Social Media Killing PR?

December 9, 2008

Just a few months ago, when the days were bathed in sun, the evenings were true Hot August Nights, the Dave Matthews Band was on tour, and people were lighting Bar B Qs, Michael Arrington at TechCrunch was igniting his own fire in a post called The PR Roadblock On The Road To Blissful Blogging. Dave and his boys are now at home, it’s cold in Seattle, dark by 4:30pm, but the Arrington fire still burns like a Los Angeles wildfire fueled by Santa Ana winds. The issue is eloquently positioned by Kara Swisher from the WSJ/AllThingsD: Is Social Media Killing PR (Or Maybe Vice Versa). This was the title of a well attended panel last week in San Francisco.

At the core of this debate is what impact social media has on the PR landscape and the communications industry as a whole. For those of you who know me, you know I am not a fan of PR people – I really don’t like most the PR folks I’ve met. Why? Well for one I feel PR people worry more about saying the “right thing” vs. speaking the truth. They use speaking points to push their agenda rather than invite a dialogue. They’d rather be right than genuine. And they want to be liked so badly that they’ll not push back or set expectations for fear that it may upset the client, reporter, or blogger. It’s for many of the same reasons the blogging community doesn’t love PR folk.

Jeremiah Oywang from Forrester made a brilliant comment about the issue of PR and social media at last week’s panel. He said “it’s not about technology or tools, it’s about listening”. Brilliant. Yes it’s about listening and respecting what the bloggers need, want, and don’t want. Many PR people are so used to only “pitching” that they don’t recognize the pressure-pitch is totally ineffective when playing in the social media space. (I am opposed to any pitch that isn’t based on real facts, with real customers, with real outcomes, with real people who will really talk). And further, it amazes me how many PR people do not take the time to read what bloggers (and reporters) actually write. Hello? Is this not PR 101 – know your audience.

I get a kick out of how defensive PR people are when topics circulate that call into question the PR industry. Message boards fill, email volleys start, and the race to “position” begins. What’s so troubling about all of it is that most PR people don’t really care – they use the topic du jour as another opportunity to sound smart and ultimately try to generate new business. Ever seen a fish pulled from the water and flop around on a dock? That’s what it reminds me of watching agency heads get on message boards and blah, blah, blah, blah. Why don’t PR people understand that MOST people don’t care what PR people have to say? Our job is help our clients and reporters – not promote ourselves.

I hope the fire Arrington started continues to burn for the foreseeable future. I don’t blame those bloggers for wanting a world where they don’t need to deal with PR folks. But, I am an optimist and believe that we can all get along. PR people need to just take a breath, chill, and focus on helping the blogger – not pandering to them or hustling them. PR folks should focus on the familiar language they use everyday in silly client quotes: make sure the bloggers are “thrilled, excited, and pleased” with the value us flacks provide.

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