Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is Cision enabling blast e-mail spam?

You would expect that with the highly-irate journalist backlash against impersonal publicist-driven spam and blast e-mails these past few years, database companies such as Cision and Vocus would bend over backwards to educate its users on avoiding this despised tactic.

Quite accidentally, I seem to have stumbled across a troubling practice at Cision that may be in fact enabling it with their users.

Let's start with this premise, as this is the reason why publicists and companies pay thousands of dollars to Cision for their database: to know what journalists, bloggers, producers, hosts and bookers want to be pitched, how they want to be pitched (if at all), and how to contact them.

Then take this rather unique situation: I am both listed in Cision's database because of this blog, and I am a subscriber because I am a public relations practitioner.

Now let's explain how this all came about...

In mid-December, I received an e-mail from Cision's Kristen Sala.

Hi Drew,

I hope this email finds you well.

Cision produces media directories in which we have a free listing for you with the title of Blogger at Drew Kerr's PR Rock and Roll. This listing with us allows PR and Marketing professionals to find out about you and your areas of expertise, helping to ensure that you receive relevant material from them.

I would therefore like to check whether we currently have up-to-date information around your contact details, contact preferences and journalistic interests.

To ensure your listing is up-to-date, kindly confirm and amend the below as necessary.

Best Regards,


My entry was quite bare bones, so sent back this amendment and asked it to be confirmed:

Please read the blog thoroughly first before contacting me, as I will ignore anything that is irrelevant to exactly what I write about. Not all public relations blogs are the same. Please do not send me blast e-mails or irrelevant press releases. I have no problem embarrassing you by posting about you if you don't heed this advice. Don't say I didn't warn you. Thanks.

The next day, I received a confirmation from Cision, stating "I've added your additional comments to this listing, verbatim."

And that was that, thinking I was informing the people who want to pitch me to read my blog first and don't blast me the same garbage as everybody else.

Until this morning, when I received a press release from the University of Missouri about "Emotional News Framing Affects Public Response to Crisis, MU Study Finds." Not relevant, so I replied asking to be removed from their mailing list. A few minutes later came this surprising retort:

"You are not on a mailing list. You have been identified by as a journalist interested in PR releases."

Huh? Not me. I clicked to my Cision listing and lo and behold, it was still the sparse entry from before mid-December. What happened? It's like my spam filter was never installed.

I tracked down Cision's Kristen Sala, who sent me the original e-mail asking to update my entry. She said she saw my amendment on her computer screen. I told her it was invisible on mine.

Then came the disturbing part: she said my additional comments were on Cisionpoint's "premium service," not basic.

In other words, the people who pay all that money to get the basic information on the do's and don'ts of how to contact the media were not going to see my entry. Only the lucky "premium" level spenders would know to read my blog first and not to send me blast e-mails and press releases. It seems the "1%" were going to get that privilege.

I didn't want to get all "Occupy Cision," but I had to make my displeasure known to Ms. Sala: does this mean lots of other journalists and bloggers listed in Cision don't have their communication preferences listed in "basic" service and it's only available for those who shell out more money? What's the point of asking me to update my entry if only the "premium" caste were going to see it? And if this advice and warning information about contact protocol was not there for all the "basic" users, weren't they helping make it a blast e-mail spam free for all?

She unhappily admitted my points were right, and offered to make my information available to all tiers of Cision, which I gladly accepted.

Publicists shouldn't have to pay extra money to Cision, or any other competing database company, to get rudimentary information about communication do's and don'ts with the press.

Lord knows what "premium" level gets you in additional background -- shoe size? favorite color? preferred Powerpuff Girl? -- but playing favorites with essential data is not a game Cision should be running if it wants to preserve healthy relationships between journalists and publicists.


@ddesk said...

Drew, This was certainly an useful insight into an old and inefficient public relations manner.
I will soon write a blog post about this.
Thanks a lot!

Aadm said...

Thanks for sharing this Drew. I got an email today from this BS company that I was in their database. Never requested to be and they were selling my work email address to a bunch of marketers I have no interest in working with.

I wish Google could ban all these companies from their index and blacklist them from Gmail and Google Apps.