Archive for the 'Idiots' Category

Come on PR, you can do better than this

Somehow, somewhere, one of the email addresses I use at work has got itself onto some kind of PR mailing list. How this happened I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the only explanation I can think of for the sudden influx of assorted press releases landing in the inbox each day.

Given that the address in question is a PR address, I doubt they’ll be getting coverage any time soon.

Interestingly, I’ve had a few colleagues and fellow PRs mention that they’ve been getting assorted press releases as well. There are clearly a few people out there in my chosen industry who haven’t done their homework.

It’s a tad depressing, to be honest, to see such bad PR first hand on a daily basis. I don’t want to indulge in a round of PR bashing – it’s not overly constructive for one thing – because I also see much more good PR than bad PR on a daily basis as well.

Nevertheless, my heart still sinks at the idea that there are PR people and companies who still think a mass mail out to all and sundry is an effective way of working. Sure, you’ll probably get a bit of coverage but, by the same token, if you throw a handful of tennis balls into a crowded street, chances are you’ll hit a couple of people.

Once, in a hurry, I did a mass send-out cobbling together a list from assorted sources. The pick-up was poor. I’ve since gone back to that list, made individual dialogue, established what form of contact and what type of stories they’re looking for, and the response has generally been a lot more receptive towards whatever I’m doing. I know, bad me for taking the lazy way out.

In many respects, I have some sympathy for Charles Arthur and others who’ve been known to lose it on occasions with PR. If you’re on several of these lists and constantly get an endless stream of emails, it can get very irritating. I’d never completely give up on emailed pitches though. During my full-time newsroom days, every now and then, amongst the dross, you’d find a little gem. Sure, it’s not substitute for actually going out there and getting stories, but it always a welcome surprise.

It still doesn’t excuse the arbitrary mail-out lists though. Part of me pities the companies who hire whatever firm it is that sends out these releases. The other part thinks that if they’ve chosen such a bad PR representative they deserve to see their cash go down the drain.

It’s so easy to do lazy, bad PR (then again, it’s also easy to do lazy, bad journalism). You wonder what they must do at work all day. Checking that you’re actually contacting the right person? That surely shouldn’t be too hard, no? I still wonder how this work email got onto the PR list. It’s not exactly easy to mistake for a journalist’s address.

Every now and then I consider emailing them back pointing out, politely, that they’re contacting the wrong person. Then again, I’ve had somebody insist I was the right person and got angry when I pointed out I couldn’t give his release coverage (reminding me somewhat of that woman from the Apprentice last night who insisted on arguing with the customer).

And then you occasionally get the truly impressive PR fails. Like today, when I emailed one of the random releases back, again politely pointing out they were going to the wrong place. I got an out of office. Ten minutes after we’d received the release.

Thankfully I know enough people in the industry who are doing inspiring stuff. My colleagues for one. Or the people I meet at varying networking events. But then it’s always the bad examples that drag down the industry’s reputation (justified or otherwise), and cause journalists to tut and sigh and roll their eyes and declare PR to be useless.

Generally speaking we’re not useless. But when, as a PR, you get pitched with hideously bad PR you wonder how these people managed to land a job in the industry. Or if they’ll still have one in a couple of years.

Getting social with Nathan Barley

Bobbie Johnson from the Guardian has had it with social media. It’s easy to sympathise.

“Listen. I have blog. I use Twitter. I idly flick through lists of people I’d forgotten I ever knew on Facebook. I’ve even got a MySpace page, although I don’t like to talk about it. They are great ways of connecting people, and they’re very exciting when you start using them, because they allow virtual contact in ways that are analogous to – if not the same as – real life. You know, communicate with people. That old thing.

Nobody talks about people down the pub laughing about Bale’s expletive-laden bullying as a “social drinking sensation”. They don’t call people giggling about it on the phone as a “social telecommunications sensation”. They call it joking, or they call it gossip, because that’s what people do. Whether they do it online or offline, down the pub or on Facebook doesn’t matter. “Social media” is mainstream – we don’t need to claim any more victories for it.”

Quite so. I’m at a point where I roughly agree with Bobbie as well. I’ve probably spent as much time as anybody hyping up ‘social’ media tools. It was a convenient term, much like ‘new media’ was back in the emerging days of the internet.

It has now crossed into the mainstream. That, I think, we can safely say. But, as Bobbie points out, having Christian Bale’ s rant pinged around Twitter doesn’t act as proof that it’s taking over the world (such proof, for what it’s worth, is pretty easy to accumulate elsewhere).

Wadds wrote last week about the change that was coming in Twitter and other forms of social media (I’m still using the term as it’s convenient) and I think we’re seeing it now.

Now, unless I’ve completely misread his column, I don’t think Bobbie’s calling for the death of social media; rather that he wishes social media people would stop banging on about how great social media is on social media sites.

Christ, I feel incestuous just writing that last sentence.

There reaches a point where, in any technology or movement or whatever you want to call social media, where it edges onto the mainstream and suddenly everybody is an expert on it.

And, as ever, with any kind of new, erm, thing (sorry, I’m casting about for words here and can’t find the right one) there is a lot of bullshit. And a lot of people who get involved for little discernible purposes other than to self-promote their usually overhyped wares.

We’re probably at this stage now.

Now, this isn’t a post where I run screaming at Twitter yelling “YOU’VE CHANGED AND I DON’T LIKE IT” on my part either. But the site – and many other bits have become a mite trying at times. Largely because of the jargon and the self-promotion and the self-satisfaction and God alone knows what. [Insert your own examples here. I’m tired, ok].

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Social media is still important. It is, and will continue to, make an impact on our lives – how we view, consume and engage with both the media and the world in general.

But the likes of Twitter et al are also communication tools. And just as we all use our mobile phones to communicate in different ways, the same could be said for these assorted sites. They are a way of communication. No more, no less. How you choose to use them is up to you.

So, with that in mind, it’s not a surprise that PR (and journalism and the like) is naturally drawn to Twitter. After all, PR is a communications industry.

And, just with any new development, there will always be people in an industry who cotton onto it quicker than others. I guess you could call these people experts.

Whatever title you give them, these will be the people leading the way in training, enthusing and helping their colleagues or industry get the best out of the new technologies.

What’s quite interesting is some of the best people I know in this area have gone quite quiet over various social media outlets (God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t stop writing the term. I’ll stop it soon, I promise). And that’s probably as good an indication as any that social media’s moved into the mainstream.

It means that they no longer need to shout from the rooftops and are probably getting stuck into work and training and other such things. They’ve not moved on, they’ve just got more on their plates as every area tries to get a piece of the action. And this is a good thing, probably.

No doubt there will now be a slew of blog posts in the coming months claiming social media is dead (we’ve already had this with blogging). It’s not. It’s evolving.

Those who start proclaiming the death of social media are probably either trying to get attention or acting like the cool kid at school who spends ages raving about a band only to disown said band when everybody else realised how good they are. This isn’t the same as fatigue or frustration, which is what Bobbie appears to have.

I still love many aspects of social media. It’s integral to a lot of what I do. Twitter is increasingly useful for work, del.icio.us is a daily essential, I’m using wikis a hell of a lot more and I’ve only just realised how useful Tumblr can be.

But this does not mean I need to run around letting the whole world know I’ve just created a new wiki (although I’m as guilty as anybody of pimping my blog over the assorted networks).

This probably comes across as quite a jumbled post, but I think that’s a reflection of where things are at currently.

Social media tools are being absorbed into the mainstream but the principles guiding them are not new. Gossip is gossip, news is news, no matter how it becomes so. And talking about these wonderful new tools is easy. Doing something with them is considerably harder.

Twitter – and other sites you can lump under the SM umbrella – is useful, fun and interesting. Going around declaring yourself an expert in this probably isn’t. I removed the phrase social media enthusiast from my profile a week or so ago because I realised it made me sound like an utter wanker. And, frankly, I don’t need any extra help in that department.

I’ll finish by lifting Kat Hannaford’s comment from Bobbie’s piece, because it’s delightfully ranty, and pretty much spot on. And she’s one of my favourite, funniest Tweeters:

“Twitter and all the assorted other social networking brainfuckery has sapped the joy right out of the internet in recent months, and it’s taking all my willpower not to tell people to sod off, stop embarrassing themselves, and crawl back to the nook at Shoreditch House that they crawled out of.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go look at pictures of cats to reinstall a glimmer of hope within me about the benefits of the internet.”

Amen to that. Pictures of cats will still be popular no matter what stage of the web we’re in 🙂

Depressingly predictable

The Ahmedinejad Christmas speech caused ‘international offence‘. Granted, he’s not the most tolerant man in the world when it comes to certain sections of society but then neither’s the Pope, and nobody’s stopped him broadcasting his message on Christmas Day.

Funnily enough, those who’ve said this is a cynical grab for ratings probably reckon without the British public’s desire to watch ballroom dancing or Coronation Street as opposed to a somewhat nutty president of a Middle Eastern country.

If it’s been said once it’s been said x number of times, where x probably stands for any number you want it to. Creating a big hoo-hah will give it more publicity than just the initial number of viewers would have done.

You may not agree with him. I don’t. But then I don’t write in and complain every time something I’m not a fan of comes on the TV. Rather than jumping up and down and shouting “Ban it. I don’t like him. Not fair!” why doesn’t somebody actually fire back with a few witty reposites that neatly take apart his arguments. Just a thought, like.

And, as Tim W says, “you’d be hard put to find any Church of England bishop who would disagree with what is said (rather than the man who is saying it or his attitudes or actions outside this particular statement).”

Final word: Sunny from Pickled Politics, who I don’t normally agree with:

“I don’t burn a candle for Ahmedinejad – he is clearly a tyrant and a racist. But there’s two fronts on which I find arguments against this C4 stunt a bit hypocritical.

1) The first is this threat that Channel 4’s funding should be cut or curtailed because of this. BBC News reports:

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the all-party media group, said: “Channel Four has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time. “This raises serious questions about whether Channel 4 should receive an increased public subsidy for their programmes.”

Criticise Channel 4 all you like, but I find it fundamentally undemocratic that a broadcaster should be threatened financially for doing things the majority don’t like.

I thought these people wanted free speech? After all, MA isn’t saying anything racially inflammatory this time. Should I be burning my license fee in protest everytime the BBC invite Nick Griffin on television?”

Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and all that.

In other news, I got a recipe book for over 400 soups for Christmas. That’s far more exciting.

Hope everybody’s had a safe, happy Christmas. Normal service about where the media’s going and all that jazz, plus a few odds and sods on football teams you’ve never heard of, resumes later.

You don’t want that social media project…

Chris Applegate posts a list of 20 familiar signs that a company really doesn’t want to get engaged in social media. It’s brilliantly funny, if not also a tad depressing (but then isn’t all the best humour) as it’s instantly familiar to anyway working in a social media sphere who’s had any of the 20 conversations.

Suw Charman-Anderson follows up with an internal version. Both are spot on. And while the web geeks amongst us giggle, they should also be compulsive reading for anybody or company thinking of getting into social media.

I’ve come across all these comments over God knows how many years in all walks of life. I’ve spoken to a few people who are so enthusiastic about social media but work for companies who take about six months to take any kind of decision on it. I’m quite thankful mine’s pretty proactive and willing to try new things.

Social media isn’t like other popular areas where you can just wade in go “hey, we’re great” and leave. What worked before offline won’t necessarily work online.

The best thing anybody can do if they want their company or client to get into social media is read and listen. Engagement also helps, but I’d honestly say just immersing yourself in blogs, wikis, pods, Twitter and forums and getting a feel for how they work will do no end of good.

If a blogger has a pop at your company, chill. Maybe it’s better to understand the reason behind the rant than panicking or getting worked up about the contents of the post. People say bad things, it happens.

Viral videos are called viral for a reason. If it’s something you’d want to send your mates at a slow day at work, then you’re onto a winner. If you struggle to watch it through, it won’t.

And while mass emailing bloggers may seem like a quick and efficient way to work, it probably won’t generate that much positive coverage. Certainly not compared to if you’ve taken the time to read, engage and see what’s relevant to this particular blog.

It’s not hard to do, but I suspect these won’t be the last conversations Chris and others have on this topic.

[I’d also quite like to add 21. Client puts something on the internet with no links in or out and wonders why nobody visits.]

Demya – a spam tin with a different label is still spam

Spam comments, as any regular blogger and forum user will tell you, are a right royal pain in the arse. While it’s a way of life on teh interweb, it doesn’t make them any less irritating to delete, especially if you get hit by a plethora of spam comments, which is what happened to Lewis yesterday.

He started off by Tweeting that he’d been hit by an unusually large amount of spam. He Tweeted his further investigations, and uncovered the source – a company called Demya who, for the princely sum of £75, promise to publish 100,000 forum posts promote website, products and service. They stopped short of offering to love you long time.

And how do they promise to do this? By going out into communities, engaging with bloggers and forums, or even just alerting relevant people to the product? No, they’ve gone for a much more simpler option:

“We use special software to automatically register on forums worldwide and post promotional messages.

Your message will appear to be a normal post on forums. Different usernames are generated by our software so that each forum registration and post appears to be unique. You can ‘rotate’ pre-written messages and publish multiple promotional posts.

This is the most advanced level of penetrating online established communities.  We can target communities based on your campaigns keywords.”

They’re not overly picky about which clients they take on either:

“Do you Promote Gambling, Dating or Viagra Campaigns?
Yes, we don’t care what the website, product or service is that we are promoting. ”

But, get this, their services are completely and unequivocally NOT SPAM. Ok?

“Legality
We do not “spam” forums or emails. We use an automated system that registers on hundreds of thousands of forums for legit accounts and posts your custom messages automatically. “

Funny that. I could have sworn that sending out an automated system posting hundreds of messages out on random forums and blogs without any thought for the content is, well, spam.

You can take a tin of spam, put a label on it and call it ham. But it’ll still be spam inside. The same goes for the online version. No matter how many times you say “hey, this isn’t spam” doesn’t change the product in front of you. Spam. Or, as Helen Lawrence rather nicely lists it:

“There are a zillion things wrong with this.

  1. It’s spam. Spam, spam, spam, spam. Forums are not the place for marketing messages.
  2. Contrary to their site’s claims, this kind of activity will actually push you down lower in search rankings.
  3. Even if forums were the place to send out marketing messages how the hell are you supposed to monitor 10,000 possible conversations (most of which will be ‘fuck off’) and gain any insight from it? Just attack and leave, what kind of relationship is that? Don’t go into a forum if you’re not being honest and you don’t have anything to offer other than a promotional message.
  4. It’s spam.
  5. It’s spam.
  6. It’s spam
  7. Its’ spam

Oh, I’m so angry. How does this kind of rubbish still exist? Why do people still think that forum spamming offers any kind of result other than just pissing people off?”

The sad thing is there are probably a few brands or businesses who’ve decided to get a web presence and think this is a surefire way to get attention for their product on the web. Well, yes, it will. But only if you want to appear in Google rankings having people yell “Spam” and much worse next to your name.

Frankly, I’d have no sympathy if any company goes down this route and finds it backfiring on them. If you’re that stupid about your approach to online PR and marketing, then you probably deserve bad Google karma.

I try not to swear often on this blog (a policy that’s not anywhere near as successful in real life). I always feel that, unless you’re particularly good with your profanity, swearing kind of undermines your argument.

But when even Helen, whose blog is a lovely, friendly, excitable happy place that often comes with recipes for bacon brownies and lusting after McFly, feels compelled to describe them as spammy cunts, I think I’ll make an exception. So Demya, I’d just like to say that you’re an absolute bunch of spamming cunts and I’d quite like you to take your service, shove it up your arse, and fuck off while you’re doing it. Kthnxbai.

Hazel, have you seen what’s happening over the pond?

Just as stopped clocks tell the correct time twice a day, so a politician occasionally makes a valid point without perhaps realising it, often because it’s difficult to distinguish from the rest of the words that tumble from the mouth and make little sense.

Hazel Blears’ speech on blogging and the internet is a prime example of a politician just simply not getting how social media works, but there’s also a couple of interesting points in there. We’ll come to those later, but chief amongst the proclamations is this gem:

“But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

“Until political blogging ‘adds value’ to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.”

Christ alone knows exactly what she’s on about here when she talks about ‘adding value’. Blogs that are on message? That agree with the government line? That don’t insult politicians?

Maybe I’ve missed the point, but I always thought blogging allowed new voices (anybody can start a blog and get involved), new ideas, legitimate protest and challenge. I thought that was blogging in a nutshell, and one of the joys about it – that it encouraged new ideas, and developed those ideas through comment and discussion.

If you’re interested in politics, you can still start a blog even if you’ve got no connection to any political party or come from a particularly political background. Which, given that she’s also trying to get more people from outside the political class involved in politics (one thing I do agree with her on), you’d have thought would be an ideal place to start to look to re-engage a cynical public.

As for the cynicism and despair, then perhaps Blears best look closer to home. It’s difficult not to be cynical and despair of large swathes of what this government does. Not that either of the other two parties seem a great deal better, but the cynicism, despair and malaise set in long ago. Blogs mainly reflect that. If blogging had been around on a large scale back in 1997, it would have been no surprise if an outgoing Tory minister had uttered similar words.

She does, however, raise an interesting point when she says:

“Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?”

It’s not a completely daft hypothesis, even if the main blogs she mentions – Gudio, Iain Dale, etc – are hardly representative of all political blogs. They just happen to be the ones that, rightly or wrongly, get the most mentions in the mainstream media.

There’s also plenty of left-leaning blogs who are also fed up with this government, as Unity points out:

“It’s all very well flagging up that its only around half a dozen right-wing blogs, at most, who’ve been putting up the big traffic numbers and suggesting that this is ’simply anti-establishment’ and due to blogging having emerged only during the period in which Labour has been in office, but if that’s what she’s thinking then how does she account for the fact that most of the leading liberal and left-wing blogs are equally anti-establishment across a range of key issues from Iraq through to the government’s near-constant assaults on civil liberties and the systematic construction of the database state.

The problem that the current government has isn’t that there’s a general lack of popular or influential left-of-centre blogs, its that its policies on Iraq, etc. cost it the support of the vast majority of major players in the left-of-centre blogosphere, most of whom are at least semi-detached from the Labour Party if not operating fully within a broad ‘independent left’ category.”

It’s telling that when you compare the attitude of British politicians to the internet with their American counterparts, we come across as a lot less enlightened. Hell, a large part of Barack Obama’ success was built on the fact he managed to mobilise support online across the country:

“You know the executives that balk at implementing social media campaigns, well Barack Obama and John McCain showed that social media is no passing fad. Both candidates embraced blogs, social networks and Web video

***

The Obama campaign created a social network, MyBarackObama, on its official Web site. Members of that network at times criticized the candidate over his various positions.”

So while Obama, and the 72-year-old John McCain were busy getting their message out online, listening to their core support and, if necessary, modifying policies, this government is busy looking for more ways to regulate the internet and follow every part of our lives online.

Is it any wonder that this country is a bit disillusioned with politics, especially online, when it can look across at America and see how politicians are actually trying to engage with voters? As I’ve said, had this been 1997, there’s a good chance we could have been seeing a similar reaction to Tony Blair as we have to Barack Obama.

Tom Watson’s mentioned in the article. Although I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of his politics, I do wish his own party would look at what he’s doing online and even consult him occasionally on any policies towards the internet, as he’s one of the (sadly) very few MPs who seem to remotely get social media.

Research, people, research

It’s a brave PR who’d pitch to the Devil’s Kitchen blog. It’s a particularly stupid one who, when emailing said blogger, gets basic information in that email concerning one of the most profanity-filled blogs on the internet so badly wrong:

Here’s a tip for you PR people out there (especially given that I am disinclined to punt your clients’ products simply because you ask**): if you want me to plug your product, may I suggest that you actually get the name of my blog correct?

Under the circumstances, the Devil was surprisingly restrained.

Seeing pitches like this posted on blogs like that annoys me. Not because it’s been posted, but because it makes the rest of us working in similar fields look bad, and suggests the majority of PRs don’t know their blogging arse from their internet elbow.

Cold-pitching to bloggers is a tad unnerving, as you never know how they’re going to react. A lot of PRs I know are still a tad reluctant to engage precisely for the reason, and when they get pulled up online about to, use that as an excuse to ignore social media communities altogether.

Their loss.

At the risk of sounding like a long-playing record, pitching to bloggers isn’t hard. It’s the same as pitching to journalists, just in a different medium and with a slightly different technique.

You wouldn’t email, say, Zoo magazine and address it to Loaded. Or to the Sunday Times Travel Section to suggest a piece for the Guardian. And neither would you send the same pitch for the same product to the Sunday Times as you would to Zoo.

The same goes for bloggers. Each blogger is different, has different likes and dislikes and there’s normally enough information on the blog to give you a good idea of what they’re likely to be interested in, and if they’re likely to take a pitch badly.

So in the case of The Devil’s Kitchen, even a cursory glance will tell you of an interest in politics, libertarianism, alcohol, and Apple products. And while he may come across as an angry young blogger, there’s also a lot of humour and incredibly well-argued pieces on his blog.

This could all be worked out in half an hour, although if I’m pitching to bloggers, I like to spend at least a week reading around their writings to get a good feel for the site – it helps if you know who you’re pitching to. And the better you know your blogger, the better – and, more importantly – and more relevant it’ll be.

It’s not rocket science. It’s simply modifying dealings with journalists and bringing them into a more Web 2.0 way of working. And if you’re scared of having your pitch torn to pieces on a blog, I’d suggest you lack confidence in said pitch. If it’s well-written, well-researched and you’ve taken time to read and appreciate the blog, life should be a lot smoother.

Bloggers are usually as good as journalists at spotting bad PR. The difference is bloggers have an instant medium to detail the worst examples of PR. Journalists tend not to (although there are a few instances in my journalism career where the PR was so bad that blogging about it would have been very cathartic).

Some may be scared by this. Personally, I think it’s a great reason for all PR professionals to use the web as an excuse to up their game, assuming they haven’t already.


del.icio.us

Top Posts

RSS What I’m Twittering about

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
April 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Throw letters together and send them to me

Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com