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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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75 Comments on "PR Spam: The Haggler Takes the PR Industry to Task"

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MonicaMillerRodgers
2 years 9 months ago
Gini, I was shaking my head when I read this column. It would seem in today’s PR industry, it’s been said and proven enough times that the “spray-and-pray” technique just doesn’t work anymore. I can’t count how many blog posts and professional publication articles I’ve read that beg us PR pros to stop this. It keeps happening, though, and it just keeps widening the gap between us and media members. I, too, have been guilty of this technique in another life, but I never got the results I did when I narrowed and specified my pitch to the reporters who… Read more »
jasonkonopinski
2 years 9 months ago

Without going into specifics, I’ve gotten “pitches” for simple mentions/links, fashion brands, virtually every tech gadget under the sun, and Coach purses. I’m not kidding about that last one.

TaraGeissinger
2 years 9 months ago

I am happy to take the Coach purses and submit a guest post on how they made me more confident when I attended events and/or pitched business. 🙂

jasonkonopinski
2 years 9 months ago

TaraGeissinger You know, if they’d have pitched cowboy boots and harvest-themed bandanas, I would have paid attention. 🙂 ginidietrich

TaraGeissinger
2 years 9 months ago

Unfortunately, it’s just so darn EASY to use these lists and programs to email everyone under the sun. I love that you wrote this because it gives me something that I can share with clients to help explain why a smaller, targeted media list is actually stronger in the long run. Strategy and relationships people! There is no “easy” button.

annelizhannan
2 years 9 months ago

I appreciate your thoughts that a media list is but a tool and not a strategy. The tool works if used appropriately but like any tool it is the craftsman’s art that will make the difference in the results. You have written about this often in posts. It is imperative for the buyer to fully understand the what, how and why of any media house or agency in terms of their services. It baffles me how we continue to get lost in making relations relative.

RAReed
RAReed
2 years 9 months ago

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.

RobBiesenbach
2 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
belllindsay
2 years 9 months ago

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

JayDolan
2 years 9 months ago

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

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

JayDolan I will be happy if the world never ever ever ever ever creates another infographic. So far the score is 7286 ones with horrendously false data, no sources, and crazy proclamations for effect to 3 that were accurate up and down.

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

RobBiesenbach whew I was waiting for you to say I was your biggest source of spam. I don’t have to throttle back my pitches. Saweet!

BHSMITH
BHSMITH
2 years 9 months ago

As you can imagine, this story was top-of-mind here (at PR Newswire). Below is a blog penned off of the NYT piece. Bottom-line is our data folks take great effort to get very specific instruction from the journalists on what / how to pitch them. We don’t appreciate PR folks using us a spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam and spam database either.  
http://blog.prnewswire.com/2013/11/25/media-databases-a-valuable-research-tool-in-the-right-hands-2/

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

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.

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

annelizhannan kind of like nuclear technology. Some folks build power plants and others plan to destroy cities. Don’t be a city destroyer!

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

jasonkonopinski I saw you fly fishing with that coach purse holding your flies.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 9 months ago

Howie Goldfarb That was our secret, Howie.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

MonicaMillerRodgers And the PRSA events that are held at least once a year with a panel of journalists. They ALWAYS say, “Know what I write about. Know who my audience is. Tailor the pitch to me.” Always.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

TaraGeissinger jasonkonopinski Don’t ignore the Coach purse emails!

jasonkonopinski
2 years 9 months ago

ginidietrich  TaraGeissinger They’re in a special folder just for you.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

TaraGeissinger I think some of it is ignorance. I’m pretty sure the pitch I received yesterday that I mention in the post is the result of a very young professional who doesn’t know any better. But I also keep hearing stories of how experienced professionals keep saying the numbers count and want their younger peers to just get it out to large numbers of people. Bad, bad, bad.

yvettepistorio
2 years 9 months ago

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.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

annelizhannan I almost hate to keep talking about this, but it’s pretty clear by articles published by the NY Times and my inbox that people aren’t hearing the message.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

Howie Goldfarb THAT is exactly how you should do it.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

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

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

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.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 9 months ago

belllindsay Work is hard, Elbee.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

belllindsay I think *some* of it is naivety. The rest? Laziness.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

JayDolan You know what that makes me want to do?

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 9 months ago

ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb I can create a webinar for Spin Sucks on how to send out individual emails.

sydcon_mktg
2 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
RobBiesenbach
2 years 9 months ago

And someday, Howie, I’m going to take you up on one of those offers. I still can’t believe I can pull in $8K a week working from my home! Your system sound almost too good to be true! Almost.

RobBiesenbach
2 years 9 months ago

Beer talk!
I will hand it to Bulldog Reporter. Some of their morning alerts landed in my spam folder. I didn’t mark them as “not spam” and they automatically took me off their list. Smart!

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago
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.… Read more »
CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago

ginidietrich you are truly a world-class imp! Love it!

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago

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.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago

ginidietrich TaraGeissinger That comment about “large numbers” kills me.  
I pitched a client who said he hired a firm a few years ago to get his name everywhere. They did. In some pretty suspect places, e.g. those internet Ask A Question/Get an Answer from someone who THINKS they’re an expert. The question is usually phrased: “Is XYZ legitimate?” “Is THIS PERSON a fraud?”  Ironically, he saw this as success.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago

jasonkonopinski If you get a pitch for a really nice dressage saddle, please keep me in mind. But the Coach purses are a great runner up in my book. 🙂

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 9 months ago

MonicaMillerRodgers  I suggest that a good tool is following Twitter feeds. I’ve pitched over twitter…successfully. (I was shocked!)

susancellura
susancellura
2 years 9 months ago

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!

Word Ninja
2 years 9 months ago

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
2 years 9 months ago

Word Ninja YES! YES! YES!

belllindsay
2 years 9 months ago

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.

bradmarley
2 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
JRHalloran
2 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Word Ninja
2 years 9 months ago

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

JayDolan
2 years 9 months ago

ginidietrich JayDolan Try me.

RAReed
RAReed
2 years 9 months ago

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.

ginidietrich
2 years 9 months ago

JRHalloran You win comment of the day for using “clever kitten”

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