Posts Tagged ‘managing client expectations’


Defining Public Relations Spam

Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Flickr Image: Darren Foreman

Flickr Image: Darren Foreman

In my last BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas post, I shared some rather entertaining excerpts from journalists and bloggers regarding how they feel about “PR spam.” This post will discuss, “what exactly is PR spam?”

I mentioned before Drew Kerr’s definition of PR spam – “impersonal e-mail blasts that contain completely irrelevant information” – which sums it up nicely. But how do you spot PR spam?  Neville Hobson of The Hobson & Holtz Report wrote these detailed descriptors of PR spam:

1. The product or service being pitched by email is so obviously not one that I would have much interest in, a fact that would be very easily apparent if the pitcher had taken even a cursory glance at this blog or listened to my podcast.

2. The email includes an unsolicited Word document attachment. And it’s worth noting that not everyone uses Word. I do but the pitcher doesn’t know that.

3. The pitcher writes a pseudo-friendly greeting but it only looks like a bad database mail merge. My favorite: “Hi, Neville ,” (notice the space between my name and the final comma). A close second is the simple “Hi ,” with that same space (yes, I’ve had lots of emails like that).

4. The email contains nothing but the text of a press release. That sin is compounded when the email subject line says (you guessed it) ‘press release’ or ‘latest announcement from XYZ Company.’ The nail’s in the coffin when the email also includes the press release as a Word attachment with lots of font and other document formatting.

Hobson wrote this nearly two years ago.  So why are we still talking about this topic today?  Sadly, it’s because PR spam is even more of an issue now than then.  The more technology advances, the easier it is to spam – even unintentionally. 

Some point the finger at “lazy PR flacks,” and yes, every profession has some, but doesn’t apply to most that I know. Some point the finger at the companies that provide media lists, media directories, and media database services.  In my humble opinion, that’s just shooting the messenger.

So, here’s what I think it’s really about.  It’s about client expectation and targeting.

  • Clients and CEOs like to see big names on the media list – even when it’s not appropriate. It’s the PR practitioner’s job to provide good counsel. Set a realistic and common level of expectations. 
  • Once that’s established, research the writers on your list.  Not just what beat they cover, but what they are writing about. What are they passionate about?  How does your story tie-in to these things; in other words, why should the journalist or blogger care?
  • And be sure to check (or double check), journalist, blogger, and community guidelines before pitching. When in doubt, go without.

If you take the time to do this, then surely you won’t be accused of being a PR spammer! What would you add to the list? How do you know when you’ve been the subject of PR spam? What are you doing to make sure your activities are staying off of the “PR naughty list?”