May 17, 2006

Dysfunction Junction: BigPR, BigMediaList Keepers, and the Solo Practitioner -- An Eye on Bacon's and Vocus

I’ve been online a long time. I’ve done what I do for a living for a longer time. Those two areas of my life collided in 1996 with my first corporate website and online communications initiative.

You should know these things not because it’s a good way to rev up my rant, well maybe, but also because I’m tired. Tired as an online participant as an online user.

I’m  tired of telling companies how to do business with me—NAY, not just telling, but showing: look, do it like this: 1, 2, 3. Wait, even better, get out of the way and I’ll do the work of doing business with you myself.

If my enthusiasm for changing the world, or at least the world of business, took a hit during Web 1.0, it’s been run over during this recent iteration of business as usual by any other name.

Enter the keepers of all media lists, Bacon's, and competitor Vocus, to name two. Now, understand that I have been a user of MediaMap (now Bacon’s MediaSource(?) (How much did that re-branding exercise cost?) for almost 10 years. I haven’t been able to afford access the last two years, having completely severed my agency ties and stopped begging email-password combos off friends.

I’ve said before, these high-priced ($3-$5K per year per license) services are among the most important barriers left keeping the small fish from taking over the practice and processes of PR from BigPR firms.

As such, the business models of BigPR and BigMediaListKeepers are tightly intertwined. Hello: That’s really important. And maybe that’s a good thing. Because where there’s a barrier, someone with smarts and a nose for opportunity will come crashing through it eventually.

More on that another time, as models for ways of crashing through this barrier are forming, and deserving of posts of their own.

But back to my story. Not only have I been a user of MediaSource, once Map, for nearly a decade, but I have been listed as a pitchable outlet in MediaMap, now Source, for more than three years, as writer/reporter/journalist (hee) of this very weblog, which is listed in the heretofore mentioned databases. When blogs were added as news sources, there I came. Kind of an early model of consumer as producer, I’d say.

Pitching myself was always the easiest answer. I rarely was rude, except when I caught myself on a bad day.

Anyway, typical with all of the media sources added, I wasn’t asked; they added me. That’s how it works. And, the reason so few object to being added as a journalist or media outlet is because – yes you do get pitched with bogus stuff that everyone in blogland can make fun of – but generally you find out some interesting stuff about interesting products from PR people who are just itching to tell you everything you want to know while you treat them rudely and make them do a lot of work for you. Win-win or what?

Except that it would be nice if Bacon’s made at least SOME opt-in and customizable options available online for those they pimp, like the old airline menus where you could choose Kosher or vegetarian—but that was before the airlines took food away altogether, put you in a coffee can seat with a strap and a fuse, lit your ass on fire, and called that air travel.

I digress.

The relationship between BigMediaKeepers like Bacon’s and uberPR firms like Ketchum, for example, is a happily dysfunctional and expensively enmeshed co-dependency based on the way things worked before the conversational Web developed.

BigPR says to Bacon’s: you tell us who to send emails (used to be faxes) to, and we’ll pay you enterprise license fees so that we don’t have to get to know those people ourselves, because they don’t like us and we don’t like them but we both need each other. And Bacon’s says: Okay that’ll be lots and lots of thousands of dollars for an enterprise license, thank you very much, here’s your username and password, or would you like us to integrate our offering with your extranet for a little bit more, and train your thousands of users for—oh never mind we’ll throw that in for *free* with (some strings attached) after making sure no one can truly get what they need without the training.

This shit is SO ripe for an intervention.

Again, because these tools are essential, if dysfunctional, I’ve been looking at ways to get into MediaSource by sharing or creating an entity of likeminded solo practitioners who want to share a license. I don’t know if that’s legal—the two or three of us who’ve emailed back and forth saying, HEY, that would work for me, haven’t checked into all of that yet. Does this sound silly yet in the age of open source? Well it should.

That being said, I’ve tried to play by the rules, and have emailed inquiries to both Bacon’s and Vocus to try to find out how much their services actually cost.

I’ve gotten straighter answers out of used car salesmen.

First of all, let me say this to them about that: If you are going to ENGAGE me online and INTEREST me in your service, then you better give me a way to INTERACT with you online and—heavens!—even purchase online.

Instead with both of these companies, you have to submit your contact information and agree to be contacted by phone, at which point (I can tell you this from experience with both providers), if you have out of the ordinary questions, ass meet crack, you’re kicked out of the buying process.

With Vocus in particular, they are keen on setting you up with a 30-minute demo, which I can’t believe folks would spend time on BEFORE they know if they’re really interested—i.e., how much does it cost?

Nonetheless, I have one voice mail back from Bacon’s (man, when will they let you podcast directly from voicemail?) asking me to call back to talk about the service (I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, I want you to tell me how much and care that I’m a Blogger and I’m going to write about you), and I talked to a polite gentleman at Vocus who quoted me $4,900 annually, but implied that the price was somehow negotiable.


I stopped him half way through and said, look, what I need are the media lists, that’s all. And I need to know if you can make it affordable to a solo practitioner like me. And I won’t spend a half hour of my time until I know those things. I’m a Blogger and I’ve used MediaMap for years and I’m IN it, so if you can do what MediaMap does, and you have some affordable pricing, I’m sold.

At this point the Vocus guy tells me they are BETTER than Bacon’s because they update their databases DAILY, and he would have another person call me to discuss pricing, which, dear friends, I doubt would result in a satisfactory price for my solo modest means, but nonetheless the point is, I haven’t heard from anyone.

And I don’t want to. I WANT this information to be available ONLINE and I WANT them to show me they UNDERSTAND what I need by interacting with me at the point of engagement, not by wasting my voicemail on my cell phone. I want them to not keep their pricing options a secret. I want them to EMAIL me because I gave them my EMAIL. I want to see their sample lists without having to sit down for a half-hour time-share pitch.

I swear to you, it makes me want to learn how to design software because HOLY shit there must be a better way, and I already know what it is, and every day I don’t have it I wish I could pay someone to give it to me or build it myself.

I have to go take some ibuprofen now. Yes, that means you can pitch me on herbal remedies for pain. No spaam please.