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Blogs are Soma to So Many

This is one of a group of posts I’ve been sitting on re: the recent press release kerfluffle. Todd Defren suggests I “git a little louder” in comments at Shel Holtz’ latest post, so here we go. I just posted about five items that I’ve been thinking about. Some are rants, others are reports of activities we’ve been undertaking in classes. This particular post is more rant than anything else. I just can’t contain it anymore. My intent is not to offend.

For those in the Brave New World, soma was their panacea. The cure-all. It made you feel good. It kept society in line and manageable.

Today, there are the blog evangelists in the Brave New Blogosphere. For them, blogs are too often desired, just as soma was in Huxley’s novel. Let us remember that Huxley’s novel was fiction. Some of what the blog evangelists preach is fiction, too. I’m not saying be quiet. I’m asking that the evangelists, the enthusiasts, look at the larger world and not allow the myopic anecdotal observations of their market (mostly the tech market), to cloud their suggestions for all markets.

They think that blogs will right the wrongs of the customer / corporate relationship. Blogs, they think, will be adopted by all and revolutionize the way customers interact with businesses, citizens with politicians, and so many more stakeholder relationships. Some seem to worship blogs as if they are Panacea, the Greek goddess of healing. That is less jest, and more realistic observation, than you may think.

In Huxley’s book, people would say:

“you do look glum! What you need is a gramme of soma

In the Brave New Blogosphere, they say:

You have communication problems? Why not just use blogs? (or here)

If you think about it, blogs are their idea of utopia. But, for those of us that actually read books, we know Huxley’s book was not the ideal of utopia. It was a nightmare. To follow some blog evangelist cries to “Just use a blog”, you might be creating a nightmare for your client. OK, the “actually read books” thing was mean. I apologize. But, it does bother me. Can you understand why I’m sometimes miffed when I read these things? The statements about adoption of blogs are so broad, so universal, that they miss the realities of our world.

Is it any wonder that some blog evangelists have koolaid stained lips?

“the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of a soma blog-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was!”

It gets better worse. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a tendancy to dismiss calls for rational thinking as wholesale dismissal of a movement – like social media. Nothing could be further from the truth, for me. I embrace it. But, I try to do it with an eye on the vast world of numerous public relations jobs my students may wind up in down the road.

This back and forth about SMNRs and press releases may be an example of the Koolaid Point, from 2005. Again, I’m not dismissing the thought leaders. I read them. I like a lot of what they say and write. But, reality has its place, too. Right?

These same evangelists say that press releases are dead. They no longer have any use or value. These evangelists seem to think they understand PR and they don’t – not the entire world of PR practice, at least. Most of these evangelists reside in Silicon Valley or other tech industry rich areas. They are, in these anti-PR rants, myopic to the rest of the real world.

Let’s visit a new place for those in their technology world, soma (blog) induced, myopic haze. It is called – welcome to our world … the realistic practice of public relations across the world … of just the United States.

There are more than 30,000 public notice laws in the 50 United States. All of those may be fulfilled (and likely are) by the use of news releases. Old and antiquated? Perhaps. In many instances, yes! But, they are still there. They are still the law of the land. We have to deal with these realities. Businesses and organizations, goverments and individuals must comply. This isn’t a choice, folks.

With 3,000 counties and 25,375 places like cities and towns identified in the 2000 census, we can safely guess that there are the following PR practitioners in those places. That’s a different source and total from my previous post … just to help clarify the reality a bit more.

School districts and city/town governments? Let’s be conservative. This could well mean that we have about 30,000 times two (2) practitioners, or people with the job (purpose) of public relations. Come on, you know that’s the case. Each has at least one school district, on average, and each has at least one city government, on average. The number is actually probably higher. I’m just trying to be conservative and fair.

If we want to be more realistic, think about it. The police, or public safety, offices have public information officers. so does city hall. Now we are up close to 100,000 communicators, or PR practitioners. They all have required tasks which involve informing the local media (print and broadcast) about city news. Some/many are required by law. Can’t you see? We have yet to begin talking about busineses and nonprofits here. Can you see the scope?

Please, may we all agree that only a small percentage of people actually read blogs. And, it will take years for the use of online communication practices to be adopted as accepted practice for all of these required public notifications.

Do you really expect me, with a straight face, to go to Slapout, Alabama (real name) and suggest they now do all communication via blog? How about Jackson’s Gap? I wouldn’t suggest it in Birmingham and Atlanta, either. It would be foolish. As a part of an overall mix? Sure, that makes sense. But to say just use a blog …. well, it’s lunacy.

You see, what the blog evangelists continually forget is that traditional communication mediums (or “places”, the new politically correct term among evangelists) are still thriving. Most PR is local, too. Now, there is a reason for the pervasive myopia present in all of these social media / blog evangelizing conversations. They are typically people in technology sectors of the economy. They are typically only referencing their own anecdotal experience with the tech PR sector, too.

If you want to know why the communication you receive from PR practitioners in the tech sector is so bad, read Shel Israel. He lays out a pretty good guide for how the release should be used … was used in the “Golden Age in tech PR.” He also talks about what is wrong with tech PR today. His article makes sense to me.

Don’t blame the entire industry because some schmucks are not good practitioners and don’t recognize that broadcast of numerous releases is silly, today. It worked years ago. Today, it is folly. But don’t, I repeat – don’t – come blaming all the rest of us because you received a lame pitch or news release! And remember, a pitch isn’t a release. Hello?

OK. I feel better now. Thanks. I’m sure this is not over, but I had to get that off my chest.

Update:  Someone asked, anonymously, that I further clarify the Blogs = Soma analogy.  So, consider the thought leaders that brought Soma to society.  While seeking to free everyone, they actually began demanding a rigid compliance with taking the Soma.  Sometimes it seems that the blog enthusiasts demand adoption.  While seeking to set everyone free – customers, stakeholders – they actually wind up trying to impose their ideal of blogging on everyone, regardless of whether they want to – or need to – be blogging.  This isn’t true of all enthusiasts, but it is true of some. 



17 comments

  1. Pingback: PR Squared

  2. You’re welcome, Todd.

    I’ll be interested to see if any of the folks I referred to will come by and comment. Again, not meaning to be impolite. But, I would like to see them at least acknowledge the idea of a broader view of PR

    Thanks.

  3. Well said. As Todd will attest, the fact that all PR is not tech PR has been a staple in my comments on the new media press release from day one. The new stuff is grand, useful and worth considering as part of your toolset, wherever, whoever you are. But it doesn’t have to be either/or, the new must kill the old etc. Peaceful coexistence is possible :-)

    The real problem, the thing we really need to pay attention to is telling and writing good stories, in whatever form we choose to share them.

    As to whether some of the blogvangelists will weigh in here, hard to tell. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.

  4. Thanks, Susan. I agree. The writing and story telling is the key, regardless of the where and in what “place” or medium we’re telling it.

    Yeah, I don’t have any false hopes of engaging them. That’s funny, isn’t it. In this medium where everyone has a voice and all should be engaged (so the manifesto goes) there is often an unwillingness to engage.

    “The simple, if painful, prognosis: organizations must encourage and engage in genuine conversation with workers and markets — or go belly up.” (Cluetrain Manifesto)

    Even the manifesto recognizes different markets and, I hope, the differences within / between those markets.

    So, I fear that the enthusiasts may, through their continued use of generalizations and broad universal calls to action, actually be setting the movement up for either (a) slower growth/adoption, or (b) eventual failure. If you can’t engage in fair dialog, your audience (people) will look elsewhere.

    Wouldn’t it be funny (or sad) if the movement that says everyone has a voice, and deserves to be engaged, becomes the same tiered communication channel (place) they are trying to replace?

    I’m honestly not trying to be snarky. I see that as a real possibility.

  5. Robert,

    Yes, thanks, indeed. Much like Todd, my reaction to this whole “debate” (now I’m the one being polite…) was such a mix of incredulousness, awe and outrage that I chose to stay silent on my own blog because I could never write something as coherent as what you’ve done. (Although I did rant in some comments…)

    My thanks actually is two-fold. I’m a tech PR guy who also embraces the smart use of social media as PART of an overall program, but even though I disagree with Stowe, Scoble, et al, I made the mistake of thinking of it only within the context of tech PR. So, thank you for also reminding ME that the world of PR is much broader than that!

  6. Robert –

    My view here is that much of the “bleeding edge evangelism” really is provincial. Jeremy Pepper has been sounding the alarm for some time, that the HighTechPR community needs to get out of its bubble and participate in the real world for a little while.

    To a lesser extent (but important all the same,) the virtual communities of flighty visionaries can parrot the same lines — an echo chamber of mockingbirds who can’t remember who is live and who is Memorex. This is one field where the pointy heads and ivory towers are not found on the college campus, but in the MyBlogLog/Twitter/RollYo/SoFlow/LinkedIn/MySpaceFaceBook virtual java huts where the flock briefly lands; poops; then furiously flaps away toward the next bright and shiny Web-2.0-logo with glassy buttons, reflections, and a bright orange star-shaped “BETA” sticker.

    “Client? What’s that?” But no. I’m not cynical.

  7. Jesse, thanks. I can certainly relate to the incredulous feelings of the expressions by Boyd and Scoble, to name a few. And hey, we can all be myopic. Goodness knows I have been – more times than I care to remember.

    It is their continual use of PR as a universal term that irks me. As Ike relates, Jeremy Pepper – someone they do listen to – has called this out to them, yet they still fail to acknowledge the breadth and depth of practice in different communities. Also, PR – the universal term – is the easy punching bag for their rhetoric.

    Ike, I love the “java huts” and parrot/mockingbird references.

    Cynical? Hey, the idea of due diligence for our clients is ignored by those that poop the “just use a blog” and fly away. I agree, their views are provincial.

    One thing I think about in all this is the difference between ignorance and stupidity.

    Ignorance does breed fear, after all, and the “use a blog everywhere” meme gives them comfort. The enthusiasts, because of the doctrine, fear PR invading what they see as “their” space. So, they label it all as being bad.

    Ignorance is caused by a lack of curiosity and laziness. It is easier to decry PR based upon personal unique experiences and then cast aspersions on the whole discipline.

    I believe their rants are caused by ignorance, not stupidity. There is a difference. A stupid act is caused by those without the ability to make the connection. These people, however, are smart – not stupid. They are just too lazy to take the time to be specific. They aren’t curious – don’t seek knowledge about the entire discipline – because they are certain they know the right answer.

  8. This was an excellent post on this meme, and I’ve read most of them.

    As someone new to the PR industry (I worked in politics, and had no formal PR training), I think the SMPR can be a useful tool to compliment existing PR strategies. To be sure, a well-written news-worthy press release is ultimately what determines media coverage (no amount of new-fangled tools can make up for the inability to write well).

    However, because press releases themselves can turn up in search engine results, often or job as PR is not to communicate with traditional, mainstream media outlets (editors, reporters, etc), but also directly with the public itself.

    In that case, this part of the public can be more tech-savvy and understand how the social media tools (the ability to comment, tag, digg, etc) is part of how they communicate. Some will find the release and repeat the information, others may react negatively when they discover the information (it depends on the topic of the release). PR professionals need to find a way to augment their work in a world that is becoming less and less filtered.

    Finally, I will say that we believe a company should never devote its entire external communications effort to any one media. That is true for marcom or for PR. A blog can be a very useful tool to build a better relationship with dedicated customers, it can provide a vehicle for feedback that is better than any focus group, and a blog can enhance the brand recognition — if it is done in the right way.

  9. Thank you, Jim. I agree that SMPRs may work in some instances. Certainly there are some bloggers that may find the presentation useful.

    Re: “because press releases themselves can turn up in search engine results” … this highlights something I’ve been a bit amused by in some posts in the meme. There are those that say we are not addressing audiences, but rather people – directly. I agree with that, but re: SEO, we are really targeting computers / software / algorithms as much as (if not more than) we are reaching out to people. The broader idea of communication is often lost in this failed observation.

    I also agree that devoting all external communication to any one media is often / usually a failure to realize the need for a mix of strategies.

    All great points. Thank you for sharing here. All the best.

  10. Robert, I hate to inform you that in the very near future blogs will be adopted by all and will revolutionize the way Public Relations practitioners communicate with their stakeholders and it’s time for Public Relations practitioners to start providing their clients with another medium to communicate with their stakeholders.

    You say that only a small percentage of people actually read blogs and it will take years for the use of online communication practices to be adopted as accepted practice for all those required public notifications, I have to differ with you on that point. Loads of people are reading blogs it is becoming a form of mainstream communication. Also it didn’t take long for people to adopt to the net or to email as new form of communication. Look how fast the technology has expanded in the past ten years. If blogs are created as form of communication for all those city halls and public safety and police offices, people will adapt to them and use them. You just have to provide it as an option.

  11. Thanks, Akilah. I appreciate the input.

    We may differ a bit, but only a bit, in views about the adoption of blogs to-date. It may be true that “blogs will be adopted by all and will revolutionize the way Public Relations practitioners communicate.” In fact, in some ways it already has. But, the jury is still out.

    Also, internet access is not universally available (nor even adpopted where it is available) in all areas of the United States. The Pew Research findings from December 2005 report that there are still non-internet users in rural areas measuring approximately 38% and 30% in urban areas. By now, those numbers may have dropped, but still – it is not universal. Even if the average is 25%, that’s a large number of people. And, for those rural areas I referred to above, a very important realization to take into account.

    “Loads of people” is a broad claim, but it has yet to be sufficiently researched – particularly in a longitudinal research effort – beyond Pew’s efforts and a few others.

    Finally, I’m all about providing the options. My point was to not have it declared the only option.

    Here at Auburn, we have been trying to prepare those “Public Relations practitioners to start providing their clients with another medium to communicate with their stakeholders” for a few years now. That’s just one of the reasons why my students all blog and study the use of blogs in the applications you suggest.

  12. I think the metaphor is pretty, but misleading. You could make the case that anything that any group advocates is like Soma. I don’t buy it. Blogging is not like taking an anti-depressant. It is (at a physical level) a collection of tools for web publilshing, and (at the societal level) a social medium through which we gain understanding of the world. Not a drug.

    Your argument boils down to the fact that established mechanisms of PR have been baked into law and other conventions, and therefore blogging — which wasn’t foreseen when those where codified. I have suggested that we could work collectively to get these conventions, or laws, if necessary, changed.

    But no, let’s instead just keep the status quo. I hear nothing more than “Get a horse!” style kvetching, here.

    And, oh, by te way, the idea that PR folks are communicating directly to farmers in Appalachian valleys through press releases is patently crazy. PR is principally directed to media: newspapers, et al. And they all have internet now, even if they are in Boondocks LA or wherever.

  13. Whoops. I didn’t finish a sentence in the comment above.. I wrote “…therefore blogging — which wasn’t foreseen when those where codified.” Should read “therefore blogging — which wasn’t foreseen when those where codified — shouldn’t be used in place of old timey ideas like press releases distributed by newswire services.”

  14. When did this become an EITHER/OR proposition?

    Can’t we agree that for SOME companies, for SOME reasons, BLOGS are preferable, but that for SOME companies, for SOME reasons, “press releases” (and other PR “stuff”) might be preferable?

    It’s a WORLD WIDE WEB, a global communications opportunity, which to me implies that there are probably many potential means to approach similar challenges.

    One thing that few people mention: whether you choose to use Blogs or Press Releases, if NO ONE IS LISTENING IN THE FIRST PLACE, then no one is gonna give a rat’s a$$. If you’re running Widgets Inc. – a company no one has ever heard of – then using JUST press releases or JUST a blog (or both!) won’t get your voice heard.

    One of the benefits of Public Relations (the total practice, not just press releases) is the outreach to influencers whose advocacy, in turn, lead to “audiences” who subscribe to the company blog and the company’s future press releases.

  15. Pingback: infOpinions? · Blogs, Press Releases, and Farmers in Appalachian Valleys

  16. Well, I saw the comment here and decided there was so much to address, I just created another post. So, please check it out.

    And Todd, I agree … with your comment here and your post at your blog. I tracked by to it from the new post.

    Thanks. Take care.