Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article (Or, Is Gawker Destroying Journalism?)

Okay we’re not Gawker but I couldn’t resist using the headline that Ian Shapira, a reporter for The Washington Post, suggested to them for a story he wrote about how outlets like Gawker are killing journalism.

Aptly titled, “The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition),” Shapira writes about how he was at first elated when Gawker, “the snarky New York culture and media Web site,”  blogged about his story in that day’s Washington Post. However – after showing the coup to his editor who replied, “They stole your story. Where’s your outrage, man?” – he began to grow more and more “disenchanted with the journalism business.”

In an effort to not also steal and reprint Shapira’s story, I’ll just link to it for you to read in full. The reason I mention the story here is that, as PR professionals, it’s important for us to pay attention not only to what reporters are writing and working on, but what they are facing in their own industry. (Shapira’s lament on how long it took him to research and write the article, as compared to how long it took Gawker to write their synopsis of it – and what the income for such a Gawker reporter is – is particularly interesting.)

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As our own industry has been under fire lately, so too has that of the media – one of the biggest and most important constituents to a PR professional’s job. We need to pay attention – the transparent nature of the Internet – particularly digital content and social media – is shifting the careers of both journalists and PR executives, and it will be interesting to see where we all end up.

In fact, another recent example of this shifting landscape came in the form of  YouTube’s “News Near You” – explained in this New York Times article today. “News Near You” allows news outlets that have signed up with YouTube to post news packages and split the revenue from the advertisements that appear with them. 

If you’d like to further explore the topic of journalism’s shifting landscape (in particular, of course, “how Gawker is destroying journalism”), Ian Shapira will be online to chat with readers at 11 a.m. Tuesday. You are invited to submit your questions before or during the discussion.

The Article I Want to Read on PR

Yesterday morning I woke up to the same New York Times article that the rest of the PR industry did – although I had known that it was coming. Whenever there’s an article on our industry, it seems to cause a huge hoopla – I guess we’re not used to being the ones in the spotlight – so I suppose I would be remiss to not mention it. I sat on it for a day to decide what I wanted to say and I’ve concluded that I’m not going to give my assessment of the article or the PR strategy because a) that’s been done and b) we have a connection to one of the subjects in the article, Brooke Hammerling, in that we share a client and I wouldn’t want any of my comments to be misconstrued.

Instead, I’ll say here’s the article I would have rather read – or would like to see someone take the time to write – about PR. Let’s follow the next PR subject and his or her clients around for a good six months to a year. Let’s get past the launch phase and the initial hoopla (if done well), and watch how the PR team tackles strategy during the tougher times. Let’s follow a PR executive or firm that has to promote completely new concepts and companies, vs one that works for say, Facebook or Microsoft. And let’s see what else PR executives do besides “spin.”

Hell, let’s see if PR executives even know strategy, right? Michael Arrington says in his post on the subject that we (PR executives) just “Smile, Dial, Name Drop and Pray,” that we’re “frustrated by always being in the back seat” and that we’re just “there to spin whatever happened in the most favorable light possible.” Jason Calacanis has said in the past that anyone can do it and you should fire your PR firm. Robert Scoble says in his post that “PR companies haven’t figured out yet that the traffic has moved onto social networks and that journalists and influencers are watching those like a hawk.”

First of all, some of us have, Robert, and have likewise been involved in these social networks for years. Secondly, these are all yet again sweeping statements – sparked by the moves of one PR person and then applied to the whole of our industry. They are also very focused on one thing: coverage. Even if Ms. Hammerling’s strategy was to leave the tech blogs out and instead garner online mentions from the “Who’s Who” of tech, the story still began with “Ms. Hammerling, while popping green apple Jolly Ranchers into her mouth, suggests a press tour…” And anytime bloggers and reporters seem to assess the PR industry, the viewpoints usually only take into account only that one element of what our job is – and that one thing that happens to be what they do for a living: writing on and assessing products, services and companies (and I include blogs in that).

But let’s remember – I’ve said it before – PR is so much more than media coverage – it’s more than promoting a product or service. It’s more than pitching and praying, smiling and dialing or spinning and dancing. And it’s much, much more than name dropping. (Just for the record, I’ve never been much of a name dropper – I know the right people to reach when it’s important and if I don’t, I’ll quickly find out – and I seem to be doing “ok.” As I have written in the past, my approach is not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – journalists or otherwise. The “meaningful” way is what traditional PR agencies are struggling with – it doesn’t exactly fit the “process, repeat” model of yesteryear that likely sparks comments such as Arrington’s “smile and dial” assessment.)

Arrington is right when he says PR executives aren’t who a CEO calls “when wondering what she should do next to drive her business forward.” However, to imply that we as an industry do not influence our clients’ “strategic actions”at all is inaccurate. In fact, we do help to shape the directions of some business decisions based on what we believe the communications outcome or impact will be. We have helped to name companies, products, events and even product categories. We very carefully think about timing – and influence business actions based on it and a host of other elements. We help tongue-tied entrepreneurs to better communicate not only with customers or partners, but with  media, analysts, employees and even VCs. To focus on media coverage or “influencer” tours – or just this one PR strategy from Ms. Hammerling – as “the new world of promoting start-ups” is telling only part of the story.

So again, I’d love to someday see a real analysis of the PR industry – more than a press tour, more than a product launch, more than a stereotypical pretty blonde executive working the room at a trade show. How about the daily life of a PR executive handling both small start ups and major corporations – and how the PR strategy for each not only exists, but entails much more than reaching out to media and bloggers, and how such strategies for each type of client varies greatly. And I’d prefer that the story show different types of PR executives so we don’t end up with another Lizzie Grubman MTV-style show representing our entire industry.

Tom Foremski Takes a Closer Look at the Changing PR Industry

A while ago we wrote a post asking readers what they thought the PR industry could be doing better. I’ll be honest, I was a little dissapointed with the return – only a few readers commented. So I’m hoping now that Tom Foremski – veteran business journalist, author of Silicon Valley Watcher and host of Fridays with Foremski – is asking, more business, tech and marketing industry executives will pay attention and speak up.

Tom regularly writes on business, technology and media – including many posts about what the PR industry is doing – both right and wrong. One of his most recent PR musings, “The New Rules in PR – The Old Model is Dead,” reflects on how “the PR industry has run out of road.” This particular post caught my eye because he talks about social media – “there is no such thing as social media” – and what PR agencies are seeing change as a result.

Tom is turning this post into a series over the next couple of weeks, where he’ll taking a closer look at these changes. He says “I’m particularly interested in the extent of ‘social media’ expertise among the PR agencies. I’ll be looking to see who in the agencies is active in blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, etc. Is it the senior people or is it junior staff? How often do they update, how much traffic do they get? What’s the quality of their content?”

So please, clients, prospects, partners, readers, industry colleagues – speak up. Let Tom know your opinion and thoughts on the changing PR industry and whether you think these types of activities are important. Are PR firms delivering good content? Do they understand how and where to promote it?  What do you expect from your agency these days? What’s going well, what’s missing? What keeps you up at night when you think about your own PR campaigns?

I’m sure he’d be happy to hear from you – and smart agencies will heed his findings. I know I’ll be paying close attention.