Let’s follow the thought process that caused this train to miss the station: Microsoft’s PR agency thinks that a great way to build the Vista brand is to give loaded Acer Ferrari laptops to influential tech bloggers. The laptops come with Vista pre-installed, and Vista runs great on these super-fast machines. As the agency sees it, the bloggers will embrace the freebie, and will then rave about the coolness of Vista. In so doing they will help sell the Vista brand to the many readers who trust the opinions of this blogger elite.
Simple enough, right? It’s PR 101.
Well, maybe not so simple. A sizable PR backlash ensues, much of it about Microsoft trying to “bribe” the blogosphere rather than let Vista succeed on its merits. This rings a bell in Redmond, and apparently Microsoft now says it wants the gift machines back.
That makes it PR 101, “Full Circle Edition.”
Once you’ve got the story, read on for some notes on the relationship between brands and PR.
Brands and PR rarely mix
Truth is, brands and PR don’t have much in common. Brands are a strategy of value. PR is a strategy of persuasion. The two rarely mix. At times there can be a bit of overlap between the two, but that’s the exception. A solid brand strategy doesn’t need a lot of help from PR. In fact, heavy PR is often a sign that a brand is broken. In this particular case, over-aggressive PR has derailed the Vista brand.
Brand builders rely on the integrity of blogs
The Vista PR backlash underscores the importance of maintaining high levels of weblog integrity in the tech community. This is a vital issue for brands. These days, blogs are an important brand building tool, in large part because people trust blogs to “tell it like it is” without the compromises of paid or sponsored media. This “freedom to be objective” constitutes a key element in the integrity of the blog medium. Brands, which are forms of integrity themselves, naturally grow among the “integrity networks” of blogs. The PR effort to buy influence among leading bloggers threatens to weaken the integrity of the blogosphere, and thereby diminish its value as an organic brand building tool.
Joel Spolsky on PR, credibility and integrity
Joel Spolsky has some wise and well-chosen words on the possible negative impact of PR on credibility and integrity in weblogs. His linked post should be a must read for brand builders. (For those who don’t know about Joel: he used to work at Microsoft, has top-tier cred in the tech industry, is a smart guy, and writes a widely-read, thought-provoking blog. And he also refused one of the laptops offered in the Vista PR effort.)