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Exposing One of PR's Dirty Little Secrets

Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of "The Long Tail," ignited an online PR firestorm recently by posting a list on his blog of 300 PR people who had sent him unsolicited and unwanted PR pitches, saying that he had unilaterally and permanently added them to his blocked senders list.

I don't approve of Anderson's action -- I'm sure he has better things to do than complain about PR. But his post does blow the cover off one of PR's dirty secrets: selling PR to internal and external clients on the basis of quantity, not quality. Justifying your budget and importance by saying "we pitched the story to 200 reporters" has been exposed as a fraud, if your target list includes journalists like Anderson who are going to hit delete the second they see your pitch (or worse, simply block you from even reaching their inbox). You'll have more long-term media relations success if you pitch quality -- targeting the right journalists, building relationships, only sending them newsworthy stuff -- over quantity.

Other teachable elements of this first-rate controversy:

  • Rule #1 of pitching bloggers: they're not mainstream media. Among the differences is that they have unlimited space to say whatever they want, including using their blog to blast PR people. Mainstream journalists are probably just as fed up with getting spam pitches as Anderson, but they aren't going to waste precious ink or air time complaining about it. (Anderson is actually a print magazine editor first and blogger second, but in this case, that's not a crucial distinction).
  • Bloggers are the ultimate niche media. Every one of them has their own unique point of view and audience. It's a waste of time and resources to send them blast email pitches. Scratch that strategy off your list.
  • Instead, if you really want to reach a blogger's audience, read their blog thoroughly, leave comments on their site, and then pitch them something customized for them alone.
  • Saying you got a name from a media database is no excuse. That's a starting point, not an endpoint. Again, if your pitch isn't targeted to the journalist you're pitching, it's essentially spam.
  • One of the hundreds of people who commented on Anderson's post was a business owner who talked about his methods of maintaining a media list and communicating with the people on it. It's an excellent primer for other business people who are less adept at PR.
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