Back in July this year, blogger and Yahoo! employee Russell Beattie published a well-publicised rant about the tactics PR firms are using to insert their promotional press in this untapped domain of publishing. In it, he fumed at the PRrazzi: “What are these people thinking? Do they really think the same lies and manipulation that they use on the corporate media establishment is going to work on me? Blogging isn’t my “job" - I do this for fun. I’m not looking to fill column inches or dead airtime with your crap, I’m looking to provide real information and opinion to my readers who in turn return the favour and educate me. "
This type of article should make anyone working in PR sit up and think hard. As media trends towards a more democratic process, everywhere from sit-at-home online book reviewing on Amazon up to the more substantial form of Blogging, customers are becoming increasingly savvier about identifying PR insertions.
The most obvious – and intellectually redundant – aspect of PR is that it is designed specifically to sell products, and as such it initiates a dialogue but does not follow up on it. On the few occasions that it does follow-up, the dialogue contains none of the natural reasoning that ordinary conversation tends towards and hence there is little valuable exchange of information, opinions or ideas.
What the PR firms miss in targeting ‘weblogs’ and media platforms where people are publishing for themselves is that this new form of media is more akin to a dinner party environment than a newspaper. Just as no reasonable person would never think of attending a social function with the sole purpose of selling a product in mind, so no PR firm should seek to disguise comments geared at selling products as ‘newsworthy exchanges’ in the more democratic form of online publishing.
This is in stark contrast to advertising, which has had some encouraging success online with the likes of banner ads and Google Ads. As the publishing process becomes more user-oriented, the boundaries of forms of product promotion are going to have to become more clearly defined, or organizations are going to end up doing one worse than not selling any products at all: making sure that no one wants to buy them in the first place.