Flacks Blacked by Hack
The relationship between the world of journalism and public relations was turned on its head after Chris Anderson of Wired magazine blacklisted public relations officers who had sent him press releases which were not relevant. Tim Hoang reports on the fall out and the response from both sides.
Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine has decided to name and shame every PR officer who has pitched in a news story by email which was not relevant "because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching."
On his blog, The Long Tail, Anderson derides "lazy flacks", stating how others who send him "inappropriate" news releases will be "banned on first abuse".
"I’ve had it," says Anderson in his post entitled ‘SORRY PR PEOPLE: YOU’RE BLOCKED’. "I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam…it’s PR people."
After stating his intent, Anderson then posts the email addresses of 329 PR officers - making them aware that they have been added to his Outlook blocked list.
The list included staff working at some of the world’s leading PR firms, from Edelman to Weber Shandwick who were told that there would be no way of getting off the list, "If you’re on it and have something appropriate to say…use a different email address."
The post caused such a stir in the blogosphere that it prompted 383 readers to leave comments on the site. The immediate fall out was predictable: those working in the PR industry criticised Anderson for overreacting, labelling him "part of the problem instead of the solution," while fellow journalists sympathised with him.
Kevin Kelly, former Editor in Chief at Wired supported Anderson’s decision to name spammers. "Everyone in the world aims their spam guns at Wired and the volley is deafening. I encourage you to keep posting the culprits.
One commentator, known only as Wired Ad Reps was keen to point out that Wired itself was known for sending out its own spam and alleged that Anderson was being hypocritical by criticising PR spammers.
Anderson’s reaction to the comments was to adamantly refuse to remove the names of spammers in his original post as he didn’t want to "undo history." His follow-up post, ‘PR BLOCKAGE: THE AFTERMATH’ revealed that many of those listed had written to apologise (presumably by regular mail or from a different email address).
In an interview with PR blog, PRNewser Anderson reiterates that he has a great relationship with many people working in the PR industry and merely wants PR officers to research journalists before sending information to them. "The best way to "pitch me" (ugh) is to simply read what I write, on any of my blogs or side projects," said Anderson. "That’s an open book on what I’m interested in-I suspect that there are few editors who are as transparent in their activities and thought processes as I am, and it’s all out there in public for those who care to look."
Anderson finished off the post by again calling for the PR industry to take note. "Your job is PUBLIC F-ING RELATIONS. If you’re pissing off your public - which you are - it’s time to change your methods, and - oh, how can I put this - you need to learn to better "relate" to your "public," he said.
In an exclusive interview with NMK, Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ criticised the PR industry and highlighted overworked media staff as one of the main factors for spamming. "Too many PROs are overworked and denied the time to build strong relationships with journalists and so resort to a scattergun approach which is rarely effective and sometimes counter-productive," he said.
"In these days of multi, multi media - with bloggers, email lists, websites, and first person podcasts, it is more important than ever for PROs to place news about their clients in credible, independent places where potential customers can trust what they are reading."
"Those principles are even more important when newsrooms are increasingly short-staffed and journalists are facing increased workloads and are more accessible than ever to spammers."
But Dear also criticised Anderson’s decision to post the email address of the PR officers. "The relationship between journalists and PROs should be robust, creative and based on integrity and mutual-respect. They should be having conversations which encourage accurate and challenging reporting on both sides of an argument, leaving the consumer or citizen free to decide. I’m not sure this kind of naming and shaming does anything to help foster that kind of relationship."
Ann Mealor, deputy-general of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations agreed with Dear’s criticism of Anderson and sympathised with the PR officers in this case.
"There’s always the possibility that naming and shaming could damage relationships. In this case it could well put other PR professionals who have relevant information off getting in touch. Effective communications is all about audience, careful targeting of messages and building relationships over time. Mass distribution of releases has become less common as PR practice has developed its communication techniques and become increasingly professionalised, but misdirected communications can still happen."