Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gettin' Bloggie With It

Outside.In gave Newton the #4 slot on it's Bloggiest Neighborhoods list, beating out places like Watertown, Mass.; Harlem; and Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I'm not sure what it means, but it's nice that our 85,000 person community is recognized in some technological way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pitching, Bad Pitching and Blogger Griping

Every once in a while I read bloggers complaining about PR people.

OK.... more than every once in a while. Probably about once a week. The latest is on the Church of the Customer blog, which starts out by saying not to pitch reporters and then falls back a bit encouraging PR people (and their customers) to cultivate relationships instead.

This is, of course, sound advice. It is also how things SHOULD be done across the board. In PR we're taught from the start to read our assigned publications, learn the reporters, talk with them and only call/email/IM when we have something worth sending. The issue isn't what PR SHOULD be, it's what PR is, meaning all this bitching and moaning is about a lot of bad PR, not PR in general.

But in the Church post is this:

PR companies could actually become more strategic service providers by helping their clients cultivate relationships with existing, well-connected customers. Appeal to the people who already love your clients and foster those relationships.
(I'm really trying not to take an overly snarky attitude on this one.) OF COURSE we do that! We can't do our jobs without having our clients' customers work with us. But the reality is, especially for smaller companies, customers don't always want to talk. Different companies have different reasons. I've had situations in which my client would be competing with a small part of Microsoft and the customer wouldn't go into a public forum and say "this is great!" since it could hurt their contract deals with Redmond. In other cases the deals are relatively small for the size of the customer, so they just don't feel it's important enough to discuss.

In other cases it's a pure marketing issue. While it may be great exposure for my client to get on a technology-focused blog or in a similar publication, their customer may only care about reaching teenagers, aged 12 to 18. Those audiences don't often mix, so the customer doesn't see it as worth their time to get on the phone and talk.

It's fine to toss off comments like "PR should build relationships" or "make your customers work for you," but giving solid advice on how to do that is a different story.

When I work with junior members of my teams I will often assign a large list of publications, bloggers and podcasters, then tell them to focus most of their attention on a much smaller and more strategic list. On the large list they are responsible for keeping track and getting coverage, but the smaller list are those publications they should "own." After a few months on the account they should be at the point that the blogger/podcaster/reporter calls US for information.

That means talking to these people on a regular basis, not just when we put out a release but sometimes calling to say "what are you working on?" Sometimes it's directing them to other people in the agency (or even outside the agency) who can help with their reporting. When you become a trusted part of the reporting process, only then do you have a truly working relationship.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Doing Journalism in a Social World

From a journalistic point of view, using FaceBook and MySpace to find friends of victims of the Virginia Tech shootings makes complete sense. In fact, it's good, solid journalistic practice.

Granted, no one likes to talk with friends of victims and ask them their feelings at that moment, but it comes with the job of being a reporter. Some journalists may handle it better than others, and I've heard stories recently of students complaining that they're being overused by the media. And I'm sure they probably are.

But Dan Kennedy is right when he disagrees with FaceBook's objection that the site is being used for this purpose. It's not different than when a local TV crew descends on a neighborhood after a shooting and starts knocking on doors to find friends of a victim. The only difference is that social networking makes this all a little easier.

NPR's also ran a decent story on the same issue.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So Chuck Walks into a Bar.....

Tonight I went to a local bar to meet with Rick Burnes of Faneuil Media, a local company that helps media properties do location-based reporting.

So I sit at the bar a little past 6:30 and brush off the bartender, saying that I'm waiting for someone. Two young women are at the corner to my right and on the other side, diagonally across from me, is a man eating dinner drinking a beer. I look around the bar a few times, take in some conversation (one young woman was complaining that she had to get up really early, like at 6:30) and the guy eating dinner looked at me, it seemed like he was also looking for someone.

"Are you Rick Burnes?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. So we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. We then grabbed a table and I ordered a burger and a beer. Now that we were meeting I thought I should get something to eat as well. I was, after all, pretty hungry.

But as soon as the conversation started I regretted ordering the burger. This guy was just odd. He'd say something quickly, then eat. We had awkward silences and he'd say things like "I believe that timing is everything." Not overly insightful.

When the two girls left the bar he turned around completely and conspicuously to watch them. Very strange.

I tried asking about his background and got other puzzling responses. When I asked about his journalism background he said he'd only done it for a few months after college. Not what I was expecting. I began to wonder if I could get my burger to go. I really didn't want to be sitting across the table with this guy for very long, let alone for dinner.

But when I asked specifcally about Faneuil Media media, a question met with a quizzical look by the guy at my table, the guy who had come in at the bar a few minutes earlier turned in recognition.

I'd been meeting with the wrong guy.

Not Rick stood up and apologized, "I'm glad it's you," he said to Real Rick. "This stuff was going over my head." He then muttered something about how he was supposed to meet someone there as well which is why he was confused. An obvious lie since he left a few minutes later.

Real Rick and I agreed that it was all a bit odd. The conversation with Rick was, as I'd expected, much more interesting. He is interested in community journalism and therefore very interested in what we are doing at TheGardenCity.net. His company is actually doing some interesting stuff. His basic attitude is that software development can also be journalism. Progressive thinking.

And when it was all said and done, I didn't regret ordering the burger.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Moving Beyond Communications

The concept of micro finance fascinates me. The basic idea is that by using the same tools that make open source and Web distributed communications possible, everyone with money can become a lender and anyone can become a borrower.

Steve Hamm points to Kiva, which is a site that lets people in the US and other moneyed western nations provide loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations. So an entrepreneur puts up their pitch and then a person such as myself reads it and decides how much money to provide. Of course, I wouldn't be the only person loaning money, so while I may only put in $25, someone else may put up $100 or $50. Eventually the entrepreneur will get the capital they need and then start paying back the loan. And if that person defaults, each one of us is out the few bucks, but if the person pays back the loan everyone makes a little money.

Another site like this geared at Americans is Prosper. I found people on there looking for loans for everything from home improvements to adoption.

Personally, I haven't yet put my money where the need is, but I'd like to soon. I love it when these tools move beyond simple communication and start to change lives.