Another year and yet another blog post by a disgruntled journalist naming and shaming PROs. This time it’s UK freelancer Kevin Braddock who’s clearly had enough of what he sees as irrelevant PR pitches.
Anyone in PR with half a brain knows that the basic tenet of Kevin’s argument is sound, that PR still relies too much on 1-to-many bulk distribution of stories. Why? Because in some agencies, this is what PR is all about and in other agencies it’s an accepted practice as a failsafe in case the call rounds of targeted media don’t get the necessary responses.
Equally, anyone with half a brain also knows that it’s not that hard to delete an email if it’s not relevant. Neither is it that unreasonable to expect a PR to email a speculative pitch on, say, consumer technology, if a journalist has written for a publication that does cover that area.
I use this example because Kevin lists WIRED UK as a mag he’s written for and also calls out “consumer technology” in his list of irrelevant subject matters.
On that note, you could argue (and some have @BabsGold) that his selection criteria for the list is ambiguous.
Regardless, you can debate the value of these lists in terms of whether they improve PR practices or widen the hack/flack divide. One thing’s for certain, they do highlight how, as an industry, PR steadfastly refuses to let go of old practices.
I’ve banged on before (at length) about the irrelevance of many PR practices yet try as we might, as an industry we can’t seem to change our ways. Is it because PR offers an old fashioned ‘career’ and many of us hang around for 10-20 years regurgitating old habits? Is it because PR and marketing degrees teach grads that this behaviour is normal? Is it because PR, like marketing, disappeared up its own arse in the 1980s with models and handbooks that sounded grand in theory but were useless in practice? Or is it simply because we constantly feel the need to justify our existence and there’s no better way of doing that than spewing out emails to all and sundry, working on the assumption that somewhere along the line, something will stick?
To be honest, it’s probably all of the above if not more. And the media don’t get off scot free either. Times may be tight now, but during the good times they grew fat – and sometimes lazy – on the bountiful harvest of junkets and stories that PR provided. Only now, with email overload exacerbating the brutally harsh business climate for media outlets are we seeing a backlash against the hand that once (well)fed them.
Of course, I’m generalising massively. I don’t know how many people on this list actually believe that it’s OK to send out irrelevant emails or indeed how many are on their unfairly judging by the ambiguity of the selection criteria I outlined above.
Neither do I know whether the journalist is a diligent hard working hack who’s had enough of poor practice or just someone who fancied making a name for himself during the first week of 2010. What I do know is that it’s time for a change, and I’m afraid the onus lies with the PROs.
We need to ask ourselves whether we’re delivering to our client’s business goal or whether we’re simply satisfying short term targets for coverage and measurement. In an age of changing habits around media distribution and consumption along with shifts in audience perceptions on trust and trusted sources, is the scatter-gun pitch really an appropriate course of action if we’re trying to help clients sell more product and/or change brand perception? I’d hope the answer to that is obvious.
But the hacks have a role to play too. They do need to accept – sometimes with better grace – that they will always get emails and calls that aren’t spot on. And that it’s not just up to us, the PRs, to change. There are few media outlets that can afford to pay staff to sniff out, research and write stories from scratch, most will have to work with some form of PR representative, and as long as a “them and us” mentality prevails, things aren’t going to change.