PR Etiquette

Darcy O'Neil :: February 11, 2009 7:36 AM

Public Relations (PR) is something that almost every company on the planet invests in. Some companies do it in house and other hire a firm that specializes in getting “the word” out. Like anything, there are great PR agencies and there are some bad ones. The bad ones aren’t necessarily trying to be annoying, but their style of creativity can be abrasive. When you match this up with the blogger type publisher, you can get create some friction.

First, before I start, I want to highlight the fact that there are some companies that do great PR work, from a bloggers perspective. Brown & Forman, Jesson Artmont and Ogilvy PR are three that come to mind. These companies work with me, and provide tangible topics and information for me to write about. It is one thing to send a press release highlighting a new product, it is another thing entirely to bring you to an event, meet the people who make the product, and throw in some entertainment to boot. As a blogger this is gold, and for the PR company it’s a bull’s eye, because it makes for interesting reading, and the more interesting the articles, the more likely the readers will pay attention.

Blogs are about experiences, not the news. People read blogs to learn and share the experiences of creating a new recipe, making a historical discovery, or enjoying a social experience. The readers want to feel a connection or learn something, and a compelling story makes it easier. Compelling stories come from first hand experience, not a press release, and good PR companies realize this.

Now, there are bad PR companies, and they generally raise the ire of bloggers. Here is a short list of things bad PR companies do:

Comment Spam: Extremely annoying. The reason for the irritation is that agencies that do this are treating the site like their own person property. I don’t go spray painting my website address on their office building, so they shouldn’t post unrelated, non-participatory comments on my site. Basically, a lack of respect is implied when they do this. It also wastes my time trying to pluck these useless comments out. The reality is that most blog readers don’t care about paid opinions, they get that in regular media, and that’s why they read blogs, ‘cause our opinions are just that, opinions. 

Cloaked Spamming: Even more annoying than comment spam. This method has the bad PR droids pretending to be genuinely interested readers who post comments, that look like a real comments, but are deviously crafted to promote their product. This is really poor etiquette, and shows an absolute level of disrespect for the author of the site, because it is premeditated deception. Like really, is your company that frikin’ cheap that you can’t buy ad space or send out samples? Plus, you shouldn’t really model your marketing strategy after those employed by the porn and male enhancement industries.

Both types of spam are additionally irritating because it forces bloggers to apply never ending layers of security and spam control software to avoid our sites being filled with unrelated promotional crap. The cloaked spam is really a pain, because it takes manual effort to strain these comments out. That’s time I could spend writing another article, but instead I’m dealing with prepubescent marketing types.

eMail: I don’t mind having press releases sent to me. I like knowing what’s new in the spirit industry. But, stop sending me “pre-made” stories, poorly made cocktails and outlandish hype. My readers want to hear from me, or those I designate as acceptable contributors, not biased PR material. I don’t want your story, I want your properly created press release. I don’t mind if you include a cocktail recipe or two, but don’t overhype them and make sure they’re relevant to my readership. If it contains Red Bull, Everclear, pink cream liqueurs, excessive sweetness or any other “gunk”, my readers don’t care, unless of course I write an article chastizing it, then the comments go through the roof. Good for me, not so good for you.

Also, it is nice if you get my name right, don’t call me Chuck or Darryl, fine names, but not mine. Additionally, I’m male as per my bio. Even though almost everyone thinks I’m a girl, then I show up and ruin their dreams of a hot, smart, talented bartender. Morgenthaler, Duff, I’m looking in your direction. Adding Miss to my name is forgivable, calling me Jamie Boudreau is not.

The reason blogs exploded as the “new media” was because they are highly focussed. Blogs seem to exist in little communities of foodies, nerds, jocks and drunks cocktail appreciators. They even subdivide further, which means as a PR company, if you want to be effective, you need to observe and learn what we do. We’ll be happy to work with you, and tell you what our readers like. It makes no sense for us to write about stuff that our core viewers have no interest in. Basically, stop promoting like a shot gun and start promoting like a rifle.

Bad PR agencies also need to realize that they get paid to promote a product and most bloggers don’t make enough to cover the cost of hosting their site, and stocking their bar. Those of us that do make some money, have paying companies that support our sites, either through ads or hosting events for first hand experiences, and since they are paying, giving free “ad space” to PR leaches is counter intuitive. It irritates the supportive companies and lowers the value of my site. This in turn kills readership, since nobody wants to read spam or off-topic content.

All of this means that PR companies should make an effort to work with us. We need interesting products to make our sites interesting. Bloggers aren’t inherently anti-establishment, but we do things differently than traditional media. We are also protective of our efforts, so don’t piss all over them.

When I write, I try to convey to my readers what makes a product fun, interesting, new, exciting and most of all why it is worth spending their time or money on it. If an unannounced PR company just sends me a list of unimaginative cocktails, attached to their nondescript products, what makes it exciting for my readers? Think about that. If you’ve worked with me before, or at least opened up a dialogue, I’m much more likely to read your PR and put some effort into in getting it on the site.

Tip: Give us the product and ask us what we’d make, because that’s what we actually do, and we are probably better at it than you.

Hopefully some agencies will read this and get a better understanding of what they need to do to befriend us. Sadly, and ironically, most bad PR firms don’t actually read these sites, so they’ll continue doing everything that is irritating. For the good PR types, thanks for giving me good topics to write about.


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