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PR: Only As Good As Our Weakest Link

PR: Only As Good As Our Weakest Link

You remember the saying “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” right? It’s an expression used to convey the message that even the best at something are often lumped in with the worst at something. That expression applies nicely as we talk about the field of public relations.

PR practitioners come in all shapes and sizes: some are great, some aren’t, and some are downright bad. Since this is the Blog Herald, I want to focus my attention online. When we look at how public relations is being done online, we need only look at how it’s being used in the social media space. More communications efforts are targeting online media outlets and bloggers, which means PR people like myself are going to be asked to deliver on blogger relations campaigns. The term “blogger relations” is just a term cooked up to describe PR for bloggers. It’s not traditional PR because bloggers aren’t the mass media. It’s difficult to describe what “blogger relations” actually are because it hasn’t been a glowingly successful part of PR practitioners jobs yet.

Edelman are the PR firm at the forefront of online PR and “blogger relations”. When Business 2.0 released their 101 Dumbest Moments in Business 2006, Edelman found themselves peppered throughout the list (in all fairness, they do represent Wal-Mart, which is no easy task). From “Wal-Mart Across America” to the Vista/Laptop dust up, Edelman have been involved in virtually all of the high-profile blogger-relations efforts.

As I’ve heardMark Evans say, Edelman are on the bleeding edge of this stuff, so they’re bound to make mistakes. Their mistakes are the biggest and, depending on your perspective, the best or the worst mistakes they could possibly be making. The fact that Edelman are learning on the fly is great for Edelman – they’re going to benefit in the long run, and they will lead the rest of the industry into a new era of communications. The short-term result is that Edelman end up hurting the industry’s image because a firm like Edelman are extremely high profile and are bound to make news when things turn sour or secrets are uncovered.

On a smaller scale in the online space, PR practitioners are making some big mistakes.

Bloggers are a tricky bunch. As a PR practitioner, it’s great to be a blogger because I know what I do and don’t want to find in my email inbox. I don’t get pitched a lot, but when I do, I’m ultra critical. As my colleague Michael O’Connor Clarke has said, the majority of bloggers are less interested in the content of a pitch than they are fascinated by the fact that they have been pitched. And bloggers are much smarter than the bad PR practitioners give them credit for. They will know if you’re reading their blog or if you’re wildly throwing stuff at a wall hoping it’s going to stick.

An example of bad, bad blogger relations that should be easy to relate to is a personal one. I’m being a bit harsh, but just yesterday I had someone from a place called Clutch Media post a comment to my basketball blog. At the time, this post was the most recent one on my page. Here’s the comment I received on a post I wrote linking to someone else’s hilarious post about Yao Ming and The Office:

Hey Chris, this may be of great interest to you…Remember Air Jordan 20 years ago… He’s Vintage Already! Word on the street is that Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co. and Nike have teamed up to recreate the jersey MJ wore in the 1987 Slam Dunk competition, commemorating the 20th anniversary of his first slam dunk title when he took off from the foul line and bested Dominique Wilkins. The authentic vintage jersey is a ’87 Chicago Bulls road red with MJ’s #23 in black font. Apparently the jersey will be manufactured to the exact specification of the original and will include special labeling to reflect the order in which it was produced….only be 500 of these bad boys will be made.

According to CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell’s blog… “they come encased in a white handmade wooden collector’s box with faux lizard skin interior. The jersey will be unveiled next week in Las Vegas — the site of the NBA All-Star Game — and will be sold in 23 selected outlets, including the NBA Store in New York City and various Niketown outlets.”

Wow, this is also the first time a non-Nike product will be feature in Niketown outlets.

My criticisms:

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* The comment has nothing to do with the content of my post. Clearly, this is someone who does not read my blog.
* The comment isn’t even a “comment” per se – it’s a chunk of a press release pasted into my comments section.
* The commenter, InsideScoop23, did not post a link under the URL portion of the comments section.
* The commenter, InsideScoop23, chose to not use his real name, instead choosing InsideScoop23.
* There is no action item, no “Chris, I would like you to do this,” or “Chris, this is so interesting I think you should write about it”.
* InsideScoop23 did not disclose that he is from Clutch Media, who are working on the promotion he talks about ad nauseum.
* There is nothing of interest to me in the “comment”. It’s not like he said “Would you be interested in receiving one of these products?” which would have, at the very least, helped.

In short, this guy spammed me. He didn’t read what I had to say. He disrespected me on my own blog. As a blogger, I take that very personally. Does InsideScoop23 think I’m going to turn around and write a post about this? Assuming he did, why didn’t he just come out and ask me to write a post on it?

I understand that not every PR practitioner is going to understand what blogger relations are, at least not now. There will come a time when this is just as important as media relations. I really believe that because in such a short time, blogging has proven itself to be extremely influential. Every story “breaks” online first because television and print just can’t keep up.

As an industry, we need to be doing more than what InsideScoop23 did. Clearly, some of us aren’t doing our jobs right. We’re all going to make mistakes, but at what point will we be able to learn from them and shed our old, ignorant ways? Personally, I find it more than just ignorant – I find it disrespectful.

I hate to lump anyone in with InsideScoop23, but we’re only as strong as our weakest link, and this person’s blogger relations are extremely weak. We’re better than this. Let’s prove it.

Chris Clarke works at Thornley Fallis, a PR firm in Toronto, Canada. He also blogs at Student PR about public relations and social media.

View Comments (6)
  • Nice post. Yes, Edelman’s fumbles have hurt the PR industry. They are the weakest link. Their tag line is “Pioneer Thinking”. Dialing the Donner wagon train.

  • Great post, Chris.

    I don’t know if Bloggers are any smarter than anyone else, but I think you’re right — we might be a little more critical than other journalists perhaps because our blogs are *our* space.

    We blog for many reasons, but to have comments open means that you want to start a dialogue. Spamming the comments section is like leaving a pile of flaming poop on your doorstep: its a smelly mess that contributes nothing and needs to be disposed of quickly.


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