Of Tea Parties and Muddled Messaging


The April 15 Tax Day tea parties were a great example of grass roots, viral organization to move thousands of people (whether you believe the reported attendance or not) to do something.

But here’s the problem; what were they doing? In PR, we counsel clients to have consistent messages that leave no doubt who you are and what you stand for. Were the tea parties:

– Libertarian tax protests?
– Conservative protests against Obama?
– A stand against pork-barrel spending and government waste?
– An anti-gay marriage event?
– FOX News sponsored GOP pom-pom waving?

Depending on what you believed, the event was either a success or was muddled by a lack of central messaging.

If you fail to define yourself- or worse, define yourself badly- then others will gladly fill the void.

Were the tea parties a success? Can anyone tell?

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Blog readers: I am riding the Pan-Mass Challenge this summer, a 2-day bicycle trek across Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund in support of cancer research. Will you join the generous folks who have sponsored my ride? Click any part of this message to go to my fundraising page– and thank you!

Social Media Top 5; Rocky Mountain Low, Loic’s Nuclear Option, and What Beats Who

A Newspaper Goes Dark, with Dignity (?): The Rocky Mountain News produced its last edition Friday, after the sudden announcement that it would do so after the Scripps company was unable to find a buyer. Is this the beginning of the real end for print newspapers? I’ll defer to true experts in the field, but it feels like we’ll see more recognizable papers go the way of the Dodo before the stronger brands and businesses figure out the new reality for the new media.

I should mention I am a bit of a partisan, as I and my agency (SHIFT Communications) represent The Christian Science Monitor in communicating its transition from a daily print to a Web-first news publication with a new significant weekly print edition (coming in April, stay tuned). The Monitor is uniquely positioned to try something new like this where other organizations may be afraid or unable to make a similar leap, and it will be interesting to see how it is received once it actually happens and we see the weekly print rolling out.

Back to the “Rocky;” see the photo slide show at the Rocky home page; it is heartbreaking yet fascinating. Also, this 20-minute documentary is a remarkable look into the announcement and the surrounding events and feelings (hat-tip to ReadWriteWeb, where I saw it).

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

One other thing to add. Aside from being a publicist now, I was a producer for The Monitor’s “Monitor Radio” operation from 1994 until it was shut down in 1997. The Rocky’s shutdown brought back a lot of memories of our last days at Monitor Radio – though it was a far less bitter ending, we did have a similar sense of family and pride in our work as the last days, and our last programs, approached. I hesitate to bring this up as I do not want to get my experiences caught up in negative associations, but I do have a real sense of empathy with the Rocky’s staff. While I’m at it, here’s a picture of the final day at Monitor Radio in 1997, courtesy of colleague and Facebook buddy Mike Wilkins:


Re-Thinking “Followers on Social Networks: Loic Lemeur, the entrepreneur behind Seesmic and Twhirl, generated a lot of discussion when he decided that following thousands on Twitter was “fake following,” and nuked his whole following on the message/social network service, building up a more intimate followers list from scratch. This is in opposition to Robert Scoble, who has no problem following back tens of thousands of people who friend him on Twitter. Is that “fake following?” I agree with Scoble and others that following everyone back is a courtesy, and that it entails no obligation to intimately know someone within the network. It’s impossible, and we (and a growing number of tools) have ways to group and track the small number of folks we actually do want to know more closely. Loc, how about this? Build some really cool grouping functions into your Twhirl tool. I’m not nuking the people I follow just prove a point.

Twitter “mainstream?”
No, still not yet, but as I have called Facebook mainstream and Twitter not in recent posts, it’s worth calling out an entertaining piece on ABC’s Nightline (no embed code– cowards), not to mention their use of Twitter during President Obama’s first address to Congress, and a much more staid piece from The Financial Times as proof that Twitter is becoming closer to being a household word. When Twitter is mentioned at all parties the way Facebook is, then it’s mainstream. Soon, I am sure.

Senator Roland Burris’ PR Guy Deflects Blame: Every family tree has a crazy branch and in public relations we have our friends the political flacks. I clip stories like these to call up whenever I think I might be tempted to do PR for politicians.

Is It What You Know or Who You Know?
What! What! What! I am firmly aginst the notion of “Rolodex PR,” though I suppose it works in some strains of the profession. As kevin Dugan quoted it in his post:

“A personal relationship will not get you coverage of a bad pitch. A good pitch will get you coverage even with a bad relationship.”

Give me a good storyteller over a backslapping jackass any day- though it’s ok to be both.

Social Media Top Five: Journalist POV, Incivility, and PR Agencies Really Doing Social Media?

Press Releases From a Journalist’s POV
Daryl James, a former newspaper professional, lays out some very simple tips on what should go into a news release to get an editor’s or reporter’s attention. Some of them are beyond common sense, but always worth repeating. Setting aside the fact that the fixation on the news release itself is problematic, there are some great tips. I summarize below, with my own notes in parentheses:

  1. Just the facts. (Daryl brings up the idea of putting the important information in bullets rather than writing a narrative release; something I have been in favor of for a decade, and one of the important features of the Social Media Press Release template put together by my boss at SHIFT Communications, Todd Defren)
  2. It’s not about you. (In other words, don’t pitch the news, pitch the story that will actually get written.)
  3. Don’t make me work. (No attachments, hard-to-find resources, etc)
  4. Don’t lie. (You will be found out. Period.)
  5. Know your audience. (A basic for anyone involved in any form of communications)

Sick of incivility? TechCrunch, which has an obvious bias in this story, takes potshots at the DEMO conference and departing organizer Chris Shipley. TechCrunch, of course, organizes the fiercely competitive- and opposed- TechCrunch 50, which isn’t mentioned in the piece. Well, if you follow both you know what’s going on, and it has been clear for a long time that it pays to pay attention when it comes to TechCrunch, or it’s easy to get lost when trying to sort out the behind-the-scenes editorial process (and drama). Over at Media Bullseye (for which I write a monthly column), Chip Griffin opens fire on the whole “uncivil” war, which begs the question; should we just stop trying to expect old-fashioned journalistic standards from the more formidable “blogs” and just learn to expect yellow journalism, back-biting, and omissions of convenience? Chip won’t stand for it; I say, I think we’re already at where these publications are headed. Of course, I’m in the position of not needing to take a side here.

PR Rep for Octuplets’ Mother Get Death Threats Just as there is no boundary, apparently, for who should hire PR representation, there is no reason at all to take on a client that would get you death threats. Right? I suppose there are exceptions but this is far from one of them.

Talking About Yourself Egomaniacs have no problem talking about themselves. Others, though we know it’s often necessary, have a problem with doing it. Chris Brogan lays it out nicely; in taking about yourself, make it about others. It’s just a social media take on getting by giving, but after a couple of reads I got what he was saying.

PR Agencies and Social Media– Eating the Dogfood? First off, I read Jennifer Leggio’s long-awaited ZDNet report on survey results on public relations agencies and social media. Yes, I was gratified that my employer was mentioned positively as an agency that understands social media- after all, that’s a big reason I work at SHIFT. But also, there are some great takeaways- best of all, pooh-poohing the notion that social media is a “premium” service that needs to be separated from the rest of PR, and several reminders that “traditional” PR competency is still important.

Next, there was a blog post by Cece Salomon-Lee attempting to chart 100 independent PR agencies by how they use social media. It was a great idea, hamstrung by her insistence on corporate presences at the exclusion of individuals doing social media on behalf of their agencies (in part, like me and many others, or in whole). The mix of personal and professional brands is very important to me, and while we don;t necessarily advise clients to do things the same way, it’s something I feel strongly about. I wasn’t the only one to mention this, or the first, and Cece replied in a very open way– creating a wiki for agencies to contribute and speak for themselves. Very cool.

Blog readers: I am riding the Pan-Mass Challenge this summer, a 2-day bicycle trek across Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund in support of cancer research. Will you join the generous folks who have sponsored my ride? Click any part of this message to go to my fundraising page– and thank you!

Blog Tag: What are you reading?

We all love blog tag! Ok, maybe we pretend we don’t sometimes, but we love being linked to, and we love sharing info about ourselves.

So, I would like to start a blog tag experiment inspired by a client, Brijit, which provides 100-word abstracts of long-form content, or as they put it, “The World in 100 Words.”


When I represent a company whose product or service I can actually use, I do it; and Brijit is one that is growing on me, as I discover articles, even in magazines I subscribe to, that I would never have read otherwise.

The idea behind this tag game is to show that you can dig through and find some spectacular content that you might have missed otherwise. Brijit is the engine for this particular game, but the star is the content that you find fascinating.

So, the Blog Tag and guidelines:

“Three Great Articles I Found on Brijit That I Would Never Have Found Otherwise.”

Guidelines (not rules, I know people will change how this is done down the line):

  1. Dig for treasure: Use Brijit and find three articles that interest you greatly, teach you something new, or simply would not have bothered to find and read in your normal day of browsing and offline media consumption.
  2. Share the booty: Summarize those three articles and link to the Brijit abstract, the article itself, or both.
  3. Don’t bury the treasure: Tag five blog friends by linking to them in your post, and make sure they know they have been tagged.

That’s it. Simple enough, I hope. Now, for my three articles:

1. Vanity Fair: Mailer’s Movie Madness, by Patricia Bosworth.

Just in time for the Oscars, a look at the uneven, and at times, crazy film career of Norman Mailer. The video below is referenced as a great example of Mailer’s gonzo film career: a too-realisitc brawl with actor Rip Torn:

2. Salon: Bowling for Votes in Wisconsin by Edward McClelland


During presidential campaigns, I love seeing the on-site stories of the local campaigns: how the candidates struggle to fit in with “normal folk,” and the locals’ stories of candidate visits past and present. Wisconsin presents no shortage of color in this instance.

3. The New Yorker: Killing Joke by David Denby

new yorker

The New Yorker has long been my “read it as you find it” magazine; it’s simply too much too read cover-to-cover on a weekly basis. I was very pleased to find this article by veteran cinema writer David Denby on the state of on-screen affairs for Oscar favorites the Coen brothers, following the moods of their movies from “Blood simple” through the current “No Country for Old Men.”


  1. Scott Monty
  2. Chris Brogan
  3. Kami Huyse
  4. Paull Young
  5. Dave Austin
  6. Marshall Kirkpatrick

If you like this tag concept, don’t wait to be tagged; run with it!

UPDATE: and to stress the “no real rules” bit above, I found a fourth article (not to mention tagging 6 people)– a bit different from the first three, but a very timely topic for me due to my recent switch to green teas:

Gourmet: Tea Loyalties, by David Shenk. Should I check out Japanese teas, or the Chinese one mentioned in the article? I am now curious.

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Are the candidates using MySpace and other social media well?

UPDATE: The article has appeared, and I was favored with a two-word direct quote, along with Scott Monty (zero words direct quote– ahem), and Steve Garfield, who actually said something worth quoting….

UPDATE II: See this exchange between C.C. Chapman and the Edwards campaign. a combination of social media outreach initiative and response to constructive criticism. This is why I think the Edwards campaign gets it.

Are the candidates using MySpace and other social media well?

That question was posed to me by a writer for the new BostonNOW newspaper this weekend, as mentioned in my previous post. I answered the best I could, but I will leave it up to her to decide whether or not my comments are worthy of appearing in her article.

I can be too freakin’ humble sometimes. OK, I’m an expert– as much of an expert on social media as someone who knows how to find my blog to read it.

I thought I would put some version of my thoughts on the subject, since I did try to do a little homework. Feel free to disagree with me in comments.

First: if the candidates are not using social media to interact directly with their constituents, and of course draw new ones, then they are not being social. That’s what strikes me about the MySpace pages. They don’t feel very interactive. Sure, you can join as a”friend” and leave comments, but looking at the sites, I don’t see any real invitations for interaction on the whole. Is that a problem with the candidates or MySpace? Both, probably.

The MySpace pages are a great way to get information, videos, and links to research candidates and see what their policies are, but that’s about it– their own Web sites are — or can be– much better looking than any MySpace template, and carry the same information– and also offer as much interaction as the candidate wants. I sent messages through MySpace to all of the candidates I could find to ask them what they expected from social media. I didn’t expect them to answer me on a holiday weekend, but I thought I would try. I don’t expect answers at all, to be honest.

So- candidates on MySpace? whatever. Yawn.

Some other media have shown promise. One is Twitter. John Edwards has been a fairly consistent Twitterer over the last few months, and any questions about his “tweets” have been answered– it is Edwards. I actually corresponded with the Senator directly over a blogging question, and that coupled with others’ anecdotes, leave no doubt that he is actually doing his own Twittering. I was impressed. Not so much Barack Obama, whose inaugural tweet, now deleted, about his excitement prior to the first debate, was so obviously not him it was painful and embarrassing. As I commented to someone online that evening, “Four exclamation points does not sound very presidential.” Perhaps his subsequent tweets are authentic, but for me the damage was done.

The biggest surprise? Hillary Clinton’s video contest, where she asked for people to submit entries for her campaign song. It is participatory and fun, even if the topic is less than substantial. The second video, in which she reviews some of the entries, is a scream.
This contest is great for lightening up her image and involving the younger generation of voters– generally an apathetic bunch last seen getting excited in the 1992 election over the boxers vs. briefs question (yes, Bill Clinton was involved).

In the end, it’s not the media but the messages that will sway voters– I hope. The candidates are going to the new media because they see new voters there. In the best cases, like Edwards on Twitter, they see a way to engage with their voters and respond to them. This is why I am interested to see if John McCain gets some traction in social media. He has a great reputation for being responsive to the smallest media requests. Will that translate to the new media? I have seen nothing yet, but I am hopeful.

By the way: on the local level, I am as ever a huge fan of the community blog TheGardenCity.net. One of the reasons is that a number of the city of Newton, Mass.’s aldermen and women participate by posting to the blog and participating in the debates with other citizens. Now this is real political communication using an online social medium.

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BostonNOW– New daily paper talks to little old me…

bostonnow_logo_blue.gifIf you are in the Boston metro area, you have probably heard of the launch in late April of BostonNOW, a free daily paper competing with the Boston Metro. The big difference is that the paper is taking contributions from citizen journalists. In fact, I know my friend and fellow blogorrhea sufferer C.C. Chapman has already had a blog post appear in at least one edition.

I am curious to see how this approach works for the paper, and of course I wish them the best of luck, especially since one of the original hardworking PodCamp volunteers, Sooz, has joined the staff.

Curiously– to me at least, though I have Sooz to thank for thinking of me– one of the staffers at the paper thought I would be a good person to talk to about the presidential candidates’ use of MySpace and other social media tools. I did have some thoughts on the subject, and I will defer to the reporters’ judgment as to whether they were worth including in the story. I will throw up some version of those thoughts in a separate blog post shortly.

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