08:45 AM

Guest Column: Who shouldn't blog in the PR industry?

By Daniel Bernstein for Silicon Valley Watcher

Richard Edelman totally spoiled ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ for me.

Edelman, well-respected president and CEO of Edelman PR Worldwide, wrote a blog post this last Monday recommending a few ways our industry can work towards improving how we’re portrayed in film and television. He references Jim Carrey’s latest, Fun with Dick and Jane, in which the comic portrays an underdog communications executive that eventually outsmarts everyone and becomes an unlikely hero to the defenseless everyman. I haven’t seen it.

Edelman asks, “How can we build on this new Hollywood persona, the action-hero PR person? Or better yet, how can we offset the negative images of the mealy-mouthed apologist in the Constant Gardner or the cynical opportunist in Thank You for Smoking?”

He then offers four ideas: First, make the process of communications transparent and participatory. Second, move from spokesperson to participant in policymaking.

The third and fourth fit with the second, take the lead on issues that have historically been assigned to other corporate departments, and lastly, help to make change.

While Edelman’s suggestions are accurate, they are not groundbreaking, and certainly not any different than what’s been available for the taking for decades. The best PR people already open up the communications process and help make change, so what’s new here exactly?

Will we change better Hollywood’s (and therefore, America’s) perception of our industry by continuing to further these goals? It’s a long shot. Most likely we’ll have to change the game altogether.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting at CNET Networks’ San Francisco offices led by their game-changer chairman and CEO Shelby Bonnie. According to Bonnie, CNET’s business model is to develop content that “speaks to the passions of [their] users in high-interest categories.”

He explained that categories such as gaming, consumer electronics and computer hardware hold mass appeal, but differentiate themselves because of the fanatical base that drives their success. For example, you might download Firefox because it’s a hassle-free alternative to Microsoft, while not realizing it began with the fanatically passionate open-source community.

Nine out of ten PR professionals will tell you that corporate or employee blogging is the closest thing we have to a rally-around-the-flag entity like Firefox. The parts are there, fanatical base, mass appeal, etc.

Public Relations industry didn’t invent blogging, far from it. Blogging is a communications mechanism handed to us by the long tail of the Internet.

We weren’t even the first to recognize its utility as a corporate communications tool. People like Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger pointed that out to us.

Nonetheless, senior PR professionals are either (a) the individuals responsible for determining the communications strategies of the world’s largest organizations or (b) the individuals consulting to the world’s most powerful communications executives.

Blogging appeals to PR professionals because it’s the scrawny, get-it-done middle infielder of public relations. It’s a hero’s tail, a voice a reason, nearly altruistic, “corporate communications with mass appeal.” Every starry-eyed PR professional that blogs believes, somewhere inside, that it can make them some kind of champion of business. It’s our Firefox, our feel-good alternative. It’s our Hollywood story. Convince one company to put blogging at the forefront of their communications strategy and you’ve “won one for the Gipper.” It’s as if you removed every single ethically-questionable tactic used by PR professionals and replaced them with a single olive branch.

Strumpette’s Amanda Chapel has enthusiastically embraced blogging. She hasn’t, however, enthusiastically embraced many of the PR professionals that maintain personal blogs. She actually goes out of her way to antagonize them.

In some respects, I share her concern. I believe blogging, as the delicate olive branch of PR, must be handled by the absolute best-of-the-best our industry offers. These are the Tim Dysons, the Richard Edelmans and the Andy Larks.

If we allow this wave of wannabe journalists and self-publishing addicts to control (and ultimately mishandle) what could be our White Album, we will fall … and we’ll fall hard.

“How can we build on this new Hollywood persona, the action-hero PR person? Or better yet, how can we offset the negative images of the mealy-mouthed apologist in the Constant Gardner or the cynical opportunist in Thank You for Smoking?”

We advise our clients to begin to leverage blogging (today) to help them build a core audience of fanatics. Once we learn to handle our Firefox, then it’ll be time to help our clients find their’s.

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Daniel Bernstein works at Bite Communications, a Next Fifteen company whose CEO is Tim Dyson.