Robert Scoble is right

Robert Scoble, who’s well-known in tech circles as a former Microsoft employee/guru (he was outspoken in his support of gay Microsoft employees when the company’s management went momentarily anti-gay a few years back), and blogger, happened to complain recently about the never-ending stream of bad PR pitches he gets by email. Well, didn’t that tick off a number of folks in the PR industry, including this person, who apparently thinks a reasonable counter-argument is to post a shirtless picture of Scoble on their Web site. Ah yes, now there’s someone who’s an expert at communication.

(As an side, listen to the rather short comments that Scoble made on this issue. He’s absolutely right, and the effort to paint his comments as the illiterate words of a madman are just bizarre if you actually bother listening to what he said.)

The brouhaha struck me as interesting, since I’ve been writing lately, and for a while, about the terrible PR pitches I get by email. It’s not just the quality of the pitches, it’s the thought behind them (or lack thereof), and the number of them, that’s so annoying. Sure, you can argue that we should be flattered that so many PR experts on the Hill and in the public relations industry think we’re so important that they spam us all day with really bad pitches on topics none of you would ever in a million years care about. But I prefer to take a less egocentric view, and worry about whether this is happening to a lot of people. About whether this is a sign of the larger corporatization of email – something that is making the entire medium of email increasingly unusable for a growing number of people.

I really believe that people need to exercise more judgment when using email. The same kind of judgment they’d use when picking up a telephone and calling a friend or a business associate. I think it’s far too easy to click-and-send an email, so people do it with far too little thought. At the beginning of email, back in the 90s, people would send embarrassingly angry emails, writing things they’d never dare say in person or write by letter, only to quickly regret them once the email was already sent. Nowadays, the thoughtless emailer has gone from angry to insipid. We get jokes. Lots of jokes. Lots of really dumb stupid jokes. And usually ones we’ve seen before. We get powerpoint files of very beautiful pictures put to very cheesy music. And, those of us with big blogs, and probably a lot of mainstream reporter out there too, get lots of really bad PR pitches that the PR expert in question would probably never in a million years think of pitching us in person.

For example, I complained last week about getting garbage press releases from the staffs of members of Congress. Press releases about how the congressman got some award or something. (Yes, I know, you all really wanted me to report on Congressman Whoever’s award – sorry.) Could you imagine the same congressional staff sitting around and having this conversation:

Staffer 1: Hey, the boss just got an award from an organization most people have never heard of.

Staffer 2: Cool. Who do you think we can get to write about it?

Staffer 1: Hey, let’s send it to AMERICAblog. They’ve been focusing a lot lately on the economy, on how the conservatives have taken over the GOP, and about the ongoing struggle for gay rights. I’m sure they’d love to write about some congressman getting an award from an organization no one’s ever heard of.

Yeah. I don’t think so. The reason we get these irrelevant press releases, the reason I have companies offering dating services ask if I might want to write about them on my blog, is because email has given them the luxury to stop thinking. Once up on a time, they’d actually send the release to someone who cared – perhaps the local press back home in the congressman’s district. But now with email, they can blast it to hundreds, or even thousands, of reporters and bloggers in the hopes that maybe one of them will pick it up and run with it. It’s the same logic spammers use – if you blast garbage to enough people, one of them may fall for it. But of course, the problem is that the rest of us suffer when the one idiotic email becomes a never-ending torrent of idiotic emails that clog our in-box, and make us start missing emails we actually want (like from our readers who send us tips).

It was suggested by one public relations ‘”expert,” the one who posted the shirtless picture of Scoble, that Scoble deserved the spam he got because he’s a successful blogger:

Mr. Scoble needs to realize that he is complaining about the very celebrity that he himself created. You cannot have it both ways.

If you become an A-Lister and make a good living (while many of very good public relations people in this country are being laid off, by the way) it is beyond self-absorption to complain about “stupid-ass pitches” that you receive because of the very notoriety that you sought, built and benefit from.

Now there’s a fascinating argument I’d love to see a PR expert make to their client:

PR Expert: I emailed Scoble and Aravosis the latest pitch about the new floor wax our client is selling.

Client: You asked a tech blogger and a political blogger to write about our floor wax? How does it help us get the message out there about our new product by sending it to people who we know, in advance, don’t even write about products like ours?

PR Expert: They’re A-listers and they wanted the notoriety – they deserve whatever they get!

That’ll be $50,000 up front, and $20,000 a month in retainer.

Regardless of whether Scoble, I, or anyone else wanted “the notoriety,” I’m not sure how that excuses a PR expert, who is presumably paid a good deal of money to promote their boss or client, from sending a bad pitch to the wrong guy.

Scoble is right, and it would do PR experts well to listen. If the people you’re pitching are bitching about your pitches, then you are per se not doing your job. (More on this here.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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