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Gini Dietrich

PR Failures: Should We Stop Talking About Them?

By: Gini Dietrich | January 4, 2012 | 
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Late last week, Arik Hanson had an interesting blog post about PR flameouts and asked if we’re hurting, or helping, the industry by talking about them.

His point was about the Ocean Marketing debacle (and also included The Bloggess when she called out a PR professional by name) and whether or not it’s helpful to continue talking about these things.

If you don’t know what happened with Ocean Marketing, I encourage you to read Kevin Dugan’s post about it on Bad Pitch Blog.  I won’t rehash it for you.

If you’re a regular reader of Spin Sucks, you know I’m an advocate of attacking an idea, but not a person. There is way too much agreement in the social media chamber. Unfortunately, if someone disagrees with you, they typically won’t comment or say anything. They just stop reading.

And that’s a shame. The only way we learn is to debate with an open mind. If we surround ourselves with people who agree with us all the time, we’ll stall.

Over here, when we see something that seems crazy to us, we blog about it. After all, the name of the blog is Spin Sucks.

But Arik made me stop and think about whether or not we’re doing our clients, prospective clients, and the industry a service by talking about the things everyone can learn from flameouts.

There are some really good comments on the blog post, but I especially  like what Scott Hepburn said.

While I agree with Scott, this also gave me reason to stop and think. Do we subconsciously do those things when we blog about mishaps? When I jokingly said we should have a weekly Moron Award, was I sending a message that Arment Dietrich is the only integrated marketing and communication firm that knows what it’s doing?

But the conclusion I came to is that, while I think both Arik and Scott are right and there likely are bloggers and “experts” who put people down in order to pump themselves up, our goal here is to provide professional development for PR and marketing pros. And sometimes that includes showing examples of how not to do things in order to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

When it comes down to it, there is a big difference between laughing at failures of others and learning from their mistakes. After all, if we had to learn everything all by ourselves, the world wouldn’t move as quickly as it does.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

89 comments
cksyme
cksyme

I agree. Some of us blog for the profession, not for the businesses. My business is mainly training, so I take heed from these goofs and am thankful there are blogs out there like Spin Sucks to help me get better. I think PR pros are most offended because they are worried they will be the next blog entry. Watchdogs have traditionally helped culture to get better or get out. It also helps bring to light the fact that anyone who hangs out a PR shingle isn't necessarily worthy of the label.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I struggle with this for Advertising and Social Media. The real trick is having the discussion and then being constructive. Too often I 'out' something as a fraud but don't offer the right solution or perspective. Also why give away all your tricks.

I like the Case Study approach. And we all know the bigger the Agency the bigger the case study. I have decided the reason BIG Companies fail because the choose BIG Agencies vs the best agencies is fear. @vinnywarren discussed this on @adverve podcast two summers back. When you spend stupid money you choose safety. But that often backfires. But because an Agency is big you think they are smart and safe. When really the value is they are big enough that just in case you have to sue them....you can get your money back!

So count me as all for the moron awards just lets have a South Park moment where in the end we say 'Hey I learned something today.....'

MSchechter
MSchechter

As an outsider, I wouldn't ever consider hiring someone where this was all they spoke about, but I respect those who take on difficult subjects. Especially when done with care (unfortunately I only know how to do it carelessly). It only makes PR look bad when done badly.

The world and the space is changing and the mistakes are going to keep coming. We just have to suck less at discussing them because ignoring them wont help anyone.

That said, the challenge going forward as I see it is separating the truly important missteps from the things people are trying to blow out of proportion.

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

Interesting issue I hadn't thought about in a while. I actually make it point not to blog about PR or other social media failures - I prefer to teach from what's working. I also feel like a lot of the fear that is still inherent in most organizations' reluctance to really dive in to being social is that so much is made of every tiny little mistake online. To me the lesson we're learning from making a big deal of failure is "don't even try". Which is not a good thing, in my book.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Something about the failures and successes, expectations and human nature that many comments have hit upon. cc @Leon @Neicolec @jackielamp

While we may learn from mistakes, we get hired and/or rewarded for our successes. While everyone makes mistakes or even a well-planned campaign simply produces less than desired results, it's only when we achieve - hell, even exceed - expectations (often unrealistic) that we seem to pull ahead. While a 'failure turned around' makes for a good story, it only does so once it succeeds as a 'good example.'

It's human nature to critique, to analyze and study. Like you Gini, I call out a practice (not a person) with hopes of either stopping the bad and/or finding ways to improve it, use it for good... and yes, poke a little fun. But I really think one catch in all this is that it's easier to spot mistakes than successes. I suspect that's one reason why there are less of the 'good example lesson posts' than the bad. Because we're rewarded for our successes, maybe we tend to keep those secrets to ourselves?

IDK whether it's from a mistake I didn't know I could make or a cool, new trick someone shares with the rest of the class, I'm all for learning how to get better. FWIW.

etelligence
etelligence

One reason I don't generally comment on the Spin Sucks Blog: I wrote a comment here and it was over the character limit. I deleted half of it... still over character limit. geez guys, how concise and brief does someone got to be to weigh in here? lol

arikhanson
arikhanson

So many great comments here. Not sure I have a lot to add. But, I'll say this. Overall, I'm a pretty optimistic guy. A glass half-full guy most of the time. So, that's kinda why I lean the way of highlighting our successes instead of harping on the failures. Just kinda reflects the way I look at life (I'm thinking about how I approach sports, my kids endeavors, etc.). And, in this case, I do think there's a bigger industry angle here, as I've stated. Obviously, this is a hot button topic...

SusanOakes
SusanOakes

I agree with Arik. It is really easy to criticise and ine of the posts about this was from someone who as far as I have seen, never admits a mistake and if anyone disagrees they are wrong.

As a past client of many PR companies these types of callouts would turn me off. The reasons are we all make mistakes, would the people calling others out call my company if I had made a mistake and basically I don't think it is professional. My 2 cents. Finally I guess it comes back to how would I like to be ridiculed in public and the answer is I wouldn't.

jenzings
jenzings

Interesting post.

There's another aspect to think about here. The PR profession has had a reputation problem for a while now, due to the visibility of some bad actors. Because our only governing body has no ability to suspend/reprimand/chastise or otherwise call out and correct said bad actors, the entire profession suffers.

If we're going to feel bad about calling out bad actors--recipients of your Moron Award, for example--then are we tacitly allowing them to continue?

I guess I think this is doing the profession a service. I do think there's a difference between calling out the really badly done PR and jumping all over a company for making a mistake. We all make mistakes (and I've blogged about my dislike for the immediate "____________ needs to be fired!" calls that usually pop up in discussions about mistakes).

There does need to be a distinction made between the different types of mistakes, or blunders. Constructive criticism is a good thing, and we can learn from that, especially if the critique is tastefully done (no ad hominem attacks, constructive tone, etc.) But the bad actors? Pfft. No pity, really.

Danielle Hohmeier
Danielle Hohmeier

I think it is sort of a combination of the two goals -

Yes, we talk about fails in marketing and PR and social media (and etc.) to essentially build oursleves up like Scott says. We do it to show that we know it is bad and we don't do it. Prove that we are experts (to our customers and to other 'experts'). Talking ABOUT marketing - the good, the bad and the ugly - shows that we KNOW about marketing.

That being said, it isn't all selling. I work in marketing. I'm not commenting on this blog post because I hope potential customers will see it and see how smart I am. I'm commenting here to learn from and converse with my peers. We work in an evolving industry. Best practices change all the time. Ifwe don't all sit around and talk about marketing - again, the good, the bad and the ugly - we will never learn.

I was working as an online marketing intern in early 2009. Twitter was booming. Commenting on blogs with your URL was huge. And we were advised NOT to say that we worked for the company. In fact, we were advised not to even mention the name of the company in the comment/post, just describe and provide the link. Some even advised us NOT to use our real names in our handles, but pseudonyms instead.

Obviously, things have changed. But how would I ahve known if I hadn't kept up with industry news? If we all hadn't started publically denouncing such practices?

Talking about marketing and PR and social media moves us forward.

Danielle @ Atomicdust

RickRice
RickRice

@ginidietrich I think there is value to lessons about bad practices / actions, although i'd like to se more lessons based on good practices. The theme in the Ocean Marketing 'thing,' like most of the others in Arik's blog, are just people being stupid and offending someone with an audience. Since I learned long ago that you can't fix stupid I'm not sure what the point is for calling those incidents out. In some cases I think the 'victim' is either too sensitive or pushes buttons to get a reaction instead of just letting it go. Do people really have time for that kind of baiting?

I vote for talking about things that provide real lessons instead of more of the same. Maybe some people have fun pumping themselves up at the expense of others. That's fine if it is there thing. I just don't have time to waste reading it and following it around the web. We can do better.

divamomrockstar
divamomrockstar

@ginidietrich not at all. We learn from the work of others, their successes & failures. Fail, share, learn, try again.

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

@ginidietrich my point for some time; let's direct our critical energies towards what #pr does right which moves us out of publicity ghetto

JayDolan
JayDolan

The last truly awful pitch I got, I really debated about naming names. It came from a high level executive at a communications firm that claimed to specialize in digital outreach. I honestly couldn't believe the email I was reading.

In the end, I couldn't bring myself to destroy someone else for my readers' entertainment. I did skewer it after removing any traces of agency who sent it, and I know a lot of people enjoyed it. I hope someone learned something from it.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

Another "HR is close to PR" post. As any reader of my blog discovers quickly, I'm a trenchant critic of most of the things so-called "HR professionals" do.

Just stop and think: how dumb is it to put an ad in a newspaper or online inviting complete strangers to write to you and tell you why you should employ them? And it's even more stupid to, based on their written applications, interview a handful of these strangers, offer a job to one of them without first demanding that they demonstrate to your satisfaction that they can successfully do what you want them to do.

But that's what passes for "professional" staff selection practice!

I'm not sure whom you see as the target of your blog. And I think that you should continue to talk about "PR flameouts." But for what it's worth, I always try to suggest "a better way" whenever I get on my high horse about outdated and irrelevant HR practice .

It's easy to forget that we have at least some sort of obligation to educate our clients and prospects as to what they should expect from professionals like ourselves.

When I say "training wont generally improve on job performance' trainers all over the world throw up their hands in horror. But I try to ensure that they don't feel under personal attack. And I always try to suggest how they can make training far more effective in terms of on job performance.

Every blogger must confront the danger that their blog becomes a sort of badge of membership of the "in crowd," I love disciples as much as the next bloke. But I enjoy making converts too. and I try not to condemn them to outer darkness.

And I promise that my next comment will be the epitome of rweet succinctness.

Regards

Leon

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I'm 100% with @scotthepburn on this one. There is a difference between TRASHING someone and debating the approach. I have learned a lot from some of these boneheaded mistakes, and it gives me pause and makes me THINK long and hard when working on tricky PR issues.It's the old lesson about learning from someone else's mistakes. Discussion, done respectfully, is always good.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

I like what @scotthepburn said in that comment because it's a phenomenon that happens regardless of industry. The failures of others in our industry are absolutely learning opportunities, but it's all in how it's presented. There's not really a deeper lesson in the Ocean Marketing debacle - everything that can be learned, has been learned just by reading the email exchange. I, for one, am thrilled that it didn't become the subject of a blog post here.

When some 'thing' happens that is at least tangentially associated with communications/social/PR/marketing/new media, I can pick at least five reasonably well-known blogs that will make it the post de jour. And you know what happens? The same basic conclusion is repeated again and again. That's not adding value. That's contributing to the noise. If you want to recognized, lumping yourself into the rest of the bell curve isn't helping.

I think the bigger lesson comes from a careful consideration of the content you're producing - is it rehashing the same old stuff or maybe, just maybe, pushing the envelope a bit? Whenever I set off to pen a new post, I have my checklist. If I'm becoming predictable in my content or my conclusions, I walk away. Better to not post than just contribute to the noise. There's enough of that out there already.

Latest blog post: My Three Words For 2012

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

@MSchechter yeah I would agree with that challenge. How to learn from missteps rather than just feed the fire.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SusanOakes I agree with you on this particular case study. But what do you think about the larger conversation around learning from other's mistakes? Think about the Kenneth Cole hashtag issue or the Marie Callendar's blogger dinner debacle. I think, if we can talk about it in a meaningful way, it helps us all do our jobs better. That's why I say attack the idea, not the person.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@RickRice Yeah, the whole Ocean Marketing thing was just dumb. I read it and snickered, but I think the lesson is in the entire exchange...don't debate and belittle over email like that. So I didn't see the need in rehashing it. Plus I really didn't see it as a PR issue. But, as @KenMueller aptly pointed out below, your customer doesn't care if you're in PR, marketing, sales, or customer service. They just want their issue fixed.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JayDolan You should just have a small group of people you email those to so you can make fun of them without being public about it. I mean, what?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon "How dumb is it to put an ad in a newspaper or online inviting complete strangers to write to you and tell you why you should employ them?"

I love that.

rpulvino
rpulvino

@ginidietrich Haha. I'm surprised PRSA hasn't joined in. The convo is right up their alley—especially with the re-defining PR campaign.

etelligence
etelligence

I guess I should have said why I don't generally comment on any blogs, there always seems to be problems with the comment programs (even on my own blog). The short version of what I saiid: I think people are overlooking the fact that PR professionals and Bloggers who cover PR have less in common than they get credit for. Some no doubt represent the industry heavily, but while How to Articles and posts along those lines have their place, Failure is just so much more entertaining (especially in the case of Paul). Bloggers are always going to go for entertaining, and the original guy's post was ultimately just a way for him to write an article about it that wasn't the same re hashing that others had done. There's a pretty good article on my blog about Paul's episode too, and I'll definately cover the next failure if it's half as entertaining as Christoforo's non spelling rants against kids and people who can crush him alike.

SusanOakes
SusanOakes

@ginidietrich Gini I can see what you say about learning from mistakes, however it seems that most posts, tweets etc attack and not include any lessons learnt and how to overcome them. Also agree about not attacking the person, however when you criticise a company we forget that a person will be held responsible within the company which could affect their careers.

I am not sure of the answer but if it is for those in PR to learn together I wonder if it can be done away from the public.

One question have you ever asked clients what they think of these types of conversations?

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@ginidietrich Aye. It's a sad thing really. I mean, if we can't get past the [x] Social Media Lessons From [Current Event/Celebrity/Brand] or My [Llama/Goldfish named Larry/Ball of Dryer Lint] formula, we're all sunk. :)

Latest blog post: My Three Words For 2012

SusanOakes
SusanOakes

@ginidietrich Gini, i think you are more than fair and a straight shooter and I can see why your reader become clients. Perhaps the problem is when others who don't have your experience or have a practical and honest reason for doing a post. For example one post I read on Ocean Marketing the author had no experience in this area. Your comment has made me think as I was looking at it from a marketer's perspective working in a large company and didn't have any issues with the PR companies I worked with.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SusanOakes Our clients like the way we handle things on Spin Sucks (and, in the past month, we've gained two new clients from readers).

I guess I'm doing some soul searching to see if, when we are critical, it's beneficial to the industry or if it's a disservice. Take the Ocean Marketing example. I read it last week and snickered, but I didn't see any value in a) rehashing it here or b) providing a lesson.

But when it's something I think we can all learn from (Kenneth Cole), I do provide the example and what should have been done differently.

Trackbacks

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