It's good to talk: A quick lesson for bloggers and PR

If anonymous commenting on the internet had a users guide, then one of the more sensible pieces of advice would be "Don't do it from your work PC." It's advice a commenter on the previous post would have been good to consider. I don't make a habit of running Whois searches on the IP address of every commenter but, given that this place doesn't get that many trolls or sockpuppets, and given the subject matter, I was a bit curious. Turns out the IP address was from one of the (many) PR agencies who've pitched me this World Cup.

Fail.

My first instinct was to blog about it. Look at me! I've found another PR person not getting online! I can call them out and it'll add to the legions of PR fails!

Yes, that would have been fun. But what would it really achieve, in all honesty?

I'm not in the habit of naming and shaming - it's always struck me as a little counter productive. And, frankly, it the grand scheme of things immature PR leaves childish anonymous comment on insignificant blog isn't really up there with war crimes.

After sleeping on it, I felt less comfortable with the idea of outing the agency. After all, one employee isn't representative of the whole company.

The thought also occurred that if this had been a piece of journalism for publication I would have at least made an effort to get the accused's side of the story before going anywhere near the publish button. And if, as I've often said, bloggers aspire to be journalists, then they should hold themselves to the standards journalists have as well. Even if journalists regularly fall short of these themselves.

So I emailed the director of the agency, who emailed back promptly, with an invitation to talk over the issues on the phone, which I did.

And I now consider the matter to be at an end, and I'm really satisfied with the response (and no, I didn't demand any action against the perpetrator. It's not my place to tell a company how to conduct their own HR).

Why? Because ten minutes on the phone was productive. The director came across as very switched on and took the issues seriously. I came away with a very favourable impression.

What's more, we both agreed to keep each other's contact details. They'd contact me if they thought it would be useful, but would also take me off the general mailing list, and I know that there's somebody at the agency I can contact if I'm writing stories on certain topics, which I may well do in the future.

A win-win situation, really.

So, what's the lesson (other than don't try and post childish comments on a blog during work time).

While there's a lot wrong with PR, there's also a lot of good, sensible people working hard in the industry, doing their best to make connections with bloggers. And to a certain extent they have to tread on eggshells while doing this.

A wrong move with the wrong blogger, no matter how well meaning or unintentional and you can find yourself passed around Twitter, mocked by all and sundry. There's no guarantee that if you catch the blogger on a bad day with a bad move, they won't take umbridge and blog about it.

Not that there's anything wrong with calling out bad practice, when appropriate.

But it did make me stop and think. How many bloggers have burned bridges or got themselves a reputation for being difficult for happily blogging PR fails.

Yet could they have improved things and actually developed a good long-term relationship with a good contact if they'd taken a step back and tried to resolve things behind the scenes first. It's not as if anybody was going to beat them to publishing it, in a lot of cases.

One line from an old news editor of mine always sticks in my mind - "[Competitor x] may be first. But we're always going to be right." In other words, I'd always prefer to take a while longer to establish and verify the facts rather than rush to publish. Today was no different. I'm glad I did.

I consider today's conversation confidential, although I think it's worth quoting one line from my conversation. As an agency, I was told, we're committed to treating bloggers the same as journalists.

I like that, I think it's a good attitude. It's something I've said roughly the same in the past, although you obviously have to make allowances for the different medium you're working with.

And although bloggers are very good at calling out bad journalism, both blogs and journalists can be even quicker to call out bad PR - whether it's justified or not - or calling out anything they consider wrong in general.

I've seen plenty of examples over the last couple of years where bloggers and PR have got into very public spats over something that has always struck me could have been dealt with without having to go public.

There's a lot to be said for making an effort to build contacts and relationships rather than losing it quickly (although equally you can say that PR in general could avoid a lot of these issues if people from the industry didn't continue to make elementary errors).

I've always maintained that others should be treated with the same respect you'd hope to be treated. I'd like to hope that, God forbid, should I make a similar fail one day, that the blogger has the good grace to contact me and give me a chance to talk over the issue before hitting publish.

I'd be interested in hearing your views on this one. Do you think bloggers hit publish too quickly? Should they blog first and ask questions later? Or is it only fair? What would you have done?

I don't think there are any right answers, personally, but I'm very glad I took the time to contact them. Given the chance I'd much rather try and work on developing a relationship rather than kill it before it had the chance to succeed or fail.