I've been following the saga of Tom Coates and his reaction, and subsequent clarification, of his feelings about being pitched to by PR people.
I shall summarise for your reading pleasure (as I know you appreciate it):
- Tom Coates' blog gets popular.
- Stephen Davies points out to the PR community that Tom Coates' blog is popular.
- Some PR people target Tom Coates' popular blog by sending him stuff.
- Tom Coates is unhappy.
Following Tom's initial rant, there was a wave of reaction. Renaissance Chambara spotted it, then Drew joined in. Stuart Bruce had something to say, as did Stowe Boyd. Simon Collister added his two penneth. Journalists like Jemima Kiss and Sally Whittle and Chris Edwards chimed in too. Most people agreed with his sentiments.
I'm amazed at the discussion. I really am. For two main reasons.
A blogger complaining about being so popular that they have become the target of PR campaigns is like Britney Spears complaining about being followed around by the paparazzi. You can't prance around in your bra, draped in a python while singing about being a 'Slave 4 U' that was 'Born To Make You Happy' then decide you don't want to have your picture taken. (Yes, I know too many Britney songs but you get my point.) With fame comes the trappings - be it massive wealth, a dedicated web following or people trying to influence you. There are boundaries, of course. I wouldn't approve of putting cameras in Britney's toilet or rifling through her rubbish. But does she complain when she gets sent free t-shirts? I doubt it. The real discussion here should be what constitutes a degrading or exploitative action. In Tom's case, it isn't sending him a press release. Sorry, but it isn't.
What on EARTH do the PR people targeting Tom think they're doing? There is a way to relate to the public via blogs. Contact with bloggers has got to be direct, considered and personal. If not, you run the risk of sparking a debate that just ends up creating negative PR. And negative PR via a blog is not like negative PR from a legitimate news source. Bloggers don't have a standard set of ethics that say they can't call someone a ****. It's going to hurt. Any PR types that are targeting Tom haven't done anything wrong - but his reaction suggests they've gone about it in a terribly wrong way. He obviously wasn't expecting to hear from them. Perhaps he didn't know them. Maybe he only likes to receive information when delivered by owl - I don't know. And the problem is neither did they.
I hope this episode, and others like it, doesn't scare PR people off using popular blogs as a new channel in the media mix. After all, it's an exciting way to connect with the public in a world of declining print readership.
Many bloggers are thrilled to be thought of as journalists. And those that are treated like them should learn to balance the advantages (large readerships, public influence, free stuff) with the inconvenience of receiving the odd press release that doesn't interest them.
At the same time, PR types need to realise that bloggers that aren't journalists don't act like journalists.