Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Shift Happens . . . A Visit With One of My Favorite PR Companies

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 17, 2008

Tuesday I met with the San Francisco office of Shift Communications. There was about 50 of us tightly packed into a conference room on the ninth floor of a downtown office building. (Special shout out to Julie Crabill and Kevin Cheng.)

I do a lot of these lunch sessions during which I talk about my experience as a journalist and how media and PR are changing, and continuing to change. I learn a lot from these sessions and I notice how similar the questions are, whether it is from Microsoft's internal communications teams or from large and small PR agencies.

Afterwards I got a rare chance to sit and catch up with Todd Defren, one of the owners of Shift. Todd has been blogging for about as long as I have, more than 4 years (Social Media and Public Relations Consulting – PR Squared). It's always interesting to speak the same language with other bloggers.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation.

- We think of ourselves more as a talent agency than as a PR firm. We put our people through a lot more training and education than we used to do because just one slip up can reflect badly on the entire agency. For example, look at Chris Anderson's list of PR companies that were on his blacklist, Shift was on that because of a slip up by one person out of 110.

- Clients increasingly want coverage by all the bloggers in their sector because they don't know who the most influential bloggers are. It's not enough just to focus on the top 50.

- We are being asked to do a lot more media creation, take a flip video to events, to interview people, etc.

- Social media is the tip of the spear in terms of new business.

- I worry about the changing media landscape and what will happen. The larger media companies will survive in one way or another but I'm not sure about the others.

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Please see SVW:

Public Relations is Such a Sensitive Profession . . .

PR is such sensitive profession. Anytime anyone criticizes any aspect of the practice of public relations the industry pays lots of attention along with a lot of mea culpa. If journalists did the same we'd never get any work done.

Jennifer Leggio over at ZDNet has a good account of the latest PR bashing incident: Bloggers vs. PR - the broken record continues to skip

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How to suck up to Chris Anderson in 1000 words or more . . .

Bad PR pitches will continue because:

- many PR firms use juniors to scatter-shoot generic pitches hoping someone will bite.

- the fragmentation of media means there isn't enough time to customize each pitch for each journalist/blogger.

- many PR firms have very small numbers of people with the domain expertise in what their clients do.

Maybe I should publish a white-list of PR people who are doing a great job, pitching excellent story ideas, offering exclusives, arranging interviews with their top CEOs, and generally looking out for me and my product.

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Chris Anderson Sparks Blacklist Debate - We'll Get You A T-Shirt And A Coffee Mug

If you aren't on Chris Anderson's blacklist we can get you on it. For just $75 we will send a press release in your name that has absolutely nothing to do with "Wired" magazine. It is guaranteed to land you at the top of his list or your money back.

Plus, you get a T-Shirt: "I'm on the Wired list how about you?" on the back is your name and several hundred others (only available in black).

And you get a coffee mug with "Chris is steamed" (copyright: Heddi Cundle).

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Chris Anderson's PR Blacklist Backlash - The Long Tail of Bad PR

I'm a huge fan of Mr Anderson, he turned around a sickly magazine and made it into a powerhouse. No question about it, he turned Wired from tired to inspired.

Bad time of the month?

I know the pressures of a monthly magazine, you are going to press, and there are a million details to pay attention to...it is not the best time of the month to deal with useless emails, however... I discussed Mr Anderson's reaction with many people, some PR people, but especially with many veteran journalists. We all receive bad pitches, that's part of our job. We ignore or delete, and then we move on with our day. Not for Mr Anderson, things became personal:

There is no getting off this list. If you're on it and have something appropriate to say to me, use a different email address.

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