Sunday Jul 05, 2009

Talk to Everyone

Interesting piece about PR in the NY Times today -- Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley. And it`s running at the top of Techmeme tonight, too, with even more interesting commentary. I wonder why PR gets so much attention in high tech when practitioners in the field are forever trying to justify themselves, or at least quantify their value. I never understood that. The influence of the public relations industry is absolutely everywhere in modern society, and yet even in this NYT piece you see a defensive tone in some places -- mixed in with the pervasive and typical self importance, of course. Whatever. It`s a fascinating field, I must admit. I was in PR for a long time many moons ago, and I`m still interested in how information is delivered through filters using various rhetorical techniques that date back thousands of years. Modern PR grew from the teachings of the American propagandist Eddie Bernays, whose famous work says it all: Propaganda. Read the book. Scary stuff.

Anyway, in the NYT article right up front in the first few paragraphs, you`ll read about a scene in Silicon Valley were a PR pro is advising a client about a launch strategy (who to talk to and such), and someone shoots back about avoiding certain well-known bloggers and news websites. What? Why would you want to avoid a communications channel at your launch? I don`t get it. People who feel passionate about their stuff generally want to talk to anyone who will listen -- and if listeners have megaphones so much the better. I`ve worked with some people like that, and what they taught me is that everyone is important because you just never know -- you never know who is connected to who at any given moment, and you can never know who will be connected to who in the future. And, of course, predicting how a story will spread is difficult at best. Now, I realize the PR strategy in this case was to talk to a select group of high powered people, which is fine since they obviously have deep influence. But why talk to those guys to the exclusion of the others in an age when communities are flattening hierarchies and distributing power?

Talk to everyone. Everyone is important. Especially now with everyone connected in ways you may not even realize. And Robert Scoble is right. Talk to the grassroots first. Community building operations should be implemented first so the marketing guys have something to sell (and participate in as well). Too much of PR is still rolled out the other way around.

Sorry

When you screw up, just apologize and fix the problem. Fast. That`s what Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of the Washington Post, did today. After an initial misfire, she apologized and took full responsibility for her paper`s offer to sell access to political contacts and Post reporters at private events. This was an obvious marketing and communications mistake that would have compromised the credibility of her company`s most valuable asset -- the newsroom. Hey, everyone`s human. But the apology was necessary, and the taking of responsibility at the top is rare and refreshing. It will be interesting to see the media digest this issue since the field has been under significant pressure in recent years. More background here and here.

Lesson: apologize and fix it fast. And remember, credibility is earned from the bottom up, not the top down.

Saturday Dec 06, 2008

The Power of Mainstream Publicity

Every time I chat with bloggers who feel the mainstream media is not that powerful anymore I trip over an article like this -- One man's military-industrial-media complex. This piece is a textbook lesson in the power of mainstream public relations to drive a marketing campaign. It`s perfect. And, in this case, it worked like a dream, too. Now, the article is disturbing because it talks about the selling of a war, but that`s not the point. It`s reality. And to not realize that is a delusion.

Monday Nov 03, 2008

Edward Bernays: The Ultimate Propagandist

I was watching The Century of the Self recently. It`s an excellent four part documentary from the BBC that aired back in 2002 about how the powerful control the rest of us. Even now six years later it holds up very well. Scary stuff. The time period ranges from around World War I through the late 1990s. Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna, and his nephew Edward Bernays, seem to be main characters throughout, along with lots of politicians, business leaders, and psychologists. But Bernays was everywhere. And he was probably one of the most manipulative dudes of his era, selling everything from cigarettes to presidents to wars. His methods of implementing propaganda, all based on his uncle`s theories, were largely responsible for the creation of the consumer society in the United States. In fact, the United States leads the world in consumption, yet very few people know that Bernays was the guy behind the curtain. Actually, very few know Bernays at all. I`ve read a bunch of his stuff and I used to be in his business, so I still see him everywhere.

There are a few things striking about the film -- especially in this ultimate season of campaign propaganda in the United States. First, there is a lot of politics in the documentary, obviously, but I couldn`t pick out any clear partisanship. Propaganda clearly transcends party lines. Second, most attempts to directly confront and fight back against the powerful ultimately ended in failure. The elites just used propaganda to leverage the counter punches to their advantage. And third, it doesn`t seem to matter if you know propaganda is being used on you. It works anyway. It`s remarkable. Now, it`s not all that bleak. Change does occur. But it occurs indirectly and over long periods of time. So, confront power carefully, I guess. Oh, and the term propaganda, which was common before World War II, was eventually dumped by the propagandists for the more positive sounding public relations. Today, PR is pervasive. So, if you are interested in communications or politics, give this BBC program a watch. It`s humbling at the very least. Don`t forget to vote tomorrow, too.
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