Ya know, every so often, a good crack up the back of the head is a blessing. I think it's human nature: You get into a groove and find comfort in doing things by rote. Regrettably, we tend to continue no matter how irrelevant or actually counterproductive the activity has gotten.
PR: The World's Most Prolific Spammer
By David Henderson
Ask journalists and PR people, alike, and many will tell you that press releases seldom result in making news. News releases simply are not the way news stories happen in today’s highly competitive world.
There are, of course, a few exceptions. Apple Computer and Nike are two companies that have mastered the technique of actually delivering legitimate news stories through their news releases, and they achieve outstanding results because of it. Apple and Nike know that reporters are paid to write stories so their news releases are actual stories. But they are the exception … the rare exception … rather than the rule.
The vast majority of news releases are little more than self-serving promotion and thinly disguised attempts at sales marketing. Don’t believe me? Well, then, explain that compulsive habit of adding an “About…” paragraph at the end of each news release?
It started during the tech boom of the 1990s when startups had CEOs and marketing people, not communicators, writing news releases, and they saw it was an opportunity to turn a news release into a sales brochure. In other words, “Since we don’t have any real news to announce, let’s issue a release to make up stuff and brag about how great we are!” When the attorneys got their hands on it, they recognized such bravado as “b-s” and insisted that releases contain safe harbor statements that essentially said that nothing in the release is true and the company has no memory of ever having claimed it and it’s not their fault.
Apple and Nike, by the way, don’t detract from the news they are announcing releases to bother with those insipid “About…” paragraphs because if you don’t know who they are and can’t easily find out on the Web, then you really don’t matter. Sorry.
Many PR agencies know that releases are largely a waste of time but crank them out nonetheless at the behest of clients.
By best estimates, public relations people in America flood the news media with upwards of 75-million news releases each year. The two largest news release distribution services – PR Newswire and BusinessWire – alone distribute approximately four million releases every month. Pile on the countless news releases that PR agencies, companies, governments and organizations email, fax and mail to the media, and the total amount is staggering. It is a myth that sending news releases to thousands of reporters will make a difference. Quite the contrary, you just might get tagged as an annoyance.
Here is the reality – most news releases are not read or are ignored. Unsolicited, irrelevant and meaningless news releases – the overwhelming bulk of releases emailed to newsrooms – are the #1 complaint of journalists about the PR business.
The problem has reach such proportions that most news organizations now actively work to block press releases in special spam filters to prevent the sheer volume of them from overwhelming the email inboxes of reporters and editors.
There is a rising tide of concern that the public relations industry could be labeled among the top spammers on the Internet. PR’s volume of blind and unsolicited pitches to the news media via email is already staggering, out of control and growing, fueled by a proliferation of online services that promise to deliver your press release to thousands of journalists by email, even though such an approach is rarely effective.
A PR person recently sent a single news release to about 1,300 people reporters and editors. I learned about it because an editor I know shared the email with me after counting the names in the “To” line. He stopped counting at 1,300 email addresses. The sender hadn’t bothered to hide the 1,300 in the “Bcc” line, but simply just mindlessly blasted out his news release with all the names revealed. The amount of space those 1,300 names consumed in an email was massive. Incidentally, he left the “Subject” line empty even though that’s an important place to try to get a journalist’s attention.
So, here’s the takeaway: First, blast and unsolicited emails rarely work to either get the attention of a journalist or to result in a story. What’s more, many PR people are actually teaching smart spam software to recognize more and more of the materials of public relations as spam. Hence, PR is becoming seen as online spam. Sorry but true.
Second, the news business has gotten so fiercely competitive that reporters are mandated to find exclusive and appealing stories that have not appeared elsewhere. News releases go to everyone so what reporter who wants to keep a job will bother to touch it? Today’s style of effective media relations is relationship-based. The most effective PR people smartly build trusted relationships with only the right reporters and share story ideas, one-on-one.
Here’s my advice – forget news releases. Get to know reporters who cover your business or organization. Chances are there is just a few. Establish yourself as a regular resource of tips and information which gives you an opportunity to stay in contact with the journalists. Then, when you have legitimate news, pick up the phone and talk with them. That’s how the best stories happen today.
What else can explain the 11-page “Manifesto for the 21st Century Public Relations Firm,” that Holmes included in “the holmes report” issued via pdf last week. Although we are seven years into the new century we figure it is never too late to catch a bolt of lightning as Holmes tells us that YouTube is a big deal and Wal-Mart was wrong to fake a blog.
“The new communications landscape will be different – and in many ways more dangerous – than the terrain public relations professionals are used to,” Holmes pronounces. Really? Here is a guy with his ear to the concrete.
We figure Holmes is too busy deciding what PR firm is Best at This and That to pay attention to his manifesto so we click the “Check out our new blog” button on holmesreport.blogspot.com. His last entry, three months ago, is about Super Bowl ads. So we click “News” and get a ranking for public relations firms in 2000 (which might explain Holmes’ “new century” kick) and the best public relations agencies to work for in 2002. The “Media Kit” section says: “This section of our (sic) is currently under construction. Please return shortly.” Like in the next century?
If anybody sees Paul Holmes for his SABRE awards in Barcelona, May 24, tell him that Jimi Hendrix died. Break it to him gently. We don’t want to shock him.
Trouble in Virtual Paradise
An open letter to Second Life circulated last week by some of its most prominent users complained of a litany of problems. "There are some consistent, ongoing problems that are getting worse under heavy load, not better, and are not simply irritants but problems that are causing financial loss in some cases, which is unacceptable," said the letter.
Within days Linden Lab CTO Cory Ondrejka attempted to quell the uprising by answering questions for more than an hour in a town hall meeting in the virtual world. Stability and scalability were the most pressing complaints, along with Linden Labs’ slow response time to requests for help. Reportedly, a high degree of hostility was on display during the meeting – many shouting out their complaints (in text).
Second Life remains a tough sell. Besides the obvious barrier of even explaining what it is (you see these avatars fly around and you buy a virtual island for real money and … ) there is the real difficulty of anybody with any kind of first life figuring out how to do anything in Second Life. It is too difficult and time consuming. Why devote time and money to a world that constantly crashes and may not be relevant in a year?
Converging in the West
I debated myself for weeks whether or not to attend PR Online Convergence in L.A., May 16 – 18. I decided last week to sign up since free membership in Social Media Club now entitles you to a $800 discount. The size of the discount highlights the absurdity of the entrance fee.
The event is way too expensive. $1695 full price for the event, plus $500 for two pre-event workshops, plus airfare, plus hotel, plus $150 for dinner and drinks with Eric Schwartzman (I can shake hands with John Edwards for less) PLUS giving up those precious billable hours, makes this a luxury for few.
The whole A-list blogerati-podcastebrity clique will be there: Phil Gomes, Jason Calacanis, Chris Heuer, Brian Solis, and many others. And now I will be there as well, reporting back. I look forward to Katie Paine’s pre-conference workshop on “How to establish your Social Media Dashboard.” And I look forward to meeting Chris Heuer, to get his views on censorship in the blogosphere.
John Stodder – Our Imprisoned Conscience
Last week was particularly hilarious on Strumpette so it is hard to pick a post that I liked best. I definitely most appreciated the note from John Stodder, updating us on his appeal and the facility he will likely serve his 15 month sentence in.
I am grateful for John’s openness and his willingness to share this experience. There is a Confessional on this site, offering absolution for PR sins. Reading the posts gives me the chills and it also rings true. I don’t judge John’s guilt or innocence but I know that his sins, as much as he may have them, are not far from our own.
As a minimum security “camper” at CI Taft Correctional Institution I’ll bet that John will be in quarters that will rival some New York studio apartments. There may be an upside here. I always thought that the only way I would finish my novel would be in prison for 15 months. Solitude can bring clarity, open up new vistas, focus your efforts. Is there a book here?
I hope that John stays in touch with us through his incarceration and appeal. Let us see what it’s like to come out the other end of this.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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