The debate within the PR community rages on around Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson's public decision a few weeks ago to ban dozens of PR folks from his email after they spammed him with what he called stupid or irrelevant story ideas (Anderson is author of The Long Tail) What made this different was he did it publicly--"Sorry PR People You're Blocked" , so now they can't pitch him anything--at least from a specific email address. After blasting the "lazy flacks", he offered a clarification Nov. 1, saying he wasn't blocking entire domains, just individuals--presumably sloppy PR people who blast out aimless emails, he says. Chris' "outing" of the villainous PR types has caused an outcry in the PR community. I heard it again last week at an SVAMA conference in San Jose, and he's received hundreds of comments, many of them screaming foul--ironically, creating publicity for himself (see my comment to the original post below).
What's really interesting is that despite all the hype and hoopla about the new "age of the conversation," the PR model hasn't really changed since I was writing for BusinessWeek over 15 years ago.
Companies, as one commenter pointed out, want big name editors/pubs on their media list. It makes them feel better, even if your chances are slim of getting any ink. Overloaded agencies assign junior account people to the account and loosely supervise them. Junior PR person doesn't do his homework--why read the magazine anyhow?-- and sends out press releases and memos pumping up their client's product or business.
The editor could be toying around with five or six story ideas, and open to others--but it takes some work figuring that out (reading the last few articles, seeing what he's blogging about, what his rivals are writing about, exploring trends in his industry and subject matter). Why do all this when you can blast him with a bunch of press releases?
You have to wonder, after all these years, and so many smart people in this profession, why it still goes on? Perhaps, because: a) Corporate client pays the bill and doesn't ask questions. b) the industry still has an abundance of young, ambitious but inexperienced people c) it does work perhaps 1% of the time (this is the lottery approach). Take your guess, but it's probably a mixture of all three.
Clearly the industry needs to come up with a new model, and there is some movement in the right direction. One idea is to quit pitching editors like Anderson, who claims to get 300 emails a day, and work with the client to create something of value. This might be a new website or blog with a collection of interesting and worthy materials on a given subject. You could invite guest columnists or bloggers and build up a central platform on your subject. The technology is all there, and today companies can just as easily be publishers as the Wireds of the world. Then you have something you can pitch to the editors--information that might actually help them do their job. This is just one idea, but the point is to move beyond the old "dialing for dollars" model and do something of value, for the client and the editor. Get creative.
Longer term, technology and editors like Anderson will go a long way toward weeding this out. But don't expect it to be solved quickly. Meanwhile the cat and mouse game continues. This time the cat struck back.
My comment to the original post: