A blog entry that Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson posted on October 29 was brought to my attention today. He was ranting about "lazy" PR reps that send him floods of mass e-mails rather than researching for which writer each pitch would work best and sending it directly to them. What made his post grab so much media attention, however, was the fact that he proceeded to copy each and every PR rep's e-mail address that had sent him a "spam" message in the past month to his blog for all to see! Hundreds of them! After hearing about this, I felt compelled to respond with my own rant.
First, I sympathize with PR reps who might not know each and every writer by name, specialty, or face. It takes time to build a relationship and understand someone's interests. But sometimes, it does take a few "blind" e-mails to get to that point. There's a reason big journalist databases exist: because to research each and every writer of each and every magazine is an arduous, not to mention time-consuming, task. Sure, that is part of their job, and I'm not defending allegedly "lazy" tactics. But just because Bob Smith hasn't written an article on PCs in the past year doesn't mean he doesn't specialize in that area. Should a PR rep then just assume that PC-related pitches don't apply to him? Or are they required to research someone's entire career? Or perhaps call them up to chat about their interests? Frankly, I'd be pissed if my phone kept ringing with PR people asking about my areas of interest, and what information they should send to me. Just send it, God damnit, and I'll tell you if I don't want it! Or, even better: once we do finally meet in person, discuss things then, so we can create a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.
I also don't want them to "research" what I've written about, then decide what pitches apply to me and which ones don't. In fact, this has happened in the past, resulting in our company missing a major product launch because the PR company didn't think the event was "our beat". My response? "Let US decide that, not you."
I receive e-mails all the time from resource databases asking for updated contact information and what areas of consumer electronics interest me. I know this information is sent to PR agencies who can then discern what pitches they should send. That's fine. It's ludicrous to expect a PR rep to decide which pitches should go to whom without first developing a relationship that doesn’t begin by being annoying and overly-persistent. A simple e-mail to say "hey, this is who I am and I'm here if you're interested" is fine with me.
I am not sure if Mr. Anderson is so angry because the reps kept sending information after he asked them not to (he didn’t say this is what happened), or if it's just because the information was sent directly to him instead of one of the writers being the first point of contact. He says in the first paragraph: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers. Ouch. True enough: but you are a journalist that should be staying on top of all areas of the business. If you'd rather a message be sent directly to someone else, why not just tell the rep that, and case closed? If they don't oblige going forward, then I'd be pretty annoyed, too! But frankly, if I were a PR rep, I'd be copying the editor-in-chief directly as well!
When it comes to his points about personally addressed notes, I do agree that these are much more PR-appropriate, and will certainly resonate better with the journalist than a form "to whom it may concern" e-mail sent to half of Canada's media personnel. But they aren’t always possible. I'd love to send a newsletter each week that's tailored to the specific interests of each and every one of our readers. After all, it is our job to produce content that's applicable to our audience, right? But I simply don't have the time, so in one blast, everyone gets the same newsletter, and can pick and choose which items they want to read, and which to discard. They don't take it personally. And neither do I.
When it comes down to it, PR reps are the people that are there to help YOU, so it shouldn't be so hard to do the same in return. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a time when, in a hurry and on deadline, every journalist has contacted the first PR rep from a firm that came to mind instead of looking through notes to find out who specifically was actually on the account. I doubt the person's response was: "screw off, a-hole. Don't you know which one of us you're supposed to call?"
I do empathize with Mr. Anderson. I, too, get hundreds of press releases and pitches daily; and some, yes, I will chuck straight to the deleted items because it's not personal, I don't know the sender, or it simply isn't relevant. Sometimes, however, I'll find something of interest, contact that person, and a relationship that's valuable on both ends unravels. Sometimes, I'll hit the "forward" button, and send it to a writer who specializes in that area.
Call them flacks or call us hacks, we're all working together toward the same goal: to inform readers of the latest and greatest that's out there. If the PR person doesn't bother building a relationship after he knows more about you, that's another story. If he doesn't personally call to invite you to an event, or send a note to you, and just you, at that point, he isn't doing his job. But when it comes to those with whom we haven't yet crossed paths, we can't expect to be singled out in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of magazines, TV shows, Websites, and newspapers. Bottom line: cut the flacks some slack.
That said, I will not be linking to Mr. Anderson's blog entry from this post. As for me, rest assured that I will never post an industry member’s e-mail address in anger or frustration. Now, if I get one more e-mail about VIAGRA or $10,000,000 in a Nigerian bank, that's another story...