Getting Deep Into WordPress

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Corrupt Bloggers Kvetch – Where’s the Swag?

There’s a very revealing guest rant by professional ’lifestyle’ blogger Krizia in Pro Blogger: PR People Getting Pushier with Bloggers Since the Recession.

Krizia is perturbed that PRs are now asking questions about the value of all their free giveaways; the cash, the swag is drying up for product placement on Krizia’s EatSmartAgeSmart blog. Before bestowing gifts and favors PR people are asking pesky questions like: 

  • “How many unique users?”
  • “How many page views?”
  • “How fast can you get our review on your site?”
  • “Have you won any awards in the past?”
  • “Send us links to past reviews you’ve written.”
  • “What angle will you take with this feature?”

In other words, publicists were getting hip and demanding the same standards they apply to legitimate media. When we get a hit inthe Daily Newswe know the circulation, target readership, ad equivalent value – in print and on the web.  Why not with bloggers? 

EatSmartAgeSmart has all the markings of a commercial enterprise that treats ‘content’  like ad-filler. Where’s the PR value in editorial in an outlet that obviously crafts stories as thinly-disguised ads to pump individual blog traffic and ancillary business for a larger blog network? (see Glam Media description below).

I know this is beauty/fashion/lifestyle blah blah, and that’s the way it’s done in these industries. But these sprung-up-on-the-web media properties are competing with established, verified, legitimate media outlets that are converting their readers to the web.  If you’re a publicist you’ll choose mass media or Trade pubs before spending billable time on corrupt bloggers who publicly kvetch about the lack of swag coming from PRs. 

Blogger Relations – a credible pitch

A few days ago I got a perfect pitch. I hope Alex doesn’t mind if I reprint it verbatim here:

Hi Mark,

My name is Alex King and I’m the Director of Marketing at a small MIT startup called WebNotes. Thanks for your post on Mandy Stadtmiller- I just read her column and thought it was hysterical!

Anyways, my firm is building research tools for PR firms to help out with the daily news scan process and I was curious if you might be interested in writing about us. I’d love to show you a demo and even give you access to the software.

I hope all is well,
Alex

We did a Go-to-Meeting Demo. I asked questions and I signed up for the same two week free WebNotes Demo vailable to everybody. No free giveaway. No PR. No hustle. No quid pro quo. No money changing hands.

A couple of days after the Demo Alex followed up with email to see if I needed assistance.  Be professional, be personal, be persistent. In PR, media relations, blogger relations, bottomline, that’s all you can do. If you do that, you’re way ahead of the game.

EatSmartAgeSmart is in the Glam Media network.From the Glam Media site: Glam Media is the pioneer and global leader of Vertical Media—a revolutionary new media model that connects premium brand advertisers with millions of consumers with like-minded passions online through large and growing vertical content networks. With more than 1400 publishers worldwide, we cover the topics people are passionate about. We know how to find and engage these audiences with the right content at the right time—and brand advertisers are taking note. In the past year, 23 of the top 25 brand advertisers have engaged with passionate consumers on one of the Glam Media Networks. With a reach of 55 million unique monthly visitors in the US and more than 125 million uniques globally, it’s no wonder Glam Media is in the comScore Top 20 Web properties and a Top 10 AdWeek Display Ad Publisher.

FTC Forces Bloggers to Get Real

As expected, the Federal Trade Commission yesterday issued new guidelines for bloggers to disclose freebies or payments they receive in return for reviewing products. Although the regulations are still vague and will be judged on a case-by-case basis, this is a big step in cleaning up the blogosphere from the proliferation of content trash floating around.

Social media guru Brian Solis argues that the FTC is not showing bloggers respect because “traditional reporters and journalists have long received products and services to review.” Yes, with several key distinctions. Real reporters are schooled, apprenticed, trained, and are usually part of an organization that has adopted standards and oversight. News organizations have guidelines about accepting gifts and returning products they review. Bloggers are not reporters and, in the case of those who stoop to write positive reviews on products or services they receive without disclosing the relationship, they are hardly behaving ethically.

There is a mad rush to get exposure on the web and game search results – hence pay for play bloggers. Blogging is hard work. It takes thought, research, and a bit of tech savvy (not much), and understanding of basic journalistic principles. Bloggers don’t usually do ‘original’ research – we comment on what has already been reported. Bloggers can have value, the same as any op-ed contributor to a news organization.

This goes back to that big question – what is more important, content or SEO. I argue that content is more important. If you produce articles that have insight and value to the market, search engines will pick it up and you will receive deep, long-lasting benefit. If you’re out to game the search engines through slick SEO tactics and prostituted bloggers, then you will always be at the mercy of Google’s next algorithm that boxes you out and government regulations. 

For bloggers, the FTC stopped short of specifying how they must disclose conflicts of interest. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous,” no matter what form it will take.

PR/Media Week in Review 05-24-2009

weekreview2Twitter scams are proliferating like wildfire on the Net- 100FOLLOWERS A DAY! they promise – and this one, TwitterTrafficMachine, a couple of bozos who say they invented a system to automatically increase your Twitter followers. mytweetfollowers.com is another one that automatically controls your Twitter with re-tweets to their site – @Stock_Tweets is having a hard time turning off those malicious auto-Tweets.

All this supports the false notion that hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers lends you credibility, popularity and the power to influence others. Twitter is easily manipulated and tends to gravitate toward the fleeting inane comment generated by obsessive compulsive Twits whose only purpose is to generate more followers, no matter who they are.

On the other hand – the media is really taking to Twitter and it is proving to be a viable alternative wire service.  Some journalists troll for sources through Twitter: APRealEstateLooking to interview someone who bought or sold a home in the Dallas metro area in April or May. Email asainz@ap.org. Some journalists, who have a conversational style and an underlying mission, manage to convey a real personality in 140 characters or less. My favorite is Nicholas Kristof:

profile imageNYTimesKristof @Kholmpartiet Poverty of spirit: people who express themselves not by personality but by displaying the latest i-Pod. 18:15 PM 19th May | NYTimesKristof It’s odd to return to the U.S. from African villages. So much wealth here, yet often accompanied by a poverty of spirit. 16:18 PM 19th May.

Twitter is also proving to be a resource for what journalists are thinking and doing: mattbish Had editorial lunch with JP Morgan ceo Jamie Dimon who was surprisingly upbeat (Matthew Bishop, The Economist). As one client astutely observed- journalists are now openly offering opinions trough social media.

The exploding popularity of Twitter and its usefulness as another information stream is forcing companies to hire in-house or freelance Twitterers. See NYTimes “Tweeting Your Way to a Job“. Wells Fargo is the latest to launch a customer service Twitter stream, complete with several real-life Twitter personalities who answer basic banking questions. Others in the banking business have jumped on the bandwagon: See USA Today story about customer service and banking on Twitter

JournalistTweets is the the first (claims Cision) Twitter journo aggregator. You can follow tweeting journalists according to segments - Business | Entertainment | Health | Technology

Follow me on Twitter: @markrose

More and more, my conversations with journalists includes a survey of the PR job market (can’t be worse than journalism!?). This week, editorialists and bloggers debated the blurring lines between public relations and journalism. See Reason magazine column arguing that PR could become the next investigative journalism| And there’s The 21st Century Journalist: PR by Day, Reporter by Night? by Renay San Miguel.

 NYPost: Portfolio.com taken over by American City Business Journals | Worth magazine re-launches June 1. See story here.

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Chevron’s Aggressive PR Challenge – ‘buying’ bloggers?

Chevron logoChevron is throwing down the gauntlet – conducting a bare knuckle PR campaign the likes of which we have rarely seen. At stake is a $27 billion judgement in an Ecuadorian court that, if leveled (a decision is expected this year), and if it sticks (it is not clear if an Ecuadorian court can extract payment from an American company with no current operations in its country), would be the largest environmental lawsuit in history.

Such a judgement could severely hamper Chevron and impact its stock. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is demanding a full accounting from Chevron (the state, through pension funds, is a shareholder). Dozens of blogs and web sites are devoted to slamming the company and generating a consistent stream of negative news -  including accusing the company of buying off bloggers. Chevron is aggressively fighting back.

Anybody who does not believe that high-profile civil cases are fought as much through PR as they are in the courtroom should study the Chevron case.

The latest flame-up in this story was the May 3, 2009, ’60 Minutes’ segment titled Amazon Crude. Silvia M. Garrigo, Manager, Global Issues and Policy for Chevron, was in the unenviable position of facing the 60 Minutes grilling from Scott Pelley. Garrigo’s performance on ’60 Minutes’ was ridiculed by many anti-Chevron groups although, from my perspective, she is a strong and credible advocate for her client.

Chevron responded to 60 Minutes by hiring former CNN correspondent  Gene Randall to narrate a ‘News” report that tells the story from its Darryl Hannah in Ecuador to highlight damage from environmental disasterperspective. The video, Chevron Texaco Ecuador Lawsuit – Behind the Scenes, is on YouTube and a company web site devoted to the case.

Smack in the middle is a blogger called Zennie62, who, ChevronToxicoclaims, is a paid shill for Chevron. ChevronToxico offers no proof and Zennie Abraham, the blogger, does not confirm or deny payments in his blog posts. He posts prodigiously about the case and seems to have a wealth of information that would only be available to an insider. His blog posts and YouTube videos rank high in Google searches on keywords Chevron, Texaco (acquired by Chevron), and Ecuador.  Daryl Hannah, right, visiting environmental disaster site in Ecuador.

In 2008, Amazon Watch disclosed that Bay Area blogger Pat Murphy was a paid to post pro-Chevron comments on the Ecuador case in his small online newspaper.  Murphy has publicly acknowledged he accepted fees for control of editorial content, according to Amazon Watch.

Chevron’s Garrigo has acknowledged that this is a PR battle. The company claims that it cannot get a fair trial in Ecuador and they seek to sway public opinion in the U.S. if the case is brought here. This is not a ‘cut and dry’ case, despite the entrenched certainty of the opposing forces. There is plenty of villainy to go around. The Ecuadorian government has an atrocious environmental record – the big U.S. oil company is an easy target that reaps enormous political benefit, even if they don’t realize a dime from the lawsuit.

 “Paying so-called independent bloggers to post is just one part of a wide-ranging fraud designed by Chevron to cover up the company’s enormous exposure in Ecuador,” said Prieto. Prieto said Samson, Chevron’s public relations director, has built an “empire” of consultants in the U.S. and Ecuador to put out misleading information about the case.  Chevron’s environmental problems in Ecuador have become the company’s largest worldwide public relations problem. Samson has retained the New York office of the global public relations behemoth Hill & Knowlton — the same firm that represented the tobacco industry for decades– to manage Chevron’s image problems stemming from the Ecuador case. Chevron P.R. Director Donald Samson Behind Secret Payments to Bloggers to Hide Ecuador Liability