Think about it. A CEO walks up to a smaller competitor and says “let’s get married.” The other guy says, “Let’s talk.” While this actually happened to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner – chronicled by Sramana Mitra in Entrepreneur Journeys – not all relationships are this easy to establish. Let’s take the one between PR professionals and journalists for example.
Of course, we know the dialogue on the relationship between the two professions has been echoed time and time again – whether it’s being discussed at Horn Group’s recent panel, “Is social media killing PR,” or being written about as PR horror stories on proprtips.com from CNET journalist Rafe Needleman.
Most recently, this conversation on the PR-journalist dynamic appeared after I had a chat with Eric Eldon of VentureBeat via Twitter. What sparked this conversation is that Eric reported on a company by writing what he thought they did, rather than saying that they’re a “SaaS provider of collaboration software.” He “tweeted” about it, and others took notice – including me.
After seeing this, I decided to go head-to-head with him and provide some of my own two cents. The outcome? Some great lessons learned on the value of smart branding and the different roles we play in seeing that brand’s success come to fruition. The question at the heart of the debate is this: Should journalists have to report on how a company identifies themselves – in this case, a provider of SaaS collaboration software – or rather, is this open to interpretation?
After our exchange via Twitter, I came to realize that Eric had some very valid points from the journalist perspective:
Eldon: a PR person is mad at me because i wrote what a company did instead of saying that it's an "SaaS provider of collaboration software" 3:23 PM Nov 20th from twhirl
Eldon: @Elainiac @fourlittlebees @schwarzwald the sad thing is that the company actually was interesting in an enterprise-y sort of way. *sigh* 3:38 PM Nov 20th from twhirl in reply to Elainiac
MissMandyK: @eldon don't shoot the messenger 4:07 PM Nov 20th from web in reply to eldon
Eldon: @MissMandyK what's a better way to respond? 5:45 PM Nov 20th from twhirl in reply to MissMandyK
MissMandyK: @eldon it's not a request of an individual but a ques. of accuracy when it comes to strategic positioning 9:56 PM Nov 20th from mobile web in reply to eldon
Eldon: @MissMandyK my goal is to be clear with readers about what a company actually does, not to help the company with its marketing 10:38 PM Nov 20th from twhirl in reply to MissMandyK
MissMandyK: @eldon your goal & the value it brings to you readers conflicts w/ goal of the company, PR has to represent that.such is life.. 11:16 PM Nov 20th from mobile web in reply to eldon
MissMandyK: @eldon but I guess it's only fair to acknowledge that everything is subject to indiv. interpretation... 9:59 PM Nov 20th from mobile web in reply to eldon
Eldon: @MissMandyK yeah.... although sometimes its the same! 11:27 PM Nov 20th from twhirl in reply to MissMandyK
Here, we see another example of a PR rep and a journalist not being able to see eye-to-eye on an issue surrounding accuracy in content and message control. Going forward, how can we improve?
For one, we can improve this relationship by eliminating complex branding jargon and developing strong content that lends itself to natural semantics. I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking to set up a web meeting I don’t typically search for “SaaS provider of collaboration software.” By doing this, we’re better able to reach customers.
Paring down messaging content into real terms is something that has been discussed recently by both Guy Kawasaki and Richard Edelman. While I’m not the first to say it, I surely won’t be the last, as this is something that’s going to become an increasingly important factor when companies are trying to differentiate themselves based on messaging alone. It’s no longer about who you are, but what people are searching for.
Even the medium has relaxed, and we need to, too. All of our virtual discussions - on message boards, blogs, social networks like our client Hi5, and even the newly-launched MicroPR– are forums for real people to engage in casual and candid conversation. Our responsibilities in PR and for the companies we represent are not to control the message or the content, but to help shape the message in layman’s terms so that people can find it out there in the virtual cobwebs. The content is inevitably going to shape itself because of the new medium.
At Horn Group, we’re seeing the value in Twitter because it’s a virtual forum that allows us to join in on conversations and debate on industry topics we care about from every end of the spectrum. From Twitter to Yammer to Facebook, engaging in these discussions help us visualize where we can improve –whether it’s our understanding, our attitudes, or our branding.
What lessons have you learned from your own exchanges on the Web? Please share them here.
Special thanks to Eric Eldon of VentureBeat for triggering the conversation.