Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When publicists spam other publicists

Publicists have to be social media mavens, but they are finding out, along with the rest of the world, that "old school" bad PR habits get them hung out to dry on Twitter and blogs. They can't get away with it anymore.

Just a week ago, PaidContent.org founder Rafat Ali declared war on "Vocus PR and its scummy PR practices," even suggesting people look up "Vocus spam" on Google -- he wasn't kidding about the results.

Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman tweeted: "FYI to pr folk: If I get a call asking if I received so and so, I always say yes just to rush the person off the phone."

I know first-hand why journalists feel this way because I get my occasional spam from PR firms. I'm only a mild case compared to the avalanche other lucky PR bloggers find in their in-boxes.

Not only are ignorant publicists baiting professional journalists to roast them publicly for their sins, but they are begging to get it from their own kind too.

This is my definition of spam: impersonal e-mail blasts that contain completely irrelevant information.

Yet, as you'll see, there are publicists who think this practice is perfectly acceptable.

PR spam originated from two technological advances: the ability to form groups in e-mail software, and companies like Cision and Vocus which can easily compile media e-mail addresses and export them in Excel format. Even a third grader can cut and paste an Excel list column into Outlook and let it rip by pressing Send.

However, bloggers and reporters have made it no secret over and over again that they can't stand PR spam-filled e-mail boxes. What makes publicists think other publicists don't feel the same way?

I have a simple method of handling PR spam. It's probably far more time consuming than anybody else would do, but I feel I have to make an educational point and it's far less messy than hiring "Johnny Knuckles" from Bayonne.

1) I reply to the sender politely: "Why did you send this release to me?"

Almost all of the time, they reply with a rousing explanation about the press release's importance.

2) I then ask them if they've ever read my blog.

Most of the time, that results in silence.

3) If I am feeling a little more ambitious, I'll actually look up the firm and drop a line to whoever is in charge, asking them if they knew their staff was sending out spam, that this is why reporters despise many publicists, and shouldn't they be enforcing proper media relations instead of shotgun missives? I ask them if it's OK if I blog about it.

Almost unanimously, they shoot back apologies, agree with me, and beg to not be mentioned in my blog. One even called me.

I figured it would be a noble ideal if I let a supervisor know that this is a surefire way to be ostracized, there may be a little less PR spamming in the world. Touching, but true.

Last week, I had a typical PR spam from a JAG Entertainment account executive, who sent out an e-mail blast addressed to "Hey!" and plugged her boss' new Chicken Soup for the Soul book with an attached press release. When I asked why she sent me the press release, she took a different, more direct route: she said she found me on a list of PR bloggers on Cision. Of course, when I asked if she'd ever read my blog, no reply was forthcoming.

When I e-mailed her boss Jo-Ann Geffen about receiving the spam and why this hurts our image in the eyes of the press, she shot back: I hardly consider this spam. [Name of account executive] is extremely capable and there are hundreds of thousands of blogs. It is unlikely that ANYONE could read all of them. Perhaps you should notify Cision to take you off their lists.

Unfortunately, it's not Cision's fault that I am on their list. I do believe it is the fault of lazy supervisors and executives who find sending out e-mail blasts easy but teaching and enforcing the basics of media relations hard.

Do you pitch TV and radio shows blindly without knowing a thing about them? That's a PR 101 concept that still stands today -- watch the show so you know what it's about before you pitch them. Same thing with blogs and every other form of media.

My fellow PR bloggers have their own thoughts about handling our own profession's saboteurs:

The Flack's Peter Himler: I usually ignore them, but if the pitch is so annoying I'd write them
back and ask "why would I ever report this? Do you read my blog? Next time do your homework. In rare cases, I'd post or tweet about it. I might include the offending publicist's client or place of work.

PR Squared's Todd Defren: I ignore 'em. They make me sad. I used to reply but the volume of nonsensical inquiries became too much to do anything but ignore.

PR 2.0's Brian Solis: I'm deluged with horrible pitches by PR professionals who contribute to the stereotype. I delete them, I suppose until I finally get pushed over the edge. However,
please do note, that I proactively write about how to do PR better as a positive means of teaching these individuals how to do their job better...I don't see them reading the posts however.