Friday, May 18, 2012

Amazing Examples of PR Stupidity

As I've noted before, Bay Area musical organizations have been remarkably generous and thoughtful about extending press tickets to members of the musical blogosphere. I'm grateful for that; I know my fellow bloggers are grateful; I want to express my thanks to all the organizations and publicists who've invited me to their concerts and performances. You're the best.

Unfortunately, not all PR folks and organizations are quite as professional and enlightened in dealing with bloggers and others who write primarily for web publications. I learned yesterday that the publicists for a number of Bay Area theater companies managed to shoot themselves in the foot rather nicely this week. They sent email around to various critics - I do not know how many - telling them that to obtain comp tickets in the future, the critics would have to provide web analytics demonstrating their readership.

Among the critics who received this missive was Janos Gereben, former arts editor of the Oakland Post (for two decades), former music editor of the Mercury News, the Seattle Times, and regular contributor to numerous local publications for many years now, including the SF Examiner and SF Classical Voice.

Of all people to make threats's obvious that the organizations represented by the email hadn't stopped to consider a few points.
  • WTF, you're asking Janos to provide web stats? You don't know and trust his work after 40 years on the local scene?
  • Believe it or not, not everyone published on the web has access to blogstats. If you have your own blog, yes, you have access, depending on the platform and depending on whether you have enabled an analytics program on your blog. However, if you think that I can get the analytics for SFCV or my own reviews on SFCV, please enjoy watching me fall on the floor laughing.
  • All publicity is not actually good publicity, and I'm happy to provide a little bad publicity for the publicists whose names appeared on the email: Charles Zukow and Kevin Kopjak, Terence Keane, Erin Garcia, \ Marilyn Langbehn, Sasha Hnatkovich, Erica Lewis-Finein, Carla Befera, on behalf of various theatrical organizations, all of whose names the readers of this blog would undoubtedly know.
  • Not all of your shows are sellouts. You can, in fact, afford to give away tickets to 10 or 20 reviewers. Theatrical runs are not one-shot or, usually, even eight-shot gigs. If you don't want to put everybody on opening night, spread 'em out over the first two or three shows.
  • You'd rather lose reviews than give tickets to the wrong people. BZZZZT. That is shooting yourself in the foot.
Here's the most galling paragraph from the email that was sent around:
 Please don’t fret about this! The report you send will not automatically qualify or disqualify you for attendance at any theater. Each of our companies retains the right to set its own policies with regard to press passes, and this report is only one of many factors we consider when dealing with reviewers. The traffic data it provides will simply allow us to make a fair and informed comparison of the many opportunities offered to us for online coverage – and to clearly explain those opportunities to leaders at our theaters who are understandably concerned about the number of complimentary tickets we distribute.
Translation: we are making this demand en masse, but really, this email is meaningless, because each individual organization will be making its own decisions. Honestly, guys: don't you read the people you emailed this to? Don't you know their work and whether they're good reviewers? That might actually be more important than raw statistics.

Overall, you'll get more bad than good out of this, including a refusal from Janos - and possibly others - to cover the organizations as long as these demands are maintained. 

In closing, if anyone's curious about my blogstats, you should know that they're pretty wimpy compared to, say, La Cieca's up-to-18,000 per day page views. Interpreting analytics reports is always tricky, so I'll just leave it at this: I have about 2200 unique visitors per month and something between 5500 and 7000 page views per month.


Tod Brody said...

Thanks for reporting on this, Lisa.

I'm curious if whatever mechanism compiles the blogstats is able to pick up readers who, like me, read your blog (and many others) through Google reader or other news readers. some of the blogs include only a paragraph or a line on the news reader, requiring clicking through to the actual site to read the post. Others, like yours, include the entire post, and I might only click through if I wanted to do something like picking up the url to share, or to make a comment.

Tod Brody

John Marcher said...


I didn't receive the email (it seems I never receive these invitations), but last year I did send an email to many of the folks you mentioned and didn't receive a response from a single one. I wonder what they're looking for and how they compiled the distribution list. My blog is listed as #30 on Invesp's theater ultimate list and #6 by RSS membership, and their ranking doesn't take visits into account for subdomain blogs.

Now here's the sticky part. I don't see as much theater as I'd like in part because of the lack of comps- if I'm going to spend almost as much time writing about something as it took me to experience it (which for me is often the case), a comped ticket can certainly influence my decision on what to attend on any given night. So in essence, the theater companies are saying we want your money and we want your time, to which I reply "you only get both if I think it's going to be really, really good." and this obviously keeps me from a lot of things that may well be worth spreading the word on. Or not.

The best thing I've seen so far this year was Napoleon, for which I paid for my ticket like everyone else, but I didn't write a word about it except to list it on my "coming up" page. Part of the reason I didn't was because of the time it would have taken to write about the all-day performance- and it certainly deserved a well considered review. Now had I gotten a comp ticket, I would have felt obligated to write about it and would have, though it wouldn't have made much of a difference to the SFSFF because of the nature of the run and the event- I use that as just one example. It would have been a pleasure to write about Napoleon just for the sake of doing do, but that was a hectic few weeks. Shorenstein's Richard III with Kevin Spacey was another one, which in this case worked to their benefit because I thought it pretty much sucked. So much so it wasn't worth taking the time to write about more than I have here.

This topic raises a few more issues in my mind, but I'll see how this thread develops before going into those.

For those interested, my stats for 2012 thus far average 4935 page loads/3921 visitors per month, according to Statcounter.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hi, Tod - Google Analytics, which is my stat counter, doesn't count people who read only through RSS readers. There are other ways to find out how many people are picking up the RSS feed, I think, but I can't figure out what they are. %^)

Okay, figured out one. Feedburner (now says I have six subscribers to my feed. Okay, though I bet there are more than that. Blogger tells me I have 32 "followers," who are people using the Blogger following gadget or following the blog from the blogger reading list. The latter is equivalent to the LiveJournal Friends page, I think, though I would also guess that you can't look at others' Following pages the way you can look at others' Friends pages.

Hi, John - I just looked at Invesp's classical music blog page, and I see no reason to trust their statistics, which look as though they haven't been updated in a pretty long time. They rank Dial M for Musicology and Night after Night, which are both dark at this point. I mean, Steve Smith says about once every eight months "ooops, I should be blogging," but he hasn't gone back to blogging yet.

Fascinating that you didn't even get replies when you emailed those publicists. Wow - that's highly unprofessional of them. They should at least have replied to tell you what the policies were.

I'd be fascinated to read your take on Richard III because so many people loved it!

Molly said...

Hi Lisa,

I couldn't imagine you only had 6 feed readers, and when I looked at your stats just now in my Google Reader, it looks like you have 263 just through them (I always assumed that was restricted to Reader subscribers, so the grand total is quite likely larger).

I also think that Invesp ranking might be defunct at this point. I haven't blogged at Mind the Gap in a year, but I still sit steady at #12.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hi, Molly! I owe you email.

How the heck did you view statistics in Reader? I cannot figure out how to do that (unusual for me!).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Okay, found it. Never mind. :)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Paul Krugman has 72,000+!!!

John Marcher said...

Good points about Invesp Lisa, but it's the only ranking system I know of- are there others?

The idea of trying to validate this kind of information is a bit of a mug's game, though the invesp site does accurately reflect what Feedburner tells me, though how Feedburner works is really a mystery to me.

I bought the .com domain name from Google in an attempt to rid my site of the "blogspot" subdomain, and perhaps increase traffic, but I couldn't figure out how to transfer it. For now I've given up on it.

Re Richard III, in short it was just so much scenery chewing at 100 miles an hour, with no real understanding or consideration for how the language should flow or how to use pacing for effect. It lacked a single nuance, relying wholly on Spacey's star power for its effect. It was a Jerry Bruckheimer-like take on Shakespeare. Isabella, who came to the Bay Area as a result resulting of being accepted into ACT's program, had a similar reaction.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Various bloggers have created their own blog ranking systems. AC Douglas used Google backlinks until he had his account identified as spamming and suspended (it wasn't and I could have gotten that fixed for him if he had asked....). Scott Speigelberg at Musical Perceptions also came up with a system. But neither of them has run their stats in a long time.

It is possible that Google Reader stats could be some kind of a proxy except that I found that Parterre Box has a weirdly tiny number of Reader subscriptions, so a large grain of salt would be involved there.

There have to be instructions someplace for transferring a Blogger blog to a domain. Or look around for someone who has done it and ask them how....

Thanks for the comments on Richard III! Yeah, that doesn't sound good.

Zwölftöner said...

The Salzburg Festival doesn't offer comps for bloggers but even for print journalists they distribute press tickets according to circulation; it's been festival policy for a few years. Good to know that the guy who recently wrote a four line Clemenza di Tito review for the Krone, one and a half of those lines condescendingly gushing that Elina Garanca still has a figure, gets priority over the broadsheet writer who might be more inclined to write about Garanca's singing rather than her body.

Lisa Hirsch said...