Unsubscribed: Will the spam pitch kill PR?

A friend in PR and I were talking the other day about media lists. This friend was lamenting the difficulty in finding good lists for  print and online journalists and bloggers on specific topics: luxury travel, foodie, parenting, etc.

This led to me running down some of the media list aggregating services that I have used before: Vocus and Medianetcentral. The friend currently used Cision. The danger with these services, I warned, is that they make it too easy for PRtists to pile together a big ol’ list of names and e-mails addresses without actually positioning their pitches and press releases. That’s how, even with the best of intentions, you become a spammer.

And so when that same friend re-tweeted (did I say that right?) this from UnMarketing I thought it was only prudent to stractualize. Or stracticulate? Yeah, I like that.

In the tug-o-war between PR professionals and the media they’re trying to pitch to, both parties try to balance objectives with what they need from the other side. Okay, that was incredibly generic. What I mean to say is that the PR side wants to impress and interest the journalist with whatever product or story or angle they’re trying to promote. Journalists also need PR to feed them stories, grant them access to interview subjects, pass along products to review, etc. But don’t be fooled: PR is always a guest at this party and has to be on their best behaviour all time.

Unsolicited e-mail pitches or pitch spam has become the dominant force in 21st century pro-active marketing media relations. To extend the party analogy, the spam pitch is the guy who keeps opening beers without ever finishing them and won’t stop hitting on your girlfriend. The conversation about spam pitches lit up after Wired editor Chris Anderson published a list of e-mail addresses from (what he concluded were) PR spammers. And while this post may be vitriolic and punitive, he’s right for no other reason than these PRtists need him.

So, you’re thinking, the answer is we must all swear to uphold the sanctity of the incredibly narrowly-positioned and researched pitch and chastise those lazy charlatans who hurl mass e-mails to anyone labelled “entertainment” on a piece of software, right? We know who to blame!

Yet, like health-care reform or capital punishment, there’s three or four or 103494 sides of this coin.

As I’ve discussed before within the pages (posts?) of Stractical, I receive these spam pitches daily. Even with a finely-tuned spam blocking system, about five a day still pop through. The number of these e-mails that have actually piqued my interest, ever? One.  And just barely. Quite simply… it’s awful. And shameful. Somewhere, clients are paying for this to happen (though, with e-mail as we all know it only takes a second to send one or 500).

But at the same time, I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been an intern and a junior PR coordinator with billing commitments, managers breathing down my neck to produce a media list in four minutes. What was I to do? Those cool, crisp, focused pitches take research and style and most often a prior relationship with the writer. Juniors have none of this. To make the kind of media lists I should have been producing, it would have taken days, maybe even weeks. Which client was going to pay for that? So we resort to software and keywords, quantity over quality, our seniors look the other way and life moves on.

So in conclusion… we’re nowhere. Yes, there’s been some services popping up attempting to mediate journalists’ requests with PR supply but even when successful, they’ll never fill the void left if the pitching machines at agencies went away. But we know something must be done. And with so many of these spam pitches apparently bouncing back from vacated scribblers‘ e-mails, PR and journalism must solve the spam pitch issue before we lose the ability to tell a fantastic story pitch from a bottle of V1agra or a favour asked by a Nigerian prince.