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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Three heads are better than one

Why would wonderful blog Boing Boing feel the need to tell PR types to stop emailing them suggestions for their site? In bold?

My first reaction was to pity the editors at Boing Boing for having to deal with a load of PR people desperately emailing them dumbass press releases about their client's latest rubbish product in the vain hope of 'coverage'.

But that was the blogger in me talking.

Then I thought about the poor PR types. Most of the media relations people I know are only really just working out their key blogger contacts. Yes, some are more behind than others, but PR is currently one of the blogosphere's main supporters. They are even happy to give free stuff away (like mobile phones) in the hope of 'coverage'. Why publicly berate them just for doing what they do best? In bold?

But that was the PR person in me talking.

Then I thought 'Hang on a minute'. These bloggers have found themselves at the helm of an online magazine. These writers are reporting fact, swaying opinion and entertaining the masses. When a blog gets as big as Boing Boing, it's made the jump from pet project to broadcast medium. This is a position of great power. And as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. So if Boing Boing thinks it's OK to post glib remarks about PRs - in bold - it's wrong. All that is doing is showing that it's a fledgling in the big wide world of publishing. Editors need PR, and PR needs publications to survive. I suspect they don't complain when they get free stuff. This is just another case of a blog that's got too big for its boots.

That was the journalist in me talking. I will only be listening to him from now on.



Blogger Cory said...

Well, the first link on Boing Boing is entitled "Suggest a link." Featured prominently in the sidebar is a link to a page called "HOWTO Submit a link to Boing Boing."

If you're a PR professional who has paid enough attention to Boing Boing to figure out who I am and yet has missed these two links and the multiple times that we've posted impassioned pleas to use the form, then you have no excuse whatsoever.

It's one thing for J Random Person to send us a link by email. That person isn't being paid to figure out how to communicate for a living.

But PR people are paid to professionally research means of communicating information and to communicate it. It is ESPECIALLY galling when PR people mis-step. It's doubly galling because I get hundreds of (incompetent, inappropriate) pitches in my mailbox from PR people every day. They have bad subject lines, no ledes, are inappropriate for Boing Boing and are sent in using a method that anyone who's paying cursory attention can tell shouldn't be used.

3:55 am  
Blogger Cory said...

As to "free stuff" -- I strenuously object to unsolicited "free stuff" being mailed to my postal address. Every month, i spend more than $400 on mail-forwarding from my PO Box in London to LA, where I'm spending the year. Almost ALL of that post is "free stuff" that has been sent to me by PR people who did a WHOIS on my domain and decided to bombard me with things I don't want.

If I want a review unit, I'll ask for one, and offer to return it when I'm done. "Gifts" that I have to pay to ship and dispose of are no gifts. Doubly bad are "free" accounts with services that amount to an obligation to go and try a service.

4:47 pm  
Blogger Jon said...

Thanks for your comments, Cory. Appreciated. I figured out who you were right away, even though I work at a PR agency.

But I have to disagree with your sentiments - complaining that people are sending you free stuff as a) you didn't ask for it and b) you're paying to ship it to LA doesn't work for me.

Like it or not, you're a journalist now. I know you may not have asked for that either. But as a journalist, you need to get to know the PR dynamic. PR people are being paid to influence you in any way they can - by phoning you (when you didn't ask them to), sending you free stuff (when you didn't ask them to) and sometimes even inviting you to nice lunches (when you didn't ask them to). It's the way it works.

I don't hear Stuff or T3 magazine complaining that people send them gadgets - without PR those titles would be dead. It's a bit like celebrities and the paparazzi - sure, the celebs couldn't exist without the photos, but I'm sure some pap taking pics of your cellulite-ridden thighs when you've just popped out to Fresh & Wild to buy twenty B&H can get tiresome.

A journalist complaining about being sent stuff by PR people only invites the question - why did you bother in the first place if you didn't want to get noticed?

Above all, it sounds like you're ungrateful of the position you've found yourself in, which I'm sure you've worked hard for.

Anyway - where can I send you some free stuff?

5:10 pm  
Blogger Cory said...

Sorry, I just don't buy it. A PR person's job is to influence you -- and that means to approach you in a way that is likely to predispose you to hearing their message. Unsolicited bulky parcels, clogging my inbox and calling me without permission don't predispose me to a PR person's message.

You seem to be saying that journalists have a duty to arrange their lives to make it more convenient for PR people. That's just BS. In the journalist-PR relationship where there's a solicitation at issue, the PR person is the supplicant.

We don't have an office, a PA, or a mailroom -- it's just us, getting crap at our homes. I've been on the masthead at Wired for years, and I know all about how PR works. Moreover, I worked in advertising for 8 years. You can stop implying to the effect that I'm some kind of naif who stumbled into the industry and just doesn't know how it works.

It may be true that without usolicited materials from PR people, Stuff and T3 would die. But that is categorically untrue of Boing Boing. We do NOT rely on PR people for our survival -- in fact, we only tolerate PR people out of a sense of egalitarian fairness: if we accept submissions from the general public, we'll accept PR subs, too, but on the same terms as everyone else. Just because someone is paying you to get something posted on my blog doesn't mean you get to go to the head of the line.

5:58 pm  
Blogger Jon said...

I wholly appreciate your credentials as a writer.

I'm just confused at your attitude to PR. That's all.

At a time when blog power is in the ascendance, the journalist/blogger divide is under the microscope. I just flag those bloggers with new power thrust upon them who act in a way I find inexplicable.

And as a journalist now working in a PR agency, I am more interested in the blogger/PR relationship than ever before.

In fact, the most common problem I see is bloggers getting free stuff and feeling compelled to write nice things...

10:17 pm  
Blogger Cory said...

Here's the bottom line: if you're a PR person who wants to get something posted on Boing Boing, it's easy. We have explicit, easy-to-follow instructions telling PR people exactly how we like to be contacted and what we like to see in such a contact. We have taken great care to write these guidelines, and they're very easy to follow: send us the material over the form so that it gets correctly sorted and pre-formatted; tell us what you're sending us and why, and provide us with a link.


This isn't onerous, ridiculous, costly or difficult. Our email addresses *don't* appear on Boing Boing, but these instructions do. In order to send me a bad email PR pitch, you would have to overlook the multiple, prominent "How to send stories to Boing Boing" links and actively seek out the incorrect way of doing things.

If you're being paid to influence, rather than alienate, bloggers, then it makes no sense for you to get it this badly wrong.

Bottom line: we don't post material we get via email. PR people -- soi-dissant pros paid to figure out how to get us to post things -- waste their time and ours when they use email.

Likewise sending me physical objects without asking, calling me, etc. I don't ever respond to these pitches, so making them is just hurting, not helping, your client.

3:55 pm  
Blogger Jon said...

So if you're sent something newsworthy in the post, you won't write about it out of principle?

Isn't that wholly unethical?

3:59 pm  
Blogger Cory said...

Jon, there's no shortage of newsworthy things. Life is triage. I'm lucky if I can blog all the things I already know about and consider newsworthy. When unsolicited material arrives in the post, it just gets tossed onto a "Free, please take" pile at USC. "Unethical?" Why is that? Because I prefer to order my life so that I can cover the largest amount of material that I consider relevant, and don't take measures that encourage people to make me less effective, less efficient, and less prolific? Is it "ethical" to give priority to someone's rude incursion on my physical space rather than devoting my attention to those who have played by the rules?

6:12 pm  

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