PRWeek.com Exclusive: PR bloggers push forth the medium

Not everyone is convinced that the hottest new media phenomenon of the millennium is, well, new. Take, for instance, Ben Silverman.

Not everyone is convinced that the hottest new media phenomenon of the millennium is, well, new. Take, for instance, Ben Silverman.

"The thing that fascinates me regarding the buzz around blogs is that they're wholly unoriginal. It's an extension of people presenting their opinions," he says, such as political discourse over a beer. And if anyone knows tech's power to blind, it's Silverman, a business news columnist for The New York Post and writes the PR Fuel blog, a service of eRelease. He also founded DotcomScoop.com, a website that covered the technology, telecommunications, Internet, media, and finance sectors during the Internet boom when he became disheartened with the mainstream media's heaping of effusive and misguided praise upon paper tiger companies. But for all the hype about blogs, they're still making waves, as their growing numbers demonstrate. Most current estimates find 3 million blogs (some say that figure is more like 4 million, others says it's closer to 2 million) amongst an online community of 729.2 million global Internet users, according to Global Reach. No one is predicting those numbers to decrease. Blogs are exciting many people in the business world, including many PR practitioners. In PR and b2b circles, blogs are a combination of many things: a kind of online networking cocktail reception where everyone seems to have a copy of the article they were referencing handy in their purse or briefcase, an easier and less-intrusive form of boosterism, and, as many will claim, an opportunity to further public discourse on the industry. Trevor Cook, a director of Sydney-based Jackson Wells Morris and writer of the Corporate Engagement blog, estimates that there are approximately 30 legitimate PR blogs in existence, and that number continues to grow. Steve Rubel, CooperKatz VP of client services and writer of the Micro Persuasion blog, says that blogs are somewhere in between the early-adopter phase and on the mainstream cusp. "Our challenge as PR bloggers is to grow our collective audience... and to get people to think about PR blogs as a way of staying in-touch with issues in and related to our profession," Cook says. "The industry-specific blogs are the best way to use the format for online mentoring," Silverman says, adding that they provide excellent educational experiences for young practitioners. Rubel finds other blogs to be a great source of information and currently reads approximately 75 marketing blogs. "However, you begin to trust certain ones more than others. You are going to read the blogs that have good writers, break news, and have everything you need," Rubel says. While it is apparent that the readers of blogs glean important information from them, the authors also need to receive a benefit from the process in order to post. "From a personal perspective my blog has created a whole network of relationships with PR and marketing people in different countries, industries and practices that I would probably have never made without [it]," says Tom Murphy, director of corporate communications at Cape Clear Software and author of the PR Opinions blog, in an e-mail interview. "I've seen bloggers build upon their existing professional reputations through careful and well-considered posts," Colin McKay, manager, advisory team communications and marketing branch for Industry Canada, writes via email. McKay's blog is called Canuckflack Blogs have also provided PR professionals with another reason to engage in their favorite pastimes of congregating and exchanging ideas. Cook is spearheading a PR Blog Week (not affiliated with the magazine), 25 bloggers (and PR practicioners) will assemble remotely to discuss a wide variety of topics. Cook hopes the event will provide a "rich resource" for potential clients, current practitioners and student who may be interested in a public relations careers. The weeklong event, to run from July 12 to July 16, is split into five topics: PR in the age of participatory journalism, corporate blogging, making PR work: creativity and strategy, crisis management, and the state of the PR profession. The format of the conference is still under discussion. In explaining the impetus for the event, Cook wrote, that since PR is "often decried as a secretive profession, we want to share our knowledge with everyone and encourage a better understanding of the contribution we make to our societies." Rubel, who will participate in the PR Blog Week, along with Cook, Murphy and McKay, will also be a panelist at the BlogOn 2004 event, a conference that intends to discuss the business of social media. But it's not all about community. Many of the bloggers interviewed by PRWeek.com said that maintaining their blog lay somewhere between an exercise in self-promotion and a new form of organizing their content. The similarity linking all blogs - across multiple subject matters - is that it provides the writer the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise. "I sift through articles and blogs on PR, marketing, politics, promotions, retail strategy and economics throughout the day, and thought a blog would be a useful tool to help keep track of interesting points, theories and links I had found," McKay says. Once McKay created his source of links, he decided to start posting comments based on his experience. "The entries on Canuckflack tend to include information on or pointers to fundamental PR challenges regularly faced by bloggers and non-bloggers alike," McKay writes. Keeping blogging and work separate The New York Times recently ran a May 27th piece entitled "For Some, the Blogging Never Stops," an article that highlighted some bloggers who were drawn into the obsessive quality of constant posting. On that note, a PR professional who maintains a highly dedicated blog has to be careful to make sure clients don't worry that he or she is spending more time on his or her blog than their concerns, and that it doesn't crowd into his or her private life. McKay, who tries to post at least once a day, says that he ensures the separation of his blogging from his salaried workload. "In fact, Canuckflack builds upon the stories, papers and announcements I have always sought out as part of my ongoing professional development," McKay says. "There's a reason that you'll notice that I only blog late at night, or early morning - work hours are for work, after hours are for work and for continued building of the company," Jeremy Pepper wrote in an email, adding, as an afterthought, "and relaxation." Pepper writes the POP! Public Relations blog, which is also the name of the PR firm he started up this year. "I post most days, but I'm not religious about it. If I've got the time and I've got something I want to say then I do it," Cook says, adding, "I love my readers but I don't want blogging to overwhelm my life." It's also important not to obsess about traffic to the sites. "If I wrote for glory, I would be in big trouble," Pepper says. "I did start my blog to promote the agency, as well as position myself as someone that has taken the jump to begin his own agency," Pepper says. The caveat of the blog, Pepper warns, is that you might be writing solely for an audience of one. "I know my friends in the industry read my blog, and I know of one journalist that reads it, but I have raised points that I thought should be picked up by other PR bloggers, where we would all raise a red flag ... and silence." PR professionals pass the message onto clients Murphy started PR Opinions when he used weblog software to corral all of the links he came across. He has subsequently enlisted Cape Clear to embark upon its own blogging strategy, which involved three avenues: establishing a corporate weblog at capescience.blogspot.com, using internal blogs to aid collaboration, and independent blog outreach for the company's communications benefit. "The results of all these initiatives has been extremely positive, and at little or no cost," Murphy wrote. "The media love corporate bloggers because they add a level of transparency and they get to learn things they might not normally learn about," Rubel says, adding that it's imperative that PR firms understand how the medium works. "You present clients with smart options and you let them decide what is best. You give them options and say here are the pros and the cons. Not every client should launch a blog," Rubel said. A blog is a big commitment, but it also needs to read genuinely. This means the head of the company or a product manager should produce the content for it, he says. "If a reader feels that it is not you writing or if you assign it to someone to someone junior, it could come back to hurt you," Rubel says. While some think blogs will replace traditional communications, Rubel warns that a blog is merely another arrow in the quiver. "Weblogs adds a new layer of measurement and accountability to PR activities, but blog relations is simply an additional tactic in our existing PR programs, not a replacement," Rubel says. Blog Roll Steve Rubel Micropersuasion steverubel.typepad.com/micropersuasion Trevor Cook Corporate Engagement trevorcook.typepad.com/weblog Tom Murphy PR Opinions www.natterjackpr.com Jeremy Pepper The birth of POP! Public Relations pop-pr.blogspot.com Colin McKay Canuckflack www.canuckflack.com Ben Silverman PR Fuel www.prfuel.com

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