Are we helping or hurting by blogging about PR flame-outs?

I realize the fact that I’m writing this post subverts my whole point, but I’m going to write it anyway because I think it’s an important conversation.

By now, you’ve probably seen the recent PR flame-out between Ocean Marketing (i.e., Paul Christoforo) and a customer (“Dave”) on a number of blogs across the Web (namely Penny Arcade, which “broke” the “story”). If you haven’t read about it (and if you haven’t, just Google “Ocean Marketing” to witness the insanity), I’ll boil it down for you in a couple sentences. Customer sends email to marketing agency repping gaming company wondering when new PS3 controllers will ship. Agency owner responds and that leads to a heated (and childish–I might add) discussion between the two. The email chain is sent by “Dave” to a popular gaming blog (Penny Arcade) and posted and the next thing you know everyone is talking and blogging about it.

We’ve seen this movie before, right?

Think about the Bloggess ordeal earlier this year with a PR rep.

Think back to the run-in Scott Stratten had with a surly PR fella in Vegas a couple years ago.

We’ve definitely seen this movie before.

And, I’m hear to tell you it’s boring. And horribly unproductive.

We get it. There are PR people out there that are poor at their jobs. Isn’t that true in every industry?

We get it. This guy behaved like a jerk . But, last I checked, the internet (and the world) is full of people who behave like jerks. Chances are you probably follow a few of them (I know I do).

We get it. The conversation that was published was reprehensible. It’s disgusting. None of us would act like this.

So, why not leave it alone?

If you’re the customer (“Dave”), why send it to Penny Arcade when you know damn well they’ll publish it and you know what will happen next?

If you’re a blogger, why blog about it? (again, I get the irony here since I’m blogging about something I’m encouraging others NOT to blog about–hang with me)

Think about it.

By blogging about this incident you’re giving more credence to the situation than it deserves (this is nothing more than some ass-hat making a fool of himself–happens EVERY day on the Web, almost literally).

By blogging about this you’re reinforcing a perception that far too many people already have about our industry: That it’s full of shysters like this guy. Please stop now.

And, by blogging about this, you’re merely piling on. Adding fuel to a fire that’s already raging out of control.

Why not just read the original Penny Arcade post, ackowledge the fact that you don’t want to repeat this behavior ever, and move on.

Our industry will benefit.

And you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.

Won’t you?

PS: By the way, want some smart thinking about this “ordeal”? Check out Kevin Dugan’s post on the Bad Pitch Blog yesterday.

53 comments
davidschnider31
davidschnider31

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Trace_Cohen
Trace_Cohen

I think it would be impossible not to talk about some of these PR blunders because they are actually really funny and sad at the same time. They basically become niche memes that we circulate around the industry and hope that no one will ever do again. I just heard a good quote that pertains to this, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

Now, a few people in the comments have suggested that we celebrate PR success and my only question to that is how? In other jobs like sales, if you make a big sale it is public and is something that you can celebrate. In PR however, if I get my client gets covered on a top tier website, they definitely don’t want to give any credit to me, let alone my agency. PR is for now behind the scenes but that is all starting to change.

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

I've been thinking about this issue since @arikhanson first posted this - and then @ginidietrich

weighed in a few days later. After reading through the comments, I really think there is a balance for both. We can learn from the positives and negatives. As PR pros, maybe we think it too 'PR'/self-serving to talk about success; that others would say, "well, of course you think that campaign is great! You're in PR!"

I don't think we should ever stop dissecting industry failures - but I do think we could do a better job of showing PR's value - beyond the proverbial media impression, of course. We could start with our own clients (with their permission, of course) or our own organization's successes. Maybe those of us with popular blogs could curate a go-to section where others could learn 'what went right'.

And I see several names below of people who could do just a thing!!

GoodandBadPR
GoodandBadPR

@pr20chat Q1: Without looking at what doesn't work, we'll never understand what does. Of course, slagging off is never helpful #pr20chatsays

jspepper
jspepper

@pr20chat Misleading bc Paul isn't a PR person; just claimed to be. If it's just to point out, it's worthless. Lessons, then good. #pr20chat

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

So I've been thinking about this since I read it. I'm on the fence. I agree with what @ScottHepburn said because his reasons are exactly what went through my head. And the other thing is that, as human beings, we love the controversy and screw ups of others. That's why I always say we should debate the idea and not the person.

A few weeks ago, I jokingly said I should institute a weekly Moron Award for the companies that are completely screwing up PR. You should have seen how many people jumped on it. I was joking...but I soon began receiving upwards of 10 emails a day with links to stupid things companies have done. I think I have 11 or 12 in my drafts right now, as I try to decide if I do anything with them.

As much as I would love to talk about the successes, they're harder to come by. I tried to write about FedEx from that perspective, a few days ago, but ended up trashing it because they wouldn't comment on what went so well, from their perspective. You can find plenty of people talking about the bad, but when the good happens everyone shuts up...including the company.

But the fact of the matter is, if you can attack the idea and not the person (or company), there are huge lessons to be had in how things are mismanaged. I try to always blog with an educational bent on things. If it turns into an opinion piece or it feels like someone will get their feelings hurt, I trash it. After all...Spin Sucks.

mdbarber
mdbarber

Completely agree Arik but we also need to convince people to enjoy/learn/listen to the positives as well as the negatives. For whatever reason (and I've heard several theories) we enjoy hearing that people are in trouble, or have done something scandalous. The quiet and effective ones just don't get attention anymore.

I would like us to talk about successes and especially about the thinking/strategy/thought process that made those successes such. It makes our professional more "scientific" and will help gain respect. Sometimes when we flame the fires without knowing/discussing the whole story, we end up looking as silly as the person who committed the faux pa in the first place.

Maybe we need to focus more on the why and not the what.

bonnieupright
bonnieupright

Great post Arik, though I believe the original error by Ocean Marketing was a customer service fail, not a PR fail. It only evolved into a PR debacle when it hit Penny Arcade and the subsequent firestorm of blogs and posts dominated our feeds for a couple of days. Agree with @vedo that we should mine for PR Triumphs rather than the failures. I know I'm always looking for success stories and positive case studies that I can both learn from, and share with my clients and colleagues.

Richie Escovedo
Richie Escovedo

Arik, I'm with you on this. I'm all for learning from the mistakes (of others and my own) and then moving on. I think we do some damage to the industry when these failures continue to make the rounds. It was easy to find them because we all saw those Biggest/Worst PR Failures of 2011 posts making the rounds on the interwebs. I caught a quick Twitter exchange between @richbecker and @shelholtz on this exact topic a few days back. Maybe we should try to mine for those PR Triumphs instead for a change.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

I agree with you Arik, noted a similar sentiment across the industry in some data from the PRDaily (http://bit.ly/tGOK4q). That's not to say that we can and should learn from errors, but often I feel these types of posts are written with such zeal, there can be no purpose, and certainly not a learning point, other than to drive traffic. You may recall a very public PR debacle in 2009 and I summed up some thoughts here (http://bit.ly/vFYIXI). Great link by the way from Bad Pitch -- that's the only link I shared about that event -- and I agree with Kevin as well.

missorian
missorian

@AmandaOleson late on this but my thought. Helping other comp on what not to do. How you may have an awesome product is not enough

dferrari
dferrari

Great question. I have to say, as soon as I see something like this, I immediately share with coworkers, read the Facebook page or Twitter frenzy, etc. and think "Note to self: Never do that." I tend to think half of these posts about PR disasters are credible learnings, however I think the other half are link bait/SEO. I recently wrote a post about Toys R Us and a bad lesson in online marketing. While I try to share positive brand stories, I just had to share my experience as more of a lesson than anything because it was so pertinent to my job and what I blog about. That's the value there. And another reminder to create a crisis comm plan.

eric_wheeler
eric_wheeler

I have to agree with @ScottHepburn on this one. While you make some valid points on the harmfull side effects on the PR industry as a whole, I believe it is good to discuss why the issue is an issue, what we can learn from the case and what steps one should take if you do find yourself in a PR fail.

ScottHepburn
ScottHepburn

When we flame "PR Fail" incidents, we (consciously or subconsciously) send a few messages:

* I keep abreast of the latest trends in PR, so I'd be a great PR pro for you to hire.

* Since I'm showing you an example of "bad" PR, you should assume that, conversely, I practice "good" PR...so I'd be a great PR pro for you to hire.

* Other well-respected PR pros wrote about this, and by weighing in on it, I can earn an invitation to a conversation with these leaders of our industry. And since I converse with the pioneers in our field...I'd be a great PR pro for you to hire.

As much as I hate that we dredge up examples of people behaving badly, we created the economy where this stuff is the currency.

PRMurewa
PRMurewa

@prtini @arikhanson but then if these incidents aren't blogged, upcoming PR students\/pros wouldn't have cases to learn from.

aschweig
aschweig

@prtini I feel like at some point it just becomes piling on, and not terribly helpful.

prtini
prtini

@arikhanson YES! I love that idea. We can learn from mishaps, but can learn even more from solid case studies & "wins." #pr20chat

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ginidietrich@ScottHepburn I commented on Scott's post also but will add my two cents here as well.

I don't understand why we can't talk about the positives. We can talk about our own clients, or go to PRSA's website and look at the past many years of Silver Anvil award entries (http://www.prsa.org/Awards/Search). There are also local award programs, or friends doing good things. What I like about the award programs is the nominations include all the strategy behind the success.

Maybe I'm a bit Pollyanna-ish but focusing on the negative only makes us look bad. And it certainly isn't how we counsel clients in a crisis so why do we do it ourselves.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@arikhanson@vedo Great conversation for us to have. I think these types of stories can be useful when you are talking to people who are very new to social media. Why? Because they get peoples' attention and allow you to have a more in-depth conversation about how relationships and third-party POV impact your brand.

That said, I was talking to @ginidietrich a couple months back about how we need a PR movement for PR. Because too often our PR's perception comes from stories like Dave's. That said, what if we got together a group of PR bloggers and did a month's worth of posts about the bright side of PR -- the value PR can provide a business -- in direct opposition to the "Dave" stories we always hear? Any interest in helping to organize this? I'd like to see what we could do to change PR's brand perception. Cheers!

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ScottHepburn I hear what you're saying Scott but...just because we created a monster doesn't mean we have to keep feeding it. I don't understand why we can't talk about our successes and still be abreast on the trends, invited to join the conversation and get the business. It really bothers me when we use the failures/mistakes or others to make ourselves look better.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@PRMurewa @prtini Try searching for positive PR case studies--you won't find all that many. Meanwhile this is everywhere this week.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@PRMurewa @prtini We need to learn more from the positive case studies and less from the negative ones though...

prtini
prtini

@aschweig Totally agree. Those posts quickly become naval gazing and counter-productive.

jspepper
jspepper

@MShahab EXACTLY. PR is in the background. You only hear about campaigns in the fuck-ups, not the successes. #pr20chat

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mdbarber@ScottHepburn Oh I do think we can talk about the positives. I'm just saying not many people do. We try to post case studies on our website, but it always gets pushed to the bottom. The problem with the PRSA award entries is you have to create the story, in order to blog about it, around something you weren't involved with. It takes a lot of work most people aren't willing to do. That said, there definitely are lessons in BOTH the mistakes and the successes of PR case studies.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@JGoldsborough Great idea about blogging about the bright side of PR. I think many of us do this on our own blogs but the positive doesn't get as much attention anymore as the negative does.

The first place to start for information is PRSA and the Business Case for Public Relations (http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/BusinessCase/). The information included there is extensive, they are always looking for more information (@keithtrivitt). All the tools are there and PRSA has been encouraging members to use it and help get the word out. They've, in my opinion, done a pretty darned good job, been getting lots of attention for the positives of PR surrounding this. Let's use those tools and build on it, rather than create a new wheel.

@arikhanson@vedo@ginidietrich

ScottHepburn
ScottHepburn

@mdbarber Oh, I don't disagree with what you (and @arikhanson and others) are saying: Case studies in success are a refreshing alternative to case studies in failure.

And let's be honest: I've been guilty of sharing someone else's #FAIL more than once.

I'm not too worried about the "doing it right" vs. "doing it wrong" imbalance. Our bigger issue is mistaking an "example" for a "case study." We too often share a synopsis of an incident and call it a case study, when in reality, a case study offers greater depth of analysis and explanation of underlying principles than most of the blog posts we call case studies.

Jay Baer had a nice post a few weeks ago about our over-reliance on case studies...did you happen to catch it?

prtini
prtini

@arikhanson And re: positive case studies, one of my 2012 goals is to blog a case study each month. :)

prtini
prtini

@arikhanson @PRMurewa I think creating constructive learning opportunities are fine; however at some point it just becomes piling on.

PRMurewa
PRMurewa

@arikhanson @prtini balance is the key. Although, terrible news spread worse than fire while the good ones just filter through.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@jspepper We don't want to ignore the negative. But only focusing on negative contributes to the spin. #pr20chat

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@jspepper Totally agree. There is a lot PR can do for biz perception and sales. We should be talking abt that. #pr20chat

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mdbarber I think we're in agreement, Mary. All I'm saying is I think there are valuable lessons in what not to do, as well as in what to do.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ginidietrich@ScottHepburn I think we all need to make a concerted effort to talk about the positives and not talk about the mistakes. The more we talk about our stupid colleagues, the more they win.

And...if "The problem with the PRSA award entries is you have to create the story, in order to blog about it, around something you weren't involved with" wouldn't you have that same problem around the failures that people so freely discuss without all the information? The stories have to be there in the Anvil entries for them to get the Anvils. I think there's probably more in those 2 page write-ups than in most of the fail stories I have seen.

I know I'm tried of the negatives/fails and prefer focus on the positives/wins -- especially the strategic ones.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ScottHepburn I don't recall Jay's post so will find it. And, I agree with your differentiation between an "example" and a "case study." At the same time, I've noticed times when we talk about "examples" without the benefit of knowing the background (strategy) we often run into difficulties with the assumptions we make. Recently knew of someone tossed off a plane because they asked for an air sickness bag. I was outraged but later learned more information about the story. The flight crew still behaved very badly and handled the situation poorly but there were two sides to the story as well. We all rush to judgement in the never ending quest to be first.