Bloggers as PR vigilantes

My friend Rick Calvert of Blogworld Expo posted a note last night asking Should bloggers blacklist PR firms? His starting point for his article is an earlier note by Stowe Boyd, The Growing Backlash against PR, Spam and the Rationale for MicroPR. He in turn points to Gina Trapani, who has created a PR Spammers Wiki, where “she and others can publicly ‘out’ PR firms that are spamming bloggers or using other unsavory spammish practices.”
I find this entire sequence of vigilante justice, as embodied in the concept of “outing” being applied to this situation, ridiculous. On the one hand, I constantly hear bloggers and other so-called new media journalists complaining that corporations and public relations firms aren’t taking them seriously and then we get this sort of daft misbegotten idea where if a PR firm doesn’t meet the ideal of interaction with a blogger, they can be digitally tarred and feathered.
I also get a lot of email from PR agencies, some of which is lame and poorly targeted, but much of which is interesting and worth receiving. When I get something I don’t like, I send a one line note akin to “Not my beat, please drop me from this list” and it’s done, no problem, no foul, no tar, no feathers.
When I get a query that attracts my attention, I appreciate the ability to type in a quick reply without having to dig up a contact person (they’ve already sent the message) and engage in a dialog with the pr agent or company representative. I’m candid and polite, and sometimes will point out how poorly their PR represents the company and other times take the apparently huge leap of forgiving them for not being perfect and focus on the message – the product or service they’re promoting – rather than the contact query.
As a result, I dare say that I have an excellent relationship with just about every major PR agency in the United States, and a lot of smaller ones too.
The difference? I’m not out to change the world and I’m not arrogant enough to think that I should dictate how they should communicate with me, I just accept that there are inherent limitations in the system and try to make the best of it nonetheless.
This appears to be a minority perspectively, however, as embodied by comments like this one from Stowe:

“The root cause here is the delusion on the part of the clients that this sort of PR carpet bombing works, that mass media messages embedded in a press release or press release-ish email work, and that we, the bloggers, actually react positively to this junk.”

Hate to break this to you, Stowe, but it does work and that the alternative suggestion of so-called MicroPR is at best idealistic and cannot scale, which is why it’s doomed before it starts.
If I hire a PR firm to represent my company, I don’t want them telling me all this hooha about “fostering the conversation” as a justification for why they only contacted seven people after billing me for 30 hours work, rather than contacting a few hundred targeted contacts. Further, I’m confident that a good PR agent can get me more visibility with their few hundred qualified contacts than a one-on-one twitter conversation with seven “perfect targets”.
As someone with a foot in each camp (I write columns for both a monthly magazine and local newspaper but I also run very popular weblogs) I know that while it’s not maximally efficient for the burden of selecting what’s interesting to be dumped onto me as a journalist or citizen blogger, it’s still far better than me never seeing the “offbeat” releases that might just catch my attention because they’re not on “my beat”.
Among other things, this boils down to a problem that most information researchers are familiar with: serendipitous resource discovery. You encounter it each time you pick up a printed dictionary to look up a word, just to find yourself browsing other words and enjoying the wealth of our language, or, what I did as a child, look up something in an encyclopaedia and find yourself immersed for hours in the tome.
What bothers me isn’t that there are some self-important bloggers who are trying to “fix” a system that I don’t really think is broken, but that there’s a fundamental incongruity between wanting PR people to pay attention to them and view them as legitimate media outlets AND a desire to simultaneously change the rules of interaction without consideration of the full picture.
Rick offers a pithy retort to Stowe, Gina, and the blogger vigilantes:

“Will you occasionally get pitched something that is irrelevant to you or that is personally uninteresting to you? Of course. Too bad. Get over it or get a new job.”

Well said, Rick!
However you spin it, I think that if you want to play in the world of mainstream media, journalism and public relations, you would do well to understand the dynamics and communications channels (especially the efficiencies of the system) and learn how to maximize your results rather than jump into digital yellow journalism and try to blacklist or humiliate PR professionals who might just view their job differently to your average blogger.
Me? I prefer not being part of a lynch mob, whether I knew I was being shanghaied into it or not…

2 comments on “Bloggers as PR vigilantes

  1. Dave — I’m with you. I really appreciate the contacts from PR folks. Are they off target occasionally? Sure, but I just take the same approach you do — tell them kindly and they stop. Thanks for exposing that not all bloggers feel the same way about PR contacts.

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