Friday, December 21, 2007

To My PR Colleagues

Dear PR Colleagues,

We've got to talk. Our relationship is starting to change, and we need to figure out where it's going. I will say right up front that I don't want to break up with you and I think that we've laid the groundwork for a really good friendship here - so hear me out before coming to conclusions.

Lately you've been making a lot of requests and you haven't been listening to me very well. I think it's great that you realize what I can do and the importance it has to the field currently known as public relations. It's awesome that your clients have heard of the Internet and want to be engaged on Facebook. It shows that you're listening to me and that's good, but I don't think you're necessarily listening beyond the first few bits.

Engaging online means a lot more than making a website or a 'viral' video (note: please stop using that term, OK? I don't call you 'stooges,' so I don't think it's too much to ask that you don't call strategies 'viral' when you're referring to outcomes.) You have to do a little research first. When I ask you what people are saying about you online right now and you look at me with that blank, doe-eyed expression and wonder what that has to do with creating the next Subservient Chicken for your clients, it's very endearing and cute the first time but it's frustrating as hell the 100th time.

Let's face it: creating a 'vibrant, online community around our client's light sour cream' (full disclosure: that is a made-up example) may look great on your Powerpoint presentation to your clients in the pitch, but let's be realistic - just because you promised your client the moon doesn't mean us hard-working chumps down here can deliver, especially if we didn't have any input from the git-go. Because 'vibrant online communities' are great and all, but is your cutesy micro-site, a few emails to bloggers and creating a Facebook page going to create hundreds of threads of conversation where light sour cream enthusiasts come out of the woodwork to sing the praises of your product? Probably not.

What you have to realize is that the kind of 'vibrant, online communities' you're talking about on the Internet are created not around specific products but around people's hobbies and interests. People don't go online looking for communities about things they buy (unless that thing happens to be their hobby - I'll give you that). They go online looking for communities about things they enjoy - movies, cooking, television, games, books, politics. This is the lesson so many people have to learn, and an increasingly desolate landscape of $30,000 Second Life islands devoid of life except for furries doing inappropriate things, forgotten Facebook groups and forums with less than 10 registered users means that people continue to learn the hard way.

You don't have to learn the hard way - just hear me out! Remember that doe-eyed look? You have to know what people are saying about you and where! Maybe instead of creating a 'vibrant, online community' about your particular brand of light sour cream you seek out an existing 'vibrant, online community' about cooking where several users have mentioned your sour cream (I did some Google-Fu just now and found at least two that fit that description) - and talk to them instead? Don't whack them over the head with your PR-ness either. You'll scare them and probably piss them off. Why don't you simply offer your information, offer yourself as a resource and see what happens?

We can't keep going on like this, PR people. Something's got to give in this relationship. I know I don't say this very often, but in this instance I'm right, OK? All I need you to do is listen.

And seriously stooges, stop calling them viral videos!

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