I read an interesting post from Bruce Sterling of Wired today about how public relations people annoy him, especially with regard to his blog. He illustrates a specific example of a post he made recently about Internet connectivity going down around the world and a pitch he received because of it. He posts the e-mail, verbatim, including contact information.
If you are not familiar with public relations pitching, the basic concept is conveying to a journalists, blogger, etc., news from your company or client in the hope that he or she will write about it. If you follow these sorts of things, you may remember the waves Wired’s editor Chris Anderson made in October when he publicly blacklisted the e-mail domain names of certain companies and PR agencies he said were spamming him with unsolicited pitches. The ensuing uproar flooded onto his comments section and other blogs, showing that it’s clear this is a big problem.
This topic interests me because it shows how social media have changed the way we communicate. In 1985, you might mail press kits, fax news releases and call journalists to follow up on company news you sent.
You might say, “Hello, Bruce, I just wanted to tell you about some developments…”
“Say no more, I’m on deadline. I’m not interested.” Bruce hangs up phone, turns to the guy across the room. “Man, you wouldn’t believe…”
Today, however, if a pitch is sufficiently infuriating or off-topic, a PR person might get the kind of promotion he or she has no interest in getting: Posted to Bad Pitch Blog. It’s not just PR people who have something to fear from making a mistake, though. Imagine being the TV reporter who got attacked by a cat. Journalists also face pitfalls when covering breaking news. Take the Virginia Tech shootings where media outside the area turned to social networking sites and blogs for sources. What if the source you talk with isn’t who he or she says she is? Or what if you look insensitive amidst tragedy?
The only solution is to do your research. Know the tools people use to communicate. Know the people you’re trying to communicate with. In the social media world, connections are created not by pitches but by reaching out and creating conversation. Rather than flying by and dropping pitches (or requests for sources!) from 10,000 feet, dig deeper. It’s not always the case, but if you’re going to pitch a blogger like Bruce Sterling once, you’ll probably need to pitch him again another time, so why not start out with an introduction? Why not ask him about what his interests are and what really annoys him?
In the end, though, there’s probably always the risk of a misstep. Last year I looked hard for a Christmas present for my sister. I found a book I thought she’d enjoy. Well, Christmas came and I decided to hold onto it for later. Late last year I dug the book up to give to her, but when I read through it I was shocked to realize she would hate it. So, rather than give her a bummer gift, I bought her a record from a band she had been raving about for weeks.