The professor is back! PR lessons in today’s headlines

While hardcore denizens of Web 2.0 love to diss the mainstream media, I’m thanking the founding fathers for my morning newspaper today. Blogs and social networks are great places to discuss news, but few of us have the resources or expertise to actually report it.

So let’s have a discussion today as I review some headlines and discuss their implications for public relations.

iphone.jpgThe disappointing iPhone. AT&T said it’s disappointed in consumer response to the iPhone. Seems the company expected a half million sign-ups for its service in the first weekend and got fewer than 150,000. Apple stock fell 6.1% yesterday following the news.

Were AT&T’s projections pie-in-the-sky? Or did consumers reject the iPhone precisely because of Apple’s exclusive arrangement with AT&T? That’s why I don’t have one. My contract with another carrier extends into 2008. I’d buy an iPhone in a heartbeat if Apple hadn’t limited my choice of carriers. Now stir in the negative reviews for AT&T’s wireless broadband from the likes of Pogue and Mossberg and Apple’s toy loses even more of its luster.

facebook.jpgIs Facebook a fraud? If you haven’t heard the story by now, founders of ConnectU say Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea and source codes, then used them to launch FB. The lawsuit is moving forward in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Nothing surprises me about this tale, since stealing with impunity is pretty much a given in the Web 2.0 world. I’m a little more sensitive to the problem today, having just read of Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur.” (More on that next week). It’s hard to dispute Keen’s argument that intellectual property rights have been trampled in the digital world. I’m not calling Zuckerberg a thief. Let the courts sort that one out.

Meantime, Facebook’s market value is exploding now that the site is open to grown-ups. I’ve approved more “friend requests” in the past 30 days than in the previous 12 months combined, almost all of them from PR professionals. Seems that business professionals are exploring the network aggressively. Top PR blogger Steve Rubel says the online “theater of operations” is shifting quickly to social networks like Facebook.

Clearly, I need to spend a lot more time seeking the value in Facebook — value that has long eluded me. But where do we find the time for still more online content in our lives? Maybe we all need a digital-free vacation, like the one described by David Andreatta in the Globe & Mail. Thanks to Judy Gombita for the link.

Free speech isn’t free. Ask Ward Churchill. U of Colorado President Hank Brown has pink-slipped the controversial prof, accusing him of plagiarism and other churchill.jpgmisconduct. Churchill gained fame for his essay likening the victims of 9/11 to Nazi Adolph Eichmann. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but the piece was essentially a tirade on the consequences of American policy in the Middle East. Churchill’s poor choice of metaphors landed him in water so hot that even the spring thaw in Boulder couldn’t cool things.

Regents of U of Colorado were forced to decide between censoring the faculty voice (a no-no in academe) or protecting the university’s reputation. The regents, worried about backlash from state lawmakers, donors and alumni, couldn’t find middle ground.

In public relations, we sometimes find ourselves mediating conflicts between key publics with diverse concerns, while also struggling to maintain loyalty to the folks who sign our paychecks. In this case, Ward Churchill had few advocates to take his side, and in the process he learned that free speech comes with a price.

I don’t advocate censorship, but I also understand that the ideas I present (on this blog or in other forums) ultimately reflect on my employer. And since good old Kent State issues me a paycheck once a month, I owe the university some consideration when I open my mouth.

Some of my brothers and sisters in the academy don’t share that view. But for better or worse, I come from the real world.

Is MySpace the place for perverts? The social networking site has discovered profiles of more than 29,000 registered sex offenders on its site. That’s four times the number cited by the company two months ago, according to the attorney general in North Carolina, who requested the data.

So, MySpace takes yet another hit in the MSM, which in turn scares the hell out of parents as they scurry to censor their kids’ access to the Net. If social networks themselves don’t find a way to purge these evils, government regulators will. As a PR person at MySpace, what would you advise management to do?

Let’s cheer for OHIO! I end this longish post on a positive note by bringing the strickland.jpgdiscussion back home. If you have Ohio roots — or even if you just hate us for our role in the last election — be sure to read this upbeat column by E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post. It tells a story of our new governor, Ted Strickland, and how he’s mending fences in the Buckeye State. In the process, he’s bringing about consensus in a place that long ago forgot the meaning of the word.

Governing, like PR, is all about the relationships we build. Pleae note that Strickland is doing this primarily with a handshake, not with his Facebook page.

9 Responses to The professor is back! PR lessons in today’s headlines

  1. Wow Bill, there is so much that could be commented on in this one. 🙂 My answer to your question “Did consumers reject the iPhone precisely because of Apple’s exclusive arrangement with AT&T?”

    Yes. In fact, I was jealous (not really the right word) to find that Europeans don’t have to face the same product-provider exclusivity that they do here in the States while writing about Net Neutrality.

    If I could simply switch products, I too would already have an iPhone.

    All my best,

  2. Steve Shannon says:

    Interesting comments on what REAL media can bring society vs. social media, especially in the case of the Ohio guv hitting the bricks and doing some handshaking and communicating to mend the fences. If that story appears in a blog, 500 people read and attach no importance to it (sorry Bill!). People read it in a major national newspaper and countless read it and REAL discussion ensues.

    As to the iPhone, I could care less. My current phone makes and receives calls remarkably well. The rest of the junk the iPhone can do, I can do when I sit at my computer. If I have to that stuff “on the go”, I not living life, I’m planning it. Didn’t John Lennon say someting like that 🙂

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    Great points, Steve. Without “real media” we won’t have anyone to define objective truth. Social media have been great for prompting discussion and for building communities, but I shudder to think that some of our 20somethings are depending on Digg to prioritize their news. I know no one depends on me for their news, since I don’t report any!

    I love tech toys, and see some real benefits in the iPhone. But we may simply be seeing the manifestation of the bloggers are calling SOS — Shiny Object Syndrome. Many of us just want the new stuff that glitters.

  4. mediatide says:

    The “Cult of Mac” takes great delight in tossing barbs at Microsoft. But Apple is no “Mom-and-Pop” operation, either. They use tricky tactics to get their hooks in you, too. And they limit your choices. The iPhone’s exclusive deal with AT&T (another huge conglomerate) and the iPod’s inflexibility with other MP3 players.

    Apple is great at portraying the image of the hip, cool, anti-establishment company, but they’re not. The black shirts, spikey gelled hair and sandals don’t fool me!

  5. Bill Sledzik says:

    Apple has certainly shown us the power of marketing mixed with a bit of imagination. Jobs didn’t build the brand on customer service, that’s for sure. But he did help seal the future — some even say the tomb — of popular music as we know it. Time will tell.

    Still, my slim and shiny white MacBook looks so much cooler than your PC. I mean, chicks actually hit on me at the cyber cafe, man It’s the new forbidden fruit, this Mac is. Latte anyone??

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    I can fix that. How much you wanna bet you’re the only one to read the whole post?

  7. Stacy Wessels says:

    I read the whole thing. (Guess my editor-dar wasn’t tuned.) I even read the WP story. Strickland IS doing some good stuff for Ohio. I don’t envy anyone trying to unravel the mess in Columbus. Hopefully Strickland will put one or two things right during his tenure. I vote he starts with education…

  8. mundopr says:

    Hi Bill,

    Don’t worry, I read the whole post too. Had to comment about the facebook epidemic (and needing a digital free vacation). In mid-May I terminated both my MySpace and Facebook accounts. How did I survive? Ha. I’ve never felt so relieved in my life. After three and a half years of constantly checking my email and ‘homepages’ to see if anyone poked me, wrote on my wall or sent me a message, I’m actually enjoying the real world again.

    As a PR professional, I admittingly agree it’s important to know about and be familiar with who uses social networking sites, it’s hard not to get sucked in. Facebook definitely gave me a friend to cling to in college, acutally over 200 friends at Kent State–I was pretty cool:) But honestly, I see people become obsessed with it; as for me, I’m taking a permanent digital vacation.


%d bloggers like this: