Claire Cain Miller wrote an article in the New York Times yesterday, discussing PR in Silicon Valley. Michael Arrington reads this article, and writes a rebuttal of sorts on TechCrunch with a nice title: The Reality of PR: Smile, Dial, Name Drop, Pray. He’s taking issue not with the article itself, but with tech investor Roger McNamee’s reaction to the mention of TechCrunch, All Things Digital, and GigaOM, when he says: “Why shouldn’t we avoid them? They’re cynical. . . . That’s where I would be most uncomfortable. They don’t know the difference between ‘they’re’ and ‘there.'” Brooke Hammerling’s reaction to this statement, which Arrington also takes issue with, is: “I love you for that. . . . I’ll leave the tech blogs out. Let them come to me.”
Now, Arrington’s entire article then points out how the startup in question didn’t try to get coverage on TechCrunch, didn’t get coverage on TechCrunch, and is now flatlining, and this is compared to another similar site that did get TechCrunch coverage. The article is basically a “shame on you PR people for even thinking of not using TechCrunch” and it’s a commercial for TechCrunch itself. All this is fine and good, and I have no problem with any of it.
However, 99% of companies will never get coverage on TechCrunch. If you are a company that is competitive with one of TechCrunch’s favorite companies and no one else is talking about you, you are almost guaranteed to never be mentioned on TechCrunch. Now, if you’re being talked about elsewhere and you have a good product that is gaining traction already, you will be covered, because you have to be covered. I’m just pointing out that even if you have a better product, you won’t make TechCrunch when you’re in competition with one of TechCrunch’s favorites unless other people already know you are better or are actively talking about you being better. This is natural for TechCrunch, being an opinionated blog that writes about companies Michael Arrington invests in (and fully discloses his relationship with), and which can only cover so many stories per day to hit an ideal flow that doesn’t overwhelm its staff or its readership. Again, I’m not passing any judgments here or trying to call TechCrunch out for this, as some people have in the past, I’m just stating the facts that you need to be aware of if you are trying to get TechCrunch coverage. You should take the shot to pitch to them, regardless of any of this. This may simply help you fine-tune when is the best time to pitch to them.
Now, back to the New York Times article and McNamee’s statement. While I can understand him saying this about TechCrunch, I find it hard to believe that his statement was really said in response to mention of GigaOm and All Things Digital. All Things Digital is not some upstart cynical blog floating out independently on its own, but rather it’s part of the Wall Street Journal’s digital empire, so this smacks of some New York Times editorial positioning of a quotation implying that something associated with the WSJ doesn’t know the difference between “they’re” and “there” (not to mention “their”). Also, Om Malik, as Scoble points out, is not at all cynical, and although GigaOm is definitely a blog, it has its roots, as does Malik, in journalism. Also, the New York Times wants PR agencies to trust the New York Times, over these “cynical” other publications that McNamee (or perhaps more correctly—we can’t be sure—the placement of McNamee’s quotation) implies don’t comprehend basic grammar and therefore shouldn’t be relied upon. The New York Times, although not as directly as TechCrunch, is highlighting throughout this article that it is a trusted publication that you should read and subscribe to and which companies should want to be written about in.
Scoble jumps into this conversation as well, because Scoble, like Arrington and TechCrunch, is an excellent (as opposed to subtle and ineffectual, like the New York Times) self-promoter and good at targeting discussions that imply that his services or the services of people like him are not necessary for the attention of PR agencies. Just as Arrington’s article is more about TechCrunch than about the New York Times article (which goes on for several pages to discuss much more than this early quotation from McNamee), Scoble’s post about the New York Times article and Arrington’s response is at its core more about Scoble and his history and relationship with PR than anything else. It also spends some time focusing on him and his latest project, Building43 (which I’ve written about before), as part of the solution to the PR problem or perhaps an alternative to dealing with traditional PR. Notice the title of Scoble’s blog post, Tech execs: how to reach “normal” users with PR and with TechCrunch/GigaOm et al, is clearly addressed to the audience Scoble most wants to engage with in his current endeavors: Executives at Tech companies.
Again, I think this is great, I’m not passing any judgments here, I’m just underlining and pointing out what these articles are really about: self-interest, self-growth, self-PR, and self-preservation. I think this is recursively funny given that the initial article itself is about PR. The subject and point about all three of these articles become a form of PR in and of themselves in the act of writing about PR, just as has my own post here, which shows you that I have a good eye for all the writing between the lines. Maybe.
More discussion of all of this can be read over at TechMeme where this is the #1 story right now, because it’s a slow post 4th Sunday morning (and TechMeme and TechCrunch have always been each other’s best PR ;-) and The New York Times article mentions TechMeme positively as an influencer to reporters).
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