Modern PR: New Incentives to Behave Professionally

We know they’re out there. The people who say they’re in PR, but they really just play a numbers game – sending as many emails as possible, in hopes of getting a small percentage of recipients to cover their clients. In fact, most of us have probably competed for business against these spammers in sheep’s clothing, and they often offer their services on the cheap, since their lazy approach requires less time. They also demean our profession in a way that’s highly frustrating.

But unless you’ve been watching closely you may not be aware that, with the rise of blogs, we can now see for ourselves the horrors that reporters are exposed to each day. Exposés on sources like The Bad Pitch Blog (a must-read) will make your toes curl. And some reporters and prominent bloggers have fought back, serving as both the judge and the jury, in the form of very public outings and PR blacklists.

So for those of us who’ve always practiced PR based on building relationships and providing relevant information to highly targeted journalists and other audiences, in our more snarky moments these public outings may feel kind of satisfying. We might think, “Ha! Look at those lame, spammy PR people getting their come-uppance!” But the truth is, it’s bad for our business as a whole, since people tend to paint all PR pros with a broad brush.

Why It Matters

There is a perception out there, even among those fighting the good fight, that the blanket-broadcasting PR folks are in the majority. It’s my opinion that they are not. They just create so much noise that – to those receiving their boatloads of crapola – it seems like those doing it right must be in the minority.

And let’s be honest: it’s not that hard to make a mistake. The media moves around so much (especially these days), I’m sure many of us have gotten confused on occasion and sent an irrelevant pitch. An over-reliance on media databases is another widespread source of missteps. Many of the PR people on the blacklists are known spammers, but some are not. Perhaps they made a simple mistake, and are being publicly ridiculed for it.

Which brings us back to the central point: In this environment, where anything you do or say could end up as fodder for someone’s less than flattering blog post, it’s wise to take extra care to mind your P’s and Q’s. So, unless you’d like to see yourself publicly humiliated, make sure you’re familiar with the outlets you pitch, take care to contact them according to their guidelines, and avoid the lame services that promise shortcuts. It may be tempting short-term, but in the end it’s your reputation on the line.

On the plus side, all of this exposure to anti-PR sentiment allows us to see, with crystal clarity, what kinds of communications drive the recipients batty. As a result, there’s no excuse for bad behavior. Be one of the good ones!

What do you think? Have you learned by seeing the mistakes of others?

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  • http://wordsforhirellc.com/blog Karen Swim

    Kellye, I have certainly learned from the mistakes of others and have carefully tried to avoid them in my own meager PR efforts. Interestingly, I have found the bigger damage to the image of PR professionals from non-PR professionals. In a world where “press releases” are treated like blog posts and sold for pennies on the dollar, many have devalued what true profesionals offer.

    Karen Swim’s last blog post..Blue Days

  • Kellye Crane

    Karen- What an excellent point! Attempts to commoditize the press release are no doubt adding to the confusion (and the annoyance factor) for recipients. All the more reason for skilled PR people to differentiate themselves with more professional tactics. Thanks for adding this to the conversation.

  • http://www.sandiegodogbeach.com Jen Wilbur

    Man, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a new PR pro these days. I made mistakes, just like everyone else, often enough. But back in the early 90s, it was between you and the reporter (and anyone else you were willing to share. I suppose there was the occasional typo that crossed the wire, but you could share that mistake with the wire service. ;)

    Some people out there deserve to be tarred & feathered. They aren’t real PR folks. They’re 80s used car salesman. For the layman and some reporters and bloggers, it’s impossible to tell the difference. Unfortunately, as you mention Kellye, some of the good ones make a mistake and are included in the swamp.

    The positive here is that with today’s ability to call out bad practices, you can nip it in the bud. Those that learn will continue and do well. Those that don’t will hopefully find a different job.

    Jen Wilbur’s last blog post..greyhounds can run fast, but weiner dogs fly

  • http://www.theprpractitioner.com Brian

    Hi Kellye,

    Like other practitioners I’m on Twitter and search the blogosphere for the latest PR trends. Like you’ve mentioned every now and then a journalist makes an example of PR folk. The first few times I saw this, I kinda felt bad for the practitioner, but then names and examples kept popping up and my opinions changed. If people are improperly doing their jobs by blind pitching, then they should be called out, no matter how much it tarnishes their reputation.

    So what can one do about this? Well the easiest thing is to simply do our jobs properly. If you know you’re doing what you should be doing, great! Another option is blogging about the right correct way to practice PR aka giving preventive medicine to those not as smart.

    Brian’s last blog post..Does bad PR off the field transfer to bad play on the field?

  • Kellye Crane

    @Jen- I agree that it must be awfully intimidating to be a new PR pro learning the ropes in this atmosphere. Hopefully in some cases it’s easier to know what not to do, when learning from the publicized mistakes of others!

    @Brian- I like that, “preventive medicine.” As you say, it’s up to us to educate ourselves and our brethren as PR professionals via blogs and other means. Thanks for giving your perspective!

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  • http://www.prosintraining.com Kelli Matthews

    I can tell you that the students in my PR sequence are terrified. Media relations can be intimidating enough without this public humiliation element. But hopefully it’s incentive to learn their craft and to practice ethically, responsibly and strategically.

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