As has probably become clear recently, I’m currently not particularly well-inclined towards people who work in public relations – particularly the particularly unscrupulous ones that spam me with press releases and work ardently to try and persuade me to talk about their products or services on my site.
They don’t seem to understand that I find it objectionable that they would consider me a platform for them to sell their wares. Nor do they understand that I could consider it even more irritating still that for the most part they haven’t got the slightest idea what things I write or care about. They consider my personal voice a commodity to be acquired, along with what little credibility and authenticity I have. This–I’m afraid–just pisses me off.
It may seem like a trivial thing to get angry about, but you’d be surprised the pressure that you can receive to deform what you write to serve other people’s best interests. And it needs to be said, quite apart from my own personal irritation with these people, they are actively trying every day to commandeer the conversations that you are having out there by fair means or foul to serve their needs more effectively. They do it by offering perks, holding or withholding access to people or things and by making people feel privileged by giving them gifts or treats.
For those reasons I’ve made every effort through the last few years to never be beholden to anyone, even to not allow myself to get in the kind of position where I might be unsure of my own motives. But this doesn’t seem to be enough to get the message across, so in a fit of irritation the other day, I wrote a pretty angry and frustrated post on my Flickr stream associated with the picture that opens this article.
In the post I stated that for as long as I have it up, plasticbag.org will never contain anything that someone has tried to persuade me to write about. This applies equally to PR people, to marketing people or to my employer. I will write about any company or business (including the one I work for) only when I think there’s something genuinely of interest to talk about. I will only write about my employer when I’m proud of something they have done (or I have done with them) or when I really feel I have something to say. And I will absolutely never talk about something that I hear about through a press release, or as a consequence of someone giving me a freebie.
Of course, I’m not trying to talk for everyone with a blog out there. There are a lot of semi-pro bloggers out there who operate much like journalists and have good relationships with PR people. Their sites are treated like a job, and any access they can get to these organisations can help them do that job. So good luck to them. But they ask for these press releases. They encourage this contact. They make it clear that they’d like to receive them. I have to say that posts from Guy Kawasaki (encouraging the giving of schwag and compliments to bloggers to butter them up) and Paul Stamatiou (pitching for freebies and flights) make me (and Jeremy Zawodny) slightly queasy, but as long as these particular pundits don’t try and talk for the rest of us then I have no problem with them making it clear that they’re interested in receiving press releases. However, that doesn’t apply to me.
As far as I’m concerned, an unsolicited press release is quite literally no better than spam. It is an e-mail that arrives in my Inbox, trying to sell me something. In fact it’s worse than spam, because it actively seeks to persuade me–sometimes bribe me–to sell something on their behalf! Can you imagine how affronted you were if your Viagra spam not only tried to persuade you that you were impotent and in need of assistance but also wanted you to sell it to your friends? What kind of person would you be if you took up the opportunity to bring up sexual problems at every party you subsequently attended? That’s the kind of person that PR people seem to think I am.
I’m going to be putting up a page on my site soon for people who want to send me press releases, and it’s going to say all of this on it. Hopefully people will start to get the message that–for me at least–their attentions just simply aren’t wanted. If you feel the same way, then perhaps it’s time to let them know in public that your culture isn’t here for the benefit of their clients and that your voice is not for sale.
5 replies on “This is not a brothel…”
Create a “Please send any PR stuff here” page, with a nice contact form and whatnot.
Then direct everything from there directly to the trash (or just don’t direct it anywhere, pop up a “thanks” page, they’ll be none the wiser (uhhh, unless they read this comment)).
Sometimes you can’t fix the problem.
I’m kind of in agreement about not receiving unsolicited PR e-mails, although sometimes cool stuff does come our way thanks to these e-mails.
Here’s an example (and please forgive my freakish stalking and half-baked musing here – I have too much time on my hands, evidently):
A bunch of UK webloggers – including myself – received an e-mail from a UK PR firm called Beatwax, inviting us all to an exclusive screening of the 300 movie on 16th February.
It was very flattering, we were “selected” as “influential” bloggers, etc. Thing is, I’d never signed up to beatwax or anybody else saying I wanted to receive PR material from them.
300 turned out to be a cool movie and I really wish I could’ve made the screening.
Now, I couldn’t help noticing at the time that you sent a couple (1, 2) of tweets about attending the screening and how cool the movie was (although I don’t think you blogged it).
I guess what I’m driving at is: your Twitter statuses have over 800 followers. plasticbag.org has a lot more than that, no doubt. But does a different set of integrity rules apply for tweeting an event to blogging it? You made no mention that the 300 screening was a PR freebie, but were very complimentary about the movie.
(Of course, if you didn’t attend the blogger event, and went to a different screening that was on the same night, then my apologies for being a complete dick.)
But, if you did attend the Beatwax screening, why didn’t you complain at the time that you’d received an unsolicited invitation to an exclusive event clearly aimed at getting favourable coverage from UK bloggers? Which, ok, you didn’t favourably blog about, but you did post to Twitter about?
Once again, apologies for the stalking. This honestly isn’t meant to be a personal attack, it’s just something that stuck in my mind at the time, as you’ve blogged about ethical weblog posting in the past and I think the ethical rules of tweeting are somewhat unexplored territory at the moment – territory increasingly worthy of exploration, at that.
This is an interesting and totally valid point. Actually, I got invited to that screening personally by Hugh MacLeod in an e-mail that read as follows: “Hi, I’ve been invited to a film screening this Friday, the 16th in London. I’ve been told can invite as many of my blogger/geek friends as I wish, so I’m inviting you, natch! Just let me know and I’ll put you on the list.”
At the time I’ve experimented with a few ways of dealing with freebies, and for a decent amount of time stabilised on the idea that if someone offered me something I’d say that it was up to them if they sent it but that if they did I wouldon principlenot write about it or mention it at all. My reply to Hugh at the time was, “Do you think he’d let me come if I said I couldn’tin principlewrite about it? I imagine the answer is a no, but there you go.” I found that a lot of people got the point I was trying to make that their approaches didn’t actually accomplish anything, and they stopped offering me things. Occasionally they clearly thought that they were influencing me even if I wouldn’t write about it, and perhaps they were right.
To me at the time though, being invited by an individual I knew socially and with my standard proviso in place that I wouldn’t write about it made it seem not too troubling to my conscience. I’m not sure I’d feel the same about it now, but there you go. Sometimes people offer things to you and they’re very tempting indeed.
As to the Twitter thing, you have to remember that at the time I didn’t have 800 followers on Twitter. I wish I could tell you how many I did have, but unfortunately archive.org is down right now, so I can’t check. It was a relatively new experience for some of us at that point and I imagine I said a few things on Twitter in the early days now that I’d be more than a little embarrassed about now. In that context I imagine I felt that I was literally talking to a very small social circle about things going on in my life. It’s not an excuse as such, but perhaps it’ll give you a better sense of the context.
I guess there’s a tipping point when your small circle of friends becomes something PR people want to take advantage of.
Then again, there isn’t, viral marketing is just as happy with someone who has one follower as someone with 800. They’re all just after our lifes to spread their marketing message.
On the subject of which we’ve just launched a new viral game, it’s at http://www…. (maybe later)
There must be something in the air – two weeks ago, Merlin made this handy graphic for 43Folders.com, which *is* a “semi-pro” blog at least: