Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When PR is Too Public

A local long-time PR professional shared with me a post he saw on a local reporter's Facebook page.

It started by saying "[Reporter's name] has the BEST PR friends ever." Then it raved, with zeal of a freshman sorority girl, about the gifts received and expected from four named PR professionals.

My friend who sent the message didn't mince words about his reaction to this:

"I miss the days when PR people and journalists maintained some semblance of tension between their respective roles."

It's an interesting thought. Social media has changed much about how the media and PR professionals do their jobs, including the specific PR function known as media relations. There's no doubt that using Facebook and Twitter can enhance the ability to establish and maintain relationships with journalists. Reporters also have opportunity to establish more contacts, enhance their reporting, and make news outlets more personal than institutional.

In short, all the self-appointed social media gurus encourage everyone to be social.

But is it possible that public relations can be too public?

Part of me sees this as an extension of junior high, in which kids talk about who they are hanging out with, not as idle conversation, but to boast and make obvious that other kids are NOT hanging out with them or their really cool friends. Maybe that's not going on, but it leaves that impression.

I also wonder about public reaction. The most important value of publicity is third-party credibility. In other words, if its in the paper or on TV it must be "legitimate" news because it's not just something an organization says about itself. This is also called "uncontrolled" media. 

But if people start seeing stories about the same organizations that reporters have recently cooed about gleefully and transparently in social spaces, especially when it's been about the receipt of gifts, it's not surprising that they would doubt the validity of the story, the reporter, the media outlet and the organization being covered.

It also sends a bad message about public relations, that it's all about schmoozing and manipulation of the media. 

I'm all for the social aspects of social media as applied to any business. But I would hope that does not mean abandoning a sense of professionalism. It might not have to be a 'semblance of tension'  as my friend suggests, but it could at least emphasize actual news value.

If reporters and PR pros want to get into displays of personal affection, they should get a conference room.  

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Jobs and New Media Good News for West Michigan

I received an email yesterday from Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor for Rapid Growth Media, that lifted my spirits. The blast email was to announce expanded job news coverage in the online publication. The expansion launched today in the Innovation and Job News section.

"Our philosophy is this: there may not be many big companies hiring 100 employees, but there might be 100 small businesses creating one job each," Wood explained in the email. "Those businesses are often overlooked as news stories, or the owners are so busy doing the day-to-day they don't think to let us know about their growth."

More than a publication, Rapid Growth has been a cheerleader for the region since its inception. It's not just seeing the positive job news in this economy, and the articles about smaller businesses, that is so uplifting. It's the fact  that a local news outlet is dedicated to constructive coverage. 

A complaint about the mainstream media  has long been the dwelling on scandal and negativity, the "if it bleeds it leads" mentality. Sure, citizens need to be informed  of crime and less  than uplifting news. But the constant barrage of aggregated unemployment numbers don't tell the full story. People need and want to hear about the small scale turnarounds and successes, the entrepreneurs as well as the monoliths. 

That may be partly why Rapid Growth has grown to 30,000 unique visitors  per month, and an email distribution of 15,000, according to publisher Jeff Hill. I would expect that to be a growth story of its own in the months ahead with its good news and the opportunity to peruse 98 jobs available at the moment I write this. It's also encouraging to read about jobs landed--especially when they feature a former student of mine:-)

I realize that the mainstream media has been working to make their coverage  more positive and local as well. But it seems that new media like Rapid Growth, citizen journalism project The Rapidian, and an impressive e-zine from local social media maven StellaFly are leading the way into online, hyper-local, smaller focus, positive news. In a bit of irony, StellaFly recently posted a long feature of Mike Lloyd, the formerly ink-stained and curmudgeonly Grand Rapids Press editor now doing PR for Broadway Grand Rapids.

All of this is good for the news consumers of West Michigan. It's also good in terms of the added outlets for the public relations professionals with small but good stories to share.