Unintended consequences


The best bloggers listen to their readers in order to create content that will not only be highly relevant and useful, but also espouses a distinct POV on the subject in question.

Columnists follow the very same approach. Which is why, when I was fortunate enough to be named a weekly columnist by Inc. Magazine in November, I spent a considerable amount of time reading other columns and engaging in lengthy conversations with my editor. I wanted to make sure I understood my readers.

And, I'm pleased to report that my columns have been moderately successful. One, in fact, generated so many re-tweets, direct e-mails and glowing praise, that I momentarily felt quite humbled. The operative word in the preceding sentence is momentarily.

The column in question was entitled, 'You don't know Jack about PR.' It addressed a common misperception among many Inc. readers: small business owners don't grasp the fundamental differences between advertising and PR. So, I penned a PR 101 column and the blogosphere positively lit up with accolades.

That is, until the column spread to the wonderful world of public relations. That's when a good friend, superb professional and mediocre cyclist named Gini Dietrich decided to write a blog that shredded my column.

The gist of Gini's 'Spin Sucks' blog was this: my analysis was equal parts myopic and parochial, and did PR a disservice by speaking solely to the difference between paid advertising and media relations. She rightfully pointed out that PR is much, much more than clippings. And, many of her readers agreed. And, so do I.

But, Gini made a fundamental mistake in slamming my column. She either forgot (of chose to forget) that the column wasn't written with PR people in mind. It was penned for busy owners of small companies who also worry about payroll, overhead expenses, sales, human resources, inventory, and god knows what else. If I'd waxed poetic about the intricacies of PR, one of two things would have happened:

-My editor would have rejected it out of hand as being too dense for readers

-My readers' eyes would have glazed over as I rambled on about crisis communications, social media content, event planning, etc.

Gini was obviously well intentioned, but she drew her gun and fired too quickly. I posted a comment to that effect saying, 'While I applaud your POV, I ask that next time you pause before shooting the messenger and think first about his intended audience.'

That said, my gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Gini the Kid was a GREAT learning lesson about the unintended consequences of content creation.

When one crafts a blog, Tweet, FB post or, in my case, a column that strikes a nerve, it will be spread far and near. And, sometimes it can be spread to an audience you weren't addressing in the first place. And, that my friends, is when a vigilante such as Gini will pull out her six-shooters and begin blazing away. 

8 thoughts on “Unintended consequences

  1. Thanks so much for the post. Two things you may not know:
    1. I adore and respect Gini and was writing the blog tongue-in-cheek, as we gunslingers like to say.
    2. My editor at Inc. has asked me to cover many areas of interest to small business owners. PR is just one of them. An in-depth treatise would have been rejected.

  2. I don’t understand why you are calling Gini’s criticism of your content (one that quite a few of Spin Sucks readers agreed with) Gunslinging or referencing it with words like Viginlante, Six Shooters etc. You as a journalist understand the power of the pen and those images create a sort of ‘wild and out of control’ description of the post, which is far from the truth.
    To the point of the article, like I said on Spin Sucks…. you can write a less dense article and not leave out a clear and correct description of what PR is. It could be a simple list like PR IS: 1,2,3… but in this column we are focusing on one segment of it – Publicity. In fact, you could have created an entire series FOR YOUR AUDIENCE that focused on one segment per column….
    Just my two cents… no ‘gun fight’ intended.

  3. Fair enough, Gini. We’ll agree to disagree. By focusing on the elementary media relations component of the larger public relations story, I was able to go back-and-forth comparing and contrasting what we do that advertising doesn’t, and vice versa. Don’t know how I could have covered the waterfront as you demand and still accomplished the same goal within the confines of a 600-word column.

  4. I don’t think waxing poetic about everything PR does differently than advertising so their eyes glaze over is the absolute other way to write the column. I was able to do that because my audience is different than yours. But there is a middle ground that describes what we do (earned and owned media vs. paid media) so we can stop getting the “I need a PR firm” calls when they really mean, “I just want my name in the NY Times.”

  5. Nice to see you’re still firing your six shooters, Gini. I completely agree that public relations is so much more than media relations. But, you’re still failing to grasp the fundamental Catch-22 I faced in writing the column: I needed to speak to an audience that ranges from the owner of a seven person-bakery in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn to the president of 300-person chain of fitness salons headquartered in Massapequa. As a result, I needed to begin at the beginning. Had I chosen to talk about the multiple aspects of public relations and then wax poetic about everything from social media and crisis management to employee communications and iPhone Apps, I would have lost my audience. So, you tell me, Gini. What’s better: waging a small battle and winning it (by writing a column about the basic differences between advertising and PR) or launching a global war (by enumerating PR’s myriad aspects) and losing it (since the article would either be rejected by my editor or glossed over by readers)?

  6. Like I said in the comments on Spin Sucks, I don’t think it matters who the audience is. What you described in the Inc. column is publicity, not PR. Our industry has a HUGE perception issue and you’re a big gun writing for a huge publication. You have the opportunity to turn the conversation from publicity to communication. I know plenty of senior leaders at businesses of all sizes who need to understand what PR really can do…and it’s not just media relations.
    Sure, you weren’t addressing other PR and marketing folks via your Inc. column and I am addressing (for the most part) that audience via Spin Sucks. But the point doesn’t change, no matter the audience. PR is not publicity.