Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Unsolicited E-mail Debate

As many of you are probably aware of by now, Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson kicked off a firestorm of debate earlier this week when he essentially published a list of PR practitioners who had violated his "one strike" rule pertaining to sending him unsolicited pitches.

Anderson goes on to say that all too many PR people send him the material in his position as editor-in-chief, without first bothering to discover who actually writes stories on a particular topic for the publication. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly given the fact they all have well-known technology clients, the list reads as a sort of "who's who" among tech PR firms.

Since the blog's publication, many people -- particularly freelance writers who also loathe the unsolicited pitches -- have written in support of Anderson and his publication of the list. The publication has also received support from a number of PR-related blogs including The Bad Pitch Blog.

While the problem has been well-documented, very little has been written about why it's happening and the impact it will have on the profession. One could perhaps understand how it might occur more often at very small firms that don't have the time and money to invest in professional education. But the fact that some of the biggest firms in the PR business, both in the U.S. and abroad, are represented on the list, points to the apparent ineffectiveness of those programs.

As a former journalist, whose outlets have included CNN, I can understand Anderson's frustration. Some have said he 's going too far when he rails against unsolicited pitches. Others have pointed out that a good pitch can add value both for the client and the publication and that the pitches are being sent to Anderson in his capacity as a Wired editor using company resources. That said, anyone who knows anything about journalism should know the EIC isn't the person to receive this kind of information and that is Anderson's core point.

So while it may be painful to read posts such as Anderson's, hopefully they serve to advance the PR profession and the work of professionals. Yes, ideally that would be done at the industry level, but we all know all to well it's not.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Good PR Is More Than A Handbook

If you're reading this post, you're likely noticing that this blog hasn't been updated in ages. There are a variety of reasons for that; chief among them is the fact that -- happily -- business has picked up dramatically for me over the past few months and I simply just don't have as much time. Secondly, I feel that the real power in blogs is in not just spreading a message, but a good one. When I don't have anything compelling to write, I don't. There are countless good PR blogs out there written by industry pros who do a pretty darn job at keeping their content compelling. So my thought is, "why reinvent the wheel?"

All that said, an exchange I had with a professional acquaintance a couple of weeks ago got me thinking and proved to be the genesis for this post. The fellow came up to me before the start of a meeting we're both involved in and showed me a book authored by a former TV journalist describing how easy it was for anyone to execute a PR campaign (after they read his book, of course).

At first I was a bit taken aback. For starters, I wondered if the person had thought about how he'd feel at being told darn near anybody could do his job? Rather than give much of a response, I just chalked it up as one in a continual line of "I can do your job better than you" sentiments that pervade not just PR, but education and countless other professions.

While the sentiment about PR irks me, I can also see why people believe it's true. Why? Because there are scads of examples where supposed PR professionals unleash crap on the world that makes us look bad. It could be because the information is poorly written and/or doesn't convey much of a point, because it's sent to the wrong person/outlet, because a PR pro pretends a journalist (s)he's never met before is a long-lost pal, and on and on.

I know from my experience as a journalist that this kind of approach isn't as limited as some in the profession might like to imagine it to be. Being a tech journalist during the dot-com boom was a brutal experience at times because it seemed like everybody had the next Swiss-Army knife, but no one knew how to get to the point in regard to why it was so great. For better or worse, most of those companies have long since vanished from existence.

Now that I've been on the PR side of the aisle for a good number of years, I obviously look at this issue from a different perspective than when I was a journalist. It presents a quandry of sorts, as another person's bad work gives me a chance to go in and show how my experience and methods make me a better fit. Unfortunately, the situation is so pervasive that it's hard for a small shop to really make much of a difference. While I'm out there beating a "no-hype drum" and actually saying that fewer words are better, I've got scads of other competitors saying just exactly the opposite. Take a look at a typical press release and you'll see what I mean.

While it will take a lot of time and effort to truly change this sentiment, it's never too late to add to the efforts of those who are. All of us can start by truly educating current and prospective clients on just exactly what PR is, keeping in mind that many of the people we come in contact with in a given day may have never hired or worked alongside a PR professional in their lives.

I have to believe that if everyone who buys one of those "you can do PR too" books or goes into those "PR Store" shops were to truly observe an award-winning campaign or one that's the subject of a case study in a major PR publication, they'd start to understand there's more to good PR than meets the eye. Once they realize it, hopefully they too will start to be evangelists for a better way. Over time, hopefully we can change some of these perceptions and truly make a difference to all our fellow PR practitioners.