Tweets: Not Fit for PR Pro Consumption

Our team recently had the opportunity to host a few students from the Beth Wood Chapter of PRSSA at Indiana University who somehow mustered the energy to get out of bed early on a Friday morning to slog their way from Bloomington to Indianapolis for an agency tour of Dittoe Public Relations. For those of you who haven’t been to college for a while (or if you’re memory is, let’s just say, hazy), Friday morning promptly follows “Thirsty Thursday;” so we were impressed, nay, honored by their willingness to visit us.

During a pre-tour conversation, we mentioned that an insatiable thirst to consume information—reading national and local media outlets, trade publications, blogs, etc.—was one of the most important, and perhaps most overlooked characteristics of a good PR pro. When we asked these budding PR practitioners what media outlets they consumed regularly, their responses caught me a bit off-guard. Nearly every one of them named Twitter as one of their top sources for media consumption.

Now, before I launch into my rant, I’d like to preface it by noting that like everyone else on the planet, I recognize the power of Twitter and the positive impact it has made on media and society as a whole. It’s also an invaluable tool for PR pros; not only for engaging with reporters, but for engaging with publics. But it should NEVER be considered a top source for consuming media. By anybody. Ever.

Can Twitter break big stories? Yes. It was widely reported that news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter and that Whitney Houston’s death hit Twitter 27 minutes before the press. But how many times has Bill Cosby been reported dead on Twitter? After one particularly viral episode of Cosby’s demise (there have been several), TV’s Dr. Huxtable went so far as to call in to “Larry King Live” to echo Mark Twain’s famous sentiments regarding the reports of his death. This is an admittedly silly example of how Twitter “news” is propagated, but it’s a solid representation of Twitter’s validity, or lack of validity as a reliable source of information.

I realize I’m not breaking any new ground by chalking Twitter up as a dubious source of information, and that the vast majority of people know to seek information from other outlets; but knowing and doing are quite different. Today, it’s estimated that you’re likely to spend more than 11 hours consuming information—reading blog posts like this, watching TV, flipping through a magazine, or grazing on your Twitter feed. If you sit in front of a computer screen for most of your day, you’re probably spending even more than 11 hours a day. But if you’re spending the majority of your time on Twitter, you’re not getting the full story.

What does this mean for our PRSSA friends from Bloomington and soon-to-be PR pros everywhere? I’d urge you to take advantage of the staggering amount of information that’s readily available. According to storage company EMC, there is presently 800,000 petabytes (a million gigabytes per petabyte) in the storage universe, and according to the University of California in San Diego, American homes consume nearly 3.6 zettabytes (a million petabytes per zettabyte) of information per day.

Read as much as you can from varying sources. When you enter the PR world, the only way you’re going to be good at what you do is by immersing yourself in your clients’ industries so I can spot trends before they do and recommend strategies that will allow them to stay ahead of the curve. You can’t do that if you’re only consuming information in 140-character nibbles; especially if those few characters are wildly inaccurate. Just ask the aforementioned purveyor of pudding pops.

What do you think? Is Twitter a legitimate source for news? Or is it just a starting point that can tip you off to story so you can investigate further?

Dance Like A Fool

She looked awesome in that early ‘90s lavender gown that barely revealed the polish on her yellow pumps – yet more than enough of an opening to fuel the imagination of her pimply-faced date.  Her bangs were teased just high enough to nearly incite a jealousy-fueled riot in the Aqua Net aisle at Wal-Mart a few hours later. The corsage squeezed her tiny wrist, practically launching her onto the dance floor in a blurry wisp of stale red and white carnations.  And man could she move.

But for a few brief moments, before she shredded the “Running Man” and before the ill-fitting tiara proclaiming her queen of the freshman dance wrapped around her head in an awkward embrace of rhinestone angst, she represented rejection. Shrill, Vanilla Ice-voice inducing pain aimed at the gut.

Why did she embody such torture to be compared to the worst in White Boy rap? Because, at the last moment, after her date had clipped on the hand-me-down tie and tucked it underneath the previously-worn beige vest that rested underneath the oversized jacket of his Goodwill suit, she called to say she would not be arriving at the dance in his arms. The corsage fell from his hand. He was crushed.

But he would have redemption among his peers. Her bony hand in his sweaty palm at midnight felt like jewels that might slip away with the slightest tug – for he was king of the freshman dance.

The same awkward ritual plays out in modern-day PR offices around the world. Flacks spend hours crafting the perfect pitch with the hopes of luring that sequined journalist to the dance floor, only to be flirted with – sometimes outright rejected, inducing epic mascara runs  – and left wondering if their date will show. But when he does, he gleams like Deney Terrio (look him up kids) and spins their PR dreams to all corners of the media world, their client gladly clapping in the background while clasping a stogie.

It’s a tumultuous relationship. Fifteen years spent in the bowels of a newspaper – the last nine in the newsroom of a major metro – saw the dance played out on every stage imaginable.  From the journalist’s perspective, it begins with annoyance, because, like that skinny rail of a freshman weighed down with Coke-bottle glasses, the PR pro might as well not even exist. The truth hurts like a bad 90s ballad.

PR pros would do best to not take it personally. They wail in pain, “Why won’t this (expletive) reporter respond to my emails? Why is this (expletive) ignoring me? This. Is. A. Great. (Expletive). Story!” The beating of breast commences. The truth? Your story sucks worse than White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” And like that crappy ballad, your pitch took up four minutes of valuable time and singed ears.

The news hole has shrunk. Air time has been squeezed. As a PR pro, you have to realize that reporters get exponentially more emails than requests you receive to brainstorm ways to publicize your clients.

Think outside the dance floor. Remember that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty McFly’s image is slowly fading from the photo? That’s traditional journalism. Be the smacker that George McFly plants on Lorraine at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance to resurrect Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” electricity by offering digital/social media avenues, like video easily attached to a website. The news cycle has evolved, so capitalize on the social media-driven world of people checking smart phones before the early morning bathroom break. The best part of waking up is your client’s news alert.

Like the king who overcame rejection, do not take a reporter’s distaste of you personally.

At the end of the night, with his second-hand suit crumpled in a heap near his Sega Genesis game console, the freshman king of the dance stared at his bedroom ceiling. Vanilla Ice was a distant memory. He could still feel the queen’s soft lips on his cheek, the pat of classmates’ hands on his back.

Rejection can be so sweet.