Why Books with “New Media” in the Title Should No Longer be Actual Books

Posted by on October 5th, 2012

A Book Review for: Rethinking Reputation – How PR Trumps Marketing and Advertising in the New Media World by Fraser P. Seitel and John Doorley

The book starts out with a story about the “Father of PR.” If you are thinking PT Barnum, you would be wrong.  It’s MOSES! No doubt a great communicator – I mean how do you THINK he was able to free the Hebrew slaves from the Egyptians before the age of PRNewswire?  (Actually he farmed it out to his older, more well-spoken brother Aaron). But this is about new media – right?

The authors are two universally recognized stalwarts of the industry and their advice for more traditional PR is sound, yet I’m not sure I agree with all that they say.  For instance, they warn against the evils of Twitter and extol the virtues of ExxonMobile’s blog.

Let me start with Twitter.  They warn vehemently against CEOs and public figures tweeting. The example they use in the book is Anthony Weiner in a witty little section called “Weiner’s Weiner Cost Him a Seat”.  And the main takeaway was: “Don’t Tweet.”

Don’t blame Twitter (i.e. the messenger) gentleman! Or at least be more specific in your advice (i.e. if you are a public figure, don’t tweet photos of your genitalia).

If the CEO is the face of the brand and they LIKE Twitter, why not let them tweet? I understand this means giving up some element of control, but we do that the second they open their mouths and speak with the media. Yes tweets do go wrong, but a steadfast rule against tweeting is not always wise. In fact, I would argue that brand capital gets left on the table when you are too restrictive with CEOs and how they can and can’t communicate. Many CEOs exhibit a level of authenticity that no one else in the company can deliver to the public.

Now, on to ExxonMobile’s blog and how they used it to “recapture credibility.” I know, I know, it’s too easy to pick on oil companies… but I’m going to do it anyway.  ExxonMobile is a better version of the company that crashed the Exxon Valdez in the Prince William Sound in Alaska, sort of. They’ve poured a ton of time, money and human capital into shifting public sentiment, but calling it a company where “straight talk [has] become the essence of ExxonMobile’s corporate communications DNA” is a bitter pill to swallow.  They authors continue, “the true test of a corporate reputation is whether the company is perceived by its publics the same way it perceives itself… ExxonMobile’s perceptual desire is clear.” Well, the company had better blog some more because other’s have a different view of its less than stellar reputation.

In summary, the book was a decent refresher course in the basic, old fashioned tenants of public relations with some interesting case studies. I loved reading about the young, scrappy entrepreneurs from CitySlips and the hard scrabbled tycoon T. Boone Pickens, but the discussion of new media is questionable. Ultimately, this book’s discussion of how real people effectively use their powers of communication to become successful members of society is a great way to remind readers why they went into PR.