Tuesday, June 10

Stopping The PR Spam: Jason Falls

”In my opinion, the way the public relations industry responds to the problem of PR spam over the course of the next six to 12 months could make or break our profession for the next decade. Why are our professional organizations not prioritizing this?” — Jason Falls

I love this punchy prediction tucked inside the post on Social Media Explorer because it challenges an industry that never considers their own work spam. It’s always those other guys and gals who are bringing the industry down.

Sure, not everyone in public relations is a spammer, but it often seems that more of them play the numbers game than anyone will ever admit. At minimum, more play the number than those who will spend several hours searching for news inside their clients’ companies.

Falls says Jeremy Pepper is right. The industry needs education, but it’s not just up to professors to teach it. (Considering how many public relations professionals studied this profession in school, I tend to agree. Not to mention, for every instructor who advises against spamming, there is one or more who liken pitch calls and press releases to the return on a slot machine.)

Falls says a lot of it has to do with developing relationships over lists. In truth, he is part right. But what the novice public relations professional never seems to be taught is how to develop those relationships in the first place. So rather than recap his well-thought post in entirety, I’ll cut to the chase.

It’s easy to develop relationships. While I am oversimplifying, there are three ways to establish connections with bloggers and journalists.

1. Go to work for a company, agency, or organization that the bloggers and journalists are already interested in. It seems tongue in cheek, but it’s true. If you work for Apple or Microsoft or the district attorney’s office, they’ll contact you fifteen minutes after you introduce yourself as the new go-to person.

2. Become engaged in events, activities, networks, and organizations that bloggers and journalists care about, er, assuming you have a common interest. Much like business, many relationships develop outside the bubble.

3. Skip the blast emailing people about the company’s next balloon popping and find some real news. Once you find it, invest some time into writing a great release and sending it to only those bloggers and journalists who might be interested. When the blogger or journalist follows up, you then have an opportunity to deepen the relationship based on your ability to help them.

The third point is where people get mixed up because many of them struggle with determining what is news and what is not. Personally, I think it takes some time to develop an appreciation for what might make the news. I tossed up ten items that help determine news last year.

But sometimes the answer is even simpler. Start by asking yourself if you would want to write about the topic you are sending to the blogger or journalist. Based on the effort put into some releases, I would guess that many public relations professionals would say no. So if that is your answer, there you go!



Geoff_Livingston on 6/11/08, 6:51 PM said...

I've given up. I don't believe in the profession anymore. I can only build my own company's reputation.

Rich on 6/11/08, 10:35 PM said...


That would be the shame. You've always lent some interesting insights into the profession. Let's chat some time and I'll share some how public relations can work, which is a bit different than some people think.


Jason Falls on 6/12/08, 10:13 AM said...

Thanks for the quotes and credits there, Mr. B. Honored by it.

I love your advice, too. Particualrly the last one ... if PR folks can just put themselves in someone else's shoes for 30 seconds, pitches and relationships will improve dramatically.

And I think Geoff and Jeremy Pepper are in the same boat -- tired of beating the drum and having no one listen. Fortunately now, however, people are. Which is all the more reason Geoff and Jeremy are needed now more than ever.

Rich on 6/12/08, 10:28 AM said...


The pleasure was mine. And thank you.

Very good observations, all around. I am hopeful Geoff and Jeremy will consider every one they save over all those left to be saved. Not all those folks in the pen are swine. A couple, here and there, know a pearl when they see it.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting Rich. I listened to the show on Blogtalkradio also....

I really blame the Standards. I mean many industries use PRnewswire or Vocus who promises to broadcast your press release to thousands of targeted and opt-in journalist. These companies have the reputation of being an industry standard. However you can also buy their databases and do the extra work yourself.

While supposedly opt-in it has occurred to me that once a database has been sold then there is no longer a single person whom can universally opt you out.

At any rate I got to tell you what I think. I can pitch to the Local news and probably have a relative chance at success based on a relationship prospective. However if I want to distribute the news at a national level then I am going to hit a beat specific wire. My art list consist of nearly two thousand contacts – if my database is correct then my art specific news may be interesting to any one of them. But obviously there are mistakes – I recently noticed Seth Godin was on my list for visual arts.

I have had about twenty journalist opt-out from my list but interestingly about half of them have asked not to receive any more emails about that particular topic rather than totally opt out.

But something that seems consistent with this debate is that those against wired distribution prefer the pitch over the release. All of my text define a broad difference between a pitch and a release. The release is meant for impersonal and broad distribution and the pitch is meant toward a more personal relationship oriented proposal.

Ultimately I’m a promotionalist but if I’m sending a press release it’s because I believe I have news. That news may or may not be valuable to the journalist but it’s as much a lost opportunity for him as it is for me to ignore it. That doesn’t mean I feel the journalist has an obligation but that I believe the news I am offering has value. In some ways I feel the news (in its self) deserves to be put forth to all potentially interested journalists.

But ultimately this approach has led to more personal relationships.

I just wrote an instructional Squidoo lens on How to Distribute a Press Release. I used it as my name link.

I ultmately blame bad press release that look like promotions and probably make 9 in 10 distributed press releases for the spam perception. But I know with absolute certainty that I have inadvertantly spammed and will probably do it again - but it is important for me to correct these details

Rich on 6/12/08, 1:31 PM said...


I think your discussion points merit another post on the subject, but I'll highlight what I like here...

"I ultimately blame bad press release that look like promotions and probably make 9 in 10 distributed press releases for the spam perception."

Absolutely right. Also, most journalists and bloggers are a pretty forgiving overall, assuming the release is written well, and each have their own criteria on how to filter and/or guide people. The occasional release is not usually what makes something fail the spam test. It's the chronic sending of non-news, sometimes even after the blogger or journalist have asked them to stop.

With a list of 2,000, you'll probably run a higher risk rate of being viewed as spam, especially if you are sending releases to journalists and bloggers whom you do not read or ever visited.

It's the same complaint editors have about freelancers. Too many off content pitches or unsolicited stories result in unopened emails or letters.

But always keep in mind that the journalists job is to find the news. It's not really to educate the public relations industry, who makes more money than they do on average anyway.

In terms of relationships, don't undersell yourself. You have an equal shot at developing one with a national reporter as you do a local reporter. And no, pitches are not the answer if you have relationship. That depends on the relationship.

For example, CNN ran the Bloggers Unite piece based on news value of the release. The relationship came into play because they already knew I could deliver the specific examples they needed very quickly. So did the relationship help the release? Probably so ... but not because the relationship beat out the news value. The relationship was simply a matter of them knowing they could count on me to help them find example to customize their story.


Chief Rabbit on 6/13/08, 10:54 PM said...

Here's 3 excuses for PR spam I hear all too often - "I gotta show the boss/client how many pitches I did," "I don't have time," or "the boss/client won't listen - they want results now."

When I ask about the quality of results, I get shrugs of hopeless resignation. However, it's when I ask if they ever considered how their efforts may be impacting their that I see a wide-eyed "Oops."

Success takes time and work. It can be hard to explain and advocate for in an age of "I want it and I want it now."

Good post, Rich. Keep 'em coming.

Rich on 6/17/08, 1:49 PM said...

Thank you Bonnie,

Yes, those would be the top three I hear all the time too — none of which lead to any measurable outcomes. It's easy to get press. Not so easy to get press or coverage that might create goodwill, reinforce branding, or encourage consumer engagement. Oh right! That's closer to what is about!

Hope you caught the follow up. All my best,


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