A press release you can’t send through snail mail

I’ve written a handful of press releases since I arrived at Veritas. I must have read thousands of press releases as a reporter — out of hundreds of thousands that I received through e-mail, fax and even good old fashioned snail mail.

Much has been written about the press release lately — from Tom Foremski’s call for the death of press releases to Shift Communication’s proposed template for a “social media release” for the world of social communications.

As part of com.motion’s launch last week, we quietly “released” our first Social Media Release (shown here). We have others in development for clients which will be released in the coming weeks. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we tried to adapt what we saw as the best practices in the design and functionality of other pioneering Social Media Release efforts. (Our biggest tinker was to move “contact information” to the bottom of the release in an effort to improve search engine optimization.) The idea is to host a press release on the Web, but make it easier for a reporter/blogger/consumer to access the facts and quotes they are looking for, while supplementing it with multimedia tools like video and images and social media tools like social bookmarking and the ability for bloggers, reporters and/or consumers to leave comments.

As blogger and a former reporter, I believe Social Media Releases have tremendous potential to reach both groups, as well as to serve as an additional marker on the Web for consumers. It is a product we strongly recommend to clients who have big announcements and are looking to maximize coverage in the mainstream press and on blogs. As you can see from all the coverage we received over com.motion’s launch, it certainly worked for us.

mcarthur (at) veritascanada.com

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Facebook fumble: How can the poster child for social media conversations be so bad at it?

Back when I was working as a reporter, I was struck by the fact that the companies with the strongest brands are sometimes the worst at public relations. I won’t name names, but suffice to say that some of Canada’s most iconic brands are among them.

The most recent (non-Canadian) example is Facebook, which had come out of nowhere in the past 12 months to establish itself as one of the English speaking world’s most loved brands. No exaggeration.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that the Facebook folks are precariously close to losing all that good faith.

In an online piece yesterday Josh Quittner, the former editor of Business 2.0 magazine, warned that Facebook is being harmed “perhaps to a terminal degree” by “enormously bad PR.” He writes:

For a social media company, these folks don’t understand the first thing about communication; they have alienated the press by being arrogant, aloof and dishonest. Their idea of press relations is sending a stupid message to a What’s New at Facebook Group that directs you to another website for a canned statement. … Facebook has turned all the people who rooted for it into a lynch mob. In the space of a month, it’s gone from media darling to devil.

His harsh words relate to Facebook’s PR efforts around its Beacon advertising program, which allows Facebook advertisers to send users’ personal data — like what books or movies they order — to their friends.

Also yesterday, Robert Scoble (author of Naked Conversations), dumped blog criticism on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for his turtle act around Beacon:

I don’t see ONE SINGLE INTERVIEW that Mark Zuckerberg, or top executives at Facebook, have given ANYONE. Hell, don’t like me or other bloggers? Then give a press conference with professional press. ANYTHING would be better than the way that Facebook is handling this.

It appears that Zuckerberg may have got the message. For the first time in 15 months, Zuckerberg posted today to the Facebook blog. (Interestingly, his last post was also an apology).

Here’s what he wrote today:

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. … It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

He took responsibility, apologized and announced that Facebook has released a privacy control that allows users to turn off Beacon altogether. This may be a case of too much, too late. Zuckerberg failed to follow one of the primary rules in crisis management: Apologize because it’s the right thing to do, not because you have to. By waiting too long (until he had to), he may actually have had to make greater concessions than if had been able to get ahead of the crisis early on.

Facebook is the poster child for social media, conversation marketing and online communities. But while it facilitates and enables those communities, it is surprisingly ignorant in how to converse in them.

mcarthur (at) veritascanada.com

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PR people, journalists, bloggers: How they stack up in high-mindedness and credibility

As a PR guy (I mean communications professional) who only recently left journalism, I was interested to read my former colleague Jeffrey Simpson’s take on the difference between the two jobs. It’s contained in his Saturday column about Brian Mulroney (paid subscription required). He writes:

“Mr. Lavoie, fondly remembered as talented journalist some years ago, since leaving that occasionally high-minded but usually underpaid occupation, has devoted his considerable talents to the seldom high-minded but often overpaid business of advising various companies and individuals on their public relations, notably Mr. Mulroney for whom he once worked in office.”

Later in the day, I came across a blog post from Mitch Joel of Twist Image with the intriguing title Bloggers Pass Journalists On The Credibility Barometer – Mark This Day. He relates his recent experience with an unnamed Marketing publication. When he asked the editors to write about an award won by his agency, he received an e-mail back telling him that if he expected coverage, he should subscribe to the publication:

“We have an overload of information to publish every week, so we have to give priority to our paying subscribers. If we are important enough to promote you, we should be important enough for you to count you in as subscribers.”

As a former journalist, I find this morally offensive. There’s a fine line between writing stories about subscribers and writing stories for brown envelopes full of cash. My concerns as a PR guy are more selfish. In a pay for play world, the importance of our craft gets diluted.

Joel goes further: He says the days of blogging without authenticity are dead, but suggests the opposite is true in journalism.

So journalists are more high-mined than PR people, but bloggers are more authentic than journalists. I’ve done all three jobs. I’ve loved all three jobs. I respect people in all three jobs, and disrespect others in all three jobs. Is that high-minded enough?

mcarthur (at) veritascanada.com

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