Of course, I’m a lefty, but the point stands. On Sunday, July 5, my colleague Amanda Gravel sent a link to the New York Times article, “Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley.” I reluctantly put the sports section away and, ignoring the Valley focus (I’m a proud Boston PR guy), I read what I hoped would be a good article about how PR works in the tech field.
Oh boy was I disappointed.
The article, by Claire Cain Miller, started promisingly enough, talking about how public relations is more than talking to mainstream media–such as the Times–how bold! and that other “influencers” are important. However, the article devolved into a shallow, ugly portrait of what PR is not (at least, not in my house). Essentially, the article depicted the whispering in the ears of “influencers” – “Internet Famous” entrepreneurs, etc – as a PR strategy. I would like the world to think of PR people as more than glorified air-kissing party planners, but this article will do nothing for us in that regard. I have railed against “rolodex PR” in the past- that the stories we tell and how we communicate trumps who we know every time. It looks like I shall have to continue to do so.
A few reactions I noticed (or didn’t):
- I have no idea what Brew Media Relations’ Brooke Hammerling thought of her portrayal in the piece. I give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her contributions to clients are more strategic than what we see in the article. I hope she’s disappointed, but we may never know.
- TechCrunch, dismissed by one of the protagonists in the piece as “cynical,” responded with a, well, cynical, PR-hating piece that makes hash of the notion that a tech company shouldn’t launch without talking to them. I agree- to a point, though the Michael Arrington anti-PR part of the piece is so knee-jerk that it’s easy to ignore.
- Robert Scoble, who has worked out his own feelings about PR in public for years now, responded with the piece that perhaps Miller could have written. His main point? Talk to the tech blogs, but talk to everybody. Gary Vaynerchuk feels the same way, and said so in a recent “For Immediate Release” podcast special. Some folks thought he came off as anti-PR, but I didn’t see that here.
Of course, PR people responded in droves. Many, like myself, took to Twitter, while others could not limit themselves to 140 characters and blogged about it:
- Former colleague Chuck Tanowitz had a similar reaction to me, starting with his feelings about what the story could have been–he was more disappointed in the Times’ apparent slow reaction to changing media. He was as disgusted as I was by the “Sex and the City” depiction of PR.
- Amy Ziari, the “Small but Fearsome Pixie,” was appalled at the use of “friends” to get oneself in the Times. I have long made my peace with the idea of “self-PR,” but, as above, I have to wonder if Brooke Hammerling was actually pleased with how she was portrayed.
- Christine Perkett wrote about the “The Article I Want to Read on PR,” asking anyone to follow a PR-client relationship for a year, not just for launch, and focusing on how clients value our strategic input.
- Richard Edelman swatted down PR myths articles like this propagate. I was glad he seemed as angry as I was. He even appeared to give Ms. Hammerling less of a pass than I did, saying at one point: “Professional women in our industry should take particular umbrage at this conflation of PR with Soho night life.”
I’m sure there are more I am neglecting; all are worth reading. Yes, as John Dvorak said (dismissively) in the most recent “This Week in Technology,” PR people talk to each other via their blogs–frankly, we need the support group.
Doug Haslam is an Account Director at Boston’s SHIFT Communications, and blogs at DougHaslam.com.