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Friday, May 25, 2007


Michael Buffington

Two semi-related thoughts came to mind as I was reading this.

1. If it comes as a surprise that online beats offline PR, chances are you were a fully grown adult well before 1995. If you were still a child in 1995, you may not even realize that there is such a thing as offline PR.

2. More important than the source of potential customers (online or offline) is the quality of those potential customers. Posting a thousand marketing-speak comments, tweaked a bit to seem semi-topical far underperform a single comment that is genuine, relevant, respectful, and honest.

Applying traditional PR tactics online don't work (thankfully).

Applying what you learned in Kindergarten does work (thankfully) - namely: share, be kind, no name calling, don't tease others, be friends with the shy kids, and so on.


This list obviously displays you have a very narrowminded view on public relations and you experience has been with more with "bad eggs" than good. Unfortunatly, good PR costs good money, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year will get you top PR talents, the ones that are making all the strategic placements you see in media outlets daily.

Good luck anyway, maybe you'll find a needle in that haystack of wannabe star PR professionals.

Mr Online PR

just a small thing, if you look at google trends for the UK search for 'pr' you will see a big slide in searched for this phrase. Is this a sign that old school pr is dying?

the other interesting thing about this trend is how the news volume for 'pr ' is rising....


So grateful for this post and the resulting conversation. I work in tech PR and and am also an avid blogger. I happen to work for a large agency that includes some individuals who "get it" but a lot who don't. In response, the company is really trying to educate their employees by fostering in-house discussions on blogging and other Web 2.0 mediums - a step in the right direction.

Surprisingly, just because one has a technology client, doesn't necessarily mean they are open to the idea of blogging or feel comfortable including bloggers on their traditional media list. To be honest, it scares the crap out of them. Too darn naked, I guess. I just keep saying, "It's unavoidable. The cat is NOT going back in the bag."

I, for one, am excited and glad to be just old enough to have straddled this funky time in communications history.


Thanks a lot :) I find it very interesting and resourceful...

Deesha Communications

Laura Goulding

itsallaboutme, I hated reading about your PR experience. I admit we PR folks get some black eyes here and there because of a few bad apples. It sounds like you are doing some good in-house things to get your brand out there. I don't know how every other PR firm does it, but I know at mine we provide clients with teams as opposed to one person who can blow off a customer. That is a win-win because the client has access to someone at all times, and as a team we have more brainpower.


I forgot to mention above...we fired Margie about 6 months after we hired we didn't get one thing published, or posted, or linked. What a waste.


Back to Guy's original story... we hired Margie's PR firm (the author of the top 10 ways to bash your customers list) a year or so ago. I work for a tech 2nd tier start up (meaning we already been through one round VC, working towards round 2). She took us on, didn't explain things...didn't communicate with me, got pissed when I would call (or email) and ask for updates, etc. We have been getting PR -- by doing our own blogging, reponding, paying for ads (not relying on only PR), and letting anyone and everyone who wants to talk to our CEO and CTO. Margie could write that top 10 list -- because she knows it too well...

Elisa Mann

Thank you for helping those of us in the field of public relations to become more aware. Yes, there is a lot to learn.

Adam Metz

As the director of social media strategies for a PR firm that's been blogging for quite some time, I was tickled pink to read this post. I agree, deeply, with your fourth point, and I'm frankly a little surprised that while larger firms have crafted their own social media news release tools, they don't always know enough about blogging or posting to keep the Viagra ads out of their own posts.

As a Kawasaki reader (since I was 14), I don't see your reply as a rebuttal - more like a second-generation "True 'dat!"


friendly ghost: appreciate the comments & the "flip-side" to my post... altho my post was already the "flip-side" to the post by margie fisher on guy's blog... and indeed, guy also posted a followup by glen kelman of redfin re: another flip-side.

still, i agree with you there are some PR folks who get it -- just with there were more of them ;)

Friendly Ghost

Hi, great post, but I keep coming across posts knocking PR.. People in PR are no better or worse than people in other professions. You will get incompetents but you'll also get damned good people. So just to play devil's advocate, here's the flipside of each of your points:

1) The PR firm doesn't understand the product or technology.
I worked in dotcoms and tech firms for 15 years and have been in PR for about two. When I started, it became obvious quite quickly that while I knew little about PR, this actually helped when communicating it to potential clients. I think the same works with tech. Sometimes starting without any assumptions about the tech can give very important insights into what it does for people, rather than what it does for the CEO.

2) The PR firm is seen as a spinner, blocker, or gatekeeper to access the CEO/CTO/braintrust.
That's one way of putting it. The other is that executives might be scared shitless by journalists more than happy to leave that mic on or record that supposedly off-the-record remark. Again, speaking as a one-time client, I can tell you that simply the presence of a PR person at a trade show can be incredibly reassuring.

3) the PR firm hasn't been properly trained on how to communicate with bloggers or social media.
Do you need training? Surely the best way is simply to find out which of your staff get off on this sort of thing. Your employee base should be diverse, so let some of your people become experts (or mavens or gurus or whatever you want to call them!)

4) the PR firm prefers doing a few big traditional media over lots of smaller online media & online channels.
This relates to your point 5 below: I think this is because most clients don't get web 2.0 either. I've tried explaining to tech clients, they just don't understand. No amount of explanations of Technorati Authority, Alexa reach, Feedburner subscriptions or seriously in-depth blog influence analysis will work if they don't know how to type in a URL.

5) the PR firm doesn't understand SEO, SEM, widgets, blogs, tags, social networks, pictures, video, or other online & viral methods, aka "all that Web 2.0 stuff".
That's because it's a big subject area and it's changing all the time. Where did twitter come from? When did Facebook start? To my mind fairly recently and yet now they're huge. So, how to use them? And what's the point if they're going to disappear in a year's time?

6) Most PR folks have no clue what the hell TechMeme is
I bet you don't know what ewespoons are.

As I say, cracking post, and I hope you don't mind me presenting the pro-PR stance! :)


Brian Solis

Dave, this is a really great post and it definitely stirred up some ideas which inspired me to continue the conversation.

Rather than highlight what's wrong with PR or why it doesn't work, let's talk about how to fix it. I created two lists - 1 for PR people and the other for company executives. It offers unique perspective that brings both groups to the middle.

Jacob Skir

Great analysis! Thanx


This is a really good post that is very very true. Most PR firms dont know alot about web 2.0 . The most common phrase i hear is Myspace? Youtube? And they really believe that offline PR is better then online... thanks for this post..


Laura Goulding

This is just MHO, but as a PR professional, my goal is to meet the client objective as effectively as possible. If my objective IS to generate clicks and traffic, then that's what my PR is about - for them. I agree that ALL PR is not just about clicks, but *some* of it is.

I think PR is much more fluid now than it used to be. As pointed out previously, success was measured by an "above the fold" article in WSJ. I believe that success is now measured in smaller, more focused niches. For some clients, increasing their product awareness and generating a 200% jump in website traffic is much more valuable than that WSJ, since their target audience tends to get their news from "The Daily Show" and anyway.


Boyd Neil

I have to agree. Having spent the last couple of years proseltyzing about the need for public relations practitioners to take online strategies more seriously, I am not sure I am making any headway with some of the people with whom I work. I have taken to denouncing it as irresponsible for a communications professional not to take the measure of social media. I would love to hear your take on why the resistance.


Maneck/Laura & others:

thanks for the comments & clarifications. and i agree, PR isn't simply about online or clicks.

still, the point i was making was that for the startups i tend to deal with here in Silicon Valley, *most* of their world is online, and *most* of PR for them is about clicks & customer acquisition, not just brand awareness. and while there is other value to PR, for these folks i'd say PR is more typically looked at as an alternative channel strategy for customer acquisition -- which can occasionally be quite effective, but is usually pretty unpredictable.

anyway, for the types of tech startups i deal with, i think it's important to understand that certain types of PR are worth more than others, and it's helpful to have PR firms who understand how PR strategy fits into the overall company marketing strategy.

and for those PR individuals & firms who *do* get it, you're right they're worth their weight in gold.

- dave

Maneck Mohan

Dave, interesting stuff, but PR is NOT just about generating clicks back to your web site.

I don't think most people would measure the value of PR purely on he basis of the clicks it brings you. It's about generating the right type of awareness for your product or service in your target market.

(which may, or may not result in clicks)

I think you're blurring the lines a bit!

Dave said:

GigaOm, and ReadWriteWeb; most PR firms miss one critical observation -- for companies whose primary business is online: POUND FOR POUND, WORD FOR WORD, READER FOR READER, CLICK FOR CLICK, ONLINE PR IS SIMPLY MORE VALUABLE THAN OFFLINE PR, perhaps by as much as a factor of 10, possibly even 50 or more. i've seen it. i've seen a 3-paragraph TechCrunch article outperform a 2-page in-depth BusinessWeek print article. i've seen a link in a GigaOm article outperform a bigger mention in the SF Chronicle. i've seen a VentureBeat post on a funding announcement outperform a piece in NY financial media or the SJ Merc.

Laura Goulding

I agree that while the PR industry in general is trying to catch up with the ever-upgrading tech world, there ARE some who get it.

I work in an independent agency, and we pride ourselves on knowing what we're pitching and to whom we're pitching (seems like that should be a no-brainer, right?). I'm a tech geek on my own time, and that makes my job that much easier; I don't have to just read and research for a particular product, I do it because I love it.

This is the problem I've had, and maybe some of you can help illuminate this mystery for me - when I DO approach bloggers, I get the cold shoulder simply because I am in PR. It seems a little hypocritical to have bloggers clamoring for equality with the traditional offline press while shunning those who DO want to connect with them.

I can understand being disgruntled with those PR spinsters who don't understand new media, but help those of us out who DO understand the power of citizen journalism.

Laura Goulding

Eric Eggertson

"online converts to online better than offline converts to online."

Well said. A reader who is online is more likely to be intersted in an online service, and more likely to visit a site they see mentioned and/or linked, than an offline reader.

If this doesn't sink in to a public relations person, it shows that they just don't understand their client, the market, the audience, and human behaviour.

That being said, a company that doesn't understand what's unique and interesting about their situation may be able to generate lots of traffic and still fail to have an impact on the people they want to reach.

You're right - knowing the industry and the audience is crucial. Francine's right - if you don't have a compelling story, you don't have a reason to promote your company/product.

Steve S

Absolutely fantastic post.

I think the trick is that people don't understand that you have to cater to the demographic that you are trying to attract. If you are developing a web based product that has no barriers to entry for online use then it is almost ludicrous to focus the majority of your attention on traditional print media.

Most people are using their product spend a lot more time on Techmeme and TC than they do on the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Understanding your demographic might be the keystone that holds the entire thing together.

francine hardaway

Owned a PR firm for seventeen years and then worked at Intel. Now work at bringing the products of startups to market in my accelerator. Have all perspectives, will rant. Wrote this to Guy as well: It's not the client or the firm -- it's the story, stupid. If the story isn't good, no media will want it. Spend the bulk of your time working on your story and your messaging, and the rest will take care of itself.

Eric Eldon

All of this stuff is true. Still, PR seems to boil down to how news -- in any format works.

A print-journalist friend just told me their definition:

Have interesting things to share on a regular basis, then build a trusting relationship. Be a source!

Vaibhav Domkundwar - BetterLabs

Dave, these are all right on. I think #1 is the the most critical one. I have seen that most PR firms really really don't fully understand the tech products. They HAVE TO HAVE had some product management experience to understand the really opportunity of the technology.

With the explosion of the blogs and online media, everyone who writes or directs PR in anyway must really really understand the technology and the opportunity. And I agree that, its very difficult - almost a recipe for failure (atleast in today's world) - if you (1) don't understand the technology and (2) don't understand the rapidly evolving online media. (how to measure clicks from a comment link on TechCrunch versus a mention in MSM.)

Cool stuff. Question is: Who is going to lead PR 2.0? What is it? I bet its a huge opportunity AND its a ton of more work than PR 1.0 which was all about connections/interviews/coverage.

Szabolcs Sandor

Hi Dave,

Sorry if my English is not perfect - I'm not a native speaker.

PR firms are not just seen as gatekeepers but in fact they are, that's true.

And yep, PR folks prefer to have a prestigious offline article (let's say BusinessWeek) but often because the client wants to go for that kind of coverage, even if the agency would like to prefer blogs, podcasts and other new media.

I disagree with the rest of your points. Even in this hidden corner of Central Eastern Europe (where I live, and do PR) we know how this things work, and, which is more important, we use most of them daily. I think your picture is much darker than it should be.

Dave Donohue


I'm glad someone's posted the client's perspective on this. I've spent a lot of time on both sides of the fence and when I was in-house I watched a lot of product management colleagues lose patience with PR people who can't understand technology.

I'm not suggesting that good tech PR people need to be engineers, but the good ones need a working knowledge of hardware, software, and services (especially services these days) in order to talk the talk. My suspicion is that you've run into too many who have also tried to walk the walk.

Nothing ends a budding relationship with a journalist faster than being afraid to say "I don't know. Let me find out and get back to you ASAP". The alternative, trying to BS your way past a journo who's been covering tech longer than you've been out of grade school, is what makes PR people stop being an asset and starts turning them into gatekeepers.

I'm also generally in the online-trumps-print camp, but Doc Searls' post this morning made me think - if someone that huge in the industry and the blogosphere prefers the newspaper, then the reports of print's death remain premature.

And you're right, TechMeme is a godsend. At this point, I couldn't do my job without it.


Interesting post and meme going on here. I'm in the PR industry (and yes, I know what Techmeme, RSS, widgets, etc. are and how they work) and agree there is a lot of work to be done.

As with any new advancement, technological or otherwise, there will always be people who immediately 'get it' and others who don't. Those of us in the PR world who do get it are working to bring the rest of the group along, but it's a process and won't happen overnight.

For companies or entrepreneurs looking for PR representation, I'd suggest finding out if the person or firm in consideration has a blog, is active in social networks, etc. before ever making a decision. The best way to learn is by doing in my mind.

Jeremiah Owyang

Man, I'm not in PR. (or at least never thought I was)


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