How Not to Grab the Blogosphere

The Blogosphere

This week I, and a dozen or so other science writers and bloggers, got spammed with a single email by a public relations company hoping to get us to write about the “next big thing” from their client. Nothing shocking there, we all get PR puff blown at us every day of the week. One of the frustrating things about this particular pitch though was that it was about some science news that had already appeared in many of the mainstream magazines and a few of the less mainstream outlets by the time the campaign reached our inboxes.

More irritating than that was that the email was cc’ed to us, not bcc’ed, so all of us who know each other anyway saw that we had all received this “alleged” news. There were several variations on contact addresses for some of us, including at least four different cc’s to one particular popular magazine, so they were effectively spammed repeatedly with the same email. Not professional. Possibly inadvertent and maybe just a result of naivete, but not professional. Although that said, it should also be pointed out that the PR person never divulged who their client actually was despite being asked by the cc group. Such a “lack of transparency is a particularly bad tactic when dealing with bloggers,” one of the group remarked to me in a personal email.

The upshot of this PR campaign was that all of us who had been cc’ed, ended up chatting about it because we all hit “reply all” when we responded in-kind to the sender. At least one of the cc’ed group described this kind of email as “depressing” another said they could imagine it happening at their own company because there is “a fundamental misapprehension about the way the web [and the blogosphere] works”. Another was incredulous that the sender thought that bloggers are so gullible that they would reprint anything that’s set in front of them. Personally, I thought nothing more of the incident than that it lended itself to its own blog post on the subject of how not to get journalists on-side. And, so here we are.

By sheer coincidence this week, Amit Agarwal (who wasn’t cc’ed on that email) was discussing a new code of conduct for publication relations companies hoping to ingratiate themselves with the blogosphere and the mainstream media. Ironically, the guidelines were written by another PR company in consultation with bloggers, which presumably involved a lot of cc’ing too.

I’m perfectly happy to receive press releases from pertinent sci-tech sources, but these guidelines could save a lot of heartache on both sides of the fence, as well as reducing corrosion of the interweb’s pipes through all those wasted electrons being sent to and fro.

Oh, by the way, science story was, as I said, all over the blogosphere a few weeks back and was covered by at least a handful of those guys cc’ed in the original email several days before the PR puff blew up. It involved a serendipitous discovery in some laboratory or other that seems to contravene at least one law of nature. These kinds of email often do, it seems.

This Sciencebase blog post from December 2004 shows that these kinds of claim are nothing new, in it I discussed the issue of burning water

9 thoughts on “How Not to Grab the Blogosphere”

  1. Funny. Yes, my daughter has a blog too, she doesn’t make a living writing for Scientific American or the New York Times just yet, nor does she t receive several hundred unsolicited press releases each day. Okay, yes, this post is rather bitchy and the response from PR rookie had put an end to it, until now…I’m interested to know how your spam filter would work to filter out a single email of this sort, given that none of the content trips up on Bayesian spam filtering.

  2. Guys seriously….get over it. Blogger ARE not gods. Stop acting as such. Anyone can blog, my little 7 year old niece can blog. You guys are not special. Furthermore, invest in some spam blocking software. Geezzz!!!!!!!!!! Should you get an email that you think is not worthy of your great self add it to the blocked domain list. I-F Y-O-U N-E-E-D A-S-S-I-S-T-A-N-C-E S-E-N-D M-E A-N E-M-A-I-L …..I will help you.

  3. PR Rookie – Thanks for your candour. I think the initial problem was that the majority of the bloggers to whom you pitched your email are all professional science writers and journalists. CC’ing them all as opposed to sending individualized pitches, I suspect, was what riled them in the first place, that and what they perceived as a thinly disguised press release that was couched as though it were a friendly heads-up.

    Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge. So as the emergency services would say, “Let’s all move along now, nothing more to see.”

  4. David,

    You’re completely right. After reading your blog post for the third time, I see that my mistake the other day was both unprofessional and naive. It had not occurred to me that my email lacked transparency. I wrongly assumed that the signature at the bottom of the email would have given away the fact that I am approaching you as PR representative on behalf of one of our clients.

    I would like to sincerely apologize for any agitation I might have caused anyone and for all the blogosphere rules I have broken.

    Also, I would like to respond to one of the bloggers who wrote that such a misstep could happen at their own company due to a “fundamental misapprehension about the way the web works”. Prior to this outcry, I had no idea that this type of pitching could cause such a dialogue. In all honesty, this is only the end of my first month on the job and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn all of the unwritten (and I guess now written) rules. In response to this incident, I have purchased Seth Godin’ book as it was suggested by one of your readers. Furthermore, you can bet that I am going study Amit Agarwal’s code of ethics very closely and hope that my mistake might inspire other entry-level workers to do the same. In fact, I brought this issue to the attention of our internal PR Education Committee and a company seminar on How to connect with the blogosphere is in the works.

    Thank you for this lesson, David- I wouldn’t have learned it without you.

    PR Rookie

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