Clerical Error

Iran’s decision to prevent foreign journalists from reporting on its current internal strife has really backfired thanks to citizen journalism, which I don’t think any of us can afford to trust. Had Iran allowed trained journalists from across the world to continue to report as normal on the post-election protests then these journalists – who, contrary to the Iranian authorities’ beliefs, do not have a preconceived agenda – would be dispatching something at least close to even-handedness when it came to reporting to the outside world.

As a result of this defensive move by the Iranian regime it has instead opened up the gates for Twitterers and YouTubers to upload only one side or the other of the story, taking away that even-handedness and, frankly, just leaving us with bleating propaganda from either side. Can we seriously believe that people are typing tweets on their mobile phone while being shot at with live rounds? Can we truly verify video footage of blurred pitched battles and believe the date and location we’re given by people with an agenda? I don’t think so.

Whatever medium the updates from Iran are coming from and however funky and zeitgeist that is, it’s still likely to be unbalanced. A neutral, trained media core is required to give us as true a reflection as possible as to what’s really happening in Iran, and while foreign journalists are banned we won’t get this and should take all reports from either side with a bucket of salt.


Don't forget about the Facebook land grab

Facebook's 'vanity URLs' became available on Friday and the land rush ensued. Facebook has taken measures to keep poaching at bay, however. You can only reserve one bit of 'URL real estate' per registered Facebook user and it's only available for accounts that have been running since May. So you can't create an account to grab space. And if you want to grab your company's name, well, you have to link it to an individual and since I use Facebook for both personal and business use, that didn't seem realistic. So Facebook has really put the kibash on any sort of branding possibilities, in my opinion. Or maybe I'm just being shortsighted with that observation.

I clicked on the right place (here) to create my vanity URL today. Facebook puts on the pressure by informing you that once you select your URL, you cannot change it. This is always the moment where I feel least creative - under pressure!

After trying several iterations of my name to no avail (there are apparently a lot of digitally-savvy Emily's out there) I finally settled on emily.live. I thought it sounded better than my boring, samey samey name. It's kind of corny, but then again, so am I. Good luck coming up with your vanity URLs - and report back what you've chosen! :-)


Combatting the McQuote Culture

As a former full-time journalist and contributor to New Media Knowledge I believe that press releases and other materials sent to journalists should be as close to a journalistic style as possible. This means eliminating ├╝ber-sales text and market-specific in-words. I recall being taught once that you should imagine you’re writing for a 14-year old and make it that understandable for everyone.

Not as many PR firms do this as should, from what I’ve seen, because (a) they don’t have the sufficient experience or writing skills themselves or (b) they’ve become blinded by the brand and assume everyone else knows what their product is/does (c) they’ve buckled to client demands to see mind-numbingly useless (and mostly inaccurate) words in there, like ‘market leading’, ‘award-winning’ and ‘solution’.

Here'e a recent example that's come to my attention with a little skipping over.

“...discrete software package, we can bring powerful and sophisticated multi-channel marketing capabilities to a multitude of organisations......delivers award-winning, high ROI marketing....”

I think you get my point. How will we as an industry reverse this trend?


Martyr Complexities

If there’s one thing I don’t miss about agency life it’s the ‘to-do list martyr’. We’ve all worked with them and, worse, seen them on Twitter telling the world how busy they are and how many emails they’ve got to get through before their very, very important client comes in. Not too busy, however, to log onto Twitter and post us regular updates on how busy they are…in case we forgot or didn’t unfollow them in the mean time.

We work in the communications industry, so it made me think about just WHAT the objective of Twitter to-do list martyrs are trying to make. I narrowed it down to:

• Impress the boss: Tell the world how manic you are and the more draconianly-inclined “sweat the assets” types will love it

• Impress the client: “I’m working so hard for you, look, look!” – but then again the client might also think “hmm, I’d rather you slowed down and didn’t hash the work if you’re as stressed as you appear”

• Impress your colleagues: This is more of a bi-product of the above priorities. Look keener than your colleague, thus belittle those who show less “passion” for the cause

• Impress yourself: Nothing like reassuring yourself how vital you are to the whole PR mission

As a client, an employer or even a colleague wouldn't you rather your staff were getting on with their work in a measured, non-stressed, non-dramatic kind of way? If you’re so busy, don’t waste those few disruptive seconds boring the rest of us on Twitter and get on with it so you can actually add something of value to the social network.

Right, rant over, now I can strike “blog about to-do list martyrs” off my to-do list…


Front Line Tweet

I was very surprised to learn that the US military is tweeting updates from the front line, having already used Facebook and YouTube to engage audiences. Social media hearts and minds, if you will.

Personally, while I think placing longer lead-time, properly vetted material on Facebook and YouTube is to be welcomed, using Twitter is a step too far. 140 characters ‘instantly’ is not an appropriate length for a briefing of the significance of the combat. Does tweeting bypass the proper channels of communication, tweeting battle updates before you brief the media? Are they going to be even-handed and admit losses of personnel as well?

Also, doesn’t it open the US military up for a whole Twittersphere-full of abuse from its critics? (Diverting to conspiracy theory mode, maybe that’s what it’s for, to build up a list of the US army’s political opponents?).

If you’re interested, this is where you can follow US operations online:

• U.S. military on Facebook,: http://tinyurl.com/nz3xam
• U.S. military on Twitter,: http://www.twitter.com/usfora
• U.S. spokesman on Twitter,: http://www.twitter.com/gregjulian
• U.S. military on YouTube,: http://www.youtube.com/usfora


PR for free? A big resounding no.

The best business advice anyone ever gave me was, "never give something away for free that you're good at." Taking it further, you should know to price it well, if you're good at it.

In these credit crunchy times, people and companies get desperate. We've had a couple recent incidents where we've lost a pitch at the hands of a PR whose price was "Free." Yes, free. In these cases even the prospect found the situation a little ridiculous. And I never mince words when I tell a prospect that I do not respect that model, no matter what the supposed 'rewards' are at the end of it.

Is this starting to become an even bigger problem in the PR industry? it completely devalues our work. And you're smoking something if you think people in the industry are convinced you are going to pick up the phone and pitch a company to the press (well), and do a good writing, tracking, measurement and reporting job, all for free. That's like offering to go to jail when you haven't committed a crime. It won't help a struggling PR's career and it definitely won't dig you out of the rut you'd have to be stuck in to even consider something so crazy.

A colleague pointed out that it seems very '2001' when companies were digging themselves out of the dotcom bust. I think it's downright toxic to our industry (which you've probably picked up on). PR planning takes an incredible amount of business creativity, the execution is hard work and it is very specialised work. No matter what the situation, unless you are doing your best friend a HUGE favour, should a business service like that be given away completely free.

NB: Some type of compensation model based upon performance is a different story, and we'd agree that it can often be the right pricing model. This post is purely about proposals given for zero, nada, nothin.'

So - I'm really interested to hear if other PR's have faced this situation and what your thoughts are.

Easing In: Is PR Getting Easier For Newbies?

I’m going to show my age here but try to resist the Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ complex about how much harder things were ‘in my day’, but I really think things are easier for entrants into the PR industry. This is probably a good thing, by the way, if you’ll let me indulge in painful nostalgia.

I stumbled unwittingly into a PR job in 1998 and spent many an afternoon PRINTING press releases out and POSTING THEM (!). To email them would require snatching whatever you could of the Compuserve time and enduring that ever-so-90s modem dial-up tune, so printing it was, with black, dry and chipped hands by the end of it.

The other thing we had to combat was the pre-dotcom plethora of nasty journalists. And when I say ‘nasty’, I mean people that would often boast about making execs cry and calling clients directly to complain about their PR agency. Calling the press on the whole is a lot more pleasant nowadays, I’m especially impressed with the time that some regional papers have for us. There are myriad other ways to distribute press releases online, too.

Add to that the whole diminishing role of the ‘traditional media’, important though it still is of course, and the modern exec can enjoy less time pretending to have called journalists and more time doing funky stuff like designing virals and drafting heavily optimised content.

I’d like to think that training has moved on and rather than just have an account director hand you a release on your second day and go “there you go, sell it in” without even explaining what a “firewall” was, PR firms have actually worked out how to properly coach and nurture staff.

Don’t forget that many of these execs will have learned the ropes from specially designed university courses which certainly didn’t exist ‘in my day’. Hasn’t the industry come a long way in just 11 years?

I tell thee, it were reet tough. These young’uns nowadays don’t know they’re born. Is it just me or is it PR getting easier to get into?