And then it blows up.
I've written about that exact thing before here. And probably a dozen times before that. Some thoughts worth repeating:
I've been on both the shit receiving end AND on the shit throwing end of the PR machine myself. That's because I walk that blurry line, being both a "journalist" listed IN media map, and a PR flack USER of media map (and similar tools) where the journos and the PR flacks intersect (wish i could say connect--but that doesn't happen there).But the longer I watch the twitter culture blip blip blip in blog posts and tweets with holier-than-thou 'Oh Someone Bothered Me And Kept Me From My Important Work' emissions, the more I fume. That's why I'm glad there's pro like my colleague Brian who can address this issue both with humility and skill.
Anyone having done any kind of media relations knows the reddening sting of a pissed off reporter saying, "You haven't read me, have you?" or "I already wrote about that," or "You're just blindly pitching." And yes, sometimes they're right. But they also fail to take ANY responsibility for how they end up in the endless loop of breaking-news tag.
They know that media map and other tools give PR people infinite details on their every bowel movement. So, if they prefer to be called, if their publication doesn't REALLY cover what media map says it wants to cover, if their beat is wrong, or if they just plain hate PR people and want them to know, then USE THESE TOOLS TO SAY SO. Don't be lazy on the front end and blame the folks who give you fodder for your stories on the backend.
Just like some BigPR SVPs who think they can pull a strategy out of their back pocket to 'build your brand' without understanding your customers, some journalists pull the "blame it on PR flacks" card because it's fast, easy and acceptable to do so. Rather than spell out (and update frequently) on their sites or blogs or in their publications (or God forbid in the tools they know PR people are stuck using) just how they want to interact with us, it's easier to shoot the proxy-messenger. All because an editor is bugged by some pain in the ass emails (news flash: we all get them), hasn't had a good night's sleep, or just plain needs to get laid.
The whole PR industry being broken is not news.
As Brian so passionately explains, there are several types of emails (used to be faxes, soon will be tweets) PR people send to blogger contacts, from actual spam to some thing we don't know what to call -- Brian thinks maybe Tofu -- where the PR person is contacting someone who is publicly noted as someone with x, y, z parameters (what they write about, where they live, their specified mode of contact--usually listed on their blog), and so: SHOCK - PR people contact them.
Enter the back channel. Those bloggers (as specified above--and I'm on the sending and receiving end as I blog AND work in PR and marketing) who are now getting lots of pitches on everything from the latest thigh reducers to stories they might actually care about.
These bloggers tend to do one of three things with the emails:
1) Ignore or Delete the email.
2) Respond to the email either positively or negatively.
3) Call in the cavalry to gripe about getting the email in a heroic effort to save the blogosphere from more unwanted email and protect their own precious time and overflowing inbox , all while making an example out of the flack.
Read those three general reactions above and you'll see why the PR person rarely 'wins.' And know too, that I have had EACH of those three reactions myself.
I'm not happy with those being the only reactions available. The only REAL solutions as I see are that we PR people:
1) GET OFF OUR ASSES and create the kind of tools I've been talking about for years -- open source opt-in wiki versions of what bacons/media map are to mainstream media. An online exchange, hub, whateveryouwanttocall it - TOFUPEDIA, or MEDIAPEDIA - that lets WE THE RECIPIENTS and WE THE SENDERS of these communications (emails and tweets and whatever comes next) tell each other what we want to know about, what we don't want to know about, and how we want to find out about it. PR 2.0 needs to go OPEN SOURCE. And after that's baked, top it with RSS and call it dinner.
2) STOP PITCHING AND BITCHING altogether and assume a new role - that of matchmaker between client and the customers they serve, where we serve more a hybrid CRM / business development role than a news-making, ink-producing role (although the news-making and ink-producing are byproducts of doing the CRM/BizDev well). We BECOME the matchmakers, one customer at a time, act as catalyst and then get out of the way. We are no longer pitching news, we are forging partnerships.
Stowe thinks Twitter and other micro-streams are the way to change PR. I am not so optimistic. Changing from Fax machines to email didn't change PR. Neither will changing from email to Twitter. What changes PR is that the BUSINESS OF PR has to change - everything from the tools we use to how we are measured and compensated.
Business' expectations of PR has to change too -- especially in Tech and Web 2.0. As long as 'hitting techmeme' is the goal by which success is judged, then baby, we-all-in-deep-doo-doo.
I've been craving the kind of solutions I mention, and I try assume the matchmaking role whenever I can with clients, although I DO MESS UP. And if I can screw up, your next screw up is right around the corner.
Quite honestly, the longer it takes for PR 2.0 tools to replace the top-down Bacons, Media Map, and Vocuses of the world, the more public floggings will take place at the hand of those who are well-meaning, over-spammed, or just plain arrogant.