Spray and Pray PR

Having been in the PR business for more than a decade, I’ve seen a lot, both good and bad. It continues to amaze me that the complaints, for the most part, have been the same during my career. The most prevalent complaint is about “spray and pray PR”.

The idea of writing a news release and pushing it to a long list of journalists that haven’t been vetted is appalling. Ten years ago as an industry we would write a news release and hire some guy in a basement to do a fax blast. We were instructed to follow up to confirm the reporter received the news release.

Fast forward to the current decade and we’re no longer doing the fax blasts. No, we’ve improved. Now we’re doing email blasts.

Not cool.

Let me set the record straight:

1. You don’t get coverage just because you’ve written a news release in AP style.
2. Further, you won’t get coverage just because you wrote said news release and sent it to a reporter that shows up in a search for a specific beat.
3. And finally, you won’t get coverage if you follow up with said reporter to confirm they received said news release.

So how do we do it? What’s the right way?

1. We still write news releases. I believe that they’re still important to both PR pros and journalists. BUT we don’t blast them to contacts.
2. Our first point of contact is an email pitched, customized for the specific reporter.
– We still do that quick search for specific beats, but then we take it a step further (GASP!) we Google the contacts and read the stories they’ve recently written to confirm they’re the correct contact for the story we’re pitching. Mistakes can still be made at this point and sometimes (SOMETIMES) reporters are wrongly pitched. But I can tell you that we’re trying everything we can to AVOID wrongly pitching someone who just isn’t interested. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.
3. IF the reporter is interested in our initial pitch, we’ll offer to send along supporting materials, which in most cases, includes a news release.
4. Our news release is aimed at providing a wealth of information… facts, figures, stats, links, etc.

Successfully pitching a story to reporters and bloggers (success is defined as pitching the right person on an interesting story angle and securing a placement) is a delicate balancing act. It takes skill and industry knowledge but it also requires tact and respect for everyone involved.

To me, spray and pray PR practices are much like telemarketers and door-to-door sales tactics. It feels invasive. I immediately become annoyed and I’m quick to say “Not Interested” …. but if I’d been approached in a more personalized way, I may have listed to the sales pitch and purchased the magazines/life insurance/dog biscuits/…. you get the idea.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s good PR and that’s the best way to get your foot in the door on behalf of your client.