In the rapidly shifting era of blogger and media relations, we can expect one thing to occur as we forge ahead, mistakes. It happens to the best and the worst of us.
This isn’t a generic post on how not to make mistakes, or if you do, how to apologize, per se. This is an example of true transparency and public soul searching that will hopefully help and inspire PR practitioners, journalists, and bloggers to learn from the mistakes of others – and hopefully work together when unintentional or harmless mistakes are made.
Let’s talk about transparency for a moment. You hear that word a lot across the socialmediasphere – almost to the point where it may be losing its original value and intent.
Transparency = sharing the bad things as well as the good.
Here’s an example of transparency in action:
I blog passionately and incessantly about how to work with media and bloggers in ways that foster relationships and humanize the process of storytelling. I also run a public relations agency. It cuts deep when one of your own makes a mistake.
Yes, I’m one of the louder voices on media and blogger relations, so there’s a sense of irony here when someone who works with me is the subject of this post. For this to be verbally called out to me, as if I already didn’t make the connection on my own, well, it hurts. But, it’s fair and I’ll take it on the chin.
Nowadays, any mistake made in PR is really an occupational hazard where one wrong move can cause a domino effect that has the potential to eradicate months or even years of hard work.
In (their) defense, this person did not blast a generic media list generated through a PR database, nor did this person send information to someone who doesn’t cover or write about products in the space. This predicament is representative of something many of us haven’t really discussed, but it’s worth exploring – as this is likely to occur industry-wide.
So here’s the question:
Is any form of unsolicited email considered spam even if you’re sharing relevant information to one person or a group of people? Or, would you consider the sharing of related content more along the lines of “Bacn,” and if so, would you react differently knowing that the person reaching out to you at least went through an initial exercise of connecting the dots?
Let’s take a quick look at the differences of each:
Spam is intrusive, shotgun-style blasting that usually favors quantity versus quality – meaning, that it doesn’t take into account your interests or preferences.
Bacn (introduced to me by Chris Brogan) stems from the idea that it is better than spam, but not as good as a personal e-mail. Bacn differs from spam in that the emails are not unsolicited: the recipient has somehow signed up to receive it. Bacn is also not necessarily sent in bulk – Wikipedia.
Tofu (new category – suggested name) is email that is sent individually to people who are pre-qualified or identified as being related to, or interested in, a particular category or topic. Or, they have made their email publicly available on their site, thus intentionally or inadvertently inviting contact. I’m not sure what to call it, but the idea for tofu was inspired by the fact that we can almost make it taste like something else, but at the end of the day, it’s still not the real thing.
The difference between Bacn and Tofu is that these emails are somewhat personalized and related to a particular event or milestone, but are usually unsolicited and sent to multiple people as an update, a request for meeting, or seek other forms of response. It isn’t categorized as spam because it is not an automated process and the lists of people (recipients) are hand-built and individually sent.
There’s a fine line between outreach being categorized as “not unsolicited” and getting aligned with a particular topic (pitch) based on employment, experience and writing history. In this case, one more step of due diligence would have brought the thin line into focus and prevented this issue altogether. That lesson was immediately learned and heartfelt.
But in this case, and I have to imagine it is not unique, this is email aligned more with the definition of Bacn and Tofu versus Spam. Now, at the end of the day, the devastating response and ensuing fallout clearly indicated that the differences didn’t matter. So in a world where perception is 9/10ths of the law, then “personalized,” yet unsolicited email is still regarded as Spam. Even if thought and research went into the process, it is still unacceptable – as it should be.
What do we learn from this?
If you’re following the recipe to success in blogger and media relations, then you can’t stop short of following the most important steps of doing things the right way. You can still deviate from the original steps in order to add personal flavor, but cutting corners only ruins the experience and the taste with which we’re ultimately left.
Truth is, many, if not most, PR people still spam. I have an inbox full of examples of real PR spam, with only 10%, at best, showing signs of promise, and maybe another 5%, falling into the Tofu category. The honest answer is that if you’re looking at the process of shifting from automated outreach to one-on-one pitching, then the road from here to there may seem endless and improbable. If you start on the path and decide that 1/2 way is sufficient, then you may want to glance ahead and realize that the right way to do things is just ahead of you. That’s where you need to be.
There are real consequences for not truly engaging with people one-on-one with a real sense of purpose.
The differences, and the answers, are discoverable by reading the work of bloggers and reporters before you reach out instead of simply aligning them with particular topics or industries. This is about building relationships and rising above the fray. If you’re not interested in the industry, product, or service you represent, or what the most influential voices have to say about the subject, then do us all a favor and pursue your dreams elsewhere.
This isn’t about collecting a paycheck. We represent companies as if they’re our own. We’re entrusted with the responsibility of carrying that brand forward and protecting its integrity. And, it’s also about your personal brand too. It’s yours
to define. Own it. Shape it. Cultivate it.
I’d like to think that we’re intelligent people, and I truly don’t believe that the only way to learn new things is by burning our hands on a hot stove until we finally figure out that we’re doing it wrong.
We’re all in this together.
When mistakes are made, and no, we’re not perfect, it’s how we address them that define character – on both sides.
Sometimes saying sorry is not enough. However, saying sorry should count for a lot, especially when the intent was genuine. And an apology is the first step in learning a lesson and mending the relationship. We’re only human, and as long as there are real people on both sides of the equation, then an opportunity for understanding, empathy, and advancement should prevail.
As stated earlier, there’s a difference between spam and pre-qualified outreach and it’s all rooted in genuine (albeit partial) intent. Nothing beats homework and real one-on-one conversations that show; 1) You know who you’re talking to and why what you represent matters to them and their readers; 2) You packaged the story specific to their preferences; 3) You are an expert in the field in which you work and you are knowledgeable about the playing field and the players who also define the space; and 4) You disdain the taste of spam, bacn, or tofu – in principle anyway.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always learning and observing each and every day. Today, we learned a lesson the hard way and I’m sharing this experience to help raise the bar industry-wide.
The tolerance for mistakes is razor thin and the attention span of those we wish to reach is even thinner. If the pressure is on you to generate results in bulk, then the onus is on you to also push back and contribute to the resetting of a dying breed of unrealistic expectations and relationship-damaging pressure.
Gone are the days of the boiler room and the blast mentality associated with faceless PR. Now more than ever, relationships count for everything and nothing substitutes for personal experience, wisdom, expertise, and perspective.
The future of PR is personal and conversational. Get used to it.
All Things Digital runs this post in the “Voices” column.
Stowe Boyd shares his thoughts in, “The Growing Backlash Against PR Spam, And The Rationale For MicroPR.”
Jeremy Toeman adds his voice to the subject, “Hey bloggers, tell us how to pitch you!”
Additional Resources on PR 2.0:
– In Blogger and Media Relations, You Earn the Relationships You Deserve
– Free ebook: The Art and Science of Blogger Relations
– The New Rules for Breaking News
– The New Rules of Breaking News, Beware of Embargoes
– Building Relationships with Bloggers
– Dear Chris Anderson, an Open Letter to Make Things Right
– PR 2.0 = The Evolution of PR, Nothing Less, Nothing More