Don't hold your breath waiting for the end of PR spam

by Shannon Paul on August 13, 2008

Recently, Chris Brogan wrote about the launch of a new social media press release utility called PitchEngine that promised to “End PR Spam“. In his post, he mentioned that I might have some thoughts on the matter, and I do.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to witness the event, did it actually happen?

The same thing could be said of a social media press release (or any press release). Even if I build a better mousetrap and have it up on the internet with links and video and images, chances are pretty good that everybody won’t be posting my release to their Facebook profile and reporters won’t be clamoring to cover my announcement. Why?

It’s the distribution, stupid.

The problem with press releases, social or otherwise, is one of distribution AND content. Having compelling content is always an issue, but if I have great content and poor distribution, nobody will ever know about my great content.

While having an easy-to-use utility for building social media press releases is nice, PitchEngine will never be able to fulfill its promise to end PR spam until it addresses the issue of distribution.

Currently, the PitchEngine RSS capability allows subscribers, in this case presumably journalists and bloggers, to subscribe to the entire feed of every press release uploaded onto the PitchEngine site. This sounds good in theory, but that decision would be akin to subscribing to an entire feed of PR spam in the hopes of sorting through mountains of irrelevant pitches at the chance at finding the singular pitch they had been searching for. Forgive me if I don’t think this is likely to catch on. Am I missing something?

The only way PitchEngine can even come close to its promise to end PR spam is through:

Subscription customization – That means an individual RSS feed for each individual brand/company, or an aggregator that allows subscriptions to specific categories of multiple companies into a single feed. A tech writer probably doesn’t want to sort through endless pitches about beauty products and vice versa. Since the service is still in the alpha stage, the beta stage promises, “An unprecedented media PR management app that allows journalists and bloggers to filter the content you generate and pick and choose what they want to see,” just how that will work is yet to be seen.

Journalist/Blogger Outreach/Publicity – Although this will probably require a traditional press release and/or (ironically) some heavy-duty pitching in the form of unsolicited e-mail to get the word out. It is imperative that the content creators i.e. journalists/bloggers be on board, or the appeal will fizzle quickly with PR people. What I see likely to happen is that rather than legitimate PR efforts, you’ll see a lot of direct sales types jumping on the “free” aspect of this utility to build something that looks like a social media press release but is really just a sales pitch. I’ll take an unsolicited PR pitch over an unsolicited sales pitch any day of the week.

E-mail plugin – It’s not enough to be able to e-mail a link to someone to get them to look at my press release. If they don’t want to read a pitch in their inbox, why would anyone click on a link to read a pitch elsewhere. Social media press releases on PitchEngine should have the ability to be integrated into simple HTML that looks the same in the body of the e-mail as it does on the PitchEngine website. Oh, wait, but that might actually encourage PR spam…

At the very least, if these things are too complex to integrate, there should be an option to download an HTML version of the social media press release from PitchEngine to integrate into their own website and/or e-mail template for distribution. I’m also not sure what kind of business model PitchEngine creator Jason Kintzler has in mind, but I can’t help but think of ways he could benefit from all of this potential traffic to his website and I’m not so sure that bloggers would rather be hit with advertisements while fishing through press releases.

Don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve seen so far, I really like the utility for building a basic social media press release, but at this point, I don’t see it being able to live up to its promise to end PR spam or serve as a meaningful service to the industry until it provides, or at least enables, real distribution.


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

August 13, 2008 Shannon Nelson

So glad we had the chance to chat over the phone about all of this. :)

I do like the easy set up of the SMR on PitchEngine and I so much prefer the layout and look of a SMR, but I agree with you, if there is no distribution, what’s the point?

I do admit I will probably still post a few SMR’s there to see if anything comes of it, but not without also sending the same info. out as a traditional press release as well. It will be interesting to see which version garners more attention.

PitchEngine is in alpha though, so I hold out some hope that by the time it goes on through beta and releases, it will have everything you mention and more (or someone will just take your ideas and go build a better version first!)

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August 13, 2008 Jason Kintzler, PitchEngine

Hi Shannon,
Thanks for taking the time to check out the alpha and inspire some new thinking about PR Spam.

Without being able to see what’s in store, I can understand your perception of PitchEngine. Perhaps my hints about our plans have been a bit vague, but that’s the only way I can protect my ideas for media/pr interaction before the entire site is completed.

You’re theories make sense and are all things I thought of when developing the outline and plan for the media side of PitchEngine. Thing is, the options you mention are current methods – email, wire distribution, etc., Both methods involve PR pros lobbing-up releases and hoping they stick – But that’s assuming writers have no options except to delete the email in their inbox or choose not to search around for it on a web service. There are other ways of delivery. In time, you’ll see what I mean…

Your thoughts on an html version are spot on- PitchEngine Newsrooms will launch in a few days.

As for discounting the SMR itself, I offer this. PR pros have absolutely no easy method of delivering assets like high-res images and video and there’s no option for sharing word .doc press releases via Twitter and other social networks.
The majority of PR pros, including in-house PR managers have no other option than antiquated Word doc attachments, image CDs, and email. At the very least, the current alpha version of PitchEngine is already solving a problem. Will all of the releases be good ones? Not likely. It takes good PR to make good PR- those rules haven’t changed.

As a footnote, it’s funny to see everyone’s concern about the business model. I get that question a lot. It will reveal itself soon enough. And no, it doesn’t involve advertising- the idea is to help writers and PR pros both- I can’t see how pushing ads at them will help the process any. The SMR builder will remain a free service for PR- and the media will not have to pay either.

Thanks for continuing the dialog and the creative thinking about the process. I was inspired, just as you are now about changing the way media relations functions. I don’t promise to fix everything that’s wrong with public relations, but I do promise to give all I’ve got to make it a better process as a whole. Time will surely tell.

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August 13, 2008 john blue

If they add a bit of what Google Alerts does then it would weed out some unwanted stuff …. But even then things will get through, and further weeding takes human power. Automation can help but it will never get ride of the need to filter with your brain.

And those pitching must get back to basics; talk with people and build that personal social net _before_ they need it plus write persuasive pitches ; practice practice practice.

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August 13, 2008 shannonpaul

@Shannon Yes, our chat was great and I’m so glad you were able to chime in.

@john You’re absolutely right; no tool is a substitute for relationship building. :)

@Jason I wish you didn’t feel the need to be so secretive about the features that the next phase of PitchEngine holds in store. However, unless I am missing something essential, I still don’t see the service as having the potential to fulfill any promises to end PR spam.

Also, just as an FYI, based on feedback I have received from journalists, they actually prefer to have the text and images pasted into the body of an e-mail so that they can see them on mobile phones and Blackberries.

I NEVER send anything attached as a Word document. Plus, attachments in general often snag spam filters. As for delivering high-resolution images, audio and video clips, FTP sites offer a pretty low-impact method of delivery, not to mention photo and video sharing sites.

Like I said, I really do like the utility of being able to build an SMPR on the PitchEngine site, but I won’t be able to use it until it evolves beyond something that only allows me to send a link. At this point, it’s more beneficial for me to have the person I’m pitching be able to scan the content of my press release from the preview pane of their Outlook inbox than to send them a link that they don’t have the time or the inclination to click.

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August 14, 2008 Dave Simon

I think that PitchEngine won’t *end* PR spam, as it is up to PR people to end it. It’s hyperbole to say anything will do away with anything entirely.

However, knowing what I know about Jason’s plans (I’m on the team building PE), I believe PitchEngine has the possibility to provide the *tools* to end PR spam.

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August 14, 2008 Kevin Dugan

In a Web 2.0 world, nothing will stop the spam. Bad Pitch blog tries to help. But we have no illusion any one tool, resource or person will end it.

Absolute statements in 2.0 (and anything else for that matter) are dangerous!

Spam is dead? Yeah, so is PR, the press release, embargoes and anything else when someone wants to oversimplify an argument.

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August 14, 2008 Karen Swim

Shannon, thanks so much for this post. I am not a PR specialist but am often called upon by PR agents and clients to write the content. A better tool for SMR is great but from the non-specialist side, none of this takes the place of a well thought out plan that includes targeted distribution AND actually building & sustaining relationships with media professionals. I welcome the tool that will be the magic bullet but until that happens the tools for me remain a component of the overall plan.

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August 14, 2008 Jason Kintzler, PitchEngine

By the way, I never “promised” to end PR spam. That statement came from the headline of the Profy.com post in the linked article above.

In context, media who will be using PitchEngine will not receive PR spam- at least not in any traditional manner out there today.

Here’s a recent, well researched article that explains my intentions: Buzz Meter: PitchEngine

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August 14, 2008 Jeremy Pepper

Very well done – and great points that you bring to the forefront, in an industry that tends to not want to question or critically assess, but just embrace new tools.

My problem with PitchEngine – beyond my POV that the SMNR/SMR/SMPR is a POS – is the hyperbole. When I signed up, the email from Jason said “Welcome to the future of media relations!” – um, nope, that’s totally wrong and, well, part of the problem.

The SMR is not media relations, nor is it the future of media relations. Where in the SMR is there relationship building? It’s a tool to deliver information, and that is it. Does it do that? Meh.

Another point of contention is that I understand that Jason is building a company, but is the right way to build relationships to pitch the PitchEngine in every post about the death of PR? No – that is not relationship building, but that borders on comment spam.

There are issues in PR – but this is not the solution, but one tool that may be part of the solution. Targeted lists, relationships – those are solutions.

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August 15, 2008 Jason Baer

No question that a release is only as good as its distribution, even if it’s gold plated.

But what PitchEngine makes real is the opportunity for even the most Amish of PR practitioners to create their own, credible SMPR without getting a programmer involved.

To me, even if zero new features are added, that makes it a game changer.

Just finished a post outlining the impact PitchEngine could have:

“PitchEngine Takes the Mystery Out of Social Media Releases”

http://is.gd/Ste

Jason Baer
Convince & Convert – digital consulting for agencies
http://www.convinceandconvert.com

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August 15, 2008 Jeremy Pepper

@JasonBaer – And the value of SMPR is?

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August 15, 2008 shannonpaul

@Jeremy – Thanks so much! You and I share a lot of the same grief about some of these new tools being proposed as “solutions” because people like us have to actually answer for the overall success or failure of any outreach strategy. I also think you’re right to question the value of the SMPR. I think it has value (as I think you do, too), insofar as a part of the overall, to use your phrase, “BAM” mix (BAM = Bloggers, Analysts, Media).

@Jason – I think my point is that by helping somebody create something they cannot distribute properly, you really haven’t done them any favors. Also, this kind of half-step approach to publicity doesn’t help us appropriately counsel clients when the time is right to use these specific tools because they will have had bad experiences, or heard of others’ bad experiences, and will resist using them even when it makes the best sense.

Bad strategy at this point in the game — when a lot of tools are new, does everyone a disservice in the long run.

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August 17, 2008 Jason Kintzler

In closing, I appreciate your feedback and will take it to heart. There are hundreds of agencies and PR pros already using PitchEngine with extremely positive feedback so far. You’ll be seeing more in the media soon, so I hope they don’t offend you with their own claims.

Not every PR firm or brand has expert social media PR pros like you or Jeremy to go to. For those firms, PitchEngine offers a solution for building SMRs that didn’t exist previously.

It will be interesting to see where it goes Shannon, perhaps you can say you told me so in a few months.

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August 17, 2008 pprlisa

Shannon,

I wish I had read this BEFORE I posted a way too long post on Jeremiah’s blog, kind of along the same thinking. http://tinyurl.com/5klmjv.

I think you have a lot of very good and valid points and LOVE what Jeremy Pepper (for whom I have a lot of respect) says:

<>

Jeremiah – THATS what I was trying to say ;)

Thanks Shannon

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August 27, 2008 Jeremy Pepper

Thanks PPRLisa. :)

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