Canadian Council of Public Relation Firms Shouldn’t Ask for Media Monitoring RFPs

I’m a little angered and disappointed by the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms.

According to Joseph Thornley’s blog, they’re calling for a Media Monitoring RFP to ask media monitoring companies, especially those who provide social media services, to fill out an RFP so they can “propose the most comprehensive set of offerings they are capable of.

From there, they want to identify who has the best offerings, and then use that to compare costs to find the provider who offers them “the best value.”

We find ourselves dealing with a monitoring industry that has adjusted to the new environment in different ways and at different speeds. Following what’s going on has become a complex process that can involve setting up dashboards with several different suppliers. And each provides us with a unique view of different things.

Multiple offerings. Multiple methodologies. Increased complexity. Increased cost.

Thornley is the CEO of Thornley Falls, a Canadian PR firm, that combines PR with social media and word of mouth advertising. He’s also the president of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF). So, I’m sure he’s a smart guy. (And he’s Canadian. I love Canada.)

Which is why I’m disappointed in the CCPRF.

I’m not a big fan of RFPs. I think they’re mostly a waste of time, and an incorrect way to evaluate whether a company is good enough to do a project. In most RFPs, the vendor is not allowed to speak with the client, which means they may miss out on an important point that makes or breaks a proposal. (I’ve been on RFP committees. They were awful.)

RFPs force the vendor to start selling on price, not on value. I don’t know of a single large PR firm that will try to match the pricing of a small boutique firm. But if they offer the same services on paper, then the temptation of the client is to assume the quality and scope of work is exactly the same. Yet, this is what RFPs do to vendors who can’t demonstrate value over price, because they can’t speak with the client.

Finally, the companies submitting RFPs have no way of knowing if the client even knows what they truly want. I’ve known companies that actually spoke to the client, and found they not only put the wrong specs in the RFP, the client didn’t know enough about the problem to know what to ask for. Again, a simple meeting would allow a vendor to educate the client, and could make the whole process much easier.

So it sounds like the CCPRF wants to be educated, since they don’t know what the different media monitoring services can do. But it also sounds like they’re not sure what’s most important, since they’re dealing with different offerings, methodologies, and complexities.

I’m morally opposed to RFPs on general principles, but this almost seems a bad practice.

(Having said all that, the really smart media monitoring agencies will do whatever they can to educate the different PR firms about what “good” media monitoring looks like. And if they haven’t, they’re a big part of the reason this is happening at all.)

It sounds like the CCPRF is just information gathering. There’s no chance of winning a project. There’s no definite work that’s going to come out of it. It’s just hours of work that doesn’t really educate, answer questions, or teach people about what that particular company does. The agencies will put in several hours of work for which they will not be paid, only have an outside possibility of getting deals out of it, and the CCPRF is getting the benefits of the work for free.

If the CCPRF wants to learn more about media monitoring, they need to do it on their own time, or invite the media monitoring agencies to an educational session, webinar, conference, or white paper on what their particular agency does. And the CCPRF needs to pay for it.

CCPRF, you know how frustrating it is to spend time and money on projects and RFPs only to have them not make the final cut. You’re asking people to put time and money that will essentially be an RFP to another RFP, which you may or may not submit in the future.

Joseph Thornley says this RFP is an industry first. I hope it’s the last too.

Is It Authentic to Delete Your Tweets?

Is it okay to delete your own tweets? Is it authentic and transparent to do this? What if you’re in the business of authenticity and transparency? Is it less okay?

My friend Lindsay Manfredi tweeted this question yesterday, and it got me to thinking.

Lindsay Manfredi
What if you delete your own embarrassing tweets?
Is that being transparent??? Just curious.

What if they’re embarrassing? What if you said or did something that, upon reflection, made you look like a total idiot, and you just wanted to erase all evidence of it?

If you were David George-Cosh (@SirDavid), technology reporter for Canada’s National Post, you probably would. (I’d link to his Twitter page, but it was suspended.)

In April 2008, he had a veritable Twitter meltdown and got into a profanity-laden shouting match with PR pro April Dunford.

It started when April tweeted Reporter to me”When the media calls you, you jump, OK!?” Why, when you called me and I’m not selling? Newspapers will get what they deserve. Then things got all F-bomby.

Somehow, his dustup made it to the MediaStyle blog, plus several other social media blogs. After attracting a lot of unwanted attention, @SirDavid deleted the evidence. Too late. Someone took a screenshot of it, and it lives on now and forever. Including here. (Hey, I’m helpful that way.)

search-snap

While his embarrassment is more than understandable, it raises the question about whether it’s appropriate to delete your tweets. After all, social media is about authenticity.

Let the real world see the real you. If you’re a kind and helpful person, put out kind and helpful ideas and information. If you’re a teacher at heart, teach others. And if the real you is a short-tempered foul-mouthed jerk, and you put that out into the Twitterverse, let it ride. If you get drunk at your friends’ weddings, feel free to post the evidence of your lack of decorum on the My Friend’s Getting Married, I’m Just Getting Drunk Facebook group (with nearly 200,000 members now).

Just be prepared to deal with the consequences when you do. Like when your Facebook photo gets found at the top of a Google search by an HR director. Or when your blog about your anti-government screeds are discovered by your pro-government boss. Or when your Twitter meltdown on a public relations pro makes the social media rounds.

If you’re in the business of being authentic and transparent — like a newspaper reporter — then you need to let your mistakes live on. (After all, you’re in the business of exposing other people’s shortcomings.) Or better yet, just don’t put tweet/post/upload that stuff.

If you don’t want any skeletons in the closet, don’t stick the bodies in there in first place.

Bloggers Are Citizen Journalists

A common complaint I hear from big-J Journalists about bloggers is that we’re not “real” journalists. That we’re somehow beneath their contempt and notice.

I first saw this attitude when I worked at the Indiana State Department of Health, and a few of my colleagues said we would never deal with bloggers because they only wanted to put out bad information. And in dealing with other Journalists, they almost seemed to say “blogger” with a sneer. As if “blogger” was something they stepped in on their way to the office.

As a result, many Journalists don’t believe things like Reporter Shield Laws should apply to us. For example, if an environmental blog were to uncover environmental violations by a large corporation, that blogger could be forced to reveal who his or her sources were. But if a newspaper wrote the same story, the reporter would not.

The biggest question comes down to who is a journalist. In the Branzburg v. Hayes case, Justice Byron White said

“Freedom of the press is a ‘fundamental personal right’ which ‘is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. … The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’ … The informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press in the present cases is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists.”

— Quote from an article by David Hudson of FirstAmendmentCenter.org

Even back in 1973, when Justice White threw open “The Press” to anyone who produced the printed word, technology has widened the definition to anyone who writes for blogs, the 21st century’s electronic pamphlet.

In his article, Hudson also cited Kurt Opsahl, the staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who mentioned a couple examples where bloggers outperformed the big-J Journalists

“Bloggers hammered on the Trent Lott story (Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond) until mainstream media was forced to pick it up again,” he said. “Three amateur journalists at the Powerline.com blog were primarily responsible for discrediting the documents used in CBS’s rush-to-air story on President George Bush’s National Guard service. And the list goes on.”

Cox lists several other national-headline stories affected greatly by reporting from blogs, including: Dan Rather and the Texas Air National Guard memos, the White House giving press credentials to James Guckert/Jeff Gannon, the resignation of CNN news executive Eason Jordan after publicity surrounding his remarks at the World Economic Forum and the John Kerry-Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy.

Or to put it another way, the big political scoops in the last 5 years have not been by the media, but by bloggers. Also called little-J journalists.

So, other than an overwhelming sense of elitism by the men and women of the dead-tree media, what really separates us from being real Journalists?

Is it the medium? Many former newspaper reporters and columnists have left the printed word, and gone on to start their own blogging career:

  1. Ruth Holladay who is serving brilliantly as a cheerleader for traditional media and a thorn in the side of her former employer, Gannett
  2. Lori Borgman the former arts columnist for the Indianapolis Star
  3. Columnist Saul Friedman who retired from Newsday rather than let his column go up behind a paywall

(I’m curious what their colleagues think? Have these writers somehow fallen from grace, and are no longer “good enough” to be considered Journalists? Are they now mentioned with the same sneer I heard three years ago?)

Maybe the pay is the issue. The fact that bloggers don’t get paid as much as newspaper writers (who, frankly, are not known for their lavish pay and glamorous lifestyle) may be the deciding factor. However, there are some online writers who make a lot more money than most successful businesspeople, let alone Journalists. So that argument doesn’t seem to hold weight.

Maybe it’s the training. The aforementioned paper-turned-pixel writers notwithstanding, Journalists seem to think they have the super-secret training that makes them a font of reliability and trustworthiness. Yet I know a lot of journalists who can’t spell, don’t know grammar, and in some cases, just plain can’t write. I took several journalism classes in college, and I can tell you they don’t teach anything extra special that someone with a penchant for the written word couldn’t pick up.

Even the Washington Post isn’t immune from bad writers. Meanwhile, there are several outstanding bloggers who produce some outstanding prose that would make any big-J Journalist green with envy.

Maybe it’s because the media is trustworthy and bloggers aren’t? You know, trustworthy. People like Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Ruth Shalit. Of course, Shalit is back in journalism, Blair is a life coach in Virginia, and Glass is now a multi-millionaire, thanks to the book and movie deals he has gotten.

Admittedly, these three are the exception to the rule, and not the rule themselves. But my point is there are bad apples in blogging and bad apples in Journalism. Still if you’re going to accuse bloggers of not telling the truth, you need to look at the journalists who make stuff up too.

I just don’t see what the big difference is, other than bloggers don’t kill a lot of trees to get their message out through a dying medium. Yes, there are bad bloggers, but there are bad journalists. Yes, there are bloggers who lie, but there are lying journalists as well. (Some people might say that term is redundant.) Yes, journalists are trained as writers, but there are a lot of trained writers who use the electronic medium instead of newsprint.

If the U.S. Supreme Court opened up the definition of Citizen Journalists to pamphleteers and leaflet-writers, then they can certainly open it up to bloggers. And as bloggers, we need to make sure we can meet that expectation. We need to take on the mantle of Citizen Journalist ourselves, and then make sure we live up to that standard. (I’ll discuss that more in the future.)

So what do you think? Are bloggers journalists? Or are we a bunch of cranks sitting in our parents’ basement under bare light bulbs, writing about conspiracy theories and Paris Hilton sightings?

Stacks of newspapers photo: John Thurm
Ann Arbor News photo: mfophoto

How Small Newspapers Can Use Social Media to Grow Readership

Originaly published at the DeckersMarketing.com blog.

I’m not going to repeat the same sad-but-scary stories of how newspapers around the country are folding up like, well, newspapers. No stories about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer going online-only, the Rocky Mountain News, the San Francisco Chronicle. No stories about how Gannett is hemorrhaging all over the place, and their only response is to cut the one thing that brings people to their newspaper: local news reporting, and get their local information from an out-of-town national source.

I don’t have to tell you any of this, because if you’re in the newspaper business – and God bless you for it – you know all of this.

But I’ve said for the past year that while the big city newspapers are going under, the smaller newspapers are in a better position to be able to weather the storm. The smaller newspapers I know, especially the weeklies, are not even messing with national news, because the dailies and TV news have it sewn up. Their advertisers are local merchants who don’t have to choose from a plethora of advertising outlets. There’s one game in town, and the newspaper is it.

That’s not to say everything is sunshine and roses for the small newspaper. But, like I said, they’re in a better position to come out of this alive.

One thing that’s going to help them succeed is to start participating in social media. You’ve heard the term before. The mainstream media is talking about Twitter, you know people who are on Facebook, and you’ve finally learned that a blog is not what a blumberjack gets when he chops down a btree.

I’m sure your first reaction is going to be, “But most of our readers are over 50, and they don’t use the Internet.” That’s true, they are and they don’t. But what about your readers who are under 50, and are online? Or better yet, what about the teenagers and 20-somethings who are online and aren’t your readers? Where do you think they’re getting the news from? The New York Times online, The Associated Press online, and of course, your closest metropolitan daily newspaper (at least while they’re still around). Why shouldn’t you try to go to the place where they’re getting their news too?

Because they’re going to be 30, 40, and 50 one day. And if you’re not providing them online news now, you won’t be around to play catch up later.

So how can you, the small newspaper editor, use social media to stay afloat, and possibly even grow?

If you look at the social media landscape, you’ll be overwhelmed with choices and terminology. I’ll try to explain a few of the basics, and you can go from there.

1) Put your newspaper online. Most dailies have a website, and some of the weeklies do. If you don’t, find a way to get it up there. You already lay the paper out on the computer, so it’s no extra work to paste the same article in an online window and hit the Publish button.

HOW:You can turn your paper into a blog (there are some great WordPress templates that lend themselves to newspapers, or you can get one of the newspaper-website software packages, like TownNews.com. (The Greenfield Reporter in Greenfield, IN uses them. Full disclosure: they publish my Laughing Stalk humor column in four of their satellite newspapers.)

BENEFIT:Here’s the great thing: an online newspaper can be another source of revenue for you. Advertisers who are appearing in your print edition may be interested in paying a little more to also appear in your online edition. Businesses that might not be able to afford an ad in your paper may be interested in the lower ad rates of the online version. You can track the performance of their online ads, and use those figures to show how effective they are, and charge the appropriate rates.

2. Join Twitter and use it. Twitter is a micro-blog (as compared to a regular blog), because you only have 140 characters to convey an entire message. That message can be straight text, or it can be a link to a website, blog post, or a headline and link to a story on your website. If you’re on it, you can follow me at @edeckers.

I follow several Twitter feeds from national and local news sources, including the New York Times, NPR, WTHR (Indianapolis’ NBC affiliate), and Toronto’s Globe and Mail (hey, I like to feel sophisticated). While I tend to ignore most of the tweeted (a Twitter message is a tweet) articles, there are times one of the headlines catches my eye, and I click on it. There’s also @BreakingNewsOn, which has tweeted news stories before the mainstream media even showed up.

HOW: This one is simple, go to Twitter.com and sign up. Use your paper’s name (set up a separate one for your personal use). Download TweetDeck and Twitter Local. You’ll send and receive Tweets on your TweetDeck application, but you can search for local Twitter users through TwitterLocal.

As you follow your local people, they’ll follow you in return (it’s an unwritten rule). Then, just feed your news headlines and links to them as they come up (you can even automate this process at TwitterFeed).

BENEFIT: People will come to rely on you as a source for news. They’ll retweet (forward) your articles to your friends, and you’ll start attracting readers from outside your fair city or town. I’ve had visitors to my blog from as far away as England and Australia just because of Twitter.

3. Join a social network. This one is a little tougher. There are thousands of social networks out there, so the question is which one should you join. Again, you want to stay local. Does your chamber of commerce have one? Or a local social organization? Maybe there is not even one in your community. That’s great! You get to be the one to start it.

HOW: Go to Ning.com and start one for your community. Advertise it in your paper and on Twitter. Get people involved in the community and with each other. Post some of your stories on the network, and get people to contribute their own. Now you’re not only a source for news, you’re helping to build your community.

BENEFIT: I’ve been involved in an Indiana-based network called Smaller Indiana>/a>, a social network for people who live and work in Indiana. It has resulted in some great opportunities for its members (I landed my job as a blog manager because of Smaller Indiana), and people have formed some profitable business relationships and fulfilling personal relationships because of it. We have become a voice for social, business, political, and environmental change in our community. Now imagine what it would be like in your community if you were responsible for creating that. What would that mean for your newspaper?

The best news of all of this? With one exception (TownNews.com), this is all free. You can get a blog for free at WordPress.com, join Twitter for free, and create a social network for free.

The only thing it takes is time and know-how. Since you’re already busy putting out a paper, and you probably don’t have the technical knowledge to jump into this with both feet, you have a couple of choices. Build it slowly and learn as you go along, or hire someone to set it up and teach you how to do it.

If you take the build it option, start with a free blog at WordPress.com, and set up a Twitter account. Publish your top story and an editorial on your blog, and promote it through Twitter.

If you have the money, hire a social media and blogging expert to get it all started for you. You’ll spend a few thousand dollars in the beginning, but if you manage this right, it will pay for itself for years afterward.

Last year, Wired Magazine editor Kevin Kelly said in a speech that the Internet as we know it is only 5,000 days old (5,300 by now). 5,000 days ago, we didn’t have maps, TV, news, photos, records, government forms, or entire libraries online. Now we do. Now people get their information this way.

What will the next 5,000 days bring? Or the next 1,000? Or even the next 10? What new technology will let people get news and information? And what will this do to you and your newspaper? Will you be a part of the next 5,000 days? Or will you be the thing the teenagers in your town learn about during their unit on local history?

Media Not Allowed to Twitter at Indy Colts Practice, General Public Is

I love football. The history, the tradition, the way they still honor their roots as a working man’s game. It can be annoying, however, when they apply rules devised in the 1950s to technology of the 21st century.

Out of the 32 teams in the National Football League, 12 of them — including the Indianapolis Colts — have banned Twitter, blogging, and Facebook by the mainstream media during open practices.

That doesn’t apply to the general public who paid to attend the practices, just the professional media types who cover the teams and say nice things about them in order to get fans to attend.

Last week, Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz recently wrote about this in his column, and talked about how “Bubba from Beech Grove can sit in the stands and send up-to-the minute tweets and blog posts about the latest sweet catch by Reggie Wayne. But Peter King and John Clayton and less luminous mediots like myself cannot.”

Kravitz says he’s not on Twitter and he doesn’t blog, so he’s not actually affected, but he still believes it’s a silly rule. (In truth, Kravitz was on Twitter once. We were at an Indy 500 practice day press conference, and he said he wasn’t on Twitter. So I snapped a photo of him on my cell phone, tweeted it, and said, “now you are.”)

It is a silly rule though. I don’t know what these teams are afraid of. They let the general public post all kinds of updates, but do everything they can to hinder the pros from doing their job quickly and easily.

If Peyton Manning’s right arm suddenly fell off, Bubba from Beech Grove (he’s the Joe the Plumber of bloggers) and his PDA-bearing friends can share the information with the world immediately. The media, the folks responsible for disseminating information to the waiting world, must “sprint” the three-quarters of a mile back to the media room, where they can collect the tools of their endeavors. (Oh, yes, no cell phones on the field, either. Apparently, the NFL isn’t up to speed just yet on the “vibrate” function.)

Kravitz said one of the excuses he’s been given is that the teams don’t want reporters to send out bad information based on what they see. Rather, the coaches should be given an opportunity to put the team spin on it set the record straight.

Apparently, the Colts and the other members of the Luddite Twelve seriously underestimate the reach of some of these social media users. Believe me, if Peyton Manning’s arm falls off, and one semi-connected Twitterer gets the word out, that little bit of information will make it to hundreds of thousands of fans before his arm hits the ground. (After which, Reggie Wayne will say that he was open, and he should have been the one to catch the arm.)

Any social media user can tell you that newspapers and mainstream media just don’t have the reach and audience that some well-connected websites and blogs do. In many cases, websites like the Indianapolis Star and Colts.com are just content fodder for the bloggers (like this one, for example). It’s not until articles hit Fark or DeadSpin that the real traffic hits. (Just ask the Star. Their traffic spikes whenever one of their articles makes it to Fark.)

It’s bad enough that these teams still don’t get what social media can do for them. With the exception of a couple teams (the Colts, surprisingly, with MyColts.net), none of the teams have embraced what social networks can do to increase their fan base. They don’t do twitter, they look at blogs suspiciously, and they’re still wondering what this whole “FaceSpace” thing is all about.

By banning the people Twitter and blogging from the people who are least likely to put out bad information, the teams are only showing their ignorance and making it harder for fans — ticket buying, expensive jersey wearing fans — to immerse themselves deeper into the team experience.

What Can Swine Flu Teach Us About Crisis Communication Through Social Media?

Social media has been playing an important part in the swine flu epidemic, which public health experts worry will turn into a pandemic (an epidemic that crosses many countries).social_media_communities_main-1

When I was the Risk Communication Director for the Indiana State Department of Health, half of my time was spent talking about the influenza pandemic — pan flu — and what we could do to communicate during a pandemic. I had a staff of public information officers, and we came up with all sorts of ways to communicate with the media.

We had email, cell phones, and Blackberries, and all of our strategies relied on us being able to have access to those email servers and being able to get news out to the state media outlets, who would then take our news and push it to the top of the news cycle, thus insuring our message would be prominent. Which is great if we were living in 1995.

But they were all the tools in the toolbox for communicating about the impending bird flu.

“People need to quit calling it bird flu,” said more than a few docs and epidemiologists one day. I had made the mistake of calling it bird flu in a meeting one day. (The H5N1 bird flu in Asia was the big fear in 2006.)

“But that’s what people are calling it already,” I countered.

“So?” they all said, in that way educated smart people can. “We just need to educate people to call it pan flu, because by the time it becomes a pandemic, it won’t be from birds, it will be transmitted through people.”

“We’ll spend all our time educating people on not calling it bird flu that we’ll waste our energy we could be using to educate the people.”

But my pleas fell on deaf ears, and so we called it pan flu. “Pan flu” this, “pan flu” that.

Except nobody’s calling it “pan flu” now. We’re calling it swine flu. And that’s the name that stuck, unless you’re from Israel (they’re calling it the Mexico Flu).

So the health department is calling it swine flu, and after three days of no news, they finally put up a press release on their website, and a joint Twitter account with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Social media has taught us all a few lessons when it comes to crisis communication and rapid response, whether you’re in a government agency or the corporate setting.

  • Use the terms the people are using, not your experts. The people are calling this epidemic swine flu. I’m glad to see the health department also calling it swine flu. But avoid the urge to call it “pan flu” if/when that happens. Avoid calling it “influenza.” We all know it as swine flu, so continue to use that term.

 

  • Go to where the people are. The people are not reading newspapers. That information, if we’re lucky, is only 12 hours old, which means it’s outdated as soon as the printer fires up. The people are online, on Twitter, and reading blogs. Meet them there, don’t make them come to you, because they won’t.

 

  • Some information is better than no information. Rather than wait for three days to release one press release, give out bits of information as you have it. Talk about precautions. Talk about plans. Talk about the number of cases in the state (at the time, none; now there is one case.

 

  • Use a blog to communicate with the public and the media. People aren’t reading local newspapers or watching local TV. They’re getting news online that’s been referred to each other through Twitter and other blogs.

 

  • Use the name of the topic on Twitter. While using ISDH in the title is good, and word will eventually spread that ISDH_IDHS is the Health Department and Homeland Security, it’s not very obvious, like IN_SwineFlu.

 

  • Follow area people on Twitter. Right now @ISDH_IDHS is only following the news sources, but not the people of Indiana. One of our goals at ISDH was to correct misinformation, and people are putting out all kinds of bad information on Twitter. They should follow as many people as possible in Indiana, and then address any and all questions, bad information, etc. Refer people back to the blog, or at least the CDC’s website. Set up TweetDeck with a group that searches just for “swine flu” and “Indiana.”

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(UPDATE)

A few links to articles I’ve written on using social media for crisis communication.