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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Kommentare zu diesem Post

Timo Lommatzsch

I have some different thoughts on this, I hope they don’t seem disrespectful. I want to start with the fact, that I think that good solid old fashioned media relations PR, as you partly describe it in your post, is a very important part of nearly every strategic PR concept/work. Offline media plays a very, very important role in our society and therefore in PR.
But please, let me take a few minutes to give some different perspectives on some things you mention in this post. Let’s do this step by step:

>because, let’s face it, the virtual is here one minute, gone and forgotten the next.

Well, it depends, there are many ways strategic Online PR can make use of the communicative long tail and by that, over time, get much more valuable contacts to stakeholders as Offline PR – because let’s face it: a press or TV clipping is here today and forgotten tomorrow, while the Online Media coverage and some types of Online PR still generate many valuable contacts/impressions each day in the years to come ;)

>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.

Actually my personal “virtual world” isn’t so dangerously fleeting. For example there are still those brilliant, resourceful blogs and podcasts, I have been reading/listening to for years now – while in the mean time so many print magazines and TV shows have come and gone … ;)
But really, I think it all depends on how you look at it, how you work with it and what you make of it. Through social media we got the great chance to really put the public back into public relations. For many people PR has become nothing else but press/media relations. Now we got whole new ways and possibilities to reach (out to) relevant stakeholders, to really listen to our target groups and to establish valuable, lasting dialogues. I only see the danger of “having our PR efforts viewed as momentary manipulation rather than strategic positioning” if someone practices a cheesy Online PR that has no strategic concept and no understanding of social media and it’s different rules, ethics, possibilities and how it fits into the over-all strategic PR concept for the client.

>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.

Of course PR should not only “live in the virtual world” – PR should “live” and work in those realms where the relevant stakeholders and target groups can be reached in the most effective and sustainable way – and sometimes that is online, sometimes it’s offline, and most often, nowadays it’s a mixture of both.

>The mix of real and virtual is actually moving PR (and the rest of the world) forward, to be >sure.

I think the wording in this reveals the real difference between our understandings of (online) PR and the “virtual world”. For me there is no difference between “real” and “virtual” – virtual is real to me as anything else. And the younger generations nowadays don’t understand why older folks make a difference between virtual and real – the difference maybe online or offline. But both is real for sure.

>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.

“The old-school PR talent of positioning something so it “becomes” newsworthy is” … more important than ever. It’s just that online and in social media you need new/different concepts, skills, ways of thinking and strategies to make things “newsworthy” and to spark and join the conversation. Social media is not a new distribution channel for old school media PR content and it is not a new tool for old school media relation PR concepts. You can not transfer the understanding and concept of media (relations) 1:1 to social media. Social media is a whole new game, world, way of conversation, mindset, way of sharing information, way of getting in touch with people etc.etc.etc..

>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?

I’m real sorry to say, that I think it’s not a matter of time but a matter of skill and relationships. If you crave for a gatekeeper, than it implies to me, that you might not understand what you are dealing with and especially not how to deal with it. That may be the reason why you can’t find relevant content and relevant online dialogues in all the “blahhhhhhhhh bloggggggggggging”and why it’s “all too much in real time all the time” to you. In German we got the word “Medienkompetenz” maybe you can translate it roughly with “media skills”. For finding relevant content and dialogues and to establish relevant relationships in social media you need a different set of skills and knowledge and a different way of thinking than in classical media. It’s a whole new world that has different physical laws and there fore has whole new ways of exploring, mapping and measuring.

So in my opinion, there is no “physical vs. virtual” in PR – there is just the challenge of exploring und understanding a new world and a new mindset – and to integrate this as best as possible in all your strategic PR concepts.

Ulf-Hendrik Schrader

Gut gebrüllt Löwe, der Beitrag verlangte auch nach einer umfassenderen Reaktion. Natürlich ist Online und Social Media nicht alles, natürlich braucht es weiterhin eine Ansprache der klassischen Medien und natürlich besteht die Blogosphäre zum größeren Teil aus "hot air". Je nach Branche, Zielgruppe und Situation können Blogs und Social Media insgesamt aber auch zum wichtigsten Betätigungsfeld der PR werden.
Wer das heutzutage gewissermaßen ausschließt und sich dem Thema kategorisch nähert, hat sich meiner Ansicht nach einfach noch nicht genügend damit auseinandergesetzt und läuft leider auch Gefahr, seine Kunden schlecht zu beraten.

Gaye_Carleton

Interesting comments here. Thank you both, Timo and Ulf-Hendrik, for your
thoughtful responses.

I think we have many points of agreement regarding PR
in the virtual world. For instance, I'm not disputing the fact that we need
different skill sets and ways of thinking to maximize opportunities that the
virtual world holds. My gripe is that it takes such a block of time to wade
through the "blah blogs" and clutter that the virtual world promotes, that
the PR message is much more easily obscured if it's not rooted in the real
world.

As a practitioner of PR for over 25 years, this isn't the first new trick
I've had to learn in this business. Pitching by e-mail at one time required
a new skill set and mindset too.

As curious professionals, we're always learning. In the PR world we have an
appetite for new ways of communicating and reinforcing our clients'
messages. It's part of what I love about this business.

But we also have to be discriminating, and that's part of our job too:
finding and discerning what's relevant. Google is great, but it's not
intuitive. Intuition is a PR person's best friend--in all worlds--when it
comes to understanding relevance. There's a glut of content out there and
most of it has, in my experience, very little relevance to *large* groups of
people.

Timo, you mentioned the TV shows and magazines that have come and gone and
the Podcasts and blogs that have endured and that you've been reading for
years. Once the online-only media has had as many years to develop, it will
be interesting to see the ebb and flow of what remains and what doesn't. No
question online media are growing up in a way we couldn't have foreseen even
a decade ago.

I do make a distinction between online media (nytimes.com, Slate, Salon,
HuffPo and many others) and social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and
others), although I put both under the umbrella of "virtual." But once again
I return to the issue of relevance and what's going to give the maximum
public impact for my clients. Ultimately, I don't think social media is
about “listening” at all. But I'll save that rant for another time.

Last but not least, even though you suggest I might not understand how to
use the virtual world to communicate a message, I must say the content of my
blog posting here evoked a pretty swift and strong reaction! And isn’t that
the point?

Until next time.

Gaye

Timo Lommatzsch

Hi Gaye, thank you very much for this reply, and yes of course, your post asked for a “swift and strong” reaction and that’s one possible way to get the online conversation going and to get online exposure. So defiantly well done :)

It’s just that I have spent lots of time with communication professionals and other people who told me that online, blogs, social media is just a time waster and just “blah blogs and blubb tweets” – and when I have spent some hours working and explaining with them, when I have introduced them some tools, way of thinking and techniques, they often come to a different conclusion. Also have in mind, that there a still people out there in our profession, who simply don’t even know how to use Google efficiently and who have never heard of technorati or a RSS-Feed reader. And for them, yes it may take a lot of time to get through all the “blah” content, until they find relevant content for themselves. On the other hand, more and more people find the online content and dialogues they want, need and trust – often recommended by (online) friends, (online) media and last but not least intuition.

As I said: online is as real to me as anything else ;) But of course to gain the most and best impact a PR strategy should be rooted on- and offline. It should be integrated and spread through all relevant channels for the given stakeholders and target groups. Often you have to change the “message” and the strategy for online – and yes the “message” may get “out of your control” here - but I would not name that “obscuring” – I would name that “joining the conversation” and “establishing long term relationships and relevance” :)

And here we are at the most important point: relevance. And I’m all with you in this one: one of your main jobs is it to “find and discern” what is relevant for our clients, our PR strategies, our stakeholders. I would never ever say everyone should establish a blogger relations program, should twitter, should integrate blogger/social media outreach into their media campaign, should consider SEO for their PR topic etc. – it is only important if there is the given relevance. But the same counts of course for traditional media. Each time we have to value and look in which way we can reach our goals and target groups in the most efficient and effective way. And most often that is by combining online and offline. For some clients Twitter is very, very relevant just because of the simple fact, that important stakeholders are speaking about the client and client relevant topics there. For other clients I would say, ok, we monitor it, but for now, you can ignore it.
For some clients the german online forum Wallstreet Online is more important and will reach a larger audience than an article in the german Financial Times.
TV may reach a really large audience, but how big and lasting is the impact concerning the given target groups really? That depends. For example, of course Google/SEO PR is no tool for agenda setting. But once our topic is on the agenda – maybe due to nice valuable old school TV and print PR – people will (depending on the topic/client) turn to Google and other internet resources to find out more. So it is very important in some cases, for a successful, lasting and effective PR to shape the Google search results for the given topics and to join the online dialogues in the relevant online channels.

>Ultimately, I don't think social media is about “listening” at all. But I'll save that rant for >another time.

Nice one, cause I think social media, at first step, is all about listening – so if you ever come over to Germany, let me know - could develop into an interesting and resourceful lunch discussion for both of us.

Timo Lommatzsch

Hi Gaye, thank you very much for this reply, and yes of course, your post asked for a “swift and strong” reaction and that’s one possible way to get the online conversation going and to get online exposure. So defiantly well done :)

It’s just that I have spent lots of time with communication professionals and other people who told me that online, blogs, social media is just a time waster and just “blah blogs and blubb tweets” – and when I have spent some hours working and explaining with them, when I have introduced them some tools, way of thinking and techniques, they often come to a different conclusion. Also have in mind, that there a still people out there in our profession, who simply don’t even know how to use Google efficiently and who have never heard of technorati or a RSS-Feed reader. And for them, yes it may take a lot of time to get through all the “blah” content, until they find relevant content for themselves. On the other hand, more and more people find the online content and dialogues they want, need and trust – often recommended by (online) friends, (online) media and last but not least intuition.

As I said: online is as real to me as anything else ;) But of course to gain the most and best impact a PR strategy should be rooted on- and offline. It should be integrated and spread through all relevant channels for the given stakeholders and target groups. Often you have to change the “message” and the strategy for online – and yes the “message” may get “out of your control” here - but I would not name that “obscuring” – I would name that “joining the conversation” and “establishing long term relationships and relevance” :)

And here we are at the most important point: relevance. And I’m all with you in this one: one of your main jobs is it to “find and discern” what is relevant for our clients, our PR strategies, our stakeholders. I would never ever say everyone should establish a blogger relations program, should twitter, should integrate blogger/social media outreach into their media campaign, should consider SEO for their PR topic etc. – it is only important if there is the given relevance. But the same counts of course for traditional media. Each time we have to value and look in which way we can reach our goals and target groups in the most efficient and effective way. And most often that is by combining online and offline. For some clients Twitter is very, very relevant just because of the simple fact, that important stakeholders are speaking about the client and client relevant topics there. For other clients I would say, ok, we monitor it, but for now, you can ignore it.
For some clients the german online forum Wallstreet Online is more important and will reach a larger audience than an article in the german Financial Times.
TV may reach a really large audience, but how big and lasting is the impact concerning the given target groups really? That depends. For example, of course Google/SEO PR is no tool for agenda setting. But once our topic is on the agenda – maybe due to nice valuable old school TV and print PR – people will (depending on the topic/client) turn to Google and other internet resources to find out more. So it is very important in some cases, for a successful, lasting and effective PR to shape the Google search results for the given topics and to join the online dialogues in the relevant online channels.

>Ultimately, I don't think social media is about “listening” at all. But I'll save that rant for >another time.

Nice one, cause I think social media, at first step, is all about listening – so if you ever come over to Germany, let me know - could develop into an interesting and resourceful lunch discussion for both of us.

Gaye_Carleton

Timo...

I see my post has compelled you to comment again and that makes me smile.
This is much more a discussion to have over a traditional face-to-face PR
exchange, like lunch as you have suggested. I'll let you know the next
time I'm in Germany and I'll look forward to some good old-fashioned
in-the-flesh real-world networking.

Kim Larochelle

I'm totally behind you on this one Timo. The PR agencies that are at risk are the ones that won't embrace online PR. I've also posted a blog (http://tinyurl.com/dzf9wz) about this debate.

Kim Larochelle

Veit Mathauer

The discussion goes on: Have a look at the blog of Sympra's partner in Australia: http://dennisrutzoupr.wordpress.com/author/denn...