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