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Guy Clapperton on the evolving new media

Bloggers and press releases

TwitScoop and Twitter search filters in Tweetdeck
Image by Kevglobal via Flickr

Back from the Easter Hols (very nice thanks, few days at mum’s place) and I’ve walked straight into an argument over PR and blogging. It started innocently enough; a blogger who I won’t name puts a note up on Twitter to ask people to stop sending him press releases because they’re ‘not relevant’.

Why this caught my eye I don’t know, but it did. So I check the guy’s profile and there it is, for everyone to see: “Information junkie”. So we have a self-proclaimed information junkie asking professionals not to send him information. I make this point to him.

He responds, saying he doesn’t want spam to his work address, and he’s a blogger not a journalist so if people want his attention they have to mail him direct. He asks me if I haven’t had a release I’d consider spam from a PR in my time.

Well, no I haven’t. I’ve had releases that were badly targeted (I write primarily about small business and technology, so the woman who started sending me releases about female sex aids once was way off the mark albeit she makes a good anecdote); I’ve had those that are poorly written, but no, once I’ve said in public that I’m a freelance journalist I don’t think I can justifiably describe any genuine press release as unsolicited.

Twitter spats aside, there are a few salient points to be made. First, if you publicise yourself – no matter where – as someone seeking information, people who choose to send you this info are not doing anything wrong. The chances are that they are a professional doing a job, and if you imagine that the rest of the world should be instinctively aware of any strictures you’ve unilaterally applied then you’re plum crazy. Second, PRs and marketers have thousands of contacts to manage so if their approach seems a little impersonal that’s probably because it is. If you want a personal approach then pick up the phone and there is every chance a real person will speak to you. Personally.

Second, even if you’re a blogger rather than a journalist (and goodness knows those lines are starting to blur) expect to manage your own online identity. If someone thinks something is going to be of interest to you, the chances are very good that they’ll Google for your name and send their mails to the first address they find. This means it’s up to you – not them – to ensure that the address they find first is the one you want them to use (try searching for Guy Clapperton and I can almost guarantee that every search you perform will produce clapperton.co.uk as the number one hit). And cut the guff – there are no ‘new rules’ for bloggers and other social media users, if you put your head over the parapet as being interested in information then the professional providers of it are going to start sending it. It’s your job to filter, not the PR’s job to hand-check every approach when they have thousands to handle. This means there is a risk to a blogger who is employed by someone else full time – yes, your work mail may become stuffed with information you’d rather went somewhere else. Your employer is not going to listen to stuff about how it’s the fault of an incompetent PR if their mail servers are becoming blocked. You’ve drawn attention to yourself, Pandora’s box and all that.

Not that bloggers are a bad thing. The ructions in Westminster over the weekend, in which some pretty dirty stuff was uncovered (here’s the blog where it all started) by a blog, and regardless of your politics it’s important that smear campaigns and blatant lies are uncovered for what they are. They are invaluable on the one hand, entertaining on another. As I’ve said before, though, there’s a real problem ahead for people who think they can blog without responsibility. In the past I’ve said this responsibility covers accuracy, libel and suchlike; it’s clear after this morning’s spat that this resp0nsibility also includes management of an online identity and not whining when people take you seriously enough to try to make contact.

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April 14, 2009 - Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. Weirdly, I blogged about this a week or so ago – one of the work email addresses I use, which is clearly marked as a PR address, frequently gets clogged up with press releases. I rarely email back, but when I did once, the PR person refused to accept they had the wrong address and kept pushing press releases to me.

    I’ve also had completely arbitrary releases end up in my work inbox. They have no relevancy to anything I do. It’s confusing a) how they get to me and b) why they think I’d be of any use.

    I know I do plenty of blogging and writing outside of work, and I can forgive it if a well-meaning release is sent to my work rather than my personal address. But randomly sent emails to random addresses is poor PR no matter what angle you look at it, and only serves to give the industry a bad name.

    Comment by Gary Andrews | April 14, 2009

  2. There’s a big difference between doing not something wrong and doing something sensible. What’s wrong with asking permission to send press releases, or anything for that matter? Or doing some basic research?

    If the media research agencies aren’t doing a good enough job then they are going to have to check by hand. Problem? That’s the cost of doing business in an environment where a service is sold to a client on the basis that PR is “free publicity”.

    I get some releases via a postmaster@ account at one of my clients – and some poor person has to fish them out of an account that is, probably, filled mostly with spam. The correct email address is published in the magazine. The PRs weren’t doing anything illegal or necessarily wrong, but they weren’t generating a lot of goodwill. All they had to do was check, and it’s not that hard.

    Comment by Chris Edwards | April 14, 2009

  3. “…the PR person refused to accept they had the wrong address and kept pushing press releases to me.”

    It doesn’t happen every day, but this happens more often than it should. Half the time it’s because they can’t (or won’t) override the incorrect information that comes from Cision, Vocus etc. Or they’ve got some mailing list package from the Neolithic era.

    Comment by Chris Edwards | April 14, 2009

  4. Accepted, but neither Gary nor Chris is suggesting people shouldn’t be sending releases in the first place. I have real concerns about a blogger who suggests nobody should be sending them information at all, as if a blog isn’t a publication.

    Comment by guyclapperton | April 14, 2009

  5. “I have real concerns about a blogger who suggests nobody should be sending them information at all, as if a blog isn’t a publication.”

    Running a publication is not an invitation for press releases. It’s an extreme example, but consider a site that only does investigative journalism and has absolutely no need for releases. Why should that site accept them willingly?

    People forget that press releases are a convenience, nothing more. As a hack, I’m aware that refusing them outright will cause me more problems than it solves. But I don’t see why all bloggers should accept that trade. If they never expect to use that information, why should they see it clogging up their inbox?

    I’m only sanguine about the amount of guff I get because the only things troubled by it are the Mail.app rules engine, MailSteward and a ruddy big disk drive (I prefer not to delete mail if I can help it). People with work-imposed 50Mbyte mail server limits tend to get more exercised about it.

    Comment by Chris Edwards | April 14, 2009

  6. “People forget that press releases are a convenience, nothing more.”

    No, press releases are the output of an industry that is related to, if not quite allied with, publishing. It’s a branch of marketing rather than journalism of course but it’s a valid one.

    It goes with the territory and receiving press releases is an industry norm. As journalists it’s certainly our job to sift information in all forms, and if that means not using any of the info that comes to us in PR form then that can be perfectly valid – but criticising people for trying to get that info to us, as my original correspondent was doing, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the business involves.

    Comment by guyclapperton | April 14, 2009

  7. I welcome press releases on relevant subjects and I have no problem in responding to whoever has sent it to say, thanks but this isn’t relevant to what I write about. I don’t treat press releases as something that is automatically there to be regurgitated but they may spark an idea or add to research that will come in handy one day, as I write about different subject areasn – and for different audiences.

    I’m not sure I can follow the debate here – but yes I think that if I was to describe myself publicly as an ‘information junkie’ I would expect to be sent information.

    As a journalist and now blogger, it’s interesting to me to see how PRs are relating to me. I’ve just been invited on a foreign press trip by a major company. It started out as a trip with journalists but they have now filled the places with bloggers. Also, for me, as someone who wrote a ‘knocking piece’ the last time I went on a foreign press trip, (from a regional paper) it will be interesting to see how this trip pans out!

    Comment by Linda | April 14, 2009

  8. I find this topic very interesting and it’s good to hear a journalists point of view as well.

    As a PR naturally we wish for our customers messages to be published (on and offline) in as many places as possible.

    “Second, PRs and marketers have thousands of contacts to manage so if their approach seems a little impersonal that’s probably because it is. If you want a personal approach then pick up the phone and there is every chance a real person will speak to you.”

    Currently I’m having the conversation with customers about quality over quantity. i.e. would you rather have 30 small individual mentions, or 3 large articles in guardian/telegraph/times plus key blogs.

    This means building personal contact with journalists and reading all their articles and ensuring that your press release is valuable to them and fits with:
    a) what they write about;
    b) what they have been writing about;
    c) what the publication has published recently;
    d) what their competitors are and aren’t publishing;

    Despite leaning towards the later method myself, I cannot blame PR’s for wanting volume, especially online where backlinks are highly valuable.

    I find this comment heartening:
    “I don’t think I can justifiably describe any genuine press release as unsolicited.”
    We often hear (especially on twitter) how journalists are bombarded with press releases and how awful it is having to wade through their inboxes, but surely in this climate journalists should be keen to hear about the best stories, whether it comes from their own journalistic nose or from a press release.

    It is the job of the PR to ensure content is relevant, but it is the job of the journalist or blogger to decide if the release is something that they can lend their voice to.

    I think the way forward is increased and valued relations between journalists and PRs, as long as PRs can convince their clients that PR must be paced and is there for the long haul. Otherwise quick-fix PRs will continue to spam the hell out of anyone and everyone.

    Comment by Mark Crosby | April 14, 2009


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