I recently received an email from a company called Pitchbox. My inbox is full of sales pitches from various PR vendors, but I always strive to stay on the cutting edge of the industry, so I did some research to find out what they’re all about.
Pitchbox has positioned itself as influencer outreach and content marketing program that, according to their website, “automates the grunt work” of pitching. It’s a platform that replaces true personalization with automated personalization fields, allowing PR representatives to easily pitch dozens of journalists and influencers in a sitting. And here’s the kicker – the program doesn’t stop after the initial message; it allows users to set up automated follow up messages to all recipients who don’t respond within a certain period of time, as demonstrated in their tutorial video.
I’m sure many in the industry see this as a viable tool for increasing pitch volume and efficiency, but to me this is a glaring representation of what’s wrong with the PR industry.
Pitchbox and PR automation tools like it are essentially spamming machines that help PR people do many of the things that journalists hate, from following up too soon to pitching without doing a shred of research. It solidifies the reasons why journalists can’t stand a significant portion of PR people. Instead of taking the time to get to know each reporter, too many flacks litter media professionals’ inboxes with lazy, boring and often irrelevant pitches. In fact, many of the journalists I talk to find the whole gambit quite insulting.
Take this blog post from Miranda Marquit for example. Miranda is a freelance writer who contributes to a number of high-profile outlets like US News and World Report and The Huffington Post. So naturally, she’s routinely bombarded with aggressive pitches from PR people by email, LinkedIn messages and Twitter DM’s. “It’s hard to feel the love for PR people when it feels more like they are stalking you than anything else,” she says. “I know PR people are busy, and they have email blasting to do, but a little tailoring can go a long way in some cases.”
What she and other writers can appreciate, however, are the PR people who build a beneficial relationship and provide useful ideas and information. “There are PR people I feel comfortable with. They have usually either met me offline (perhaps at a conference), or they have provided me with useful information in the past,” she says. “These are people I can notify when I have needs, and they can let me know if one of their clients fits the bill.”
The way I see it, there two types of PR people: list builders and relationship builders. List builders play a numbers game. They think the more people they send their generic pitches to, the more likely they are to secure a placement. To list builders, PR automation software is a useful tool that allows them to pitch more journalists in less time.
Relationship builders, on the other hand, strive to provide value to reporters. We know who they are and what they cover before ever drafting an email pitch. We don’t copy and paste canned pitches; we customize our angles to resonate with each reporter and their audiences. The reporters we pitch are more than names on a spreadsheet; they’re actual people with unique backgrounds, personalities and careers.
Nobody likes list builders – they are the manual version of PR automation. List builders are most often inexperienced, low-wage PR representatives who are programed by management to conduct PR in a spammy, robotic style. In those situations, which are quite common in the industry, the fault lies on management and leadership. Journalists deserve better, and so do young PR professionals. In the end, this trend hurts everyone in our industry, including the relationship builders who have to work extra hard to shed the negative stereotypes propagated by PR automation and list builders.
Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, a national public relations agency supporting the communications needs of registered investment advisors (RIAs) and other forward-thinking financial services firms. Learn more at www.flackable.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianHartPR.