Friday, January 16, 2009

The Pandora's Box of PR spam is press credentials

Journalists are tired of mass deleting their in-boxes, and now it's played out like that cheesy 2008 M. Night Shyamalan film "The Happening" where after decades of abuse and negligence, nature turned against mankind and began killing humans. Except this time it is the media turning against PR.

Ironically, when members of the press register for large scale events like the recently completed Consumer Electronics Show (CES), their information is passed along to numerous in-house PR entities and outside firms, who seem to take it as an invitation to e-mail blast.

After all the unwanted attention publicists have received over the past year from their e-mail blasting ways -- from Wired editor Chris Anderson blocking out all the incriminating domains in October 2007, to Gina Trapani's creation of the PR Spammers Wiki -- you'd think publicists would hold up on the group e-mails and irrelevant pitches? Apparently not.

One prominent blogger explained to me that acquiring CES press credentials brought him a mountain of irrelevant publicist missives to his inbox. "Supposedly if you sign up for CES as press, the tradeoff is you agree to be spammed... Pretty much makes (my) inbox unusable," he said.

He e-mailed me one example from a PR firm blindly pitching him about meeting a Swedish phone designer at the Las Vegas event. If the publicist had read this person's blog, they'd know mobile phones do not enter the picture.

Another national newspaper reporter IM'd me: "Ah, the CES list. In the past, I've found that it can be mitigated if you carefully fill out the registration forms. Lots of check boxes on what you're interested in. Some reporters don't bother... but then complain when some random company starts pitching."

I asked him if there was an opt-out for being contacted by PR firms? "Hmm, I don't recall, but there should be one."

It turns out there is one, according to CES' senior director of communications Tara Dunion: "There is an opt-out on the reg form but perhaps we should look into making it bigger or more noticeable."

Let's put aside the important issue of the availability and size of PR contact opt-out at press credential tables. It boggles the mind that the concept of quality over quantity has still not been taught or enforced by so many people in our profession. We live in an age of personalization. If Nigerian bank account scammers have it figured out, why don't publicists?

If every publicist who had somebody tied into CES reduced their target list to 10 reporters or bloggers who were relevant and whose work they had read, there'd probably be a lot of media people grateful for emptier in-boxes. Reporters wouldn't fear the downside of being credentialed. The odds would improve for meaningful stories written and relationships would be built on this mutual respect.

I can dream, can't I?

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