I shudder to say this but Michael Arrington is still the best among tech bloggers. Being the best however, at least entertains the supposition that someone actually knows what they are talking about – when they talk that is. I know from my own personal experience that “knowing” is a wholly dynamic term which is situation and time sensitive. The long and short of this is; “I think I am right all the time too”, only to later find I am wrong. In an article the other day Michael once again takes the opportunity to hammer on some poor little PR people. If that were not enough (or the horse was not already dead and gone) he also makes a rather cumbersome segue into promoting TechCrunch and other tech blogs as a necessity for startup evangelism. Okey-dokey.
Skillfully building his credibility in the article (as if he had to), Arrington takes the reader from his own experiential striving in “lawyer-dom” to a current situation where it appears he is either afraid media outreach will pass TechCrunch by, or where he could be trying to promote himself and TC into replacing PR and media outreach professions all together. The idea, and his evidence are fairly viable, but the philosophy and arrogance behind his opinion seem almost as apparent as his skill at putting a story together. There used to be an old saying; “The best lies are three fourths truth mixed with one fourth pure BS.” Following that basic formula, Arrington knows how to put evidence and truth together to fashion his own form of reality too.
A History of Violence
The reader may be unaware that TechCrunch and Arrington have been at odds with PR for some time now. Arrington’s own vendetta began with some would be PR bimbo fairly irritated him to his wits end, and culminated with him thumbing his nose at pretty much the whole PR industry. Having had my fair share of unsolicited press releases fill the inbox, I was actually quite astonished to hear TC had tossed all consideration aside. But, then I realized that a TC independent of the PR “middleman” element in information dissemination would be a much more powerful entity. Ho Hum, so goes the power struggles of the blogosphere under the guise or actue idealism, or just plain aggravation.
The gist of Arrington’s attack this time boils down to him thowing some foregone conclusions at the reader (this is the truth part) like suggesting that PR firms are more often than not delegated to getting media attention for startups, rather than being an instrumental part of startup developments. Hell, I can acquiesce to this fact, but Arrington makes it appear as if PR companies are left out of the equation because they either stupid or incompetent. This is of course skillfully implied rather than stated exactingly. The problem here is that some PR firms are stupid are only good for their contact lists, but there is the other side of the coin too. CEO’s of startups, in my experience with them as a PR, consultant, and on the tech blog end of things, do not listen worth a damn. It is not about public relations people not knowing branding, social networking, blogging and the like better, it is about bull headedness more often than not.
Lawyers, PR and Arrington At the Bottom of the Sea?
To sum all this up, Arrington pretty much throws some metrics at the insinuation that some startups may be able to evangelize and brand via outlets other than tech blogs. In other words, some “experts” suggested that Arrington and his high and mighty attitude could be bypassed. So, to prove the power of TC, Arrington compares traffic metrics between two similar startup companies; one with no tech blog support, and the other with the might TC network in support )oh, so no one misconstrues this, I do not mean TC actually supports startus, rather the news carried there does). So, what we have in the end is a simplistic equation for how Michael Arrington and TC rule the known universe, and how PR companies should all die. Though I agree that some PR companies should probably die too, lumping these professionals in with lawyers as Arrinton does? Well, for one thing I am pretty sure all lawyers including Arrington should be anchored to the bottom of a pit together, while I know some truely great PR people.
Lessons for the High and Mighty
I hope the (by now) beleaguered reader will allow me some journaistic leeway and read the following lesson in how PR can work regardless of TC or Michael Arrington. For one thing, a story on TC or Mashable for that matter, is simply not worth what it used to be in terms of reach and traffic. In the early day for example (and my numbers will be a little arbitrary) a decent placement on TC might bring something like 5,000 people to someone’s startup or site. This situation holds true for Digg, Mashable, and any number of other outlets where a traffic bonanza once prevailed. Now, on to some specifics which Michael and others may not be aware of.
Since we started doing PR and consulting for early stage startups, TC has not written one single article about a client of ours (and some are quite noteworthy) via a personal request to Michael (I used to think we were sort of friends) or any of his authors. One might write this off to my crappy press releases true, but read on. An interjection here is necessary, there are three factors which come into play with regard to media outreach, I will list these basic elements below in simple form.
Fool Proof Media Outreach 101
- Buddy Buddy Outreaches – Face it, friends are what the world is and should be about. Anyone has collaborators who will, without jeapordizing their own ball of wax, do what they can to print decent news about anything appropirate. In the best case, the PR never asks for something that will harm the publisher, and the publisher in turn will print just about anything to help a friend and a good news story.
- Solid New Stories – There are, of course, stories which any publsiher would be stupid not to print, in particular exclusives about prominent news or entities. These are however, few and far between given the numbers and types of tech stories out there in a given day.
- The Vested Interest Story – Though no one wants to recognize or suggest this, business and money play a large role in directing the course of all publications. No one wants to venture into this territory, but it exists. Most publications become famous because of this variable, succumb to this pressure after they become famous, or both – period.
Now for the gripping tale of PR at work behind the scenes. Not long ago a company we worked with had a very nice startup which was virtually unknown. Obviously they hired us to evangelize their wares to the waiting world. Of course, like most early starups, the TC name came up as a preferred outlet for news. I told the CEO TC was not on our list of either preferred publications, and that unless they had dealings with TC, that outlet was hopeless. As it turned out they did have an “in” and assured us that an article about them was pending. So, one of Arrington’s authors wrote the post. As expected the company got about 1.400 page views to its landing, the subsequent publication on TC UK and other TC adjunctive sites brought in more traffic, but not in the buckets full one used to expect. All in all I expect (and can reveal the metrics if need be) something like 2,500 people say the little startup via TC.
Stuff Good PR Can Do Without TC
Now, onto how a social media aware PR firm would deal with such a situation. Okay, TC posts, Yippee! What does this mean. Well, for one thing it means hardly anyone else in the first tier will for a small startup, at least not immediately. Unbeknownst to our client or TC, three more top tier blogs with an equal or even greater relative traffic rank were ready to do this news item. But, as TC was the barking dog of the moment, we decided to run with that. Any PR company worth its salt has a contact list and social media collaborators in place to “support”or deal with any news that is published about a cleint. So it was that when TC ran that article, no less than 3,000 key publications worldwide were contacted revealing our clients release, plus the TC story. On the social media side, our network effectively garnered a front page on Digg, a front page on Delicious, a front page on Propeller, and other outlet coverage which essentially propped up TC’s story many times over.
From a “friendly” former tech blogger standpoint, I wanted to do this to somehow help Arrington see we wanted to help not only our client, but his publication get more readers. The story does not stop there. With our international contacts, and via some people I hade made friends with while writing at Profy, we contact several who, how shall I say this, pretty much own the search space in several countries in Europe. The TC story got evem more views and our client got 11,000 overnight from one phone call. I am not trying to prop up our own value here, but simply being transparent as to how media outreach works. More importantly, I am illustrating what Arrington miscalculates as “Smile, Dial, Name Drop, and Pray” methodology. Sure, these aspects are crucial for anyone telling a story, whether is it a PR person or Arrington himself. The other key element is, as you might expect, social networking and collaboration.
I am not talking about partnerships here, money changing hands, or any other “mysterious” method by which professional communicators tell their tales. In the old days of tech blogging a story was worth exactly what its interest value was worth. We wrote stuff we thought people would be interested in. Now Arrington and others write stuff that at the very least promotes them in one way or another. TC no longer needs grass roots community building stuff. Mashable does not either. I cannot speak too much about Michael Arrington, I do not know him all that well. As for experience with him, I have had some. He wanted to hire me to write for TC once, we mailed back and forth a few times. That’s about it.
I can tell the reader this, since TC was syndicated with the Washington Post (if that is the term), I have yet to have an email or Facebook message answered by him or his staff. I do not feel left out or sad either, TC is not the “end all” of blog outreach it presupposes to be. As for Arrington’s “PR witch hunt”, I think anyone can see that PR, like any other profession, has its good and bad apples. The world is a big place Michael, and making friends rather than enemies has always been a valid methodology toward excellent communication. But then, you are not obtuse about any of this any way are you?