Mainstream media fights back at the swarm of PR industry spam

Here’s a sober reality … it might be possible that public relations people are the obstacle between the news media and your good story.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner, a reporter at the Washington Bureau Journal, likes to poke fun at the PR people who “dial for stories,” as she calls it. A PR person will call her, for example, a read a dull story pitch from a prepared script. When she declines or the call is snagged in her voicemail, the PR person proceeds to dial everyone else in the newsroom with the same pitch. Happens all the time in just about every news organization.

PR people simply do not have the skills or a clue about what makes for a real news story. It’s not taught in colleges and training at the agency level has been discarded in favorable of greater billable hours. Few if any PR people have any meaningful media contacts.

(credit: The New York Times)

(credit: The New York Times)

PR’s inability to know how to connect with the world of news organizations recently was taken on by David Segal’s The Haggler column at the New York Times. The headline: “Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam.”

Yes, PR spam. The PR industry has become one of the most visible, acknowledged sources of spam.

The spam happens because PR people do not invest the time to get to know specific journalists and influencers in the news media. And, the lack of legitimate media contacts is often worst at large PR agencies where the job of pitching stories is assigned to junior staff and interns who are billed out at $400 an hour.

What the PR agencies do, instead, to cover their own failure to land media coverage is to use companies — like Vocus, PR Newswire and BusinessWire — that maintain vast databases of media contacts.  For a fat fee, they will “blast email” PR news releases to tens of thousands of news outlet, including a few still in business. No one authenticates the validity of the spam email lists. Then, the PR people can boast to clients that their “news” reached thousands in the news media. Such claims are misleading and not true, of course, because it seldom results in actual media coverage.

Segal of The Times asked the question, “Why would any company spend money to blanket reporters with email they didn’t ask for and almost surely don’t want?” Good question.

All the media wants is a story.

Ask any reporter, and what they want is a story … a timely and relevant story … not a self-servicing announcement or promotion wrapped into the guise of a press release that’s bombarded to everyone else.

email-spamAt the core of this problem are two fears suffered by PR people … at least in my opinon: First, they actually fear talking with a reporter because they know the reporter will ask questions that they might have to work to get answers for and respond. My gosh, that means work!  Second, PR people do not know what comprises a real news story. They don’t know the elements or the style of writing news because PR is about promotion, not news.

Segal writes, “The Haggler suggests that any company now spending money on P.R. spam demand a better strategy. In the meantime, there is no reason that other reporters can’t do what the Haggler did: Write to the most prominent database collectors and ask to be deleted. Below is a one-paragraph, get-out-of-P.R.-spam kit.

“Just send a short, polite “please delete me” note to at Vocus; at Cision; at PRNewswire; at Marketwired; and at Business Wire.”

Darn good action to take.