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May 1, 2008
Unpleasant Outings
 

A recent trend that should concern the profession is the “outing” by high profile bloggers of PR and communications people for “lame” online behavior.

Is this tactic an appropriate response designed to educate the profession, or are the attacks unjustified or ill-mannered? And what can communications professionals do to avoid being publicly humiliated, or, in other words, how can we do a better job pitching bloggers?

Probably the harshest of these outings occurred last year when Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired, and author of The Long Tail, published the actual e-mail addresses of PR people he has blacklisted, referring to them as:

 

“Lazy flacks (who) send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can't be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they're pitching. Fact: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers (that's editor@wired.com).

So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I'm interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that's why my email address is public).Everything else gets banned on first abuse.”

 

In an era when the value of the traditional PR agency is being called into question, one thing that distinguishes the profession is its ability to build and take advantage of genuine relationships with journalists. This skill can be easily transferred to the online world, but requires the same technique: knowing the journalist (aka blogger), his or her “beat,” and preference for mode and style of pitch. There is no excuse for shot gunning untargeted pitches to journalists online or off. And the best coverage comes from authentic, real world relationships, not from guesswork or laziness.

I don’t agree, however, that public humiliation of individuals is required. Quite nearly the same point could have been made by saying “I have blacklisted x PR people, some from nationally known agencies.” The addition of the names is sensationalism.

While I believe Anderson had good intentions, at the other end of the spectrum is a recent attack, and I can only call it that, on Michael Arrington’s Crunchnotes, titled “We don’t do reprints.” Arrington apparently received a request from a communications agency seeking permission to reprint something that appeared on Arrington’s blog. Instead of politely declining the request, or approving it, Arrington responded “yeah, we’re a blog, we don’t do prints let alone reprints” and then posted a copy of the email on Crunchnotes. Arrington didn’t explicitly say “what an idiot,” though it was implied, and he must have known he was encouraging people to pile on with comments confirming this. I was pleased to see that many suggested Arrington had taken the wrong tact, as in this comment by Steven Lubetkin:

 

“And if she hadn’t requested permission, and had just made a PDF from the blog, what would have been the reaction here?

In an age when you can’t make a screen cap from the Wall Street Journal online without them embedding a disclaimer that it’s only for your personal use, and that you have to ask for copyright permission, why is this so terrible just because you are a blog and not a print publication?

From a copyright viewpoint, she did the responsible thing to protect her client’s interests and that gets her raked over the coals. Why?”

 

Hear, hear. One can only hope that there are voices of reason that will weigh in when they spot what they see as unfairness, instead of doing the easy thing and piling on with the crowd.

That does not however excuse the profession (sorry to lump us all together) from being smarter about working with influential bloggers. Here are my brief suggestions for doing this:

  1. When pitching bloggers, there is no correct way for all bloggers. There is a correct way for each blogger.
  2. Get to know the blogger before making the pitch. Read his or her blog thoroughly and often, comment on the blog, link to the blog, go to the same industry events, look at the companies, industries and themes the blogger DOES cover, and how. Take the blogger out for drinks. Do the homework.
  3. It’s called media relations, or blogger relations, for a reason. It only works when there are trusted relationships. Don’t pretend to have a relationship with someone when you don’t. You need to actually have one, and maintain it, and apply the rules of relationships. Be honest, respond on a timely basis, give the other person communications with value, don’t manipulate, or if you must manipulate, admit to it.
  4. Don’t think your Facebook messages, Twitter direct messages, emails or any other seemingly privileged correspondence is off limits. Apply the old rule “don’t put anything in writing in any form unless you don’t mind seeing it on the front page of the New York Times.” Or a widely read blog.

Finally, here are some additional resources on making good (and bad) pitches:

The Bad Pitch Blog
A blog focused on the good, the bad and the ugly of PR pitches, and gaffes in all forms
In Blogger and Media Relations, You Earn the Relationships You Deserve Excellent blog post on this topic by Brian Solis
I’d love to know what you think. Is the public outing effective in “educating” the profession, or is it just one more way to mock people who are just trying to do their jobs?
Joel
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Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and public relations. He's the author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, a handbook designed to help corporate communicators and executives understand how to successfully adopt social business strategies in large companies. Prior to founding Socialized, he was EVP of Emerging Media at Eastwick Communications a Silicon Valley public relations firm, and before that, he has a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications experience, including leadership roles in executive and internal communications at Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

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