PRSA Digital Impact ConferenceTomorrow I will be a part of a panel discussion at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Digital Impact Conference focusing on blogger outreach. Wednesday, a special, live BlogTalkRadio edition of, “For Immediate Release,” the outstanding podcast from Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz, will put several interested parties at the table to discuss the same issue, specific to PR spammers.

Preparing for the week, I’ve put a great deal of thought into what I can contribute to the conversation with the end goal in mind of making the environment better for everyone involved. As much as Gina Trapani’s PR Spammers Wiki and Chris Anderson’s list of banned email addresses were, in my opinion, childish and unproductive, I don’t want them to be bothered by lazy or ignorant public relations professionals any more than other bloggers or journalists.

One of the reasons I’ve been asked to participate at the PRSA event tomorrow is because I’m outspoken. I’m also not afraid to point fingers. But I honestly do so in hopes of confronting the problems and finding solutions. I’m a smartass, but one with good intentions.

It is my full intention to tell PRSA officials there that they (along with organizations like IABC – the International Association of Business Communicators) should shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for fixing the problem of PR spammers. Jeremy Pepper is right, the solution to the problem is education. And we don’t have time for some of the great PR professors out there to do it for us.

PRSA is putting on the Digital Impact Conference, so they’re not exactly sitting by the wayside, doing nothing. But look at the last several weeks worth of PRSA Issues & Trends (daily emails) and the latest PR Strategist. See anything about blogger outreach? Me either.

The Louisville IABC chapter is conducting a social media boot camp next week, to which I have been asked to contribute. I believe it’s the first such activity for that chapter. The Louisville PRSA chapter has done exactly nothing in regards to new media sans participating in a teleseminar with Paul Gillin last summer. So the lacking is not just at the national level, but at the local activation as well.

In my opinion, the way the public relations industry responds to the problem of PR spam over the course of the next six to 12 months could make or break our profession for the next decade. Why are our professional organizations not prioritizing this?

And PR spam doesn’t just apply to bloggers. Traditional media members don’t like the half-assed approach any more than new media outlets. Like my opinion of the social media press release, this issue is not something for bloggers only. Public relations outreach needs to get better for ALL media, not just new media.

Until now, PRSA and, to a lesser extent IABC, have done little to recognize there’s a problem. If they don’t, and don’t do something about it soon, the public relations profession is in a world of hurt, Andrew Cohen aside.

The media database companies, like Cision, Vocus, Marketwire and Burrells Luce have tried to provide guidance, but haven’t done enough. Margin notes in an individual profile buried deep within a massive database simply won’t be seen. And certainly not by entry-level PR noobs working on tight deadlines to reach hundreds of outlets. No amount of webinars can overcome immediate client need and large scale distribution.

(Disclosure: Doe-Anderson is a Cision client, they invited me to speak at the PRSA event which they are sponsoring and as part of a panel they are conducting. But it’s not like I haven’t called them out before.)

The technology is there. Put it to use. Perhaps the preferred method of contact, complete with margin notes on preferences, is all that can be exported to a spreadsheet. Maybe functionality can be added that walks list-builders through a number of questions to determine the right contacts for a given outreach – sort of the eHarmony approach to PR contacts.

John Cass and I offered other suggestions for them here and here. However, I would challenge each of them to do one important thing better than they have been: Get the media contact on the phone and ask them if they even want to be listed. I’ve never been asked if I want to be in anyone’s system, yet I’m in at least two of the said service’s databases. Just because someone is a media member doesn’t mean they shoudn’t have a choice in being approached.

While not ordered as such in this tome, the first and most important group responsible for improving the public relations industry are the practitioners themselves. PR people need to recognize we operate in a new media environment that requires new media skills. Technology offered through the media database companies and the Internet to date has made us lazy. Now it can make us more efficient and proficient, but only if we understand that it should and grasp the opportunity.

First steps?

  1. Get back to the basics of communication theory. The most effective communication is interpersonal. One-to-one relationships with media members (new and old) is the best way to transmit messages. However, trust is an important element of that. You will trust they will listen and consider. They will trust you won’t waste their time. It’s a tradeoff that, if respected on both sides, leads to happy media members and PR folks.
  2. Learn RSS. If your clients or organization is or can publish news releases and media-targeted information via Really Simple Syndication, your media outlets (as they become RSS-savvy as well) will opt-in to your news on their terms. Then you can spend more time focusing on the relationship than the message delivery.
  3. Refine your outreach. My mother is a communications officer for a state transportation district. She reports that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of her time is spent on her media contacts – culling lists, double checking information (via telephone or face-to-face exchanges), calling on them in person. While serving the media in seven rural counties in Kentucky shouldn’t warrant that much time and should be easier to manage than she makes it, effective outreach is imperative for someone who often has news of road closings, traffic situations and hazardous conditions. Your client/organization is that important to you. Spend 50 percent of our time on your lists and see how much better your hit rate is.
  4. Recognize that new media is essentially no different from old media. The traditional folks just haven’t complained as loudly about your shortcomings. They don’t like press release blasts and borderline relevant emails any more than Gina Trapani does. Their training and our laziness has lulled them into the habit of just tolerating our efforts. Change the way you approach the old as you figure out how to approach the new.
  5. Just don’t send email blasts. If you can’t handle the outreach on a more individual, personal level, either plan for more staffing or refine your lists until you can.

And last but not least, the bloggers should have some responsibility here, too. Just because you may not be a trained journalist or don’t consider yourself such, or even think PR people are nothing but used car salesmen and lying spinsters, these do not mean you aren’t a media outlet that might be a target for PR outreach. As Rick Calvert of Blog World & New Media Expo wrote, “If you are a professional journalist, or editor covering a particular industry or topic then part of your job is fielding PR pitches for products in that industry … Will you occasionally get pitched something that is irrelevant to you or that is personally uninteresting to you? Of course. Too bad. Get over it or get a new job.” Yes, he referenced professional journalists or editors covering a particular industry, but if you blog about an industry, you are a journalist for said topic, like it or not; qualified or not.

Understand that not everyone is a Web 2.0 whiz who understands the pull mechanism of RSS feeds and knows no better way than the push technique of outreach. Also know that many public relations folks are genuinely well-intended and not irresponsible in their approaches. Yes, we have a wide-spread issue that needs to be addressed and solved, but as you can tell from this and other posts, we’re doing just that.

Our Dénouement

More than anything, I long for journalists of all walks of life – traditional, mainstream media and bloggers, podcasters and new media folks as well – to understand, respect and even value the pubic relations professionals they deal with. Many do. Some don’t. And frankly, the laziness and ignorance of many PR professionals proves some don’t deserve it.

The only way this ideal will ever happen is if public relations professionals step up and improve. The responsibility lies squarely upon our collective, and individual, shoulders. Because, however, the media database companies and professional organizations like PRSA and IABC depend upon these individuals for their livelihood, they should step in and lead the vital effort required to get where we want to go: Teaching the new and re-teaching the old how to succeed in the new media environment.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • http://www.woodenhorsepub.com WoodenHorsePub

    I am a recipient of PR spam (since we publish announcements of new magazines) but I am also part of the problem as the owner of a media directory.

    However, I have purposely focused on magazines, which have a complex editorial positioning, and provide an expanded editorial description. Having that information, I hope, will allow PR pros to correctly select the magazines they pitch. We even include reader demographics, because if media directories don’t provide the necessary information, how can PR practitioners make educated decisions about whom to mail?

    Yes Jason, you are absolutely correct that media directories are part of the problem.

    Meg Weaver
    mweaver@woodenhorsepub.com
    WOODEN HORSE – tools to select and contact magazines
    http://www.woodenhorsepub.com
    (503) 338-4300

  • http://icantkeepup.blogspot.com DebInDenver

    I too hope for PR professionals to work harder on interpersonal relationships with the media AND to expand their capabilities. So many people are stuck in traditional media and are slow to transition into new media that they are getting left behind. Incorporating personal relationships and all kinds of media are important to building a community around your field, whatever it is. I like the newly coined term “Personalized Relations” that shows new media takes us in that direction. You can’t get the word out without both knowledge of all mediums and building strong relationships.

  • http://nextcommunication.wordpress.com/ Vedo

    Jason, you are dead-on with this one. It is up to us as individual Communications/PR professionals to be better at our craft. I will be presenting a Social Media 101 for the Greater Fort Worth PRSA chapter in July. I will make sure to include some of these ‘first steps’ so we can raise the bar.

    I would have liked to have seen more from PRSA national on blogger outreach on par with Jeffery Julin’s letter/video response to Cohen.

    We’ll get there.

  • http://www.nationalpod.com Dave Burckhard

    Three cheers for Mr. Fall.
    This is the third blog or article I’ve read in two weeks that warn against PR professionals becoming “lazy.” Perhaps lazy may be too strong a term. Perhaps “complacent” or “square” may be better terms. Regardless, PR agencies who have relied solely on text and a common release channel, essentially a single medium, should reconsider their process. From what I see, the new media and all the practices and technologies of what is known as Web 2.0 are all too often ignored by PR agencies to the detriment of the agencies and their clients.

    Face it, traditional releases in the typical format, even when they pertain to subjects near and dear have become boring. On the other hand, companies that have managed their communications around a mix of traditional as well as using blogs, mashups, social networking, wikis and podcasting, have stood out and become, most importantly, engaging. Communities are built and fostered around that engagement — something that’s becoming harder if not impossible with a single medium.

    Moreover, the use of on-line video, either streamed or podcast via RSS, is quickly becoming the single most effective medium with a rate of retention, repetition, and engagement unmatched by any other medium. My company is finding that businesses are increasingly integrating the use of video in their media mix. And they are discovering the ease, speed, and effectiveness, not to mention wholly affordable way of getting their message out.

    The PR agencies who adapt the new media and especially video in their offerings for their clients will be the ones who will be on top of the “best” lists.

    Thanks Jason for this story. You’ve struck a chord here and I hope PR agencies are listening.

    Dave Burckhard
    National Podcasting System
    http://www.nationalpod.com

  • http://www.auburnmedia.com/ Robert French

    Thanks, Jason. Gotta agree that it takes everyone working together to fight the problems. The lazy aspect is also driven by new hires being sent on those “do this and show me the results” kind of missions from their managers. Problem is, the “results” they are looking for are usually lists of people that have been hit with the release, not a list of people they developed a relationship with for the client’s best interests.

  • http://www.stevensilvers.com/2008/06/prsa-one-good-e.html PRSA: One good exaggeration deserves another.

    PRSA exposed its profession to even more ridicule by exaggerating its integrity in response to a single exaggeration about its lack of it.

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    I’m just tired of tilting against windmills. But, great post.

    Some day, maybe.

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  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Meg – Thanks for the input. I think it’s a valuable service to provide the directory info, demographics and the like, but PR folks need help learning more than anything else. Being someone on both sides of the aisle, perhaps you can include some literature or reminders for folks using your media database that personal and relevant outreach is the only good way to do it. Thanks for the comment.

    DebInDenver – Amen, sister! “Personalized Relations” — I like it.

    Vedo – I too want to see PRSA national do more, but if you’re speaking and presenting and we’re all trying to speak the same gospel, the learning will happen. I’m also turning to agency partners of my clients and offering some advice/workshops in as friendly a way as possible. If it takes us educating one PR pro at a time, that’s what it takes. Keep fighting the good fight!

    Dave – Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. You know, the most compelling applicant I had early on in the process of hiring my social media manager (Kat, who is awesome, by the way) was a young man who had a video resume online. You’re right – Video is the way to go. Maybe we should start doing 30-second video pitches! I may try it just for the heck of it. Thanks!

    Robert – You nailed it. Young, impressionable, not-knowing-any-better PR noobs thrown at a big, time sensitive project will screw it up every time. Like my main Pepper says, we have to educate like there’s no tomorrow.

    Steven (I suppose) – Would love to hear more of your explanation for benefit of those readers here who may not click over to your post, but I don’t disagree with you on the statement. Thanks.

    J-Pepp – You’re no longer the lone boy crying wolf, my friend. We’ve got some people thinking and talking. Come back to the fight. You should be leading it.

  • http://www.blogworldexpo.com Rick Calvert

    great post Jason. Thanks for the link. He is right Jeremy, you used to be a lonely voice in the dark, you have a lots of allies now and time is on your side.

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