BlogOn event confuses as it informs PR pros
The two-day BlogOn conference held in New York City attracted a mixed crowd.
Attendants generally came from four major constituencies: seasoned bloggers who either participated in panel discussions or met up with fellow cohorts; blog-novice PR and advertising professionals hoping to glean more from the environment; bloggers looking to better monetize their properties; and journalists covering the field.
And not everyone found the conference informative. Towards the end of the first day, a PR professional representing the green marketers that did not identify herself, approached the microphone and summed up the thoughts of some professionals in the PR industry.
She said she came to the event to learn about the environment. She had not employed blogs for any of her clients, but they started asking about the medium. After a day full of panel discussions and networking, however, she claimed to be more confused about the blogs than before she attended.
"Without question, there were a lot of different audiences," says Cathy Brooks, a Bay Area-based VP of business development at Porter Novelli. "People from all aspects ? marketers and bloggers ? are still trying to figure out what's going on."
Brooks says that an event like BlogOn caters to the entire ecosystem and, therefore, offers a number of opinions. The goal, Brooks says, is that "all PR professionals will start to realize the blogosphere is like another form of media."
Running through the conference was the opinion ? confirmed by the dialogue at the cocktail party on the first night and in blog write-ups by attendees ? was that the event had become much more commercial than the first one, held in 2004. Panel discussions were bookended by product demonstrations from RSS, monitoring, and search vendors.
Despite the commercial opportunities and the overall discussion of monetizing blogs, expert bloggers, technologists, and corporations who have lowered themselves into the mix were also there to inform the novices.
But those who expected simple answers to the pervading questions about blogs - where they are going, and how the environment will affect PR professionals in the future - would leave empty-handed.
"The audience mix was a strong contrast. But PR professionals have to mingle in this world ? offline and on ? to learn the culture and customs," wrote Steve Rubel, VP of client services at CooperKatz, via e-mail. "This conference, while scary, was a good venue to get immersed."
But the environment drew criticism from PR professionals who wanted to know how to reach bloggers.
Jeff Jarvis, an influential blogger and consultant to the New York Times Company, criticized one panel, pitching to social media. He wrote in his blog, "[the panel] makes my skin crawl. Businesses think they can exploit blogs. But I want to tell blogs to exploit businesses instead: Get what you want out of them.... If a PR company calls you, tell them to have their ad buyers call instead."
Brooks says there will always be cantankerous individuals in the mainstream and emerging social media outlets, just as certain as there are always going to be "stupid PR people who make the rest of our lives miserable." She adds a meeting like BlogOn helps bring those two sides closers together.
Brooks, who was on the panel, says that bloggers who expressed dismay at PR professionals pitching them were likely the recipients of many unsolicited and untargeted pitches.
In this respect, Brooks says journalists and bloggers are alike.
"If you haven't done your homework and you pitch [Wall Street Journal columnist] Walt Mossberg incorrectly, he's [equally] going to rip your head off," Brooks says.
Another controversy erupted when blogger and author Shel Israel commented on how some PR professionals who didn't adapt to the changing environment would become waiters and waitresses.
When a PN employee identified her profession to the panel, Rubel, who was also on the conference advisory board, said, "Oh, a future waitress."
While Rubel says his comments were made in jest and not intended to slight the PN employee or PR professionals behind the curve, the audience sat silent for a couple of seconds before giving way to uncomfortable laughter.
"My overall impression is that the gap between where the blogosphere veterans are and where corporations are not only vast but also actually harmful," Lisa Poulson, Burson-Marsteller GM said in an e-mail to a question about the overall tenor of the conference. "The blogosphere says it wants corporations to come to the party, but they have so little understanding of the responsibilities and legitimate concerns that corporations have that they wind up alienating them instead."
She says that the change in Fortune 500 companies is an evolution, rather than a revolution of thinking that will usher in the new way of communications.
"I think bloggers are all yelling 'to the barricades' and looking for a glorious and dramatic revolution," Poulson says. "It isn't going to happen."
Brooks felt the event was pretty informative for blog-novice PR professionals, even if it was a bit confusing.
"PR professionals who had no idea what blogs were before walked away with a sense that they cannot ignore it," Brooks says. "You need to be thoughtful about [the environment]. Hopefully this conference taught them to learn and engage."
She expressed pleasure at the quality and quantity of feedback she received from journalists, bloggers, and PR professionals.
"There were people from companies who clearly wanted to know more," Brooks says.
She says novice PR professionals told her they had "aha!" moments and said, "Hey, that [discussion] was really helpful."