PR: Needed, If Not Loved – and Sorely in Need of Industry Change

I had the pleasure of receiving a complimentary copy of Rafe Needleman’s book, “PRO PR TIPS: Public Relations Advice from a Jaded Journalist” recently. (Thank you to its sponsor, ITDATABASE). This book is a brief and humorous – although sadly accurate – compilation of 100 tips that Rafe started originally as an occasional exasperated Twitter rant, which then became a blog, which now he published as this book. (He’s continuing to add to the blog, however.)

Most of the tips seem obvious. They attempt to help PR pros keep it simple with items such as “Tip #33: So lonely – When I say, ‘I really can’t take a call right now, I’m on deadline, can you e-mail me?’ please do not respond with, ‘But I really want to talk to you.’” or “Tip #11: Ruthless – Don’t take clients you don’t believe in.” Others might be a surprise to certain types of PR executives… such as “Tip #23: Lip Service – Please don’t kiss me. 95% of the time, it’s just awkward.” (Sidenote…kissing journalists? Maybe in Hollywood but not in the real world!)

My personal favorite tip was more of an assessment, really: “Tip #4: Needed, if not loved – No matter what people say, some companies really could use good PR counsel.”

It was good to read this acknowledgment, of course, but it brought me back to the question of why are PR executives so often the subjects of rants and raves? Why is such a seemingly docile profession so often the catalyst for a journalist’s wrath or a bad marketer’s scapegoat? Then I remembered several other items I’ve recently read that showcased exactly why, at least from a journalist’s perspective, PR is “not loved.” Just today, Jennifer Leggio, Social Business Blogger at ZDNet (and in communications herself for Fortinet, where she is the Strategic Communications Director), wrote this post, titled, “Public relations fail: A lesson and a rant.”And last week, Gina Trapani revived her “PR Spammers” wiki, calling out the domain names of agencies who have frustrated her.

So what is the lesson here? The lessons go far beyond the irritations with PR executive’s who kiss hello, spam-like pitches and overzealous jargon. The problem is industry-wide and won’t change until the PR agencies and industry leaders stop and take a serious look at what they’re teaching and doing each day. We’ve got to figure out how to change the archaic business model – how to make a profit without turning PR into a dumbed-down version of email spam because executives are under pressure to “hit” so many media targets (as opposed to working with a few for quality). It all seems so obvious – but the truth is, PR agencies don’t want to invest the time it takes to do the media-relations portion of PR well (the kind that doesn’t have the business world using PR as a dirty word every day.) And until we stop breathing down the necks of account executives about billable hours (and cramming in as much pitching as possible), this won’t change. We need an industry-wide call to action – it’s going to take a village to fix these problems and it’s only going to come in the form of a revised business model for agencies.

With the advent of social media and such public displays of humiliation, PR executives will be forced to choose between keeping the C-suite happy or keeping the journalists happy. Let’s not forget the clients need to be happy, too (although I suspect clients will need to learn to appreciate quality, solid strategy, long term ROI and good reputations over “quick-hit” quantity as well… but that’s another blog post).

We need a change so that the next book Rafe writes has tips like “Tip #4: PR – Needed and Improved. Hooray”

Journalists are People Too – a Q&A with Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet

Yesterday Michael Arrington of TechCrunch created a big amount of buzz – as he has been know to do – with an angry blog post about the PR industry and its failure to do right by embargoes. This blog post is not about that – but it is our first in a series that we’ve been wanting to start, focused on personal Q&As with journalists, bloggers and industry analysts.

You see, there continues to be quite a snarky relationship between the PR world and the world of journalism. There are valid gripes on both sides but one that continues to be mentioned by journalists is that most PR folks don’t build relationships correctly. So this Q&A series is based on getting to know the journalists as the humans they are. No hidden agendas – just good, clean fun.

Thankfully, Jennifer Leggio, a blogger for ZDNet, agreed to be our first interview. You’ll learn things here that might surprise you or give you pause (favorite vacation spot – Long Island?!) but that will definitely make you laugh.

But we can’t guarantee it will help your pitching.

(Oh – and if you are a journalist or blogger that is game to play along and be interviewed, please let us know!)

PPR: You have  multiple roles listed on your Twitter bio – for ZDNet and Fortinet – what do  you do for each and how do you balance it all?

JL: For ZDNet, I write about what I call “social business” — everything from  enterprise 2.0 technology to marketing-focused social media issues. For Fortinet, my official title is director of strategic communications, which  includes managing global industry analyst relations, digital media, security research communications and community engagement. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to balance. My role at Fortinet is always my first and foremost  priority. It’s not only my day job, but I’m passionate about network security  and I take a great amount of pride in my company’s many wins. Which leaves my ZDNet work largely to my personal time and I am happy to make the sacrifice because it’s such a tremendous opportunity. I’m also a heck of  a multi-tasker.

PPR: How  did you become a blogger?

JL: Ironically, I started microblogging before I began blogging. I was on Twitter and thought,  “I should get one of those blog things.” I launched up my Mediaphyter blog and really started digging into social media trends, security and social media, and then launched the  Security Twits, a community of security professionals on Twitter. After that everything is a bit of a blur. I met Ryan Naraine, a ZDNet security blogger at SOURCE  Boston earlier this year and we became friends; stayed in contact via Twitter. ZDNet saw a need to bring in content similar to what I write and Ryan patched me through. I should note that this all started only a year ago; just goes to show the speed and impact of social media. Take that, naysayers.

PPR: We  see you love hockey – do you watch, play or both?

JL: Oh goodness, I can’t play hockey! I can’t even ice skate! I’m one of those know-it-all fans who sits in the stands and screams at my team. I am very passionate about it,  however. Until about four years ago I had never been a fan of any sport. A  co-worker at the time dragged me to a San Jose Sharks game and I fell in absolute, unequivocal, irreversible love.

PPR: What’s the  last book that you read?

JL: I just  finished “SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate” by Joel Postman, which I actually got as a prize at a Silicon Valley tweet-up last week after co-winning a karaoke contest. The humiliation was  worth winning this book. It was a fabulous, educational read. On a more personal note, I read the entire “Twilight” saga from Stephenie Meyer in five days over Thanksgiving. I am such a sucker for handsome fictional  vampires. I’ve now moved onto the “Uglies” series from Scott Westerfeld, thanks to a recommendation from Kevin Marks.

PPR: What’s the coolest tech gadget that you own?

JL: OK, don’t  tell the folks over at ZDNet this, but I am not much of a gadget geek. I am a cyber nerd, Internet geek, and enterprise technology fangirl. So I suppose my  coolest tech gadget is my TomTom portable GPS. I am considering buying a Kindle, though. Does  that count?

PPR: If  you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?

JL: I know I am supposed to wax intellectual with this type of question, but I can’t get away from my honest answer. James Spader. I have had a crush on him since I was  about 12 years old. Something about geeky, cocky eccentricity. If I were to  wax intellectual, I would say Bob Woodward. Like many former journalists (I  worked at daily newspapers from 1993-2000), he was the reason I began my news career pursuits in the first place. I’ve had to settle for being his Facebook  friend, along with 3,000 other people. That’s closer than I’ve gotten with Spader.

PPR: How  many hours a day do you spend in front of the computer?

JL: Let’s see, I wake up every morning between 5-6 a.m., wash up, get on the laptop and write my ZDNet blog of the day, check into work email, then take a shower, get  ready, feed the cat and head into the office. I usually work through lunch at my desk and leave between 5-6 p.m. Come home, pet the cat, make or order dinner, then get back online and catch up on email, and begin outlining my blog post for the next morning, plus miscellaneous day job work. I go to bed  about 10-11 p.m. and read until I fall asleep. I’m afraid if I really add up  the hours I’ll cry. Not every day is like this, of course. I do make it out  for social events every now and then. If I am not  asleep.

PPR: What’s your favorite vacation destination?

JL: For the last couple of years, most of my vacations have been spent in beautiful Long Island, New York. Ah, paradise. I had the fortunate experience to discover some unknown family members a couple of years ago and I take every opportunity I can to immerse myself into their culture (“Old World” Italian) and learn as much about my heritage as I can. What’s funny to me is that I find it easier to relax there than say if I were on a beach somewhere, wishing my BlackBerry were nearby. My family’s quality of life and appreciation for quality time is contagious when I’m around it, and I love the disconnection from chaos  that I experience when I am there.

PPR: What do you  do for fun?

JL: See questions #3,  #4 and #8. Other than reading, hockey games and blogging, I play Wii (wait, is  that a tech gadget?), I like to go wander about trails in the Bay Area with  friends, I play every two weeks or so in a No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker tourney, I’m a huge music fan and I like to go out and see live shows (mostly of the rock persuasion) and I get my laughs at the Improv. That’s about all I have time for right now. In 2009 I hope to bring back some of my other hobbies. Especially those of the outdoor, active variety.

PPR: What’s the coolest thing that’s come your way as a result of  social media?

JL: Besides this interview? I’m fortunate in that it’s hard to pick just one. My ZDNet blog, for one. I never thought I’d again have a chance to write for a news organization after jumping the fence into marketing eight years ago. Book authorship-lite, is another. Julio  Ojeda-Zapata asked me to write the foreword for his “Twitter Means Business” book, and I’m currently writing a chapter for Tracy Tuten’s “Enterprise 2.0″ book series due out in 2009. Top that all off with the icing of fabulously talented new friends I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I shudder to think where I’d be without social media. Is that sad? Nah. I think it’s spectacular.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/26/08

Weezer - Pork and BeansTag Recommendations for Content: Ready to Filter Noise?
Properly tagging your content can go a long way to improving your visibility on the Net. Hutch Carpenter shares his review of four bookmarking and tagging services you can use to boost your “Google-Juice.”

Death of Education and the Dawn of Learning
Here’s a great post on the Servant of Chaos blog that speaks to the way kids communicate in a Web 2.0 world and how the education system needs to catch up. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s employees and customers. Will your business survive if you don’t join the social media/network space?

Charity Auction: Buy Yourself a Social Media Guru
Buy yourself time with one of five social media and online marketing experts as part of this excellent charity auction. The toughest part will be deciding on which guru to bid on with the talents of Chris Brogan, Joseph Jaffe, Aaron Strout, Geoff Livingston and Greg Verdino up for grabs!

Basic Business Blogging Suggestions
Speaking of Chris Brogan, this post he wrote earlier this week provides some nice basic information for companies that are just starting to launch a blog. As usual, Chris’s community of readers are providing great comments to the post, so be sure to read through those as well!

Pork and Beans
I’ll wrap up this week with something entertaining. Here’s a link to the new Weezer video that has been released by the band to promote the new single. The relevance? They included noteable internet “celebrities” in the video which is a sure-fire way to boost it’s potential for going viral.