PRNewser Interview: Tom Foremski
October 10, 2007
When we were in middle school, every time someone would act up in gym class, our teacher would always say, “Strirrin’ the soup, you guys are always stirrin’ the soup.” He was near retirement and didn’t appreciate much our daily efforts to cause a scene in his class.
Every so often, there is a blog post that stirs the soup, the latest being Tom Foremski’s Wily E Coyote: Traditional PR is Running on Thin Air. The title is self explanatory, so PRNewser caught up with the former Financial Times reporter turned SiliconValleyWatcher publisher to get his take on the state of the PR industry.
Is there hope with the way PR people have embraced concepts like the Social Media News Release?
Yeah, I mean it is interesting. Basically when I loaded that post (Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!), it was late at night, and I thought, “Why don’t people put some links into presss releases.” Tag and label stuff so I can find it easily. It was kind of obvious to do, but it caused a stir. It made me think, “Oh my god, things are so backwards.”
The term social media is kind of changing and morphing. PR people think, “Well we can just go around the journalists, we can publish straight to web.” Well you can, and if you use blogging platform, Google’s algorithms are preferential to blogging. They don’t discern between a company release and day to day bloggers. It gives it quite a lot of Google juice. But you know, that is going to shut down soon. We still need independent third party platforms who can present the info to readers. Readers appreciate that, they notice difference between social media release straight from company and third party reporting.
You mention Slide as a company that used no PR or marketing, but isn’t this a bit different given their well-known CEO and a product that can be spread easily on the web?
Yes and no. Max is known in part of the community. Slide isn’t the only company saying that. I’m at conference right now, Graphing Social Paterns, Slide is presenting but there are many other companies saying, “We’ve been able to get millions of users with no money on marketing.” I used Slide as an example, but could of chose a more obscure company. What happens when VC’s say you shouldn’t have a big marketing budget? They do have that power. It probably will be a minimum amount of spending that needs to be done.
When does the chute drop? I’ve seen it drop in increasingly more and more places.
Fundamentally, nothing core has changed, and it won’t change until PR starts feeling pain in their pocket books. Traditional media hates blogging, they can’t stand that stuff, now they’re having to do it.
Well it’s great they can get users, but what about monetization?
You can’t monetize users though PR, you can offer ads, or premium subscriptions. None of these require PR.
What are the skills a PR person must learn now to survive this evolution?
I think domain expertise is a pretty key one. If you’re doing enterprise software you should know that like back of your hand. I’ve come across PR people who are unsure if they’re repping a hardware or software company. They need to create their own presence. Show that they are thought leaders in their space. They should show how they’re using new media tech to support their own business. If they’re helping other business, but you can’t see it in their own business, that is a bit strange.
Will PR agencies be a thing of the past or can they survive this shift?
Well it will all be the same as the media industry, parts will survive, parts won’t. There are PR agencies out there that understand this. You need an incentive to change business and right now I don’t see any incentive out there. Everyone is hiring, they cant get enough people. They’re offering the same kinds of services. Now people are kind of getting to understand it better. Media and PR have generally gone in lockstep, so whats happening now? There is a reckoning coming, in a way.
Look at Robert Scoble when he was at Microsoft. He created millions of dollars of positive coverage. They probably couldn’t have done that with a bunch of publicists. Scoble was probably getting a salary of no more than 100k there.
Do you have a skewed perspective, coming from Silicon Valley?
It’s not a skewed perspective, per se. We can see into the future a little bit, we can see what’s going to be happening elsewhere.
I’ve been in Silicon Valley since 1984, what seems to be forever. Right now we have a local obsession with Facebook . NY, Europe, they don’t care about Facebook as much. We are canaries in coal mine in a sense, we can project and connect the dots.
We often say, “You may not be thinking about this now but you should.”
It’s not a skewed perspective, but predictive. Sometimes maybe it’s just a few months ahead, sometimes longer than that.
When I was working at the Financial Times, it would take about six months for stories to be understood so I could pitch them to my editors in NYC, another six months for London.
I do feel we are living in the future a little bit.