Shortly after I posted about the blog spam from Pierce Mattie PR, had two emails from Pierce Mattie, the CEO of the company, asking me to call him. As I'm away from my London base and travelling in California for business right now (without a cell phone), and as I received his email while I was getting ready to head to a tech function last night, it was really bad timing for me to be trying to call anyone. And - not to put too fine a point on it - I like to get my excuses from people in writing. I have my reasons, which I think should be obvious to our (very smart) readers.
I also had an email from Michael Rogers, VP of Price Mattie Public Relations, which read:
While I understand your position, could you have at least contacted us and gotten the real story about this before you lambasted us on your site? This is not what you think and it is not the policy of Pierce Mattie PR to "spam" blogs.
As I later found out - not from anyone at Pierce Mattie, but from another blogger who spoke to them - it was actually exactly what I thought: A Pierce Mattie employee was spamming blogs with fraudulent comments. No need for the quotation marks around the word spam, Mr Rogers, as that - by your own CEO's admission - is indeed what your employee was doing.
I also don't feel that I owe special consideration to those who abuse our blog - which Hillary and I have invested much time and effort in creating, going out of our way to provide nothing but value for our readers. For example, we don't take any payment for the ads you see at left; we make special arrangements with trusted companies to offer our readers valuable discounts, earning no income ourselves from such arrangements. We'd much rather gift our readers with value than splash any old ads on our site, no matter how 'contextual'. So, bearing that in mind, you can probably understand why I do not hold much truck with the notion that I have any obligation to make things easy on those who abuse our site and our readers. I purposefully did not name the brand that the Pierce Mattie spammer was flogging, because they obviously do not deserve any negative coverage just because their PR agency has acted unethically in their name.
Julie Frederickson spoke to Pierce Mattie "brand advocate" Kristen Herburger and Pierce Mattie the CEO, and their side of the story - which I have not seen in writing, but which Julie related in email to me and other beauty bloggers - is that the comments were left by a "young publicist" who is new to PR and blogging and didn't know there was anything wrong with leaving deceptive blog comments. Well, more fool her, and I'm sorry she hasn't learned any better from working at Pierce Mattie. I'm not being at all sarcastic when I say that I feel sorry for this girl - if she does indeed exist (the 'young staffer' and 'intern' excuses are well-established lines from PR firms who are revealed to abuse blogs). I genuinely hope that she takes this as a lesson learned and does not lose a wink of sleep over it, because she should have been better trained by her employer.
I have been teaching companies - including PR agencies - how to engage with bloggers in an effective and ethical way for several years. It's how I've made my living for a while now, working both in London and in the US with companies of all sizes, sectors, and attitudes towards blogging. The number one rule of blogging and conversing with bloggers has never changed, and is one that even the most blog-skeptic companies understand: Authenticity is essential - and sacred. If you can't be authentic, don't bother to blog or to talk with bloggers. This is why many companies decide to steer clear of the blogosphere. They don't know how to be genuine, or their authentic voice is more like a growl, and they don't want to risk the highly-tuned BS detectors of bloggers going off upon contact with their employees.
So if the basic idea of transparency and honesty hasn't taken root with this Pierce Mattie staffer, then I can't come up with a scenario where that is anything but the responsibility of Pierce Mattie Public Relations.
Pierce Mattie PR, by the way, has been completely silent about this matter on their own blog. Make of that what you will.
Now, Julie Frederickson - whose Coutorture network makes her not quite a disinterested observer in this matter, relying as it does on freebies and good relations with as many PR firms as possible - is not happy with me for blogging about this situation. I have only ever had friendly relations with Julie before, and I think I understand where she is coming from, so let me address her concerns on a point-by-point basis:
1) Julie feels that the deception on the part of the Pierce Mattie staffer was "not the end of the world", and that the comments themselves were "completely innocuous". Only in a world where authenticity is meaningless could the comments be at all construed as innocuous. I don't operate in that world. My blogging clients don't operate in that world. Do you, Julie?
2) Julie thinks this situation reflects badly on "bloggers on the whole". She worries that PR companies will shy away from providing samples and information to bloggers because...well, I can't quite figure out Julie's logic on this one. She does have a business interest in bringing freebies for her Coutorture network, so I guess her alarmism on this one makes sense in that context. As someone who has worked with PR (and done in-house PR myself for dot-coms), I find her fear totally misplaced on this count. I don't want to digress into a long discussion about what PR firms should be doing versus what they actually do most of the time, but suffice to say that they're very happy to hand their clients a long list of the influencers - bloggers included - that they've 'engaged' on their behalf. There are also benefits beyond the obvious PR boons (better search rankings, anyone?) which make maximum engagement of influential bloggers a no-brainer for any PR firm. I really wish I had the clout to change all that with one blog post. Sadly, alas, alas...
More to the point, this entire episode should be very instructive for companies which want to jump right into blogging without understanding the dynamics of online reputation systems and communities. Sure, there are many other examples of PR companies making the exact same mistake that Pierce Mattie has made, but what's one more to help dissuade people from deception?
3) Julie is peeved that I emailed other bloggers about this situation. She sent out an email to a large group of us several months ago, with the express purpose of introducing us to the aforementioned "brand advocate," Kristen Herburger. Call me crazy, but I thought it made perfect sense to alert those bloggers - and Julie - that Kristen's company was spamming blogs. Julie aside, I have had zero complaints from those bloggers for letting them know about this abuse. Indeed, I have had several grateful and positive emails from those I contacted - many of whom had been on the receiving end of the Pierce Mattie blog spam. I genuinely cannot imagine why Julie is upset that I let her and other bloggers know about what was happening.
4) Julie thinks that my blog post exposing Pierce Mattie's abuse was "completely uncalled for" and asked me more than once to remove it from Jack & Hill. I disagree and declined, for reasons outlined earlier in this post.
5) Julie believes that bloggers need to work hard to be "taken seriously". Personally, I have made a career out of blogging and work hard only to build and maintain my credibility as a person and as a professional. Each and every influential blogger I know has done the same for themselves. No other blogger is responsible for my credibility, and vice versa. This is not about a collective of bloggers, but about individuals and their own unique credentials and trustworthiness. I think too highly of my fellow beauty bloggers to even consider that they need a special strategy to be "taken seriously". Each blogger's behaviour is her own brand. End of story. One reason PR firms make money is because many companies' behaviour makes for a crappy brand - which is where the PRs come in. None of the bloggers I take seriously need that kind of spin.
What I find most puzzling about Julie's complaints is that even after saying that Pierce Mattie's CEO explained to her that their employee was indeed the one making these comments, she uses ALL CAPS to shout at me and other bloggers in email about double checking things before posting them. Which...I did. What I think Julie means is that I should have just talked to Pierce Mattie and not made public their abuse, which...no. (See above for the litany of reasons why not.) Since she's also upset that I even informed other bloggers about the abuse via email, I guess she'd have just had me keep it all to myself. Which...WTF?
Honestly, I can't believe I just spent this much time - at 2AM, no less, after a full day and night's work, getting things done for clients on the other side of the world while running around Silicon Valley like a headless chicken - explaining why transparency and trustworthiness matter. It's the ultimate no-brainer, and if any company finds it such a tricky concept that any of their employees would do something like this, then I'm not going to lose any sleep over how they feel about being exposed. The best thing Pierce Mattie could do right now would be to explain themselves in writing, show that they actually understand why what happened was not at all innocuous, and make an effort to ensure that no other employee ever does any such thing on behalf of their clients again.
NB If the comments to this post get too freaky, I will close them temporarily while I attend various meetings on Thursday, and re-open them when I'm back online. I don't like being away from the comment moderation panel - especially considering (ahem) recent events - when things like this are going down.