In Search of a Cure for LFS

Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired, has published a list of PR spammers who made his “one strike and you’re out” list.

I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam (Cloudmark Desktop solves that nicely), it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.

I wonder how many of these offenders were “reaching out?” And in the turnabout-is-fair-play department, Chris has posted their email addresses on his blog. It’s a long list. He says it’s not specifically intended to allow spambots to harvest their addresses and subject them to spam, but if that happens, so be it.

Glenna Shaw in HealthLeaders News likewise shares some tips for hospital PR staff in her column, “Please Release Me.” Her pet peeve is PR people who call to ask, “Did you get our press release?”

Chris says there’s no way off his block list. If you’re on the list and really want to send him something important and that will be meaningful and interesting to him, you’ll need to get another email address to send it.

That’s a bit of a problem for his solution, because getting a free email address takes just a couple of minutes, and his ostracized ones will be right back at it (although it might cause them to think twice.)

I think using Facebook for PR/journalist interactions could be a better way. You only get one Facebook identity (Facebook works really hard to keep it this way; there are some exceptions, but for the most part this is true.) So if you block someone (and maybe you wouldn’t want to do it on the first offense, but could give a warning), they stay blocked.

Journalists who want to get better targeted pitches could list in their Facebook interests the beats they cover and the types of stories that are most appealing. This could be done in their individual profiles. One downside to this approach is that it requires someone to be your “friend” before they can see your interests. But with various levels of “friends” coming as a new feature in Facebook, I see it having potential to enable people to show a limited profile (that might include these work-related interests) to a wider community, while keeping the really personal stuff more private. The messaging system in Facebook would enable you to have much more control over the types of messages you get. And don’t get.
There’s no complete cure for LFS (Lazy “Flack” Syndrome), but I firmly believe the social networking sites, be they Facebook or another platform, will play a role in improving relations between PR professionals and journalists. As Bob Aronson said in a comment on the previous post, it really is all about relationships. And sending a thoughtless pitch (or “reaching out” without thinking about whom you are reaching), is a bad way to start a relationship.

It may just end it.

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The Newest Euphemistic PR Cliché

pr cliche
Sometimes a new word or phrase is developed to communicate more clearly. For example, we say “personalized medicine” instead of “genomics” to help a lay audience understand that this research will enable physicians to prescribe medications more likely to work for an individual because they take a person’s genetic makeup into account.

If a new verbal formulation is exceptionally apt, it can quickly pass into cliché status. Dollars to doughnuts, you know a ton of these. They skyrocket to the top of the usage charts, pedal to the metal past more pedestrian phrasings.

These are all fine; they may indicate lack of literary thoughtfulness, but they aren’t disingenuous. If a cliché briefly encapsulates what would take a much longer phrase to communicate — if it packs a punch — it may aid communication.

Euphemistic clichés are another matter. They’re meant to conceal rather than reveal. Unfortunately for their users, they’re about as effective as Adam’s botanical briefs.

Like pre-owned instead of used cars, or an initial investment replacing talk of a down payment, or agreement being the more delicate way of describing a contract, apparently someone in the PR world did some focus group research and found out that “pitch” has negative connotations.

So now they don’t “pitch” a story idea: they “reach out” to journalists.

Maybe it’s not the newest PR cliché, but besides rapidly becoming dreadfully overused, it also causes bad grammar, in the form of compound prepositions.

I think any communication with reporters that uses language like…

“Hi, I wanted to reach out to you about…”

Should be an immediate candidate for the Bad Pitch Blog. Or the Bad “Reaching Out” Blog.

Grammatically speaking, “reaching out” practioners almost always string at least two prepositions together. And once they get started, “reacher outers” can’t seem to stop, even when they’re not pitching journalists. For instance, I got an email from a PR agency rep last week that said “we’ve reached out to Dr. X regarding speaking….”

How about, “We’ve invited Dr. X to speak…”?

Some of our blogger friends (like Shel Israel) are concerned that PR people won’t be able to break their command-and-control addiction to spin in order to participate effectively in the social media conversation. That’s why, at a PR measurement conference we attended, Shel said companies should just hire a bunch of young people to do social media, instead of trying to retrain PR staff. (See his comments on that post.)

But the reality is that spin and euphemism aren’t keys to long-term success in media relations, either. Good PR practitioners take time to develop solid story ideas and to determine which journalists may find the topic interesting. Then they offer the story: sometimes as an exclusive, sometimes not. And the reverse happens, too: journalists have story ideas and contact PR sources for help in finding experts who can comment. It’s a symbiotic relationship, as journalists get good story ideas and access to subject experts, and the PR pros’ clients hopefully are included in the stories. If it isn’t good for both sides, the relationship doesn’t last.

“Pitching” may carry some traveling salesperson connotations, so I’m not advocating a return to the old cliché. But instead of the mushy new euphemism, “reaching out to,” why not use more concrete verbs like “calling” or “writing” or “contacting?”

Does anyone really think that a journalist who is “reached out to” dozens of times a day fails to see through this language?

I’m not saying the reacher outers should be sent to a correctional facility, but their communication should be hauled away by sanitation engineers.

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Measuring Blogs and Consumer-Generated Media

Blog Measurement Social Media

The first afternoon session at the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Summit is entitled: How to Measure the Impact of Blogs and Other Consumer-Generated Media. Panelists include Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, Kami Huyse from My PR Pro and Todd Parsons, BuzzLogic. Donald McLagan from Compete, Inc. is a late addition. His firm monitors (with permission) every click online for 2 million people. Katie Paine is moderating, and she’s something of a legend. This is the first time I’m getting to hear her or meet her, and I guess we’re going to dinner at her house tonight. It’s a really big house.

Shel says blogs and social media aren’t really about measurement, but instead are about conversations. They are “push” media, and the real value of what’s happening is their two-way nature and the ability to listen.

Should there be standards for measuring social media?

Todd sees standardization as a weapon that kills progress, and that with the speed of change with new products being introduced so rapidly any standard is always somewhat behind the times. For instance, Kami said she used to count her comments on her blog, but now she often gets comments through Twitter, so it’s difficult to get your arms around these fragmented data.

Don said MySpace has lost 16 percent of attention in the last year, while Facebook has more than doubled.

How can you get ROI for social media? Don says ROI can be complex and doesn’t just come from the web (e.g. Auto sites get lots of traffic but almost no one buys a car online.) Todd says it is hard to make the value of social media explicit, so he tries to find some simpler means. He works with a job site that he describes as a mash-up between Monster and People listening to people they trusted (through social media) were 45 percent more likely to sign up for the paid service. They went from spending money on Google Adwords to spending less on “influencer relations.”

Katie asked, “Is it easier to measure ROI for social media than it is for PR and advertising?” Kami says it seems so, and Todd agrees. There is just so much data available that you can’t get with counting eyeballs in advertising and PR. You can make connections that simply aren’t possible in traditional media.

A question was asked about people with seven tabs open in Firefox, each refreshing regularly via AJAX, which gives an overstated estimate of how engaged people are. Kami says she hasn’t seen time spent on site change much with adoption of Firefox.

Shel had some interesting anecdotes of what he has found through his blog:

  • Having a big picture on a post increases time on site by 34 seconds
  • A medium-sized picture is only worth an additional 14 seconds
  • If he has two links in a row to a site he wants to feature, it’s much more likely someone will go there. Adding a third link in a row makes people tend to stay on Shel’s blog because it confuses them; they can’t decide which to click, so they don’t click any.

Shel changed his blog name from Naked Conversations to Global Neighbourhoods because people Googling the term “Naked” who were looking for something very different from social media. He also told the story of the guy who was on the Alaska Airlines flight who took a picture of the hole in the side of the plane, who had almost no traffic on his blog previously, but whose picture ended up on national TV. People who are not in the top 2 million blogs in Technorati today can suddenly be incredibly influential.

Shel says we haven’t been doing this long enough to have “best practices.” People need to get comfortable with experimentation, be responsible in what they do, avoid standardization. “We’re just at the ‘good ideas’ stage.”

He also told of how when hot movies open, what happens is that one kid goes in and sends a text message 15 minutes into the show to all of his friends, and if he says “sucks” it doesn’t matter how much the studio spent on promotion. It ripples through Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and the movie is toast.

As Shel says, “We are in a transformational time.” And for those who are concerned about getting into blogging from a corporate perspective, he says “It’s much better to be shouted at than shouted about.”

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Institute for Public Relations Summit: Session One

The first session at the Institute for Public Relations Summit on Measurment was entitled “An Integrated Approach to Communication Measurement” and featured panelists Jim Macnamara, Ph.D., from Sydney, Australia, and Derek Tronsgard, Director, PRIME Research. Dr. David Rockland, Partner and Managing Director, Ketchum, moderated the discussion.

Dr. Macnamara led off with an analysis of marketing/advertising measurement and how advertising has gotten the huge share of spending on corporate communications. For half a century or more, the final ROI analysis for advertising that has been used to justify ad spending has relied primarily on correlation of spending with results. Ad spending goes up by x, and sales go up by y, so there is assumed (logically) to be some relationship.

But correlation does not prove causality. Many other factors enter into the purchase decision, and in the age of the prosumer, who may get messages from MySpace, her iPod, Facebook, a traditional magazine (for bathroom or lunch reading), billboards, bus signs, AIM, YouTube (and literally dozens more sources), identifying what factors “caused” or influenced a decision is going to become even more difficult in the future.

And people aren’t “audiences” any more, if they ever were. In today’s world they are producing content (commenting on blogs, blogging themselves, uploading videos to social media sites, sharing photos online) that also creates influence.

Interestingly, Dr. Macnamara talked about one company’s campaign that started with PR and got to a certain plateau of awareness/message recall, and then when the advertising phase started there was only maintenance of that plateau level, no increase. He also mentioned some AT&T modeling mix research from the 1990s that pegged advertising and PR as having equal impact on the purchase decision.

One of the problems Dr. Macnamara mentioned is the “silo” nature of Advertising, PR and New Media, all of which do their own studies “proving” that their tactic is working. He and Derek Tronsgard said they see an advantage of bringing these separate studies together, which could provide better information for the organization and also save money.

Derek had a great point at the end in response to a question about how non-Fortune 500 companies can afford measurement. He pointed to the low-cost tools available and recommended that companies start small, that these provide good information – maybe not perfect, but good info that can help you make decisions. Examples are online survey services and free blog monitoring.

This is consistent with what I will be presenting tomorrow, and with the “It’s All Free” section of this blog. Barriers to entry – whether in engaging in social media or in PR measurement – are getting lower or in some cases are nonexistent. The enemy is procrastination; it’s time to dive in and learn, and then when it’s time to spend some real money on solving a problem you’ll have a better idea of what solution you want to buy.

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Microsoft PR Measurement

microsoft PR measurement
This morning at the IPR Measurement Summit we are hearing from Microsoft’s Chris Frank, Senior Director for Corporate Market Research. His co-presenter is Andrew Bernstein from Cymfony.

Chris saw the challenge that there is lots of counting, but not enough evaluating. There is no weighting of the massive coverage. He said Microsoft is the most written-about company in the world. They had too much output, but not enough study of outcomes.

Microsoft’s objective was to Develop a consistent, global measurement system to assess effectiveness and impact of PR.

…built on a framework of a set of common metrics

…along with competitive benchmarks to provide

…learning to reinvent the PR discipline globally.

PR turned to Market Research because they wanted an outside team to develop a new standard. They wanted rigorous quantitative background, and a neutral third party to develop the system.

They aren’t tying it yet to reputation data or to the bottom line, but are starting with baby steps. They do a global image measurement study, and government elite study, but they aren’t trying to connect yet.

The system also needed to take into account the increasing role of digital marketing, and roll it all into one number, the PR Index Scoring Model. They boiled it down from a blizzard of 17 factors into six that would be components of the one score.

Buzz – quantity/volume of coverage. Am I being talked about? Am I being talked about by the people I most want talking about me?
Advocacy – is the opinion embedded in the buzz. How am I being judged on the attributes I care about? What course of action is being advocated? For example, Walt Mossberg reviewing Windows Vista advised readers to wait for service pack 1.

Steps of the Microsoft process:

  • Define topic & Geo
  • Assess Buzz levels
  • Evaluate Advocacy
  • Score PR Effectiveness

PR Score = Number of impressions x influence of publication/author (between 0.0 and 1.0) x score on advocacy dimension measured (between -1 and 1)


  • Developing methodology – Defining the variables of the scoring system: How do you weight each variable?
  • Cost efficiencies – What has been don to make more efficient?
  • Segmentation of information – Microsoft one of the most talked-about brands in the world. How do you take an enormous amount of coverage and data and make sense of it?

Microsoft only rolled out this program October 1 (last Sunday), so they don’t have any real results to show yet for this scoring system, but it’s interesting to hear the PR measurement direction a company that has virtually unlimited resources is taking.

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