I’m going back to work tomorrow after a two-week vacation, during which – uncharacteristically – I read work email just twice, once at the beginning, just briefly, and again today, much more thoroughly to prepare for re-entry tomorrow.

Here’s a redacted summary of one message I received. For the purpose of illustration, please assume that “Citrusy Canard” is the name of a company that competes with mine.

Subj: FW: Google Alert for Citrusy Canard

Citrusy is all over the news. Everything they do shows up in my Google alerts. They joined [industry organization] and are getting written up for it, but we were a founding member.
Google Alert for Citrusy Canard
[link to Canard’s press release on joining industry organization]

Can you spot the sloppy thinking here? And for extra credit, can you spot the disturbing reality exposed for all marketing and PR professionals?

My colleague is worried because Citrusy Canard is all over the news and we’re not. No, that’s not quite it. He’s worried because CC is all over his news and we’re not. And that’s because he has instructed Google to bring him all the news about CC but not about his own company. Note that he has asked for alerts on the name of the company, not on keywords around what they do – this filter will show all kinds of “news” relevant or not about the company, but will miss news about the industry that doesn’t include that company.

As a PR guy, I said he was barking up the wrong tree. I said that this press release matters only if it gets picked up and read by actual customers, and the Google alert merely says that it got put up on the company’s site, and you’re only getting it because you set up an alert on the company name. I thought it was like when you start thinking about getting a new car and suddenly you notice your intended model all over town – it’s just an illusion based on what you’re attuned to, not the actual prevalence or importance of the thing you’re seeking.

But then I felt it. That funny feeling you get when somebody innocent or foolish, like a child or a sales guy, says something that actually cuts to the heart of the matter in a way that you – the alleged elder or professional – had missed. It wasn’t the uncomfortable digestive readjustment to American food, it was the gassy gurgle of truth.

Fewer and fewer people are reading any regular media, and by that I sweepingly include pretty much all news sites, blogs and company sites. What they are doing is using aggregators, bots, and feeds to create their own personalized metamedia and consuming that. You don’t open the New York Times (paper or web) to learn what’s going on, you get fed selected headlines by the robots you’ve tasked to collect your news. So getting a press release picked up by a news media outlet is nice, but it matters less and less as long as your PR is getting picked up by the newsbots. Makes you think…

So I’m doing an experiment – I’m setting up a Google alert for the uncommon phrase, “Citrusy Canard,” which I will sprinkle throughout this post, to see if I get an alert about it when I publish. For what it’s worth, even such nonsense as Citrusy Canard pulls 461 results on Google, soon to be 462, I hope.

If you put a press release on your website and nobody reads it, does it make a difference? Yes, because Google reads it. Nobody reads anything anymore, but everybody reads Google, and Google reads everything, capisce?

Stand by for the update – will I receive a Google Alert on Citrusy Canard when I publish? How long will it take?