What PR people need: RSS feeds (outgoing, mostly)

I met a PR person the other day who wanted to know what things I’m writing about, and what her clients might be able to supply. I pointed out that predicting precisely what I’ll be writing about from day to day, or week to week, is difficult; something to do with technology and consumers? Or just about people and how we live our lives today?

“What your clients really need to have,” I said, “is to supply information about their new stuff on RSS feeds. Then I could see what they were thinking and doing. Also, if a topic came up and I needed an opinion, I could see what theirs was right away – no need to even call first. And it would be quick, and wouldn’t require lots of pre-approving of emails, and everyone would get your client’s reaction at the same time. Even if it’s a special class of information – say, analyst commentary – you can do that through a password-protected feed. Then only selected people will get to see it.”

“What’s RSS?” she asked. Not unreasonably, actually. While many people may have heard of a blog now, very few have heard of stuff like RSS (or Atom). I explained that RSS – or Atom – is like the website with the water taken out. (I guess RSS:websites as MP3:CDs.)

You can already get feeds for the Jupiter analysts such as Michael Gartenberg. I know just what he thinks about what’s happened in the past two weeks in consumer electronics without having had to send an email or pick up the phone. It’s even quotable, and if I lift from his blog I can be certain I’m not misquoting him. As can everyone else.

That trend is going to continue. Many journalists haven’t heard of RSS; many PR people haven’t. But I think both should – and will be amazed at how much easier it makes the nuts and bolts of their lives in future. Press releases by RSS? Why not? I could choose which ones to receive, and to read, a hell of a lot more easily.

Give it a few years. After all, how many PR companies sent out press releases by email in 1995? And how many don’t in 2005? RSS has so many benefits to both sides of this dialogue that it deserves rapid adoption. Journalists are pulling; PR people should push.

This doesn’t obviate the need for journalism of the sort that (at its pinnacle) Seymour Hersh practises (here’s his latest, on the US operating covertly against Iran) – the sort where you talk to people and pull details together. Doc Searls says “markets are conversations”. (As in, the trade of one thing for another, discussion, negotiation.) Well, journalism is conversation too. As is PR. All that varies is the subject. Anything else is just hackwork.


  1. As a heavy user of RSS feeds, I couldn’t agree more. It just makes everything so much easier.

    I googled and came up with this whitepaper (PDF) from a technology PR group in San Francisco.

    Written in 2003, it has some interesting ideas and even gives a real example that’s in use today. I like it.

  2. Hi Charles,

    Email still has a place for ad-hoc items such as introducing a new RSS feed. I guess journalists are more likely to subscribe to a client company’s RSS feed than a PR agency’s feed. RSS makes it harder for PR people to say where material has gone to as well and provides additional challenges on accountablity to the client, God knows the industry has enough trouble in that department already. Like you’ll care about that, but PRs will because its an important factor as to whether they get paid or not. With the widespread adoption of NewsML this may change for the better and RSS become more attractive to the mass of agencies.



  3. You can look at server logs and see where feeds are being requested from, so that would be one way to know who’s requesting stuff. (Though you’d not see it if the requests came from Technorati etc.) But simple user-password pairing would be a fairly accurate way of knowing who’s requesting something.

    Yes, accountability is a problem, but it’s hardly as if the present system of sending out a million emails and then phoning up to ask if they were useful is a marvel of economy or elegance. I get the feeling that PRs and clients are in the midst of a shakeup in how they regard each others’ demands. RSS etc isn’t going to make it any easier.

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