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Who"s davidlian?

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davidlian is an ultra-geeky chinese dude that works for a technology PR agency. He loves fiddling with techno-toys, plays Warhammer 40K, and shoots pictures wherever he goes. Here, he rants about PR, Technology and anything else. Don't expect balance and un-biased, he ain't no journalist. Anything said on this blog are solely davidlian's personal views. Don't confuse them with company mantra, client's views or views of any organisation he may be part of.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

PR people and bloggers: why engage in the first place?

First off, I'd like to remind you that I've got a disclaimer somewhere on this blog that anything and everything posted here is solely my opinion. This isn't work related, and does not reflect my employer's opinion. It doesn't even reflect my fellow PR colleagues opinion. Any similarities in opinion is purely coincidental.

Now that we've got that out of the way, I wanted to latch on to a timely post by Shaolintiger last week to put forward some thoughts on the matter of PR people engaging bloggers in Malaysia. And problems that subsequently ensue.

I believe the crux of the issue is that there is still largely misunderstanding on both sides to this core question: "What's the point of engagement?"

To the PR person:

It's no big secret that more and more clients today are asking agencies about engaging the blogosphere, twit-o-sphere or whatever "-sphere" you can think of.

Most clients don't understand social media, and I can't help but think the responsibility falls squarely on the agency to educate them. Both PR people and clients need to understand what social / peer media can and cannot do. Expectations, goals and objectives of any kind of engagement needs to be set right.

What's your goal in engaging the blogger? So that they can write a positive "write-up" about your client's products / services? If so, I'd say paying for the advertorial is probably the best way to go.

Let me give you an alternative viewpoint: what if your engagement with the social / peer media isn't so you can see positive blogposts, but so you can involve yourself and your brand in the conversation that's going all around you regardless of whether you take part or not, and add value?

What if the objective of holding a blogger event is to listen to what bloggers have to say about your product rather than having them go home and re-printing your press release?

Social media is about the conversation. Companies can participate, or they can pay some money and take an ad. Like what an editor once told me.

My humble advice is don't think the blogger owes you anything just because they attended your event. The onus is on you, the company and the PR person advising the company, to make sure what you've got to tell the blogger is worth the blogger re-telling, if coverage is your goal.

To the blogger:

Here's what PR people can do: pre-release scoops, direct contact with some top people (CEOs?), connect you to in-depth discussions with experts from client companies, get you product samples, previews of upcoming products, and ensure your feedback gets listened to and acted upon.

Here's what PR people don't do (generally): place advertorials or do advertising. This function is the media-buying agency, whom the client pays to insert advertisements / advertorials in the right places.

PR people shouldn't be out there to get free publicity. Many are (I won't deny that). But they shouldn't be. Bang them on their head if they try that stunt on you.

PR people are not out there to con you so that you write good things on your blogs about their clients, for free. If their goal is deception, they should be hung out to dry and rightly so.

PR people are there to facilitate conversations between a company and its interested audiences.

If you're a blogger who's heard about the upcoming cool new phone and think its worth your time and space to blog about it, the PR person is your best bet to get you that hands-on with the device before its even launched.

If you have a grouse against a certain company, the PR person is the person that should be listening and taking the feedback back to the company and making sure there's follow-up. Even if its to tell you they can't do anything about it.

If you're not interested, tell them and the PR person should go away.

This doesn't mean clients shouldn't advertise on your blogs and pay PR people to get free publicity. Advertising still exists and will continue to exist. It just isn't the purview of the PR agency. Rather, the right people who should be placing advertisements on your blogs are media buying agencies who might work for the same client as the PR person. Of course, this doesn't stop you from proposing an advertising package to the PR person you're working with if you think its something that will add value to the client.

So what's the root of the problem?

I can't help but think its the PR community's fault for bringing this onto ourselves in the first place by setting expectations wrongly when working with the blogosphere.

ShaolinTiger is right when he says:

...the sooner YOU poorly informed PR hacks educate yourselves the sooner you will reap real benefits from engaging bloggers and forming relationships with them.
The key word is understand. Social media is not as simple as the one event = 8 write-ups formula many 'PR' agencies peddle to clients. On second thought, even your traditional media isn't as simple as that. We could all do with a little more thinking, research, and just asking ourselves: "Would I do this to myself if I was on the other end of the stick?"

Please feel free to discuss if you've something to add. Comments welcome.

24 comments:

chloeee ♥ said...

i think the problem comes when every tom, dick and harry can be "the voice" of a company/product, when the PR people stop imposing stricter standards as to the number of people, the quality of the chosen pool of bloggers, as well as the "expiry date" of the chosen blogger.

social media is powerful. but when this particular "whatever sphere" gets too saturated with wannabes who want to land a deal (ie blog and earn quick cash), and the top players who lands every deal, and represents one too many product - it becomes repulsive, to the general public who is not blinded by this "social media" fad to begin with.

i think on top of setting the right expectations, PR people who whose company reaps large profits off social advertising, needs to look after the quality of social media. on the matter of who plugs the products, there are too many bloggers who have less than attractive personalities, those who can't string sentences, those who have little readership, those who have put themselves "out there" too much that they have long expired, so to speak.

PR people needs to spend a little more effort in picking the right kind of bloggers. there should be a slight exclusivity to who gets paid to plug, but at the same time if it's the same people all over again, people just roll their eyes and browse elsewhere. it's all about the balancing act.

davidlian said...

Chloeee: Thanks for your comment. Let's not confuse advertising with public relations here. There are guys out there doing online marketing, and interactive advertising and social media marketing. Public relations intersects at some points with those, but if the whole idea of the PR exercise is just to market a product or a service, then we've missed the point.

Paying to plug is a marketing initiative.

PR is about establishing a relationship with your audience, taking the time to listen to that feedback and keeping communications channels open - regardless of who they are, so long as they remain relevant.

As a blogger myself, I'd feel cheesed off if I thought the only reason a brand ever interacted with me was to sell me something or get me to write something up.

As a PR practitioner, I never promise clients coverage on such & such blog. Only honest, frank conversations with the right people, and only on the condition they are open and honest too. If the blogger writes something about his / her encounter with the brand at the end of the day, then it'd be an honour and a blessing.

ShaolinTiger said...

Yah there's a problem with people confusing the different entities too.

There's often:

Client -> PR Agency -> Marketing/Advertising Agency -> Media Buying Agency -> Creative Agency -> Online Agency -> Media Owner/Media Network

And sadly there's often a distinct lack of communication between the parties which inevitably the PR people end up taking the flak for.

You make some very valid points, so I hope people read both your post and mine.

I generally agree with what chloeee says, but the problem that occurs here with the ad campaigns going to the same people is there just isn't that many good quality bloggers in Malaysia.

Not enough people can write evocatively or emotively or even string a grammatically correct sentence together.

There are far too many blogs with tiny traffic and far too few with substantial traffic.

The same goes for agencies and clients, they don't always want to use the same people - but there's just not enough talent to go around.

Kind of the same reason if you go to events or watch TV/movies it's ALWAYS the same hosts/emcees/actors.

KY said...

Very well said, David. I think most of the problem is just as you said, some PR people getting a little confused about selling coverage to clients instead of doing PR

davidlian said...

@ST: Thanks for commenting. I'd venture to say that the PR = Marketing blur is something that not only plagues social media but the traditional media.

Marketing-wise: to latch onto why only the 'few' get chosen for marketing campaigns, I think its down to merit and the very fact that the 'few' have the audience the client wants to engage.

@KY: Thanks.

Jon hing said...

thanks David, pretty handy information, i can use it for my upcoming PR Writing test.

davidlian said...

@Jon: You study mass comm meh? I can give u my past coursework if it's still relevant. Hahaha...

eyeris said...

It doesn't happen very often, but if there is nothing interesting to report at an event, I don't even bother writing anything for the paper. Of course, a feature writer has different priorities to say, tech, news or metro reporter, but bottomline is, if there's nothing interesting to report, we won't bother writing about it...

Desiree Kaur said...

David, good one! I have to agree. Also the simple fact that certain PR people seem to keep on sending press releases and invites to bloggers "as if that was their full time job" would surely cheese them off sooner or later. Like Shaolintiger mentioned, for most bloggers its just a hobby and they do have day jobs.

It's important for a PR practitioner to understand their clients objectives and key messages and at the same time suit it to a particular columns/writer need.

PR is something very subjective to me. Every PR activity is about learning something new but it's the challenge of making things work out positively for everyone concerned without offending anyone in the process; that make the job interesting.

davidlian said...

@Eyeris: Exactly, and any PR person worth his salt won't harass you to publish if their news was really, not news at all!

@Desiree: Long time no hear from you! I think the human aspect comes out more in peer- / social-media much more than trying to achieve the message / objective.

Not every blogger thinks about his / her next post all the time. Even when they attend your event, they're there as a "guest", not thinking what's the story? That's one more thing to differentiate media and peer / social media.

goldfries said...

David - Thank you for not harassing me. :D

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm toying with the idea of joining a PR agency. Though I have no idea what PR is all about, but reading the bountiful information about PR and coming across this, deems useful to me now. Keep this up. :)

davidlian said...

@Goldfries: you're welcome!
@Anonymous: Not all PR agencies in Malaysia think the same. I suppose that's fair knowledge that you need to know.

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Papaz büyüsü said...

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