PR: Physical vs. Virtual

Speaking Tube needed? [Photo: kallejipp | photocase.com]Blog postings. E-mail newsletters. Text messages. Notices from social networks (“Janie Smith wrote on your wall”). Electronic press kits. The virtual is everywhere.

But things you can actually hold in your hand — a press clipping, a press kit, a creative promo item — become more important these days in PR because, let’s face it, the virtual is here one minute, gone and forgotten the next.

PR is all too often perceived as an ethereal business, and because the virtual is so fleeting, the chances of having our PR efforts viewed as momentary manipulation rather than strategic positioning are greatly increased. For PR to live only in the virtual world seems much too risky, and, in this way, I worry that PR could become an “at-risk” industry. After all, in the virtual world, worlds collide as blogger after blogger becomes both publicist and reporter. Church and state meld into one. I contend that unless there’s something physical and sustainable about PR, it simply perpetuates the “it’s only smoke and mirrors” syndrome we’ve endeavored to counteract for years.

And while at the moment we’re fascinated with all things virtual—YouTube postings, tweets, tags, BlogTalkRadio and more—and with virtual being touted as “the future is now,” I say, “Just say no.”

Virtual is more than a fad, for sure. It’s never going to go away. But it will be “weighted” differently. And going forward, I predict it will be “back to the future” with old-school PR trappings being viewed once more as the glue, as the basis of substance.

The mix of real and virtual is actually moving PR (and the rest of the world) forward, to be sure. In our industry, the blog posting by a respected writer, for instance, adds readership and reinforces the print magazine review, which in turn sparks a discussion in an online forum, which piques the interest of a television producer. More likely though, at least for now, it works in reverse. A newspaper article prompts a television segment and both get repurposed as virtual content, in the land where content is king.

But the virtual on its own is a mere puff of smoke.

To me, with the proliferation of all these blogs and with so many people blogging, blog translates as blahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Much of this blahhhhhhhhh bloggggggggggging comes from people who have no existing platform, reputation or relevance. All they have is an opinion (and we know about opinions being like a certain part of our anatomy…everyone’s got one). But that doesn’t mean we really want to know everyone’s opinion, because opinions mean nothing, basically, unless they’re coming from someone we already respect. It’s all too much in real time all the time. In the virtual world people spill their guts, most of which aren’t relevant, interesting, compelling or newsworthy. The old-school PR talent of positioning something so it “becomes” newsworthy is ignored, discarded, deemed unnecessary. Oh, Lord, I crave an editorial hand in the matter, a gatekeeper. I haven’t the time or the inclination to sort through so much self-indulgent crap.  Who does?

To be fair, I do not count blogs powered by traditional news media, which lend the voices credibility. And there are some online-only news and magazine-style sites that are credible — Salon, Slate and the Huffington Post, to name a few. We’ve come to respect and enjoy them because they were purposeful in how they built their reputations — a result, by the way, of traditional PR. They are also professionally edited. They’re the exception, however, swimming in the sea of blah bloggers.

So while some bloggers might actually build their reputation from blogging — and I do believe that’s true, that some people we’ve never heard of before will elevate their positions by blogging and develop a following — the majority of bloggers, blogs and blog content is indiscriminate chatter — hot air that simply leaves me cold.

I see one of our primary functions as PR professionals as crafting timely stories that have real-world news value. That might be an entertainment piece that inspires fans to look at an idol in a new way; it might be a feature story that hits a nerve among a particular readership; it might be a profile of an industry leader who has something to say to a wide audience.

Regardless, to make a strong impact, the results have to be tangible in some way. Give me a newspaper or magazine clipping, a video clip, a permalink to a radio show. And if a blogger wants to post about what he read, place a link to the story from the blog, all well and good! We’ll keep him on the publicity list. But chances are good the blogger won’t be the primary media target for quite some time to come, if at all. The mix of physical and virtual is fine, but I’ll take the physical first and foremost for optimal media exposure. And so will our clients.

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