So to recount a sorry tale, recently Jason Mendelson, VC with The Foundry and prolific (and widely read) blogger, posted about a certain PR firm and why exactly he didn’t consider them an exemplary example for the industry. It’s an interesting read but to summarize, The PR firm in question seems to have Jason on short rotation for emails, and this despite his regular attempts to have himself deleted from their mailing list.

After receiving no joy from his requests to disengage, Jason outed the firm, in a post that has attracted hundreds of retweets, 50 or so comments and enough Google juice to put it near the top of the front page of a Google search for the particular firm (see below).

atomic1

Now I feel Jason’s pain – I’ve posted before about exceptionally bad work from PR agencies – in my position, and while I have many friends in PR, there’s not a lot of value an agency can bring. I’ll always make time to talk to a company that has an interesting story to tell and while deleting emails from those who are outside my focus area might be a pin, it’s a pain I’m willing to endure in return for the direct relationships that ensue from my modus operandi.

I understand that Jason is an incredibly busy man who no doubt faces an ever increasing inbox. I’m also aware that he’s an ex attorney and hence is perhaps a little ultra attuned to rights, responsibilities and obligations. But still I feel a little uneasy about naming and shaming. Yes this agency screwed up, but Jason is a very powerful figure in our industry, his influence is strong, and it’d be a shame to see harm done to this particular business from his wrath.

So what do you all think? Does the duty to expose bad behavior overcome any moral obligation to “play nice”? And does that decision need to be weighted by the individual’s influence and hence possible impact that naming may have? Thoughts?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

9 Comments
  • I’m a flack. Have been one for 20 years. I get spammed by other flacks masquerading as true PR professionals. Nicely asking doesn’t work (one only has to look at the repeat offenders). So I have chosen to help clean up the profession from the inside by calling out the spammers to their clients and to The Bad Pitch Blog (badpitch.blogspot.com).Based on the replies I get to the emails I send (granted, they aren’t the most pleasant of emails), I know without a shadow of a doubt that tough love like this is all that will help (to a t, every response has been pure denial that they aren’t spamming). Sure, I’m not making any friends, but this is my career and I don’t want it further tarnished by the lazy actions of others. It’s my way of making sure PR stays a half-rung above lawyers on the respectability ladder 🙂

  • What happened to “markets are conversations” and “word of mouth”?

    If we meet in a private set I will tell you of that company doing some wrong stuff. Because we are friends.

    Now, perhaps Jason’s going a step beyond and expanding the “market are conversations” to the next level – the level predicted ten years ago by Cluetrain Manifesto.

    Let him do it. If you don’t do it yourself then it’s a personal option.

  • Mike, please re-read… I am not talking about the inbound email, but Jason’s post.

    Jason’s post *is* word of mouth and *is* starting a conversation. He’s spot on.

  • There’s also a larger story here (there’s ALWAYS a larger story!!) As marketing and PR have changed (more conversation, soc-med, crowdsourced, etc); many people and businesses in the flack game haven’t evolved the way they do it. They are still using the same old tools (media lists, media databases, automated email systems); the same old approaches (spamming, impersonalized pitches, etc); the same old agency structure that supports short-term traffic spikes over reputation, community and relationship-building that often occurs slowly over time. Basically, the old school are trying to make it in the new school and pissing people off with tactics that fill inboxes- the worst crime of the new media world.

    Having worked at a PR agency (I know, don’t tell anyone) I’ve seen first-hand how the business model of an agency pushes people to do a poor job out of lack of resources, unrealistic client demands, and lack of understanding of the industry. Happily I’ve moved into a more diverse and encompassing position working across product, biz dev, marketing and PR (startup baby!), and it becomes more and more clear that the old model doesn’t work and worse- that it actually punishes GOOD COMPANIES with GOOD STORIES who deserve a voice. Reporters, analysts and influencers are so flooded with crap that it is hard for them to find the good stuff and discover unknowns in a sea of bad pitches. In short, bad PR hurts startups.

    That’s why I believe that awareness of sucky PR is important. I don’t believe in being trigger-happy in public shame because education is more important than destruction, but some acts are so ridiculous that they merit more public responses.

    It isn’t just the responsibility of flacks, but also their clients. If you have a PR team, agency, or just some poor kid you hired on intern wages sending pitches, make sure you take a few moments of each day to ask yourself “Does my PR Suck?”

    The answer might surprise you.

    Because it is probably yes.

    • Shanley – thanks for the comment, I guess I’d paraphrase by saying “Give feedback, and give it nicely” there being a difference between that and public humiliation….

  • I’m with Shanley on this one. We’re at a point where education is no longer the option and public shaming is what it will take to fix a broken system.

    Just this week I took a spammer disguised as a PR pro out to the woodshed in front of her client and in front of The Bad Pitch Blog. Did I do it blindly? No. I did the research this spammer didn’t do when she blindly pulled my name from a list I had never asked to be on. I looked at her online profiles. I looked at her firm’s site. More importantly, I made sure I wasn’t about to flame a rookie (where, you are correct, education is what is called for). She was a seasoned pro and knew exactly what she did. She got caught. Remind me to show you the response she sent in e-mail. It further proves that public humiliation is all that is left.

  • Sara Pereira |

    Full disclosure, I am in PR, and have two points to add:

    1. In order to change their ways, PR firms are going to have to shake up the very ground that they stand on. This means restructuring pricing by reducing the “fluff” that clients are being charged for and beginning to run lean, transparent and service-focused businesses. The days of $15k retainers may be fading fast. Perhaps without the hefty price tags it would be easier to set new and realistic goals with a client, that are based more on value measured against a business goal versus how many time you haggle a reporter and how many “hits” you get. With the shift towards new media and new methods of communicating a story, a subsequent shift in pricing and practices would be essential in my mind.

    2. I just have to point out how often, as a PR person, I send an email to a reporter only to find out:
    – I have been signed up to their publications newsletter without my consent
    – I have been passed onto their ad department and am now being harassed by a salesperson wanting to sell ads to my clients
    – I have been signed up for a subscription that I did not order

    I consider this just as bad a practice as spam.

Leave a Reply