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PR lessons for the uninitiated
by Sofia Gkiousou
2007-11-05 10:35:13
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It seems that the knives are out in the PR industry and it’s all going to pot. And all because a magazine editor blacklisted some PR e-mail addresses.

Ask any PR professional: The most stressful type of PR you can do is being in an agency. You are constantly under stress to perform, to get results for the clients (counted in article inches) and to get results for the agency (counted in client billing). All in all it's like being a solicitor/ lawyer only a tiny little bit more creative.

As a result there are some PR professionals (allegedly) that can never find the time to actually build a relationship with the Press in its entirety. You would be forgiven for thinking that this cannot be avoided. Especially if you are representing a client whose product has a wide ranging appeal you can’t be expected to know each and every single journalist who is into the same thing around the world or even in one country (not Monaco obviously. Think United States rather).

Hence – some would say – the need for expensive media source databases, which can cost almost anything. These databases have contact info for a variety of journalists, editors and media people and advice on what is the best way to pitch an idea to them.

It seems though that there is a flaw in the system and Chris Anderson, WIRED editor, decided that he had had enough. Annoyed with the vast quantity of unsolicited e-mails he received completely outside his journalistic interests, which should have been sent to other journalists of the general WIRED e-mail address, so he blacklisted some PR people and published their e-mail addresses on his blog (See here).

This would be absolutely fine if it was me and you doing the posting but Anderson is not only the editor of one of the most widely read and respected mags globally, but also the writer of The Long Tail, an incredibly influential book on the new economics of the Internet and how they are shaping demand. Needless to say his blog is read by a lot of people (and even that is an understatement).

Apparently even Anderson himself was astonished (See here) at the 290 comments (and counting) and some of the “amusing” effects that his post had. It seems that the PR industry went to war. Some PR agencies used the list not only to criticise rivals but also to pitch rivals’ clients and win them over using the list as proof.

Of course, after that it was deemed that ‘all is fair’ and all hell broke loose. The amazing details came out in the Silicon Alley Insider blog where news of the war is being updated as we speak.

We are not talking about simple ‘we are better’ e-mails. We are talking about full-blown bring-us-your-client-list-anonymously-and-also-get-more-money-from-us type e-mails. We are talking about suggestions that one outfit will install someone outside another outfit just to take clients and staff. We are talking PR agencies at war in the age of the Internet.

Some commentators on the Web discussions I have found on the issue are pointing to the mad rush that most PR people have to work in. I personally find the excuse cheap to say the least. I would imagine that it is serving clients better to send targeted communications rather than annoy everyone and associate your client’s brand with the journalist’s annoyance. Not good PR. I would imagine that it is serving clients better to understand the people you are pitching to so that next time when they get wind of a great conference/special edition etc. they contact you as well.

I don’t think it’s “mean” that Anderson put the list on his blog. He had a good point and he did what he thought was right.

I am just left marvelling at this: A few years ago, what could Anderson – or any editor for that matter – do that would wreak such havoc?

Think about it. Pretty much nothing apart from e-mailing the ones that annoyed him or e-mailing their bosses. And that would be that.

But now he manages to inspire a new pitch, he manages to throw light to the problem AND he manages to have the PR guys fighting it out while he sits back and enjoys the whole thing.

If I was in PR, next time I would be very carefully making a list and checking it twice before hitting that ‘send’ button. You never know in which blog you’ll see your e-mail address published.

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Asa2007-11-05 11:11:07
There was a time when Ovi spammed a few people to spread the word, but it felt so morally corrupt that we stopped pretty quickly.

If we do send out a mass email, such as a newsletter, we always allow people to unsubscribe and some have done - actually, I think this is a legal requirement.

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