How Bad Is This?

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And now, a story that practically tells itself…

The following ran in today’s New York Times. It’s the tale of a response from Target, the giant retailer, to blogger Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, who had called to complain about a Target advertisement. You have to read it to believe it.

Target offered an e-mail response:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets,” a public relations person wrote to ShapingYouth.

“This practice,” the public relations person added, “is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest,” as Target refers to its shoppers.

Word of the exchange quickly spread and the blogosphere did not appreciate the slight. “Target doesn’t participate in new media channels?” asked the Web site for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Target “dismisses bloggers” commented the blog for Parents for Ethical Marketing. “Ahem! So bloggers don’t count!” Ms. Jussel chimed in on ShapingYouth.

Now, I can’t even count all the communications lessons in this one. But let’s try to hit the key points:

  • No organization should cut bloggers out of its information flow. Would you respond to CBS News that TV is beneath you?
  • It’s never a good idea to insult a reporter, blogger, etc. who is asking you a question.
  • Why would anyone ever have such an exchange via email, which can be forwarded and published?
  • It’s important — even critical — today for communications professionals to understand new media and its reach and impact.

I could go on and on here, but I think the point is clear. Basically, it seems that Target — like Rip Van Winkle — slept through the development of Web 2.0 and awakened to find a whole new PR/media world with a very new set of rules. Hopefully, the company can move quickly to address the situation.

(Hint to Target: If you want to respond to this post, please leave a comment instead of sending an email. Bloggers like that.)

Reporters As ‘Brands’

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It was bound to happen… Reporters are becoming brands.

The New York Observer just did a fascinating piece about this phenomenon taking hold at The New York Times, the newspaper perhaps most unlikely to allow its own reporters to develop personas beyond the institution.

But it’s happening. Thanks to the blogosphere, reporters at the NYT — and elsewhere — are stepping beyond their Mother Ships to create their own followings. The article explains:

Perhaps no one in the current New York media landscape has taken this anxiety further—or transformed it to greater effect—than Julia Allison, the 25-year-old former AM New York/current Time Out dating columnist and Star magazine “editor-at-large” who’s combined Paris Hilton’s love for the camera with an Ann Coulter’s willingness to be quoted saying anything, anytime, and Ayn Rand’s ruthless brand of self-preservation.

“I looked around, and I saw that the people who were getting assignments and getting paid really nicely for it were names. They were brands,” said Ms. Allison. “All journalists are journeymen. You might have a P.R. team you work with at your magazine that’s taking care of the magazine, but who’s taking care of YOU? Ultimately, you’re replaceable if you’re not a brand.”

Ten years ago, most journalists bristled at the description of themselves as “brands”; they probably would have agreed with Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, who wrote in 2000 that personal branding is “distasteful for being blatantly ambitious, sneaky and superficial.”

Apparently that distaste is gone. And high time, IMHO.

Reporters who do great work should become their own brands. Good for those who actively market themselves. Why grind out story after story and wait for arbitrary layoffs to nip your promising career?