When Did Professionalism Go Out The Window?

March 2nd, 2011 | Guest Contributor | 45 Comments

YOU ARE A DOUCHEBAG Pictures, Images and PhotosGuest post by Gini Dietrich

Last week, TechCrunch took a stab at PR professional Timothy Johnson.

Actually, a stab is putting it mildly.

They called him a PR disaster and printed his emails to Leena Rao, the “extremely sweet and mild-mannered colleague” of author Robin Wauters.

Before you jump to a conclusion, let’s examine this from both sides: the side of reporter and writer Leena, and the side of PR pro Timothy.

Leena’s side:

  • She responded to his email (which doesn’t always happen) with a note asking for more information to make it more a story.
  • She asked him to circle back when he had something more newsworthy.
  • TechCrunch was left out of the initial announcement of Timothy’s client because they don’t honor embargoes.
  • A competitor to Timothy’s client sells double virtual gifts in a day that his client does in a year.
  • He wrote things such as “Seriously?” and “Really? Wait for a product announcement? Is that a joke, Leena?” which are full of conflict and could make one defensive.

Timothy’s side:

  • He was honest and upfront about why TechCrunch wasn’t included in the initial news last fall.
  • He doesn’t bury the news and is brief and to the point.
  • Only his emails were included in the TechCrunch “story;” Leena’s were not (minus her initial response).
  • What kind of publication, public or private, goes around bad-mouthing the people who help them get their content?
  • Who goes around telling a PR pro’s client they should fire that person and not sound like a complete jerk by doing so?

When I first saw the story, I tweeted it with a “whoa.” Then, on Sunday, Jeremy Pepper, Shannon Paul, Mack Collier, and I debated its “merits” on Beth Harte’s Facebook wall.

(Ed: Jeremy’s last name has been updated from its earlier misspelling. Jeremy, my bad for not catching the typo earlier. Sorry!!!)

I’m sure Timothy, Leena, and Robin are all very nice people.

That’s not the debate here.

The debate is:

a) whether or not a PR professional should ever write such an email to a reporter or blogger (if there are questions about the decision, a phone call ALWAYS works better), and

b) whether or not a publication or blog should print an email exchange and suggest the PR pro be fired.

My reaction?

They’re both in the wrong.

Timothy should never have written such a conflict-filled, defensive response. And TechCrunch should never have published it.

What do you think?

Image: ctXcore203 via Photobucket

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., and the author of Spin Sucks, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog. She also can be found writing at Crain’s Chicago BusinessAllBusiness, and Franchise Times.

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42 comments
cparente
cparente

Hi Shonali. Here's my take: http://cparente.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/fairness-doctrine-a-case-of-bad-pr/

Did the punishment fit the crime -- No. I certainly can empathize with frustration regarding the media -- when all else fails I've written posts about how don't respond or get stories way wrong. You can see from links in my post if interested.

But this guy got a response -- not the one he wanted, but polite and to the point. Then he got sarcastic and argumentative. It's not personal, you're supposed to be doing a job. On the other side, interesting too how the big majority of comments to the story were critical of TC, not Johnson.

jspepper
jspepper

I'm a bit in shock over this post on so many levels:

A) First, is contributing to the Google results of Tim's name professional? Why link to the article (especially linked to his name)? Was there really any value with that - or how about linking to his LinkedIn profile instead, to promote the good parts of Tim?

B) Did you interview either subject? Did you try to speak with Robin, Leena or Tim to get their side of the story or their POV? Or is this just all conjecture from a one-sided part of the story? You didn't even link or talk about his response to the post (via a comment).

C) It's Pepper, not Peppers. That's 30 seconds of research or careful writing that was ignored. Seriously, fire the copy editor.

GautamMahtani
GautamMahtani

I've had my share of rants with the media. But only if I know them well enough on a personal level. Else I'm formal. Again it depends on the kind of rapport both shared. No matter what it was wrong on Leena's part to go public with internal/confidential mails. What was TC's objective? get more eyeballs? Think it served the purpose then.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

The more I see stories and posts like this, the more I am convinced that the "media" (and that includes blogs) know that bashing PR is a great way to get clicks and views. I'm guilty of a rant now and then, but I don't think I make a habit of it... if I do, I'll have to stop. We could probably all fill a book with the bad pitches/unprofessional behavior we've experienced... but really, at what point does it make anything better?

TeresaBasich
TeresaBasich

To me, this entire situation came off as one of ego vs. professionalism, and ego won on both sides. I completely agree with you, Gini, that both TC and Tim were in the wrong. No situation, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, calls for the unprofessionalism that passed between these two sides. Bottom line, people deserve to be respected and respect each other in all communications, and this was a screaming example of disrespect by both parties.

tressalynne
tressalynne

I read that story and purposely did NOT re-tweet or mention it as I thought TC was being a "bully" by making an entire post out of the situation. I also didn't like that it seemed to be leaning to one-side. Thank you for doing a "fair" posting of the situation, Shonali!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I've come so close to using that graphic, HEH! Conducting oneself in a rude, unprofessional manner in the first place, then airing that dirty laundry in public just compounds the whole matter. There's plenty of FAIL to go around here. FWIW.

kirstenwright
kirstenwright

The graphic alone makes this blog post :)

I agree 100% that this was handled in a completely inappropriate manner, and it just makes everyone involved look bad. Hopefully someone will figure out how to be an adult and get it sorted...but it's unlikely!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

TechCrunch who's founder has a cry baby attitude about everything, is very vengeful and spiteful in general when his feelings get hurt, obviously has taken on his persona company wide. Which is really sad because they have a better grade of reporting than say mashable who isn't spiteful or vengeful, they are just plain inept. So I myself won't read either based on ethical, moral, honorable, and inexact principals. Can't wait to see how the Huff Post thing works out 8)

I agree there should of been a phone call which probably would of been recorded and put up on TC as an mp3 of the call. I probably would of weighed the cost of action vs the cost of inaction. Though I am pretty clueless on the Embargo issue because I saw nothing about Cuba in the write up.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Argh; this is exactly why PR gets a bad rap, Gini. You know very well it does not apply to all of us; but when national media (the likes of New York Times, TechCrunch et al) engage in the rants by restaurateurs and others, we all take the fall.

While I can't speak to the maturity of the PR people behaving this way; I'd hasten a guess this is a perfect case of a junior person going off half-cocked in a defensive posture. No way to treat media EVER, and the media (traditional or social) are also at fault.

Seems more folks are inclined to air dirty, dirty laundry AT someone and this platform makes it ever easier to do so. Makes your job never ending, eh? Spin Sucks.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@cparente In terms of the comments being more critical of TC than Johnson, it might be because of what you say - that the punishment didn't fit the crime. @ginidietrich What do you think?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@jspepper Hey Jeremy! My apology for getting your name wrong. That's totally my fault. I guess we'll fire the writer and copy editor (psssst Shonali - will you update it?).

I know you're friends with Tim and have access to a part of this story the rest of us don't have and I appreciate your defending him.

The point was not to come down on one side of the party; rather to look at how the things that we do all day, every day (email) can be misconstrued. I think TechCrunch is as much at fault here as anyone.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@GautamMahtani @ginidietrich I think something else at play is the inherent imbalance of power between media & PR pros. The media can bash all they want and usually get away with it, because they still hold the cards in terms of making editorial decisions. Many PR pros have terrible experiences with the media, but at least the discreet ones (and those who are keeping an eye on what is best in the long-term) won't say anything, because they could easily get put on a black list.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@GautamMahtani I saw your comments on Twitter first so sorry I'm late to this party! I suppose you're right...TC knows exactly what they're doing. Too bad they have to skewer a PR pro to get there.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@ginidietrich I know - isn't it sad? Unfortunately, I've heard too many stories of media folk being judged on the number of clicks, etc., that stories get. I'm not saying that this is TC's attitude or philosophy, but really, when we look around us, we're constantly bombarded with blog posts & "how tos" on getting more traffic, more comments, more visitors, more this, more that. I find it really disheartening that quality runs the risk of being thrown out the window at the risk of quantity.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@Shonali It's really disappointing to me that people are that conniving. Of course, you're probably right, but I like to live in my naive world where it's all gumdrops and rainbows and people like one another.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ginidietrich Gave Despair calendars for Christmas, love snarky someecards, would probably love your culture. ;-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@3HatsComm Isn't that graphic awesome?! I have it on my wall here. Such a good culture I'm building. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Unfortunately the PR pro is VERY experienced. It's like you or me behaving in this manner. It's really too bad he didn't show a little more decorum and that TechCrunch decided to take it out on him in such a public manner. Spin does, indeed, suck.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@ginidietrich @jspepper Updated! Sorry about that, JP, truly.

FWIW, I do think that Gini tried to give a really balanced view of this molehill... it's her assessment of what happened, and I think everyone's entitled to do that. No?

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Danny Brown @jspepper Heck, don't stop now, I'm enjoying this, LOL.

To Jeremy's point, though, I do think there is an extra dimension to offline that there isn't to online - that's just the nature of us all, isn't it? IMHO it's more about whether we're completely different online than we are offline.

I personally wouldn't have the energy to create a completely different persona online and maintain it for the long haul. But there are nuances offline that we won't see online... and by the same token, the relative "cloak" that online gives us could possibly give rise to slightly different behaviors than we might engage in offline... but, IMHO (again), nothing that would make us be drastically different than we "actually" are.

jspepper
jspepper

@Danny Brown Agreed on taking enough of the space here on a tangent.

The point on the narrowness - yes, I'm the same offline and online, but that's also just a small narrow part of my life. And the "relationship" - I think this is only the second or third time we've interacted.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@jspepper Obviously I can only go on online interactions, Jeremy, since that's our "relationship". I always give people benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

But if you're the same offline as you are online, then I'm not seeing the narrowness? Anyhoo, I'm pretty sure we've taken enough time on @Shonali 's blog, and gone off-topic. And I'm sure we can both agree that's not proper etiquette.

jspepper
jspepper

@Danny Brown Actually no, I'm not. And it's one of the things that people like about me - what you see is what you get - to the point that a bunch of people I respect and care about have a conversation about that being one of my good qualities (that and being a good friend who is there when you need him).

But this is also about 10% of me, if that. If you think you can get a read on someone from what you see online, that's a narrow view of people.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@jspepper So... @ginidietrich has already addressed the linking point.

In terms of taking it a step further and getting a comment - there's absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. It's just that Gini didn't choose to go that route, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

I will say that yes, we *are* PR people who should think like journalists... but more than that, we're PR people who should be thinking like strategists.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@jspepper @Shonali I'll be honest - I'm not an SEO whiz. I linked to those pieces because they were the background I wanted people to read. I didn't think about how it affect the Google juicing on his name. Your points are very well taken and I won't make that same mistake again.

jspepper
jspepper

@Shonali @ginidietrich You're both missing the first point: if you're going to talk professionalism or professional courtesy, is linking Tim's name to the article the right thing to do? It seems counter-intuitive and just helping out Techcrunch. Other articles/blog posts refused to link to the article so it didn't get more SEO/Google Juicing on Tim's name.

Yes, it was a balanced view on the wrongs and rights of both sides. What's wrong with taking it a step further and getting a comment from all the parties involved? We're PR people who should be thinking like journalists.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Spin Sucks; Gini Dietrich does a fantastic job in support of the profession, via Shonali Burke at Waxing Unlyrical where she recently covered the TechCrunch whine at a PR pro. She revisits the same topic a bit [...]

  2. [...] idea based on the highly emotional blogs I’ve been reading about the Hamptons restaurateur, the TechCrunch debacle via Shonali Burke’s blog Waxing Unlyrical, and numerous other rants against me and my [...]

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