Does Your Agency Make these Boneheaded PR Mistakes?

Istock_000003420564xsmall Something’s in the air lately. I’ve seen a good half-dozen vitriolic blog posts this week about clueless PR pros, ham-fisted pitches, and birdbrained astroturf attempts. And while a journalist just throws a bad pitch away and rolls her eyes, a blogger will take positive glee in blogging your cluelessness for all to see.

  • The Long Tail’s Chris Anderson loses his patience with PR spam
  • Technosailor roasts the clueless in an Office Space-inspired post
  • John Scalzi shreds a particularly inept (appalling was the word he used) pitch, as well as praising one that worked
  • Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, a person you do not want making fun of you, making fun of a laughably transparent astroturf campaign conducted by someone who read half a Seth Godin book once
  • Social Media Today on why WalMart’s Facebook campaign tanked and Target’s succeeded

Anderson took a particularly harsh line, publishing the email addresses of dozens of inept pitch perpetrators (maybe I need to start rolling out IPP as a meme), and thus subjecting them to spambots harvesting their addresses and ensuring that they never again run out of offers for free all-herbal VIGARA.

What’s interesting is how many of these big, bad bloggers took the time to point out how to do it right. Here’s Anderson he had to say about it:

So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I’m interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that’s why my email address is public).

Now here’s the thing. Any decent PR pro is supposed to know better than to pitch (to anyone–reporter, blogger, whatever) without doing some homework. OK, the client wants you to send out 1,000 press releases on his rollout of new HR policies in his Scranton cube farm. If the client wants you to prank call Katie Couric, do you do it?

Every one of these pitches not only makes the agency look terrible, it makes their client look terrible. "Making our clients look stupid in new media" is probably not one of your agency’s tag lines. So knock it off.

Know Thy Customer
One of the most common mistakes in media relations is forgetting who your customer is. Here’s why it gets confusing: your customer is not your client.

If you’re in traditional PR, your customer is the reporter. You give that customer what she needs. You respect her time. You develop a (wait for it) remarkable relationship.

If you’re in new media relations, the norms and the standards are different, but you’re operating under the same principle. Your customer is the blogger. You take the time to read her blog carefully. You look over the About page. You come up with a couple of interesting questions. You read a dozen posts and look for themes and interests. You post some comments. Then, if you think this is the right blogger for your client, you can pitch a story or send a product for review. You might even ask for a guest post.

The vast chasm that divides traditional and new media
Much is made of the massive differences between new and traditional media relations. One of the ways I make a living is capitalizing on the differences between the new media and the old. I once told Lawrence Ragan, mostly joking, that the problems he was having with a particular blogger came from the fact that "there aren’t any rules in a knife fight."

But that was a snarky line, not the truth. The truth is, whether you’re talking with customers or journalists or bloggers or nonprofit donors or anyone else you want to persuade, you have to learn the rules before you’re going to meet with any success. You have to approach a human being, not a "target." And you have to start with that other human being’s needs before your own.

But what the hell, if you know a smart PR agency who’s looking for a kickass new media relations expert with a clue, I’d love to talk. That’s not the world’s worst strategy when you don’t have a clue–hire someone who does.