PR Roundtable Discussion: Outing Bad PR

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I hope you all have been enjoying this week of PR conversation with respectable bloggers and Public Relations folks. This is a tricky area where real progress has to be made to try to bridge the gap between the two sides. Often, PR sees social media as a quick, cheap, expendable method of promotion while bloggers view PR in light of horribly misfired pitches.

We continue the conversation today with our panelists.

Is “outing” a wayward PR agency or individual an effective way of dealing with the problem of misfired pitches?

Brian SolisBrian Solis: Quite honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often as it has been a serious problem for decades.

Chris Anderson’s post sent a jolt that reverberated throughout the entire industry. It was a painful reminder that complacency and spam do not belong in PR.

There are also several blogs dedicated to exposing spectacularly horrible moments in PR as well as exposing bad pitches and the people behind them ““ and they’re gaining in popularity.

The game of PR has largely been enjoyed the comfort of existing behind-the-scenes and this exposure and public ridicule is forcing PR out of its comfort zone, which at the end of the day will only make PR stronger and more effective.

Now whether or not running the names and email addresses on the Web was a good thing, however, is complicated to assess as there are many factors and ramifications for doing so.

On one hand, it scared the sh!t out of everyone and brought much needed attention to the need to improve things in PR. On the other hand, it starts to raise privacy issues and taboos that can lead down a scary path affecting everyone involved in the business of public relations and media publishing. And, all of these conversations at the moment are only addressing the symptoms of much bigger problems that face PR, including unrealistic metrics and a complete misunderstanding of how PR really works by clients and corporate execs.

Exposing names and contact information is a steep penalty to pay and quite honestly, it’s somewhat irresponsible. There are other ways to get the same result and impact without forcing individuals to publicly pay the price for the ills of entire industry. Note, my only reservation here is names versus contact information. Running names is a leap, but I can support it. Running contact information crosses the line.

I think that “some” lazy flacks have learned their lesson and many more have been alerted to the fact that they are the epitome of what’s wrong with PR.

Very few PR “Pros” are out there building relationships with the public or people. Most don’t bother to spend the time to really learn about what they represent, why it matters, and how it’s different than everything else out there. And, without that understanding how can anyone realistically believe that influential reporters and bloggers are going to pay attention to their generic pitch?

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: Only as a last resort after trying to deal with them directly. If they’re unresponsive and refuse to show any courtesy or respect for the value I place on my time I suppose I might call them out publicly.

Frankly, I’ve never had to consider this sort of doomsday scenario. I think a unilateral “outing” with no prior attempt at achieving a more diplomatic resolution is unprofessional and ill-tempered.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: I don’t know yet, it’s only been a few weeks since I first tried it. To be honest, it’s such a huge problem that I don’t know if my experience in calling out specific people was worth the cost it incurred in hurt feelings. I don’t think I would do it again and I’ve apologized personally to all of the wayward airheads (I kid!) that I called out a while ago on my blog.

Cathryn Hrudika: I know that “outing” incidents have happened recently, and I suppose one can see pros and cons. On the one hand, if a large PR firm is “outed” that has been notoriously slow to get the message, or a particularly egotistical and seemingly lazy PR practitioner, there is a tendency for some people in the industry to feel smug and think it has done some Cathryn Hrudikagood, even if someone suffers public embarrassment or a reputation is damaged. In one sense, this seems to reflect the current mindset of a society where tabloid stories pass as news, and potentially damaging, confrontational accusations pass as “therapeutic confrontation.”

Personally, it’s not my style. I prefer honest, open discussions, like the constructive one we’ve been having on this PR Roundtable, where real information is exchanged as well as individual opinions. If someone, an individual or a PR firm, needs to be confronted, then I think it should be done with a certain amount of civility and respect, or else, in private. Some of the recent cases we’ve seen smack of mere ego gratification by the “outer,” rather than serving any real constructive or educational purpose. If an individual blogger or editor felt that he or she needed to confront an errant PR professional, surely it could have been done respectfully on a one-to-one basis, or in pitch guidelines that could have been posted on their blog or web site and also delivered to the agency in question. The only positive result might be that a few of these “outing” episodes did set off a much needed discussion about how we need to update and improve public relations practices, and what next steps should be taken. After all, if we are attempting to model the ongoing conversation, rather than the spam pitch, then let’s also model it in the way we handle an errant-or perhaps uninformed-practitioner.

It would seem preferable for PR industry trade associations to take a more proactive and progressive role in training their members adequately in newer public relations and social media techniques. Most of the effective re-education and discussion I’ve seen has been in nontraditional organizations that were created in the past few years by a small number of progressive PR and marketing professionals, such as the Social Media Club-not in the more traditional trade organizations. This training and mentoring should also occur in college and university programs in marketing, communications and public relations, so that younger PR professionals entering the field receive the most up-to-date guidance in the ever-evolving changes that are occurring in our industry.

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: Is it effective? Yes. No PR person wants to see their name on a “bad pitch” list and would do anything not to be publicly ridiculed. I have no problem with outing in that sense, though I wouldn’t necessarily take part in that sort of behavior unless severely provoked. What Chris Anderson did in his Long Tail blog– publishing the email addresses of 300 bad pitchers — is a real price PR people must pay, whether fair or not. The best answer to a “bad pitch” complaint is to send a good one– it’s worked for me.

The final segment of this roundtable is tomorrow. The panel will wrap up address with some takeaways for the industries they are in. Hopefully someone takes away some wisdom from these folks who are in the trenches of the industry.

Comments

  1. says

    There is one major repercussion of outing that most outers don’t consider: The affect on their own personal brand.

    Regardless of effectiveness (and it did seem to get results), I think Andersen lost a couple of brand equity points inside the echo chamber on this one. Many people found his approach to be Draconian, and the comments section reveals many, many readers — BTW, not listed in the post — who were disappointed by Chris’s actions.

  2. says

    Geoff, I agree– Chris did take a hit. It may be that he just doesn’t care, I don’t know. I would argue that the personal brand hit reflects on the Wired Magazine brand as well. Not smart, but a decision he took on himself, that still has the same effect on the PR “spammers.”

  3. says

    Hi -
    I am an Editor for an online Magazine now, but in the past worked in the PR profession. The important thing from a PR perspective was getting your story placed — and that happened when you provided valuable material with the least amount of spin possible. So, that’s what I look for when PR folks contact me. Sure, I get SPAM.. what’s new? That’s why I have SPAM blockers, and since Chris made a point that he had them too — what else is needed? Every spam blocked PR agent is an ineffective PR agent. Period. End of story. -30-

    Yours, Scott