UPDATE: Bad PR experience story. PR firm's client is obtuse.

by David Spark on February 11, 2009

For those of you who read my bad PR experience story, “Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used,” I have a follow up.

To recap the previous story (here’s the full story), I was approached by a PR firm that I know to blog about a new start up company they were launching. What I was so offended by were the following:

  • The first thing they did was ask me to blog for their client, and then they told me about the company.
  • It was a mass mailed message. No reference to me or anything I write about that would be relevant.
  • It’s not apparent that anyone at the PR firm has ever read my blog. No staff member has ever left a single comment. What I find so odd is knowing nothing about my blog, they still want me to write about their client.
  • According to the stats of my mailing list program, two staffers are subscribers to my newsletter and neither has ever opened a newsletter or clicked on a link.
  • The PR firm didn’t acknowledge what I do for a living which is custom publishing. I get paid to create content for companies. What they were asking me to do was do work for them for free.
  • On December 26th, the owner of the company the PR firm was representing sent me a Facebook friend request. The client guy said we know a lot of the same people so we should connect. Being that I didn’t know him, I sent the client guy a message, “Yes, we do have a lot of friends in common. How do we know so many of the same people? You in social media?” He never responded so I ignored his friend request.

Apologizing for making a negative impression

After I received the message to do some free blogging for this PR firm, I called and emailed the woman who sent the offending request and sent a Facebook message to the PR guy who owns the firm. I sent a link to my post that details my viewpoint. I know them both. The woman sent back a quick email apologizing and said she wouldn’t do it again. The owner of the firm didn’t respond, so I wrote it off.

But yesterday I got a message from PR guy apologizing for his late reply. He said my message got buried in Facebook group spam and he didn’t see it. PR guy also said he talked to the woman who sent the message, she felt very bad, and he also thanked me for not exposing his company or his client. “I appreciate you keeping it anonymous – it speaks volumes,” he said. (BTW, I was on Cranky Geeks last week with John C. Dvorak and I got into an argument with John about my refusing to name these companies. Watch, it’s amusing and it happens right at the beginning of the show.)

PR guy went on to say, “As a third-party I really think (or hope) there may be a division between intent and impression. But, perception is everything and for that we apologize.” He then offered his email and phone number and said he’d be happy to talk about it.

Whenever negative situations like this happen, I always like to call first. I don’t like anger to start ensuing through emails. So I picked up the phone and called.

It’s not a single mistake, it’s the collection of mistakes that creates a negative perception

The PR guy was a great listener, not arguing with me but rather listening to what I had to say. I very much admired that. I asked for his opinion and he kept going back to the original email sent by the employee as being the problem. I had to tell him not to put so much weight on that alone. I said that if the message was the only thing, I would have deleted it and moved on. But that wasn’t the issue. It was the collection items: the insulting mass email, the PR firm building no relationship with me, the client wanting to friend me and then ignoring a direct message, no apparent evidence that they’ve ever read anything I’ve done, and no understanding of what I do for a living given that they asked me to perform a job task for them for free.

If you look at each individual item, it’s no big deal and I would have never said boo about any of them. But that one message is what brought everything together and formed an overall negative perception of the PR firm and the client they represent.

I let the PR guy know that I actually have lots of great relationships with PR firms and reps all around the city. They’ve pitched me great stories. We’ve gone out to lunch. We’ve had interesting discussions on topics we’re mutually interested in. I’ve done work with some of them, and in some cases I’ve actually referred work to PR firms. I’m constantly being asked for recommendations of PR firms.

I unfortunately have never had that kind of relationship with his PR firm. And I let him know that. But I ended the conversation on an up note saying that I was very open to rebooting the relationship. He felt good about that. I received a quick “thank you” via email from him, and it was a nice positive ending. Until…

How can someone deemed a social media guru and PR professional be completely obtuse when it comes to personal one-on-one communications?

Two hours after my conversation with the PR guy, I received a message from his client via Facebook. This is the client guy who asked to be my friend on December 26th and I sent him a direct message asking him to tell me about himself and he never responded. Well a month and a half later he responds to my direct message. This is what he said and it’s all he said (all company names have been replaced):

“Have been in social media for a bit David. I run CrazyStartup for CrazyPR. What do you do BTW?”

What the %$!*&#?!

“What do you do BTW?”!!!!

Uggh, the mistakes here are endless.

  • Usually when people take a month and a half to reply to a message, they begin with, “I’m so sorry I’m so late responding to you.”
  • Client guy was the one who sent the friend request. You think he would have checked out what I did before he friended me.
  • Client guy doesn’t acknowledge that he obviously just spoke to PR guy, and PR guy most definitely told him how insulted I felt.
  • Knowing that I was insulted, client guy decided the best way to smooth things over is to simply ignore everything: the poor communications, the delay in responding, the fact that he initiated the communications, or that he should have some knowledge of what I do for a living.
  • And closing with “What do you do BTW?” Am I supposed to truly think this guy gives a rat’s ass about me? What kind of passive pointless “I couldn’t care less about you or the fact you’re insulted” attitude is that?
  • Client guy could have just Googled my name if he truly was interested in what I do for a living. But that takes far too much effort. It’s much easier just to type, “What do you do BTW?”
  • And here’s the most shocking thing. Client guy says he’s in social media AND PR. How can someone who works in two highly communicative fields be that clueless to basic personal communications?

I sent client guy a response back saying I knew he spoke to PR guy and that if he’s truly interested in what I do for a living he can check out my blog and business site. I included links to both.

According to PR guy, his client has started and sold a bunch of startups. Client guy also has tons of friends on Facebook. I’m sure I’ll run into him in person at some social media event, and when I do, I’m eager for him to ask me, “What do you do BTW?”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

ChrisNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 1:19 am

Great story David. What DO you do BTW?

Ted SheltonNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 3:21 am

Loved the Dvorak piece! Maybe you should have a “three strikes” rule — you won’t out the company on a first offense or a second offense but when the third time comes along you just have to say “guys, this is clearly a call for help so I am now publishing the name so that if you have any friends out there they can step in and give you some coaching!”

David SparkNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 3:35 am

Yeah, I considered the three strikes rule. But honestly, this was the stupid client’s fault. Not the PR firm’s fault. I know that’s the PR firm’s job, but there’s just so much you can control someone.

George SnellNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Hi David:

As a former agency PR executive, I can tell you that a big part of the problem lies in the economy. I know it sounds crazy, but let me explain.

PR agencies (especially those that specialize in tech) really took off in the late 80s and grew up during the go-go 90s. They are structured for retainers of $20-30K and above. That’s how they were designed.

After the dot-bomb era retainers fell and now, as the economy continues to fall, retainers have plummeted to $5-10K range. So consultants which used to service a maximum of 3 clients now have to service more than 5 in order for the agencies to continue to make money.

The result is overworked PR consultants at a time when social media has been exploding. You can see the dire results everywhere – nearly every day with all the mistakes and miscues from PR folks.

All PR people know mass email pitches are terrible and shouldn’t be done. Yet every big firm does it. They have to in order to keep up with workloads and client demands. Shortcuts are the only way many of these consultants can get their jobs done.

Then of course there’s the second reason: treating social media as just another marketing channel. But that’s a whole other rant.

Thanks for sharing!

CraigNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for the follow up, it’s nice to hear the whole story out. In the end, do you blame the client or the PR firm? It seemed like the PR guy did a good job of courting you and wants to build relationships in the future. He may have told the client the correct things to do and the client blew him off. Would you work with this PR guy in the future?

David SparkNo Gravatar February 11, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I never worked with the PR guy in the past. We essentially have no relationship. I’ve never helped him, he’s never helped me.

As I mentioned, there were a series of mistakes made by both parties that total to one bad perception of the PR firm and the client. But as I said I’m open to rebooting everything. I’m open. We’ll see what happens. :)

RA in L.A.No Gravatar February 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Led to your story today from @HighTalk tweet. Nice to read your blog.

Reminds me of an experience last month where I used LinkedIn to ask a PR consultant about a work-related topic — this person was seemingly social media savvy, which prompted the question. Person replies back with follow-up q’s plainly answered on my own profile. I decided that, perhaps, that person wasn’t quite as savvy as I’d hoped … I didn’t reply back. Ah well.

Sam PauoNo Gravatar November 9, 2009 at 6:14 am

David, i admire that you were willing to bury the hatchet. Not many media group would take that initiative to mend an ugly situation like that. And boo at client guy!

LA Director of PhotographyNo Gravatar December 1, 2011 at 6:00 am

you simply won emblem reader. What may you suggest about your submit that you just made a few days ago? Any certain?

Alanna LinNo Gravatar July 17, 2012 at 10:54 am

You are sassy, David Spark.  I enjoyed this.  

David SparkNo Gravatar July 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm

 Thanks Alanna.

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