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April 2010

Discount Stores Don’t Need Discount Public Relations

Blogging isn’t just for nerds anymore. Blogging is simple, and it’s as close to free as anything ever will be. You can go to a public library and set up a blog using any number of different free services. There is a low threshold for entry into blogging. Anyone can do it.

I remember watching Arianna Huffington hit every talk show when the book her editors she wrote was released and she kept saying, “everyone should have a blog. Everyone has the ability to have a great blog.” Well, no, that’s not quite true. Not everyone writes well, not everyone can create concise posts about interesting topics, not everyone can code. Not every blog is good. Not every person should be a blogger.

The web offers us a false sense of parity. Sure, anyone can start a site, but unicorns and sparkles won’t make you the next BlogHer any more than talking about tech will make you the next Mashable. I know second grade was amazing, but by the time you got to third, there were grades, and not everyone got A’s. This morning, when I pointed out that a campaign (which has yet to launch) is a train wreck in the making, I was told, “Well we are trying. Everyone starts somewhere.”

That’s not good enough.

Last year I stood on stage at the 140 Conference and reminded people that if they wanted good publicity they should hire a publicist. Today I would emphasize that even more. The FTC created some guidelines around blogging and partnerships that ought to be heeded, not because it’s the FTC, but because these guidelines will save you from looking like more of a shill.

Here’s the quick version of things, since I know y’all are going to want a blow by blow account.

  • I checked in at ShePosts (as I do every morning) and saw that Sears Outlets were looking for bloggers
  • I noticed that some bloggers had even offered to put signs on their front lawn, for free
  • I filled out the application and took some screenshots.
  • Almost fell over when I read: You CAN give and post negative feedback on Sears Outlet. All we ask is that you allow us the opportunity to correct it if possible first.
  • Followed by: And yes, you must abide by FTC laws on disclosures.

I’m not the only person who sees problems, yet there are so many here that I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll start in the middle.

If you want publicity hire a publicist. A call for applicants should not be a blog post, complete with comments, grammatical errors, misspellings and periwinkle blue links. A call for applicants should be your finest moment, it ought to be fully polished, readable, quotable and enticing. In theory you want to attract bright people. Bright people will not be attracted to a messy site.

If you’ve already decided that you’re going to use a blog post to attract applicants, let’s look at the content of the post. The FTC does not (nor will they ever) make laws. The FTC creates guidelines, lawmakers make laws. The FTC may fine people, based on the guidelines, they investigated Ann Taylor recently, but nothing happened. If you are going to worry about the FTC and their guidelines the best thing you can do is read them.

Now, let’s assume that you don’t much care what the FTC says, and you also don’t care about the quality of the work that a “Public Relations Firm” puts out on your behalf. Assuming all of that, please tell me who is going to trust anyone who signs up for this? What about this is trustworthy? Negative reviews have to be submitted to the PR firm first? I have never seen anything like that before, and certainly hope to never see it again.

I won’t even talk about taxes. These women, these poor gullible women will have to pay taxes on items they may or may not actually want or need. There’s nothing quite as lovely as picking up the tab for your local megastore.

I understand that the PR firm behind this is a new one, and it seems as though they may be a pro bono one as well. I can tell you this; I have many friends who are PR Pros and everything about this made them cringe.

Once again a discount store has made the mistake of trying a discount marketing campaign. In some ways it doesn’t really matter who it is, or why they did it, the takeaway should be hire a real agency.