Blogging makes things different, but not that different
Bill Smart is the head PR guy at Dry Creek Vineyard, a talented communicator and a nice guy, to boot. He was at the Bloggers Conference back in June, and has now written a thoughtful piece about his impressions over at Palate Press.
I agree with lots that he wrote — but not all. So let me respectfully set out a few of my differences, while emphasizing that, overall, Bill’s article is an accurate representation of where winery P.R. stands in relation to social media.
Bill sets up something of a straw dog when he posits a fundamental difference between bloggers (the implication is that they’re younger, although there were plenty of older bloggers in Walla Walla) and “traditional media.” “For starters,” says Bill, “bloggers do not want to be talked ‘at.’ They want to have a conversation.”
Okay, deconstruction time! First of all, I’m going to start pulling out what few hairs I have left, next time I hear the dreaded “TM” phrase: “traditional media.” This has become a form of invective and an expletive that displays some kind of bias — whether along age or other grounds, I couldn’t say; but when it’s used in a pro-blogging article, it’s usually freighted with negative implications toward print journalists. Why?
Since when is it true that “traditional media” wants to be “talked ‘at’”? I don’t. Anybody who’s ever known me in this business knows that’s not true. You can’t talk ‘at’ me because if you try to, I’ll interrupt and engage you in a conversation — yes, the same type of conversation Bill Smart says bloggers want.
And I’m not the only “trad media” guy who doesn’t want to be “talked ‘at.’” I know a lot of Baby Boomer wine writers and none of them wants a lecture, diatribe or sound bite from anybody. So let’s dispense with this notion that bloggers are somehow fundamentally different in the form of human interaction they like. We’re all the same.
Bill also celebrates the speed with which communication between a P.R. guy like himself and a blogger occurs. “I can pitch a blogger a story or idea in the morning and before lunch that idea may have turned into a blog topic, posted and available for comment.” Yes, this is true. But it’s a double-edged sword, or maybe a triple-edged one. First, such immediate publication basically rules out any form of research or investigation by the blogger. Maybe that’s what P.R. people want: Just take what I say and throw it up there on the Internet, without bothering to find out if it’s true, or put it in context. That’s a huge problem with instant publication.
Then too, because of “the sheer volume of information that is published and made available for consumption” (Bill’s words), today’s blog post has a life span of 24 hours, at most. The next day, there’s another blog post, and yesterday’s content is as fresh as an expired carton of milk. So, yes, blogging can give a P.R. guy 15 minutes of fame. But with a thousand wine blogs out there, all competing for content, everybody else is going to get the same 15 minutes, sooner or later — and nobody is going to get repeated exposure (unless his name is Randall Grahm). That doesn’t give an individual winery an advantage. It just means everybody’s profile is raised a little higher.
Bill’s final point about the advantages of blogging is that “Wine blogs have allowed, for the first time, the consumer to enter into the dialogue about a particular wine topic. Traditionally, media never allowed their consumers to have a voice.” I would phrase this a little differently: “Wine blogs have expanded the opportunity for the consumer to enter into dialog with the wine press.” I mean, when he says traditional media “never allowed…consumers to have a voice,” Bill makes it sound like this was a deliberate, calculated elitist intolerance by “traditional media” to shut the public up. It’s like trad media were Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.”
Traditional media never took that approach — at least, I didn’t. We made use of the technology as it became available. I’ve always had telephone calls from readers who demanded answers and explanations, which I was happy to give. When email became available, the number of people who talked — and complained — to me increased exponentially. Now we have blogs and other forms of social media that have pushed that envelope even further. I welcome that. So I don’t know if Bill meant to imply that we trad media people knowingly shut ourselves into ivory towers, pulled up the drawbridge and stocked the moat with piranhas. I hope not. I’ve always made myself accessible, and in all honesty, I don’t think that bloggers are any more personally accessible than I ever was. Someday, technology will bring us much further into hyper-interactivity and inter-connectedness than we are even today, but the fundamentals will still apply, especially in terms of P.R. A good pitch will still be a good pitch, and a lousy one won’t be made any better by being instantaneous.
I happily and heartily subscribe to Bill’s closing: “Ultimately, knowing your audience and creating lasting relationships built on trust and confidence will be the basis of success for any well integrated communications and marketing plan.” Amen, brother!
P.S. I told the Mondavi and Morton’s people I’d provide this link to the big event they’re planning for Oct. 7 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Consider buying a ticket for a worthy cause.