public relations

TechCrunch and Embargoes. What’s the problem?

I’ve been reading about Michael Arrington (the guru behind TechCrunch) and his decision to no longer honor embargoes asked for (demanded?) by PR professionals when certain stories are sent to TechCrunch.  This has apparently caused quite an uproar in certain quarters of the PR community, with comments flying back and forth on the post at TechCrunch and throughout the Blogo/Twito/Globo-Sphere, with people picking sides.

The first thing that hit me was how this sounded like Gina Trapani’s wiki where she whipped out the ban-hammer and listed the PR companies that she got tired of spamming her personal email address and gave people a quick and easy way to include these companies (5WPR, Ogilvy, Edelman, etc) in your spam filter. There were a lot of big PR companies being called out, and a few New Media PR companies that appear to have been caught in the wake of e-blasting out stories that people don’t want to read.

The following thought was, PR people still use embargoes?  Seriously?  I mentioned this to a co-worker last week and she asked the same thing.

Embargoes were usually used to give news companies (alleged) “exclusives” or dictate to a media outlet when they could run with a story.  Big surprise, they only succeed at pissing off journalists/media outlets while getting ignored part of the time anyway.  Then you get pissed, and they get more pissed, and it spirals down from there.  And unless you’re a company crucial to a media outlet’s coverage, or large enough to have an impact if you decide to stop sending info their way (like Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Google, etc), then the media outlet doesn’t need to change the way it does business.  You do.

Reporters and editors, especially of New Media outlets, wouldn’t care if most of the companies out there stopped sending them press releases.  In fact, all of them would probably start popping open the bubbly in celebration.  When I was still working at the local newspaper, I was in charge of manning the fax machine (yeah I’m dating myself a little bit here) in addition to my regular duties.  In my time at the paper, less than a dozen releases ever made it past the trash can.  Most of the people the sports department (where I worked) reporters spoke with already had personal relationships with the writers (coaches, players, sports info officers) and knew to contact them personally and didn’t need the fax waste.

Contrast that to when I was working at my first PR firm, on the other side of the “send” key.  We’d invested in some “media relations” Web site, with a database of thousands of reporters and (allegedly) how to get in touch with them, forms set up to enter your own press releases and the potential to blast them to thousands of reporters, whether they wanted your information or not.  I watched as one pitch went out to over 2,300 business reporters all over the U.S. (Somehow I don’t think the farm business reporter from the “Peoria Pittance Proper” really cared about the NYC client’s pitch)

When you use these pitch-fest programs, you don’t have to know any of the media outlets you are e-blasting.  You don’t have any personal relation with the reporter you want to get interested in your stuff.

That’s what a lot of PR now a days is missing.  Public relations is kind of a misnomer for what needs to be done.  It needs to be called “Personal relations”.”  Too many PR professionals, especially when pitching nationally, are still depending so much on these databases or yellow books of media contacts.

Please, my fellow PR peeps, if you are going to use one of these databases to pitch a story nationally, at least make sure the person you are calling a) covers the area you think they do, and b) wants to receive your email.  Chances are they don’t. And then you’re making the rest of us look bad.

Push vs. Pull

A lot of PR needs to start shifting from the idea of pushing press releases to some kind of “narrowcasting,” creating meaningful content for your specific target audiences that they can then pull to their desktop/email/browser.  It’s the difference between forcing your message onto someone or getting to know them and letting them be genuinely interested in your information.  Your audience probably won’t be as big as you’d like – but the media landscape has been shifting from large distribution channels to many more, but smaller, means of communicating to your target demographic. (think about the difference between network TV and cable – while network TV has a larger audience, you can better target a narrow audience by selecting a cable channel that matches your audience needs (food network, SciFi, etc) and tailoring your messages to match not only your audience, but that specific channel.

And finally, for those PR people complaining about Mr. Arrington or Ms. Trapani’s actions.  Remember, TechCrunch and LifeHacker are their media outlets, they get to decide how they want to run them.

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