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Gini Dietrich

PR Spam: The Haggler Takes the PR Industry to Task

By: Gini Dietrich | December 3, 2013 | 
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PR Spam- The Haggler Takes the PR Industry to TaskBy Gini Dietrich

It’s always fun when a media outlet – such as the New York Times - takes a swat at the PR industry.

That’s exactly what they did a couple of weeks ago when David Segal, the writer of The Haggler column, wrote “Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam.”

The good news is he took a bigger swipe at the media list compilation companies than at PR professionals. The bad news is PR spam exists and, no matter how often it’s talked about, it continues to be a problem.

A Little Background

Segal began to see an increase in emails he was receiving at his NY Times address after the publication tweaked its spam filters.

Just like anyone who writes anything worth pitching (a column, a blog, editorial), his inbox was full of emails about an iceless, self-chilling glass,”Christmas Cookie Treat Boxes, or a document previewer called Igloo, or a liquor called Pura Vida Tequila, which “will be in the house this season at Qualcomm Stadium.”

And, just like anyone who writes anything worth pitching, he received emails not suitable for a man who writes a column about the plights in customer service. Things such as mortgage scams and moving company nightmares.

Not about liquor or cookies or document previewers.

(Qualcomm Stadium, by-the-way, is in San Diego. Far, far away from New York City.)

So he began to email the PR pros back, wondering where they got his email address.

They all responded with an answer to his question, and it was always Vocus, Cision, PRNewswire, or the like.

The story goes on to detail how hard it was for his name to be removed from the databases and he provides an easy way for those wanting out in the future.

He also provides his email address at the bottom of the article so, if you have a legitimate complaint for The Haggler, it’s fairly easy to find him. All you have to do is pull up a recent column and voila!

It’s Not the Tool

But it’s not really the fault of Vocus or Cision or any of the media database companies.

It’s the fault of the people using the tool.

How many of you have used a media list database?

How many of you have pulled that first list and sighed because it had hundreds of names on it?

How many of you didn’t do any work beyond that and just sent your news release to the entire list?

If you were raising your hands and any of you put your hands down at this point, I’d call you a liar.

At some point in your career, I guarantee every one of us has stopped at pulling the list and just sent the release.

Even I have done that … before I knew it was bad. Before the CAN-SPAM Act was put into place in 2003. Before people started talking about how bad it was.

We’ve all done it.

But today? Today it’s ridiculous that anyone do it. We all know it’s bad practice and it is PR spam, which is against the law.

PR Spam Denied

Just like it is against the law to add anyone to an email list without their permission, it is against the law to send unsolicited email to journalists.

And yet…

I’d venture to guess I get upwards of 10 emails every day from PR pros who don’t have an unsubscribe button and are not sent only to me. I’d also venture to guess the number is at least four times that for Jason Konopinski, whose name is on this very blog as the person to pitch.

Yesterday, in fact, I received a media alert – it wasn’t personalized, it wasn’t targeted, there wasn’t an unsubscribe button – it was just the who, what, where, when, why in an email about the birthplace of Walt Disney being moved.

No, it’s not hard to hit delete and, sure, it’s easy enough to ignore. But when your inbox is full of this crap every day? It gets pretty frustrating.

(I also really love the ones that read, “You haven’t responded so I’m resending to hit the top of your inbox.” Those ones make me go mental.)

Now elevate that for someone who writes for the New York Times.

So What Do We Do?

Matt Wilson asked that question when he wrote about this topic in PR Daily.

Anyone who reads Spin Sucks regularly already knows the answer: Do your homework.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s hard work and it takes a long time. When we’re paid for results based on our time, that’s asking a lot. I know it is.

But it always results in stories.

If you’re pitching a story about a new liquor being served in a football stadium, limit your pitch to food and beverage publications, football blogs, and local media.

If you’re pitching a story about Walt Disney’s birthplace, a good start is Chicago media, but then dig deep into that list to delete people from it. A blogger who writes about PR and marketing – even though she’s in Chicago – probably isn’t going to come to your event.

Your goal should always be to make your list as small as possible before you begin pitching.

If you approach it with that goal in mind, your pitching will be targeted, personal, and effective.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

74 comments
bobzeit
bobzeit

Sorry, Gini, but there are some of us PR folks who have NEVER sent a news release to a huge list without thought to who should actually get it. 

And it is partly Cision's fault for even offering a service that allows lazy PR people to send out a news release to hundreds of reporters in a mass fashion. 

Maybe its' because I've always done B to B PR, and the lists shouldn't be so large to begin with. 

I've always said the good thing about responsible PR people is that most other PR people set the bar so damn low.  But it's also the bad thing about PR as well.



Cision NA
Cision NA

Hi Gini,

Thank you for diving into this conversation. We agree that creating targeted campaigns is the most direct path to success. To that end, we introduced a new search more than a year ago that allows greater filtering and identification to thwart spammers, and we continue updating our functionality, like with our Social Influencer Search that launched last month.

We know you’re aware of many of the steps we take to make sure our tool not only provides the best value to communicators, but also guides relationships with journalists. We honor journalists’ requests to remove or update their listings, and aim to update both client and journalist requests sent to changes.us(at)cision.com within 24 hours.

Situations like these help us to be more aware of what we can do to better our product and the industry, and it’s helpful to not only hear your insight, but also hear from your community; this is what drives our industry to excellence. 

Best,
Lisa 

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

I've had the "sending again to get to the top of your inbox" too. I fool them all. I read my email from the bottom up. I'm at 2008 now. 

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

People are going to abuse whatever device, service or lists make their lives easier. As stated in earlier comments, everything's a numbers game. Quantity is the appearance of doing work. Quality is actually DOING the work. 

I guess because so many businesses associate "quantity" with productivity they fail to see how much more important the impact of "quality" really is. It's also harder to measure quality in comparison to quantity. 

And because PR people are clever kittens that understand this idea of "perceived work," they don't want to look like they're not doing anything, so they abuse email lists to impress their clients.

Only when businesses emphasize quality over quantity will such abuses end.

bradmarley
bradmarley

At a previous agency, I had to provide a report for every. single. journalist who I pitched who was on the media list for a given announcement. It didn't matter what they said. I just had to explain how my pitch efforts went. This made it feel like the numbers outweighed the success.

In other words, if I provided a report that said I pitched 45 reporters, I felt like I had done my job better than someone who only pitched ten. But you know what? Quality should trump quantity. But like @Word Ninja says below: Some companies judge success by the numbers, regardless of whether or not they are the right numbers.

Long story short: This practice will likely never go away.

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

Clients/companies/orgs are often numbers/quantity-minded. How many places did you send the release to (sorry about that preposition, Gini)? How many releases have you sent this month? 

In addition to being responsible for respecting and working well with media contacts, as a PR professional, I also have to educate people in my company to understand that not everything is BIG NEWS and that releases should be well-written news stories that truly offer value for the audiences of the media outlets to which we send them.

susancellura
susancellura

One just cannot be lazy with public relations and the media. I think I've told this story before, but at one company I worked for, a much younger person actually told me, "Oh, just send it to the distribution list  - put it in the BCC line".

AGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I took so much time building a relationship with one editor, that he would always work our news into the publication, web site, etc.

And, I agree wholeheartedly with many of the comments/conversations going on below!

SuziC
SuziC

I'm going to float a couple of thoughts to the "SuperFriends of Public Relations" (that'd be all of us commenting away on Spin Sucks.) 

1 - Teach the Fledglings/Practice What We Preach
How many of us were taught to pitch correctly when we were fledglings? How many of us were handed a copy of Bacon's -- sometimes outdated -- told to compile a list of (TOPIC) reporters, send to that list, and then follow up? So, without questioning the wisdom of our elders, or our client, we executed. And it kinda sorta worked. So we did it again. And again. We were congratulated on our effort. 

How much more effective would it have been if someone walked us through the most basic of public relations practices... the pitch?  How much more effective if we mentors introduced our fledglings to the reporters? What if we truly "Watched One. Did One. Taught One." like they do in medical circles? 

So, if we want the madness to stop here, let's stop it by teaching the proper way. 

2 - Help us out,  Reporters
On the other side of the fence, reporters/bloggers could do themselves and the public relations pros who love them a huge favor by completing their profiles on the databases. Having pulled my fair share of lists as starting points for franchisees, those profiles are woefully sparse.

Please use the notes section to inform us of your beat so you can save both of us a phone call. Let us know what you want to see, and what you really don't want to see.  If your beat changes, update your profile. I've followed reporters across the Southland and even followed them as they took promotions.  The scope of their work changed, and they were able to suggest another contact.  In 2008, my lists of contacts went sideways as many of my contacts were downsized and those remaining took on a larger scope of assignments -- interior design and automotive, for instance. :) 

3 - I'm always looking to improve and fine tune my pitching technique. What works for you? 

Cheers! 


sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

Sigh, those like the one you mentioned "You have not responded..." make me insane as well. Perhaps there is a reason I have not responded? There are several reasons 1) Possibly you spammed me  2) I dont know you 3) You didnt do you research and I have no interest in what you are pitching,

I raised my hand about using lists in the past without weeding it out first...but a long time ago.  Now it kills me when I get competitors who call me and have no idea we offer the SAME, EXACT SERVICES?!? Seriously, you waste time, money and resources by not weeding out the list.

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

This has always been a pet peeve of mine. While it's easy to just hit send, it SO much more effective to do your homework. I know, I'm preaching to the choir here. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

All shortcuts fail. In fact the one similar shortcut called a success is Direct Mail with a 97% failure rate (the industry claims a 3% response average which could.....very well could be the best response rate for any type of marketing, advertising or PR.) Everything takes work.

This relates to my recent thoughts on Klout and influence. How much effort it would take per individual to truly have insights on their life. Scanning your last 24 hrs of tweets (all 37 of them!) I could tell you are in PR, talk business, say hello to women tweeters, and either love Bears football (UC-Berkley? Chicago? etc) or maybe that is your fierce tweet of success when something goes right?

That is it. How do I know if you are influential in anything just using a Klout score based on that? Just like how can I trust a massive mailing list. Clients should know the publications (on and offline) that they want exposure in. End of story. Start with those.

JayDolan
JayDolan

I will die happy if I never get another infographic pitch for my blog.

belllindsay
belllindsay

Why, why, why are people so lazy. It achieves NOTHING. Except perhaps a bad reputation. Ugh. 

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

I've always found it ironic that one of the biggest sources of PR spam in my inbox comes from a noted PR industry publication. I get dozens of their emails, pitching all kinds of products and events that have absolutely nothing to do with the kind of "PR" I practice. Hell, I don't even call myself a PR person. And when you go to unsubscribe you're presented with a dozen different lists you're on. You can't customize and say, "I want these two, but not those other 11." 

So yeah, we need some leadership from the organizations that are our public face. 

RAReed
RAReed

I'm still amazed we're discussing such an elemental approach to audience targeting. It's Rifle vs. shot gun; the farther you are away from the target, the rifle always wins.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Cision NA Like I said, I don't think this is the fault of the tool at all. I know you guys are doing everything you can to make PR pros better at media relations, but sometimes all of your efforts fall on deaf ears when they just create a list and send an email. 

bobzeit
bobzeit

@bradmarley @Word Ninja 

Brad: let me ask -- what was your goal or your agency's goal for that client? Was it to pitch 45 reporters?  That's not too lofty of a goal.  Or was it to get five stories placed?  If that was the goal, I wouldn't care if you pitched six reporters. As long as you placed the five stories.  Hell, I'd even give you the rest of the day off if you did it quickly!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bradmarley I also had to provide that kind of report early in my career. Clients wanted to see it and they wanted to know who was saying no. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had my team do said reports when I started this business. And then I discovered how wrong that practice was.

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@bradmarley Crazy. All that time you were required to spend providing a report, you could have spent pitching. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Word Ninja I just had a friend ask me if I thought she should push back on her boss wanting her to send a release about something that was not at all newsworthy. I confirmed her instinct and helped her message how to tell the big boss. She won the fight.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@BHSMITH Very good point! I can imagine it's extremely frustrating to be tarred with the same brush, just because you've provided the contact info. 

SuziC
SuziC

@belllindsay I suggest, they weren't trained in the ways of the pitching pros.  I can't blame folks if they were trained incorrectly or not at all. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@RobBiesenbach I have so many thoughts about this one comment, I don't know where to begin! I think I know which one you're talking about AND there are a couple of others that do the same. I'd actually never thought about it from that angle. They're spamming us...we're spamming journalists. It's a never-ending cycle.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@RAReed I should start forwarding you some of the pitches I receive...from people you and I both know should know better.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@RAReed  I think too many amateurs have tools that didn't exist before. I am one myself. I had done media relations and blogger outreach using social and email but I am a sales & marketing dude. I had some good success to.

But I hated even sending out an email with more than one name on it which I did sometimes. Now I send individual ones even if the pitch is the same. The main reason is if I know the person well enough I can include personal communications.

susancellura
susancellura

@ginidietrich I politely told her that in all my years that my experience showed that was the BEST way to guarantee that the release would NOT be picked up, and as it was her product launch, surely she wanted it picked up?

RAReed
RAReed

@ginidietrich @RAReed I do find this topic infuriating. I am manic about proper planning and targeting. Sure, it costs more for an experienced human to parse a target and send personalized pitches, but the end result is so much better. Besides, I think of my personal reputation because my name is on the email.