Reinventing Public Relations in the age of spam and weblogs

I got an amusing note from Bill Gram-Reefer, public relations agent for Hamrick Software: “Here’s a Valentine’s Day case study from Hamrick software: When a married couple became embroiled in a bitter argument over the poor condition of the pictures in their wedding album, they didn’t go to a marriage counselor, instead VueScan helped save the marriage. See complete details at …”
Not a bad bit of PR for a terrific Mac shareware scanner application package, except for the fact that I received it on the 15th of February. A day late and a dollar short, as my Dad would say. Logically enough, I responded with a quick note to Bill asking why this message arrived on the 15th of February, just to find…

I sent my query and received back a response that made it glaringly obvious that Bill was violating a cornerstones of good PR: make it ridiculously easy for your customer to communicate with you. By using a challenge-and-respond spam filter, Bill has pushed out his anti-spam campaign to all of the companies and analysts with which he communicates.
Instead of getting a message back from Bill explaining this PR timing gaffe, I received a form email message from SpamArrest: “83% of all e-mail I receive is spam. So please help weed out spam by following SpamArrest’s “challenge” instructions. thanks, bgr — Just this once, click the link below so I can receive your emails. You won’t have to do this again…”
But, Bill, as a policy, I don’t click on these confirmation links because I’ve already put in the effort to communicate with you and I don’t appreciate having to confirm that I’m a human. What you need is a better spam solution, not one that makes it my responsibility to jump through the appropriate hoops to be allowed to communicate with you. I receive well over 1000 spam/day and I’ve never forced anyone to do anything special to be able to email me and engage in a dialog of any form.
I see this as symptomatic of the challenges public relations professionals are having as we move into the twenty-first century. When PR meant that you’d write fancy press releases, distribute them on a few newswires and help field calls from interested media contacts, PR was a simple numbers game: $500 for BusinessWire’s national list, hopefully a few thousand media people would skim the headlines, a few hundred would read the synopsis and a few dozen would be sufficiently engaged that they’d be interested in contacting the company. Most of those would call the company contact directly, and a few would go through the PR agency. Net result: a “push” model of communications with a manageable information flow.
Today, however, press releases are so marginalized that they’re barely worth distributing and any decent media person worth their salt is tracking the blogosphere and dozens of newswire services for information and companies they can discuss. The task of public relations has therefore become more difficult because it’s now about making sure the companies that hire you are findable when the media writers (which include bloggers) want to find out about a given subject, more of a “pull” model, if you will.
This paradigm shift, this complete reversal of the locus of control of information dissemination, doesn’t mitigate the one watchword of all good public relations, though: be available to your public.
Bill, I’m sorry that 85% of your email is spam, but I’m not going to click that link and prove I’m not a spam-generating robot. You need to change how you make yourself accessible to me if you want to engage in a dialog and convince me that your client is worthy of my attention. The burden of communications is on you, the public relations firm, not on me, the analyst or writer.
In an ironic footnote, I did actually get an email message from Bill so he scans his spam logs for legit email. That’s a step, but I should never have seen the challenge from SpamArrest in the first place.
It’s a new world and it’s time public relations firms woke up to that fact, don’t you think?

2 comments on “Reinventing Public Relations in the age of spam and weblogs

  1. Dave, rant on all you want. You’re the only “journalist” ever to complain about my spam filter. In my experience real journalists themselves implement spam filtering and are forgiving if a PR person does the same.
    Still, an ISP with strong server-based spam filtering is always high on my list of potential vendors when my current DNS contract expires.
    We all do what we can to can spam.

  2. Fair enough, Bill, but if I may say so, “”real journalists” are a dying breed and it’s going to be more and more important to cast a wider net and make sure that you’re reaching everyone who is an opinion leader, not just those anointed by some sort of media conglomerate.
    On one hand, the solution would be to just make spam go away, but the bigger issue of how you find your audience and communicate with them in a friendly fashion far overshadows any specific nuts and bolts of the PR industry itself, don’t you think?

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