In Defense of O'Dwyer in the Social Media vs. PR Fiasco

Jack O’Dwyer has been doing PR for 40 years, and he’s a well-known, albeit curmudgeonly, expert in the industry. In a recent interview with Dave Armand at PRSA, Jack denounced social media, saying that PR people’s jobs are to deal exclusively with the press. Likening PR people’s  persuasion skills to a boxer’s fists, or “assault with a deadly weapon,” he suggested that they lay off citizen journalists altogether. Since then, a Twitter Intervention (or as I like to call it, a Twittervention) has sprung up against O’Dwyer, calling him “out of touch.”

 

I just had to get in on this O’Dwyer vs. Twittersphere sparring match – it’s too good to be left alone. Lots of PR people – in sustainability and other subject matter areas – deal directly with the public through twitter, blogs, and other forms of social media. Many would argue that PR people’s jobs hinge on this very ability to reach consumers (or whatever audience they’re trying to reach) directly.

 

So why do I have this nagging urge to get in O’Dwyer's corner on this one? Well, maybe I just think he’s “right with a caveat.”

 

A lot of bloggers out there are modern-day journalists – they’ve built a huge following, and maybe they even made money off of their blogs from advertisers (Think GreenBiz or TechCrunch). For these sites, blogger contact information is listed, and they reach an audience that’s important to my clients. By Jack’s definition (journalists = experts), even though he didn’t say it, I think he would agree with me.

 

Other bloggers are just doing it for fun. For example, I have a food blog that I write in my free time about the creative uses of leftovers. I’m not a food expert, nor do I pretend to be. I would be really weirded out if a PR person mailed me a kitchen appliance. Sure, there are people following the blog on Facebook and it’s an appropriate audience for kitchen products, but it’s just not right to flack anything with me. There are millions of other enthusiast bloggers who’d probably agree. Sending cameras to a camera enthusiast blogger so he or she will give you a good review just isn’t cool.

 

So do I think PR people should stay away from all bloggers? NO. Do I think that we should only deal with “expert” or professional bloggers that are similar to journalists? YES.

 

I am curious to hear the other side of the story in more than 140 characters, please!

 

Add New Comment

5 Comments

  • Jack O'Dwyer

    I like this dialogue, something that is mostly absent in "PR." We're not talking about press relations or not but about mental activity--thought, intellectual process. I want PR people and promoters to sit down and discuss what they are pitching with all huff, puff and fluff absent. Cold-eyed analysis of what is going on that includes all known facts and not what's on some script. Too much of "PR" today is leave the baby on the doorstep and run. Reporters have scores, maybe hundreds of questions they want answered. In 40 years of covering "PR," I have never seen such press evasion and evasion of experts who work in and for the press. Secrecy, especially in the financial arena, has caused untold havoc. Institutional PR has been practically squashed out of existence by lawyers, marketers and financial types who don't want unscripted PR people wandering around.

  • Jack O'Dwyer

    I like this dialogue, something that is mostly absent in "PR." We're not talking about press relations or not but about mental activity--thought, intellectual process. I want PR people and promoters to sit down and discuss what they are pitching with all huff, puff and fluff absent. Cold-eyed analysis of what is going on that includes all known facts and not what's on some script. Too much of "PR" today is leave the baby on the doorstep and run. Reporters have scores, maybe hundreds of questions they want answered. In 40 years of covering "PR," I have never seen such press evasion and evasion of experts who work in and for the press. Secrecy, especially in the financial arena, has caused untold havoc. Institutional PR has been practically squashed out of existence by lawyers, marketers and financial types who don't want unscripted PR people wandering around.

  • Erica Salamida

    Thanks, Dave for your comment. Your argument makes a lot of sense. For the sake of simplicity, I was taking Jack's argument from just the media perspective. Understood that there's a lot more to being a PR person than media relations. I think the issue that Jack and a lot of others have with social media PR is: how genuine is a direct-to-public message if it's coming from a PR person? On Twitter, for example, there are plenty of examples of good PR people doing it right, but on the other hand, there are tons of examples of abuse. I could write all day about this, since it's an issue that's loaded with "what ifs." Thanks for the invite - sounds like an interesting session in December!

  • Jack O'Dwyer

    I like this dialogue, something that is mostly absent in "PR." We're not talking about press relations or not but about mental activity--thought, intellectual process. I want PR people and promoters to sit down and discuss what they are pitching with all huff, puff and fluff absent. Cold-eyed analysis of what is going on that includes all known facts and not what's on some script. Too much of "PR" today is leave the baby on the doorstep and run. Reporters have scores, maybe hundreds of questions they want answered. In 40 years of covering "PR," I have never seen such press evasion and evasion of experts who work in and for the press. Secrecy, especially in the financial arena, has caused untold havoc. Institutional PR has been practically squashed out of existence by lawyers, marketers and financial types who don't want unscripted PR people wandering around.

  • Dave Armon

    Erica --

    Thanks for your post on the video interview I did with Jack O'Dwyer at PRSA. He's been describing the "P" in PR as "press" rather than "publics." But for many years, the profession has been executing communications programs that include employees, customers, investors, government officials, regulators and other audiences. And we don't always employ a middleman -- like a reporter or editor -- to amplify our messages.

    I have been overwhelmed by the response to Jack's portrayal of a large amount of social media as noise -- or people who tweet about brushing their teeth. I am glad you pointed out that true subject matter experts, who use the Web as their publishing platform, should be considered professionals.

    I'll be hosting a cocktail hour with Jack and any PR and SM "experts" who want to attend. It'll probably be in early December in New York, so feel free to grab a few of Boston's social media gurus -- Defren, Brogan, Weber, etc. -- and hop aboard the Acela or Bolt Bus to join us.

    We'll supply toothbrushes and wifi.

    Dave Armon
    Vice Chairman dna13
    darmon (at) dna13.com
    Twitter: @daveyarmon