Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about the lost art of telephone pitching, which received a lot of comment from a number of my peers on LinkedIn. Every PR professional has something to say about this topic, and the conventional wisdom is that you need to use a number of different channels to reach editors, beyond e-mail. Or as one of my commenters noted, “E-mail is for novices.” But I think the issue of editor outreach goes far beyond the means of communication and need to focus more on content. Editors should look on PR professionals as allies, and it is clear that, with the explosion of e-mail, social media, and other electronic communications, we now have more ways to spam editors rather than engaging with them.
Which is why I was particularly intrigued with a guest blog posted by Alison Kenney on Lindsay Olsen’s PR blog calling for “A Restraining Order for the PR Profession.” Apparently, in the eyes of the press, PR professionals have become cyber-stalkers, and they are calling us out on our behavior. Kenney cites a number of pissed-off analysts and editors who are maintaining an online hit list of PR offenders, including Josh Bernoff of Forrester, who complains there is no way to “unsubscribe” from press e-mail lists; Chris Anderson of Wired who maintains a list of PR firms of PR firms he has blocked; the Bad Pitch Blog, and a host of others.
I think it’s not about the medium, but the quality of the message. With the advent of new technology, PR professionals have become lazy and are using electronic channels to substitute for one-to-one communications. Even the best pitch will be offensive if it’s off-topic, which is what happens when you get a junior account executive spamming different editors with the same storyline without customizing it first. Just because you have the technology to send information to reporters all over the planet doesn’t mean you need to wield it. If you have a strong news story, then you can use one of the wire services to tell the world, but you still need to approach reporters with caution.
I have become a big fan of HARO (Help A Reporter Out) because they make their rules about spamming, but they enforce them. HARO has become a safe haven for reporters seeking resources because they know that off-topic responses to requests for information will get the offender banned from the system. This is the ultimate opt-out – being sent to that unique circle of PR hell where you are prohibited from pitching. HARO works because reporters get responses to specific informational needs, not abstract queries about not even remotely related topics.
I blame the growth of technology as much as the laziness of PR professionals. We have created so many means of communication that it has become harder than ever to choose the path of least resistance. Will a reporter respond to an e-mail request? A LinkedIn request? A Facebook post? A phone call? Chances are it will be “none of the above.” The noise level for communications has become so loud that it’s no wonder that even the most targeted and insightful queries fall between the cracks.
So what are we to do as a profession? I tend to agree with Bernoff that it’s time we cleaned up our act. We need to be judicious about the use of e-mail and electronic communications; keep it real; and keep it relevant. Take the trouble to read before you pitch to find out what the editor is really interested in. Try to make a personal connection so you aren’t just an anonymous spammer but a person behind a message. If you can make a human connection with a reporter through Facebook, a phone conversation, or some other means, then they will be more forgiving of a faux pas, if you don’t make a habit of it.
And most important of all, remember who is responsible for your success. Your job is to connect your clients with editorial contacts who need to hear their story. If the reporters won’t listen, you are out of a job. As I always tell my clients when they ask me to do something stupid that I know will piss off an editor, “After I am no longer working for you I will have to call that editor again, so alienating him always does me more harm than good.”