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BT’s BarCamp PR blunder

BarCampLondon2 is taking place on Sat 17th + Sun 18th February. Sadly I can’t be involved with organizing it this time round as obviously I’m several thousand miles from home these days.

BarCampLondon2 Feb 17-18

However I was disappointed to receive this PR puff email from Bethan Thomas of OctanePR, sent on behalf of the event sponsors BT:

Hi Ben,

I notice that you’ve previously written about BarCamp on your blog and wanted to send you through the details which we have issued today so if you’re interested you can register to go along (if you haven’t already).

Let us know if you need any other details.


<excruciatingly corporate press release removed>

Being contacted by a PR agency doesn’t particularly peeve me off per se. If bloggers want to legitimately be part of ‘the media’ then we need to take all trimmings that go with it – including accountability, accuracy… and, unfortunately, being leaned on by PR agencies.

However, as I replied back to Ms Thomas in a response email, it’s disappointing that BT felt the need to go to the extent of utilizing their PR company on retainer to promote the fact they are donating their office space and internet access (at a weekend) to a community project:

“I also have to say I have reservations about BT employing a PR agency to puff what is supposed to be a community orientated, non-commercial event. Whilst BT’s support should be congratulated, BarCamps are ultimately an opportunity for sponsor companies to give something back to the community, not seek blatant publicity and a pat on the back. It all seems a little disingenuous. “

Now, I helped organize the first BarCampLondon – which was hosted by Yahoo! UK. I know Yahoo! spent a fair amount of time and personell resource to ensure that the premises were geared up for the event, etc. But they didn’t hire a PR firm to push the event – in fact I haven’t heard of this happening at any other BarCamp.

Obviously BT doesn’t get the peer-led nature of BarCamp – offering up some resources to support a community event and then standing back sends a far louder message to the community that utilizing a PR firm in this way.

Sadly Bethan has simply trawled Google for “barcamplondon + blog” and sent out a load of unsolicited PR releases (if she had read my blog posts tagged with barcamplondon she would have seen that I had organized the last one, not just ‘previously written about it’). Tom Hughes-Croucher (of Yahoo!) was sent one too.

Sure, this post might be yet another example of how ineffective old-school PR agency modus operandi is in this environment… but the bit that disappoints me the most is that PR people like Bethan could be so more effective they she understood the nature of the ecosystem she is now trying to work in.

That’s why I’ve invited her to attend the very BarCamp she’s promoting. I hope she takes me up on the offer.


Despite their minor fowl up here, BT should still be congratulated for stepping up to host BarCampLondon2. Whilst this should be (yet another) lesson to the old school as to the need to tread carefully when participating in these kinds of events, I hope it merely encourages them to explore new ways of working rather than being put off altogether.

Published in News Thoughts and Rants


  1. Thanks Ben.

    I have yet to write my own entry but I think you hit the nail on the head. Lets be honest does a event which sold 100 tickets in 1.5hours and is now holding back tickets to the public currently need PR?

    I was aware of the Press Release but not told of the plan to send this around the public or bloggers. I thought this would go out to magazines, newspapers, etc as the usual round robin.

    I even received one myself, which is insane because if you click on the link in the email my name is on the barcamp wiki as a organizer. What kills me is the fact it was the bloody wrong link….!

  2. Hi Ben,

    Leant on by the PR team?!

    You’ve had the gossamer touch matey. You want to try out being an editor of a Comms Magazine for a day to find out what being leant on is all about.

    I share however your opinion on the lack of professionalism in the PR trade these days but put it down to the pressure that clients put PR co’s under to achieve results on a tight budget. You would probably be surprised to know how little some companies, even huge blue chips like BT, pay out for PR and shocked at the pressure they are put under.

  3. Ben Ben


    Like I said, I take it on the chin and realize it’s part of being ‘in the media’…

    But for many bloggers they’re just doing their own thing, it’s non commercial, and for many they take a lot of pride in the independence of their work.

    If you’re running a commercial magazine then you’re fai game – your part of that ecosystem. I’m just not sure whether bloggers should be considered part of it too.

  4. I think you make quite a pertinent point about PR people understanding the nature of the ecosystem in which they operate.

    To leverage any favour, one has to be part of the community we serve and PR companies cannot simply assume (as you showed) that “barcamp + blog” equals a “Web 2.0” PR campaign.

    Great pic on valleywag by the way – I hope it does your jobsearch the world of good!

  5. Ben Ben

    Thanks Paul – the ValleyWag pic showed, if anything, I need to get some more red dye in my hair as it’s fading into the wrong side of the “is it red?”/”is it pink?” boundary.

  6. Interesting…

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