Meeja: February 2009 Archives

The deadline question

10 February 2009

I guess this was inevitable:


Earlier today, Charles Arthur at The Guardian wrote a pair of tweets about the deadline question that now seems to be part of the standard issue PR script and why it's not a good idea. I can't remember when this practice started but it never used to happen. Gradually, more and more PRs have taken to kicking off a call with the question: "Are you on deadline?"

Now, I know what you're thinking: what's wrong with that? And, according to the quickie survey put up by Dan Leach, only about half the journalists who voted, so far, thought it is. Personally, I'm in the "you've got something to sell, just get on with it" camp.

Consider these points. Number one: someone answered the phone; it didn't go to voicemail. It means one of two things. Either there is some time to hear about something interesting (I can dream, can't I?). Or you are not the person who was meant to be on the other end of the phone and you are now blocking the Very Important Contact from getting through. Deadlines? Shmeadlines. But, don't worry about it. If I need you to get off the line or hurry up, you are going to know about it. This is not a problem, but asking whether I'm on deadline isn't going to make a whole heap of difference other than lengthen what is already an interruption.

Number two: is this call really necessary? If it's that important to get an instant response, what difference does a deadline make? A story is a story and may trump whatever is sitting in the word processor right now (again, I can dream, can't I?). And if the response is not needed immediately, why not try email or a tweet? Asynchronous communication works. If you don't get a reply, it wasn't going to fly in the first place.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I reckon I'm about five times more likely to say no on the phone than having had a chance to look at something written down. If something is borderline but looks as though it might fly, email is going to work a lot better. And, you get a response you can show the client (after a bit of sanitising).

By the way, there won't be a prize for the first person to ask: "Is it OK to ask you if you are on deadline?"

On the eve of Facebook's fifth birthday, it must have sounded like a great slogan: "All media is social and all social is media". This nugget, will apparently turn up in an Edelman white paper but was trailed on Steve Rubel's blog yesterday.

Other than the fact that the phrase is nonsense - noun meet adjective, adjective meet noun - only one half of Steve Rubel's assertion is even vaguely true. "Media is social": I can buy that, although if you talk about media consumption, then it's still possible to make distinctions between what is social - things that people remark to each other on - and stuff they just consume. But so much of what makes a story, video or podcast successful lies in the social web that forms around it. Rubel argues:

"We've seen time and again that social networks like Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter are now essential sources of news and information for millions. This is particularly true around big events and breaking news.

The upshot is that today it's impossible to draw a line between social media and traditional media - it's all one.

When we get to the other half of Rubel's assertion, it all goes pear-shaped. "Social is media"? George Orwell would have loved that one. Social what? Social interaction? It's a classic ploy from the school of rhetoric. To make sense of the phrase, you have to make an assumption, which allows the creator of the phrase to turn round and claim: "You are Teh Stupid. You have misunderstood me."

Whatever it's really meant to say, the phrase underlines the continuing assumption among marketing types that no part of life is free from the promotional campaign. Weddings are social events but nobody expects the visitors to start recommending brands of nappy. Amway, Herbalife and Tupperware - they all tried the social sell but few have been willing to emulate them. They function more as reminders of how the introduction of commerce into social circles can disrupt how people view each other.

It's interesting how social marketers rarely refer to these pre-Web 2.0 word-of-mouth marketing schemes. Facebook's Beacon didn't learn these lessons. There would always be people who would happily sign up to it because they were fans of brands, of films, of products. But the majority were always going to be uncomfortable with the idea of being used as advocates for brands.

Even within a social network such as Twitter, there are fine distinctions between what people treat as personal and what might legitimately be seen as media. But there are no codes to separate these messages, just the context in which they appear. Social-media marketers will continue to step into bear traps until they lose their obsession with media and begin to comprehend the fine separation between public faces and their closer relationships.