I recently had the pleasure of seeing my two good internet buddies, Danny Brown and Gini Dietrich, try to get a room full of bloggers and PR folks to play nice. As someone working on the brand side, I was an impartial witness to what is clearly a big, heaping pile of infighting.
Clearly, the explosion of Social Media and blogging has changed the landscape, with bloggers looking to be taken seriously and PR reps not quite sure how to handle this new Fifth Estate. As an outsider in both camps, I wanted to share some unemotional insights into what is clearly a highly charged subject.
Self interest vs. mutual interest – On the surface, the challenge seems to be a combination of old dogs doing old tricks and the new dog learning how to bark. But when you take a step back, it looks like two groups who care more about a short-term win than a long-term victory. It appears to be PR firms clinging to what they once knew and bloggers struggling to get the respect they deserve. What few seem to be focusing on is creating a healthy and balanced PR-Blogger ecosystem. It may not be what anyone really wants, but as a brand guy, I can tell you that it is what your clients need.
Pitch vs. Relationships – Sometimes, when you are particularly attached to a problem, you hyper-focus on the wrong thing. The “pitch” is clearly the epicenter of all of these perceived evils, but the lack of an emphasis on relationships seems more like the real problem. If I took a shot for every time the word “pitch” was used, be it good or bad, I wouldn’t have survived the first five minutes of the talk. On the other hand, had I taken a shot every time someone said the word “relationship,” I wouldn’t even have a half-decent buzz. I have not studied PR, and I do not understand all of the inner workings, but it seems to me that if the emphasis starts to shift from making pitches to building relationships, a lot of problems would begin to take care of themselves.
Good Pitch vs Bad Pitch – I can’t quite put my finger on why this topic bothered me as much as it did; perhaps it is because anyone with a TextExpander account and the writing ability of a fifth grader could just as easily start cranking out what are considered to be the “good pitch.” I mean, how hard is it to go:
Hi (insert blogger name),
I’ve really been enjoying your (insert site you’ve visited exactly once), especially (insert name of month old post to appear as if you’ve been reading for a while).
Random PR Person
I’m not trying to be reductive (ok, clearly I am), and obviously there are excellent PR professionals putting a lot more effort into their outreach. That said, I can’t help but imagine a world where the current “good pitch” becomes the new “bad pitch.” Targeting pitches was discussed, but it took a distant second to the conversations surrounding the quality of the pitch. Maybe it is because I’m not on the receiving end of all of these “bad pitches,” but it seems like a well targeted mass pitch would be preferable to a poorly targeted, but deeply personal appeal.
Overall, it just felt as if emotion, rather than the objective, was driving the conversation. This is to be expected, especially when you consider how the system that PR professionals once knew is changing, and changing fast while bloggers are discovering (and occasionally abusing) their newfound power. Emotion is going to have to take a backseat for the sake of progress. But at the moment, it feels as if both sides are far too entrenched in their own interests. One thing is for certain: I left that room resolved to keep my brand out of this mess until things get better. And if I am any kind of indication of what others may be thinking, that cannot be a good thing for either side.
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