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Is your PR firm embarrassing you?

Every blogger and reporter is flooded with bad, irrelevant PR pitches. It’s embarrassing to your company, it doesn’t work, and it burns bridges with journalists that you depend on for future good press.

David Segal in the NY Times breaks down how it happens – and how to fix it. (Full column here.)

Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam 

… some company hired a public relations firm to send … countless other reporters, the same information. This seemed like a waste of energy and money, so the Haggler decided to find out what was behind this antiquated attempt to win media attention — who was paying for it, and why?

The Haggler started by emailing the P.R. reps whose names were attached to these emails, posing a simple question: Where did you get the Haggler’s address? One answer came up time and again: Vocus. Among its products is access to a database of reporters’ email addresses.

So the Haggler decided to get in touch with Vocus and politely ask to be removed from the company’s system. This proved to be a challenge. First, the Haggler tried email. No response. Then a call was made to headquarters.

“May I speak to Rick Rudman?” quoth the Haggler.

“Who?” the receptionist answered.

“Rick Rudman. The C.E.O.”

“Just a moment,” she said. There was a long pause, and then the Haggler wound up in the telecommunication version of oblivion. After another failed attempt or two at an office call, the Haggler started phoning Vocus executives at home, around 8 p.m. But several had numbers that were no longer in service. It was as though these people knew that reporters would someday come looking for them, and they long ago took evasive measures.

Or so it seemed until one evening when the Haggler interrupted the dinner of You Mon Tsang, a senior vice president. Mr. Tsang sounded sincerely apologetic and promised to delete the Haggler from the Vocus database. Within 48 hours, the onslaught of P.R. spam had all but ceased. It was a happy, happy day.

If you’re a company paying a PR firm, make sure they aren’t spamming reporters in your name. The reporter tracked down a typical case, talking to the client of a spammy PR firm:

It was news to him that his company’s public relations firm, Avalon Communications, was spending any part of [his] $1,500-a-month retainer on spam email. And it was news he didn’t like.

“I’m happy to get this call,” he said. “We don’t know what Avalon does on a day-to-day basis. They just send us a bimonthly report, detailing what they have been able to do for our company.”

The Haggler wanted to ask Avalon Communications, which is based in Austin, Tex., but the company did not respond to a phone call, an email or a Facebook message. Ironic, given that it specializes in communicating.

If you’re on the receiving end of this spam, here’s how to fix it:

The Haggler suggests that any company now spending money on P.R. spam demand a better strategy. In the meantime, there is no reason that other reporters can’t do what the Haggler did: Write to the most prominent database collectors and ask to be deleted. Below is a one-paragraph, get-out-of-P.R.-spam kit.

Just send a short, polite “please delete me” note to jholley@vocus.com at Vocus; Kevin.Miller@cision.com at Cision; Caitlin.Carragee@prnewswire.com at PRNewswire; blee@marketwired.com at Marketwired; and Raschanda.Hall@businesswire.com at Business Wire.

P.S. If your PR has to buy email addresses of reporters — they suck. Just plain suck. The reason — the only reason — you hire a PR firm is because they already have deep, trusting relationships with reporters, and they can introduce you with credibility. If they don’t have that, just call the reporter yourself — you’ll do better.

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