. Blogs and social media are absolutely new phenomenons themselves, evolving rapidly; bloggers are themselves discovering the role they can/ should be playing; professional understanding of the medium is fairly nascent and is trying to keep pace with the fast evolving environment – simply put, the situation is far from simple.
    Writing this blog has put us in a rather unique position where, on on hand we are marketing and public relations practitioners; on the other we have a somewhat popular blog that brands and companies sometimes wish to participate in; and last, but not the least, we are active participants in contributing to the social media environment and know-how. This allows us many perspectives to this situation.
    We sometimes get showered with emails from agencies or get a friendly request to feature a client/product on one our of properties, which we politely turn down; sometimes we too end up an status ‘upset’ mail from a touchy but influential blogger (great learning come our way with these little incidents on what ‘not to do) and alternately we have found us discussing all these issues amongst ourselves, with peers & associates in the social media space – complaining, debating or discussing possible best practices.
    My friend Toby Bloomberg has written several posts 1, 2, 3, (and more) talking about Blogger Relations, and today I read my friend Rohit Bhargava’s post on beta of Ogilvy Blogger Outreach Code of Ethics. These are gems, do read them again and again.
    This post from Nikhil and this – via Rohit’s blog (there are dozens of others) made me think about writing this post, to seed the need for public relations professionals to ‘play right’ in the new environment. Hope you too want to chip in towards a healthier reputation for our profession and more rewarding engagement with bloggers.
    Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Think value addition – Most bloggers are not into writing their blogs as a full-time profession. Many are employed executive or professionals and are writing in their ‘free’ time. If you want them to find value in you/ your client, do share what they ‘need’. Bloggers, unlike mainstream media don’t have time/ access to reams of research. Can you add value with research, data, trends? Even full-time bloggers need that. Become a valued partner rather than just someone who spams them with press releases.
    2. Think customization – There are news blogs and then there are opinions and insights blogs. Don’t confuse the two. Have we customized information for them to find it of use?
    3. Think relationships – Read Toby’s post 1 again. Relationships mean mutual respect and participation. Influential bloggers, like any of us, may not engage with us when we NEED them. Have we invested into the relationship? Do we really care about reading their blog? Have we ever commented on the blog, not to say how beautiful the blog looks for how magical every word they write is, but to actually take the conversation forward?
    4. Think engagement – Is there merit in indulging in public relations that’s not about coverage – previews, reviews, interviews, announcements – but about engagement to seek feedback, opinion, product participation and evangelism? It may eventually lead to ‘coverage’ and chances are that the blogger who sees you genuinely wanting feedback, to change the offering for the better, will respect you and give your his/ her trust. Convince the client! It might just do wonders for their brand.
    5. Think relevance & timing – A golden rule that I follow: don’t attempt to sell everything to everyone. Is the information you are sharing, relevant to this blog? If not, don’t waste the blogger and your own time. Also, bloggers typically don’t want to be seen as followers, particularly the influential ones – timing of when you reach out to them could be the crucial differentiator. A new logo, that’s been plastered everywhere for 2 weeks, is not of value anymore for an influential marketing blog.
    6. Think what’s my role- Unlike many journalists, many bloggers are not happy working with agencies, they want to interact with the client directly. They want information first hand. Respect this, introduce and step aside maybe? Might just work.
    7. Think maturity – in dealing with bloggers, in our expectations, in our follow-ups, in our comments on their blogs. Respect and credibility are a function of how we conduct ourselves.

    These come to my mind right now but this is certainly not the end of this post. Perhaps more from me and definitely from you I hope. Like always, do take the conversation forward.
    Cheers.
    UPDATE – 9 September 2007, 7.38 am:

    1. Think YOUR value- I have always believed that there is significant value addition that public relations provides to the media’s own efforts in generating content, and without content media would simply be white sheets/ empty screens. Same will increasingly be true of micro publishing concepts like blogs etc.
      There is an increasing tendency among many immature bloggers to ridicule concepts, executives, entrepreneurs, plans, offerings etc, as idiotic/ idiots, as if… just because they write a blog, they are also uniquely gifted to comment about serious and important matters with very little or no inputs/ understanding whatsoever. To spot the variety is not very difficult – just spend a little time on the sites – DON’T create monsters by chasing them. Understand the value of your inputs.
      So, respect and preparedness for credible bloggers and don’t waste time chasing the variety I quote above.

    Disclaimer: Views of authors are personal and do not represent the views of Blogworks, or any of its clients.

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