Massaging the Message – how PR is adapting

Ged Carroll – lead consultant for digital strategy at Waggener Edstrom – putting the public back into public relations.

Tamara Littleton moderation of networks

Darren Strange Office UK 2007 Product Manager Microsoft – we don’t think of ourselves as evil, so perhaps we have a bit of a perception problem, which is why I think a large number of us choose to be bloggers. Writes the office rocker blog

Bernhard moderating: So who should blog?

DS: well about 1 in 15 blog at MS but they vary between people who have a very narrow niche where they know everything there is to know, while others are more broad. The good bloggers are the ones who can handle dialogue and ambiguity, not the people who have to be right.

TL: the people inside the company are not the best people to blog – we look for ambassadors, people who are already championing the brand and want to get involved.

B: any examples of this?

TL: yup Budweiser and NASCAR actively seek people to champion the community and the brand.

B: is there ever anything unacceptable to Bud?

TL: sometimes images, but they try to be hands off around discussions and opinions and encourage open dialogue.

B: we’ve talked about brand evangelists

GC: there are probably people in your organisation blogging already without your sanction or not, so good advice is to reach out to them. The most important characteristics are passion, tone of voice and authenticity. Being able to draw on a depth of knowledge but also able to say “I don’t know, but I can find out”

Andyour findings – how many with policies and sanctioned bloggers

GC: varies widely and can be skewed by our client base, but it’s definitely becoming the norm.

B: I want to ask about brand reputation – isn’t it a PR nightmare to have a whole bunch of independent spokespeople

GC: work with HR on T&Cs and establish etiquette within the company for respecting private communication. People have different views, but the best you can hope for is that people will generally go in the same way.

B: what’s the most awkward thing you’ve encountered? If you’ve made a mistake do you get a torrent of response.

DS: yeah, but it’s all coverage isn’t it? MS see that we do far more good than harm on the whole. I’m an amateur journalist in a way and so if something comes across my desk that’s interesting… I have blogged things that other people didn’t want me to. Of course it occasionally undermines the big PR efforts, but I’m not going to leak confidential information. We already talk to journalists, friends down the pub etc so why would we suddenly start blurting things out in our blog. We have no blogging policy and if there ever is one, probably lots of people would leave. We have a whole bunch of people who get together for bloggers lunches for example.

B: so Scoble got into trouble over China working on censorship with GYM. What’s the view on political activity or support on your blog?

DS: well if it was relevant (someone was trying to ban MS Office 🙂 ) then I’d obviously say something about it. It’s about us having a face and being human with our consumers. Something that’s annoying is journos trying to hijack my blog. I see my blog as my house, and my rules hold. So I’ve had them very keen to get a free copy of MS Office – I know him, we get on well, but instead of just mailing me – he put a comment on one of my posts ranting about whey he didn’t already get one. He ends up looking worse because I just ignored him. This levels the playing field – there are journos who feel free to bad mouth Microsoft, but of course, now I get right of reply. This changes the whole dynamic of dealing with the press.

B: Any other examples.

TL: defending journos – timesonline is a client and they now allow comments on every article (trying to make out it’s a blog) so when there were negative comments about the launch of the site, but what was interesting was that they let that be out there and it turned round over time.

DS: Not so sure about Times, but I think it’s important to have people behind them not just anonymous groups. Having comments doesn’t make it a blog. I also object to having to give info before being able to comment and what’s with no RSS feeds?

B: how about when a crisis hits? Old story of lock-picking (3 years ago) is still the stickiest most prominent story about Kryptonite. So how does this affect how you deal with crisis.

GC: the key issue with Kryptonite is that the problems were well known. The problem in 2004 was that they did a whole lot of stuff to fix the problem, but they didn’t tell people about what they were doing. This would have stopped the issue dead, it was the void of communication back that did the damage.

B: anything you can do about search and it’s stickiness

GC: well it’s all about content so how do you release plenty of compelling content that shows how you behaved well

DS: and if they had an established culture of blogging, their own bloggers would have come higher in results and they could be putting their ‘correct’ view across. So blogs can be a defence mechanism for you.

TL: also if something goes wrong, it’s really powerful having CEO or senior mgt saying this is what we’re going to do in response.

Q: Interested in Bud & NASCAR using ambassadors -I can see how people would be encouraged to blog about NASCAR, but not Bud – where’s the ongoing material
A: well it’s the association with drivers – it’s the sponsorship thing, getting people to see advertising, but also rewarding people with merchandise etc. Re-inforcing the brand’s involvement

Q: Are there good examples of people using blogs to push messages about themselves. Has anyone been successful?
A: GC: MS & Sun in the tech sector – but it’s not about putting a message out it’s about engaging with an audience they already have.
TL: also hi-jacking blogs can be a real faux-pas
DS: on a weekly basis i’ll have pr’s send me stuff – lots are very good, but I’m not going to look like a PR spin machine. I welcome people sending me stuff, but I have to ask myself whether it’s something I feel OK about blogging. Which is an amateur version of everyday in the newsroom.

Q: Transparency is big and Darren is a great example. I’m interested though in brand ambassadors getting schwag or incentives to say nice things. Is there any transparency in that.
A: TL: More to do with the ROI for the client and for the user/ambassador – it’s not about rewarding people in a surreptitious way it’s making an environment that people will go back to – because they get some fame, or early information, or an increase in status in the community. A lot of this is about more personal communication too and fame – giving people access to billboards in Times Square for example.
GC: there’s really 2 types of rewards – advertising to get a response, but also helping people build their reputation – they don’t have to be tangible, it can be as simple as providing some exclusivity.
DS: We got ordinary people (well journalists) to have a go with Vista before launch – gave them a laptop pre-installed. An interesting debate ensued – we said you can do whatever you like with the product, say what you like, but we still got accused of bribing bloggers. Professional journalists are already used to this sort of thing and have developed their own ethical standards about it.