Most Sundays in the New York Times business section, David Segal writes a consumer column called “The Haggler” in which he helps a reader deal with a particularly difficult problem with a company. Some times it’s a problem with an airline or hotel. Or a situation with an appliance company or ecommerce site that has failed to repair or replace or refund a purchase. Or mortgage or foreclosure issues. And then, as The Haggler, Segal helps solve that week’s question.
In his latest column, Segal takes aim at a problem affecting him: “unsolicited public relations pitch(es) — P.R. spam…(which) hogs space in his benighted in-box.”
Segal then cites a number of subject lines from email pitches that are just way off target. Pitches like
- “New! First Self-Chilling Iceless Drinking Glass — Editorial Sample?”
- Christmas Cookie Treat Boxes
- A document previewer called Igloo
- A liquor called Pura Vida Tequila, which “will be in the house this season at Qualcomm Stadium.”
As a long-time reader of the “The Haggler”column, it deals only with consumer complaints. It is not a column clients should aspire to.
Yet, as Segal writes, “some company hired a public relations firm to send the Haggler, and presumably countless other reporters, the same information. This seemed like a waste of energy and money, so the Haggler decided to find out what was behind this antiquated attempt to win media attention — who was paying for it, and why?”
Segal then talked to the managing director of the self-chilling drinking glass company. According to Segal, “It was news to him (the managing director that his company’s public relations firm…was spending any part of Soireehome’s $1,500-a-month retainer on spam email. And it was news he didn’t like.” In fact, the managing director said, ““I’m happy to get this call,” he told Segal. “We don’t know what (the agency, which I don’t think needs to be named here) does on a day-to-day basis. They just send us a bimonthly report, detailing what they have been able to do for our company.”
By the way, the PR agency working for the drinking glass company did not respond to questions from Segal — who takes them to task for not even responding.
Segal then provides other journalists with a tool to reduce the PR spam — the email addresses for those responsible at Vocus and other databases to remove reporters’ email and contact information.
Segal’s complaints are valid and instructive. Basically the article makes three valid points for the rest of us:
- Spray-and-pray is not sustainable nor strategic media tactic.It takes much more time to qualify a list to make sure the reporters might actually care about the product or service. While it’s true that some clients are impressed that the media lists their agencies have created have tons of names, targeting a broad list means what you’re pitching will be PR spam to some (if not many) reporters. The solution: Use media databases to help research and refine your targets.
- It’s always important to know who you’re pitching and why they might be interested. This is clearly a challenge as the media has become more fragmented than ever and when reporters might write about one topic and blog about a slightly different topic (or differently). But it is more effective to target a focused list of reporters than to waste time following up with reporters who were never going to be interested.
- Agencies need to do a better job in explaining what they’re doing, how they develop and maintain their media lists and in reporting what they do each month to earn their clients’ fees. Clearly the agency cited by Segal leaves open questions for the client.
- PR agencies need to police themselves to avoid being called out by the media. (Segal is hardly the only journalist to complain about the situation.) And in so doing, we can improve relationships with reporters and bloggers and the reputation of the PR industry among clients and others we’re trying to influence.
Let me know if you think there are other lessons we can learn from reporters’ complaints about spray-and-pray.
By the way, one suggestion from Robert Scoble (via an interview in PRWeek): “Make lists of tech journalists and influencers on social networks. ‘I’ve created a list of every tech journalist I need to find. I have been watching them for years and know what they care about so I know how to approach them.'” Doing so helps you figure out what reporters and influencers are interested in and writing about.