The Nightmare Public Relations Professional and How to Stop Him

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.

19 Comments

  • Shari Weiss says:

    Hi Tamar,
    This comment is “the other side of the 2-way street” — I, too, am a blogger, but instead of asking you to review my book, I’d like a copy of The Community Rules to review for my blog “Sharisax is Out There.”

    I just wrote several posts on Brian’s PPBPR as well as moderating a Social Media Book Discussion on it. Not only that, but I have started a Squidoo lens where I am writing about social media books.

    Hope to hear from you, and I look forward to reading your posts on your site, now that I’ve been introduced by your guest post on PR 2.0.

  • Greg Jarboe says:

    It’s sad, but true, that most PR professionals pitch the way most telemarketers and spammers do. That’s why there are “do not call” lists and anti-spam software. But what can save bloggers from getting unwanted — and irrelevant — pitches? How about creating a Worst Practices Award? As a blogger myself, I’d love to nominate some PR people for that. Then again, as a PR guy, I hope that I’m never nominated. One of the ways we try to keep from winning such a mythical award is the read blogs several times before we ever contact them. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have sat next to you, Tamar, at enough search industry conferences to know you don’t blog about plants.

  • Hey Greg, I’m game with that. Let’s do it! :)

  • Greg Jarboe says:

    Cool. I’ll see you next week at SMX East and we can start sharing nominations.

  • Kurt says:

    I’ve long since set up warnings on my contact pages that anything styled as a press release will be summarily rejected without being read, yet still they make the attempt. Seriously, I do not read them. As soon as the pattern-recognition part of my brain sees that they are a press release I delete them. No exceptions.

  • I think I’m throwing up a little in my mouth at the second email that PR person sent. Seriously?! Who would ever, ever SCOLD another adult?

    If he’s been doing this for 35 years, then he’s been doing really bad PR for over three decades. Of course, he already signaled that when he described the book as “perhaps one of the most important self-help books ever written.” Get a grip, man. Hyperbole/superlatives=toss that pitch no matter what. This is the kind of crap that gives PR a bad name.

    If I get a no thanks from a writer–any writer, in any medium–it’s a chance to ask about other stories they may be working on for which I might have a source or an angle if it feels as if we do have a chance of working together. It’s not an excuse to give them a spanking.

    @BarbChamberlain

  • Amen, Barb. And you’re handling it wonderfully :)

  • Greg Jarboe says:

    Amber, let me give Radian6 a shoutout, too. As for clients that just want “results” and don’t care how many bloggers you piss off to get them, that’s not a small percentage — unfortunately. It’s a bi-product of compensation schemes that reward quarterly performance. So, the hardest job is often counseling clients in competitive markets that good community behavior will be rewarded … eventually. Many are not patient enough to wait that long. Sometimes, we have to resign an account that doesn’t want to understand communication — which is incredibly hard to do in a recession.

  • As a newbie-social-media-blogger-margarita-dude-guy-person, I find myself scared shitless after reading this post. I’m no PR pro or expert on building online communities, but fortunately or unfortunately for me, that’s exactly what I’m tasked with doing. Self-employed site owner. Mom & pop. So I post stuff, email, invite, tweet, RT, FF. Sometimes it helps build a following, but often it doesn’t. I’m learning. But what I’m also learning is that there exists the same class system within social media as with all media. If I have a huge budget, I have access. If Oprah follows me, so does everyone else. Only problem is that Oprah only follows 19 people. Guess what I’m saying is that if you’ve built a blogging empire and you have a ton of followers (congratulations, you deserve it…alot of ridiculously hard work and time), then you should, as Oprah, be equipped to handle and respond to millions of useless facsimiles, and off-topic pitches. The way I see it, the larger your following, the larger your responsibility. Welcome to Hollywood.

  • Nothing to be afraid of, Matt!

    I actually don’t mind calling out the PR pros who send me off topic pitches, but when I do so, I’m pretty clear about it. My responses are often along the lines of, “Thanks, but my blog covers social media marketing strategy. Your pitch about animals really doesn’t fit my beat.”

  • Tamar, thank you for your reply, I really do appreciate it. You’ve got a long-time listener…

  • Thank you for stopping by, Matt. :)

  • Greg Jarboe says:

    Matt, if you are as honest with bloggers as you’ve been in the comments to this post, you shouldn’t have any problems. Everyone knows what it feels like to be “scared shitless.” So, just call ‘em as you see ‘em and your supporters will rally behind you. And you don’t need a big budget. That’s the good news. You do need to spend valuable time though. That’s the bad news. But interact with bloggers when business in your mom & pop shop is slow and you’ll be able to do both.

  • Gracias, Greg…i need all the help i can get!

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