Seeing the Unseen: A guide to understanding media

The Muppets only show us what's in the frame, but understanding their genius is seeing what otherwise goes unseen.

The Muppets only show us what’s in the frame, but understanding their genius means seeing what otherwise goes unseen.

When it comes to media, what we don’t see matters as much as what appears. Of course, how do you know what you don’t see?

Every journalist leaves some great quotes and details behind in order to create a good story. It doesn’t mean they leave out relevant facts, it just means they need to cut in order to clarify. Plus, they rarely tell you the origin of a story. Did it come from their own experience? Did a PR person pitch it? Was this an editor’s suggestion? Did they start reporting on something else and stumble across this gem?

This matters because it better helps us in PR learn how to bring journalists stories that matter to them. Just because someone writes a story about coffee doesn’t mean they’re interested in other coffee-related stories. How they came to write that article and what engaged them about that particular story is often more important than the subject. PR people often forget this and will begin emailing reporters with pitches that don’t match their area of expertise or passion.

The easiest place to understand this is in the world of photography. Today, people take pictures as a quick process in which we snap almost without thought. But true photography is something entirely different. During a recent interview, Photographer Tom Zimberoff brought that differentiation to light by pointing out “photographs, which are 2 dimensional objects which you can hold in your hand and admire with completely different aesthetic qualities than you see on a computer screen.” He also said that Instragram is to photography as texting is to prose.

For many photographers, however, the work has a huge editing component. They take an idea, snap the shutter, select only the images worth using, modify them in some way to better tell the story, then only show their best work. This is true whether you’re talking about carefully staged art photography or more journalistic “decisive moment” photography.

Ansel Adams wrote three seminal works that break the photographic process into distinct areas: The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. While the idea of a “negative” has been replaced with a digital file, the three-step execution remains. What you do with the camera is distinct from the images you capture that are distinct from the product finally produced. Of course, the modification can go too far, as it has recently in some journalistic circles.

One of the most amazing moments in my own photography education was viewing the contact sheets produced by Diane Arbus. I had been experimenting with a camera similar to hers and would have the occasional misfire or an out-of-focus shot. These frustrated me as I wanted every image to turn into gold. That is, until I saw her contact sheets and found the same errors. I learned that she would often spend a day or more shooting but only deemed a few images as worthy of printing.

One if Diane Arbus' most famous photographs.

One of Diane Arbus’ most famous photographs.

Among her more famous works is one of a set of twins, an image that inspired such iconic film moments as the twins in The Shining. The father of those twins once commented that he felt it was a lousy picture of his daughters. But that wasn’t Arbus’ point. She liked capturing something off in her images, which is why she loved photographing nudist colonies and what subjects who she termed “freaks.” To her, the twins were part of that narrative: the odd ends of society.

cutsheet

But if you look at her contact sheets you can almost see the “notes” she’s taking as she’s creating the narrative. She has a series of photographs with twins, all standing next to one another dressed alike (she came to a gathering of twins specifically to get two kids who looked alike). Each set of twins was photographed a number of times in different locations and focal lengths.

Then she took all these images, found the one that came closest to the story she wanted to tell, and that image went on to become famous. We have a better sense of what she was trying to say by looking at what she didn’t say.

The same goes for reporters. As PR people, we can learn a lot about a reporter by looking at their other stories, following their social presence, and even reading other quotes or articles written by the people who are interviewed. All that data begins to tell us what’s missing and can help us as we pitch reporters new stories.

By knowing what’s missing, we can know how to fill in blanks and better understand what’s valuable to different journalists.

Who’s to Blame When PR Practitioners Spam?

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 3.14.25 PMDavid Segal usually keeps his magnifying glass trained on big consumer brands, frauds, rip-offs, deceptive practices and other complaints from his readers. But two weeks ago, he turned his attention to a very different beast: PR spam.

The Haggler, it seems, had reason to complain himself: he was getting way too many unsolicited and grossly off-target email pitches. As he put it:

The odds of the Haggler writing about any of these topics could safely be described as nil. Yet some company hired a public relations firm to send the Haggler, and presumably countless other reporters, the same information. This seemed like a waste of energy and money, so the Haggler decided to find out what was behind this antiquated attempt to win media attention — who was paying for it, and why?

The Haggler started by emailing the P.R. reps whose names were attached to these emails, posing a simple question: Where did you get the Haggler’s address? One answer came up time and again: Vocus, a publicly traded company based in Beltsville, Md. Among its products is access to a database of reporters’ email addresses.

So the Haggler set out to get removed from these lists, curated by companies like Vocus, Cision, MyMediaInfo, Meltwater and the popular PR wire services. One less media contact in our databases, but hundreds fewer bits of email spam in his inbox. His gain, but our loss. My loss, to be exact. When other irresponsible PR practitioners make my life more difficult, I take it personally. Or, am I wrong? Perhaps it is his loss, and maybe not as much of a loss for us as I thought?

Does It Work?

The PR world wasted no time in commenting on this. While most trashed the practice of “shotgun PR,” at least one observer noted that [emphasis mine]

as a result of [the agency’s] scattershot, “let’s see what sticks” media outreach tactics, Soireehome [the company called out in The Haggler’s article] and its product received a mention in the New York Times. I’d be curious to see what Google could tell us about upticks in searches for that drinking glass. Something tells me volume is probably up. I admit it: As someone who likes his martinis bone cold, I thought about googling it myself!

While Eric Starkman, the author of those words, quickly goes on to distance himself from the practice, he in turn points to the reason why spray and pray PR might be more effective now than ever before:

Journalism’s “standard operating procedures” have plummeted to such a low level that increasingly what Mr. Segal decries as PR spam finds its way into the blogosphere and ultimately into mainstream newspapers. Gawker in its “PR Dummies” column once decried a PR firm for sending out a staged photo of an actress purchasing some orange juice, but the image – and the Gawker column – actually garnered some pick up…. Granted, not all the mentions were positive, but there is a school of thought (which I don’t subscribe to) that all PR is ultimately good PR. In the client’s eyes, the “buzz” could very well have been a perceived win. (For what it’s worth, I hadn’t heard of that brand of orange juice until I read about it on Gawker, but now I know it has 50 percent less calories than that company’s other orange juice products!)

Opt Out or Blacklist?

So what to do about this quandary?

When I read this story, I hearkened back to the last major flare-up around PR spam: the one that led LifeHacker‘s Gina Trapani to create and curate the PR Spammers Wiki. And my immediate thought was maybe we should reinstate the PR spammer blacklist. After all, surely it has to be better than the alternative — losing valuable contact information from good editorial contacts. But then I remember how relieved I was that my company wasn’t on the list of PR spammers, and how many good companies were on that list, usually because of one or two bad eggs out of dozens or hundreds of PR people and thousands of pitches.

So, torn and indecisive as I was, I tweeted my frustration:

Both Meltwater and Cision got back to me quickly. Perhaps it will be no surprise that I’m a customer of both.

Cision connected me with Heidi Sullivan, who in fact spent a good deal of time speaking with John Cass and Jason Falls back in 2008 when the first flare-up happened. I spent some time getting her perspective on the issue as it reemerges in 2013.

Accidentally on Purpose?

“We do still run into situations where people who are abusing our database,” Heidi said. “If they use our distribution service, we have limits in place to prevent abuse. If they export our data, we have to rely on abuse reports from journalists. Once we get these, we ask people to stop. If they don’t, we shut them off.”

Heidi is convinced that in most cases, it’s a matter of poor training, rather than deliberate abuse. “Spray and pray PR doesn’t work, and we spend a lot of time helping our PR clients better focus their pitches,” she told me. “More often than not, these abuses come from young, poorly-trained, well-intentioned PR practitioners under pressure to get more hits. Correct that and you fix most of the problem areas.”

Training is a big part of Heidi’s job at Cision. She organizes three to four webinars per month focused on topics like pitching the media, content marketing and other areas. The Cision Blog is another resource that offers tips on doing great PR.

Cision has also tweaked the tools and services it offers to help address this. I mentioned earlier the distribution limits it put in place. The product now offers an influencer search to find what journalists are tweeting about, so you can get much more specific with your searches.

Who Needs Who?

Let’s take a moment to explore why Cision and other media databases exist. Like media query services such as HARO and Profnet, they don’t just help the PR professionals; they also help the reporters out. While a reasonable case could be made that David Segal is an exception to this, since his sources are almost exclusively emails from concerned consumers, he is in the minority. Most journalists need PR people as much as PR people need journalists. Today, perhaps more than ever.

As an illustration of this fact, I asked Heidi how many journalists took up The Haggler’s mantle and removed themselves from Cision’s databases. The answer? “We had fewer than five removal requests after the Haggler’s article. We spoke with each of them, and ultimately removed fewer than half of them from our database. In fact, we got way more emails from conscientious clients than reporters.”

Oh, and yes, David Segal was among the one or two media contacts that the PR world lost. But was it much of a loss?

Skeptics or Believers?

David Segal is a skeptic not only of PR, but social media as well — I can’t find a Twitter handle for him or his pseudonym. In both social media and email, he appears to be among a dwindling number of professional journalists able to exist without these channels of communication.

Heidi gave me a preview of some research conducted by Cision on trends in journalists’ use of social media. The number of journalists who classify themselves as social media skeptics dropped from 31% in 2012 to 9% in 2013 according to the company’s soon-to-be-released survey data.

socialjournalism

What Next?

Back in 2008, Jason and John put the onus of responsibility on the media database companies, urging them to develop an industry protocol for gathering and managing contact information, tracking the history of contact changes, fact checking and permission seeking with each contact, the creation of a media hotline for each database company, and the creation of a “community taskforce to stop bad pitches.”

Progress has been made toward those goals, but more progress must be made. My final thoughts go to the parties involved:

To David Segal, I say: “While I think removing yourself from the list was an overreaction, it’s one I entirely understand. But every once in a while, a journalist is thankful for a PR person ignoring the ‘not a media contact’ warning that I think would have been a better solution for all.”

To the surprised CEO who had no idea what his agency was doing with the $1500 a month they were being paid, I say: “Sorry, but you get what you pay for. Spend more money on PR, but demand accountability from your (no doubt new) agency as a consequence, as David rightly suggests.”

To the agency involved in this, I say: “Sorry you lost that client. Train your younger associates better. Find better ways to measure your efforts than the number of pitches sent. And avoid phrases like ’email blast’ around the office.”

And to my fellow PR professionals, I say: “The biggest lessons here may be about setting expectations and learning to say no to smaller budgets. The sweet spot for effective and profitable PR will be different for every agency, but make sure you know what that number is and try not to go under it. Smaller budgets lead to lower margins and unhappy (and surprised) clients.”

5 Things I Learned at the PRSA International Conference

The LOVE sculpture courtesy daniel_in_pr on Instagram.

Putting a few hundred PR people into a room together is a scenario ripe for self-parody, but that’s the premise of the PRSA International conference.

PRSA’s work to advance the efforts of communicators is no joking matter, however. I came back from the Philadelphia conclave with a fist full of notes, a pocket full of business cards and a belly full of cheesesteak. Hey, it was in Philly! And I even found time to make a pre-dawn run up the “Rocky Steps.” And no, that wasn’t enough to burn off the overstuffed meat hoagie I downed in Reading Terminal Market.

But we digress.

The keynotes were all quite good. Brian Solis opened the event by talking about the changing world of PR and how PR must now help businesses communicate emotion, not just value. Later in the week Vernice “Flygirl” Armour gave a great, energetic speech that equated her experiences as a pioneering attack helicopter pilot to life and business lessons.

But for me, the most inspiring keynote of the event came from John Wood, founder of Room to Read. His passion for his work as well as his examples of how Room to Read takes many of the same concepts that drive communications programs and applies them to helping kids around the world to read made me tear up a bit. If you haven’t heard him speak, you should.

Still, this was a business conference and it would mean nothing if I didn’t come back with a series of lessons. After sitting through a number of panels and having a quite a few sidebar discussions, I’ve boiled my lessons down to five key takeaways.

Swag, swag and more swag! Courtesy Hiloprgal on Instagram.

  1. Media relations remains  alive and well — It’s very sexy to focus on content and social programs, and those all work very well. We do a lot of them here at HB Agency. Yet, traditional PR goals of getting “hits” from reporters remains alive and well.  MWW EVP of Digital Content Ephraim Cohen pointed out that news media, and the influencers-formerly-known-as-reporters who write and publish articles, drive a lot of social interaction. Nearly every story of social media success that people told at the event at some point included the line “this also received attention from the media.” In some cases the media acted as a validator, but in most it acted as a driver.
  2. The faces are the same, only the names have changedNewsjacking? A new(ish) word for a concept that is as old as PR itself. Outreach? Same as it ever was, but instead of relying on just phones (or faxes, or snail mail, or email) to build relationships, we use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anything else that opens a channel. Content Marketing? We used to call that custom publishing. Native Advertising? Hello advertorial, my old friend. I don’t want to dismiss this as “everything old is new again,” as there are subtle differences with each one of these now. For example, native advertising often includes a lot more editorial control on the part of the publisher than did advertorial. Still, conceptually, these things are very close.
  3. Measure PR against Business and Brand; Forget ROIJim Pierpoint, senior vice president at Bank of America gave perhaps the best presentation of the week. In it he demonstrated, quite specifically, how public relations and media relations can map directly to brand and business goals. He changed how we perceive some basic questions like rather than just looking at the placement, reach and tonality of a given piece of coverage, develop measurement to understand how the messages are perceived by the audience. Today’s tools make this much easier and cheaper than in the past. Not only did he talk extensively about K.D. Paine’s Outputs, Outtakes and Outcomes, he mapped those to  Functional, Tactical and Strategic measurement platforms. He painted such a beautiful canvas of what’s possible that every other measurement talk felt like I was watching them color with crayons.
  4. Real-time Reaction is important, Context is more so — To a consumer brand, an entire news cycle can last a matter of a few hours. The Oreo Super Bowl ad kept coming up as a great reaction in real time. But as one person pointed out: it’s still just an ad for a cookie. Inserting a company into any conversation matters only if that conversation helps build your brand and reaches the right audience. A lot of brands put out content surrounding the Royal Baby announcement just to be part of the buzz, but for many that branding didn’t matter. The same goes for content programs that focus on the wrong type of content. Brand relevance matters as much as anything else to ensure that the interest you generate, whether that’s site traffic, general awareness or product interest, is from the right audience.
  5. Content is Great, but How Will You Get People to Read It? — Hubspot has done a great job of promoting the idea of inbound marketing. They’re right, of course. If you create great, relevant content over time then people will find you. The challenge is that as more companies get into the content creation game noise levels rise, making it more difficult to find and reach the right audience. This isn’t anything new. A lot of us remember an age when the major networks dominated TV; today our personal video choices are seemingly endless. So today’s content challenge is one of distribution. How do you get content into the hands of the right people? Tactics like those listed above help, but the high level answers come back to a combination of paid, earned, shared and owned channels. What those channels are, how much they cost and measuring the effectiveness of each remains a key stumbling block, one I hope we will continue to explore at future PRSA events.

Overall, a very good event with plenty of meat, if you hit the right presentations. I heard great things about Jerry Berger’s presentation on managing a crisis based on one of the biggest events of the year: the Boston Marathon Bombings. Berger manages communications for Beth Israel Hospital, the place where many of the victims received treatment but also the place where the alleged bombers were taken with their wounds.

Though, as we were leaving the conference, one person pointed out what was lacking: writing advice. While people talked about what to do with content and gave general advice on how to create it, the main conference contained no writing workshops, video tutorials or photography sessions. Hands-on training during the event (as opposed to leading into it) would have been very helpful, especially to young professionals.

12 PR Tactics That Can Save You From Indescribable Horror

Scary PR TacticsWith Halloween 2013 behind us, there are still things out there haunting the PR halls.
Before you get tricked into thinking your PR tactics don’t need improvement, here are twelve simple things that can save you and the rest of us from the horrors of bad technique.

 

  1. Pick Up the Phone – As much as reporters are going to tell you to only connect with them via email, you still need to pick up the phone. It’s worth warning you that if you do decide to call, you better have a good reason. Note: Following up on an email you sent yesterday is not a good reason.
  2. Go Beyond Traditional Media Relations – With all of the social media tools out there, now’s your chance to get creative and have some fun with pitching.
  3. Review Your Entire Press Release Copy – It surprises me how many PR people do final read-throughs of their client’s press release and don’t read the entire thing. Yes, you need to read every single character on that page, from the contact information to the boilerplate. You never know what mistakes you will find.
  4. Check Your Links – If you are going to link to anything, whether it be in a press release, a pitch or a blog post, check your links. The last thing you want is to send an email to a client in the early afternoon and they get a glimpse into your lunch reading material.
  5. Use a Signature – You know what’s scary? When a client or reporter, or even your boss, has to dig through their inbox because you barely ever include your signature in emails. Use your signature. Every time.
  6. Don’t Wait Until the Witching Hour – Nowadays, the lead time for editorial calendar opportunities can be up to four or even five months in advance. If you wait until the month before you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
  7. It’s Not All About You – PR professionals need to be their own PR people. If you call a reporter, stop by your colleague’s desk, or even just try a quick IM to a client, remember that they are busy too. Before you start into your one-sided conversation (at least for that first minute anyway), remember that they may be in the middle of something. Simply asking, “Do you have a quick minute to chat?” goes a long way.
  8. Take Your Expert Pitch All The Way – If you’re taking the time to put your client out there to media as an expert, do yourself a favor and tweet about it. I’ve landed numerous inbound media inquiries just by doing this one simple thing.
  9. Remember That Not Every Awesome Article Is Awesome – It took weeks to land that feature article on your client and it finally hits the web. When you send it over to your client the worst thing you can do is to rave about it. You just never know whether there is a line in there that they might absolutely cringe over, or perhaps there’s a factual error that you didn’t notice. Send over articles in a neutral tone and let the client praise you. Then you can share in their excitement. If you don’t, you risk looking like you have no idea what your own client wants.
  10. Use the Right Medium to Communicate – When you send out an IM, email, telephone call, Facebook message, smoke signal; whatever it is I want you to think: What is the purpose of this message? What is the outcome I am looking for? When do I need a response? You just might realize you’re using the wrong medium and not achieving your goals.
  11. Search Is Your Best Friend – Before asking a client about the details of the new product release, their CTO’s bio, or whatever other information you need, for the love of all that is holy, search for it first. Search your emails, your shared files, the internet – doing a quick search keeps you from asking repetitiously and looking like you don’t have your PR act together.
  12. The Most Important Desktop File You Will Ever Use – I can’t stress this enough. You need to have a client contact sheet on your desktop. This is a document of all of your clients’ contact information; this includes cell phone numbers, emails, proper titles and office addresses. I usually have the C-level management and other day-to-day contacts on this sheet. Most of the time when I need to use that sheet, it’s for an urgent matter.

Give these a try and let me know how they work out for you. If you would like to add something to the list, drop a note in the comments. Together we can save ourselves from the horrors of bad PR tactics. For that I will be truly thankful. Happy November.

Finding True Clout

Austin’s skyline and some Counselors Academy folks on a sunset cruise.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA’s Counselors Academy event in Austin. Besides having a great time with other industry folks (including a sunset cruise on the last night to see Austin’s famous bats), this is one event that I try to make every year. It’s proven valuable in helping run Fresh Ground and getting a sense for where the PR industry is headed.

This year I also had a chance to speak, and I focused on understanding influence. The presentation below gives a sense of how we look at influencer relations. Also below is a short video in which I’m interviewed by Mike Bako about, among other things, videos. I should note that the videos we’re discussing in the interview are not the Vine and Instagram videos that many are talking about now, but the longer videos that populate YouTube and Vimeo.

PR Pitches Are Valuable Real Estate

In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. PR Knowledge

Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”

“I hope your day is going well.” – Let me tell you why that’s wrong.

The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.

Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.

The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.

So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?

I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”

While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”

Roberto

So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.

Oreo's Tasty #Dunkinthedark Tweet: Deeper than cream filling

Millions were spent on Super Bowl advertising and in reality, it all comes down to a Tweet. That’s how Kai Ryssdal portrayed the well-shared tweet from Oreo during the Super Bowl in which the cookie’s branding people jumped on the Superdome blackout, saying “you can dunk in the dark.”

But to call this simply a tweet misses the point. Around the same time, Audi tweeted that it was sending Mercedes Benz some LEDs, a reference to the battle of the lights between the two premium brands. Certainly both were good pieces of content on their own, but Oreo was retweeted nearly 16,000 times while Audi got about 9600. Then there is the follow-on publicity, in which Oreo came out the real winner.

[Read more…]

Press Releases Aren't Dead! But We Should Bury Some Myths

Just because we don't type on a typewriter, doesn't mean typing is dead. Photo from geoftheref on Flickr

Just because we don’t type on a typewriter, doesn’t mean typing is dead. Photo from geoftheref on Flickr

I’m tired of hearing that the press release is dead. Sure, it was a great meme in 2006 and it spawned great discussions about a social media release or the press release of the future, but those discussions are over and here’s the fact: press releases aren’t going anywhere. In reality, a release is just a way to distribute content. It’s part of the process, but not your ONLY process.

The problem lies not in how press releases are written or what they do, but in our perception of what they can accomplish.

When we talk with clients about their news we discuss “news flow” not “releases,” because news and information can take different forms. That doesn’t mean we reject all releases. They have a place, but we need to understand that place and how they help a broader influencer relations program.

Here are 5 myths about the lowly press release:

  1. Reporters clamor to read your latest release: Most people think “oh, I’ll just put a press release on “the wire” and reporters will beat a path to my door.” That’s just flat out wrong. Most reporters never look at “the wire” and few will read a release that’s simply sent to them. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless. During our pitch process many reporters still ask for the release as a starting point for their story. They then add in some interviews, research on competitors and bring up past stories. You know, all the really hard work. So the release plays a role, no matter how small.
  2. Outreach begins with the release: In reality a release is the last part of a news process that begins weeks or months prior with messaging and planning. By the time the release hits the wire your PR team should already have spoken with the key journalists telling them what’s coming. Not all journalists are going to be interested for a variety of reasons (some don’t want news that will be shared widely, others don’t like to sit on information) but at the very least use the news to start a conversation.
  3. All our news is super important: Not all information is equal. That personnel announcement may mean a lot to the mom of the VP you just hired, but unless you just stole a huge, important player from Google, TechCrunch probably isn’t going to care. The question you have is whether to spend the money to put the release out on the wire service or just post it on your site.
  4. The “release” is the only way to get “news” to the public: Another strategy is to only put out important news as a release but put the rest on your corporate blog. Have a small feature coming out? Put the product manager to work on the blog post. Have a long list of minor features in an otherwise major release.
  5. A release is only good for getting: Why put out a release on “the wire” if it’s not going to be read by the top reporters? One reason: SEO. For many of our clients release distribution is more about SEO and Google Alert pickup than it is about gaining news coverage.

The biggest tip is to find yourself a good writer and let them have at it. While the release itself may not get all the big news coverage you want, some of the language could come up in stories. If it’s vague or somewhat confusing, then reporters have a tough time getting your story right.

Also, releases tend to be archived on your own site so they reflect on you.

Who Killed Journalism? You Did

We’re easy targets, those of us in the PR field. It’s easy to say that we’re slimy, dumb and get in the way of good journalism. Over my PR career I’ve worked with my share of morons and liars.

But not all of those were in PR, many were also in journalism. Many were also in technology. Many were in printing. Many were in auto repair or many were investors.

Yes, morons and liars are everywhere.

So when an unnamed PR pro writes that many PR folks really aren’t that good, he’s right. But he’s also just enjoying the fact that PR people are an easy target. Why? Because really, we shouldn’t exist.

Let me explain: the theory goes that if you have a good product or a good story, then you’ll get exposure. People who report the news will find you, they’ll do the digging and the work to grab the important nuggets of information and present those to you.

You believe that? Really? Are you sure?

I’ve had reporters tell me that they believed a certain topic was very important to their readers, but they couldn’t report on it because they just didn’t have time. I’ve gone to others with a story and been asked “can you just send the release?” Then a story would appear without any interview or additional reporting. Is this the fault of the PR pro?

Yesterday I attended a forum on the First Amendment at Suffolk Law School that included Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eileen McNamara, Media Critic an all-around-good-guy Dan Kennedy, leader of the Nieman Foundation Ann Marie Lapinski and Linda Greenhouse, whose long list of accomplishments doesn’t begin to sum her up.

All agreed that truth is a major casualty of modern reporting. McNamara lamented the fact that today’s reporters don’t seem to do research in their own archives. They lamented the use of Beltway Insiders who regularly offer up quotes just to provide a story with “the other side” of an issue.

But Dan Kennedy made the point that sometimes sources have one key selling point: they return calls when you’re on deadline.

This is a real problem in political reporting. It’s also a problem in technology PR. Too often reporters take on the easy story. Audrey Watters, in writing why she left Read Write Web, noted that no one seems to care about Education Technology. This is a huge story overall, something that impacts not just parents and students, but our future as a nation. She writes:

What I learned — and what I continue to be reminded of with unfortunate frequency: the tech blogosphere really doesn’t notice education stories. Not really. Not unless teachers do something untoward on a blog. Not unless a tech CEO, past or present, makes a major education-oriented donation. Not unless there’s an rumored iPhone 5 angle involved.

Back at the forum, when I stood up to ask a question, I mentioned that I work in PR. A woman laughed. Yes, she LAUGHED. Yet, everyone in that room had been subject to PR at that moment and didn’t know it. The forum itself was an attempt to raise the visibility and importance of Suffolk Law School, especially among its alumni. That’s because Suffolk operates in a competitive environment that includes Harvard, BU and BC, all with law schools that have strong alumni networks. As a proof point, consider that Greg Gatlin, a former Boston Herald staffer and current PR flack for the school, was on the panel.

So who is at fault for the lousy and lazy journalism? Is it the journalists? Is it their editors? Is it the PR people who feed them crap?

No. It’s us, the media consumers.

You see, reporters write stories that get them noticed, stories that will satisfy their editors. Editors are under pressure to satisfy their bosses, the publishers. They need to drive traffic to the website, grab clicks, gain conversation, build “mindshare” and all those other marketing things. They do this by writing stories that are attractive to an audience.

If you write about the iPad, your clicks go up. If you write about education technology, you can hear the crickets. Write about large constitutional issues, no one cares. Write about Rush Limbaugh and you’re front and center.

So, do you want to blame PR folks for being stupid? Sure, go ahead. Want to blame reporters for being lazy? Feel free.

But next time you click on a headline, think about why you’re doing it and what really matters to you. Then consider if you really want to click there.