Do as I say – Not as I do; and Musings about Foolish PR People.

July 9, 2009

It’s July 9th, really? Where has the time gone? Per the title of this post I am officially branding myself, at least this week, a blog hypocrite. I counsel our clients that blogs are a great way to provide a sense of voice and keep things fresh and interesting. I encourage my beloved clients to blog and blog often. Then I look at my track record and say “oops”. It’s actually the second time this week I’ve said “do as I say not as I do” – the first was to my nearly 16-year old son as we were doing practice loops around the hood with him in the driver’s seat. Remember what it was like learning to drive? With your parent sitting next to you saying do this don’t do that – 10 and 2, etc?

It’s been a busy month and I have a few thoughts I wanted to share on the PR front. First I wanted to share an experience that’s always fun that I did last week. I went back to the University of Washington to chat with a first-year PR class of 30 students. It’s really great to see people interested in getting into the field but also somewhat sobering knowing that for many they’ll find “the biz” to be nothing like they thought. I gave my favorite preso (if you can call it that) titled “Why Most PR People Suck”. This was something I put together a few years ago with the help of reporters from national and major metro dailies about things PR people do that irritate them. I hope that my honesty and no BS approach was refreshing and that I left them with things to think about beyond what’s found in their academic PR books. I also brought BPR’s Lindsey with me to provide a younger (much) perspective on what the world of PR is really all about. A year ago Linds would not leave us alone at BPR – she was determined to join our team and put to use her WSU Comm School education. Anyway – visiting the UW was great, I just wish there was a way for students to come right out of school with the skills needed to add-value almost instantly in an agency environment. Perhaps a course on Client Management would be in order!! The UW could have students from the drama department come in and play the role of client; students could work on setting expectations and giving great counsel which doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything. Speaking of saying YES to everything did you happen to see the article over the weekend in the New York Times about the PR Diva in the Bay area? If not you can find it here: http://bit.ly/K6ruV

The NYT piece focuses on the launch of a company called Wordnik and the PR counsel from a woman named Brooke Hammerling. I don’t know anything about Brooke other than what I’ve read over the past 48 hours including multiple references to her being a “PR Hottie”, but what I do know is that she made a big mistake by not pushing back on the VC who disagreed with her plan to brief top-tier outlets including TechCrunch, All Things Digital, and GigaOM. Apparently I’m not alone – at all – in thinking Brooke lost sight of the greater-good for her client and chose the path of least resistance when dealing with the client’s financial backer. Here is what Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has to say about this in his piece The Reality of PR: Smile. Dial. Name Drop, Pray. : http://bit.ly/QVK6z

Someone else who had a thought on this is my favorite music industry blogger/pundit Bob Lefsetz, http://www.lefsetz.com. Here is what Bob had to say about Brooke’s mistakes:
Rule one of public relations, don’t have your story told by the media! Let me be clear here. If you need the media to boost your appeal, go for it, cope with the carnage. But if you’re already making a living, don’t you know media hype is going to kill you? I know Brooke Hammerling, not personally, but the good-looking girl who flirts and climbs on her good looks…every guy knows her. Oh, don’t cry sexism. Women in business can triumph without trading on their sexuality. But a Google pic search will show you that Brooke Hammerling is much better looking than the average bear, and all those men fawning over her…that’s an age old game.

I wasn’t in the room when Brooke allowed herself to be steamrolled by the VC but I feel she’s made a few critical mistakes that I’d expect from a PR rookie, not a seasoned veteran. First why did she just cave? Why did she not push-back and explain how influential those “cynics” are and why it’s important to embrace them? And beyond all that, why in the world did she agree to have this story told at all – let alone in the New York Times???!!!! The irony of this is the results Brooke secured for her client weren’t that impressive overall, and her story has eclipsed whatever she’s done for Wordnick. This is what I don’t understand about so many PR people – they are whores for attention. The best thing we PR people can do is shut-up, unless of course we’re promoting our clients. Nothing good can come from a PR person talking to the media about their PR business. Focus, focus, focus on doing great work for the client – if you do that everything else will take care of itself. And since we’re on the topic of whores for attention there was one more PR misstep that happened this weekend by another PR gal who refers to herself as The Most Famous Publicist. Charmaine Blake, a Hollywood publicist, apparently wasn’t getting enough attention from her date, John Ratzenberger, so she sent an on the -fly Media Alert letting press know where she was dinning with the Cheers actor and how long she’d be there. You can see her “brilliance” at http://defamer.gawker.com/5305080/the-best-and-worst-press-release-of-all+time

Perhaps I should send Brooke and Charmaine my slides from the UW about why most PR people suck?

–Howie

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