Founding editor and publisher, Cool HuntingJosh Rubin publishes the website Cool Hunting and provides consulting services that include design strategy, trend research and mobile marketing. He spoke to PRWeek.com about consumer-driven media, PR's role in it, and where large companies make mistakes in online initiatives.
Q: When you started the website in 2003, did you expect it to turn into a consultancy, or did you just view it as a place to put things that interested you? A: I was a designer for about 10 years, and I started it as a place to have a better catalogue or inventory of all the different references that I came across. Prior to that, I had bookmarks, things torn of out photographs, and other references that were disorganized. When I started to create a site, I didn't necessarily set out to have a broad audience. But, I also didn't feel a need to hide [the site] from anyone.
Q: Are you surprised by the blogging revolution? A: It didn't surprise me much once the software was in place that allowed people to keep [a blog] easily. The interesting evolution has been from the original "personal journal" mechanism through the rise of the commercial blogs. There's now a different sense of professionalism. It's not just about communicating; it's about having a small business.
Q: Do you think more companies are going to focus on online initiatives, either via advertising on blogs or starting their own? A: I don't have a sense of whether advertising budgets are being directed away from traditional media, but I do know that blogs are finding their way onto companies' spreadsheets more and more. The primary reason is because it is easy to get to a more specific audience that way. Most blogs are within a specific niche, therefore the targeting for an advertiser is a bit more effective than it might be on television.
Q: Do you get approached by large companies for your consulting services or to try to get placement on your website? A: Sometimes, but it's not that often. Most people who approach me on the editorial side are in touch with what we write about. On the consulting side, they're pretty in line with the type of clients we work with. On the advertising side [of the site], it's not as consistent. While I've gotten many companies advertising with products in line with what we cover, some are off-base.
Q: With the rise of viral ads and the perceived coolness of them, do you think more large companies are going to try to get edgy online? Can they have a different brand identity online? A: I definitely believe that changing the brand identity from what it is in the real world and trying to be something else online is a big mistake. If you have an online strategy that's effective in getting people to learn about your product, but the product is something else when they get to interact with it, there's going to be a huge disappointment. That's a short-side strategy that just focuses on traffic.
Q: Where do you see public relations fitting into your site and blogs, in general? Do you value products you find on your own more than those that are pitched to you? A: The majority of the stuff we cover on the site is things that we find. But there is a significant percentage of stories that are introduced to us by the community of readers, which includes PR and marketing professionals. We get probably an equal amount of attention from readers as we do from PR professionals. Each group has a different approach, but, we're ultimately learning about a product or service or artist. We look into it either way to decide if it's something we want to put up on the site. Everyone who is trying to run a blog as part of a business has a different strategy. Many have the strategy to increase the number of pages they have because there will be a correlative increase in traffic and the amount of advertising revenue they can have. There are sites where a lot of stuff up there is a regurgitation of every press release they get. I'm more focused on the quality of the content; I generally have a limit to seven items a day. I feel like any more than that is just too much. People who come to the site are looking for a few interesting things; they're not looking for a high volume of stuff.
Q: What advice would you give to PR people who might want to pitch you? A: I always respond better when I'm contacted with something more than just a press release - even if it's just a couple of lines saying here's why they're approaching me and my site. I get a ton of press releases, and while I read them all, I skim them.
Q: Where do you see PR's role in consumer-driven media given that readers are now cluing in blogs to new products? A: They have do have different roles. The PR representative is still ultimately the gatekeeper, but it's just a matter of rethinking timing. The spread of information today is so much different than it was in the past. The PR professional needs to be a little more in touch with how quickly stuff gets picked up and spreads.