One Strike and You're Out: In Relationship Era, Bad PR Pitches Will not Be Tolerated

Bothering Writers With Irrelevancies Is Annoying -- and Amateurish

By Published on .

Lucky me. I got a bit of PR spam this week headlined "Contributed Article for Your Use!" The exclamation point presumably conveyed the sender's excitement about the proposition. A fellow named Dave Feistal from LF/PR in Irvine, California, offered me a brilliant bullet-point treatise titled "5 Tips for Leveraging Social Media Cyber Monday."

Hmm. Tempting. Now, I don't happen to lie awake obsessing about Cyber Monday. And I'm on the record as objecting to the use of "leverage" as a verb. But the content, from Dave's client/colleague Taylor Holiday, head of digital at Lucid Fusion, was offered gratis. And from the sample paragraphs provided, it sure seemed spilling over with cutting edge thought ("Consumers are smart."). Plus there's this fun fact: Taylor, before he got into the leveraging industry, played minor-league baseball in the Yankees organization. So there's, you know, the celebrity element.

Tough call. Do I connect Dave and Ad Age to get this crucial information to our readers for their personal leveraging? Do I get offended that Ad Age and I are lumped in with a zillion sorry-ass blogs, aggregators and sleazy paid-content sites? Do I shrug it off as just another (among thousands and thousands) clueless PR shot in the dark? Do I throw a bone to Dave, knowing that it will disappoint his LF/PR associate Liz Narrillos Roux, who a day earlier had sent me an oddly similar "article" of tips. ("It's the holidays and bells are a-jingling, are you listening? If you run an ecommerce business, you absolutely should be!")

Or maybe I should just fulfill LF/PR's slogan: "Got You Covered."

Yeah. That's what I'll do. Congrats, dudes. You've been leveraged.

The whole episode, however, has gotten me thinking. As I told the Public Relations Society of America at its big conference not long ago, this is the industry's moment. Journalism and PR have always had a symbiotic (if fraught) relationship in the media ecosystem, but amid the fracturing of the mass media world we all knew and loved, the corporate need for PR is ascending. Once it was just the ugly little sister of advertising; to complement the ad messages they were paying billions for, marketers (or CEOs) would throw loose change at PR shops, who labored to get placement in the right two or three gigantic papers or broadcasts: Wall Street Journal. Today Show. The Times, or their local equivalents. Then it was but for the article to be digested and regurgitated like grass in a cow's stomachs by the rest of the media world.

Nowadays, two characteristics of the Chaos Scenario are radically altering the dynamic:

  • As advertising commands less reach, less credibility and less efficiency, so-called earned media is becoming increasingly important to marketers.

  • The universe of media outlets has expanded exponentially, vastly increasing the pool of influencers whom flacks have to know and cultivate.
But number two is tedious and hard. So intolerable numbers of e-flacks behave like Russian Viagra scammers and constantly blast all manner of media based on the crudest notions of potential relevance. These pitches are personalized by "Hi, Bob," or "Hi, there," but otherwise almost universally lack any reasonable connection between the subject matter and the recipient.

TOXIC CHEMICALS FOUND IN CRIB MATTRESSES

IT'S THE ECONOMY - OVER 1 IN 4 YOUNG AMERICANS 18-29 SAY THEY WILL DELAY REPAYING STUDENT LOANS AND OTHER DEBT DUE TO POOR ECONOMY

TOP 10 HAUNTED HOMES FOR SALE!

FIND THE LIBERATOR FUEL SAVER IN TRUCK STOPS ACROSS AMERICA THIS FALL AND HOLIDAY SEASON

I mean, as a person I'm endlessly fascinated in this stuff. Who wouldn't be? But professionally it is of , shall we say, limited utility. Furthermore, I'm not entirely obtuse. I understand that -- also like the Viagra racket -- the small number of takers among the large number of emailed can seem to justify the exercise. But at what cost?

Bothering writers with irrelevancies is annoying and amateurish, not to mention a poor way to leverage a relationship. And the online information economy is fueled by relationships. Therefore, alienating large numbers of the people you depend on, or someday will depend on, is an unsustainable business model. Aimless pitches from haphazard young Courtneys have always been a PR Worst Practice, but in the Brave New World they are deal-killers. Me, I have a one-strike-you're-out policy. Every day, I reply to PR spam precisely as I'm now addressing LF/PR of Irvine, Calif:

"Please remove my name from your list."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
In this article:

Comments (12)