In the midst of PageOne Public Relations' Chantal Yang's juicy juxtaposition of JBoss and its public relations (non)strategy, I found this comment hugely important:
JBoss always put the community first. Under the open source mantra of "release early, release often," JBoss developers didn't wait for sign off from PR to release code, announce it on community mailing lists, and blog about it. This was initially a major headache for PR...
The PR team initially tried to control this, but communities don't work this way. Traditional PR often focuses on controlling the flow of information when it should focus on the content itself, regardless of whether it is delivered through press releases, interviews, blog posts, podcasts, or presentations. (Emphasis mine)
JBoss' voice worked because it was authentic. Sometimes that came through in JBoss founder Marc Fleury's brash style, but often it was as Yang suggests: content first, process later. Good PR seeks to create a marketing message but also to harness a company's existing messaging.
In my own work, I never ask Alfresco's PR team what I should write about, though sometimes our PR firm likes what I write and tries to build a media outreach campaign based on themes I've already noted in my blog. No matter how many times you think you've said something, most people haven't heard the message yet, so there's always ample room to expand the communication channels, even with the same message.
JBoss worked because the company and its community wrote excellent code and talked about it in authentic, compelling ways. A strong PR team can help to complement this. Just be sure that PR complements, rather than controls, your message.
Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.