April 26, 2008

You Can Only Pitch Me In Reverse Polish Notation or Pig Latin

As the world of journalism/old media gets increasingly blurred with bloggers/new media, some of the larger news-breaking bloggers are finding themselves inundated with pitches from companies looking for additional exposure. In an effort for some top bloggers to reduce the total noise sent their way, some are spelling out the right way and the wrong way to pitch them. But for any company looking to make a name for themselves, how can they possibly remember who wants to be communicated how?

Take a look at some of the more high-profile bloggers who have, at one point or another, said there is one approved way to get their attention:

Stowe Boyd of /Message writes Via Twitter, "The Only Approved Way To Pitch Me" is via TwitPitch.

On his blog, he writes, in Twitpitch Is The Future, "Companies will be directed to this page to get the idea, and those that try to stick with the bulging email approach will suffer a three-strikes-and-you're-out rule: After three times of being warned, they go into the spam category."

Upside to him: Less e-mail, more clarity on whether something is being sent his way to write about.

Downside to the company: Their pitch is visible to everyone, making it clear they are shilling, and exclusivity is eliminated.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb says the site gets "piles and piles of pitches for coverage from companies all day long and they almost always come in by email." His recommendation for would-be article subjects would be not to send an e-mail, not to call, not to use Twitter (even Direct Messages), not to use Facebook or Instant Messenger. Instead, he wants you to use RSS!

His idea there is that PR folks should send RSS feeds for client blogs and news releases, so when updates are made to their blogs, he'll see it, at his leisure.

Upside to him: Less e-mail, and the ability to enjoy/actually use Facebook, IM and Twitter without getting pitched.

Downside to the company: No understanding as to whether ReadWriteWeb actually "saw" your pitch, absolutely zero pre-pitching, and zero exclusivity. This way, RWW wouldn't get the news until it was out. In fact, Marshall says this is only for things that are public with no embargo, even pushing people back to e-mail for those.

And last year, Robert Scoble famously said Facebook would be "a new kind of press release". In the face of a growing e-mail tsunami, he said Facebook wall messages would be passed to his Nokia phone. He says, "now we have a new way for PR people to let me know about their apps. Write it on the wall please. Facebook: the new press release."

Of course, this only works until every PR person figures it out, and Robert would end up with the same information glut, just moved somewhere else.

Upside to him: Lower e-mail flow and fewer phone calls.

Downside to the company: Not every company uses Facebook or considers it professional. Facebook pitches would get lost amidst others wishing Robert a happy birthday or any other notes, and again, they would lose any chance at exclusivity or an embargo, after pitching in public.

So what do we have here, just in these three examples? We have three prominent bloggers with three very highly differentiated, inefficient ways of soliciting engagement with public relations and companies. While it's extremely popular these days to dish on old media journalists and claim print is going the way of the dodo, even the biggest reporters at the high-profile media outlets can still be reached by phone or by e-mail. They're not making you jump through hoops to get their attention.

To me, while its likely bloggers are looking to make their own lives easier, and looking to utilize available technology tools to bring clarity to the process, it looks like a sign of weakness. Can't handle the data glut or the outreach coming your way? Somebody else will. Somebody else with the ability to write as quickly as you can, with the right tone and a big enough audience, who can be reached by e-mail or by cell phone, or by Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed or anything, will write that article and get that news coverage you miss.

Do you really think companies are going to remember to pitch Marshall at ReadWriteWeb via RSS and Stowe Boyd by TwitPitch and Scoble by Facebook? Knowing PR companies, I know they won't. Most of them still believe in the spray and pray method of e-mailing all contacts under the sun. There needs to be change, but making everybody jump through hoops while losing the personal engagement, exclusivity and timing won't work.

UPDATE: Elliott Ng, in the comments, gives us some good links, including Brian Solis' article on PR 2.0: In Blogger and Media Relations, You Earn the Relationships You Deserve and Rafe Needleman of WebWare complaining on Twitter about being pitched via Plaxo.