Not Short, Not Sweet, but to the Point…

I’m not a professional blogger. No one pays me to do this. (Which is good at the moment, or they’d want to know why I haven’t been showing up to work lately!)

I’m not a reporter. No one comes here first to find out anything other than what my preschooler has been up to lately.

I’m not a Public Relations person. Nope, I get the field of PR, but I’ve never worked in it professionally.

I guess when it comes to the construct that is made up of those with news, those relaying the news, and those reading/listening to the news, I fall in that last category. We’ll just call me a consumer – because pretty much everyone gets that idea.

The Information Flow Model 101 – Company to Consumer

Most folks probably already know this, but for those busy focusing on other things, here’s a quick down & dirty about the cycle and where people fit in.

So you’ve got these companies who want to get the news out about their latest product/service/what-have-you. They hire PR folks. Sometimes it’s an internal position, sometimes they outsource it to a PR firm. Basically, it’s a matter of “we’ve got the world’s greatest widget – how do we let everyone know??”

PR folks – in theory – make a living knowing how to get the information to the people. They don’t carry the information to the consumers themselves. What they do is build relationships with people who *do* carry the information to the consumers. In days of old, this meant a 2 prong approach – advertising and getting reporters to cover/write about/talk about/demonstrate your product. In the new media world, it’s a 3-prong approach – advertising, reporters and now, bloggers/internet sites.

Reporters/Bloggers… I use the hyphen because one camp says that the second group is a subset of the first – and the other camp says that they are most decidedly not. Let’s just put it this way – both find out about new products, services, information and cover it so their audiences get exposure to it. They’re both disseminators of information that have built up a certain level of trust with a group of consumers.

Consumers – that being what most of us are, even if you are also in one of the other categories as well – choose who to listen to and who to trust with regard to new data. In the end, we’re the people the companies are trying to reach.

Annnd My Point Is?

Unbeknown to the average Joe Consumer, there’s been some static building up between PR people and Bloggers over the past – oh, forever – and it kind of hit a boiling point over the weekend when one prominent editor (Gina Tripani) of an information site (Lifehacker) Twittered about her “PR Blacklist” – which was apparently a list of domains that she blocks all email from now.

The reasoning behind this was that someone (or many folks) from each of these domains had abused her personal email address to send broad-spectrum ‘pitches’ to her in the hopes that the site she edits would cover their client’s ‘big news’.

This caused a bit of fury in PR circles because responsible PR folk (who would never dream of doing something that stupid) were being tarred & feathered along with a few guilty imbeciles.

A discussion sprang up between some notable bloggers & PR folk who frequent Twitter, Friend-Feed and many of the blogs that started discussing the issue. On one side, there were the PR people – tired of feeling trod upon and badmouthed, angry at the audacity of posting a blacklist of entire agencies. On the other side, there were prominent bloggers – tired of flooded inboxes containing blanket PR pitches that weren’t relevant to them and wasted their time.  It didn’t take long until PR people started making their own “Blogger Blacklists” in response and the whole thing morphed into an ‘issue.’

It’s gotten rather heated, actually. It’s hard to tell if you aren’t used to reading some of these folk regularly, but if you are, you can hear the underlying frustration. They’re all just too darned professional to let it get the better of them though, so it’s usually a polite-but-intense discussion.

But they seem to be getting nowhere at the moment. Because, as everyone keeps acknowledging, the ‘guilty’ parties aren’t part of the discussion nor are they likely to be.

The lazy, inept PR wannabes causing the problems for the bloggers? They’re not going to stop blanket-spamming any time soon.

The responsible, professional, creditable PR folks trying to fix the issues? They’re not part of the problem.

Is There a Resolution?

Of course. But no one is going to like it. Because that’s how these things go. The PR folks want the bloggers to just ignore/delete/cope with the inbox-violators. The bloggers want the PR folks to either cope with the blacklisting or police their own industry. Neither is going to happen independently. Because realistically? Neither of those solves the problem for both sides.

So a compromise is in order – and NO ONE likes a compromise.

Put yourself in the shoes of the PR person. Let’s say you suddenly found that you couldn’t email your Aunt Edna pictures of her favorite nephew because some jerk on your ISP had spammed someone in a position to block them on her ISP… wouldn’t you be pissed? Of course.

But at whom? Her ISP for blocking everything coming from yours? Your ISP for allowing a spammer to make things bad for everyone? The spammer?

Yep. All of the above.

And the solution lies with all of the above, just like it does with PR & Bloggers.

If you’re a blogger – the solution is to show a little grace. Not a ‘first strike you’re out’ policy – or a ‘you’ll never get off this list’ policy. Maybe instead a policy of ‘first time, a warning goes to the agency in question’ (dear Agency, receiving untargeted pitch spam from John Doe – if this continues – will block your domain until such time as you retrain your PR agents) followed by a block – with the ability to redeem oneself or one’s agency. You can’t expect the dog to learn to behave if there’s no reason for it to reform.

If you’re a PR person – the solution is to work with the bloggers to root out the bad apples. Your agency domain is blocked? Why? Go to the top and find out who is making your job impossible and what their reasoning is. You receive an email from a blogger with a warning? Fix the issue or remove that blogger from your list of contacts.

As a consumer, I know that you are both part of the chain… but dammit, I want my information. I want to know what those companies want to tell me. I don’t want you guys playing games where you don’t talk to each other – because that’s not your job. Your job is to get that information from the companies to the consumers… because if you guys won’t? Trust me, eventually, somebody else will.

Neither side is the “bad guy” but there are “bad practices” on both sides at present and the only people that can fix that have to work together to do it.

So suck it up, get used to the other side using hyperbole to describe the sins of the few on your side (all PR people don’t get it… all bloggers are prima donnas) and get down to fixing the issue. Because otherwise, I don’t get to know about the latest widget. And I need that widget. Right?

Thanks.

Josephine A. Consumer

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~ by Lucretia on May 12, 2008.

6 Responses to “Not Short, Not Sweet, but to the Point…”

  1. I think it boils down to changing how IT is all done.

    Pre Web 2.0…pre BLOGs..websites could sign on as affiliates for BIGGER companies who RAN advertising for them and their umbrella companies.

    Sites were paid a monthly rate based usually on page views or unique visitors…not clicking on sites OR reviewing products..instead companies got CHEAP advertising for their products to a broad spectrum of people.

    Sites got advertising no matter how small they were just depending on if the site fit.

    Perhaps a co-op or something of sites needs to be built…one that divides up the blogs into one’s that WILL review products and others that won’t AND have policies lined up explaining that free stuff does not mean GOOD reviews.

    We have small groups like that ..Parent Bloggers, Review Blogs…

    But it would be nice maybe if there was one directory of sorts that PR people and advertisers could go to and see all the info and people to hit up or not.

    It would be nice to give all blogs whatever the topics a chance at some small income regardless of stuff or not.

    Does that make sense?

  2. Great, great post and really one of the best that I have read so far on this issue.

    One thing that hasn’t been hit upon yet is the abysmal quality of those lists. They are generally no better than a starting point and some use them as an ending point.

    I happen to know because I see these lists all the time as a PR person and dispair of them. Clients aren’t necessarily willing to pay what it takes to develop a really good one, and that means the PR side has to get creative – which in most cases means they just spam out their “message” with no thougt to fact checking the list.

    My, my, I feel a post coming on….

  3. I agree with Kami ~ thank you for this really helpful, thoughtful post on the issue of PR spam. I’m not a PR person, or even that knowledgeable in Web 2.0 ~ I’m just a personal blogger who occasionally discusses books, music, current affairs, food, wine, etc. I am increasingly mobbed by spam requests to review products, books, etc., or I have been added to marketing lists for events that I “may be interested in.” Generally, I simply delete but have not yet banned any IP addresses or domain names ~ but they keep spamming me. I like your idea of sending a warning letter ~ thanks!

  4. I’ve been on both sides of the coin. Editor receiving PRs and PR person sending PRs. Sometimes PR people are at the mercy of their clients who don’t want to invest the time to customize pitches.

    BUT that does not excuse a PR person or me from sending a pitch about dolphins to a tech blogger. Well, unless it’s a mouse shaped as a dolphin or USB drive with a cute little dolphin on it.

    I keep receiving pitches for a newsletter that retired a few years ago! So obviously these folks aren’t even checking the content to see if their article matches or can be modified to better match. Those are the worst offenders.

  5. […] Not Short, Not Sweet, but to the Point… […]

  6. […] GeekMommy says something that I think gets closer to the heart of the problem: […]

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