Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why We Get So Little Respect.

Would You Rather Sell Second Hand Cars than Call on Editors?

There are a number of professions that get no respect in this country and ours, the PR practitioner, is high on the list. I’ll get into the others in a moment, but for now let’s look at what we do, why we do it and why it’s important to keep on doing it.

We create the opportunity for dialog around any topic. We offer a defense for what some may consider the indefensible and set up the parameters for intelligent options to the acceptable situation. Just because some of us have the luxury to work with small cuddly animals, widows and orphans and Gameboys is no reason to look down on the rest of the world.

My most exciting assignment ever was acting as the spokesperson for the Canadian Nuclear Energy business during the days of the Three Mile Island incident. For those of you who might not have been alive at the time, the incident was caused by the operators doing everything in their power to blow up the reactor. Every stupid move in the book was tried, and yet the system held, no one was hurt and the reactor was scrammed with a lot of white knuckles, anxious moments and very bad press. In a later blog I will expound on how to really handle crisis PR, but for now, suffice it to say that I was one of the most unpopular people around.

For three weeks I was accused of all the crimes possible, and I learned a valuable lesson. As long as a fanatic is within sight of a camera or a microphone he can be very obnoxious. The bigger the name, the dumber the attitude. I recall Amory Lovins asking why I was trying to kill his children. An excellent question because at the time I recall thinking that his kids were safe, it was he who was in jeopardy.

The PR person’s job there was to defend nuclear energy in the face of overwhelming attacks. If we had done a better job at that time maybe we would not be faced with the level of global warming and pollution we now are facing. In an ironic twist of fate, nuclear power is now being touted as a clean energy source.

So why take on the unpopular projects? To start with, they may be unpopular, but they are very often vital. They are also a whole lot more fun to handle. There is much more satisfaction in placing an 8-Bit microcontroller in a publication which leads to a breakthrough product being designed than in placing a popular beer in a travel publication.

Finally, unlike the used car salesman, there are no lemon laws in PR. There is only the FD regulations and being able to face oneself in the morning. That’s an occupational hazard in any job on the edge.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why the Blogger, evermore?

There has been a lot of talk recently about the value of bloggers. In the very strict sense of using Public Relations skills to move products, there is little value in going after bloggers. Sites like this one are essentially existential tools for validating our existence, not targets for meaningful campaigns.

Just a few days ago, on a blog called Dead2.0, the writer expounded on the 11 rules that will ensure a successful business. There was nothing intrinsically new on the post, just the wit and wisdom of someone who had obviously been there and done that. What followed was a perfect firestorm from all the self appointed experts in the ways of Web2.0. The comments were as pathetic as they were hilarious. It demonstrated almost to perfection my premise that in the old days, when we did not have to go through the more recent contortions to gaze at our own navels and find them perfect, platitudes such as Dead2.0's recent outburst would have had all our heads wagging in unison. Nowadays, there is a whole legion of self appointed glitterati who support each other's incredibly pedantic reshuffling of obvious truisms.

My opinion has merit because Scoble said so? Hardly, quid est Scoble, we ask? Wherefrom the deep insights from someone who lacks both substance and purpose except possibly self aggrandizement? Used to be that opinions from sources without substance were laughed off the air, nowadays it takes so very little to be famous that anyone can parlay his 15 seconds of fame into a lucrative career. Web2.0 is what again? Dead2.0 may have it right, go play with yourself and other likeminded hominids in that new playground, but never forget that talking to yourself is naught but a monologue among idiots. True business worth comes from the exchange of value between individuals who provide and who perceive value, not vacuous opining amongst peers with no value.

So, if you are truly using PR to promote a business, make damn sure your products do not become one of the blogging billiard balls, bounced from corner to pocket, never to reappear again. And again, judge the value and the time of trying to get those people to look at you. You deserve to pursue better targets, like real journalists with solid knowledge of your market and products.

Of course, that's just my opinion, and worth but the time it took to express it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


1) EDITORS and reporters have very little time, and very little patience.
They also receive, on average, over 200 releases a day from companies all over the world.
CONCLUSION: They will probably not read your release

2) EDITORS are very specialized, and they change their specialty quite often
CONCLUSION: My job is to make sure that each editor receives the information that relates to his specialty

They do not need to submit their stories to you, they do not need your help in writing them, and they will not give you a preview of the story.
CONCLUSION: Either take over the publication, or don’t ask to help.

4) EDITORS are human, and have a need to get their job done quickly and efficiently.
CONCLUSION: The quicker we meet their needs, the quicker we get into print. My job consists in ensuring that we know those needs before we meet, and make sure that we can satisfy them.

5) EDITORS are not interested in advertising.
CONCLUSION: Do not mention advertising

6) STORIES are whatever the editor chooses to make out of your information.
CONCLUSION: Once the story is written, there is no call back, no complaining and no post editorializing.

7) STORIES can be placed into very simple categories, but the editor does the placing.
CONCLUSION: Determine what type of story you are presenting, and accept that the editor will do the categorizing.

8) STORIES are, by order of interest,
fast breaking disasters, slow breaking disasters, people of importance doing important things, new breakthrough products in new categories, older products doing new things, new versions of old products, then the trash news stories that will only be placed by being a nuisance. These include: Strategic alliances between two unimportant companies, me too stories, design wins, personnel changes (Unless the president shoots a VP), following major trends, obscure technical factoids etc…
CONCLUSION: Be realistic when requesting coverage, and place your story in its true category, if you don’t the editor will.

9) STORIES become obsolete the moment they appear anywhere.
CONCLUSION: For maximum effect, do not leak your story to a favorite editor; keep it for a complete roll out.
10) OFF THE RECORD never is.
CONCLUSION: Don’t ask, and never, ever assume.

Peter Brown, Principal
Euro-Marketing Tools

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I have been lucky enough to be in PR for more years than I care to discuss. During those years technologies, products, concepts, people and politics have waxed and waned with crushing regularity. Some cycles have been amazingly fast moving, others would put a glacier to shame, but all have moved with a sense of panic, impending doom and gut wrenching immediacy based on what could be lost to whoever could be the winner. The final analysis is that no matter what the product, what the question and who is on the griddle, the PR reaction remains the same. There is a basic, almost generic, quality that infuses all PR activities.

This blog is dedicated to uncovering the Generic Lessons of PR.

Remember the Japanese peril when they, the shifty Nippon businessmen of yore, were buying up Manhattan? In those days we were all urged to learn Japanese, transfer our allegiance to the Far East and sit back and wait for those ravening hordes to override Pearl Harbor and land in San Francisco. Books were written of Cracking the Japanese Market, well-heeled children were sent to Tokyo on week long field trips and memory chips were the symbolic equivalent to the rape of Nanking. Today it's China and India that have become the havens of rampant capitalism, and Japan is just another country with a big-haired Premier.

During Three Mile Island, I was privileged to be working for a Canadian nuclear power consortium. On my desk came the daily stream of requests for interviews, worried calls for debates and an unending succession of information and misinformation. Crisis control is media management at its finest; it's where reality looks bullshit in the eye and tells it to bug off! Because of the intense scrutiny generated by a truly dangerous situation, my advice was always to tell the truth and deny knowledge when knowledge is unavailable. That has never changed no matter what the crisis.

Basics are the hardest to implement today because we are a society obsessed with fine definitions in a meaningless charade of sameness. Case in point, the whole concept of adequate technology has never been addressed because we need to promote the latest technology in the face of mounting costs and increased dependencies. Working in Africa taught me that answers to problems can be jury rigged in a manner that OSHA would never approve, it also taught me that a 486 PC running Windows 98 powered by a car battery is just as efficient and useful as the latest Intel dual core on a laptop with a dead battery. The first is adequate technology, the second superfluous implementation.