In his recent “Hocus Vocus” post on The Flack, Peter Himler suggested that companies like Vocus contribute to the PR spam. He only singled Vocus out because The New York Times‘Saul Hansell called the company out as a “prime purveyor of pr spam” on a Media Relations Summit panel Peter moderated. In the post, Peter says, “Pure and simple: the automation of media outreach leads to PR spam.” I agree to a certain extent that technology can be an enabler of PR spam. This would include all the major newswires and media database providers (including Bulldog Reporter, who hosted the Media Relations Summit).
I think this also includes companies like MatchPoint, a Vocus competitor co-developed by Himler, which he discloses in his post. According to Himler, MatchPoint enables PR professionals to find editorially appropriate journalists or bloggers for their story queries. I’m not picking on MatchPoint. I actually like its approach, anti-PR spam positioning, and I think it’s a big step in the right direction for media relations tools. At the same time, it is another attempt to automate media relations processes. Lazy PR people will abuse the system and simply target anyone suggested as a good contact.
MatchPoint is still young and its results aren’t quite there yet in many categories (for example, if you want to find contacts that write about “media relations”, reporters covering “media storage” would appear high on the list). Keyword matching does not solve the problem of PR spam. I’m sure there are dozens of searches that produce great results and I’m excited to see how MatchPoint evolves as a solution. But, it’s still another tool to help PR pros target media, versus a true solution to the PR spam problem (reduce or eliminate off-topic pitches altogether). Any of these services should only be used as a starting point. Artificial intelligence should not replace real intelligence.
I don’t think you can blame service providers for the PR spam problem, just as you shouldn’t blame a hammer for crooked nails. The blame rests with the carpenter. The problem isn’t how easy these companies make it to search for and find journalist (or blogger) contact information, or how frequently this information is incorrect, but rather the laziness that results from trusting these tools over good old-fashioned legwork. If you trust the list and you don’t verify that the contacts you’re pitching actually write about your topic before you click “send”, you’re a spammer. Plain and simple.
Sending off-topic pitches to journalists without doing your legwork is PR spam and it’s the sender who is responsible, not the technology or medium. If this were the case, we should also blame phone companies, ISPs, FedEx, Yellow Page publishers, and every conference organizer that shares a pre-registered media list with a PR person. All of them contribute to PR spam, but they are not the root cause.
I get the point though. I have started to receive pitches on this blog that have nothing to do with what I’m writing about. I completely understand where Peter is coming from and I give him credit for drawing more attention to this issue. While I may have my own issues with the accuracy of data found in mainstream media databases (and the prices of these services), or how some vendors try to solve the problem, I can’t blame these organizations for the PR spam problem. If these solutions didn’t exist, PR spammers would find another way to get your information and send you stuff.