Friday, March 13, 2009

Robert Scoble takes PR to task, and gets it half right

Thursday night, I had the interesting exchange below with Robert Scoble, a.k.a. “Scobleizer” regarding his misunderstanding of the term “PR.”

Scoble, who has over 69,000 twitter followers, isn’t stupid. But his rant against the public relations profession has struck a nerve with me and other PR professionals - both positively and not so much.

Here are his comments and my replies from Thursday around 11:45 p.m.:

Scobleizer: Yo, @shooby, again, PR is dead (he's looking for a job in PR or marketing). Find a new way to create magical relationships for companies.

Nhprman: @Scobleizer PR hs bn declared "dead" many times (yawn) It's ALWAYS bn abt creating relationships betwn customers & brands. That's not news

Scobleizer: @nhprman PR, as most people are practicing it is lame and dead. Anyone good at PR doesn't say they are doing PR nor do they defend PR.

Scobleizer: @nhprman: if PR is about creating relationships than why do I get thousands of the lamest idiotic pitches you could possibly come up with?

Nhprman: @Scobleizer Lame pitches aside, PR's a *real* profession w/standards & ethics. That said, I say I build reputations & relatnshps not just "PR"

Not directed to me, he also said this to someone else:

@8101harris good PR pros are not doing PR. See Jeremy Toeman or Brian Solis. They create magical experiences that lead to great media.

Which is fair. And frankly, I see where he’s coming from. Robert is not an idiot. He “gets” that PR is evolving all the time. In fact, two-way communication that builds “magical experiences” is an absolutely correct definition of PR today. It’s just that he doesn’t know, perhaps, that this is the ideal definition of PR.

And as I alluded to in one of these tweets, PR, as I practice it, involves creating and building reputations in the minds of targeted publics. It’s about relationship building as much as its about message - and both are critically important.

Regarding message, for instance, he’s correct when he says (in this blogtalkradio podcast) that pitching someone via email is stupid, and ineffective. He prefers to have buddies over for dinner and then hear their pitch. Sure. That’s fine. Good approach. Just one of many, of course.

And if the restricts his critique of PR to what happens online (where he lives and breathes) then yeah, he may have a point or  two about the poor PR practices here.

But as I said in reply to him last night, PR as a profession is not “dead.” Far from it. It’s a vibrant, ever-changing, exciting profession. There are codes of ethics for anyone willing to abide by them, and all major universities have programs that are always full.

Yes, it must always change or risk becoming irrelevant.

Yes, it must adapt to new technologies like twitter (and learn how NOT to use them, like the fellow who trashed his client, FedEx, on twitter on the way to a meeting with them.)

Yes, there are a number of hucksters out there online.

But I would challenge labeling as “PR” the description Robert gives of the many people who are emailing him with a “pitch” consisting of the thought, “If you don’t mention me I’m going to go out of business.” That’s not PR, that’s an act of desperation. It’s not a professionally crafted pitch, it’s not respectful of the recipient, and it’s not representative of the values and standards for which the vast majority of PR people stand.

I suspect Robert Scoble is just down on PR because he gets a lot of bad pitches from those claiming to be in PR, or from those he ASSUMES are PR professionals.

But I would say to him that many people who claim they are in “PR” are not. They are in marketing (or in some variant thereof) and that profession, like PR, has its bad apples

For the record, PR isn’t the young woman who uses her “wiles” (and sometimes overtly sexually) to get men to hear a pitch, nor is PR the creepy guy who wants to “sell” an item to a "mark." That’s a salesman. The girl is like a model paid to stand next to a car at an auto show, NOT a PR professional. Those being targeted by these kinds of people and those seeking to HIRE PR pros should learn the difference, because it damages the profession.

And “marketing” is also a much misused name, and can mean anything from multilevel scam hucksters to “social media experts” claiming that they will “get your name out there” (whatever that means.) Their methods are rather dubious as are their credentials. 

A bit of a tangent here, but the use of the “marketing scam Webpage” is typical of this kind of hucksterism. It’s a very, very long page, with big bold type on the top, embedded videos, claims to “get rich quick” and a “free e-book” (or worse, a $40 one) followed by a check-marked list of benefits with quotes from imaginary previous buyers. Ugh. If anything, THOSE should be targeted by someone of Robert’s great influence online.

It’s also good to see a bit of a mini-meme and backlash against people calling themselves “twitter experts” and “social media experts” on  twitter recently. It’s overdue. Even Scoble recently said we shouldn’t call him a SM expert. But if anyone can justly and honestly lay claim to THAT title, it may be him. I just hope he learns to be more careful with the terms he throws around.


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