How to Stop PR Spam

The writing of this post was accelerated by today’s launch of An Inconvenient PR Truth, a marketing campaign from RealWire with its own clever take on the PR spam situation.  It’s easy on the eyes, cleverly tied in with RealWire’s colours and even comes with its own journalists’ Bill of Rights

But of course, it’s just a nice idea.  If the problem of PR spam could be solved by education alone then God knows there are enough training courses and articles out there for it to have disappeared a long time ago.

I think there may be a better solution out there…

From what I can make out, the general pattern of these things runs as follows:

1. PRs send out their release about Russel Grant’s Mothers Day Gift Guide.

2. It lands in a respectable journalist’s inbox- the 20th in a row on deadline day.

3. Said journalist blogs or tweets, analysing the experience and giving insight into their side of the issue.

4. PRs take the advice on board, adapt their habits and we all live happily ever after.

The Big Problem

Okay, this is where it falls apart- number 4 obviously isn’t that simple.

I’ve read those articles. You’ve read those articles.  We all understand the importance of knowing your press.  But we’re the good guys. It’s not us that goes to address book, hits select all and fires off the news about the Superbowl party at The Chicago Rib Shack.

The guys who are doing this don’t read those blog posts.  They don’t follow the journalist on Twitter. They don’t read the publication they’re pitching.

As a result, the posts keep coming, the journalists keep getting more frustrated and the good PRs start to tire of reading the  same advice ad infinitum.

So I think we need to look at this differently.

The Big Idea

Take a deep breath, we’re nearly there.

Really, I see two options:

1. Spend years working on institutional reform with initiatives like An Inconvenient PR Truth,

2. Every time a journalist receives PR spam, they send a reply asking to be removed from the list.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Journalists are busy people and can’t/ shouldn’t have to spend all day responding to inaccurate press releases.

But what if you could tag PR spam right from your inbox with the system sending automatic responses to each incorrect query?  Perhaps it  could even bounce them a full bio of what you *do* cover for future reference.

Whether it be an Outlook plugin, something built into (the amazing, check it out) Xobni or just clever Outlook macros, I’m sure it can’t be a hard system to put together, it’d just be a matter of getting it institutionalised.

The Big Why

  • It’s the minimum disruption to journalists’ time. Right Click + Tag takes no longer than Right Click + Delete.
  • It sends a clear, unavoidable message to bad PRs each time it happens.  If they spam 200 addresses and get 180 bouncebacks each time, they might adjust their behaviour.
  • It doesn’t penalise the good PRs- it even improves their understanding of the publication for the future.

Your Big Thoughts?

Education isn’t reaching the people who need it- without some kind of direct response system, I can’t see things changing.  Could a system like this be our best hope for the future?

If you’re a PR sick and tired of watching this debate go round in circles or a journalist desperate for respite, I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

UPDATE: Lots of talk about the “Inconvenient PR Truth” campaign – see the following:

+Max Tatton-Brown

- Max Tatton-Brown

January 28th, 2010