I credited Trevor with everything below when it should have been his colleague Keith Jackson. Please read it accordingly. I am grateful to Constantin Basturea for pointing this out to me.
Trevor Cook, a PR man, is often a good read. He takes his profession pretty seriously although he seems an amiable chap too. (I've only ever encountered him through his blog, but it's probably a good guide.)
Just lately he's been jumping up and down about ethics in PR. He was galvanised by the 'astroturfing' - the setting up of phoney grass-roots campaigns. I've seen a lot of that in respect of 'network neutrality' - people who claim to be Joe Public who are actually paid lobbyists and the like.
Anyway. Trevor has tried to track down the ethical stance of various major PR firms. He's divided them into three classes according to his findings: tots, toddlers and walkers. (The last lot walk the talk. The others don't, to varying degrees.)
I won't tell you the winners or losers, Trevor deserves that privilege.
Alex Bellinger, who created the UK's first small/medium enterprise podcasts, caught me on the hop recently and asked a bunch of pointed questions about how SME's should handle the press. He's no slouch when it comes to PR but he thought he'd use me to get the journalist's perspective.
If you're interested in this sort of thing, or you want to treat yourself to my Estuary English, advance 7m45s into SmallBizPod number 30. Alternatively break yourself in gently and get to know Alex first. The Tebbutt/Bellinger exchange is about 25 minutes.
One reason that the behaviour is different is that conventional papers want their 'scoops' and just hate publishing stuff that others have got first. Of course print journalists are secretive. They have to be.
Bloggers are different because they serve their own micro- (and, sometimes, not-so-micro-) audiences. They are also willing to give credit to other bloggers who cover the same territory.
1) The bloggers earned respect quickly with our executives coming
out of the one-on-one meetings we had scheduled saying “damn, these
guys really know what they are talking about”. I sat in on a couple of
the meetings and was surprised to see our executives quickly dropping
their media training and engaging in real conversations with give and
take. One in particular I would point out is the talk that Vinnie Mirchandani had with Pascal Brosset about pricing and licensing, I’m sure that Vinnie will post that shortly.
2) The bloggers collaborate rather than compete.
I would have never thought about this had I not seen it in action but
the bloggers on their own initiatives rescheduled their one-on-one
meetings to double up rather than have exclusive time. This contrasts
with traditional press people who demand exclusive access and jealously
guard their Q&A, the bloggers conspire together about questions and
have a rich dialog among themselves about what they are hearing.
3) The respect that the bloggers earned on the first day
reverberated throughout the company, with some of our most senior
executives saying that bringing bloggers to sapphire was the most
innovative thing we have done at this event in years.
As a media skills trainer/advisor, I was alarmed to read "[I] was surprised to see our executives quickly dropping
their media training and engaging in real conversations with give and
take." But then, that's what I'd advocate anyway. The important thing is to know where your boundaries are and what is of interest to the reader. No need to drop your guard, but nothing wrong with making it look as if you have.
As he reported, I was asked to mentor some of the delegates prior to their presentations. My colleagues on the mentoring team were wonderful and I'll tell you more about them later. (I'm still travelling and on a slow connection.)
Guy has very slightly misquoted me in the sense that the person he wrote about received an approach from an angel rather than a cheque. Of course, I hope one turns into the other.
The Innovate!Europe event was quite a change from last year. Then, there was much navel-gazing and anguish about the European innovation infrastructure. This year, there was a very strong feeling of 'sod it, let's just get things done'.
Miliband's blogging doesn't
prove a thing, except that he's willing to expose himself slightly. If
my memory serves me correctly, he's filtering comments so he's still in
control of both what he chooses to say and what feedback he chooses to
I was a bit confused by David Tebbutt's criticism that I was 'still in
control of what [I] choose to say' - well of course I am; the point of
the blog is that these are my own words!
And, I explained:
Yes, it was a rhetorical assertion.
A blog is no different to any other form of communication in that its author can reveal or hide whatever they wish.
Blogs don't have some magic dust that automatically makes them more
credible than any other source of information. They are a channel which
people can use or abuse how they wish...
Shortly afterwards, I was reading through other responses and I saw one from Ali Bushell which included this:
I think this is a great blog and am really enjoying reading and being
part of it. I hope more Ministers, and indeed other public figures,
start to do this more.
I definitely agree that Ministerial/political blogs will help to
reduce the negative perception that our leaders are out of touch and
don't listen to what people say, though, so a sterling effort on David's part if only for that.
I read that and wondered about who Ali Bushell might be. A bit of ferreting came up with someone of that name working for the department of education and science. I posted a comment to Miliband's blog immediately asking whether the commenter was the same Ali Bushell that works for the DfES.
Because of comment moderation, my remark was rejected.
Update: Following this post, my comment was approved. An oversight previously? Perhaps. It really doesn't matter. The issues raised were important. And, since we're on the subject of David Miliband, let's congratulate him on his new role as Environment Secretary.
Neville was emphasising the benefits of getting information from the horse's mouth and bypassing the spin put on by journalists and PRs. He was following up on a Financial Times article by John Lloyd called The Truth About Spin.
Human nature is the key to all this and human nature is what leads to
spin. That was the bit of Lloyd’s column you conveniently left out,
And I couldn't resist posing this question:
Oh dear. Does that mean Neville spun?
I know that these are trivial examples but they highlight an important issue. There are two kinds of comment moderation: the first cuts out abuse, irrelevance and spam, the second prevents inconvenient parts of the conversation from surfacing.
I take my hat off to Neville Hobson and leave it on for David Miliband. Neville understands the importance of transparency, David (or his blog admin person?) doesn't. I feel much more confident of getting the full story from Neville (despite the earlier spin remarks) than I do from David.
...most PRs and journalists add little value to truth-telling if
they’re nothing more than channels or conduits who distort and
manipulate the original message. Assuming, of course, that their roles
are to do with truth-telling.
If you want to get close to the truth, cut out the middlemen. Let the citizens make up their own minds as to what is truth.
I'm afraid I let rip in the comments and reproduce what I said below. The reference to David Miliband is because Neville praises him for speaking directly to the public. Here goes:
Many journalists and many PRs are trying to do an honest job of finding benefits for readers and checking that they're not being sold a pup by the originating organisation. Ultimately, win-win, is ideal but, if through fact-checking, one side loses then so be it. That is the job of the professional journalist.
Miliband's blogging doesn't prove a thing, except that he's willing to expose himself slightly. If my memory serves me correctly, he's filtering comments so he's still in control of both what he chooses to say and what feedback he chooses to publish.
I think the idea of Joe Public cutting out the middleman is idealistic. It might work in rare cases, when an employee (or a boss) happens to write the absolute truth. It might work if enough knowledgeable people were talking about a particular subject (wisdom of crowds) but you're putting a huge burden on the public. How much time have they got to properly fact-check everything?
So then we come to bloggers. It's less about cutting out the middleman and more about inserting a different middleman. Full of their own views, biases and abilities (or not) to conduct appropriate research.
At least PR and journalists are paid to surface what each deems important. Some 'journalists' are supine and accept what's offered. They're not journalists, they're message-takers. They're the people who PR go to when they have dodgy material to push out. Most good journalists avoid PR, or use them as providers of background material which is still checked, and seek the real stories directly, and validate from multiple sources.
Mr Joe Public can't do this. The average blogger can't do this.
In the end, to have time for any kind of life, we have to trust the people who have better access to information and the ability to synopsise it appropriately. Some will trust journalists, some will trust bloggers, some will even trust companies and organisations.