This is a guest post I wrote for new media and PR expert Brian Solis, but I also wanted to share it with my readers. Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge just published an excellent book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations. It’s a must read for any PR professional moving into or active in this space.
As bloggers, we’ve all experienced it: the completely off topic pitch. After pouring blood, sweat, and tears into our blog that clearly is known for addressing a specific subject matter, we get an email from a public relations agency that takes us for someone completely different. Where do they come off doing that?
A few months ago, Brian Solis talked about an off-topic pitch about a social network for plants. (Somehow, I think nature lovers would be more interested in socializing shrubbery.) I’m sure you can relate. With some of these pitches, I scratch my head. With others who address me as Jennifer or Dakash, I wonder if these individuals representing both small and large companies really realize that their lack of research reflects poorly on their clients.
There are thousands of public relations professionals. There are even more bloggers. With online interactions comes the conception that public relations outreach is all the more easier. Email facilitates communications. There’s no effort in adding thousands of email addresses to an address book, performing a mail merge, and sending off a generic press release. The thought is, “How about I target everyone I possibly can and hope for a handful of those folks to blog about the service I’m pitching?”
Guess what? The reason PR professionals are succeeding down this path is because of bloggers like us who are receptive to this impersonal and poorly researched messaging. Of course, not all of us will respond to a generic press release, but there are those who want the new shiniest gadget or a preview of the next greatest webapp or even the newest self-help book and they’ll immediately jump at the opportunity for a freebie.
Jonathan Fields blogged about his PR outreach nightmare. In a nutshell (and one that is hard to summarize given the chunks of gold in his communications), an email was addressed to “Mr. Jonathan Fields Self Help,” asking him to review a new book. More disturbing to Jonathan was the fact that the email itself “showed no regard for who [he] was and what [he] wrote or cared about.”
You’ve probably gotten emails like this to and decided to toss them in the trash.
Jonathan’s saga continues when the PR representative followed up with a stern email, chastising him for not considering the book.
It is the second time I wrote to you Jonathan. I am trying to interest you in perhaps one of the most important self help books ever written. You didn’t reply the first time and I thought that you might respond the second time.
Sorry if this doesn’t appear to meet your needs.
I will certainly respect your wishes, but it sure seems an ironic shame that you are choosing this course of action.
Great. The provocation begins. Jonathan decided he had to spin into action. He retorted back to the representative with the following statement:
The “ironic shame” is that as someone who represents the legendary [Big Publisher] and books based on respect and honoring human individuality, you’ve not taken the time to understand the fundamentals of how to pitch a blogger in a manner that’s not insulting and spammy.
The PR representative wasn’t done. His response? He’s been doing it for 35 years and “it works.” Further, it’s “simply unrealistic” for him to tailor his press releases to bloggers, and it’s “close minded” for bloggers to expect this of him. Why? Becasue “bloggers are only one of over 25 prime media and online technologies.” And as such, they’re not important. After all, “most media respond favorably … Dozens and dozens of them are responding simply by saying, ‘sure, send us the books.'”
I read this post with my mouth open. Not so much from Jonathan’s expected response but because of this PR “professional” who clearly lacks the understanding of acceptable blogger outreach. “It works,” he says. It’s easy, with over 750,000 journalists listed in the Cision database, to compose an email without regard for who the person is and to make an immediate decision to hit the “send” button without actually spending 5 minutes on the blogger’s website and discovering what tickles their fancy.
If bloggers are receptive to this kind of lazy outreach, other bloggers need to step up and make it known to the PR representative that this behavior will not last. Some have gone as far as outing the companies who have trodden down this path. While public pages and blog posts can be effective, though, the low-key communication style may be just as powerful. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough Jonathans in the world who explictly respond to the PR “pro” to let them know that their behavior won’t win them any influential friends in the blogosphere. After all, there are more folks receptive to the freebies than those who feel the need to stand up to these spammers.
Blogger outreach does not need to take a significant chunk of time and can translate to long-lasting relationships that can really benefit your business or your clients. Search for blogs via paid tools such as Radian6, TruPulse, and Trackur. If you are going down the free route, use Google Blog Search, Technorati, and blogrolls to find relevant blogs. BuzzStream is a brilliant new tool that lets you gather contact names and addresses and chart your history of communications with each individual blogger. The process of doing outreach does not have to be so difficult and can be easily managed.
If your responsibility is to reach out to more than just bloggers, it might be a better idea to get someone more qualified — someone who knows how to put the public back in public relations — to cover the blogger outreach. Jonathan was too kind and did not identify the spammer, but next time, you might not be so lucky. Would you really want to become another Lois Whitman?
Writing on social media strategy has still gotten me my share of dance and fashion clothing pitches. I’ve yet to blog about either. (However, when responding to a PR agency in the past about this, I was told, “We thought it was a fashion blog.”) Further, I’ve made it clear that I only blog about services I have firsthand knowledge of and strategies I have worked on. I don’t blog about new products unless it suits me or my readers. However, this phenomenom has gotten so bad that I’ve asked people not send me press releases. No later than a week after my blog’s contact form was updated did I receive three spankin’ new press pitches. And all of them, again, were not relevant to my interests or my subject matter.
Is the PR pitch dying? Will there be other bloggers who follow in my lead and ask public relations professionals to stop sending messaging that doesn’t fit with their beat and doesn’t account for the blogger’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas? Probably not. But those of us who do receive those off-topic and spammy press releases have the responsibility to put these PR spammers in their place. Use this opportunity to empower yourself as a blogger who deserves to hear the right messages and not the wrong ones.