Friday, March 27, 2009

AllThingsD's Peter Kafka has had it with Vocus-generated "spam"

This morning, AllThingsD's MediaMemo writer Peter Kafka posted the tweet you see on the left, taking aim at Vocus PR and their clients.

There's nothing more embarrassing than when a journalist airs the PR profession's dirty laundry to the web-o-sphere. Here, it's more than publicists but the ones who are using Vocus' "on-demand" software, although Kafka adds his biting "spam" descriptor.

After I saw this tweet, Kafka told me that "his in box is just about broken" and that he will "have to resort to blacklisting" the individual PR pros who spam him. He termed the whole thing "counterproductive" and "a waste of time" for all involved.

So now a whole lot of PR professionals, who really should know better than to do this, are going to get deservedly punished and shut out. Where are the managers and supervisors who are letting this happen? There never seems to be enough hand-wringing over PR spam from widely-read and respected people like Peter Himler, Brian Solis and others through their blogs and panel appearances, so what does it take to stop the spam?

Think about the perilous state of the media right now -- newspapers are closing, magazines are shutting down and the financial faucet for start-ups is tighter than ever. The windows of opportunity for PR professionals are sadly shrinking due to the very sad scenario. Why are companies allowing publicists to shoot themselves in the foot by not establishing relationships and understanding what people write about?

I personally know what Peter is talking about. I've had my share of spam because of this blog, although probably nowhere near his quantity. My reply when I get an e-mail like that is: "Why are you sending this to me?" I've heard everything from "You're on the media audit list of someone who has been covering the Madoff story" (huh?) to "You are listed as a PR industry writer who has a blog" (sent by one of the Florida visitors and convention bureaus!).

If you go to the Vocus web site, they promote their service as one that "engages": Vocus' PRWeb, the original online news service, enables you to effectively engage with social media outlets by distributing your news through the broadest online distribution network and automatically post your news directly on sites like Twitter.

Let me save you a lot of money and aggrevation: if you want to "engage," first get an RSS reader like FeedDemon and actually read the journalists and bloggers you are contemplating. Go into Google News, type their names in and read their work. Don't rely solely on some stupid list that Vocus or Cision has given you.

If these people are actually writing about things that are relevant to you, your CEO and/or your client -- not a stretch, but truly right on the nose relevant -- then drop them a note. Post a comment. Get to know these people before you bat them over the head with something out of left field. You know the drill.

It's public relations, not public bombardment.


Edward O'Meara said...

Too many young PR people are being taught to "create a list" and follow it up - and the media database services make it easy to do.

What's worse is that many of the listed contacts are concentrated at group or department levels while many reporters are often "undocumented" freelancers.

We used to call that Direct Marketing, now they refer to it as Media Relations.

It is SPAM.

Jay Krall said...

Hi, my name is Jay Krall and I'm the manager for Internet media research for Cision. We work closely with journalists to ensure that they receive pitches only on topics directly related to their coverage. Our service helps them tailor the pitches they receive to their real areas of interest. We talk to journalists and bloggers every day to put our database to work for them, and many I talk to feel they receive plenty of worthy materials due to being listed with us. Thanks for discussing this important topic, we take it very seriously.

David Agnum said...

Hi Jay - I'd love to know what "beat code" you have for Peter Krall listed in the Cision database. I've used Cision in the past too - but data is data. PR is all about relationships.

This issue is more about PR staffers sending out information using the "carpet-bombing" technique. Companies like Cision, Vocus, and others give you a starting point. If they tell you that they can give you a perfect list everytime by entering a few search terms, and you buy it for that purpose, you're a fool, and you deserve to be blacklisted.

The only way a tool can, as you say, "ensure that they receive pitches only on topics directly related to their coverage", is to have Cision review the press release and determine who it should go to. So while it sounds great, it just rings hollow unless you are using it to research who you should PITCH - not who you should EMAIL.

Cision (and Vocus, PR Newswire, Burrelle's, etc.) gives you a database - it's up to you to know if the pitch is right for an intended recipient. It doesn't matter how much research Cision does, or any other database service, if you send a release to people based on a beat code, you're going to fail miserably.

Kye Strance said...

Hi, I am Vocus’ Product Director Kye Strance. Vocus is designed to help PR professionals find the information they need to create a targeted list of reporters to approach with relevant news. We recognize that there is a current and growing issue with spam. Through our monthly webinar and whitepaper series and our Users Conference, we continually work to educate both our customers and the industry on best practices for targeting and pitching the media. We are always looking for new ways to help educate the industry on how to fix the problem.

Anonymous said...

Jay & Kye,

Selling a person an automatic shotgun, bundled with a hunter safety class, doesn't guarantee the safety of deer, dogs, other hunters, or children.

All you have to do is read the constant complaints of reporters and bloggers receiving hundreds of e-mails and voice mails to realize that it's an empowered User issue. It's nice that you kind-of accept an enabling role, but it doesn't change the dilemma. The more you sell, the more who can pitch.

Generally, the pressure is on Volume and Spread, not relationships.

Anonymous said...

I think it can be safely said that most Users of media database systems aren't chasing original reporters, they're going for press release pick-ups and ink. Better known as Editorial Spam.

Suw Charman-Anderson said...

I started a new blog last year about designing (not yet building!) my own cat-friendly and environmentally responsible house. Little did I know that I was hitting two PR spam hot topics: pets and green. Pretty soon, I ended up on PR databases all over the place. I have been deluged with PR spam ever since.

I have a page on my blog which outlines what I'm interested in - - but it is routinely ignored.

One particular company have been repeat offenders, with one of their PRs actually having the nerve to argue back when I told him I wasn't interested in anything he had to send me. I just had another email from one of them this week, but at least the woman who sent it was responsive when I asked to be taken off their mailing list.

Anyway, she mentioned that I'm on this Cision list, which is odd because last November I had exactly the same conversation with a PR from another company who said she'd contacted Cision and asked them to re-evaluate my listing on their database. I'm still getting the spam, though, and am unsurprised to discover I'm on their list. Either they never took me off, or I've been re-added.

Cision are *not* keeping a clean list. Jay, I'm sorry, your comment is nothing but whitewash. Back it up with some action.

But Cision aren't the only ones to blame. The PR companies buying these lists are also behaving very poorly by not actually checking that the lists they buy are clean.

I'm not someone who believes that the entire PR industry is, de facto, morally bankrupt, but you guys are really not helping by maintaining such appallingly low standards. You're a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Another "blogger" on a database who shouldn't be: