Advice For Budding PR Experts – Respect Your Public

Nearly every day in public relations news I run across an “expert on social networking” plying cyberspace with still another “pitch”. In searching Google news earlier, sure enough, there it was – today’s “Internet PR Wizardry” expounding on the generalities of media relations 2.0. In an article for the Examiner entitled “Researching tactics: Up-to-date public relations advice that works”, the author plugs the media intelligence service Cision. Beyond the excessive number of posts about this company, there is the issue of correctness in directing people to “supposed” cutting edge and up-to-date resources.

The Examiner is a well respected source for “insider” information, and I find myself there frequently in looking for material for our readers. I say this because I never expected to find what appears to be a “paid for post” or article(s) by one of the contributors, author and publicist Anna De Souza. If the article in question were simply a plug for Cision, and did not contain 4 links to the various Cision pages in a 154 word post, not even a hint at conflicting interests would exist. Just plugging a business (even 3 times in a few recent posts) could be out of sheer energetic enthusiasm for a product or service. But, for the Examiner and De Souza, conflicts can sometimes be suggested when there is no real basis in fact. This is something we will all have to deal with more and more in the coming years.

We are at this moment drafting white papers and one book that in some way or another deals with conflicts of interest, disclosure, and even the FTC’s impending regulation of the blogsophere in these regards. Then along comes this Examiner article. No, these Examiner articles dealing with or connected to Cision.

An article by Anna De Souza republished on Cision Navigator

An article by Anna De Souza republished on Cision Navigator

To remain objective about all this, I want to point out that Anna De Souza appears to be a knowledgeable publicist. Her resume reflects this, as well as revealing her expertise and affinity for Cision’s MediaSource. So, in point of fact, her affinity for Cision products could be the basis for these articles. This is not exactly the point however. Given that Cision had to have permission (or should have asked) from Souza (or the Examiner) to “re-post” this article of Souza’s on the Examiner(which is beyond irony in talking about gifting), at least the appearances are not good here. As for transparency or conflicts of interest, if any, I could find nowhere on the Examiner site any sponsorship or disclaimer about Cision, and as for Souza, none was evident either.

Cision white paper copyrighted 2007

Cision white paper copyrighted 2007

I really hope the upcoming FTC rules and regulations do not go so far as I just did (but we all know they will go further). Ms. Souza perhaps just overlooked the possibility that her enthusiasm for a company or its products might reflect a “hint” of conflict. Of course the title of the article which got me to wondering reflects that she knows something of “up to date” tactics, and that Cision is the place to get it. On the contrary, two of the 3 executive white paper I downloaded from Cision were from 2007, and the third from 2008. Still more irony is reflected in a direct quote from this fairly good paper:

“Expose all potential conflicts of interest or corporate ties right off the bat.”

Aside the numerous grammatical and spelling errors I found, much of this information was at best – useful. Ergo, this is why I questioned the relationship at all. Why are these papers worthy of so many links in a short article. Any way, I hope anyone reading this will understand (and this is from the white paper as well), if conflicts are not mentioned from the onset, any curious and astute blogger or news person will find them. This is the Internet after all.

We all leave a digital footprint that leads to just about everything we do. For PR people, and I suspect Souza is a good one, slip ups like this (even the appearance of them) is just bad. And please, for crying out loud, if you are going to profess something, make sure it is correct. Evangelizing Cision’s white papers as “cutting edge” and hot off the press, only to find they are two years old? De Souza, in my opinion, simply did a fast job of getting some content out in a couple of these cases. As for her other work, it seems fairly exemplary to me. The problem for her I think is, she is a good writer and publicist how has a little knowledge about a lot of things. In the end, this kind of expertise leads to failing in some areas. As for watching the Examiner’s back and her own with regard to “apparent credibility”, she failed to think past her her contentions.

A post be De Souza about ehtics and gifts

A post be De Souza about ehtics and gifts

Author’s Note: I am not suggesting any impropriety on the part of the Examiner or Miss De Souza. This post was intended to illustrate the point that, even good journalists and publications can “appear” to be in conflict if circumstantial evidences of collusion are even hinted at. As for my suggestion that De Souza’s title and suggested sources for up-to-date tips and white papers was flawed, this is rather obviously correct in that these white papers and some of the data on Cision’s site are dated at best.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, Miss Souza feels threatened by this analysis! But Phil, of course you are wrong! Miss Souza not only doesn’t know anything about comments etiquette (proof the number of links she inserts here to the same publication, “content spamming” our blog), but she is also unaware that too many links to the same company in a such a short post (the one you used as basis for this article) might be seen even by Google as a paid entry and penalized. The Examiner will then by blacklisted by Google as a site that publishes paid entries. I believe De Souza when she insists that she was not paid, but what she is doing is plain wrong and she should actually thank you for this instead of lettin’ those horses wild! My 2 cents!

  2. Anna De Souza says

    Phil: The allegations that I am on a payroll to write about this particular company are not only serious and absurd, but outright wrong.

    The articles on my Examiner page are dedicated to small business owners and the like who have minimal PR expertise and need quick and easy resources with which to apply to their business (especially during this down economy).
    See: http://www.examiner.com/x-2136-NY-Marketing-and-PR-Examiner~y2009m5d24-Managing-your-brand-beyond-Google-alerts
    http://www.examiner.com/x-2136-NY-Marketing-and-PR-Examiner~y2009m1d20-Capitalize-on-press-for-your-business-with-free-online-tools
    http://www.examiner.com/x-2136-NY-Marketing-and-PR-Examiner~y2009m4d9-Tips-to-Earn-Links-and-Tweets-to-Your-Blog-Post
    http://www.examiner.com/x-2136-NY-Marketing-and-PR-Examiner~y2009m2d21-Looking-for-a-book-publicist
    http://www.examiner.com/x-2136-NY-Marketing-and-PR-Examiner~y2009m1d27-TIP-OF-THE-WEEK-Finding-PR-Contacts

    This particular post will be part of a series of columns which address different industries. My next article, slated for next week, will focus on the resources offered by a restaurant PR agency that offers tips on that industry. Next will be another industry heavy-hitter that is offering free resources such as webinars and white papers to no cost for those willing to tune in and read (possibly at the cost of some advertising on the site and occasional references as to how their platform may serve to solve a particular PR challenge).

    I do not work for Cision, nor do I believe they would pay for such coverage from an online blogger or journalist of any sort. To assume that I do not adhere to the ethics of journalistic integrity is a malicious blow to my professional image, especially when it’s completely wrong. Your article as well points to this – the first part met with this inflammatory and accusatory blow, but then that stance rescinded in your Author’s Note.

    • Phil Butler says

      Anna,

      I in no way intended to insinuate (any more than any other reader would) that you had any affiliation with Cision. The point, which apparently was missed, is that you made a common mistake in doing so many posts about Cision in a short time, and in the case of all the links in one post, reflected an inordinate number of “opportunities” for readers to “jump” to the Cision site. If you read the entire article at all, which apparently you did, you would also note that profession “up to date and cutting edge” content on the one hand, and sending people to outdated content on the other, was another error.

      It was not my intent, as it never has been, to do anything more than reflect these “inappropriate” instances so that any editor or author might do better the next time. Whether or not you (or anyone else for that matter) is in collusion with businesses, is outside our scope of operation or intent. What we try to do is start discussion that will lead to a better Web for all of us. I understand your defensiveness, I have made these mistakes before myself. But, given the upcoming FTC sanctions or legislation towards blogs, I suggest that everyone pay more attention to their methods and “appearances”, especially when writing for someone else’s publication.

      We all make mistakes, and sometimes in righteous indignation, we lose the gist of what others have tried to convey. I actually did this exact same thing once, and thought the other party completely wrong in chastising me. As it turned out, after a heated argument, that she was right and I was wrong. In part, this is why you are, so to speak; “on the hot seat” in this situation. Anyone looking at your posts in the way I did, would rightfully assume one of two things. You are a person who uses the Cision tools religiously, and you are just enamored with them. Or, there is some relationship going on that is not seen. Whether either of these situations is wrong or right is irrelevant for the seasoned PR person. The perception in itself is enough to cause great damage.

      I am sorry if you have taken this as an affront, rather than a helpful “nudge” Anna. When the FTC and other authorities figure out just how much “bling” is being given out, just how much money is being spent, and the kinds of actions that people not as dedicated to ethics as you are doing, well – the end will not be pretty I assure you. After about 50,000 hours on this Web, no telling how many articles, and an unbelievable novel to write about Web 2.0, perhaps one gets on a high horse. I am sorry if I offended you overly. Offense is sometimes necessary in order to get the subject of a situation to pay attention. You are a superb writer, and deserving of a lot more than my evaluative efforts. But to get even better, there has to be a critique.

      Our soul purpose in these critiques is to get people to move forward, to make ourselves move forward. You would not believe the number of opportunities I have personally had to “paint the right picture” for money. I the end, I hope we were right not to fall into this trap, or to appear overly promotional. There is a line there between enthusiasm and down right advertising. We all have to find it and stay away from the wrong end. I know this is a long winded version of; “Hey, I was just trying to help”, but there it is.

      Please let us know if we can be of any help to you at all, as this is our intent. Criticism is difficult sometimes as you know, but if you think about this you will probably see our point. Thanks for coming and telling us your view, and as Mihaela said in her answer, the links are another matter that could do with some absorptive thinking as well.

      Always,
      Phil

  3. says

    Phil, Jay Krall from Cision here. As you point out in your post, we provide a variety of educational opportunities for PR professionals interested in social media in which we call for transparency and authenticity in online communications. That’s what we preach and what we practice. Ms. De Souza submitted her article to the Navigator and we published it with her permission. The fact that she subsequently linked to our white papers in a blog post about media research, one of our specialties, does not constitute a conflict of interest or even the appearance of impropriety as you suggest. Her blog covers the PR industry in which we are a major provider of services.

    • says

      Jay,

      I appreciate you stopping by to leave a comment. Your services are some of the most respected in the industry as everyone knows. As for the term “appearance” in the last of your comment, you know as well as I do that this pushed the line. We cover the PR industry too, and I have yet to run across any Cision news that outweighed correlative news we have done. The PR spectrum is pretty broad when you get down to it, and between you and me, someone would have to “want to find” white papers as old and outdated (however partially relevant) in order to link to them. I could personally write and or find more updated information just from the desktop in a short time.

      We are not here to “insinuate” anything, but rather to help make the industry a little better each day. Sure, our methods and philosophy are different, without doubt, but we are never that far from wrong. As Al Pacino said in the movie Scent of A Woman; “I been around, you know?” So, having been around, I know that this lady and your company likely have no attachment. On the other hand, I also know that these “appearances” point (however pitifully) to another situation. With all the stuff I have seen perpetrated on this Web in the last several years, not many people can tell me much of anything about where appearances lead. I will go no further.

      We admire your efforts as one of the best companies working for PR businesses in the world. But, please do not come here professing pitiful “lamb like” innocence, when any Web expert out there knows that “appearances” can be everything. I hope we “appear” very clear in our effort (though it may not seem like it) to protect your company, and this fine writer from the kind of scrutiny no one can hold up under. Just so you know, if I was sure there was something fishy going on here, I would just say it. This is the Internet you know.

      Always,
      Phil Butler – signed in as admin – I am not near that pretty.

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