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Pitching bloggers and ethics July 28, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Ethics, Pitching Bloggers.

Pitching has been a staple of public relations as long as the industry has existed. The dance between the journalist and the publicist is truly analogous to baseball — the professional communicator working to place a story in the right location, with the desired spin at the appropriate time.

With the rise of citizen journalism, however, pitching is not something that is just restricted to journalists anymore. With a slew of blogs and other consumer generated media outlets carrying on conversations about products and ideas, public relations professionals have a whole new set of outlets they can pitch.

Consequently, people are also discussing the best way to reach out to these online influencers.

The Emergence Media Wiki has a breakdown of basic principles of pitching bloggers tips include:

  • Build relationships now, not just when you need them
  • Look beyond A-listers
  • Be personal and casual, but professional
  • Keep the pitch soft
  • Avoid attachments and use links

These recommendations parallel Rohit Bhargava’s seven key tips on pitching bloggers. Perhaps the most interesting — and most controversial — is his statement that giving bloggers free stuff is ok. He notes that “while many journalists are honor and ethics bound to turn down any free offers from PR professionals and companies, bloggers are not.”

While some bloggers have embraced the idea of giving products with citizen journalists so they can write about them (such as Jospeh Jaffee, a PR blogger who received a free Nikon D80 camera from Nikon and their agency, MWW), others have been critical of bloggers accepting gifts and then writing about them (such as Robert Scoble, author of Naked Conversations).

From an ethical standpoint, I think Scoble has the right idea — if you are going to accept a gift from a company, a blogger should disclose. Period. By being open, honest, and transparent, the blogger gives all the information to his or her readers, and allows the informed reader to take their endorsement of a product with a grain of salt.

As a PR professional pitching bloggers, I recommend doing the following three things if offering a free product sample to a blogger:

  1. Consider how it will be perceived before you send it. Some free product trials are are more innocuous than others. Sending samples of a new compact fluorescent light bulbs to environmental bloggers is relatively modest because the value of the bulb isn’t that great. Sending a free iPhone carries a bigger perception problem because the phone has more inherent value as well as perceived social value. That’s not to say that providing a blogger with an expensive item is always a no-no; just consider the perception
  2. Ask before you send. Not all bloggers will accept gifts. Make sure that the blogger is interested up front.
  3. Require that the blogger disclose. When pitching a blogger by sending him or her a product, you can make no demands; coverage cannot be a condition of receipt. However, if the blogger does accept the gift and does choose to write about it, it is the role of the person sending the item to guarantee that the blogger disclose the relationship.

Ultimate question, basic principles July 21, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in The Ultimate Question.

Although last week I said I liked the premise of The Ultimate Question, I found the more I read the book, the less I enjoyed it. The second half of the book was fluffy, so even though the concept of judging good profits by the happiness of customers and their willingness to be brand ambassadors, the way that Reichheld suggests that companies become customer-focused is a bit shallow.

The recommendations Reichheld gives for for building a company that is devoted to good profits are common sense business 101. He offers tips such as:

  • Hire and fire to inspire
  • Pay well
  • Invest in training your employees
  • And others

Nothing here is revolutionary. Each of these principles is about respecting your employees, and there is a wide body of literature existing that suggests that happy employees are effective employees and effective employees create happy customers. This is more common sense that innovative thinking. All that Reichheld is doing in his discussion about internal business structures is packaging an old concept in a new way.

Second, I found his methodology for how one calculates the NPS left me wanting. I agree that sticking to the Ultimate Question and that alone is a good way to garner accurate information from customers, but the actual metrics he prescribes are old hat — a scale of 0 to 10? A 3-point scale or a 5-point scale? Again, nothing here is new. Furthermore, if the 0-10 scale is used, as he seems to endorse, he doesn’t provide any concrete standards to apply to each number. This means that the results are inherently tied to the subjective interpretations of the respondents, which makes the data less reliable.

I’m not a complete detractor for Reichheld’s thinking. I just wish that his points were a little more original and a little more thorough.

Why one question matters July 14, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in The Ultimate Question.

I can’t think of a premise more simple, yet more revolutionary.

In The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld revolutionizes the meaning of the word profit by arguing that the bottom line is best served by focusing on customer needs and converting them into brand ambassadors.

In other words the ultimate question is: would you recommend our company to a friend?

The concept is so simple. But so right on. Business success depends on sales. Continued sales depend on customer satisfaction. And the highest form of customer satisfaction is the willingness and desire to recommend a company or brand to a friend or colleague.

This premise is grounded in the fundamental principle of the book The Cluetrain Manifesto. In this book (now available for free online), the authors argue that markets are conversations. The traditional approach to business communications was about talking at people — advertising, messaging, and brand development. The reality of today is that business communication does not only exist in a top-down manner. It also exists in a circular manner, with customers talking back to the company and to one another.

I like the approach that Reichheld takes. The idea of a Net Promoter Score is interesting, and seems to get to the heart of the matter — that the more likely that a company has customers willing to recommend them to a friend.

However, I am still confused on the methodology of the NPS. Perhaps that will come to light later in the book. There is a very real challenge in applying numerical metrics to a qualitative survey such as the NPS survey. Reichhart hasn’t yet disclosed his process, and I have a feeling he won’t in the book (as doing so would be like sharing the “secret sauce”). However, in order to understand how NPS works, it would be helpful if Reichart shared his methodology.

I’ll be looking for this in the rest of the book. In the mean time, has anyone else seen his methodology? Leave a comment — I would love to hear your thoughts on how NPS works.

Five things to do before launching a business blog July 7, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Naked Conversations.

In the first part of Naked Conversations, Shel Isreal and Robert Scoble are the ultimate blogging cheerleaders. They strongly advocate the power of online technologies for business to have real, honest and transparent conversations with their stakeholders.

I agree with them for the most part. The rules of business communication have changed.

However, the great thing in the second half of the book, in my opinion, is that Scoble and Isreal first begin to explore the potential dangers of blogging.

In recent years, blogging has become “en vogue.” Often times, a CEO or other C-suite executive will hear about blogging while listening to NPR or reading Business Week and instruct her professional communicators to create a blog for her. These decisions are often made devoid of strategy. They are executive dicta, much like what was referred to while I was working for the U.S. Army as “GOBIs,” or “General Officer Bright Ideas.”

Scoble and Isreal make a good point that corporate blogging is not for everyone. As an addendum to their thoughts, here are five things to do before starting a CEO blog:

  1. Stop. Take a breath and ask yourself “why?” Why am I creating this blog? What am I trying to achieve? Who am I trying to reach? Can I do this better in some other way. Keep asking yourself questions until you run out of them to make sure you have fully explored the purpose of creating a corporate blog.
  2. Research. After thinking about what the topic of the blog will be, look for others who write about your issue and become familiar with the existing community.
  3. Decide who will be authoring the blog and talk to the communications staff about the time commitment. Do not have the blog ghost written by a professional communicator; it should be written by the principal.
  4. Commit to openness.  Allow comments on the blog and be willing to accept criticism. If you can’t do this, don’t blog.
  5. Jump on in. The best way to learn about the space is to jump in. Mistakes will be made as you work through social media. Do not let these setbacks discourage you or prompt you to shut down your blogging efforts.