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Dear Publicists: Yeah, that was me

Okay PR people I’m talking to you.

The big boys just gave the PR Agencies Are Dead talk at SXSW and I wasn’t there. I was home, in my bunny slippers waiting with baited breath for an invitation from you to a swanky party.

Actually I’m not.

I’m probably making beds, washing dogs, playing with kids or at tennis. I’m probably a little less online than you’d expect and infinitely less beholden to you than you’d like. Mostly it’s because I have no clue what Public Relations is. It makes no sense to me.

I loved that Quaker sponsored my inauguration party, I adore Dreamworks giving me a morning with my son that he’ll remember in 50 years, I even appreciate that Johnson and Johnson’s complete ineptitude made me into a blogger that people listen to. So thanks, and yes, I know I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.

What happens is this. Publicists and bloggers alike refer to one another as people they “work with”. I’m new to this space. I’ve been a webmaster for 10+ years, but I’ve only had this blog for seven months, it’s new. When you buy me dinner, does that mean I’ve “worked with you”? In my mind we’ve just gotten a little boozy.

In ten years of consulting with small to midsize businesses I’ve told them (mostly women) one thing over and over again.

Either have money boundaries or get out of business.

When I had online retail stores, having money boundaries meant not allowing friends to “shop” in my home. If they wanted something they could buy it online. Why? Because my friendship wasn’t about to dissolve over a pair of $300 shoes or a $25 tee shirt. I never gave discounts to anyone, and when discounting was the only way to stay in business, I got out.

Publishing is my business.

I didn’t really think much about blogging before last November. I knew that I wanted to have a blog with my name on it, and I wanted to be open and honest. I wanted to talk about parenting and bikini waxing, farting and show you my Mom’s pictures. All that changed in November with Motrin, and then in December I was off to Consumer Reports and by January every PR firm in town was emailing, saying “We want to work with you.”

I still don’t know what PR is. I know what marketing is, I know science, I know parenting, I know sustainability and I know what moves people. I also know that work is paid, volunteering is free.

So can someone, just one publicist please tell me how we’ve worked together?

Make up an email address for the comments, stay anonymous, because this is a question I’d like answered.

12 thoughts on “Dear Publicists: Yeah, that was me”

  1. The shop I work in mostly works with ‘old-media’ publications (i.e. not blogs) but we use the same language so here’s my $0.03 (adj for inflation).

    On the client side – we say we “work with” our clients for a number of reasons (and these may not be true across the spectrum….)

    1) Depending on the size of the client company there may be other agencies that handle different divisions, goals, etc. and to say that we “represent” XYZ Co. implies we’re their primary/only agency (which may or may not be true). Also the reason we don’t say we’re “with.”

    2) It’s a bit of CYA. If there was a miscommunication between the client and us (or client changed something and didn’t tell us) – by not being their official spokesperson there’s room for correction.

    3) There’s also frequently an in-house PR/Marketing contact, which (depending on the nature of the assignment and client) may be the primary for incoming queries but other items go through the external agency (or some other division of labor).

    The external agency doesn’t (or shouldn’t at the very least) want to get in the way of an existing relationship so by disclaiming that we ‘work with…’ when talking with the media we’re not implying that we’re now the ones that should be approached and if asked ‘oh, should I call you regarding zithers from now on?’ can honestly say (without backtracking) ‘no, that’s still the domain of Jessica Doe, we work specifically with the trumpet division…’

    On the press side –

    Our clients do (or should) understand that for the most part they will not be the sole focus of a feature/trend article. The reporter will want to talk to competitors, predecessor companies, etc.

    At the same time the journalist may not have specific connections to those competitors. And/Or those competitors may not be pursuing the same media strategy and so would not even have approached the same reporter with a pitch.

    Worse yet, with budgets and staffing falling in the media, they may simply not have the resources to pursue what may be an (objectively) interesting story.

    Which is where ‘working with’ comes in.

    If your client happens to be in the top 5 (depending on industry) of their field they can likely put together a package for the journalist with info on the competitors, contact info, industry size/numbers, etc. and provide responses to an editor’s query of feature writers/freelancers – ‘Who cares….’

    Also called ‘spoonfeeding.’

    We do it b/c 1) handing a packaged story that just needs the writing to a reporter can be great for all involved (provided it’s a real story, worth telling) and 2) it may be the only way to get said story told b/c not every article can be a love-fest for our client…

    Also on the press side – if a client were to co-sponsor an event with a publication (or publication parent) their people have likely ‘worked together…’

    I’m sure there are many other ways agencies, media and other orgs ‘work together’ to get things happening since it’s all about cooperation and having something the other side wants a piece of in this field.

  2. With all the new media technologies out there, us PR people see how powerful mom bloggers can really be. In fact, I consider mom bloggers my #1 media target for my clients. Moms make the purchasing decisions, are out there talking to their friends and in general, are “mega influencers” when it comes to many issues.

    Whether you love, loathe, write about, don’t write about, talk to your friends, spread the word, etc. about our client – your input is so valuable to us – once we get that input, I consider that “working with you” to achieve mutually beneficial results. And our clients recognize that too.

    So yes, we want to “work” with you and hopefully help you get a return on your investment too – whatever your goals may be. And believe me, I respect your goals wholeheartedly and hope we can “work together” more in the future. You are a very smart woman and I very much enjoy your Web site. Keep up the good work!

  3. Now we are totally BFFs! u did that fitness thing the other day and I used to be a PR manager. But I used to work 4 the devil….hmmmm….maybe it’s better to tell u in a diff forum who it was…

  4. Thank goodness you said that! As a mom (first) and a PR professional (just trying not to do a half-ass job) I find myself both mesmerized and perplexed by how to approach mom bloggers.

    I felt like to “pitch” a mom blogger or to tell a client how to write a blog, I needed a first person perspective. So I started a blog. Went well at first…and then I by the time I got I picked up the kids from school, made dinner, did homework, cleaned up, took care of baths & showers, negotiated with kids to fall asleep and used the “not tonight honey I have a headache” line…I couldn’t think of anything witty.

    Anyway, I completely recognize that mom bloggers can have a HUGE impact on readers. But the reason we PR professionals want to “work with you” is because of the credibility your word has. But if we “work with you” too much, will your readers think you’ve sold your credibility?

    And how do I explain to a client that just because they spend money with a mom blogger doesn’t mean she will 1) write something or 2) write something positive?

    Anyway, I am thrilled you have started this discussion and eager to hear your additional thoughts on the matter. I’m sooo open to tips on how to “work” with a mom blogger such as yourself…and a better acronym for “working together.” :)

  5. You want to know how we worked together, Miss Jessica? It’s from you crapping out all this content and my reading it and sharing it with all of my colleagues Monday mornings for a lot of sharing, a few chuckles, and a lot of respect… and then when we’re about to invite you down to some swanky Mister Rogers Neighborhood party, we hear from our pimp upstairs who pays the bill that you can’t come.

    OK, maybe it’s not like that. Because I don’t work in PR nor like to comment anonymously, but since you asked, I felt like obliging. :)

  6. It’s a very good question but after reading all of the comments, I’m still not sure if any of them answer it very well. I think I am more confused than before, and I know what PR is.
    I did enjoy your post though. I’ll have to look into it, but I have a feeling I know the person that’s behind the talk you refer to at SXSW. I want to add my twitter account to your widget, but I know too much about widget’s and all of their security vulnerabilities. It’s nothing personal, but I’ve never seen one like that, and I don’t know who hosts it. Where did you find it anyway?

    1. Michael,

      Brian Solis and Peter Shankman did the SXSW panel, I wish I could’ve been there.

      Twitter is the logon I worry about least, I don’t know that the widget is secure, but replicating a twitter account would be simple. @ariherzog pointed me to a great twitter backup.

      Off to follow you now :)

  7. If I am understanding your post, you are asking why we consider that securing coverage from you gives us the right to say we worked together? I often say I worked with a reporter or a blogger on a story. If I send samples and press kit information to a blogger, or supply product for a giveaway, or if I attend a shoot with a news crew that take several hours (or days) – getting a spokesperson there, assisting with logistics, pulling together elements, I don’t think it crosses the line to say we worked together on that project. Usually the blogger or journalist couldn’t have put together the same story or often any story without my help – and often my efforts are in tandem with yours to create the best result. I’m not sure I understand the sensitivity behind my saying we worked together. I guess it’s similar to the sensitivity I often feel when I put a lot of work into a great story and it goes unacknowledged.

  8. @anon that does sound like “working together”.

    But what about sending me a box of rice? That’s when I hear people saying they’ve “worked” with a brand.

    Uh, no, you got $10 worth of product and overnight shipping.

  9. Publicists and bloggers alike refer to one another as people they “work with”.

    It reminds me a bit of some of the email etiquette questions, such as “At what point can you call someone by their first name.”

    I get emails all the time from people who don’t know me but start out with only my first name.

    I suppose that as long as they are offering something of value and not wasting my time I don’t really care.

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