I was talking to a good friend on the phone today about the dustup with public relations professionals and Gina Trapani, of Lifehacker, who has launched a PR Spammers blacklist.
Of course, this isn't the first blogger who has been (rightly) disgusted with the overwhelming number of spammy pitches from people hawking their wares. And even today, Peter Shankman, who recently launched Help A Reporter, is holding a quiz to decide how that community will deal with off topic pitches to the reporters that use it for leads.
We are all looking for ways to reign in our inboxes and regain some semblance of productivity. If only this blacklisting could accomplish the aim of unclogging my mailbox, I might even join in with a blacklist of my own.
But it doesn't really help.
I can understand the defensive stance by many of the public relations and marking professionals whom I admire and who are in large part tired of being whipping posts for something that isn't entirely their fault. I can't blame them, but the attitude is wrongheaded. I can also appreciate the heartfelt apologies from some of my other colleagues, which again are nice, but that don't solve the problem.
And most likely, nothing ever will.
In the comments of Mack Collier's excellent summary, a commenter reveals that Gina's personal e-mail was on Cision's blogger media list. And with that, Todd Defren sighed with some relief that maybe his company and weren't completely to blame, while openly admitting that the lists are problematic. Anyone who has used them know this to be true.
But I am concerned that we as public relations professionals have come to rely on these time saving lists too much. And once the wrong information ends up in these lists, it can exacerbate the problem. And once your name ends up on these lists, it becomes much too easy to get 1,000s of off topic pitches. As the editor of a B to B publication for seven years, I experienced this first hand. And also as a blogger, I have had similar experiences.
The lists are not the only problem, there is also the problem of uncreative pitches and blatant one-size-fits-all e-mails. Kevin Duggan has a whole blog dedicated to that problem.
And the worst offenders will never even read the criticism, much less reform to it.
GeekMommy says something that I think gets closer to the heart of the problem:
As a consumer, I know that you are both part of the chain [PR/Journalists/Bloggers]… but dammit, I want my information. I want to know what those companies want to tell me. I don’t want you guys playing games where you don’t talk to each other – because that’s not your job. Your job is to get that information from the companies to the consumers… because if you guys won’t? Trust me, eventually, somebody else will.”
The Scarlet Letter: Who Is to Blame?
Alas, all of this finger pointing has me turning back to high school literature for a proper analogy and the The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, where the character Hester bore the blame for a rotten system.
Like the PR person, Hester took the blame (to the death) for an adulterous affair. But were her lover and accusers any less to blame? One as a partner in crime and other as overzealously judgmental – sending her to her death.
But what is the solution? How do journalists and hapless bloggers get their inbox back without waging an all out war against each other?
I think that a credo of things to do before pitching a blogger is a nice idea, but we did that for astroturfing and there is still plenty of that going on (heck, I even wrote that code of ethics personally).
I like Stowe Boyd's philosophy of MicroPR, probably because it is already the way that I operate, but the truth remains that even the “good guys,” whoever they may be, can get lumped in with the “bad guys” due to the sheer volume of the problem.
What do you think is the solution?