PR spam is mostly the result of being careless

Like many in the PR and journalism blogosphere, I get PR pitches by email every day.

Like many, too, I welcome pitches if they are relevant to my interests. If they are, the chances are good that I will talk about the product or service, either in my blogs or podcast, or I might Twitter about it.

Those emails are currently averaging eight. Every day. The vast majority, though, I regard as spam, pure and simple.

In fact, PR spam is a topic that is constantly on the tips of online tongues.

What’s my definition of ‘PR spam’? Any one or all of this:

  • The product or service being pitched by email is so obviously not one that I would have much interest in, a fact that would be very easily apparent if the pitcher had taken even a cursory glance at this blog or listened to my podcast.
  • The email includes an unsolicited Word document attachment. And it’s worth noting that not everyone uses Word. I do but the pitcher doesn’t know that.
  • The pitcher writes a pseudo-friendly greeting but it only looks like a bad database mail merge. My favourite: “Hi, Neville ,” (notice the space between my name and the final comma). A close second is the simple “Hi ,” with that same space (yes, I’ve had lots of emails like that).

Mostly, I regard such PR spam is just another consequence of being online and being accessible. You know, along with the email offers for knock-off replica watches, Viagra and other sexual performance enhancements, and winning the Euro lottery.

This is borne out by the majority of those emails being automatically caught by the McAfee spam and junk mail filters in Outlook.

Now and again, I might send one along to Kevin Dugan for the Bad Pitch Blog although lame PR pitches are no longer hot news items for that blog.

There are just too many of them.

All that said, I do get increasingly worried for the overall reputation of our profession as if I’m getting such crap every day, imagine what journalists working in the mainstream media must be getting.

If the stuff they get is anything like the stuff I get – and it surely is just as bad, if not worse – then no wonder too many members of the mainstream media see public relations lower down in the food chain than lawyers or estate agents.

One thing I haven’t done is go the Chris Anderson route by posting on this blog all the domain names of the PR spammers. Or create a wiki as Gina Trapani did with a similar goal – outing those PR people and agencies and causing maximum damage to their reputations.

The fact is, I think much of what passes for PR pitching by email is simply very poor and careless practice by PR people who still don’t know better.

They ought to, clearly, as this is PR 101 stuff to do with reaching out and making connections with people, whether they’re journos or bloggers.

Some basic principles apply that we all should know from our early days in the profession.

So I prefer to focus on helping PR people understand how to build relationships online where how you go about that – including by email -  is an integral part of the conversations we have, what I suppose we’re now calling ‘blogger relations’ and how to bring that new practice into traditional PR practice.

But when an email does come that is characterized by such abject carelessness – no, stupidity – in its approach, it just makes me angry.

This one, for instance:

lamepitchemail-clip

No, I’m not going to deliberately identify the sender, purely use it as an example in order to say – Come on, you can bloody well do better than this!

You want attention? Well, at least take a bit of time and care and apply even a little bit of thought to tell a story, not just blast out a pathetic email like this one.

Which brings me back to another related point – those database-driven emails.

Many PR agencies use database services like Vocus and Cision to research bloggers and others and gather email addresses for mass emailing.

Whatever you think of that approach – and I think it’s a total waste of everyone’s time – if you do use it, at least take note of some of the simple guidance the information provider will include.

Vocus, for instance. I don’t subscribe to Vocus but a kindly reader of this blog sent me a copy of the information about me in Vocus’ database – information that’s available to agencies who subscribe.

The database listing includes this text:

PITCHING INSTRUCTIONS

Media inquiries should be directed to Mr. Hobson at neville.hobson@gmail.com, or via an online contact form found at http://www.nevillehobson.com/contact/.

Before sending press releases, story ideas or other information to a blog/blogger, we recommend you read the site thoroughly in order to understand the blogger’s area of interest and point of view. Spamming or mass emailing of bloggers is NOT recommended. This can result in unpleasant/unintended coverage of the company or organization you represent.

Read that last paragraph – how clearer and simpler to understand can it be?

This isn’t about blogger or media relations, it’s about common sense and taking care.

Yet too few in the PR profession seem to be paying any attention.

On Wednesday June 11, Shel and I will be hosting a call-in discussion about PR spam with FIR Live on BlogTalk Radio, starting at 5pm GMT.

This is the idea of John Cass and Jason Falls, both of whom have posted detailed commentary on a very big problem in the PR business.

Let’s hope we can inject some thoughts for care back into the profession.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.