Old-school wisdom never grows old

I have been watching a slow motion train wreck in cyberspace.

I have been watching a slow motion train wreck in cyberspace.

A while ago, I joined a corporate communications group on LinkedIn, mostly to see what this brave new world was all about. It was essentially a series of pleasant exchanges related to communications.

And then the fun began.

A boutique agency executive out of Boston posted a slide show called, "How to tell if your PR agency sucks!" The show had slick, compelling graphics overlaid with a hot Beatles' track of Don't Let Me Down. Its content, however, was disappointingly shallow. Here's how they claim you know if your agency sucks:

  • "They do not have their own blog."
  • "They think e-mail is so Web 2.0"
  • "They would rather fax."

I liked the graphics, the music, even the title, but was ultimately underwhelmed. Most of the subsequent comments agreed with me. The executive who posted the show then responded to critics with the following:

"Here are the results for the piece - the presentation was retweeted over 28 times (some of the people who sent it out had over 10,000 followers). Currently it has been viewed 970 times on slideshare, favor-ited five times, and downloaded 77 times. The blog post (containing the presentation) has been viewed 453 times, the URL is already our fifth largest traffic source to the (corp site) for the month - right behind Google PPC and Twitter. The piece itself did not cost anything to produce, it's still creating awareness for us, and we are very happy with its return."

To which I wanted to re-spond: "If I donned a Bozo mask and ran through Times Square in my undies, I'd probably get a fair amount of publicity as well, but to what end?"

Fortunately, I run all impulsive thoughts by my wife, who advised I pass on that retort.

Then the real trouble began, with this tech-savvy reader's post: "If it truly cost you nothing to produce, as you claim, then you employed slave labor (which I doubt) and violated copyright law (for the soundtrack, since I doubt the Michael Jackson estate and/or Sony granted you a license pro bono)."

The agency posted an evasive response, which has since been deleted, but it essentially avoided responsibility for not paying the music licensing fee.

I can only describe the next dozen or so posts as "piling on." Here's a sample:

"As a traffic court judge re-minded me as a teen, 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse' - and that applies where copyright respect is concerned. Don't you find it a bit unseemly for a professional to flout the law in this regard, particularly one who trades in intellectual property?"

Then this: "Speaking of 'PR agencies that suck...' You clearly were seeking to promote your business when you set out to cre- ate this piece. Any professional who knowingly uses licensed property to their own benefit without reimbursement to the artist is not someone I'm willing to do business with."

Here's another: "If you have to say others suck to elevate your own agency, that speaks volumes about your culture."

You get the picture. In the end, it was a fascinating look at new media and all of its strange dynamics. This boutique agency clearly understood that sensationalism and entertainment would generate coverage. But they lacked some basic old-school wisdom about the need to be wary of publicity strictly for the sake of publicity.

Or as Mrs. Rhinehardt used to tell me in fourth grade: "If you have nothing worthwhile to say, then don't say anything."

Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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