Monday, October 23, 2006

Bloggers expose floggers and cloggers

The ethical debate continues on how PR is adapting to the Information Age. And language has become richer as a result.

In the wake of 'flackery' and astroturfing - practices that are themselves roundly condemned by the believers in PR as a form of two-way communication and mutual understanding - we now have to wrestle with the concepts of the 'flog' and the 'clog'.

These are terms that are now bandied around the blogosphere. There's also a lot of talk about 'walmarting'.

It's all to do with trust and authenticity. When you read a blog, can you accept it at face value? If the blogger claims to be a member of the public with no hidden agenda, can you believe him or her? Do you feel duped when you discover that the blog is a 'PR stunt'? And how do you feel about PR in general when this happens?

When a nice, ordinary, folksy couple by the name of Laura and Jim decided to travel across America with their RV (recreational vehicle), spending each night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and keeping a blog of observations and photographs of the happy Wal-Mart staff that they met on their odyssey, it seemed a jolly interesting thing to do.

But when word got out that the whole trip (including the payment for the RV) was sponsored by Wal-Mart under the direction of their PR consultant Richard Edelman - and that Laura was freelance journalist, Laura St.Clair and that Jim was Washington Post photographer, James Thresher - the ethical debate moved into top gear.

The site, 'Walmarting Across America' has been derided as a 'flog' (fake blog) while other pro-Wal-mart sites, Working Families for Wal-Mart and its offshoot, hitting-back-at-anti-WalMarters site Exposing the Paid Critics are regarded as more blatent forms of 'clogs' (corporate blogs). I've previously commented on Richard Gunstone's Carphone Warehouse blog which also comes under this category.

Here's one typical comment on the Wal-Marting stunt:
Edelman's non-transparency about its Wal-Mart programs erode the trust that makes the Blogosphere valuable. It also forces the question of whether professional PR has any place in the Blogosphere.

Another blogger sees it as a failure to understand the ethos of online communication:
...they are still thinking in old media terms: This was a typical 'broadcast media' stunt, an attempt to change the way people think about Wal-Mart by playing up the warm fuzzy angles and neglecting to mention that the whole thing was set up from the start. That is such an old-school way of thinking and it reveals just how much of the bloggers' ethos has percolated through to the heart of what Edelman do, i.e. 'not a lot'.

Richard Edelman eventually apologised for his misjudgement. Stuart Bruce leapt to his defence with the view that 'hey anyone can make a mistake' although one of Stuart's respondents, Heather Yaxley reflects on the potential damage that this type of practice can have on PR's own image:
The damage to the reputation of PR and the potential lack of confidence of others to engage in online initiatives, must be overcome by seeing this as an opportunity to learn from Edelman's mistakes and ensure PR online is genuinely open and credible.

The whole incident demonstrates clearly how the discourses of blogging and corporate communication reflect very different mindsets. Chris Lake of e-consultancy offers 12 reasons why British businesses don't blog. One is tempted to suggest that there are plenty of reasons why they shouldn't.

The blogosphere is the space where the dissident may roam free and expose the claims, prophecies and promotional motivations of corporate communicators. This is where the grey suits find themselves laughed out of town, while the unfettered individual can turn activist and ride roughshod over carefully crafted corporate identities.

Filed under:
online PR   flack   astroturfing   flog   clog   corporate blogging   Wal-Mart   Richard Edelman   Carphone Warehouse

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eye of the beholder

Dove's 'Campaign For Real Beauty' raises some fascinating issues for media students.

Not only does it highlight classic Media and Culture Studies concerns about image, identity and representation of women, it also demonstrates the application of what is effectively a pseudo-PR campaign in the advertising and promotion of product ranges.

This short film works at a lot of levels. It makes a very strong point about the manipulation of image - and our sense of self - in the promotion of 'beauty' products. It also shows how the distinction between 'reality' and 'image' is blurred and - by making a claim to 'campaign' for reality - it re-presents a promotional campaign for a brand as if it were a PR campaign, engaging public opinion on how society understands the concept of 'beauty'.

It's a product of a promotional industry, made to look like an attack on that selfsame industry and the messages it sends out to women. If you're a 'real' woman - join our cause. (and buy Dove products!)

Filed under:
Media Studies   Dove campaign   advertising   brand   beauty products

Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't sue them - woo them

Don't get a lawyer - get a PRO. That's the advice to celebrities of former journalist, now PR person Ian Monk on how to handle the tabloid press.

PR Adviser to Wayne Rooney, Mr Monk commented in last week's PRWeek on the popular media's attitude to people in the public eye. Celebs, politicians, footballers, anyone remotely high-profile is 'public property' whose private lives are open to redtop scrutiny.

In a situation where 'self-regulation through the Press Complaints Commission offers limp and belated redress for past wrongs', he argues that smarter celebs turn to a PRO rather than a lawyer for better results and cheaper bills.
The advantage of the PR strike is that it can be pre-emptive, offering real protection of reputation and brand. And, with no legal battle and ensuing bitterness, there remains a positive, rather than negative, implication for the client's future media relations.

Clearly an advocate for win-win situations, Monk even presents an argument for how this can benefit the media themselves ('editors have been ordered by cost-cutting executives to cut out legal bills') and indeed lawyers ('...growing opportunities for PR and law professions to work together')

One of this week's guests on BBC1's Question Time, Tommy Sheridan clearly recognises the effectiveness of combining the PR carrot with the legal stick in his ongoing dispute with the News of the World. PRWeek also reports that he has now hired the former press secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party, Hugh Kerr to act as his media advisor.

Filed under:
celebrity PR   media relations   tabloid   PRWeek   PCC   Question Time   Tommy Sheridan   News of the World   

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Fox and the Wolf

Fox News is proud to be biased. Now celebrating 10 years of one-sided reporting, Rupert Murdoch's popular cable news channel continues unabated. The anniversary is reported in this week's Media Guardian which set out to investigate the polarised opinions in the US on Fox's treatment of political and international news stories. The attempt was apparently thwarted by the channel's own media relations executive who refused to play ball when she discovered that the article might contain views of Fox's critics.

I watched Fox News a few times during my last visit to the States, a nation that was reflecting on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. At one level I found Fox's items entertaining and engaging, giving you a real sense of a dedicated news team moving heaven and earth to get the story on the screen. But one couldn't help thinking 'Why this story? why this treatment? why this angle?' Even if the story didn't have an obvious pro-Republican bias, I found myself looking for it. It was quite refreshing to switch over to watch CNN's anchorman Wolf Blitzer tear into Condoleezza Rice's claims that the invasion of Iraq was justified despite faulty intelligence on weapons of mass distruction.

Filed under:
Fox News   Rupert Murdoch   Guardian   CNN   Wolf Blitzer   Condoleezza Rice   

I rather like this....

Following earlier posts about online news, here's a little vision of the future :o)

Filed under:
online news