Media Should Say No To Max

24 03 2009

It is time for the British media to end their unholy alliance with the publicist Max Clifford.  Max plies his trade by doing deals and peddling untruths, he says so himself and I have witnessed it at first hand.  

If Max wants to be part of the story then his own integrity should come under press scrutiny.  During the sad demise of Jade Goody he was ever present but I have never seen him asked or answering the question as to whether his normally substantial fees have gone towards Jade’s estate or the future of her family.

The public relations industry has never been particularly celebrated for its ethics.  In fact we PR people are right up there with politicians and journalists in terms of how our honesty is often perceived.  To some extent we only have ourselves to blame and in part it is because we allow the line between Public Relations advisers and publicists to become blurred.  Public Relations is a strategic marketing discipline, whereas publicity is a rather more straightforward activity that more readily accepts compromise.  In some cases both publicists and journalists have gone along with the old maxim to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  

At the heart of the social web is the concept of transparency. The access that it affords should mean we are at the beginning of the end for publicists like Clifford.

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Guardian’s Rusbridger on Twitter

20 03 2009

Alan Rusbridger the Editor of the Guardian has started to twitter.  Along the the Telegraph’s William Lewis he is blazing the trail for major newspaper editors in using the microblogging social network*. It should be of little surprise that he is leading the way.  Many of  his colleagues at the paper are avid users and the Guardian itself is redefining media concepts.  The Guardian is no longer just a newspaper. It is a trusted media brand that delivers audio, video, web content as well as a daily, dead wood and ink edition.

When the Guardian re-launched itself in the smaller Berliner format in 2005,  Rusbridger said that the Guardian website was cannibalising newspaper readership and that this was a factor in the prior fall in the paper’s circulation.  He also said something else that provided a fascinating insight into the future of national daily newspapers.  The new format required the purchase of new printers at some considerable cost; £62 million, £12 million more than the paper had budgeted.  Rusbridger apparently said that he thought they would be the last printers that the paper bought.  

This blog is a companion to the book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ available now from Amazon which examines the changing media landscape and its continuing evolution.  

 * Amended after Mick Fealty’s comment  correcting the original assertion.





Advice to Hacks from a Flack

6 02 2009

Ever wondered why PR people are sometimes called flacks?  No, me neither but come to think of it I’ve dodged some in my time as a PR person and too often from journalists.  

This post was inspired partly by a really interesting piece from the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur and partly as a result of a dare from fellow PR person Megan Codling  (some of us can be quite wary of the press….seriously).  Charles’s post was the first time I have ever seen a  journalist acknowledge the fact that we are advocates for our clients and paymasters.  We are in thrall to the media too but the relationship should be mutually beneficial.  So, swallowing hard, here are a few tips for the fourth estate: 

  • Don’t let fly when you get a call from a PR person about a story you are not interested in.  Politely and firmly let them know.  They may well be lacking in experience and sometimes even judgement but they have summoned up the courage to call you and they’ve probably been polite.
  • When you get something you don’t want by e-mail (or DM) click delete and chill.  Don’t get annoyed because there is an attachment or the story isn’t up your street.  We strive to send you what you want but we don’t always get it right and often we are under pressure too. 
  • Resist the urge to take us down a peg or three.  Most PR people have a great deal of respect for who you are and what you do (and sometimes a well developed sense of inferiority).  It tends to evaporate when you turn up the heat.
  • Believe it or not we counsel clients on what they should release to the media.  We have to develop a keen news sense and we work hard to dissuade clients from issuing non-news
  • Work with us, we can be a very useful resource, we will endeavour to respond swifly with words,  images or a good interviewee.  We really don’t expect you to use what we give you verbatim.  We know the value of your endorsement and we strive for it but we don’t expect it.

Let me know what you think, whichever side of the fence that you sit on.  Let’s have a heated debate.





Are Bloggers Journalists?

22 01 2009

If blogging is citizen journalism then bloggers are citizen journalists, which by definition is a form of journalism.  Blogger relations might then have much in common with media relations.

I argued this case or something much akin to it in a lecture I gave for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in May 2008 at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

I had pursued this argument before with little opposition but when the Q&A section came round my argument hit a wall.  Richard Bailey, an academic blogger and university lecturer at Leeds took me to task on this view and Chris Norton Account Director at Wolfstar supported his assertion that blogger relations and media relations are very different. 

The two points of view can be broadly summarised thus:

The case for the prosecution

  • Bloggers don’t like and seldom use press releases
  • Bloggers are generally of independent mind and blog because they want to express their own views and opinions and not those of others
  • Blogs are not edited in the traditional sense and therefore can not be considered to be media in the conventional sense
  • Many blogs simply don’t have an audience
  • We have to engage with bloggers in a different way involving more dialogue and discussion

The case for the defense

  • Journalists don’t much like press releases either and never did.
  • I’ve met some pretty independent minded journalists in my time.  If in doubt read Nick Davies’s excellent ‘Flat Earth News’.  He’s man of independent mind (although he describes others that are not). 
  • The difference between blogs and ‘traditional media’ on line is becoming blurred.  The process of editing creates authority but it does not mean that blogs can’t be authoritative.  

I modified my view after listening to both Richard and Chris but I do believe there is a significant amount of common ground in how we approach the most influential bloggers and how we have deal with journalists who fit the more traditional mould.  I imagine however that the debate will run and run.





Blogger Engagement #1

16 12 2008

Newspaper Boat by marcelgermain.A term frequently used in digital PR circles is ‘blogger engagement’.   Although many blogs are a form of participatory journalism they tend regard themselves as different from mainstream journalism.  Some bloggers are in fact journalists who see blogging as a channel for communicationg their views and opinions directly to the audience without editorial interference.

There has been much debate in PR circles as to whether bloggers are the new journalists.  Personally I think it is interesting that many of the people that say blogging is not journalism also say that digital PR is more or less the same as old style public relations.  Neither is wholly true.

There are thousands of bloggers and most have little relevance or influence.  For many of these people if it is simply about the pleasure and excitement of being able to self publish. For those that operating at the apex of the pyramid I believe that the similarity between what they do and what a good journalist does bears a great deal of scrutiny.

But as author and blogger David Meerman Scott says “Bloggers are not the same as journalists. We don’t have editors telling us what to do. We write about what interests us and we are always on the lookout for things to share.  But it is not our job to write about you and your stuff.”





New Rules of Engagement

4 12 2008

 

The rules of engagement for PR people have changed with the arrival of user generated content.  If media owners no longer entirely control the content then the principles of PR must change.  The Guardian newspaper has been a prime movers in adapting its product on line.  The recent attacks in Mumbai proved that at the outset there will always be individuals closer to the action than journalists.  The Guardian has made it possible for these individuals to add material and for it to be viewed alongside the work of more conventional journalists.  The commentisfree element of the site the newspaper also permits anyone to add their individual views and opinions.  The Guardian receives over 10,000 postings a day to their site.   This ceding of control by papers means that PR people need to extend their contacts beyond those with journalists. 

Brand rules have also changed.  The first wave of corporate websites were essentially electronic brochures but today the most successful corporate websites engage with their users.  A travel operator that sees the Internet as merely an extension of the holiday brochure with beautiful pictures, flowery copy and no consumers comment will be doomed to ever dwindling site traffic.   Any operator in the sector will also be aware that sites like Tripadvisor play a key role in the holiday booking process for many travellers and that is where the conversations are taking place.





The Press Under Pressure

30 11 2008

 

Newspapers are in the process of re-inventing themselves as news brands.  In the future they will have to provide news across a variety of platforms, as many already do using podcasts and video as well as on-line editions.  

In 2005, the editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger provided an insight into the future of national daily newspapers. Launching a new format for the paper the organisation had purchased new printers – Rusbridger said that he believed they would be the last printers that the paper bought.  This suggests a future for the Guardian and others that will not involve paper at all. 

Falling circulation figures for national newspapers in the UK will mean that some will close others perhaps will merge.  Either way in five years time or maybe sooner we will have fewer national daily newspapers than we do now. 

The news brands may continue but their existence will be a digital one. The 100 year old publication The Christian Science Monitor announced in October that they will move from a print edition to daily and weekly email editions as well as an enhanced weekly digital publication.   

The decline in print newspapers is bound to accelerate.








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