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A friend and spectacular business publicist, Deborah Roth, wrote this with me. (She wrote the majority of it, I contributed occasional pithy comments.)
Based on the blogging/PR debacles of late, I thought the timing of this was quite good. Happy reading.
Can you imagine a PR firm pitching you on the fact that they employed an email expert? Someone who was savvy about the creation and sending of emails? What about a PR firm that boasted of having its very own website as a selling point? You’d be forgiven for thinking that the folks at that PR firm had been sniffing too much toner. And yet that’s exactly the type of giddy chest-beating that many public relations firms are guilty of today, only this time they’re bloviating about blogs and their in-house blogging experts. Who are they kidding? Well, themselves, for a start.
Marketing certainly benefits from technological advances, there’s no arguing that very basic fact. However, blogs are not a magical genie tool that is about to usher in the golden age of PR, they are nothing more than an iteration of a very basic medium. We do this every so often, us technology-savvy folk, especially those of us whose job it is to exploit every possible resource to gain (positive!) PR for our clients. Let’s not, however, drink this from this particular urn of Kool Aid together, lest we find ourselves sprawled out in the dust. Blog awareness, blog savvy, blog placement, blog design, blog writing today: these are, or should be, core competencies for any PR practitioner. Bragging that you have a blog expert is like bragging you know how to program your cell phone…it’s nothing to brag about.
Here’s the thing: we all know the significant spasms that technology has experienced over the centuries. To remain true to the focus of this blog (and make no mistake, this is just a blog — a millennium ago you would have been reading this on papyrus while nervously looking over your shoulder for a cranky crocodile) , let’s focus on how each one of those technological miracles was utilized for our particular profession:
The Written Word – This definitely ushered in a Golden Age, if you consider that written word hoisted knowledge sharing to a seemingly more secure source than the spoken word, oft repeated. But in addition to priceless historical stories, I doubt it was long after the written word took root that Oog was surreptitiously writing “I Make the Best Melt-In-Your-Mouth Mammoth Ribs at Cave Six!” on various cliff walls. That was just advertising, it wasn’t epiphanic (unless you really liked those ribs.) Writing on cave walls didn’t usher in a Golden Age. Written word itself did. Let’s not confuse the two.
The Printed Word – We all know that the printing press brought us the Gutenberg Bible; it’s one of those facts indelibly stamped in our brains, waiting patiently for the day when it becomes useful to have (like during a family trivial pursuit game). Let’s not forget that in addition to books, the wonder of the printing press also brought us advertising leaflets and newspapers. People couldn’t leave their horse alone for two minutes without coming back to find competing brochures for the best stables in town. That was hardly a Golden Age, especially if you were a horse.
Bear with me for two more examples…
Television – Not so much a Golden Age as a Technicolor one. After a few missteps people learned to exploit the specifics of broadcasting beautifully. Had they learned their lesson earlier, Nixon would have shaved before his debate with JFK and he might not have lost the 1960 election by such a narrow margin. Television has brought images and stories ranging from the sublime to the absurd into our homes…but do we claim that the new type of commercial that tells a story is ushering in a ‘Golden Age’ of advertising? We do not; we hit fast-forward on our remote and curse McDonalds for interrupting our viewing of McDreamy.
dot com – Now we’re hitting close to home. The Internet (and I still capitalize it, I like it that way) absolutely ushered in a Golden Age of information, especially if you find it imperative to know where you can see pictures of naked people at any point during your day. We read our newspapers online, we watch videos online, we send emails, look at maps, find restaurant reviews, seek spouses and lovers, plan vacations, and buy things. The Internet DID usher in an age of information, but as we know from Eve’s apple, Pandora’s Box, and Prometheus’ gift of fire, indiscriminately disseminated knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
And for our shared career – that of marketing, pr, communications, call it what you will, the Internet was a huge boon. Our jobs are so much easier these days – disseminating information is easy, doing so in a compelling manner still requires some talent.
Blogs are just a byproduct of our newest medium for disseminating information and they’re not a very good one, at that. If anything, they’re a force for negative PR, not positive. On the plus side, blogs enable us share information among our professional circles, and that’s great, but that’s not PR.
But let’s NOT forget — please folks step away from the punch bowl – that they are just a single pixel on the screen of the Internet. Blogs are not going away, but they also aren’t ushering in a golden age of PR. Blogs are nothing special and the practice of blogging certainly doesn’t require an expert.
Blogs aren’t gold, and they aren’t ushering in a Golden Age of anything. Blogs are brass: they put a shiny coat that gleams and catches your eye for a moment, but they’ll ultimately tarnish, corrode with exposure, and erode in usefulness.
Anyone who says otherwise is sporting a pair of brass balls.