Wired Editor Smacks The Bees’ Nest Of PR People

Going to veer a little OT here… Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired and he of The Long Tail fame, is fed up with PR people spamming him. It’s a frustration with which I can identify, as I get 15-20 PR spams per day, very few of them at all relevant and even fewer of them actually interesting. More than two years ago, Russell covered this very ground, devising a traffic light system bloggers could use to signal their openness to unsolicited pitches. He and I also gave some pointers for PR folks interested in attracting our attention. Unsurprisingly, despite some initial attention, it looks like the lesson failed to stick.

Chris’ solution is simply to start blacklisting people in his spam filter (which I also do if they ignore my requests to unsubscribe), but he’s also gone a step further by posting a few hundred of the PR spammers’ email addresses on his blog, where they’re no doubt be harvested by spammers — “turnabout is fair play,” he says. Ryan Block of Engadget offers a little more even-keeled perspective on the problem, with this gem: “For all our communications tools PR often reminds editors more of telemarketing than valued outreach.” Indeed, a quick scan of Chris’ list reveals the names of plenty of people and firms who spam me — underlining that what they’re doing is spamming, not PR.

The crux of all of this is that the PR industry is letting this problem destroy itself. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of really good PR people who aren’t lazy, understand the journalist/blogger side of things, and do their homework. But sadly, they’re far outweighed by the amount of PR spammers I hear from.

Things always get worse around trade shows, and CTIA last week was no exception. One PR tron in particular got under my skin, sending half a dozen emails and making just as many phone calls to try and set up a meeting with me at the event. Look — if you send an unsolicited email to somebody and they don’t respond, they’re not interested. You don’t need to keep emailing them, or leave them a bunch of voicemails. In particular, after they finally respond in a bid to end the harrassment and say “I’ll pass”, don’t respond with yet another offer of an interview, and another phone call.

It’s hardly surprising to learn that this PR person works for the same firm, repping the same client, as some other clueless PR trons. That would make the problem appear to be a little deeper than just one misguided soul — it’s apparently this firm’s MO.

I don’t necessarily blame these individuals, I blame their firms and their leaders. It would appear that PR these days (like many other things) is becoming metrics-based: “we sent out X pitches, we got written up in X places, we made X number of blog comments”. Great, if just getting mentioned is your goal. But those metrics are pretty meaningless. For instance, I used to get spammed from some PR person with all kinds of stuff not even remotely connected to what I write about, things like radar detectors that give alerts in both English and Spanish (seriously). Great, that’s one more “pitch” made — and the client will never know that it was sent to somebody who didn’t care, and who added their PR firm’s domain to their spam blacklist.

There’s never any attempt from these people to make any effort to get to know what people are really interested in, they’re just pumping out their message or latest press release. That’s the difference between PR spammers and good PR people: they understand that journalists/bloggers/the media don’t exist solely to republish their messages. They make an effort to understand the sorts of stories writers are interested in; they understand that they’re going to get rejected sometimes. The first step to that? Actually reading the site. Yes, we can tell.

Here’s the rub, though: if you’re a PR spammer, chances are I’ll never respond to any of your pitches or write about any of your clients, simply because you annoy me. I’ll look upon anybody who hires you with much more skepticism than usual. On the flip side, if you’re a PR person I respect and like, your clients are going to have a much easier time getting on my radar.

So to reiterate (and I’m making a big assumption that any PR spammers see this, or bother to read this far): stop with the spam. If you want to get through to me, show some understanding of what I do and what I write about, don’t just put me on a distribution list. If you get ignored, don’t take it personally, just blame your ill-mannered colleagues who have buried me under a pile of PR spam that morning.

If you’re a company looking to hire a PR firm, I can suggest several people who can do a great job. I can also name a ton of people who don’t. If you want some input or feedback, feel free to get in touch. If you’re a PR person who wants to discuss, feel free to get in touch, too. Bottom line is that good PR is more than just having the biggest database of email addresses, it’s about relationship building.

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