Interpublic-owned PR firm MWW Group today launched a Web log marketing practice. Blog 360 will advise clients on strategies to create, participate in, monitor, and advertise in blogs.
"We've formed a specialty practice area around blogs, but we really believe they are an important part of any communications plan," said Alissa Blate, MWW Group's EVP and director of consumer marketing.
Blog 360 will be a component of MWW's Marketing-360 approach, which supports brands through multiple audience contact points. Depending on a client's needs, MWW's plan might include creating a CEO blog for reputation and branding benefits, or a tech blog for information, Blate said. Blog monitoring will likely be a part of any plan, she added.
To implement the practice, MWW partnered with S. Morgan Friedman, CEO of New York-based Latin American technology and design outsourcing firm Diseno Porteno (DP). Friedman is a former knowledge management analyst with Basex and the publisher of the "Overheard in New York" blog, as well as Web sites Talk Entertainment and Metrotrip. Friedman will assist with strategy and technology aspects of the practice, and will contribute his firm's proprietary monitoring software.
The role of blogs in corporate outreach and image making has been a hot topic lately. A recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found blog readership increased by 58 percent between February and November 2004. In December, Highbeam Research launched a ChiefBloggingOfficer.com initiative to encourage bloggers to cite its research in their posts.
But creating a corporate blog isn't always a great idea, said JupiterResearch Senior Analyst Gary Stein. In the Web log environment, listening is at least as important as talking.
"A corporate blog strategy that focuses only on the creation of corporate-run blogs and the running of ads on external blogs is only half-right," Stein said. "Companies need to remember that there are most likely already discussions happening about them in the consumer-generated content space. Before using blogs to talk, they need to make sure they've got their listening operation in place."
Several companies have existing blog monitoring services, ranging from full-service delivery of relevant posts to do-it-yourself methods. Bacon's Information launched a blog-monitoring service that will monitor the "most reputable" blogs, primarily those written by journalists. That move was quickly criticized on several blogs for its arbitrary label of "reputable," which critics said limited the effectiveness of the service.
Edelman PR has a blog practice, and CooperKatz has incorporated blogs into its PR offerings for months. CooperKatz has deliberately not created a separate offering, considering it to be part of the PR toolkit, said Steve Rubel, VP Client Services at CooperKatz, and noted author of the Micro Persuasion blog.
"Blogs are just the beginning. The bigger trend is that consumers want to have a role in talking about products and even in marketing them," Rubel said. "Creating a blog-specific practice is terrific, but it's a temporary solution. In the long term, we have to train our PR people to understand that consumer-generated content has equal weight as corporate media."
But along with the similarities come big differences in how a PR person should handle each, he said. For example, if a PR person mishandles a pitch to someone in the press, their client will probably not get coverage. If they mishandle their relationship with a blogger, they could face public ridicule, Rubel said.
"Consumers are in control, and consumers are the media. It's a paradigm shift that's going to change PR forever," he said. "We need to be listening to bloggers as much as talking to them."
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