Jennifer Leggio (@MediaPhyter) kicked off a heck of a conversation Friday morning. In case you don’t know of her, she’s a contributor to Forbes, among many other talents and interests.
Her question can’t accurately be answered in 140 characters. However, here’s an attempt to answer it by discussing the three separate challenges driving what Leggio has identified as a challenge to our industry.
Despite PR progression, I still get pitches that are ill-advised. Is this poor leadership? Are we not investing enough in our young blood?
Carpet Bombing is Easy. A simple mail merge is all it really requires to send out a (somewhat) personalized pitch letter to any reporter who has either 1) written about a type of company one time or 2) shows up in whatever media database a PR person is using (Bacons, Vocus, whatever) for keyword searches. It seems as though a ton of agencies have done a cost/benefit analysis and came to the conclusion that it’s simpler to send out a ton of pitch letters, even if there’s a chance of setting off a reporter like Leggio, because it (theoretically) increases the chances of getting coverage. Think of it this way: If you can flip a quarter once, you only have a 50% chance of getting heads. However, if you get to flip a quarter 50 times, it seems as though you would have a better chance of getting heads at least a couple times.
The reality, of course, is that this is simply lazy PR. While Leggio started this particular conversation, she could have done much worse and outed the flack in question. We’ve all read the Bad Pitch Blog or seen @Rafe write his Pro PR Tips and there are obviously plenty of other resources out there basically trashing the PR industry (hello Gawker)***. It just seems as though plenty of agencies, solo practitioners, and advisors are less concerned about being “outed” on these sites than they are about trying to generate as much media as possible...which is sort of their job (although I'd argue it can be done more effectively)
More Coverage = More Links. If you believe that PR and web marketing are merging practices, then you can see where a challenge comes in with regards to SEO. Being overly simple: More links pointing to a website makes that site more valuable to a search engine, and therefore more likely to generate additional site traffic via search (there’s obviously a TON more than that in the equation). However, some firms/agencies/PR folks who may not have a grasp on the nuances of SEO might simply take this route. Therefore, the flawed logic is as follows:
More Email Pitches Sent = More Coverage = More Web Traffic from Search.
Sometimes The Story Just Isn’t That Great. This may come as a surprise to clients, but sometimes, as PR folks, we come up with an idea that doesn’t pan out the way we want it to. Sure, we might send you a long-winded email explaining all of the “warm leads and follow up” we’ve got to do in the coming days, but the reality is that every now and then our industry comes up with an idea that just isn’t newsworthy. In those cases, it’s really tough for a flack or agency to say “Hey, we gave it the old college try, but this isn’t the right direction, and we need to shift gears, ASAP.”
It’s much easier to say “Hey listen, while we didn’t see the results we were hoping for, we were able to make introductions on your behalf to dozens of new reporters.”
Guess what? If you’re adding dozens of new reporters to a media list after a campaign is started.... you didn’t do enough homework in the beginning of the campaign. Sure, reporters change beats, and companies launch into new verticals, but in reality there are very few circumstances where “dozens of new introductions” are a good thing.
There’s a significant fear of “failing fast and moving on” for the PR industry. A couple of “fast fails” can cause clients to start looking elsewhere. And sometimes, that’s why we as flacks hold on to a story idea but expand the media list to include reporters who probably aren’t a fit.
Please understand: I’m not saying that any of these reasons are particularly good reasons for ill-advised pitches, but at the very least they are the defenses folks seem to be using. Now if we can just get past these, we can start to rehabilitate our reputation as an industry.
***Good luck to @Rafe is his new capacity. He tweeted Friday that he is leaving CNET.