Advanced blogger relations lesson from Geoff Livingston

Loved this post by Geoff Livingston on unorthodox ways to woo bloggers – so I thought I’d pass it on. Not sure the ways are so unorthodox, because ultimately all the strategies translate into engagement. I guess what makes the approach unorthodox is that you engage with a blogger only because you’re representing a client, not because you are personally interested in the topic.

Upward persuasion, Self-flagellation, Rage management, and the Black list

Once again, the PR blogosphere was aflame with the age-old war between journalism and PR. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a collection of links about the pissing match. I tried to stay out of it, because I’m losing patience for people who lose patience and make their rage public. But the best thing to have come out of it might be this comment by an UGA student, published on the Bad Pitch Blog. And also this comment that talks about how difficult it might be for entry-level PR people to persuade their bosses to do the right thing.

So here are an educator’s random thoughts about this issue:

  • OK, we do teach students about pitching the right way, but we also need to teach them upward persuasion – that is, how to persuade & educate their superiors, how to earn power, credibility, and influence in the workplace. This book on gaining influence in public relations might be a good read for students.
  • Many people who practice PR today weren’t trained in PR in college, because many (most) college PR programs are relatively new. This might partially explain the problem.
  • Self-flagellation by PR people who bash themselves and their profession isn’t necessarily constructive. I believe in self-examination and self-critique, but I wonder if we don’t contribute to (further) lowering the profession’s reputation by engaging in over-eager criticism of PR.
  • I wonder if journalism’s power high is still justified. Yes, PR needs journalists, but let’s face it, self-publishing and SEO are changing the power dynamics. Last time I checked, journalism as a field was in a bit more trouble than PR.
  • This “war” between journalism and PR is an age-old discourse that keeps resurfacing now and again, and the same arguments keep being exchanged, again and again. Many people are learning, many PR practices are changing, but don’t worry, this won’t be over any time soon. But I do expect it will lose some currency as it becomes old news. It’s possible that soon enough every PR agency out there will be black-listed on a wiki, and then, what?

So, are you disappointed that I don’t have a solution?

The fighting is the way to the solution.

Just like in an old marriage, or any other system, the partners do a constant dance of adapting to each other. And they often step on each other’s feet. Fighting plays the necessary part of negotiating roles and a working relationship. It’s natural. It’s old. As things change, it will keep happening. There will never be a perfect balance between journalism and PR. It’s theoretically impossible. This relationship, like all others, is and will be in continuous flux. We’ll keep going back and forth trying to adapt to each other and find ways to coexist. The arguments are natural, healthy, and unavoidable. But, can we manage the rage?

Messing with their minds

This semester, I won the teaching evaluations lottery. It got me thinking about what makes a good teacher. It’s really an elusive concept. Some semesters I’m the best teacher ever, others I’m… not.

I always try to reach out and relate to students as people. I genuinely care about them and invest a lot, mentally and emotionally, in these people who, for one semester, are my responsibility. I approach teaching with awe and care, because ultimately, what I am doing, is messing with their minds. For one semester, they sit there and we talk, and I’m supposed to guide, direct, have the answers, be right. They open their minds to me and I get to mess with them. Scary.

Messing with their minds is what many of you in the strategic communication professions (PR, marketing, etc.) do. Granted, your audience is more skeptical than mine, but every time you communicate, whether it is to an audience of 10 or 10 million people, there is a chance you are messing with their minds.

You get to teach them new ideas & beliefs, influence attitudes and opinions, and change behavior. You can influence your publics on an individual level (yey! Mary bought my brand of… insert product here) and you can influence the overall culture (think about how the Mastercard priceless commercials have become part of everyday culture here in the U.S.). That’s what I call messing with their minds.

Communicating involves a huge responsibility, because when you communicate, you get to mess with people’s minds.

Are you aware of that responsibility? Do you reflect upon it?

The easy test I apply is: What if they believe me? What if, out of 10 (or 10 million) people, there are a few who 100% believe me? Who do as I say? If my communication is successful, and they believe me and do as I say, will their lives be any better? Will the world be any better? Am I, knowingly, causing any harm? What if my communication is really changing someone/something in the world? Am I comfortable with the direction of that change?

I don’t claim I’m always successful (at communicating, or at applying the above ethics test) and I can’t claim that all ethical responsibility is on one side. Yes, people should take care of themselves and protect their own minds against my messing with them. Yet I can’t help but reflect on my responsibility as a teacher and communicator.

Thank you for (not) allowing me to mess with your mind. What are your thoughts?

Life in school

In a recent column in the National Communication Association’s newsletter, NCA president Dr. Arthur Bochner writes about institutional depression – a systemic sadness, loneliness and hopelessness that affects many academics. He blames institutional depression on the lack of communication and community among academics in the humanities, whose work and rewards systems encourage individual performance. Academics don’t feel a sense of belonging to a group or community, and left to their own devices, like many other mammals, flirt with depression.

You’d think that the ivory tower is alive with sparkling, stimulating conversation. You’d hope. Well it is, but mostly in the classroom.

I then read Jane Tompkins’ riveting memoir, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned. A personal account of her experiences as a student, scholar, and academic. A courageous, naked disclosure of her psychological journey from insecurity, depression, craving for acceptance to what seems like peace. A peace she couldn’t find in academia, so she retired early from a tenured professorship in English at Duke University.

I read the book in one sitting, and I think it should be mandatory reading for all academics and university administrators.

That’s because although we live a privileged life in academia (hey, we’re paid to sit, talk, read, and write), it can also be a miserable life. No one takes care of our souls. Tompkins claims no one takes care of our students’ souls, either. Within the university, we’re not people. We’re minds.

So what can be done to improve quality of life in academia? Tompkins’ solution was to create opportunities for building community. She tried. She failed.

She realized the main reason why community isn’t happening is because we’re too busy. We run all the time. We work all the time. We need to be accomplishing something all the time. There’s no time for leisurely conversation and relationship building. (Want to know more about how that can kill you? Read my favorite non-fiction book, American Mania.)

As some of you know, for personal family reasons but or maybe for no reason at all, I’ve been doing my own flirting with depression lately. The recent SNCR conference has given my spirits a huge boost, because it was alive and a-twittering with sparkling, stimulating conversation.

So I’ve decided to try for myself and others Tompkins’ idea of building community and have proposed starting a summer book club at Clemson. First reading on the list: Jane Tompkins’ A Life in School.

After a 3-day approval process, my call was forwarded to people in Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities. A few people have responded. If you are in the area, are reading this, and would like to be part of the book club, please contact me.

I hope it will be a safe place for friendly and stimulating conversations, not a battle of egos. The next books on my reading list are:

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer

… but I’m open to suggestions.

If you’re not in the Clemson area, tell me:

How is/was your life in school?

Did school take care of both of your mind and soul? Did you feel treated like a whole person? Should school even do that?