PR Perspective – Tom Murphy

I met my latest interviewee, Tom Murphy, about 18 months ago when he was delivering part of the "Delivering the New PR" conference.  So it seems only fair that as he was one of the people that inspired me to start Offer and Acceptance that he gets his 15 minutes of, erm, well not fame exactly – but he gets to say what he loves about PR and blogging and gets a nice link back to his blog.  Tom has been working in both agency and in-house PR roles across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America since 1991 and is currently responsible for Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility for Microsoft in Ireland.  Prior to joining Microsoft in August 2005, He was director of corporate communications for Cape Clear Software and his most recent agency posting was as general manager of EMEA consulting for Text 100, where he helped clients plan and execute PR plans in multiple countries across the region. Tom has worked with companies across practically every technology industry sector including BEA Systems, Corel, Gateway, Intel, Marrakech, Microsoft, StorageTek and Visio. He has been blogging about Public Relations since 2002 and when time permits he writes the “Murphy’s Law” blog.

How long have you been blogging?
I started my first blog in March 2002 – it feels like an eternity!

If my memory serves me correctly the only other PR blogs at the time were Jim Horton, Phil Gomes and Richard Bailey – and I’m delighted to report that all three continue to blog today.

Why did you start?
I have to be honest and admit that I fell into blogging, I certainly didn’t see it as a “platform with the potential to change the world and build an interactive transparent means of fostering conversation”.


What actually happened was that in 2002 I was looking (mostly in vain) for good PR-related content online.  There wasn’t a lot of stuff outside subscription only web sites, so I thought it would be a great idea to find a way to bring together links to the content I did find, and then keep them in one place online.

I found Blogger and started posting any links I found there and all of a sudden people started commenting on the links and it went from there.  Between 2002 and 2005 I spent a huge amount of time monitoring and blogging, unfortunately I am finding I have less time these days.

Do you think blogging has helped your business?
When I was in my previous role with Cape Clear Software (who has been recently acquired by Workday) we got a lot of benefit from blogging and blog relations.  I think probably the greatest return I’ve got from blogging is connecting with PR people all over the world, whom I would not have met or heard of, without blogging.  That has been a fantastic spin off and made the whole thing worthwhile.  It’s a fantastic medium for finding like-minded individuals.

I think that this “network” is well illustrated by the fact that Philip Young pulled together a very successful series of events in the UK under the “Delivering the New PR” banner.  Philip brought together a range of speakers including myself, Elizabeth, Neville and Stuart, who had never met before, and only knew each other through our blogs, yet the group immediately gelled. 

That’s pretty unique in my opinion.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge about writing a blog?
The most obvious thing is time.  It’s hard to fit it in alongside the day job.  It’s not just the writing, it’s the thinking, the monitoring, the reading and the browsing.

However there are other challenges. 

I fear that the blogosphere is in danger of becoming less relevant due to the “echo chamber” effect.  There’s too many PR blogs just reacting to other blogs and not enough bloggers delivering value through sharing their thinking on our profession, on how these new tools integrate with our traditional tools etc.

We are facing so many changes and challenges but I’m not sure the collective PR community is helping to address them. 

I hasten to add that I include myself in that.

What do you want your readers to know about you?
I’m not as grumpy as I sometimes appear on my blog ☺

I am passionate about the potential of Public Relations to help individuals and organisations to communicate and educate.  I am also passionate about how new online tools can help that process.

However, it’ll be no surprise to the three people who read my blog that I have no time for the zealots. 

There is a lack of authenticity in much of the posting around PR.  This typically takes two forms.  First there’s the “PR people are evil” crew who base their assumptions on hearsay and ignorance. Then there’s the “New PR” people who believe traditional media and PR are dead or dying.

I’m growing tired of these simplistic arguments.  The world is a far more complex place.

Of course online communication is becoming more important, but let’s not forget that in many countries and industries, traditional media and communications tools remain far more influential and important.  The challenge for every PR practitioner is to understand these dynamics and make the right investments for their client or employer.

My other pet hate is blog postings that regularly begin: “As I told President Bush last Monday…”

Which other blogs do you read regularly and why?
My RSS reader (FeedDemon) is a trusted tool for monitoring as many blogs as I can, some of the PR blogs I read include: Alice, Allan, Brendan, BrianS, Colin, Constantin, Elizabeth, Eric, Frank, Gerry, James, Jeremy, Jim, Kami, Kevin, Neville, Paull, Phil, Philip, Piaras, Richard, Shel, Stephen, Stuart, Susan, Todd, and Trevor.

I have to be honest and say my non-PR blog reading isn’t as varied as it should be! But here’s a few I read regularly: Guy Kawasaki, Steve Rubel, Seth Godin, John Collins, Bernie Goldbach and Lifehacker.

If you knew someone was thinking about starting a PR related blog what advice would you want to give them?
There’s a couple of things I’d advise. 

First and foremost think about what you plan to write about.  You don’t have to stick to one topic or pigeon hole yourself, but be clear on the general areas you’re going to cover and what style you’ll cover them in.  Great blogs have a clear personality.  It doesn’t matter if everyone doesn’t agree with you!

Remember that the wonder of search engine technology means that once published, your words will be archived forever!

If you are thinking of kicking off a blog (and why not!) do understand there is a serious investment of time, not just writing the blog, but managing it, talking with other bloggers etc.

I think the more PR people blogging the better.

Do you think Web 2.0 is having an impact on how PR is practiced?
Yes I think Web 2.0 will have a major impact on the whole world of Public Relations not just “media relations”.  However I am also pretty pragmatic about it.

When you break it down, we are talking about new tools and channels for delivering information and having conversations.  These new tools should be integrated into a communications plan in the same way traditional tools are used.

Start with your audience, what are their current perceptions, issues.  How can you best communicate with that audience. Where do they find their information?

For many people print newspapers and magazines are still number one, for a small number of companies online channels are the most effective channel. However for the vast majority of individuals and companies an integrated approach using online and traditional tools will probably be most effective.

There are two major challenges I see for PR professionals:
1)    Understanding your audience – To executive effective Public Relations across traditional and online channels, we are a profession need a much more in-depth knowledge of our audience than was previously the case.  Circulations statistics have made us lazy, we need to engage with our client’s customers and find out how they are finding and sharing information.  This should inform our decision making.
2)    Balancing time and resources – While Web 2.0 brings interesting new tools and channels.  Our traditional tools and channels haven’t gone away.  The biggest challenge (and it’s related to the first point) is how do we balance our investment in new and traditional tools.  We don’t have any more time, so doing more online will mean doing less traditional communications and vice versa.  How we make those decisions will impact the success of our campaigns – and those decisions can only be taken when you have a great insight into your audience.

What’s the biggest challenge in PR?
PR faces a number of challenges. As I outline above we need to get a better understanding of how our audiences are finding, consuming and sharing information and conversations. 

We also need to start to think about how we balance and resource online outreach alongside traditional communications.

Finally, we as a profession need to start to take a leadership position in online reputation management.  Too many firms are trying to re-create traditional media relations online without realizing that an online reputation goes beyond that.  It incorporates search engines, discussion groups, blogs etc.  If we don’t start taking ownership of these things then other people will.

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to embark on a career in PR?
When I was in college there were two things I had no interest in.  One was PR and the other was “computers”.  Given I’ve spent over 17 years in Tech PR I’m not sure how valuable my advice is!

PR is without question a fantastic career choice. 

It’s always changing, always challenging. Of course that’s good and bad.

Great PR people are always learning, always investigating and thinking.

That’s the key asset, being inquisitive, always keeping up to date on what’s happening inside and outside your industry.

I also think it’s vital for PR people to have a broader understanding of business.  Great PR people understand how PR impacts the bottom line, where PR can have a major positive impact and often more importantly where it can’t. That’s invaluable knowledge.

Finally, if there were two things that I’d recommend to anyone thinking of a career of PR, they would be developing a love of reading and gathering knowledge; and building your capability to explore. They are incredibly valuable strengths, inside and outside the world of PR.

Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
What will PR look like in five years – what will be the main online tools or channels?

I don’t think anyone honestly knows the answer to that question.  There’s a lot of snake oil salespeople on the Internet who will tell you in no uncertain terms where we’re headed.

I don’t believe them.

The only thing I am convinced about is that there will be an online element to everything we do, and our audience will continue to face information overload at work and in the home.

Every day a new widget emerges somewhere on the Internet and is proclaimed as the new new thing.  People’s time is their most precious resource and only time will tell what tools and channels are relevant for your audience.

The better we connect and understand our audience, the better we will be able to deliver great communications programmes.  The Internet continues to evolve and we need to evolve with it.


Filed under Interviews with PRs