The art of the PR schmooze, translated for the blogosphere

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The surest sign that blogs are beginning to gain acceptance as a legitimate communications vehicle-outside of last week's announcement that old media stalwarts like Tina Brown, Tom Freston, Barry Diller and Jann Wenner will start contributing to one sponsored by Arianna Huffington-is the growing number of public-relations firms offering ways to deal with the news media's version of the wild west, where, as one blogger put it, there are "no rules, no ethics, no game."

For the past few years, PR pros have been navel-gazing over the question of whether to treat bloggers like reporters who work for MSM (that's mainstream media in blog-speak) or as something wholly different. While the prospect of putting a client's reputation in the hands of an untrained and unedited writer still sends shivers up the spine of many a flack, several firms have taken concrete steps to make blogger relations a part of their work for clients.

The latest to do so is Edelman, a global, independent agency that, beginning today, will offer clients a directory of the most influential blogs, a list akin to databases of traditional news media created for decades by companies like Bacon's. Compiled with Intelliseek, the directory, which segments the Web sites according to the interests of their authors, is accompanied by a "1.0 Guide to the Blogosphere" designed to help clients navigate the ever-changing and growing list of blogs, which by some estimates now exceeds 9 million.

"You have to be very careful not to call this extended media relations," said Rick Murray, exec VP-general manager of diversified services, Edelman. "You can never say you're pitching a story to a blogger. You're developing a relationship with him and having a conversation with him on his own turf."

So far, the use of blogs to move product has been a mixed bag. Just last week at the inaugural Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference, where blogs were a frequent topic, Michael Wiley, director-new media at the auto giant General Motors Corp., praised the medium as a way to get around the biases of traditional news media. But with just a few exceptions, the efforts of marketers to make bloggers part of influencer or word-of-mouth programs have been mixed and are often overshadowed by instances where Web sites accelerate a company's crisis or by the swelling list of blogs that exist only for corporate executives to echo their company's press releases and internal communications.

Outside of blog search engines that rank the Web sites based on how many other sites are linked to them, the Edelman directory offers the most comprehensive taxonomy of the blogosphere, a chaotic place whose dwellers define themselves against the more centralized world of the traditional news media. It takes into account not just inbound links but some more subjective criteria like mainstream news coverage or the sway of the author within his or her sphere.

But trying to bring too much order to the blogosphere misses the point. "We tell clients you have to be careful with the butterfly that flaps its wings in the corner," said Steve Rubel, a blogger and PR pro.

Mr. Rubel's employer, the mid-sized CooperKatz, earlier this year launched a blog practice named after his own blog, Micro Persuasion, the top-ranked marketing/PR blog in the Edelman directory. CooperKatz's process of finding, listening to and engaging with bloggers that matter to the firm's clients is similar to working with financial analysts, who are typically treated as thought leaders or experts, he said.

FAR CRY FROM THE USUAL

Joel Johnson, editor of the gadget site Gizmodo, said many PR people have been slow to understand the lightning-quick blog news cycle and the culture's disdain for many of the niceties of business reporting. "It reinforces the importance of the need for good, clear information out of the gate," he said. "With the blogging scene, it's really easy for misinformation to be handed off."

Through his own mobius strip existence as both a PR person and blogger with a must-read site, Mr. Rubel found out that blogger-PR relationship is a far cry from the way PR people typically interact with reporters.

"I get pitched and some of the pitches are terrible," he said. "I experience what journalists have been experiencing for years. It's almost like punishment for all these years in PR."

contributing: james b. arndorfer

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