“Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind…”
One cannot help but think of those words from the Bible as one sees some of the exchanges between “bloggers” and communications professional (PRs, corp comm, et al.). While there is no doubt that the “say something negative or complain and get a product/attention” culture seems to have gripped a fair number of the blogger community, what also cannot be doubted is that this has to an extent been fanned by the communication teams of different brands.
The problem stems from the need to show coverage rather than focus on communication. Having been in PR, I know the kind of stress an executive comes under from clients who want a crowd or a huge collection of clippings/URLs. That said, it does seem that very little effort is being actually made to make clients aware of the fact that a lot of the so-called coverage varies from the vaguely grammatical to the completely comical.
I have had PR executives tell me “We know he/she is an idiot but just see the page views he/she gets!” My answer has always been the same: “Sunny Leone gets more page views than Walt Mossberg. Porn sells more than Picasso. Does that make them better and who do you think is more likely to influence a viewer?” I have never really received a convincing answer. The rationale of inviting someone or labeling them a blogger does not seem to be their knowledge or ability to communicate, but their “viewership.”
This, of course, results in severe compromises on quality and the inclusion of gents and ladies who approach events as food and gift gathering exercises – and as they show at just about every event, they are willing to fight for these. The approach has also led to near constant whining on social networks about review units and other real or perceived slights from “brands.”
The big question, of course, is why brands put up with it? They have some very smart people out there. People who have not just studied in prestigious institutes but have seen more aspects of business life than all the bloggers in India put together. And yet, they insist on inviting people who have scarcely a grip on the language, leave alone technology.
No, it is not that they don’t know of just who they are inviting. There is on the contrary considerable thought put into just who gets invited to an event and even who gets review units first. And the rationale might shock some people. “We love the dumb ones. They will say anything we want,” an executive once told me. “They just want their food, their review unit, maybe a drink or two. And they will carry the release verbatim. Or pay them a little, and they will even compare a TV remote with the iPhone…and say that the remote is better!” In many cases, companies actually do NOT send review units to mainstream media, fearing negative reviews but trust bloggers with the same because (wink!) “they can be made to see our point of view.”
When this system works, everyone is happy – the “bloggers” get their bit of food, drink and whatever recompense agreed on, and the brands get their “coverage,” never mind that it often looks and sounds like something that belongs to a circus rather than the blogosphere. I mean, if someone thinks that a badly made video replete with factual and grammatical errors is good for their brand because it reaches an allegedly wide audience, fair enough.
The problem, however, comes when things go wrong. Then the “dumb ones” tend to become a liability simply because they do not adhere to professional guidelines and feel that raising hell is the best way to get attention – what I call the “I am going to make a negative video of your product and share it with my 1,89,786 YouTube subscribers” complex. Which in turn leads to all sorts of arguments. Arguments which are getting more frequent, unfortunately.
There is a way out of this mess – brands just need to spend some time figuring out what they want: positive or credible coverage. Page views and clippings raving about a product are all very fine but as I keep pointing out, one of India’s leading channels spent hours raving about the Nokia N97 and N8. We all know what happened to that worthy duo. If positive coverage were all that mattered, Nokia and BlackBerry would still be rocking in India. And Apple would have expired long ago – a victim of the “this is too expensive, no one can pay for this, Apple does not know the Indian consumer” chant that follows almost every iPhone launch.
Marshall Mcluhan had famously said: the medium is the message. And that is something a lot of brands and communication experts seem to have forgotten altogether. Yes, what is said is important, but no less important is who is saying it and what he or she stands for.
Ignore that and you sow the seeds of a corrupt wind. And reap the whirlwind of contempt that follows.