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Should PR Agencies Blog?

Sam Lawrence lit a fire under those in Social Media and PR today by sharing a story about whether or not his PR agency of record should blog about working with Jive Software.

Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Brogan, Strumpette, and many others discussed it on Twitter (my favorite place for listening to and joining amazing and insightful conversations.)

Sam’s headline says it all, “I want our new PR Agency to blog about us but they don’t want to.”

He’s certainly no stranger to corporate blogging. The Jive blog is rich with community spirit, information, and ideas.

Lawrence continued, “Before we hired them, I told them I thought it would be cool if they blogged about their experiences working on our business. They told me it was a bad idea. I told them I wouldn’t stop asking.”

The agency contends that:
– They don’t want to say anything that could damage relationships with the press or with clients
– They believe an PR Agency should be invisible
– They’re not clear who the target reader would be

Just so we’re clear…his agency’s concerns are not invalid nor are they alone in their thinking.

Lawrence wants his agency to blog because he believes that they have a lot of interesting insight to share. His sense is that their real challenge is not too different than most companies, they’re just not sure how to open up the kimono.

To say the least, Sam just called them out. A perfect first post in response could be, “Why we don’t want to blog about working with Jive Software;” even if it’s their first and last blog post.

I find this conversation very interesting because usually these days, it’s the other way around. Agencies are begging clients to start blogging as a way of listening to, embracing, and conversing with customers.

After much personal research and experience, I’ve found that a genuine, helpful, humanized blog, combined with the art of cultivating and building relationships, can forge real connections, shape perception, improve customer service, and also enhance brand loyalty, reach, and resonance.

This discussion is symbolic and relevant for many reasons.

First and foremost, not everyone needs to, or should blog.

Some people just don’t have anything interesting to say and that’s OK. Not everyone needs to write a book, skydive, or sing karaoke either.

Yes, so openness and transparency are “the new black.” But don’t take it at face value. Think about it first.

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes being open can hurt your brand. It’s just that simple and a reflection and reminder that we are all open to public interpretation and response. Social Media is a powerful medium and it can not be underestimated, taken for granted, or leveraged only because it’s the new, hot trend.

The easy, and most important, answer on whether or not Sam’s agency, or any agency or company should blog is, “it depends.”

Yes, it depends on your customers. It depends on who you want to reach and why. It depends on where your customers go for information. It depends on whether or not doing so will benefit your community.

Instead of insisting that his agency blog, the real question for Sam to ask is, “Will blogging about the experience working with us enrich and improve or cheapen and distract the Jive community…”

The questions for Jive’s agency to ask are, “Will blogging about this or other relationships benefit existing or potential clients? Will we establish thought leadership or give away our ideas. Are we capable of writing authentically and not like most PR people? Will this blog hurt or help relationships with media, analysts and bloggers?”

The process of thinking about this will yield invaluable insight, which can only help companies create a relevant and specific roadmap to define content, readers, format, and approach. I guess I should say, that this process is an absolute must before any company decides to blog, otherwise they’re just blogging to blog (blah blah blah blah) – and that’s never a good idea in the world of real business.

This discussion also highlights another interesting and significant point. Do most traditional PR agencies understand the dynamics of the blogosphere, let alone the task of writing and maintaining a blog?

The answer is profoundly, “NO!”

It is the source of the rising undercurrent of professional bloggers and “people who blog” who publicly flog offending individuals and complain openly about the PR industry. There’s a reason why it is garnering so much attention and also frightening the sh!t out of PR pros .

Blogging, and Social Media in general, change everything and it has the power to create tremendous attention, whether you want it or not.

Traditional PR wasn’t ready to contend with something it can not control. It is this fear that has PR scrambling to learn how to engage and also intimidates many away from blogging. The industry is learning, almost through a baptism by fire, that you just can’t take the same mechanical approach to working with bloggers the way it has with journalists and analysts for so many years. And, you simply can’t just acquire intellectual capital of those who do get it to instantly adapt. It requires a re-examination and reconstruction of the architecture of Public Rela
tions, with an emphasis placed on

At the same time, the majority of writing that defines PR has been dominated by buzz words, hyperbole, and “messages” or defined by ghost-written articles and quotes that place contrived, insincere statements in the mouths of executives and spokespersons.

While it worked for years to generate reasonable success, whether you like it or not, the democratization of content creates and new playing field.

The industry has a lot to learn before it starts pushing content out through today’s social channels. Some get it. Some don’t. Others are learning. The point is that we can all contribute to and learn from this conversation in order to apply relevant principles and lessons-learned to our individual communications strategies.

This entire discussion, and process of exploration and discovery, is forcing the evolution of PR for the better.

This is about being authentic and building trust.

Now, whether Jive’s agency, or all agencies, should blog about client experiences, the answer is, “it depends.”

Here’s what others have to say about the subject:

Craig Cmehil, Jive customer, “As a customer of Jive or any product really I would very much enjoy hearing what PR agency or any group that is working together with the company to improve it, enhance it, grow it, etc.”

Darryl Siry, marketing expert, “I think your customers/community might care about what you have to say but why would they give a damn what your PR agency has to say? It would be a good sign that your PR agency “gets” blogging if they had a blog of their own that was relevant and interesting to their community but getting them to blog about working with you seems like a waste of time and money and wouldn’t really do anything for you or your community. I agree with your agency that if they do their job well they should be invisible.”

Marshall Kirkpatrick, one of my favorite bloggers, “I wonder if they are afraid of being made fun of for not doing a good job of it. I think most PR people believe they have a vested interest in looking supremely professional at all times and that’s not easy to do with a new medium based largely on authenticity. Especially when you’re in PR. Some of my favorite people are in PR, I swear. I actually don’t think everyone needs to blog, either. Some folks just aren’t good at it and would be better of doing their jobs.”

I also received a few responses on Twitter:

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Plaxo, LinkedIn, or Facebook

22 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Should PR Agencies Blog?”

  1. Deirdre says:

    Brian, I agree that each case should be evaluated differently. So, yes it depends. But, I also question a couple of things. When you are paying an agency a fee for PR, then to me anything they blog may not be objective. Will the PR agency just focus on all of the good things that a company wants to point out about a product or service? Now, I’m not saying all PR agencies (or even my own PR agency) but there will be some that may not be as objective as they should be and will provide little value for the fee they earn. If PR agencies blog about their clients, is this a biased opinion?

  2. Michael Tangeman says:

    Brian, interesting conundrum.

    Not least of which because in most agency-client relationships, and there are certainly exceptions, the agency is the agent for contacting the media on behalf of the client and is not the ‘authorized spokesperson’ for the client. Nearly always, one defers to the client’s designated executive for any number of reasons: they are better informed, to maintain consistency in the information being provided by the client, the client wants to position this particular executive as an ‘expert voice’ on the subject at hand, etc.

    What does one do with all that if the agency is blogging about the client? Sure, one can say the ageny would only blog about the experience of working with the client from a PR perspective, but how then to respond to comments which point specifically to client’s products or services, how they are presented to the media by the agency, issues involving crises and specific instances thereof?

    Does the agency then become the ‘authorized spokesperson’ for the client, having invited comment related to their work with the client and by extension all client-related matters? In all cases? Does the agency blog ever defer to the client? What perceptions does that create among the media and the public?

    It’s a real Pandora’s Box and I can understand the agency’s reticence to get out in front on this one without some real serious investigation of all the implications.

  3. Sam Lawrence says:

    The funny thing for me in all this is that a PR Agency isn’t special. We all have clients and customers. We all have these issues. We’re all biased. But that’s what a blog is for. It’s to have the conversation. To chime in and make yourself available. PR Agencies should be the BEST bloggers. They study dialogue and communication for a living. It’s how they feed their families. And if a Client can’t get that, maybe the Client should get donkey-kicked.

    I’m not saying a PR agency *has to* blog. If they don’t have a thing to say, that’s their deal. But given the amazing work they do, there should be some fascinating insight and option for them to share.

    Someone needs to convince me that PR Agencies are beyond the blog rules of thumb for any other industry.

    Great post Brian. Keep it up.

  4. Egg Marketing & Public Relations says:

    I have a marketing and PR company, and I blog about marketing and PR. I use my clients as examples to illustrate my points. Many PR firms have portfolios of what they’ve done for clients, so why not use a blog to illustrate that as well?

    To me, PR and the internet are entertwined. There’s no building relationships ONLY offline. Most of the world is online today, so that’s where those relationships have to develop.

    Susan Payton
    The Marketing Eggspert
    Egg Marketing & Public Relations

  5. Brian Solis says:

    Hi Deirdre, thank you for stopping by! I think you bring up a great question. If the agency is blogging about experiences and lessons learned as they try to engage Jive’s community, then it’s not contrived or conflicting…it’s actually insightful and transparent. Otherwise, it would simply be blogging for blogging’s sake, and I’m not sure it would be of value to anyone and would also most certainly be biased 😉

    @Michael Tangeman, it’s good to hear from you! I think you raise interesting topics for further discussion. At the very least, thought has to go into all of this in order to offer value to the people who are reading it. In the era of socialized media, many PR professionals are becoming legitimate spokespersons for companies…however, it’s not just any PR pro…it’s someone who truly lives and breathes the space and the product. It’s not for everyone, but when it works, it’s pretty incredibly (which I know you know.)

    @Sam Lawrence, the gentleman who started it all…thanks for visiting and thanks for writing that post today. It sparked a ton of great dialog. I think that PR, or any company, needs to evaluate what they want to say, to whom it matters, and why. Doing so will help them connect with readers in a genuine and sincere way and hopefully add value along the way. At the end of the day, some companies just don’t feel comfortable putting things out there…and while it may be inhibiting to some level, it may not be critical just yet. I’m not sure if PR agencies would be the BEST bloggers either. Certainly there are some who would do it extremely well. I think as in anything, the best would be represented by those passionate about their subject matter. I was once asked by an aspiring blogger what it took to become a thought leader. I responded, “well, you first have to be one…” 🙂

  6. Brian Solis says:

    @susan paytan. good for you. you’re exactly right!

  7. brian koh says:

    wow, timely discussion.

    Brian, i think there’s a time and place for PR agencies to blog, and going with what Susan Payton shared about, client examples are great case studies to add to a blog entry.

    For me, if a client wanted my agency to blog about our experiences working with them, i would question why? who are we trying to reach out to on our agency’s blog? if the audience that the client wants to reach out to can be found reading our blogs, i’d say.. give it a spin, leverage on the advantage, meet the demand (if people are looking for it)

    on my personal blog, i would never talk about my client without their consent, and i guess there are certain repercussions, as to how ‘biased’ my views will be. you can put disclaimers, but once it’s online, it can provide ammunition for would-be detractors, and you spend time fighting a crisis you could have avoided in the first place.

    i think it needs more thought, it’s interesting that Jive is looking to their PR agency to blog, most clients tend to be a bit more conservative in this regard.

    thanks for giving me a topic to blog about!

    brian koh

  8. Megan Soto says:

    Biran, I liked what you had to say on this topic and the intimidation in blogging. As a PR student blogger, I have a tough time knowing if my posts are that relevent or why I should be able to join the “conversation” of the “pros”. But this blog made me think maybe mine are more valuable because my blogs are not driven by clients but rather my own musings – and an assignment from my teacher. Thanks for the post!

  9. Josh Morgan says:

    I include most of my clients on our blog when it fits. Or sometimes I talk about new ideas, products etc a client is discussing publicly. We are hired by clients, we have a contract with them and an obligation to them to do the right thing. Am I going to take my client to task on my blog when I have an issue with them? No. I’m going to talk to them directly. However, if my client has an issue that needs to be addressed publicly, my blog is one method we may use of doing that.

  10. Mike Keliher says:

    Headline asks, “Should PR agencies blog?” Answer: Yes.

    It’s pretty much that simple. They might think they don’t have anything interesting to say, but if that’s the case, A) they’re not thinking hard enough or B) they’re afraid to tell the truth.

    Neither of those options bodes well. For god’s sake, at least blog about your kid’s baseball team or your affection for Jimmy Buffet or something. It’s possible to *know* what blogging is like without having done it, but it’s not possible to *understand* – and there’s a difference.

  11. Sarah Colvin says:

    Brian, I think this is a very important question to ask PR professionals because social media continues to expand and the PR field needs to decide when blogging is necessary.

    I agree with the PR Agency’s reasoning against Sam Lawrence’s view. There’s no need to blog just to blog. Too much irrelevant information can cloud the important information’s credibility.

    I think a company should blog if the information is relevant and interesting to its target audience, otherwise I agree with Darryl Siry, it seems like a waste of time. If it’s not benefiting the company or the public, don’t write it.

    It will be interesting to see how PR professionals tackle these issues as blogging becomes more popular in the years to come.

  12. Len Cercone says:

    Great post today. The fact that this is even being debated is a positive sign. YES, agencies should blog if for no other reason than to provide leadership to their clients. Most are not as forward thinking as Jive, and to have a client give this type of freedom is refreshing. I’m not too concerned for an agency to balance the obvious issues of discussing a client’s business. We get it; we’re professionals. More to the point is that it’s an avenue to share information in a way that will enhance the relationship, and if done right, the perception of the client.

    Len Cercone, CerconeBrownCurtis PR

  13. Flex says:

    I completely agree that public relations agencies should participate in blogging. It is essential to PR’s survival that it adapt to new advances in technology and industry trends. Blogging is an inexpensive and effective way to send a message to all potential clients about the agencies values while, at the same time, creating its online persona. Blogs present the perfect opportunity to express what an organization is all about.

    However, I do agree with agencies who state that blogging could potentially damage existing relationships with clients. Blogging subject matter should absolutely steer clear of revealing any information about specific clients and accounts. Regarding individual campaigns, PR should be invisible. For example, if the public discovered that a specific organization were using an agency to create two conflicting campaigns for two different products, this may demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity of the agency, but at the expense of the organization’s image. It may make the organization seem flippant or inconsistent since they are presenting conflicting ideals through their messages. Agencies must address overarching issues of the PR industry instead of information about individual clients to avoid this problem.

    However, agencies must choose the appropriate avenue to do so. Many blogs are disorganized or attractive to respondents who have less than constructive points of view to present. I would recommend that agencies blog on their own website. After all, this is where potential clients will visit to find out about them. What better place to present the agency’s stance within the PR industry? If a lesser-known agency wishes to create a blog, it must find appropriate blogging sites to expose itself to the market.

    I would definitely agree that the PR industry has a long way to go in understanding the dynamics of blogging and its effects completely. The best way to do this is by investing time in discovering the best blog for your organization, creating effective and creative messages to represent it, evaluating the effect of these messages on readers by offering them the chance to respond, and the consistent monitoring of their responses.

    I also agree that the audience the agency is trying to reach determines where they must blog and what they should blog about. Individual agencies should evaluate how and if blogs can be effective for them. If they decide to use a blog, time and effort must be invested in making sure that it is effective in helping the agency achieve its overall goals.

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  16. PR Firm can afford to not have a blog if they have a website and a great PR marketing resources. But having a blog with full of very informative content doesn’t hurt them. They can also reach out to their readers having by having a blog right?

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