by Ed Zitron
In a world where you're not somebody unless someone else is writing about you on the internet, especially in the scary world of startups and tech, there's a horrific desperation lingering in the air. Be it a PR person or a founder or a dog that's got an app, reporters are being harassed digitally and physically. That's not an over-dramatization - even the most low-level reporter at a tech blog of any notoriety is added to a giant database and has e-dogshit sent to them hundreds of words at a time. I've heard everything from 50 unsolicited emails to as many as 10,000 a day (from a national talk show executive producer). You don't even have to work somewhere to get pitched.
Here's a good example. Fruzsina Eördögh is a freelance reporter. She does accept pitches. Just not ones about iPhones. She's even kind enough to tell people who pitch her the wrong thing - instead of ignoring them - that they're sending the wrong thing! How nice. Except they sometimes don't care.
and in other email, PR pitches now, I keep telling Alex I don't do iPhones & he keeps pitching me iPhone shit. How do I make him stop?— Fruzsina Eördögh (@FruzsE) September 11, 2014
he's been pitching me since December 2013, 20 emails from him now...— Fruzsina Eördögh (@FruzsE) September 11, 2014
In short: Guy emails reporter. Reporter says "no thank you, this is not what I want." Guy does not stop. Ever.
So What The Hell Is Happening?
If you don't know about PR people and those that pitch (IE: email reporters to get things written about), then you should know that this is very common.
This happens for a number of reasons:
- Person in question is, as in this case, simply hitting 'send' on a blast to 20-200 people.
- Person is using the "no means yes" methodology - simple force is what is required to get a thing done. Just keep on keeping on, like when you hear a story from an old man that he asked out his wife 40 times before she said yes, and then they got married twelve days after their first date.
- Person works for PR agency and is being told to hit send by boss who is, for all intents and purposes, too stupid and/or evil to know that this is a despicable process.
I don't think anyone has said this yet so I'll do it: It is basically harassment to repeatedly send unpersonalized, cold emails to people. For my job I do (all the time in fact) send emails to people I don't know. I do the best I can to write it in short and, seriously, if they say they don't cover something or not to email again I will avoid them forever.
If you are mail-merging and not stopping, you are harassing people. If you are not stopping when they ask you're a huge, repugnant asshole. And if you know that reporters hate mail merging and still do it, you're human garbage.
This is of course ignoring the vacuous, incessantly stupid "discussion" of whether you should cold-call reporters. I wrote about this a while ago, basically saying "hey, don't call reporters cold. None of them like it." I can't remember who, but a PR person started attacking me for being "wrong," and then at an LA Times event a reporter said they wanted phone calls. Naturally he weighed in by rambling at me about that.
There's a consistent feeling within the PR industry that it's just okay to literally harass someone. If you called someone repeatedly on the phone for anything outside of a professional environment they could actually call the police. There are reporters who literally don't pick up the phone because it's probably some dickhead PR person cold-calling them.
Not to skewer PRNewser, who I actually like, but they aided and abetted this last year by saying it's "still one of the most important tools in a flack's arsenal." I haven't cold-called someone in over four years, and I've never done it during my agency's existence.
Cold calling is stupid and wrong. Nobody wants to hear from you. If it's someone you are connected to, know well, well, even then you probably shouldn't do it anyway. Unless you know them REALLY well. Then you probably shouldn't.
It Gets Worse
If you're a particularly popular reporter, you might even be lucky enough to get your personal space invaded. This week a reporter for a popular tech blog was stopped in their apartment elevator and had someone ramble a pitch off at them. I was told off-hand that TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington had someone appear at his house to pitch him.
Sometimes it's more indirect but just as offensive - condescending horse-shit that says "Oh, I don't respect you. Write about my company."
Someone pitching me a hardware IoT device: "it's so easy even women can do it."— Selena Larson (@selenalarson) September 10, 2014
There're some who will say "oh the dude was just stupid," but come on. This isn't just your usual "well, I'm a dumb man." This is startup dissonance - a desperation to be framed in the glorious light of the Facebooks and Snapchats of the world that are "just that simple."
How Is This Going On?
From what I understand it's because the culture is such that nobody wants to be the bad egg that says "this guy is a huge creep" or "this person won't stop spamming me." The reasoning is anywhere from "they might sue me" to "I'm scared of what they'll do," and it makes no sense.
There's little or no accountability. Agencies don't stop their people from doing it even when they're asked to. Reporters don't have the time (nor the malice) to directly say "X agency blows."
Even I'm marginally afraid to out people - partly because I don't want to fuck up someone's career permanently because they decided to mail merge. Nor do I want to deal with the no-doubt bullshit of probably getting a lawsuit.
I'd say seven out of the top 10 agencies I know for a fact do some really, really mediocre work. Straight up bad. This article about those "left off" the Business Insider PR50 names a few agencies that I can personally attest are still mail merging me for whatever reason. This means that I am on their old, decrepit, dusty and ill-maintained (or unmaintained) lists of "people we send the same bullshit emails to."
I haven't written for a place you can pitch in years. I also know these people just spam out
There's no real good way of doing it beyond some sort of anonymous portal. So if you want to send me your real-life complaints about said agencies, then I will happily post them.