Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used

by David Spark on January 28, 2009

I just had a bad experience with a PR firm who are well known for being social media gurus. They approached me today as if I was simply a tool to be used in their quest to launch their client’s brand new service.

Watch this video of me on Cranky Geeks arguing with John C. Dvorak about this very article. Argument happens right at the beginning of the show.

I’m not going to mention the PR firm or the company they’re launching. My point in writing this post is to ask PR firms and the companies they represent to simply stop treating bloggers, press, and influencers as if we’re tools to be used. I could have just ignored this experience, deleted the email, and moved on, but I want to make it clear to PR firms that we’re not stupid. We know when a media relations company is trying to take advantage of our network of influence.

I’ve replaced all the names and the company name. I don’t wish to damage anyone’s brand.

Here’s the story:

Today I got an email where the opening line read:

Hey David,

How’s it going? I’m helping John Doe get the word out about a startup that he is working on with Jim Smith called CrazyStartup. It went live in Public Beta today and was wondering if you might be able to put up a short post about it?

The message went on to explain what the company did and included key talking points.

What I found so insulting is the FIRST thing they asked me to do was write about some new company…for FREE! Writing, editing, and producing content for companies who are trying to create and establish their industry voice is what I do for a living. If the PR firm knew that, they might have not made such an insulting request.

Honestly, I don’t know if the PR firm knew that, because there’s absolutely no acknowledgment in the email that this company would be of any interest to me. The PR rep could have gone to my blog and simply typed in a few key words in the search box to find a post where I wrote something related. They could have also spent ten minutes reading the post and writing something relevant to acknowledge that they had read something that I had written. All the message needed was a single line that this new company might be of interest to me because of what I had written in such and such a post.

Instead, the PR rep included me in a mass mailing and asked me first to do some free publicity for her client. It would be the equivalent of me mass mailing to every PR firm I know, “Hey PR company, I’m launching a new product today, do you mind issuing a press release for me for free?”

They didn’t want to take the time to care about what I do, but they did want ME to take the time to care about what they’re doing. They saw me as a tool to be used to spread the word of their client. All they wanted was to show their client, “Look how many bloggers we got to write about you. We asked them to blog about you. We told them what to say. And they did it.”

I didn’t.

This behavior is not isolated to just the PR firm. The client is responsible for this behavior as well. When I got the email, I noticed the name “Jim Smith” (not real name) and thought that I had seen it before. I looked it up on Facebook and yes, “Jim Smith” was the guy who had friend requested me a month ago with the message, “We know a lot of the same people, let’s connect.” Now this is not the first blind friend request I’ve received. And I’m sure plenty of you out there have received blind requests as well. We all have our own policy on how to handle them. My policy is if it’s someone I don’t know, I respond back and ask them to tell me a little about themself. So I did that with “Jim Smith.” I never got a response so I declined his friend request.

So to sum up:

  • PR firm first asks me to write about their client for free, a service that I normally charge for, and then they tell me what their client does.
  • PR firm doesn’t acknowledge what I do for a living nor do they acknowledge that they have read anything that I’ve written.
  • “Jim Smith,” doesn’t want to respond to direct messages from me, but he wants me to be his Facebook friend so as to get access to me as a blogger and influencer as he launches his new company.

In the future, PR firms can simply send me a message about a new product or service that they’re representing. They can also acknowledge that they’ve read something I’ve written (the BEST compliment you can give a journalist or blogger). And NEVER tell me what I should write about. I’ve been a journalist for fourteen years having written for more than 25 media outlets in print, radio, and TV. You don’t ever need to tell me what’s a good story. I can figure that out all by myself.

This story has been indicative of some experiences I’ve had with some PR firms. On the flip side, I’ve had some amazing experiences with PR firms who I’ve worked with on a business level and have also helped me find some amazing stories and clients. Some of them their direct clients, and some not. In all cases, they built a relationship with me, knew what I did, and acknowledged it.

I don’t normally write negative posts about experiences like this, because most PR interactions are usually positive. But if you’d like to see another interesting tale, read The worst product demonstration I’ve ever seen.

I ask anyone who is reading this, who knows who I’m talking about, to please not expose the PR firm or the company they represent. I have emailed this post to the parties involved. They know what I think. Again, I don’t want to damage anyone’s brand. I hope this is only a learning experience for all of us and that we can actually build a relationship where we care about what each other does. I’d rather they see me as a valuable voice in the industry and not some tool to be used.

UPDATE: Two weeks after this incident, there’s a follow up story. Read “Bad PR experience story. PR firm’s client is obtuse.”

This news item is for the Spark Minute week of 2/2/09 which can be heard daily on Green 960 and 910 KNEW in San Francisco, CA.

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  • http://keane.festizio.net Keane

    Hey David,

    Thanks for sharing! We need to put the “relations” back in “blogger relations” for sure. I wouldn’t ask a friend to do something without a proper reason…

    Keane

  • LA

    David,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and perception in an honest and insightful manner. As a person who has worked in “PR” for almost as long as you have been a journalist (and I don’t use this word with every blogger) I know that this happens all too often. What I appreciate the most is that you have used this as an oppy to educate people, vs. simply slam the company or its marketing team. Bravo!

    I will gladly share this post!

    Best,

    -LA

  • http://www.budgetpulse.com Craig

    I agree with LA, it’s very honorable of you to use this as a learning tool for those out there and not to bash a specific company or firm. Way to take the high road, and take a bad experience, and make it educational for others.

  • David Spark

    Thanks LA and Craig. I don’t want to create a shouting match between all the companies involved. I just wanted them to know what they did is not the way to communicate with me.

    While the person who emailed, sent a quick apology and acknowledged my request, the owner of the PR firm, who I also know, has not sent any response.

  • Andy Abramson

    David,

    As you know I created the Nokia Blogger Relations Program back in 2005 and it set the platinum standard that all others follow.

    Over the years since then I have watched many copycats come along, some who actually have the audacity to look at who wrote about Nokia and simply email to them.

    We focus differently on how to work with bloggers. During the time since we started with Nokia, which was really in many ways the start of a repositioning program for them, other clients have taken advantage of the Comunicano BAM approach, and benefited by it for the reasons you discussed.

    Most of all, the idea of putting bloggers into the mix is not simply as a way to drive up “hit” report counts, the bots do enough of that, but to really receive their insight about the space and to have them interpret to their audience. With a declining media market in place right now, working with bloggers is similar to working with feature writers and reporters, not simple a “reporter” or editor of the past.

    Good for you to bring this to light.

    Andy

  • David Spark

    Thanks Andy. Yes, I’ve actually had a great relationship with your firm because we actually built a relationship.

    It’s a lot easier to ask for input when you already have a relationship with someone. A journalist/blogger should want to speak about a company because it’s relevant to what they’re doing.

    And I really appreciate what PR reps do for me. In fact, just yesterday I got a call from one pitching me a new site a client is launching. It just so happens to be perfect for my Spark Minute radio audience. Look for it next week.

  • http://www.webinknow.com/ David Meerman Scott

    David,

    I get dozens of these come-ons per week. I think what “PR pros” fail to realize is that we blog because we’re passionate. Not because we have to “cover stuff”.

    So my advice to PR people is, why should we be passionate about your client’s stuff? (I have news for you, the product is not the answer. Nobody cares about your client’s product).

    Interestingly, for me these days some of the worst offenders are authors and their PR people. “Hey, so-and-so just wrote a groundbreaking, sure-to-be-bestseller that you will want to review on your blog. Where shall I send your FREE copy?” Give me a freakin’ break. Tell me why I should care.

    David

  • http://secondhandremarks.wordpress.com John Yarbrough

    Thanks for this insightful post. I think you fairly laid out the pressures, motivation and thought (or lack there of in this case) behind the event, which was very refreshing.

    PR professionals and journalists CAN help one another. All too often, however, we forget to remind ourselves that the person at the other end of the e-mail or phone is a human being with unique interests and priorities. While e-mail provides unparalleled convenience, it does not mean mass mailing journalists and bloggers is ok. In fact, it’s not far from saying that you feel that they are all the same.

  • Becky

    Interesting read. I imagine this will be a frequent PR faux pas for the forseeable future though. Social media is still new and there are no fixed rules yet. Refreshing to get read your thoughts though. Thanks.

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  • BlawgRealtor

    You're a blog. The cheapest form of self promotion. You think you're therefore magically immune from bozos thinking you'll do anything to prostitute yourself for some online publicity? Get real. The answer is “No”.

  • Blawgrealtor

    You're a blog, the cheapest form of self promotion. You think you're magically immune from bozo's contacting you for free promo's because you are perceived as prostituting yourself for any available publicity? You're not. And to prove the point you've even made a blog post out of it!!!

    Get real. You want respect, ask people to pay for your rantings. Then you'll see how truly popular you are.

  • Blawgrealtor

    You're a blog, the cheapest form of self promotion. You think you're magically immune from bozo's contacting you for free promo's because you are perceived as prostituting yourself for any available publicity? You're not. And to prove the point you've even made a blog post out of it!!!

    Get real. You want respect, ask people to pay for your rantings. Then you'll see how truly popular you are.

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  • Anonymous

    i hear you, thats insulting indeed, if they want you to work for them they need to pay you!
    if they were asking for a favor they should do you a favor aswell!
    this cant be a onewaystreet

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  • Guy

    I’ve been a journalist for 24 years and a blogger for as long as there’s been such a thing. Frankly we’re the people raising our heads above the parapets so if someone takes a potshot with negative criticism or indeed approaches us to promote something, we just have to deal with it.

    PR people get an ironically bad press. Given the ease with which people can set up a blog they have thousands of us to keep track of. I understand your annoyance but expecting them all to read something we’ve read is no longer realistic – I get them calling to ask what I write about all the time, and I write for the Guardian and New Statesman in the UK (for what it’s worth these are not low-profile titles). Do I object? No, I accept this is someone else doing their job, possibly on day one, and potentially an excellent contact.

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