Stop Spamming Journalists

Blasting a news release out to as many reporter and blogger email addresses you can find is PR spam. It’s one step removed from buying email addresses on the black market and sending enlargement offers. Whether you pay for access to a media database like those offered by Cision or Vocus, or you build your list from scratch,  you don’t have the right to mass email media you think may be interested in the topic you’re pitching.

If you’ve gone through the process of getting journalists to opt-in to receive your mass-distributed news, that’s different. Either way, most journalists are fine with you emailing them directly, provided your pitch is genuinely targeted to the areas they cover, and not a mass email.

As many of you know, we’ve had our latest example of a PR person spamming a media list. It seems like there’s a new story like this every couple of months. If there’s one group of media contacts you really don’t want to piss off, it’s the social media crowd. I don’t need to throw this person under the bus, since AdAge, TechCrunch and a few dozen or so other media outlets have done so already. The point I want to make here is that if you mass distribute a PR pitch or press release via email, you could be next the next PR person with a target on their back. Don’t mass pitch. [Read more…]

Who Do You Blame for PR Spam? Vocus?

In his recent “Hocus Vocus” post on The Flack, Peter Himler suggested that companies like Vocus contribute to the PR spam. He only singled Vocus out because The New York Times Saul Hansell called the company out as a “prime purveyor of pr spam” on a Media Relations Summit panel Peter moderated. In the post, Peter says, “Pure and simple: the automation of media outreach leads to PR spam.” I agree to a certain extent that technology can be an enabler of PR spam. This would include all the major newswires and media database providers (including Bulldog Reporter, who hosted the Media Relations Summit).

I think this also includes companies like MatchPoint, a Vocus competitor co-developed by Himler, which he discloses in his post. According to Himler, MatchPoint enables PR professionals to find editorially appropriate journalists or bloggers for their story queries. I’m not picking on MatchPoint. I actually like its approach, anti-PR spam positioning, and I think it’s a big step in the right direction for media relations tools. At the same time, it is another attempt to automate media relations processes. Lazy PR people will abuse the system and simply target anyone suggested as a good contact. [Read more…]

CAN-SPAM and PR Pitches

I’ve thought a lot about the topic of PR and spam in recent months. Coming from a PR and marketing background, I’ve managed PR and email marketing campaigns. I understand the rules of CAN-SPAM compliance as they apply to email marketing, but not so much when it comes to the unsolicited PR pitch.

On the surface, it’s easy to assume that if a journalist or blogger hasn’t opted-in to receive information from a PR firm, it must be a violation of CAN-SPAM. If you read the CAN-SPAM guidelines on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, you could easily see how PR messages could be considered spam by some media professionals. For example:

  • You must include an opt-out – a lot of agencies provide – and PR database vendors – provide mechanisms to be removed from a distribution list. There are many that provide no opt-out, and those that do, may not have adequate systems in place to ensure others in the organization don’t send to the email on the next campaign.
  • You can’t use misleading information in the subject line – a simple reference to “the world’s first” or “the leading company” could be interpreted as misleading, along with any other tactic that attempts to convince the journalist to open your email. But that’s nit-picking, and not really what the law is designed for, right?
  • If a recipient opts-out, their request must be processed within 10 days, and the sender must have a system in place to manage opt-outs for at least 30 days. Technically, if a journalist says “take me off your list,” you can’t send them information again for at least 30 days, regardless of the subject matter.

Do PR agencies violate CAN-SPAM? The short answer is “not really.” Journalists and bloggers do not have to opt-in to receive information from PR, but they do have the right to opt-out. The real issue with the PR spam problem is that many journalists and bloggers do not opt-out, but rather work to solve the problem on their own, creating email filtering rules or their own homegrown list of PR spammers.

If they did formally opt-out, and the agency continued to send them information, it would technically be in violation. A journalist could file a complaint with the FTC, but there is no guarantee that this would be enforced, given the fact that most agencies are not serious offenders. And most of the journalists we’ve talked to said they simply don’t have the time or desire to take such drastic measures, even though they are frequently frustrated with the amount of “PR spam” they receive.

Regardless of whether a journalist opts-out, or takes things to the extreme and files a complaint, agencies are within their right to send unsolicited emails to journalists and bloggers. However, those who have not opted-in may be more inclined to report your agency’s email as spam, potentially affecting your ability to send email with a high deliverability rate.

If an ISP (Internet Service Provider) regularly receives complaints that your email is spam (when they click the “report spam” button in some email clients), you may be added to the ISPs blacklist, and all email you send to users of that ISP will be labeled as spam.

Read on for “Best Practices for Staying Off Spam Lists”. [Read more…]

60+ Free Press Release Distribution Services…Really?

I recently stumbled upon a blog post about “60+ Free Press Release Distribution Sites” (from the PR In Your Pajamas blog). The headline took me by surprise – I had no idea there were that many different free press release distribution options out there. And in truth, it was a little disturbing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of about six of the 60+ services referenced in the post, and some of them could be useful for SEO purposes, but I doubt many of the services would help you generate much favorable media coverage. At least not in any credible media outlets. In conversation after conversation with journalists, I consistently hear about how bad the press release problem is: journalists and bloggers receive too many releases, and most of those releases are poorly written or off-topic (I’m being nice in my paraphrasing here).

If you’re just starting a new website, and you’re desperate to increase the number of inbound links you have (an important factor in determining the relevancy of your Web content – as far as search engines go), these services could give you a jumpstart. I would only consider them useful for this tactic alone. If you’re looking for a service to support your media relations efforts, I would lean towards a more modern, reputable and social media-friendly distribution service like PRWeb or PitchEngine. The latter offers a FREE option, as well as several very-affordable options for distributing your news across media and social media channels.

Now there may be some services on the 60+ list worth trying out, but in my experience trying several of the services (for SEO purposes), they are really just SEO spam tools – designed to mass-distribute your content across a bunch of different sites, many of which will do little to help you reach your target audiences or boost your search engine rankings.

Finally, if you’re serious about using a press release as a media relations tool, use a proven distribution channel to get the word out. If the press release doesn’t merit distribution on a mainstream service, consider not sending the release out at all. You’ll do more harm than good by sending out PR spam. That’s my two cents on the topic.

Now in defense of the PR in Your Pajamas blog, there is always good content there, geared towards the “Time-Strapped, Cash Crunched Mom Entrepreneur.” If you’re looking for great advice on PR for your small business, this is a good blog to follow.

Have you used any of the free press release services listed in the post and had a great experience? Are there other services you suggest for low-budget PR? Let us know.

What We Like About HARO – Help A Reporter Out

If you haven’t heard of HARO yet, you probably aren’t a journalist, blogger or public relations professional. HARO, an acronym for “Help A Reporter Out”, is a wildly successful and FREE service designed to help journalists request expert interview sources for the stories they produce. Approximately 9,000 or so journalists use HARO to request sources via an email blast that is distributed to more than 56,000 sources and PR professionals three times per day.

How HARO Works

Similar to PR Newswire’s ProfNet service, reporters can request suggestions for sources or ‘pitches’ from the PR community using the HARO service – but HARO service is free for everyone. Users of ProfNet have to pay an annual subscription fee to use the service. Though it’s fair to point out that ProfNet also enables sources to create expert profiles in a database that can be searched by journalists looking for sources.

In a little over a year, HARO has become the most popular service for connecting journalists with sources – quickly growing from 1,200 followers in a Facebook group, to the more than 56,000 email subscribers today. In comparison, PR Newswire claims to have 14,000 ProfNet users via its website.

I think the main reason we like HARO so much, beyond the highly-entertaining emails written by HARO creator Peter Shankman three times a day, is that it was built to literally help reporters out. Many journalists have complained about how frequently they receive off-topic pitches from PR folks – pitches that have nothing to do with their coverage area or the stories they write. Peter Shankman designed HARO with this reality in mind, requiring all users of his service to promise not to send off-topic pitches or “PR spam” to the journalists issuing queries. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the Pay-Per-Placement Model of PR

I was scanning some PR questions in LinkedIn Answers today and I came across a user looking for referrals to PR agencies or professionals that work on a pay-per-placement model. While there are firms out there that use this model I always hated this topic when I was running my agency. While it’s a seemingly fair request from the client’s point of view, it’s the wrong way to go about pricing and managing PR campaigns.

I thought it would be a good topic to through out there for discussion. First, my perspective on the topic – I’ll debate a couple different angles for you.

Why Pay-Per-Placement Makes Sense for Clients

PR can be expensive. While PR is about much more than clips or placements, a lot of clients don’t see it that way. Most of the time, they hire a PR firm to generate publicity for them. So why not expect that a firm would be willing to work on a contingency basis? Why should clients take all the risk, shouldn’t the agency put some skin in the game. If you hired a new sales manager, and the manager wanted to receive their entire salary, commission and bonus regardless of how many sales they closed, they would quickly be shown the door. Why should it be different for a PR agency? If the firm has extensive experience in media relations, with solid relationships in your industry, shouldn’t they be able to capitalize on this structure to earn more fees? Why are firms hesitant to adopt this model?

Why Pay-Per-Placement Doesn’t Work for Agencies

There is a lot of work that goes into developing and executing PR strategy for a client. An agency should be compensated for that work. Whether it’s research, strategy development, messaging and positioning, or the tactical work of pursuing and securing coverage, there’s a lot of legwork that goes into the process. It’s not just picking up the phone and getting somebody to write about the client’s news.

Secondly, it’s near impossible to develop a pricing structure based on the results generated. There are too many variables. What is a one sentence mention worth in TechCrunch, versus a product review in a trade magazine? Do you get paid more for quotes or mentions of a phone number or URL? What if a journalist does an interview, but doesn’t write a story? The client now has a valuable relationship they can leverage down the road, and isn’t that worth something? Even if the client and the agency can agree on compensation for specific types of coverage secured, there’s always going to be disagreement after the point – and agencies will be hard-pressed to collect those fees.

Finally, the PR reps have no control over what gets covered. This is where the real problem lies – many PR firms don’t do a good enough job at educating clients and setting expectations. Many clients don’t understand the ins and outs of PR, and what they should expect for results. If some clients truly understood the realistic amount of coverage that could be generated for them, based on the news value of the stories they give the PR firm to work with, many wouldn’t sign-up. PR firms are in active competition with each other, and projected results often get inflated during the proposal stage. If you don’t promise to deliver a certain level of results for the client, your competitor will – and they’ll get the business. Clients want to believe you can get them in BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal. If they believe you’re the firm to deliver, you’ll probably get the business… for a while at least. [Read more…]

Can PR Spam Be Stopped?

Any journalist or blogger will admit to receiving a lot of off-topic pitches and press releases. Some would classify this information as “PR spam” – others would just complain that PR pros are lazy and don’t take the time to learn what they write about, or approach a pitch unprepared. They’re right. I haven’t met a journalist yet that didn’t have a couple of war stories about how bad the problem of PR spam is. Some areas are better than others – for example, financial reporters seem to receive more relevant information than technology journalists, perhaps due to the tighter restrictions around public information.

On the other side of the table, most PR professionals you talk to will tell you that they do their best to only pitch relevant information to journalists and that push-back they receive is the result of catching a journalist on a bad day. Many will admit to sending off-topic information or spam pitches at some point in their career – many have learned from these mistakes, many have not. You’ll always have a couple of bad eggs that resort to pitching journalists cold – playing the numbers game, in hopes that somebody will respond and want to write about the “news” they are pitching.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about new solutions entering the market that will address the problem of PR spam head on. I’ll talk about some of those solutions in upcoming posts – and I recently wrote a post about MatchPoint’s new solution as one example of a new product trying to stop PR spam. Some bloggers have already taken this issue into their own hands, publishing lists of PR spammers – in an attempt to help other bloggers eliminate the problem with the email filter. You’d have to be living under a rock the past year or so to miss those examples, so no need to reference them all again in this post. [Read more…]