I just talked to a representative for a supermarket chain. They apparently have a policy of not talking to trade publications, but the rep called me anyway just to tell me that and to give me a bit of off-the-record information. Or, maybe they just wanted to make sure I’m not a threat.
I happen to shop at this supermarket chain, and I told the rep that, so I probably passed the “no-threat” test. But, they and all communications professionals should recognize by now that there are threats around every corner when it comes to the Internet and social media–traditional media outlets and journalists are the least of their troubles. Trade publications, too, are published online now–anyone can access them. Same with blogs. And tweets by regular old consumers. This type of old-fashioned thinking gets companies into trouble everyday, and still more continue the trend and they, too, get in trouble. I’m not sure if this particular supermarket chain has a no-blogger policy as well–I asked, but I’m not sure I’m worth the call back. I wouldn’t be surprised, though; bloggers (and trade pubs) are often overlooked at companies with small communications staffs.
Let’s think back to Target’s debacle last year that resulted from a similar policy. They didn’t talk to trade pubs and they also didn’t talk to bloggers, they said, so they could focus on publications that reach their core audience. It’s a valid point–we’re always telling communicators to find their audience and focus on those media and social media outlets. But, the bloggers made a fuss about the policy as bloggers are wont to do, and the story about Target shunning bloggers made it all the way to the New York Times, which does reach its core audience. I’m still waiting on a call back to see if Target has since reversed that policy.
Procter & Gamble, on the other hand, thinks bloggers are so important that they’re sponsoring a “pampering party” before this year’s BlogHer Conference in Chicago.
Moral of the story: It’s 2009. Anyone can get online these days, anyone can get millions of views and lots of attention. Anything popular online can end up in the New York Times or on CNN, thereby tarnishing your brand in the minds of the consumers you’re looking to reach in a positive way. Non-traditional media reach consumers, too. Ignore at your own peril.
UPDATE #1: The supermarket chain rep says bloggers go through customer service. The website says customer service questions are best answered in store and doesn't provide a corporate phone number. Does that mean I can go tonight, pick up a few groceries and get my communications-strategy questions answered while i'm checking out?
UPDATE #2: Target's communications department doesn't discriminate anymore, says Target spokesman Joshua Thomas. Now, whether the pub is trade, a blog, or CNN, communicators evaluate each request as it comes in and respond accordingly.