03 January 2011

Online PR: In Need Of A Colon Cleanse

Dr. Val passed on a post by Gary Schweitzer, a healthcare media critic and publisher of a valuable site, HealthNewsReview.org.  Schweitzer wrote his version of the bad pitch blog as a year-end post, running down some of the garbage he got this year. I snipped out some of my favorites:
  • "natural essence water" that saves men from nagging wives or girlfriends who may think you're a "schlub"
  • an offer of a free sample (street value of $60) of a colon-cleansing/detoxifying product. (What do they know about my colon? Is it toxic? I didn't take them up on the offer.)
  • a note that was entitled "Chill Your Buns" that offered free samples of a "cold therapy" for hemorrhoids. (OK, what do they know about my buns and beyond?)
Read the whole list - it would be hilarious if it weren't so pathetic.  It wasn't just that the pitches ranged from silly to snake oil.  It's that the pitches were sent to a media critic.  He's the guy who actually evaluates healthcare journalism.  He's pretty good at it.  He'd likely slam a publication that ran with one of these pitches. And he clearly got dozens of them.

The moral of Schweitzer's story isn't that the pitches are pathetic, it's that healthcare journalism is too dependent on PR and the impenetrable wall between editorial and advertising seems to be thinning a bit. He's clearly right about this, but I'm more concerned with the apparently auto-generated and mind-numbingly stupid outreach. Schweitzer was far more restrained in his criticism than I would have been.

The sad truth is we're going to have more, not less, of this crap in 2011.  Companies will try even harder to commoditize online outreach to the point where cost and speed become the only criteria for choosing an approach.  I already get the emails - "buy my blogger database" to cut down on your research costs and send bulk pitch emails.  I'm in a lot of these databases already - and in several of them, the blog is called a "music blog," a "tech blog," an even a "sports blog."

I've also gotten generic emails with nothing more than a press release and a "please share with your readers" - from a college on the west coast announcing new courses in social media marketing. I assume this is where students will learn all those advanced techniques people use to build strong, personalized relationships with bloggers.

Online PR - at least what I think of it - is headed in the wrong direction.  We're obsessed with all the shiny new tools and the new networks and all that.  But for cost control reasons we label people and bloggers without even looking at what those people have to say - and we're getting worse, not better.  Social media is not static, and people can't be tagged with a single label.  Database-driven bulk email strategies are more risk than they're worth.

To any companies reading this blog, I can say without reservation that buying a well-developed ad program with a thoughtful placement strategy yields a much higher ROI than what we're doing now, and at comparable if not better cost.    If you're really concerned about building or protecting reputation for your brand or your company, throw away the database and do the work necessary to earn the trust of people.

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