How I Declare a Conflict of Interest on Twitter: #discl

September 29, 2009

image At the IAB Mixx conference today, it was great to visit with my old boss and long time mentor David Jones (look forward to a great interview with Steve Rubel on Inside PR soon). One of the many things we chatted about was how we should declare a conflict of interest on the Twitter. Right now the convention is to include “client” (or some such derivation) to indicate you are talking about a client (duh).

But there are times when “client” is not enough. Sometimes the thing I am talking about is not a client. It may be a direct competitor to a client. It may be something I have a financial interest in. I may have a personal relationship with the person I am talking about.

So from now on, rather than using “client”, I will be using something which is slightly more flexible and which allows me to declare a wider number of conflicts (should they occur) while also being, I hope, fairly clear on the fact that there is a conflict.

So from now on, if you follow me on Twitter (as @edlee) and you see me use the following hashtag, you will know that I am disclosing a conflict of interest.

#discl

(yes, I guess this was an excuse to post a picture of Demi Moore…)


Four Rules for Working in the PR Industry

August 25, 2009

Care of the inimitable Jeremy Pepper (one of my favourite people in the PR/Social Media echo chamber/circle jerk) comes four rules to live by when working in the PR industry. In an industry which is more art than science, these are just as good a list to go by as any other.

The context is that Jeremy was taught these when he was starting out by his mentor. I’ve ripped these straight from his own blog post – Passing the Buck and Ethics – which makes for far better reading than this:

1. Blame up, praise down: what he meant is that he gets paid the big bucks (and I was a lowly AAE), and the buck stops with him. He would take the blame, and he would let the client know that we got the hits.

2. If I work late, you work late: No, not the scene from Scrooged but he just meant that if he left the office before me, he’d check in to see what I was working on and what could be taken off his plate. And vice versa – I would check in on him. Mainly, it came down to helping with time management, and being cognizant of what coworkers were working on that day.

3. Take responsibility and own up: While blame up was the end result – meaning he’d take the yelling from the client for a mess up – he wanted you to take responsibility with him if you made the mistake. Own up, and man up.

4. The client comes first: the client is paying your paycheck, so you look out for them. You go over the billing and invoices, and do the line item and make sure they are being fairly billed.

I’m fairly sure I’ve fallen foul of some of these in the past but all of the best mentors I’ve had have followed them to the letter. I hope that having these written down will help me become a better manager and a better counselor.


Transparency is essential for Public Relations in the Social Media space

June 19, 2007

A timely reminder, if one is needed, of the paramount importance of full transparency and disclosure in the social media space in particular and marketing in general.

I found this little doozy while checking out the Transformers trailers:

It’s a very cool little vignette for Altoids as they look to activate their tie-in with one the most anticipated geek movies of the year. But I can’t help but think that “insiderinfo360″ detracted from the experience by trying to pretend they were just another member of the community.

Clearly this is a video seeding by an ad/PR/marketing agency and the comments below the video seem to suggest this was worked out pretty quickly. Why not just come clean from the off and let the attention of the viewers focus on the video, not who posted it? Transparency would have enhanced, not detracted from, the consumer’s experience.

As one commenter says:

That video is rad, but sort of convenient that you joined the same day you’re posting ‘secret footage’. Video’s cool regardless though.

My thoughts are similar.

A lame seeding of a very cool video.


Don’t let Eloi, Morlocks, Trolls or Flamers stop you from joining the social media revolution

March 27, 2007

**UPDATED** – Chris Locke and Kathy Sierra released a joint statement on this particularly nasty matter. Locke publicly condemns the people behind the threats, insults and images and both hope that this won’t put anyone off a free and open discourse.

For me, I’m still disappointed that Locke had the level of involvement that he did with the sites in question. Leadership is about more than doing things that amuse you, and Locke was a leader of the conversational marketing revolution.

Original Post

Way back when, when dinosaurs roamed the world and the Internet was in its infancy, the World Wide Web was a dangerous place to be. Flame wars would erupt over the smallest things. People would be slammed viciously and repeatedly for saying the wrong thing, or at least the wrong thing for the person who was reading it.

Evolution – a step forward

But, over time, the brutal harshness of the Internet matured into the more cordial and pleasant environment we find today. Blogs emerged from the ruins of Usenet, partly to escape the flamers and trolls, and so it’s no real surprise that bloggers now regularly (over) indulge in prolonged bouts of back slapping and circle jerking. It’s easy to forget that in the online community, as in HG Wells’ classic The Time Machine, there is a dark side beneath all this camaraderie.

Wells wrote of 802,701 AD and the difficult co-existence of the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are graceful, fun loving and peaceful, while the Morlocks prey on the weaknesses of the Eloi. The Morlocks are, however, afraid of fire.

Two steps back

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users (a definite Eloi) has just lit a fire to ward off the Morlocks. We’ll see how many people make their way to the fire, and how many of them are Morlocks.

From my perspective, the whole incident is extremely disheartening. One of the Morlocks, to continue the analogy, has been alleged to be Christopher Locke, AKA Rageboy.

Locke is a co-author of one of the more important business books of the last few years, the Cluetrain Manifesto, and stands accused of a laundry list of crimes both ethical and federal. Crimes that include misogyny, intimidation, sexual harassment and issuing death threats.

This is especially worrying because I try to incorporate as many “Cluetrain” theses in my work as I can. These include: speak to people as if it’s a conversation. Be authentic. Use as little spin or messaging as possible. Allow the community to develop on its own.

Fall from grace

The allegations against Locke, coupled with his non-denial, damage the legitimacy of the authority behind his thinking. In turn, this puts into doubt all the thinking I’ve done to build on or implement on, the Cluetrain Manifesto, leaving me with a crisis of confidence. When someone you look up to and respect falls from grace your immediate reactions are disappointment and a great deal of soul searching.

Prior warning

Perhaps I should’ve known better. In Cluetrain’s first chapter, Locke eulogises the glorious flame wars of the early net as great intellectual duels – like great Norse warriors who, instead of war hammers and mystical javelins, use words as their weapons. Words such as:

Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your code is so brain-damaged it won’t even compile. Read a book, moron.

or

Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your dog is so brain-damaged it won’t even hunt…

Unfortunately, these seemingly harmless quotes give readers a rather disturbing insight into Locke’s psyche, and to the psyche of many people’s online personas. The Morlocks’ psyche. Damaged. Self-loathing. Underachieving. Vicious.

When people actively involved in the blogosphere talk about how welcoming and supportive the community is, they have clearly met with the Eloi. When their bosses, colleagues and clients push back and express a fear of joining the wider conversation, they are clearly being influence by the Morlocks and the reputation.

Irony

It’s almost the definition of irony that such an advocate of online conversational marketing should be preventing organizations from joining it.

Don’t let Eloi, Morlocks, Trolls or Flamers stop you from joining the social media revolution

To anyone who has thought about joining the social media revolution but decided against it because of trolls and flamers, here are my reasons for being actively involved in the “conversation”:

  • People are already talking about your organization, your products and your competitors. Why not influence that conversation?
  • In any given community, one per cent creates, 20 per cent participates and the other 79 per cent observes. You’re not trying to convince the extremely vocal one per centers but the 79 per cent who are watching the conversation.
  • If you are being flamed and heavily criticized, joining the conversation takes guts but (eventually) means that the flaming and criticism will die down. Caveat Emptor – it may get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.
  • As an organization that invests in talent, why not allow that talent to lead the conversations you’re already involved in?

Despite all this, I still stand by the Cluetrain Manifesto as a seminal book and one that influences my work or thinking each and everyday.

One last caveat

Don’t let idiots or bullies dissuade you from expanding your online presence. Don’t let the one per centers put you off having a true conversation with your customers, employees or owners. Embrace the conversation – it won’t kill you.

And, as we all know, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


PR=Propaganda?

February 11, 2007

The Official Facebook Public Relations Wall is providing some great content for me! I’ll have to do another blog just on the Facebook experience…

Omar Ha-Redeye, a student of Gary Schlee‘s at Centennial College, posted this video from PR Watch on YouTube. PR Watch is a program of the Center for Media and Deomcracy, a nonprofit designed to strengthen participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media “of, by and for the people.”

(Feedreaders, click through to watch the video)

PR=Propaganda?

Some of the claims in the video inlcude that PR=Propaganda. Propaganda, lest we forget, is defined (by Wikipedia) as:

is a type of message aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda is often deliberately misleading, using logical fallacies, which, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.

I’d like to think that the majority of campaigns I’ve worked on have all been based on truth, not logical fallacies. In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley world, is there any other way? In terms of impartially providing information, isn’t it a media relations best practice to become a trusted source of information to media?

No Seperation of Church and State

PR Watch’s video goes on to claim that the media is in cohorts with PR (the propagandists) because of the money advertising pours into its coffers. I’m not sure if the Center for Media and Democracy has tried to leverage its ad buy for editorial coverage in Canada, but if it has, I’m sure it would’ve been given the same answer any frustrated rookie PR trying to do it would get. F@#! off.

The seperation between church (editorial) and state (advertising) is one of, if not the, reasons that the media is, and remains, such a trusted source of information. If the lines are indeed blurring, it’s why bloggers are quickly becoming the influencers and why some many people are trying to keep blogging pure and free from the advertiser’s dollar.

The Best PR is Invisible

…and therefore insiduous. The video lays out three of the big agencies – Edelman, Burson-Marstellar and Hill & Knowlton ironically missing out the biggest all, my (end) employer Fleishman-Hillard – as examples of huge agencies no-one’s ever heard of. I’m sorry PR Watch, but I’ve never heard of any of the huge media buying firms that pay for all of the shows on TV either. Does that mean they’re insiduous and evil propagandists too?

Yes a lot of PR agencies are invisible but there are plenty of PR people who are openly talking about what we do, how we do it and why we need to get better at doing it. Transparency is a fast becoming a must in this business.

A Quote

It is arguable that the success of busines propaganda in persuading us, for so long that we are free from propaganda is one of the most significant propaganda acheivements of the twentieth century.

While it’s true that most PR’s are happy to take a back seat, isn’t that because we’re not paid to take the credit? Our mandate is to paint our clients in the most positive light in the eyes of their audience. Not to get barrels of ink spilled over what we’ve done. Advertising agencies get a decent profile but that’s because advertising is Big. Bold. Flashy. Expensive.

Conclusion

It seems to me that the system, as we have it currently, is pretty self regulating. The media is inherently weighted towards “real news” and to the story of the “underdog”.

The little guy’s story has as much, if not more, of a chance of getting their story told by a media that is constantly looking for compelling stories to tell to their audience. Is there a more compelling story than the proverbial David and Goliath one?

Are people smart enough to realise that for all the great free programs they see on public stations, they have to pay the piper in the form of advertising and marketing directed towards them? My girlfriend had a fit when I suggested her favourite program was simply filler for the next advert break…

Small is the new big, but don’t big companies have the right to have their stories told as well?

Questions; Follow Up

I’d be curious to know what other people, especially Strumpette Inc., think of this. Is PR as genuinely unethical as PR Watch would have us believe? If so, are all the advances we make in terms of transparency and ethical outreach, simply small fish in a very pissed in pond? Or is it, as most things are these days, six of “them” and half a dozen of that?

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Where’s the value?

January 15, 2007

The pre-amble

I like reading Strumpette. I like reading Chris Clarke. And never the twain shall meet. Until now when they’ve met quite forcefully and drawn in Joe Thornley (who I also like reading).

Essentially the argument goes something like this (or at least I’ve interpreted it as such). Chris doesn’t have the experience to say anything worthwhile about the PR industry and JT should know better than to allow him to speak on the behalf (whether de facto or de jure) of the Thornley Fallis Group.

The bigger picture

I wish I had something intelligent and conciliatory to say for both sides but I don’t. My take on this particular liaison dangereux is that it raises a bigger question of where the value of young or up-and-coming PRs blogging is?

There are quite a few of us so this is somewhat of an existential question. Alex, Richard, Owen, Paull, Luke…I could go on but these guys are the one’s I make sure I read.

The rationale

The way the PR agency model is set up means there is a vast amount of knowledge and experience at the top, at AD level or above, but at the bottom, new recruits are treated like menial workers. For example, one Oxbridge grad I know spent his first year as part of the workforce advising clients on the management structure and IT needs of the company. Another earned 50k (gbp – about $100k U.S.) a year working in a hedge fund. Another spent his first year getting paper cuts from mounting coverage.

As a result, many junior staffers find their creativity and intellect stymied by the agency structure. Therefore they look for other ways to express themselves. Lo and behold, they found democratised publishing and social media (or it found them). So they started blogging.

Some decided to talk about technology, some pop culture, some about sport, while some decided to talk about public relations. The question is whether or not they have anything worthwile to say.

So where’s the value?

Public relations is not a hard business to be in. Write a news release, manage an event, spam some journalists. Sometimes we provide serious counsel but more often than not it’s very tactical stuff, which is reflected in PRs seat at the budget table.

Common sense

The most important asset for any PR is common sense – and it shows in the work we do. The beauty is, anyone bringing common sense to the table. Spam journalists this way, write a news release this way, organise your day this way. If you impart this sort of thinking with some amount of intellect behind your rationalisation, you’ll be adding value to your peers and to the industry.

Fresh eyes and attitude

Another thing that young PRs can bring to the table is a fresh view. Just because the industry has been doing certain things certain ways, doesn’t mean it should be so. A fresh pair of eyes can revitalise a news release, an industry or a company – just why my Oxbridge pal got paid so well to be a management consultant!

Us youngsters are also filled with a certain joie de vivre that makes us think we can change the world. This energy and attitude is in stark contrast to people burdened with years of experience and the cynicism that they bring, whove often stopped trying. Enthusiasm is a great motivation for everyone.

Ethics

The other way we can bring value is in the ethics column. As Team Strumpette said, Chris has been naive in some ways but it’s this naivety that can be harnessed. If fresh faced, bright eyed grads are naive in expecting good ethics in the industry, surely that benefits everyone? Just look at the work Paull Young has done around astro-turfing, even if it has stalled somewhat in the face of the bigger companies.

Intelligence

Just because we’re junior, doesn’t mean we don’t have the same, or greater, level of intelligence of our superiors. The only difference is by a fluke of timing, they have more experience. Experience that the Strumpette committee seems to be using as a crutch; both in their arguments and to hit young PR bloggers over the head with. In some cases older pros’ experience and cynicism can tessellate beautifully with our energy, intelligence and naivety to ensure great work is being done.

Questioning authority

We’re young, we’re mavericks, we have no respect for authority or experience. If we have an idea that’s better than yours, we want it executed and if not, we want to know why. If you tell us to do something this way, we’ll ask why we shouldn’t do it a different way. That’s just the way it is, the way it has been and the way it always will be. The precociousness of youth will always question the authority of the old (er). If you’re right, great. If we’re right, even better but don’t us to accept your take just for the sake of a few extra years.

Conclusion

Strumpette Inc actually has a lot more in common with the inexperienced PRs that they are criticising. Both entities should be dissenting voices in the community, both should be keeping the industry honest.

At best, we should be expecting the juniors to be asking “why” a lot more than we currently do. Just because someone like David Jones, Michael O’Connor Clarke, Joseph Jaffe or Shel Holtz serves up a gem of wisdom, doesn’t mean we should accept it. Prod it, probe it and question it – just like we’ve been doing on Second Life. Senior pros have been like zealots for the platform, not the concept and a small amount of people have stood up and disagreed.

Because that what Strumpette.com does, it forces us to question the status quo, something we should have been doing for a while.

It’s not about the conversation any more, it’s about the discussion.


Ads on blogs?

November 29, 2006

*UDATED at the end*

To be asked to the tune of “girls on film”.

If you’re a regular reader of Canadian PR bloggers, you may have noticed a large orange and white banner or badge, inviting you to prove you’re a player. If you haven’t clicked through, and let’s face it, why would you, you’d have found a small flash based game designed by revered ad-agency, Taxi, for the Canadian News Wire (CNW).

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about that. Adverts on public relations blogs. Doesn’t that sound a little…counterintuitive?

Wasn’t the new social, interactive Internet, web 2.0 supposed to be the preserve of the PR agencies. Didn’t we lose out on the first iteration of the web but this time round it’s all ours? Wasn’t that the deal we made with the devil in the pale moonlight?

If you haven’t seen them, check out Dave, Chris, Colin, Michael OCC, Eric and Donna…anyone who has seen or even used them, what do you think?

Do they detract or distract from the content? Have you gotten so desensitised to ads that you’re just studiously ignoring them?

Before I give my two cents I have a confession. I was approached by Taxi to run ads and I turned them down. Ads on a PR blog seemed…not right. Then I was told how much it was for and I was tempted. Not a life changing amount, but enough to buy a PVR recorder and ignore more adverts (ironic huh) on TV. Then I saw something on WordPress’ terms of service about only for non-commercial use and the decision was made for me. I’m still not sure how I feel about. The money would be nice, but I’m not in it for the money. I’ve already been more than adequately compensated through a great job and an even better new career.

With that disclosure out of the way, here’s how I feel. First off, did CNW get good value for money? I’d say that the program is probably costing them around…well, a fair amount. Instead of hitting up half a dozen bloggers for ads, what if they had appraoched all the PR bloggers asking them to link to the game? If they had handled the outreach in a half competent manner (my experience with Taxi would suggest that, while unlikely, it’s not outside the realms of possibility) I’m sure they’d have had quite the link collection at the end of it.

As a company “serving” the PR industry, shouldn’t they have spent their marketing dollars to PR us, not on shilling us?

And what of the esteemed bloggers? What does their taking the almighty ad dollar tell us? I’ve been as big a supporter of the role PR in the realm of social media as it’s possible for a mid-level PR guy to be but this kind of takes the shine off it. Why should companies bother to earn coverage, links and conversation when they can just buy it? What example does it give to our clients when the people evangelizing the use of this new form of communication as a PR tool can be, themselves, bought?

Hard work pays off later; laziness pays off now…

Does even the act of taking adverts sully the excellent content these guys are producing for us, or is it a Darwinian way to weed out those not good enough to be considered for adverts (and who then lose interest)? Leaving the fact that they’re all PR (or in Donna’s case, communications) blogs, what about ads in general?

I started a blog to make the mistakes my clients wouldn’t have to, and I’d never recommend a client who wanted to start a thought leadership blog run ads. Yet Fred, Mathew and Mark all do. And Mark went to become a VP at a blogging network…Jaffe does; Seth doesn’t. Where’s the balance – is there even a balance, is it just personal choice?

Or maybe clients can use their own blogs/feeds to test their future marketing initiatives? What would you say to Michael or Mitch testing out a raft of new Scotiabank creative on their blogs/feeds?

I guess in the end the answer, as always is “it depends”.

So three defracted points of view from my perspective – the client, the reader and the flackette. But they’re all mine; not yours. What do you guys think?

*UPDATE* – Mitch has some interesting thoughts, while Colin’s encouraging everyone to share their POV’s as well. If you haven’t done so already, there’re some great points in the comment section here (including some comments longer than this post!).

One aspect of the discussion that hasn’t been broached yet is whether we should be experimenting with blogging as a “technology” or as a totally new approach to communication. If the answer is technology, then my esteemed colleagues are well within their rights to monkey around with their blogs/feeds etc as much as they want; if it’s as a new approach to communications then, to me, it feels like trying to fit old media practices into a new media platform.

Don’t take my word for it; check out what everyone else is saying as well.

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