PR firms and bloggers are like matches and gasoline

Blogger outreach in PR is like working with gasoline. Work with it correctly and it makes the vehicle go. Do it incorrectly and it blows up with disastrous consequences.

I am amazed at the number of PR firms who have an astounding lack of understanding at not only the basics of public relations, but also the basics of civility and common sense.

Until yesterday, one of the best recent examples of this phenomenon was ConAgra’s PR firm tricking bloggers about Marie Callender food, but some email exchanges yesterday provide us with a classic textbook debacle.

Instead of a recap, I’ll just let you read the story of how a few employees at BrandLink Communications have nearly destroyed their business with a bad pitch to the Bloggess. (warning: profanity-laden)

Their first basic mistake was relevance. While the point of PR is to get mentioned in as many forms of media as possible, too many firms just blast their entire contact list with every pitch. Look at the placement (whether it’s a blogger or traditional print/broadcast outlet) and see if what you’re pitching is similar to the type of content and audience they have.

For some reason, I keep getting emails from a PR firm who wants me to write about MRI machines here on the Shotgun Marketing Blog. They have not researched. Shoddy research doesn’t count either. I get a few pitches a week wanting me to write about guns and/or ammunition.

The well-researched personalized pitch works. Take a look at the 2nd half of Mark Schaefer’s post back when I was pitching bloggers about Brand Zeitgeist.

Another tenet of sending out good pitches is basic proofreading. If you look at the quotes from BrandLink Comm’s original pitch, it’s rampant with spelling and grammar errors. There’s now an entire generation of young professionals who are now sending out professional emails with the laissez-faire style of online communication and texting. It might work with some bloggers, but you’re going to immediately be deleted by the traditional editor who has an AP Stylebook sitting next to the Bible.

While BrandLink Comm had a bad pitch to start with (as The Bloggess tried to tell them with the Wil Wheaton link), this issue was compounded by arrogance, hubris, and rudeness. In PR, you’re basically going with hat-in-hand and asking for help. Be respectful of their audience and their time.

And when you do mess up, say you’re sorry and mean it. BrandComm has sent the Bloggess an email apology and apologized on their Facebook page, but the offensive VP (Jose) continues to be glib and use non-apologies on his Twitter feed.

All PR firms who reach out to bloggers need to have a training with all their employees using this instance as the prime case study. (Need a trainer?)

And always remember, reply-all is the most dangerous thing on your computer.

Update: This is not the first time that Jose has ticked off a high-profile blogger.

Follow-up Post: PR firms, ad agencies, and other marketers should find a partner for disaster

moving a blog from blogspot to wordpress

I’m normally just an occasional lurker in the weekly #blogchat on Twitter. But Sunday night’s #blogchat was about changing blogging platforms — a subject that I’ve had intimate experience with. I started blogging in January 2005 on Blogger at http://shotgunconcepts.blogspot.com and moved the Shotgun Marketing Blog to this self-hosted WordPress platform in February of 2009.

Because I couldn’t get all my points and story across in 140 characters in #blogchat, here are some things you need to consider if you’re going to change blogging platforms:

  • Start where you need to be so you never have to change platforms
    “Way back” in 2005 when I started blogging, I didn’t feel I had the technical know-how to set up a mySQL database, hack out code, and do the other things that were necessary (back then) to setup WordPress. (Looking back, I could have done it.) I really don’t remember why I chose Blogger, but I do remember why I left. I didn’t like the look of a .blogspot URL and Blogger didn’t have many of the features I was wanting. I just started blogging without really understanding the long term commitment I was getting into. You need to look at all platforms and decide which is best for your purposes and make a good decision up front so you never have to move. (And Blogger is a good platform; I still use them for some other blogs)
  • Wait it out
    Blogger upgraded their systems and adopted MANY of the things I was wanting to do in their blogging software shortly after I migrated the blog to WordPress.
  • You WILL lose your rank and previous SEO work
    I knew this before I moved, but I didn’t really realize the depth of how much would go away. Blogger doesn’t allow permanent 301 redirects so FOUR years of my link equity building are gone. Before the move, I was ranked in the 40 / 50 range of the Power 150 ad / marketing bloggers; today I’m in the 400s. My old blogspot address is still listed on old blogrolls of dead blogs that haven’t been updated in years, but search engines still see those links (not weighted as heavily, but still there). Plus people don’t have blogrolls like they used to. As people moved away from blogs to things like Twitter and Facebook, direct inbound links and trackbacks from other blogs became less intense.  All the link power of being on top of the Z-list pyramid was gone. And it’s my fault, too. I haven’t blogged as heavily and consistently as I did in the early years. I already had my business site on http://shotgunconcepts.com so I had inbound links already, but not close to the amount I had on the old blog. Just be prepared to lose your link equity.
  • Your strength is in your followers and subscribers
    I had a lot of RSS subscribersthrough Feedburner. I just switched the source URL in my Feedburner dashboard and boom — all those people came with me and never knew the difference.
  • If you’re going to move, stop thinking about it and do it
    I thought of moving long before I did. While I was thinking, my blogspot became even more entrenched in the Internet. Even to this day, my old blogspot site comes up 3rd on a Google search for Chris Houchens. I keep a basic presence on the old blogspot, just to tell people where I’ve gone.
  • You can’t look back
    I have no regrets about moving. I love WordPress; I can do so much more with it. I love the fact that my business site and blog are intertwined. Two years later, I am slowly, but surely regaining rank power on the blog side. Because even if the old blogspot ranks three on a Google search for my name — this site ranks first.

What about you? Have you moved blogging platforms? What lessons have you learned? I would love to hear from some WordPress experts or SEO experts on what I could have done better.

guesting at B2CMarketingInsider

I was delighted when Brian Rice recently invited me to do a guest blog post for his B2C Marketing Insider. (It also allowed me an opportunity to shill Brand Zeitgeist again!)

My guest post is a little different from what is normally posted here. It maintains my belief in strong brand / marketing strategy, but does so in more of a motivational way. Please click over to B2C Marketing Insider and read it.

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And for all the new folks clicking through from B2CMarketingInsider, you can browse some of my best posts here. And you can subscribe to the RSS feed here. Welcome!

i’m here — hope you are too

If you’re reading this in your rss feed reader, then you’ve made it with me to the new blog.

As I said in the last blogspot post, I should have done this a long time ago and really should have done it from the start. I always hesitated doing it because I feared I would lose some readers and all those inbound links from over the years. And I have lost those links and I’m sure some people will get left behind, but this needed to be done. I’m hopeful that 2009 will be a big year because of a project that I’m working on that will launch late summer/early fall (see www.brandzeitgeist.com for details)

You shouldn’t build a house on land that you don’t own. A blog on a free platform presents the same problem. What if blogger/google pulled the rug out tomorrow? The blog issue is easy to solve like I just have — but think about all the people building their online brand equity in places like twitter, linked in, facebook, and a hundred other places online. Is your entire online brand resting on something that could be gone tomorrow?

Anyway, the process of the switch was easier and quicker than I thought it would. Toughest part was that I had to manually transfer several of my old comments (pre-2006) when I was using Haloscan comments instead the Blogger commenting.

All the posts made it except one from two years ago that came over as a draft for some reason. All the comments came except 3. I have no idea what 3 they were. I hope they weren’t profound observations.

And all the old labels/tags came over as categories. It will be a joy to clean those up.

Thanks for coming along to the new digs.

the last blogspot post

It’s something that I should have done a long time ago, but this weekend, I am biting the bullet. Effective 7-feb-2009, I am moving the Shotgun Marketing Blog to a new location at my business site at http://shotgunconcepts.com/

If I am fortunate enough to be included on your blogroll, I would appreciate you updating the link on your blog.

If you subscribe to my Feedburner feed, you shouldn’t have to do anything. I will give this post a few hours to go through the feed and then I will switch feedburner to the new address and publish another post from the new blog. If you haven’t seen another post from me in your feed reader by Sunday morning 2/8, then please resubscribe at the new location.

If you have subscribed to the Blogger atom feed, then please subscribe either at feedburnerhttp://feeds2.feedburner.com/Shotgun
or the new site’s feed http://shotgunconcepts.com/feed/

I will also be exporting all 400+ posts from the past 4 years here to the new site. That may cause hiccups on some of your feeds. If it does, I apologize in advance.

I will see you across the river. Hopefully

mommy blog versus the big O

One of the 5 or so books that are in my head ready to be written is about the marketing power of Oprah.

It’s tentatively titled “The Oprah Effect” and it would look at the products/services/people that she has “touched”. The book would examine the marketing impact these things (both in her own empire and the things she endorses) have picked up from her and how businesses could achieve the Oprah effect without Oprah.

(Aside: It’s the one book in my head that I won’t write without a good publisher behind me. So if you’re a good publisher or know one — it’s chris AT shotgunconcepts dot com)

Anyway — because of the potential of the book, I monitor what’s going on with the “O” probably more than is healthy for a 30-something male.

Here’s something that I’ve noticed in the past couple of weeks. Oprah has supposedly participated in a 21 day cleanse where you purge caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten and animal products from your diet. She has endorsed it through her media channels and even blogged (I think with a ghostblogger) while she did it.

Ah. The blog. While Oprah is the queen of traditional media, she is not the queen of new media. I think Heather is. (Dooce currently has over 9200 comments on one post. She’s running a contest, but still.)

Heather started the cleanse at Oprah’s beckoning and she and her friend got sick because of the cleanse. (Apparently, your body needs toxins. Pass the nacho cheese, please.)

So you have the world’s most powerful woman endorsing something that the world’s most powerful female blogger got deathly ill doing. Who will win? Traditional or new media?

tuned in minority

It has struck me in the last few days how “in-tune” an internet reader is as opposed to the masses that get fed by the 24 hour news cycle.

I started noticing the Killer Tomato scare in the mainstream media and on hastily written signs at restaurants on Sunday. However, I already knew about it from a Nashville veggie lover on the Wednesday before.

Articles of impeachment were introduced in the House against President Bush on Monday night. Have you seen it on your cable news channel or in the newspaper yet? (caveat: there’s a tad bit of hype to it)

I read about the US strike in Pakistan this morning on the web. I consumed several types of traditional media today before I heard about it on the radio coming home this afternoon.

And I notice this happens over and over. People get in a tizz over something and I’m wondering why because I read about it a few days ago. Or I have started to notice that memes on the web will get picked up by the yucksters on the cable and network news shows a few days after they’ve fizzled online.

Here’s the thing — I am in the minority. (and if you’re reading this, you probably are too). The great sages who are saying the time is NOW that EVERYONE is getting news/info off the web apparently haven’t been talking to people in the real world. Everyone is not uploading videos and commenting on blogs. There’s a time gap (and sometimes a plain lack) of knowledge as it’s disseminated on the web and then through traditionally media.

Because of this, even though it’s egalitarian, the knowledge on the web comes with a heavy bias. It’s leaning toward those tuned-in consumers who are generating the some of the content and who are in the minority. The results don’t pan out in the real world. Don’t believe me? Ask Ron Paul.

Of course, the traditional media comes with its own long standing biases and the need to perpetuate its business model. But traditional media is not dead. It’s just slow and bloated. And the masses are even slower consumers of it.

So there’s opportunity for all here. The traditional media can start working to feed the hummingbird minority consumers. And the web can start bringing more of the lumbering hippos into the fold. They’ll either meet in the middle or one will crush the other.

give me 6 months

I don’t mean to keep hatin’ on ’em, but it’s just such easy pickings. From AdAge, about blog coverage of American’s $15 bag PR fiasco,

Mr. Flanagan, who felt media coverage of the announcement and on some blogs was very fair, said American injected itself into conversations online only when inaccuracies were being reported. He said American hopes to have its own corporate blog operational within the next two quarters.

6 months?!?! The corporate blogging question I ask you is: are they 6 months too late or are they 3 or 4 years too late? This is one of the many reasons that you should have a corporate blog strategy NOW. It will take months/years to build a dedicated blog audience. It’s not something you can build to deal with a PR meltdown.

junk in the trunk

I have a love-hate relationship with Penelope Trunk.

On one hand, she does sometimes have a far-sighted vision for where the concept of “work” is going and how to deal with the realities of the new workplace. Sometimes, she gives good advice.

On the other hand, some of her advice is not only bad — it’s borderline crazy. You should really not take a vacation day without telling your boss, show up late for work, use company time/resources to start your own business, lay down on the floor of your workplace’s bathroom, or accept sexual harassment. (all things she has actually suggested as career advice) If the ethics of the “new American workplace” degrade to this level, we’d better get ready to polish our chopsticks as China eats our lunch.

I’ve never met Penelope Trunk face to face, so I have no idea what’s she’s really like. (although I only missed her once at a meeting in Nashville by a few hours) But her online personality seems abrasive, condescending, and she’s way too transparent with her personal life.

Last week, she (the career sage) got fired from her job as a career columnist for Yahoo! Finance which is a bit surreal.

She cites the reason that she was canned was that financial content gets a higher CPM than career content and her high traffic (that she cites from *ahem* Wikipedia) was bringing down the CPM of the whole finance package. Aside from the use of Wikipedia as a source for traffic figures, that makes no sense.

I don’t know if she was one of the top traffic draws for Yahoo!. She was a polarizing personality that drew lots of positive/negative commenters. Even now, she’s still getting lots of both mean/rude and positive/supporting comments on both her blog and final Yahoo! Finance post. But even if she was a huge draw, Yahoo! was right to get rid of her. If you’re driving traffic, ratings, etc that stem from shock value, you’re hurting your long term brand. Look at the brand equity of “The View” before/after Rosie.

I think the real reason that she was fired was because of a new problem that we are going to have to deal with as a result of the new world of web publishing — the self-made expert.

While I’m always preaching that ANYONE now has the power of worldwide publishing, there’s the problem that ANYONE now has the power of worldwide publishing. That means the fringe voices that were previously kept at a whisper because of their vulgar, obscene, hate-filled, or nonsense ideas now have a platform. There’s no/low barrier to entry. And while the web is a great equalizer, if you get picked up by a platform like Yahoo!, it enables you to shout a little louder than others.

Anyone can market themselves as an expert on the web. It’s like the old cartoon — on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. How many experts have the credentials or the ideas to back it up? It’s a world of buyer beware. When you find an “expert” on the web, you’d better make sure you’ve gotten the real thing.

So while the vitriol behind some of the comments toward Trunk are pure hatred, I think some of it is akin to the townspeople riding the snake-oil salesman out on rail after his sham has been exposed.

Mr Splashy Pants

Greenpeace has been running a poll to name some whales that are traveling in the Pacific.

29 of the 30 nominations are for either mythical, Zen-ish, or new-age-type names like Kaimana, Shanti, and Aurora.

And then scanning down the list, you see “Mr. Splashy Pants“.

And he’s winning the vote. Overwhelmingly.

While there was some noted vote tampering (votes that are not going to be counted), the reason that Mr. Splashy Pants is winning is because he went viral on the net through blogs and other forms of social media.

Greenpeace saw the opportunity and grabbed it. They’ve extended the voting to capitalize on the buzz. They quickly mobilized to develop Mr. Splashy Pants merchandise. They’re embracing it on their blog.

The entire affair is getting lots of press and it will probably pop up in the MSM in next few days. It’s an immeasureable PR coup for the cause.

But when you read through the comments on their blog and posts on other blogs, you’ll find some Greenpeace supporters who are not happy at all about the name.

One of the main reasons that so many non-profits (and for-profit businesses) languish is that they spend most of their time talking to the people who are already familiar with the cause and are already ardent supporters. While it’s important to cultivate your core, you have to find new people in order to grow. For some of the inside core, this feels like outsiders are hijacking the organization.

Some people are so comfortable and locked up in the “normalcy” of the cause or the business that they can’t see the massive opportunities right below the surface.

This seems obvious — but the best way to get attention is to stand out from the crowd.