Blogger Blacklist (and Other PR Pipe Dreams)

Remember the blogger-PR fiasco last year? The one where Wired Editor Chris Anderson published a list of over 300 email addresses from PR flacks that pitched him unsolicited? It caused quite a stir. In fact, around here, it got the PR Roundtable going where Marshall Kirkpatrick, Cathryn Hrudicka, Brian Solis, Doug Haslam and the late Marc Orchant discussed the quandry of PR relations with bloggers. Yes, that incident.

Well, it’s happened again. This time, the “outage” has occurred on a publicly editable wiki and lists PR Firms.

It’s caused quite a stir.

The story, in a nutshell is that Gina Trapani, lead editor of Lifehacker got tired of being spammed by PR agencies send press releases and pitches to her personal email address, despite notices “everywhere” to pitch tips@lifehacker.com. So she published a wiki with agencies that have pitched her personal email address (later made it editable only with attribution) and provided details on how to filter that list through Gmail filtering.

The topic has now been floated by some in the PR industry who have their panties in a bunch over this thing, that a blacklist be created for bloggers. I’ve avoided the whole controversy until last night when Geoff’s lunatical rant pushed me over the edge.

In those comments, I welcome the concept of a blogger blacklist. In fact, I want to be at the top of that list. See, it’s not that I don’t want to be pitched. I do. But pitching should come from some sort of rapport or relationship, not simply because of social ranking in the blogosphere. Even if the criteria were based on status in a particular niche of the blogosphere that was relevant to the pitch, that would be much more palatable than cold call spamming in the name of public frikkin’ relations.

Please put me on this blacklist. In fact, can I start it for you? Done.

I hope and pray this keeps the riff raff out of my inbox. Riff raff includes PR professionals or agencies who have not taken the time to understand us as bloggers. They don’t take the time to read our blogs. To know our audience. They leave voicemails about super secret meetings associated with events that we’re not registered for in cities that we aren’t in. They send us form letters addressing us as Site Owner. They don’t pay attention to how we want to be pitched.

See the PR agencies and professionals that can pitch me any day of the week know me or have some kind of professional rapport with me. They don’t need a blacklist. They wouldn’t even know I was on the blacklist. They don’t need to.

Is this too much work? Maybe. Should PR people care? Probably. I mean, really… If you’re spitballing top tier bloggers hoping to get the vehicle for the message, then you probably don’t want to include those top-tier bloggers, the biggest complainers, the most vocal advocates for change, in that list.

Some bloggers, like myself, will put our own names on that list.

Putting away all the foofoo, let’s think about some practical solutions to this problem. I think it’s high time that the PR community finance the creation and support of a third party broker that would maintain the authenticity, privacy, trust and relationship with the blogging comunity. I’m talking about an OpenID sort of trust-based system that includes the trust-relationship management as well as a CRM tool/plugin-in for sending communications in a standardized way. This tool would provide the recipient a means of “opt out” as well as trust-based ratings, reviews, advocacy and management.

PR Agency A sends me a press release via the system. I approve and can either create positive feedback or abstain (neutral feedback). If Agency B pitches and I don’t want it, I provide a negative feedback item that stays on an Agency’s permanent record.

I will gladly work with PR firms to create this tool. I think it’s essential for the healthy relationship between bloggers who legitimately want or need to be pitched and PR professionals who need to make a living and want to do it in a constructive, productive, ethical and moral way.

In the meantime, this stuff is not going to end soon. Agencies need to recognize that. Jeremy Pepper rightly points out that training is not happening. Spitball pitches or pitches in a way non-conducive to blogger cooperation (Gina’s issue) will not help.

As much as I’m a blogger, I have a degree of communications savviness too. We all want this to work well. Let’s create the tools to do it.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

8 thoughts on “Blogger Blacklist (and Other PR Pipe Dreams)”

  1. Who is the lunatic? The PR person or the crying blogger who achieves fame and is approached by many? Like my post says I don’t feel bad for you, Aaron. And I see this and many acts like Tripani’s and Anderson’s as a joke.

    Worst part for you is that while you think you may achieve success you will still be pitched. The ones that work are distinguished by creativity and research, and relationships. But you’ll still get all the bad ones. Especially now that you’ve become a media company.

    With the good comes the bad. Get over it.

  2. And we’ll stop caring when you cry. Then who will be worse off? The one who has to suffer for all of the press releases.

    Rather than throw mud, find an answer. Your original solution of PR agency’s having a manadatory, senior open contact for media relations was the right one. I will also tell you, a lot of this has to do with insane pressure from clients and marketing VPs. We need to look at systematic failures of marketing’s understanding about getting earned media.

  3. My original idea is fraught with problems. Such as Agency A creating a fictional Senior level manager, or an inbox no one checks because no one cares, etc. We need a third-party for a trust-based solution that is acceptable to both sides. My first idea has no accountability. I provided an answer and I’m throwing mud. I can have my cake and eat it too. ;-)

    Geoff, bottom line is I don’t think it makes a difference if we cry or not. PR needs us. End of story. We can make the rules unilaterally or we can make the rules with your input. Either way, we make the rules.

  4. Tools and plug-ins will not solve any issues with PR spam – You can’t automate a relationship. Negative feedback on a boring story doesn’t mean the next story won’t be of interest.

    How about being more using a little caution when posting contact information? I mean, I have multiple email addresses, but my personal ones stay personal because I don’t throw them out to everyone. Recommending another email is difficult after the fact.

    All in all, I think we should know what we’re pitching and who we’re pitching to. Bloggers are as unique as journalists in specific trades, you can’t blanket them all as if they are.

  5. Until recently I haven’t been pitched all that often by PR firms but now I am seeing an influx of messages to my inbox.

    I guess what bugs me most about all of this is that I get pitched a lot of web videos that these companies want me to put on my site but what am I supposed to get out of it? The other day I got a pitch from a PR firm to show a comedy video of Mo Rocca (formerly) of the Daily Show giving his wacky take on banking.

    What do I get by posting the video for them? If they want to show it on my blog that bad why not toss me a couple of hundred bucks for ad placement? Of course they won’t pay for it.

    What do I get about helping spread the word about their video? Content? Uh… I don’t think I need it.

    I guess what I want to know is what is in it for me?

  6. I don’t know about that, Aaron. The WSJs or TechCrunches, yes. But I think individual players that don’t lead their market, not so much. I mean, I need you because you are my buddy and friend, but I avoid certain thorny bloggers because I see them as more of a pain than a benefactor,and we seem to do just fine.

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