by Daniel Collins

The May 8-14 issue of the Baltimore Business Journal features an article, “PR execs wonder who’s going to catch their latest pitch,” a lament of local PR folks on the continuing disappearance and scaling-back of traditional media outlets. With fewer newspapers, magazines, etc., to pitch to…well, where do you pitch?

The answer, of course, blaring from the hills like some Middle Earth warrior’s horn, is social media, “local web sites, blogs…sites like Twitter and Facebook…”

The internet, social media…seems to be the answer to everything these days, doesn’t it?

And as Martha Stewart might say, “It’s a good thing.”

But too much of a good thing…well, that’s a bad thing.

The BBJ article notes how the Walters Art Museum, seeking arts coverage since the demise of the Baltimore Examiner, “is looking to local arts and entertainment Web sites like 600block.com, Localist.com, and BaltimoreFunGuide.com.”

And like any PR person worth his salt, I immediately visited these sites and joined them because, like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.

And that’s part of the problem. So many sites. Which ones to join? Which ones are really well read? With a newspaper, you can get exact demographics, you know the specifics of circulation, region, etc. Blogs, websites…not so much.

At this point, we hear that second horn blast from the mountain top: HITS.

“My blog got over 5,000 hits last week!” some blogger declares from his basement. You visit a website, check the little counter at the bottom of the page, you’re the 3,245th visitor. Of course, you are visiting the site by accident and have absolutely no interest in learning more about building your own backyard windmill, but you’re number 3,245 nonetheless.

The other problem is the internet is like the universe. It’s endless. There are millions of new blogs and websites going up all the time. Which ones do you follow? Which ones should you pitch content to? Which ones are actually read? Which ones aren’t orchestrated by a guy who is actually running a white slave trade from his home?

Should you just pick a few that “everyone,” whoever THEY are, seems to agree is “safe,” like FACEBOOK, TWITTER or YOUTUBE. Of course, do you want to have a YOUTUBE page when you’re also rubbing shoulders with people who are posting…well…questionable contact shall we say?

The problem with FACEBOOK et al is there’s no way to know who is on it and seeing your content at anytime. FACEBOOK is for “everybody” and that includes 7-year-old Australians who, chances are, aren’t interested in your special fundraising event in downtown Baltimore next weekend.

Plus, with so many virtual voices shouting “look at me, listen to me, read me, watch me,” how can you ensure that your client’s message isn’t drowned out?

Unfortunately, what has a tendency to go “viral” in the online world—Domino’s anyone?—often does the client NO good. It’s like juggling with knives or swallowing fire…if you do it, you can bet you’ll draw a lot of interest (usually at a Renaissance Festival)…but if you aren’t VERY, VERY, careful, you can really get burned.

So where does that leave us? Who should we be pitching our clients to?

First, traditional media isn’t dead yet. Take TV for instance. According to a study from Ball State University’s Center for Media Design (noted in the May 2009 issue of PRSA’s Tactics magazine), “traditional television is still the most commonly viewed medium, even among the 18-24 demographic.” TV users are exposed to 72 minutes of commercials/promos a day, versus only about two minutes per day via internet video.

So don’t stop pitching your local TV news stations just yet. Or newspapers for that matter. So many sites rely on newspapers-on-line for their content, using the work from professional journalists to build their blogs, etc. Eventually the message is going to get through that if we eliminate the professional journalists, we eliminate content anyone is going to trust.

Ultimately, with so many predictions being made – TV and the internet will join, your computer and HD screen will become as one, cue monks’ holy chanting – and technology surging forward like a juggernaut (what’s next? Holographic internet sites? You can beam a 3-D image of yourself into someone’s home to make your pitch?) it’s hard to say what the future holds.

My advice…step slowly, step carefully, don’t abandon traditional media, have an online presence (it’s important, as the Domino’s folks learned, when a crisis hits), but don’t throw all your efforts into pitching Ziggy’s and Frieda’s Guaranteed Everyone Reads It Blog/Website/Social Media Site of the Moment just because “everybody else is.” Social media is TACTICAL. PR must be STRATEGIC. Use social media as tools, not the be all and end all in PR. Because it isn’t. Not yet anyway.

Daniel Collins is an Examiner from Baltimore.