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Understanding PR People for Fun and Profit

If you’re just getting your first message from a public relations (PR) professional, and you are wondering why you’re being graced with our august presence, this article is for you. And, if you’re among those who receive dozens of seemingly pointless emails from PR people, and you’re wondering what in the blue blazes is going through our minds, this article is definitely for you.

I’m Erik Sebellin-Ross, one of the very PR people writing to you every day. I’ve been in PR for four years now, and I work for a firm named Peppercom Strategic Communications (shameless plug: We have a blog, too). My goal is to shed some light on what we do, how we work, and, more importantly, what we can do for you, hopefully turning an interruption into an opportunity. You really need to know all this because, as blogs become increasingly influential from a marketing perspective, more and more of us are going to contact you.

Why are PR people writing to me?

We want you to write something that would benefit the companies we represent. We feel your readers are a part of an audience that buys our client’s products, or invests in their stocks, and we want your readers to act — to start buying or, at least, start liking. And we’re talking to you, specifically, because we’ve checked you out and think you have a sufficient number of readers or influence to make our time investment worthwhile.

Less common, but still a possibility, is the networking angle. We want to be in with all of the right people, we want to be able to direct or friends and co-workers in the field towards the right people, and we want a big rolodex. This helps us in our careers, but it can also help you as your PR contacts change jobs to different companies or industries.

How do PR people find me?

As you know, there are a lot of blogs out there. Finding the right ones – the ones with the biggest or most appropriate audience – is difficult. We use a range of search engines (such as Technorati, Google Blog Search, etc.) and services (www.MediaMapOnline.com, a database of journalists and bloggers, for example), and we also look at blogrolls. Unfortunately, the process runs into snags, and you can sometimes find yourself receiving information that has little or no connection to you.

All right, so let’s talk about the irritating emails

So you’ve been discovered, and now the torrent of emails begins. If we’ve done our homework, you’ll instantly see the value of the information and will create a post based on the information we sent you or ask us for more information.

But sometimes PR professionals (fresh-faced interns and grizzled veterans alike) make honest mistakes. Or, worse, don’t do their homework. They build lists of targets without ensuring that every single target is perfect, and they blast out an email using the blind carbon copy feature…and suffer the consequences. Of which there are rarely any – unless we’ve pitched ValleyWag. In the process, of course, we basically spam you and ensure you hate seeing our names appear in your inbox. If it is the former, we truly are sorry. If it is the latter, I’m even more sorry.

What can PR people do for me?

A big part of our job is to provide information, so, if you have questions about a company, product, or service, PR people can help you get the answers. If you want to speak with an executive, engineer, designer, or other employee, we can help you there, too – we even book meetings. If you want to review a product, or try out a service, you guessed it: we can help with this, too.

The best and fastest way to find a PR contact is to go to the website of a company you’re interested in and find their press or media page. This is regularly found under the “About Us” or “Contact Us” pages. Another alternative is to look for a press release – we almost always list our contact information on these.

A snag you might hit

PR people need to be “strategic.” This means that, because we work under tight budgets and have limited resources, we have to pick and choose our battles. So, as much as we’d like to work with every single publication and blog, regardless of size, we realistically cannot. When you contact us, we’ll sometimes ask you to tell us about who reads your blog, what kind of traffic you get, and what you want to write about so we can decide if we can devote time to you. If you’re turned down because you’re too small, consider banding together with a group of similar bloggers and approach the PR person as a unified group to increase your value.

So bottom line this for me

When we write to you, take a moment to look beyond our email. Think about what are you writing about, or planning to write about, and ask yourself if a PR person can help you get more information. Another thing to consider is whether a fellow blogger could benefit from some information you just received. Forwarding it to them could earn you brownie points that would translate into traffic. Every message from us is an opportunity!

Erik Sebellin-Ross is a senior account executive in Peppercom Strategic Communication’s San Francisco office. He can be reached directly at [email protected]

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. “As you know, there are a lot of blogs out there. Finding the right ones – the ones with the biggest or most appropriate audience – is difficult. We use a range of search engines (such as Technorati, Google Blog Search, etc.) and services (www.MediaMapOnline.com, a database of journalists and bloggers, for example), and we also look at blogrolls. Unfortunately, the process runs into snags, and you can sometimes find yourself receiving information that has little or no connection to you.”

    I think you’re being kind. That’s what good PR people do, and it’s useful for them, their clients, and for bloggers.

    However, the majority of PR solicitations I get suggest that the main criterion for being pitched is “has a pulse.” Which is, I think, why many bloggers are so hostile to any pitch.

  2. What perfect timing! I think at some point in the last three weeks my blog hit PR rep critical mass and I am getting slammed. SLAMMED. I’ve been fortunate in that all the “plug me, baby!” emails have been relevant and targeted, but WTF? Where did that all come from?

    I will say one was really cool. There’s a new book out — 50 Ways to Something or other — and I thought it would make a cool blog post. Works for the writer in that the post will probably get decent traffic, and works for me in that I basically had someone hand me a great post topic on a silver platter.

  3. Dee Stewart says:

    Thanks for the post, Erik.

    I have a working relationship with many pr people. Most of them represent publishing houses, authors, or book stores. I am also a publicist for gospel recording artists and authors, so I use many forms of social media to reach out and find people that should either be reading my blog or owning my client’s products.

  4. Sangesh says:

    I think I will tell for sure and without any hesitation is that I hate these PR ppl. The only reason is that I keep receiving all these spam mails without even subscribing to even one of them. It just keeps coming and coming. I’m just like helpless.

  5. Shanel Yang says:

    Hmm. Not a very convincing sell for the PR folks I’m afraid. But, nice try! ; )

  6. Erik,

    it is good hear the PR perspective from a PR person directly. Very nicely written article.

    Ramesh
    The Geek Stuff

  7. Nancy Nally says:

    I have to say that in most cases my experiences with PR people has been very positive! I have been lucky to not receive too much PR spam though. The large majority of what I receive is useful information in one way or another.

    I find that if you act professionally dealing with PR people that they will usually treat you well. The key is to act like you value their time – be specific in your communications about what you need from them to make their job as easy as possible. Ask specific questions. Follow through on what you promise them you will do with the information. If you write something about their client, make sure they see it so they know their time was well-spent, and in the future they will be more likely to be cooperative.

    I’ve found that one of the best things that I can do is to cultivate relationships with the reps that I am interested in. At networking events like trade shows, hand over a business card and ask if they will put you on their PR distribution list. Those you don’t meet in person, send email requests to.

    I think this is why I don’t get spam too much – because I’ve built up a network of people who know that I am interested in receiving their information. Plus having a very specific topic niche (scrapbooking and autism) for my two sites also helps.

  8. Great post!

    My wife wrote an article from the other side of the fence:

    How to Pitch to a Blogger

  9. DB Ferguson says:

    I had a recent bad experience with a PR person, and it was really frustrating. I wanted to do one thing and they wanted to do another. They approached me with what they were trying to push, and I said what I was willing to do, and they kept pushing for me to link to some of their online “assets”, which were unrelated to my blog topic and quite honestly, were cringeworthy-bad.

    I find I have much better luck when I contact the PR people of products I want to work with. I have a standard letter that goes out that has stats for readership and RSS subscribers (with links to my open Sitemeter account), a list of high-status blogs that have linked to me such as BoingBoing and HuffPo, and my Technorati and Google Pagerank ranking. I find that approaching them with a good solid collection of data that shows the value of working with me gets my foot in the door much easier.

    And when a good PR person is working with you, it’s amazing what kind of swag you can get for yourself and your readers. I’ve received boxes of books for giveaways on multiple occasions, and a few times I’ve been able to run contests where the company even does the mailing and does a cross-link to me on their company blog, driving traffic.

  10. Amir Helzer says:

    Hi Erik,

    How do I get in touch with you? I’ve looked at your company’s contact page and didn’t see you listed.

  11. pam says:

    Thanks for this post. I get increasing numbers of PR mails and this is useful insight. But…

    Check it out. I get lots of mail and if the PR folks have missed the target, I just skip it, hit delete, and move on. That’s fine, I don’t mind because the successful communications more than make up for the spam… still. (That could change.)

    What REALLY bugs me is when PR folks don’t close the loop. They send me the mail, I answer it, and then… NOTHING. Typically, what happens is I’ll get mail telling me that such and such a product/service is available and I say, yeah, maybe my readers WOULD like to know about that. Hook me up, I’ll review it, sure.

    And I get nothing in return. No response. Nothing. It’s not like I can’t take no for an answer. But YOU mailed ME, remember? So why don’t you answer when I respond? THAT makes me crazy.

    On the plus side, over time I have established some nice relationships with PR folks. They know who I am, what interests me, and we have a conversation. I vote yes to that.

  12. Vidyut Kale says:

    Thank you Erik for an incredible perspective I had never thought of. My blog isn’t yet “big enough” to get that kind of attention, but it really helps to know this, and develop an understanding of “the other side”.

  13. I appreciate hearing the PR side of things. I receive many PR requests from various companies and I have a great relationship with several marketers. The key to the strong relationship, though, is that we are all getting something: the company offers a product to my readers, I receive more traffic from the giveaway, and the company is getting cheap advertising. Win all around.

    What I do not care for is the PR person who writes and asks me to promote their products and is not willing to give anything in return. I am not cheap advertising for free. I would expect that person to buy ad space or offer something for my readers (which, in turn, boosts my traffic: win-win-win). I don’t like to be asked to do something for nothing; it implies that I don’t add value in the long run. If my blog is truly in your niche, partner with me equally–otherwise, don’t waste my or your time.

  14. Great minds and all …

    I’m a blogger and, as luck would have it, I just wrote about this, so if you want to see the world from my point of view and maybe gain a tip or two on how to speak to bloggers so you get results, you are welcome to drop by my site: http://almostvegetarian.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-to-talk-to-blogger-so-you-get.html

    Cheers!

  15. Thanks everyone for the kind words, and I’m glad you found the post useful.

    Sangesh: Sorry to hear about how frustrated you are. My primary motivation for writing this entry was to help bloggers better understand how we work. Hopefully, with this increased understanding, we change from an irritating gnat to, erm, a potential snack!

    Consider writing back to the people who are writing to you with irrelevant information. Ask them what other companies they represent that might be worth your time. And don’t hesitate to write back to ask them to unsubscribe you — they just have to take your name off a spreadsheet, for the most part!

    Shanel Yang: One blog post isn’t going to tip the scales, I know, but the journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step, ya?

    Melanie, Nancy: Your examples and attitude regarding PR people is exactly what I was hoping to foster with this blog post. I think we can all work together for mutual benefit — the spam will decrease as a result.

    Please don’t hesitate to drop your questions in here folks — I want to help!

  16. Ryan Mac says:

    truthfully, this post left me confused

  17. kevin says:

    “When we write to you, take a moment to look beyond our email. Think about what are you writing about, or planning to write about, and ask yourself if a PR person can help you get more information. Another thing to consider is whether a fellow blogger could benefit from some information you just received. Forwarding it to them could earn you brownie points that would translate into traffic. Every message from us is an opportunity!”

    Give me a f’ing break. How about you take some time and actually read my blog before pitching me? It is a two way street. PR people acting like half of the information they send out is worth writing about is laughable. Half of the pitches I get aren’t even remotely connected to what I write about on a daily basis.

    Also um, I should consider if this information is valuable to my friends so I can pass it along for you? Do you want me to write the press release for you while I am at it?

  18. PR Ny says:

    How has the popularity of Web 2.0 and Social Bookmarking sites changed the PR industry over the past several years?

    Compare the strategies from the last decade and before to those used now.

  19. Nice post, But i am getting lot of spam emails in my inbox. But its really very difficult to find which one is spam. Some email requesting me to enter my email address and other persional details inorder to receive more information.

    So, usually i avoid emails from unknown persons.i just delete it ,i will never open it.

  20. Deb says:

    Sorry but this is an inadequate attempt to rhetorize bad behavior.

    Last week I linked to a source I was discussing in a post. The next morning in my Inbox is an email form a well-known name around the internet. The name, provided it is in fact the actual person, is not the problem. The problem is that subject line does not reference the post topic or why the person, to whom I did not link but rather one of their affiliate channels, is writing to me. The subject line was their own recent guest post title on a feed which I unsubscribed from months ago.

    This is counter to permission marketing. If you are interested in my writing and my audience talk to me about me and/or us, don’t talk to me about you until you have earned permission to do so. So don’t swamp me with essentially spam and then tell me I’m an ungrateful wretch. I’m not the one behaving badly.

    This is the difference between buckshot and birdshot. One is designed to bring down a trophy the other settles for winging anything in range.

  21. Stacey says:

    ““When we write to you, take a moment to look beyond our email. Think about what are you writing about, or planning to write about, and ask yourself if a PR person can help you get more information. Another thing to consider is whether a fellow blogger could benefit from some information you just received. Forwarding it to them could earn you brownie points that would translate into traffic. Every message from us is an opportunity!”

    Give me a f’ing break. How about you take some time and actually read my blog before pitching me? It is a two way street. PR people acting like half of the information they send out is worth writing about is laughable. Half of the pitches I get aren’t even remotely connected to what I write about on a daily basis.

    Also um, I should consider if this information is valuable to my friends so I can pass it along for you? Do you want me to write the press release for you while I am at it?”
    ——————————————————————–
    I am soooo with you Kevin! WTF? Why should I take the moment when you have just shown that YOU didn’t take the moment??
    I’ve been on both sides of the fence (not just writing onine) and have been for the past 8 years. I think most companies just realize they have to get into “this blogging thing” but have no idea how to do it and everyone comes off looking bad. It has to get better for both sides though as it can’t get any worse!
    Stacey

  22. As I’m in the corporate side of the fence it’s good to see a concise article with an introduction set down that I can use to advise new PR professionals and bloggers alike (and the comments are good as well). Thanks Erik.

    One question though; what about highlighting and implementing the social media release? Rather than a flat press release a social media release at least tries to “empower” (sorry for the buzzword) the blogger/writer, so there’s more chance of a post or article. Obviously depends on the industry and the product, but I’ve found they tend to work much better.

  23. David says:

    As an author, if the publicists at my publishing house were sending anonymous, mass-emails, I’d be peeved. (To say the least.) Many of us are bombarded by emails, spam, etc..and unless the product or service pertains to me (which it does maybe 3% of the time), it leaves a bad impression of the item they’re pushing and makes me think someone isn’t interested in the item, or doing their job properly.

    Like others have mentioned, when I do get a message addressed to me, about something that pertains to my site and topic, I read it and often respond. That has often resulted in my highlighting a product or book on my blog (or book), which in turn is good for sales and provides a service to my readers if I think the book is good.

    If you’re going to do something, you should do it right if you want to get results. An excellent article about how to do that is Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing To Bloggers by Elise Bauer.

  24. Thank you for your article! I’m a fairly new “blogger” but I’m finding the industry surrounding it facinating. I’m really enjoying the sharing aspects of blogging and get a thrill out of checking my stats and reading comments! I’m not to the point as of yet where any PR people are approaching me and I am curious now as to what amount of hits they look for? Thank you again, I’ll look forward to your future posts!

  25. I’m a PR consultant and a blogger and can see both points of view. Apart from making the classic mistake of poor research and targeting, I think much of the problem is that PR people are generally treating bloggers like journalists. The problem is that the rules of engagement are different and PR’s need to get to grip with the medium first, before spamming bloggers with press releases.

  26. Well,

    I think it actually depends on the blog and the subject. For example, on my blog Entrepreneur Interviews I’m getting contacted mostly by PR companies. They contact me for interviews with the entrepreneurs they represent, so it’s actually beneficial!
    The only time I’m getting frustrated is when they get in contact, I’m preparing the interview, then they never reply my emails :(

  27. asithi says:

    If the email does not even name my website or me, it automatically goes into the trash. And I also click on the spam button.

    If the email mention anything about my site, instead of being address to a “Mr/Mrs,” then I usually would scan it quickly to see if it is something I would be interested in.