Posts Tagged ‘pitching’

Blogger relations – you’re doing it wrong

I don’t usually write posts outing other PR folks, but a pitch I received this morning from another PR agency roused my blogging tendencies from their slumber.

Here’s how it read:

From: […]
Sent: Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 3:02 AM

PR Firm […] Sends Small Businesses to the Top of Social Media for $790 Per Month

On Monday, August 13, [PR agency] announced three new SEO / Social Media / Press Release Packages starting at $790 per month, bringing an affordable solution to businesses needing a strong online presence via Facebook, Twitter, WordPress blog and press releases. The smallest package which includes a number of posts, tweets, articles and press releases each month, costs little more than sending one press release through a service.

To view this release on PRWeb, click the link below:[…]

If you would rather not receive future communications from […], please go to […].

Let’s see…

  1. Pick your audience: If this person had done any research they’ve have known from posts like this or this that I’m not a fan of spray and pray tactics or services. If I’m going to write about something like this, it’s not going to be in a positive way, and I’ll firmly argue that $790 per month will not get you to the “top of social media”. It’s not going to get you to the top of anything, in fact.
  2. Don’t spray and pray: They sprayed and prayed. At least I was in the “to” line, but there was no effort whatsoever to address me personally – even a “Dear Blogger”, which still triggers the “delete” button for me, would be a step up from this. There’s  absolutely no customization, either, or even an effort to do anything beyond copy/paste the first paragraph (I assume – I didn’t click through) of the release.
  3. Offer a call to action: I have no idea what this company wants from me. Do they want me to write about their announcement? Do an interview with a spokesperson? Try it out? Offer a trial? It’s not clear, which means most people will do nothing.
  4. Avoid free email services: The email came from a Gmail account; one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less. You’re a PR agency and your pitches are coming from a Gmail account? And one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less?
  5. Don’t make me opt-out when I didn’t opt-in: How did I make it onto this list of yours? Why do I need to say “no, I don’t want to automatically receive your pitches”? If you were researching and tailoring the emails to me I’d be much more open to it, but signing me up for your automatic spam? No thanks.

This really is the worst kind of PR – the kind that actually makes me angry about people who claim to work in the same space as me. It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional and, if it’s anything like the way this company goes about conducting PR activities for its clients, it’s not a great testimonial for the firm.

A Dark Future For Journalism – The Editorial/Ad Wall Is Down

Several weeks ago we received a presentation from a major Canadian newspaper publisher entitled “New Approach to Media Relations for PR Consultants.” In it, the presenter outlined a new process available for PR folks pitching their clients’ work. While I couldn’t attend at the time, I obtained a copy of the deck and got a thorough debrief from the people who were in the room. I’m glad I did, as what I learned horrified me.

Worried businessmanI waited for a while before writing this post, as I let the implications of what I learned sink in and decide if I was over-reacting. I found myself back where I started, though – in a state of something approaching despair about the state of the mainstream media and what it means for public relations as we know it.

The bottom line: the newspaper publisher was directly pitching us the promise of editorial coverage paired with advertising. Quoting their presentation:

“We can help your clients marry their PR message with their Advertising message to strengthen their brand.”

The Old Media Relations Process

As it stands, you can simplify the basic existing process down to three steps once an initiative is underway (yes, this is dramatically over-simplified but it covers the basics):

  1. Develop a news release or pitch
  2. Send the release over the wire/pitch it to journalists
  3. Hope for the best

The Emerging Process

The new approach to media relations, according to the publisher:

  1. Call your “friendly” contact and tell them about:
    • The product
    • The key message
    • Target audience
    • Target markets
  2. Provide publisher with:
    • Editorial themes to complement your key message
    • When you want it in market
    • Where you want it in market
  3. “Open the newspaper(s) and view the editorial content inspired by you and your client with their brand ad exclusively displayed on that page.”

Sounds like a PR person’s dream, right? It might be, if it weren’t for six words in that last bullet. Six words which undermine the entire premise of earned media:

“…with their brand ad exclusively displayed…”

That’s right – they’ll even guarantee exclusivity for your brand on a page, as your ads will make up the rest of the page.

What this means

control. Control over the message, over the content, over the target audience for coverage. What’s more, they get exclusivity on the page – jackpot.

On the flip side, it seems the church and state divide in media – the editorial/advertising divide – has completely crumbled. Buy ads in their papers, and they’ll even consider your target audience when they write what they still insist is “100% editorial.” My ethical alarm bells are sounding loud and clear here.

An end to credibility?

While only a naive person would suggest that the advertising/editorial line was ever completely steadfast, the credibility that came with independent coverage is what lent “earned media” its title and its value – you had to earn your coverage.

While the presenter insisted that this was only the case for certain sections of their publications, and that the front section was separate to this, it’s a very slippery slope when these companies are desperate for revenue.

This also raises the question of influence on other sections of the paper. Will an editor really run a positively-toned, on-message story for an advertiser against an investigative or negatively-toned piece in another section?

All of these questions further undermine the credibility of the publication. With credibility gone, where does this leave traditional earned media?

(Photo: Shutterstock)

More Journalists Prefer Bulk Email Than Personalized? Huh?

Last week saw the launch of a campaign entitled “An Inconvenient PR Truth,” aimed at trying to weed-out some of the black sheep in the PR family.

Many of us in the profession have been arguing for similar practices to those advocated there for a while. While the campaign’s approach raised my hackles somewhat, the motives stated seem reasonable on the face of things.

This post isn’t about the broader campaign though.

Buried deep in a slide deck supporting the campaign was a slide about the way journalists prefer to receive “press release emails” (a term that has me tasting bile somewhat, but moving on…).

Preference for how press release emails are addressed

Let’s set aside for a second the advisability of using a sample of 100 respondents to generalize about an entire worldwide industry (although, with the ever-shrinking number of journalists out there nowadays, it might actually be representative…). I’d like to focus for a second on the specific assertion of this slide.

I quote:

“Three quarters of Recipients are happy to receive press release emails on a bulk email basis (or have no preference either way).”

This slide says that 75% of journalists are ok with receiving untailored bulk pitches.

Say whaaaaat?!

To me, this goes against every instinct I have when it comes to pitching. It essentially says that spam is ok. Note that while the first thing the “Inconvenient PR Truth” campaign asks for is for PR pros to ask permission to pitch journalists, that’s not tied in any way to this question in the survey. Without any mention of permission-based pitching, it offers data suggesting that three quarters of journalists are ok with spam pitches.

Time and time again, journalists and PR practitioners alike have railed against the prevalence of untailored spam pitches. I’ve written about spam pitches plenty of times here (in fact given the rapidly increasing number of pitches I receive, I have even posted tips for people pitching me). I have to call “BS” on any claim that only 25% of journalists want pitches tailored to them.

This data seems wrong to me. In fact, it’s even contrary to the goals of the campaign. It also makes me question the accuracy of other potentially useful data in the survey (for example the information on the types of releases journalists prefer not to receive).

Does this seem right to you?

Why Spam PR Pitches Won’t Go Away

Yesterday morning I received an email pitch. Nothing particularly exciting about that; it wasn’t the first pitch I received yesterday and it certainly wasn’t the last. It wasn’t tailored and it wasn’t addressed to me but it was on topic. I noted that it was for an ebook on social media marketing and set it aside to read properly later.


Very quickly, though, I began to see replies to that pitch. And then more replies. They kept coming. As it turns out, the sender of the pitch had created a mailing list and had emailed that list using the ‘To’ field in the address bar.

Over the next eight hours, I received 27 replies to the original email from people on the list. People who, apparently, like the ‘Reply All’ button (which, I think, should have an “are you sure” prompt when you use it). Emails getting increasingly irate at the original sender. Emails from well-known social media types like Mike Driehorst, Jennifer Leggio, Om Malik and Francine Hardaway.  Emails from reporters at the WSJ, at AdAge, at AP and Newsweek. To make matters worse, everyone began getting copied on support tickets about the removal requests.

Emails after a spam pitch

All told, we received 45 emails over an 8-hour period.

Spray and pray worked

One telling point, however? The first reply in the email chain was from someone who wanted to review the book. So was the fourth, which raised the possibility of a Blog Herald review.

Sadly, spray and pray was getting results. From a short-term perspective, the spammy pitch may have actually worked. It got two responses. Perhaps, were it not for the mailing list disaster, it might have received a few more.

In the long-term, however, the pitch did nothing to impress those of us on the list who viewed it as spam. It built no relationships and it certainly destroyed plenty (numerous people noted they have blacklisted the sender).

This is part of the volume/customization trade-off that PR people face. Some agencies will continue along this path – despite the people they alienate, they will land coverage for their client.

Other agencies (ours included) will choose to take a more targeted approach. We’ll pitch less people, choose our targets and personalize our approaches. We’ll aim for a high return from a smaller number of pitches.

Like it or not, both tailored and spray-and-pray approaches can work. However, one of them builds relationships in the process while the other damages them. I choose the former.

What do you think?

Does Social Media Make PR Agencies Obsolete?

A fascinating discussion arose during Journchat Live in Toronto last night:

Does social media let everyone act as their own PR agency?

No. It doesn’t.

More than publicity

Is it always right to do it yourself?Public relations is much more than just pitching reporters. It’s event organization; it’s issues management; it’s media training; it’s strategic planning; it’s internal communications. In our company we broaden it further to include web property design and development, relationship building, community building, online issues management and more.

Social media does let people conduct some aspects of public relations themselves, such as building relationships with journalists and online influencers, and outreach to those people.

However, public relations isn’t as simple as drafting a release and pitching it. It requires skill and experience. I could become a butcher; a baker; a builder if I wanted to – however it would require years of training for me to do it well. Similarly, you can’t just pick up the reins of public relations and undertake the full suite of functions that the PR department does.

Desktop publishing software let anyone design documents but few people could do it well. Online tools let anyone be a journalist, but only a few sites do that well.

What’s more, anyone can undertake rudimentary public relations efforts through social media, but few people will do them well. Public relations is the outward face of your organization – do you want someone without a thorough knowledge of the nuances and skills of the discipline representing you publicly?

However, that doesn’t mean the status quo remains.

Public relations needs to evolve

Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.

As an industry, public relations need to embrace social media tools in order to stay on top of the changes underfoot. As more and more research shows that public relations is a natural fit for social media, we need to make this case to our clients.

We need to blog; to create podcasts; to experiment on Twitter; to produce videos; to build social media sites; to foster online communities. We need to do this so we don’t lose relevancy during these changes; so we can provide integrated solutions to our clients; and so we don’t lose the game to other disciplines and other business functions.

That’s my take. Social media doesn’t mean everyone can do public relations; however, it does mean that we need to up our game to get the best results for our clients, and to separate ourselves from the also-rans.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Public Relations People And Bloggers Can Work Together

Blogger relations is not a win/lose tacticMarketing Vox featured a thought-provoking post yesterday entitled “PR Blackout Challenges Mom Bloggers to Return to Basics.” To boil the post down, it summarizes a call by mommy blogger community MomDot for a PR blackout this August. As they put it:

“…our site, and many others, are inundated with hundreds, if not thousands, of product requests each year resulting in massive obligations and deadline stress equivalent to what the General Motors CEO must feel every time he drives into work.”

I reacted fairly strongly to the post. Not because I disagree with the idea of a week without PR-pitched products, but because it appears the situation for some people has deteriorated to the point where this kind of statement is necessary. Blogger relations shouldn’t be a win/lose game.

While the post does make a point of highlighting the work done by those at the other end of the public relations scale – those who do their jobs properly – the impact of the others is worrying, and once again casts a shadow over all of us.

Two aspects to this make me uncomfortable:

Public relations people shouldn’t pressure bloggers

I’ve written plenty of times about my thoughts on how to – and how not to – go about approaching bloggers. While my thoughts have evolved over time, one thing remains consistent: public relations people need to look beyond their own objectives and consider the other side. As I wrote to Stefania Butler in a Twitter conversation about the post (which you can check out here), good PR people should marry both sides of the equation by matching the vested interest of the client with the needs and wants of the recipients of pitches.

How do you do that? You build relationships. You don’t do it by spamming people. You certainly don’t do it by creating obligations and pressure for people who may be doing this for a hobby.

A few pointers for PR people:

  • Build relationships with the key bloggers you’re looking to reach (I agree with Beth Blecherman on this one)
  • Don’t spam people. With the first point in mind, find a balance between volume and customization.
  • Aim to help bloggers, rather than use them. This doesn’t mean fogetting your client’s objectives; it means finding a balance between the two.

Bloggers have a choice

Unless you make an income from your blog’s traffic (which I have nothing against) or post on a group blog on a schedule with others, there’s little to force you to adhere to others’ timelines (there are likely other cases too). These are valid pressures, but I highly doubt they cover the majority of mom bloggers. In most cases, bloggers can choose whether to write about public relations pitches or not. What’s more, they have control of the deadlines they write under.

With the exception of the cases above, you should feel free to publish under your own deadlines. If something comes up, or you don’t have time, or you just feel like taking a day off writing, then don’t post that day. The idea that bloggers are under “massive obligations” indicates a situation that requires fixing, and while we can (and I will) advocate against bad PR practices, bloggers have to take some of the initiative themselves to avoid putting themselves under this kind of pressure.

So, to mommy bloggers, I offer the following advice (and pleas):

  • If a PR person who pitches you pressures you, or does anything other than work with you, let them know you’re not comfortable with it. If they don’t, hit “delete.” If they continue, hit “spam.”
  • If you are putting yourself under pressure, ask yourself if it is necessary. What can you do to reduce it?
  • Remember: We’re not all like the bad apples.
  • Without doing anything onerous (because the onus should be on communicators to do their research), consider creating pitching tips or, as Butler has done via her blog categories, collect posts you’ve written relating to outreach together.

I’m not just a PR guy – I’m also a blogger. I receive plenty of bad pitches too. The fault usually falls on the side of the person pitching, and they need to get their act together. Still, if you feel pressured by PR people, there are things you can do too, if you choose to. The alternative is resorting to negative pressure – the same approach that upset you in the first place.

What do you think? I’ve had some fascinating conversations on Twitter about this, but I’d love to hear from people on both sides of the fence on this one.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Update: CNET has a slightly different take on this issue here.

The Volume/Personalization Trade-Off

The trade-off between volume and personalization is an ever-present dilemma in public relations. If, as I do, you subscribe to the notion that one of the best ways to build loyalty is to develop a relationship with people, then you’ve likely hit the point where you have to make a trade-off between the number of people you can engage with and the quality of those interactions.

A couple of weeks ago I received a pitch about the upcoming launch of Gary Vaynerchuk‘s first book. The pitch wasn’t fantastic, but as I’ve followed Gary’s activities for a while and it was well enough targeted, I replied and moved on. Fast forward to this weekend, when I read an interesting post by John Cass about a similar (not identical) pitch that he received. Reading the comments (those on the original post and the re-post on Social Media Today are all worth reading), I started to really think about the optimum point along the scale/personalization continuum when it comes to pitching.

Volume/personalization extremes

Purists will tell you that you need to read 10-20 posts or stories from each person you pitch, and that you should completely tailor every pitch you issue. Meanwhile, some other people will argue that by reaching a large volume of people with your pitch, the law of averages says you will connect with enough people who do care that you will come out ahead.

I’d argue that there are downsides to both extreme, although I still favour one side over the other.

I’ve written before about some of the issues involved with personalized blogger relations. The primary one, of course, is time. Even if you take just a minute or two per post you read, that time adds up quickly. To then tailor personalized emails takes more time. When you work for an agency, the process can quickly chew through your client’s budget.

Once you get to the kind of numbers that Gary mentions in his comments on John’s post, you’re talking astronomical amounts of time. That limits this approach to a very small number of recipients.

This brings us to the other extreme – mass communications. This is the approach that relies on building a large list, emailing out a standard (or mail-merged) email to that list and letting the law of averages do its work. Sure, you may annoy some people but you’ll also hit other people who will take the action you’re after. This is the “email marketing” form of pitching – the collision of the two tactics.

Is the sweet spot in the middle ground?

In an ideal world, every company would take the former approach. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that wonderful place – time is tight, budgets are tighter and we need to deliver results for our clients and bosses with less resources than we would like to have.

I wonder if the ideal solution, as with so many dilemmas, is somewhere in the middle.

The chart above shows roughly how I view the dilemma. At the top-left of the curve, you have the idealists who say you should completely tailor every word of every pitch you send out. Small, highly-targeted outreach also fits into this part of the curve. At the opposite end of the chart, you have the spammers who pitch massive numbers of people with the same message. They’re easy to spot – they’re the ones where you’re bcc’d, with no salutation or a “Dear Blogger.” They often lead with the words “For Immediate Release.”

I’ve worked for clients where their only targets are one or two highly influential blogs, and in that case you can function over  at the top-left of the curve. However, unless your target audience is an extremely small number of sites (or their readers), you may need to make some compromises.

Still, I am strongly (and often vocally) against untargeted spam pitches that hit everyone with the same email. Note that the potential “sweet spot” I suggest sits closer to the tailored, low-volume end of the scale than the other. Critically, it sits above the tipping point where the volume reaches the point where significantly less personalization is possible.

The reality of the “sweet spot”

In this sweet spot, for a new client:

  • You research the targets of your pitches – you read their stories or their websites;
  • You create a pitch template covering the key points you wish to communicate;
  • You tailor that template for every person you pitch;
    • That personalization includes, but isn’t limited to:
      • The medium you use to pitch them (if that information is available)
      • Your greeting
      • Your opening paragraph
      • The points on which you choose to focus
      • The supporting collateral you offer – do they lean towards video? Images? Interviews?
  • You keep some less-critical parts of the email the same, to save time and budget.

Time changes things

I say “for a new client” above because, as time goes on, I believe the line in the chart moves up – as you get to know the market and the media in that market better, you can reach more of them more effectively in less time, meaning more personalization, less time required and better use of resources.

Having worked on some accounts for a while now, I can reel-off the names of key journalists, how they like to be contacted, when the best times are to reach them and the types of information they like, without even needing notes. That makes the pitching process more cost-effective as time goes on – meaning the line in the chart has moved way up the Y axis.

Your thoughts?

I’m curious as to your thoughts. Does this click with the challenges you face?

Let me know what you think – I’d love to hear your feedback.

Want Me To Write About Your Stuff? Don’t Lie In Your Pitch

I receive several pitches each day. In general, even if I don’t write about what they’re pitching, I welcome the approach.

A few days ago, however, I received this email:

subject: I’d like to know your opinion Hello, My name is […]. I’m a […] student at […]. I writing you because I’d like to know your opinion about a YouTube Viral ad I saw recently posted on AdRants for a nonprofit called […]. Recently I’m seeing more nonprofits use social media to spread their message. This ad in particular struck me because it seemed like it was directed at a specific type of YouTube viewer, FailBlog fans. FYI FailBlog is a YouTube channel that posts juvenile videos about people falling and such. What I found refreshing is the fact that a serious nonprofit like […] is using a juvenile ad to communicate a serious message. Here’s the video link: [Deleted – I’m not giving him the traffic] Hope you enjoy it and post about it. Look forward to hearing your comments. Thank You

Reading this, my spidey senses started tingling:

  • The person sending the email opened saying they wanted my opinion and closed asking me to post about it (is this what you had in mind?)
  • Some of the language sounded a lot like an informal version of what I see in a lot of pitches – “Recently we’re seeing more companies use X to do Y.

After about 30 seconds of pondering this, I glanced at the email address of the sender, only to see that the email came from the domain of one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. What’s more, the person who sent the email appeared to be the person who had posted the video on YouTube. Instead of potentially getting me to write about their creative video, the agency has succeeded in getting me to block all emails from their domain in future. What’s wrong with this approach?

Main faults

  • The email, coming from an ad agency’s domain, claimed to be from a student. Even if the person really was a summer student at this agency, their actions reflect on the company. 
  • The sender claimed to have seen the video on AdRants (it was indeed posted there) when in reality they posted it to YouTube themselves.

More problems

  • The email describes the video as a “YouTube viral ad.” It had 2,900 views. Not exactly viral.
  • There are clear typos in the email, for example “I writing you…”
  • There is zero personalization in the email. I have no way of knowing if they have ever seen my site, or even if they know my name.

This kind of deceptive outreach is deceptive, unethical and frankly despicable. Don’t do it.

PR Isn’t The Enemy

SurrenderOnce again, the last couple of weeks have seen the public relations industry dragged through the mud by a high-profile blogger. This time it was Robert Scoble, first via Blog Talk Radio then again on his own blog. Naturally plenty of other people piled-on, although few were even remotely constructive.

I could go through Scoble’s anti-PR rant line by line, picking his argument apart (and I nearly did), but to do that would be to miss the point of what he’s getting at. 

The public relations industry is plagued by people who spam journalists and bloggers, and play the numbers game in an attempt to generate media coverage.

Is it the norm? I hope not. I’d like to think not. Regardless, it happens and it’s painful – both to the recipients of the spam pitches and to honest practitioners like Shel, Todd and myself.

I’m not going to disagree with Robert. The PR industry does have its share of bottom-of-the-barrel practitioners. Sad but true – every industry does. Unfortunately, the media/blogger outreach side of PR (yes, dear people, there are other sides) involves interacting with the people who have an audience, so these people are highly visible.

Here’s where I agree with Scoble about media and blogger outreach:

  • PR people should find out what journalists are interested in before pitching them.
  • PR people should find out how journalists like to be pitched (and, yes, sometimes that may involve emailing them to ask).
  • PR people should tailor their approaches to people. That includes the medium they use to approach them.

I could get defensive about Scoble’s rant (and for a while I did – hence I’m coming to this late). However, the fact is that there are many bad PR people out there. I see them every day in my inbox, and if you have any kind of following on your blog then the chances are you do too.

The reality is, though, that PR isn’t the enemy. Bad PR is the enemy.

Unfortunately, there’s not too much we can do about them (which isn’t to imply that we shouldn’t try). The fact is, they’re unlikely to be the ones attending IABC, CPRS or PRSA training sessions. They’re not the ones reading the rants against them on Scoble’s site. And they’re probably not the ones reading this post. They’re busy building their next mass mailing for a client who, unfortunately, doesn’t know any better.

The rest of us – the ones with a conscience, who do their best to target their approaches to the people who will thank them for their pitches? We’re left to raise our hands, point out that we’re not all black sheep, do our best to educate others and then go back to doing good work for our clients.

Pitching – Like Throwing A Stick For A Dog

DogMichael O’Connor Clarke mentioned a great analogy for pitching to me when we were chatting at work today. He says pitching is like throwing a stick for a dog. Michael actually wrote about this years ago from a slightly different perspective; I’ll try to put a new spin on it.

Confused? Let me explain.

In an ideal world, you throw a stick for a dog and the dog immediately runs after the stick. Mission accomplished. 

Sometimes, the dog won’t get it immediately and you’ll need to point them in the right direction.

Sometimes that works.

Other times you’ll stand there pointing at the stick, but the dog has no idea what you pointing means. As Michael puts it:

“A dog has no way of interpreting what the human gesture means – you’re just an alpha dog showing them your finger. The finger of this alpha dog is, for the moment at least, really interesting. They’re probably going to comment on it in their own doggy way: with a tilt of the head, a waggy tail, and a curious expression.”

You’re trying to point them towards your stick; they’re focused on your finger.

Transfer the context over to the world of public relations and, more specifically, pitching.

Sometimes jurnalists or bloggers will just latch onto your story without you having to do too much. Jackpot. Other times, you’ll need to point them in the right direction.

If your approach (and news) is good, the journalist might go for the story.

If your approach isn’t so hot – and especially if you don’t do it right – the person you’re pitching is far more likely to focus on your “finger” – the pitch – than they are on the story.

That’s when things like this happen.