Ketchum’s blogging practice story strikes back

Update (July 13): You can read Adam Brown’s comments here.

Boy oh boy, this Ketchum thing starts to look like neverending story.

PRWeek.com has a Q&A with Adam Brown, director of eKetchum, on the Ketchum’s recent launch of its Personalized Media practice and the PR bloggers’ criticism about it. (I’ll recommend you to read the entire article; in this posting I’ll quote just a couple of paragraphs.)

The article starts:

“Ketchum recently announced its Ketchum Personalized Media (KPM) practice, which focuses on blogs and the online communications environment.

But the announcement was met with criticism from PR bloggers, who noted the irony that an agency selling this service did not have a blog of its own. Adam Brown, director of eKetchum and global product manager of blogs and search engine optimization (SEO) for KPM, soon took to those blogs to address the criticism.”

“Soon”? Nine (9) freakin’ days passed between the first blog criticism of Ketchum’s way of handling the launch and Mr. Brown’s attempt to respond to critics. Nine days is a long time for responding even by the standards of mainstream media; in the blogosphere it’s an awful long time.

Mr. Brown says that many PR bloggers have welcomed Ketchum to the blogosphere. Really? The only PR blogger posting a neutral/positive entry about Ketchum’s new service was Steve Rubel. But here’s a page listing 22 posting from 17 different weblogs – and none of them is positive. Am I missing something?

Mr. Brown also says that he commented about the PKM brouhaha on my blog, thenewPR.com, and “on a couple of others“.

I revisited yesterday all the PR blogs that have posted comments about Ketchum’s launch of KPM, and I didn’t find any comment signed by Mr. Brown. Also, my blog’s URL is blog.basturea.com; thenewpr.com is my wiki. (The URL confusion has been corrected in the article.)

Mr Brown says that “we [Ketchum] made a decision when we launched KPM to not have a blog, but to utilize the other online outlets [we have in place] to communicate.”

Let’s see how effective was Ketchum in using its other online outlets to communicate the launching of KPM:

  • Ketchum.com has posted on the homepage a link to a press release containing no specific URL for information on the new service; a URL was added a couple of days after the launch.
  • KetchumPerspectives.com has no article whatsoever about the new practice.
  • eKetchum.com‘s news page features a press release from May 2002, announcing the new (back then) eKetchum’s website. No information about the new practice.
  • KetchumIdeas.com is a website that has published, for the whole month of June, daily postings on topics like blogs, RSS, podcasting, mobile marketing and SEO — the domains handled by the new Personalized Media practice. Its launch wasn’t announced on Ketchum’s website (and I wasn’t able to find any press release about it). A couple of days after Neville Hobson “outed” the website and after criticism from some bloggers, Ketchum added a note to it, explaining that the website is a “service of Ketchum Midwest’s corporate practice” aiming to introduce “organizations to a month of insights about the growing roster of emerging media tools – from Web logs, or blogs, and podcasts to mobile marketing and Search Engine Optimization.” Later, Mr. Brown admonished bloggers for writing that the website was a poorly implemented weblog.

Let’s see: 4 websites, an incomplete press release, no information, no news since 2002, and a blog-like website not connected with the new practice, although it tries to exemplify it. It seems to me that Ketchum failed to utilize its online outlets to communicate the launch of the new service.

Mr. Brown thinks that the bloggers were critical because Ketchum didn’t have a blog. True. There are many ways that can be used by a firm to show its expertise in blogging. The fact that Ketchum doesn’t have any senior executive who’s blogging (like Edelman), doesn’t have a blogging community (like Hill & Knowlton) or success stories about launching blogs (like Hass MS&L, Voce Communications, or CooperKatz) made the absence of a corporate weblog even more conspicuous. In the absence of any proof of familiarity with blogging, you have to ask yourself on what, exactly, is based Ketchum’s claimed expertise in “personalized media”?

Mr. Brown shares the motives for not having a blog when Ketchum launched its new practice:

Q: Do you feel that overall PR firms need to have a blog to understand the environment?

A: I think that if they’re going to do a blog, they need to do it for the right reason. Right now, in the PR blogosphere, you’re seeing that a lot of bloggers – even prominent ones – are doing it for self-promotion. I don’t know if a blog is the appropriate place to do that. A blog is about a dialogue or conversation. Certainly, when you develop a blog, you can do whatever you want with it. But when you plan it, you don’t want to have to change horses mid-stream. We wanted to make sure we’re comfortable with our policy before we launched any kind of Ketchum blog initiative.

Say what?

So, first, Ketchum doesn’t want to launch a blog because it doesn’t want to use it for engaging in self-promotion? Right – that’s really credible coming from a PR firm. And how others’ use of blogging for self-promotion is preventing Ketchum to use it for “the right thing”, anyway?

Second, Ketchum doesn’t want a weblog because blogs are about dialogue and conversation. Translation: “we don’t want to/ don’t know how to/ are afraid of/ are not ready to engage in a dialogue“. So how in the world are you hoping to persuade your clients to pay you for advising them about entering the blogosphere?

Third, they didn’t figure out for themselves the ins and outs of this corporate blogging thing. Glad we cleared that up. (And I love the “don’t change horses mid-stream” bit; remember the President’s re-election campaign ad from “Wag the dog“?)

Reading the (e-mail?) interview, one might get the idea that the only criticism toward Ketchum’s launching of KPM was that it didn’t have a blog. But there’s more than that.

Ketchum failed to understand how to step in the blogosphere, although it’s selling its expertize in advising other on how to do it. It failed to put together a coherent plan and to implement it, although it had all the right elements for a successful launch. Ketchum launched quietly a website for demonstrating its expertize in weblogs, RSS, and podcasting, but failed to use it properly by ignoring each and every of the features that are making these tools valuable. Ketchum failed to understand bloggers’ expectations and to address them. It failed to respond swiftly to criticism. It failed to communicate in real time. When it decided to respond, it underminded its own credibility by failing to acknowledge any mistake, and by coming with “dog ate my homework“-type of excuses for the long silence.

It’s great that Mr. Brown is blogging since 2002; it’s great that his colleagues are blogging. But so far their understanding of weblogs and blog relations can’t be detected anywhere in Ketchum’s practice.

Mr. Brown is right: there’s no point in launching a blog just for the sake of having one. But Ketchum needed one as a symbolic gesture, as a way of saying “yeah, we’re taking the plunge, damn it!“, as a way of leaving Fort Business and entering the blogosphere’s all man’s land.

If you want to participate in conversations, it’s not enough to issue press releases and to comment, now and then, on someone’s blog. You need a “front porch“:

You don’t have to turn every reader in to a dyed in the wool customer, but you turn them in to some one who is willing to consider your company when they go to spend their hard earned money. You build loyalty, and you show that you do care about the feedback you get. Blogging is like sitting on your front porch and waving to your neighbors as they walk by. You don’t have to have a great dialog with each of them, but they will remember who you are and think of you when they need something, or be there to help out when they can.

I’m looking forward to welcome you in the neighborhood, Mr. Brown.

Hat tip: Keith O’Brien from PRWeek.com, for sending me the link to the article.

31 Comments

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  3. Right on! Good investigative work and analysis. Kethum’s story is convoluted and unbelievable. They come off like lumbering PR people trying to capitalize on a trend without understanding it or being involved in it. I am convinced that online communication will alter the practices of PR. Old ways die hard.

  4. Well, I also interviewed Adam for my blog, and it should be up in the next few weeks. Hopefully, you’ll find more information with my probing questions – or not.

  5. Jeremy, I’m looking forward to read your interview. Until then, I’ll be interested to know your opinion about what Mr. Brown said in PRWeek’s Q&A.

  6. I read the Q&A in PR Week and Adam Brown comports himself like a professional who is on message and knows his business. I don’t agree with his rationale for Ketchum not having a blog and if they have some valuable insight into the blogosphere they are not sharing it. They did not handle their public entry into the market very well and they should admit it. It is better PR, and human relations, to admit the mistake and make amends than to flick off criticism like it is some nuisance from a few dissidents. I guess that there is a self-policing watchdog mentality rising in the PR business. Agencies and their practices are being scrutinized like never before.

  7. Well, first instinct was “damn, I wanted to publish the first interview.” Yep, I wanted to break the story, it’s the small amount of journalist blood in my system.

    He does have some canned answers in that interview, and he did open up a little bit more with me – heck, I’m a fellow blogger – but you’ll have to judge it for yourself.

  8. I’m looking forward to all of you reading Jeremy’s upcoming interview that he did with me last week. I think that the questions that Jeremy asked relate to many of the comment threads here.

    Rather than “trump” Jeremy’s interview, I’m going to hold off talking about some of your points until that is published.

    Constantin, you’ve made some good points. So have John Wagner, Mark Rose and Neville Hobson. I don’t necessarily agree with some of them, and I don’t have to. That’s why we’re here in the blogosphere – having a DIALOGUE rather than reading the MONOLOGUE that has been the Internet up to this point. (Granted, newsgroups, email, chat and message boards enable dialogue, but not in the way or form that we’re seeing here in the blogosphere.) While we may agree to disagree on some things (and in PR, we all have opinions), I think we all benefit from the discussion.

    Looking forward to chatting more after Jeremy’s piece goes live.

    Thanks,

    Adam

  9. Okay, first, and I mention it only because you have brought this up in all of the recent interviews and in-defense-of-ketchum comments, having your “blog up for four years” does not equal blogging. You’ve been blogging for a year and a half, Adam. Your archives show this. eKetchum, or at least Ketchum, has been largely uninterested in the space, medium, channel, movement or whatever you would like to call it until now because clients didn’t have blogging “on their to-do lists” until recently.

    And that would be okay, if only you guys could admit it and stop spinning.

    In previous comments I asked some questions about who is blogging at Ketchum–would it hurt to point some ketchum bloggers out? They don’t have to be blogging about PR. Look at Sun. In fact, maybe it would be best if they weren’t blogging about PR.

    Whoever these mysterious people you keep referring to are, they will be far more effective bottom-up liasons than a department head can ever be. That’s just the way it works here. So start by putting them on your blogroll or maybe listing them here. KETCHUM does not need to blog. Ketchum’s people should be blogging. And if they are, as you continue to say they are, then stop referring to them and start linking to them. Start wth your own blogroll.

    I’m saying what I’ve been saying about Ketchum on my own blog since we parted ways–get out of the way of your people.

  10. Jeneane:

    Did you mean cootie (a body louse)?

    Seriously, there may be a larger issue here. We seem to be in an era where the operating procedure is never admit fault, never admit you made a mistake, always “control” the message and marginalize any opposition. Maybe this is how Kethum counsels their clients and they are simply following their own philosophical dictates.

    This attitude is opposed to the transparency and honesty that is demanded of the blogosphere. Adam Brown gave an interview that we are waiting to see and we can react to that interview. Judging his previous inteview with Constantin he is adept at the form and we are then left to argue among ourselves about the content. It’s like a government official going on a Sunday talk show and calling that dialogue.

    I think that this is going to be a stalemate – two opposing views of communication and “dialogue.” Kethum is actually prolonging this debate and harming their reputation by adopting this stance and showing us that they really do not understand this new communication method. But maybe they feel that these fringe PR bloggers have no clout and nobody is listening. They may be right. We’ll see.

  11. Correction and addendum:

    I referred to an interview between Constantin and Adam Brown of Ketchum. Constantin was actually commenting on an interview Brown gave to PR Week.

    You can hear Adam Brown discuss Ketchum’s “blog offering” and Search Engine Optimization service on the Ketchum web site. He basically says that blogs are important so they must be monitored. So maybe Kethum wants to be the fly on the blog rather than use blogs to communicate with an audience. Who knows.
    http://www.ketchum.com/DisplayWebPage/0%2C1943%2C3258%2C00.html

  12. I haven’t commented on this issue before, but I find it interesting that Mr. Brown doesn’t feel he should answer questions until Jeremy P’s interview, which Jeremy says should be posted within a few weeks.

    That tends to reinforce the criticisms that Ketchum is hiding, refusing to engage in “real time” discusssion, and generally acting like it can conduct damage control in some other speres, while pretending it doesn’t have a problem in the blogosphere.

  13. No Eric,

    As a fellow professional in Public Relations, you should know that it’s not polite to “upstage” an interviewer (or member of the media). An interviewer and fellow blogger (Jeremy Pepper) took the time to interview me, and he is working on crafting his story, which should be up very soon.

    If after you read Jeremy’s interview you have additional questions, you certainly have the opportunity to ask them.

    Adam Brown

  14. It’s always been a dialogue – regardless of the medium – except that prior to the Internet, many manipulative communicators had chosen not to listen, assuming they could control the public’s perceptions. I can’t wait to read Jeremy’s interview because, honestly, I know that there are still many so-called “thought leaders” within the PR industry who would still rather believe that they are the ones who steer and manage the discussion when, in reality, they’re just plagiarizing the work of others and dishonestly confusing the truth…

  15. Really … we have this build-up to this interview. It’s not quite Lindsay Lohan on BaBaWaWa but sheeesh it’s beginning to feel like PR. Jeremy, what can he possibly say that we haven’t heard before or that will assuage our doubts. Give us a few highlights … you know, the teaser.

  16. Jeremy, how about posting the interview, like, tomorrow (i.e. Monday, July 13) ? :) Why wait for another few weeks, if the interview it’s already done, and its content is relevant for a discussion happening right now?

  17. Geez, people, people. I only post the interviews on Tuesdays, the PR Face2Face days. I have to have a schedule, like a magazine.

    Tomorrow, I decided to mock corporate blogs instead.

  18. Jeremy: You choose to have a schedule like a magazine. You don’t exactly have to. If you decide to break your schedule, you might preface the post with something like this: “Because you can hear a pin drop in the blogworld tonight as PR folks salivate over the much anticipated interview with eKetchum’s eAdam Brown, I have decided to deviate from my usual eSchedule of PR Face2Face posts, and put this one up a little e-early.”

    Cue cheers of, “Thanks Jeremy!”

  19. Oh, and I did choose Tuesday for a reason to post the PR Face2Face interviews. One, is so people know that is when I post them. And, two, not on Monday. I spoke to an editor at an online publication, and traffic is highest on Tuesday for them, not on Monday.

  20. eThanks to eJeremy for bending his eschedule for this much anticipated interview which I fear will be anti-climactic considering the banter that has preceeded it.

  21. Hey,

    This is great and what the blogosphere is all about. I try to sell social software and services to businesses as well as educate them on implementing it. Your post combined with all of the comments is an excellent case study that I hope my prospects will learn from.

    Thank you!

    Jim Wilde

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