Sunday, July 5, 2009

Did Web 2.0 Kill Intelligent PR?

If you believe some of the practitioners quoted in Claire Cain Miller’s New York Times story yesterday, you might think so.

You may also conclude that PR today is all about invite-only parties, industry “friends,” superstars, sycophants and social networks. That strategy, press releases, media briefings etc. are passé, and all a start-up needs to do is write a catchy blog post and hire a social diva to tweet. Then most certainly, BusinessWeek will follow suit.


Most technology PR practitioners are serious business professionals and dedicated advocates. We follow trends, industry news and monitor the competition. We dig deep to learn about the technologies, the people, and the value offered to customers.

We work with executives to develop an organic and compelling company story. Some may call this spin…but a shrewd PR person can make a real story interesting without the need to exaggerate or deceive.

(This is why journalists who transition to the so-called dark side ultimately make effective PR strategists. They instinctively know how to uncover the timely angles while maintaining authenticity. Reporters, bloggers, readers and customers aren’t stupid – they can spot manipulation a mile away.)

Once the story is established, it’s our job to disseminate it. In the past, we primarily issued press releases and pitched the media. Those with half a brain learned early to help beat reporters as much as possible, provide open access to the right executives, and be reliable sources.

Today, our tactical arsenal has expanded exponentially with social media. Web 2.0 hasn’t killed PR, it’s enhanced it in so many ways we have yet to even realize.

Journalists have long called PR people gatekeepers, but that analogy previously worked in reverse as well. It used to be that our only hope of spreading the word about our company was to sell it to beat reporters. Now, we can also directly speak to our own constituency and reach out to others on our own via social media.

For example, Twitter is a fantastic PR tool. It’s a fast, powerful way to communicate news and foster viral conversation about your brand.

Yet Twitter is also a prime example of precisely why social media doesn’t negate traditional media relations. PR people aren’t the only ones who tweet. Journalists and bloggers link to their stories on Twitter as well, and often have a significant reach and influential readers.

Twitter also highlights why, despite the dour headlines, the media is far from dead. I’d love to know what percentage of URLs link to professional news. Based upon the success of Twitter, Digg, RSS feeds and more, it’s obvious the demand for quality journalism is akin to a fire hose. Readers are consuming it in record levels.

Specifically in the technology industry, the role of the media is crucial. Consumers and enterprises make costly purchasing decisions based upon credible third-party opinions.

Whether that comes from TechCrunch or the New York Times can be argued ad nauseum, but ultimately Web readers are skeptics. Even if you’ve piqued their interest through direct social media, they will seek to validate and enhance their knowledge. No one trusts a single source of information anymore.

Read Part II, Did Web 2.0 Kill Intelligent PR? Press Releases vs. Blogs here...

NOTE: I don't take issue with all of the voices in the NYT story. I've previously worked with Outcast Communications and found they offered a sophisticated understanding of PR. Likewise, if the overall theme in the story is what Ms. Miller has experienced first-hand, then all I can do is apologize to her and say that as a PR industry, we need to take the time to do a serious introspective.

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