Last fall, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson posted an entry on his well-read blog, "The Long Tail," that informed the PR industry he was fed up with e-mail pitches deemed blatantly misdirected, poorly researched, or thinly veiled spam. In his frustration, Anderson publicized the e-mail addresses he felt associated with these poor pitches.
I've never been an editor, but it isn't hard to empathize - receiving 300 legitimate pitches a day is unfathomable. But, at its core, the Anderson episode wasn't about careless pitchers. Instead, it highlighted the inability of electronic communications between media and the PR industry to scale.
E-mail worked well for a while, but once it hit the mass market, reporters and editors became overwhelmed with the amount received. Adding to the challenge was the fact that reporters and editors became adamant about not being cold-pitched on the phone.
These developments have set e-mail pitches on a path to self-destruction. Examples are everywhere - from the emergence of ProfNet to Facebook pages, where reporters can now send out story queries. Both work well now, but eventually will hit the same scalability wall as e-mail.
What I found underwhelming about Anderson's act is that it was just that - an act of frustration. Five months later, where are we? So here are five steps that might spark the industry in the right direction:
Re-align conference panels. It is hard to walk two feet at a PR conference without tripping over a panel on SEO tricks or Press Release 2.0. But how many young PR pros understand when to pitch an editor as opposed to a reporter, or know the difference between an associate and managing editor?
Create a PR-media working group. Media organizations erect higher e-mail filter barriers, we try to evade them, and the cycle goes on and on. Both sides should invest a fraction of that time on mutually beneficial processes.
Media databases are not a crutch. While databases are useful, they lead many to bypass the essential step to securing coverage - researching and understanding what the publication and its staff covers. Databases are best used as a compliment to - not a replacement for - solid research.
A more transparent editorial food chain. Some publications embrace online editorial flow charts with detailed info on coverage beats, while others believe masking this information will reduce the volume of mail. It is my belief that the former approach results in higher-quality and targeted pitches, while the latter results in confusion.
Better editorial calendar information. Editorial calendars are understandably fluid, but a process offering more detailed info will better serve both sides. Some publications have set up an automated editorial calendar phone hotline with valuable info on each topic and who the best contact is. In other words, there are ways to ease the burden. n
Brian Lustig is co-founder of Lustig Communications, a Rockville, MD-based strategic communications firm.