Phony expert exposes real problem

Fortifying media with legitimate contacts is still a critical job for communicators

Phony expert exposes real problem

Ryan Holiday is an expert on getting publicity, that's for sure.

Holiday's new book, "Trust me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator" has garnered more than its due in coverage, thanks to the fibs he told reporters and bloggers in order to end up in their stories - on topics as various and random as food hygiene and 'Generation Yikes' (I had to Google that one, myself).  

His motive: “I knew that bloggers would print anything, so I thought, what if, as an experiment, I tried to prove that they will literally print anything?” he told Forbes. “Instead of trying to get press to benefit myself, I just wanted to get any press for any reason as a joke.” ABC News and Reuters were among the duped, as was The New York Times, which quoted him in a piece about vinyl record aficionados. Holiday used Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to find his opportunities.

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Holiday points the blame at greedy media owners who sacrifice quality for traffic and click-throughs. "I'll be very blunt: A system where top media executives and owners explicitly acknowledge their preference for money over a quality product is a manipulator's dream."

But while he has a point about the economic realities of media, it's only one half of the story. The problem cannot all be on the demand side. The supply side - PR firms and in-house teams responsible for that traditional art of "media relations" - should ask themselves if they are doing enough to fulfill the expanding and unrelenting needs of media outlets for content, experts, and context.

In this social era, it is fashionable to say that we no longer "need" third-party media, that brands and corporations can communicate directly with their customers and stakeholders, and indeed they can. Crises or product launches will still fire up the media relations engine, but is the block-and-tackle of the profession being abandoned as teams stretch to service so many new models?

More importantly, are PR professionals still serving, at least in some part, as trusted advisors to help source these contacts, or are they relying on automation to mop up the function? Services like HARO play an important role, but are no substitute for relationships that help all media, from traditional reporters to mommy bloggers, produce relevant content. Sure, pressure on media owners has never been greater. But that only presents an even better opportunity for communicators to affirm their value.

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