The seminar "PR and Emerging Communication Channels," sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) addressed the emerging phenomena known as Web logs (blogs) and Real Simple Syndication (RSS); they also discussed how blogs are reshaping the communications industry. Steve Rubel, vice president of client services, CooperKatz & Company and Pamela Parker, managing editor, ClickZ, presented their complementary perspectives on this emerging communication method: Rubel on the PR side, Parker from the journalist's point of view.
Rubel opened the seminar by commenting on the power of RSS. "Basically, RSS TiVos the Net for you. It captures everything on the Web that you care about and pulls it down for you in feeds. The minute something is mentioned about a client of mine on a Web site, I'm alerted to it. That's what makes RSS so powerful."
Rubel talked about how traditional big media has long been "centralized, top-down and costly. In traditional media, there was limited feedback between media and audience." But, according to Rubel, that's changed with the advent of new communication modes.
"Suddenly, big media's dominance is threatened by its own audience. Citizens are becoming amateur journalists with their own blogs," Rubel says.
The widespread of broadband, simple and accessible online publishing tools, mobile devices such as camera phones and new ad paradigms all fuel the power shift from big media to consumers, Rubel says.
"Bloggers recognize their importance and some can make money by selling ad space on their own Web site," adds Rubel.
What do all these changes mean for PR professionals?
"The impact on PR is adapt or die," says Rubel.
Rubel suggests PR professionals listen to the bloggers and monitor conversations about their clients. This is the first step for PR professionals to take in this new "participatory journalism."
The second step is to "reach out to bloggers, but don't pitch them," says Rubel. He advises PR professionals to "engage bloggers " and to treat the bloggers "with sensitivity as if using kid gloves with them."
Getting directly involved with blogging is the third step, Rubel says.
"Launch your own blog. Get other bloggers in engaging discussions about your client or product. Carefully post influential comments on these blogs but be genuine. When you're honest and open in these discussions, the bloggers will respect you," he adds.
Pamela Parker gave the journalist's point of view on blogging. Parker explained how some blogs affect news coverage of different companies. Parker told the story of a hybrid car consumer who started a blog about his car called hybridbuzz.com. "Thus, a brand evangelist is born," Parker says.
However, the blogger/consumer became disillusioned with the hybrid car and posted his negative opinions regarding the car. The news media picked up the story and it proves the fact that one consumer can spark a lot of discussion on a product through the power of a blog, Parker says.
Like Rubel, Parker suggests that companies pay attention to blogs and "reach out to bloggers" because blog postings can influence consumers.
In the case of Kryptonite, a popular bike lock, comments on a product default (the discovery that the lock could be picked with a plastic ballpoint pen), caused a swarm of consumer concern and a flurry of media coverage.
"Kryptonite responded to the blogs and media coverage by announcing that they would offer free product exchange to all consumers who are concerned about the security of their current Kryptonite locks," Parker says.
Parker says that "blogs are changing the dynamics of audience and media -- for journalists and PR professionals."
Overall, Rubel and Parker stress how critical it is for PR professionals to communicate and engage with bloggers, even if the bloggers post negative comments regarding your client or product.
"If you ignore these negative bloggers," says Rubel, "they just get noisier. Get these folks and bring them into a dialogue and give them a voice. If you listen to them, it makes you look better."
Parker says that blogs give the consumer and PR professional a personal voice. Rubel adds, "Corporate Web sites are for business, blogs are for human beings."
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