Okay, let’s back up a minute. Where’s this coming from? Well, unless you’re a sheltered luddite or have been marooned on a deserted island in the South Pacific for the last five years... generally speaking, blogging is now the recognized cure for cancer and Jarvis is up for a Nobel Peace Prize. In PR, there’s been a huge rush to feign invention and experimentation: Rubel’s slinging all things widgets; Phil Gomes has perfected the groundbreakingly mindless StoryMaker Upper 1.0 ™; and Rick Murray, the president of a division of the largest independent firm in the world mind you, is touting the value of "fake people doing fake things spending real money" in Second Life. It’s a mad, mad world. Today what you’ve got is a plethora of half-baked cockamamie ideas held out as salvation by people who, by and large, are vying for position to cash in financially and/or politically. Fact is, it’s a smarmy, mad, mad world.
Now it’s all about “Conversational Marketing” (CM). Not to be confused with conversational French – which of course is to know just enough to order coffee and find the rest rooms – CM has become the slutty WOMM (word-of-mouth marketing) with a new doo and fresh douche.
CM entered the geeky lexicon seven years ago with “The Cluetrain Manifesto.” In the hypothetical, CM is the bottom-up approach to communication where “broadcast” is replaced by connecting directly with customers. The book proposed that "markets are conversations,” and because of technology, i.e. the Web and the ability to scale, “In just a few more years, the current homogenized ‘voice’ of business will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.”
Hmmmm... Yeah if you lived in a pod commune on the planet Zork and bought food telepathically with radiant mednars maybe. Nice theory but almost totally devoid of the earthly realities of human nature, transactional dynamics and the legal traditions of property. But it sounds good and is a perfect constitution around which to rally the legions of Open Source have nots sitting in their underwear in their parent’s basement. Hell, this could very well be the rallying cry for disintermediated disintermediaries everywhere.
Poor CM. She's held captive now doing $400/hr. tricks in a seedy PR office near Times Square.
WHAT’S PR’S ROLE?
Here’s where it gets really interesting. It might be genius and then again it might be totally insane. No matter, it surely explains why agency execs drool at the thought of it.
Okay, try to follow the logic. The key to CM is that a client organization is supposed to relinquish control. So the question is: what does a manager manage in a system sans management? That’s where the real genius comes in. If you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, i.e. you can't measure me; and if you can't measure me and are still paying me a lot of money, well trust me it must be good. If you’re the head of an agency, you’re seeing big green dollar signs right about now and feeling a little woozy. Call home. This could be the big one. Your ship has finally come in!
Seriously, Weinberger in the interview referenced above asks the right questions: “Does PR even have a legitimate role? Is it possible for PR to be truly transparent? How can someone paid to enter a conversation not fundamentally corrupt it?”
Here, David’s right.
WHY IT WILL NEVER WORK
There are 5 good reasons why PR is incompatible with Conversational Marketing:
1. Totally green ethical organizations are very very rare. Excuse me but promoting a company is only half the likely function of PR. We are advocates proactively as well as defensively. We live in an age where pretty much everything will kill ya; and corporate weasels doing the perp walk on the nightly news is a veritable parade. That said, by definition, a PR person has too much of an agenda to participate in CM.
2. Today, the savvy social media participant strongly rejects even the hint of PR's MO, "influence." Why? Because we are all empowered now. We make our own choices and are offended when others try to make them for us.
3. From a business service buyer perspective, devoid of “targeted influence,” it's just a bit too kinda-sorta-maybe-California. It's too amorphous for people writing checks to buy and it's too amorphous to measure results. A derivative of Murray's Second Life quote above: you've got fake people doing fake things of undetermined value delivered... maybe. No thanks. That engagement is too hard to sell and too easy to lose.
4. The "true believers" in Social Media continue to gloss over the overwhelming business risk. They seem to almost deny human nature. Here, keep these in mind when considering the potential exposures inherent in CM:
a) Humans like war. With "loose lips sink ships" in mind, send out that memo and tell your organization to feel free to randomly post.
b) We love controversy almost as much as we’ve culturally become addicted to porn. Even if you don't provide it, we spend hours imagining it. So don't homogenize the corporation's voice. Everybody on three... feel free to post. e) The sound of breaking glass is... well... fun. If you give the world the opportunity to play pinata with your brand, guaranteed they will.
e) Schadenfreude (German word meaning 'pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune') is human nature. Bottom line: Your “openness” is your competitor's opportunity. Always has been.
And 5., the single most important reason... the CM mind is not aligned with the PR body. Here, when you impose an ideal on a group not aligned with it all hell breaks loose. Look at Iraq. It is pure cultural arrogance to insist that democracy fits all and is best. Just look at the difficulty PR faces presently as it rises to face accountability and ethics. And now we expect them to take the intellectual leap to transcend it? C'mon. PR is just too stupid.
Today, we are pleased to announce that we’ve posted February’s photo for the "Captivating Caption Contest.” Pictured right, this month’s photo is by famed photographer Joyce McClure.
Sponsored by Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, one of the largest and coolest PR firms in the world, the contest is... well... a fun way to underscore that creativity is an essential part of the PR business.
Each month for 6 months, January through June, a new picture will be posted to the Strumpette website. To enter, you simply write a caption 40 words or less and email it along with your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org. That's it! At the end of each month, the Strumpette staff will select a winner and send you the dough.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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