Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of press releases I’ve received, an observation many bloggers around me have confirmed. But these PR emails are accompanied by intros as uncomfortable as the teenage “Will you go on a date with me? Yes/No” scribbled by the nerdy girl who sat next to you in geography class.

Nerdy Nancy wants to go on a dateRanging from impersonal emails to borderline harassment calls and Facebook messages, there just seems to be a plague of poorly thought-out attempts at exploiting the circles of bloggers who are gaining influence in the media by the day.

According to Forrester Research, the general public doesn’t seem to trust us bloggers just yet, and might think we’re still total nerds, but it doesn’t matter, PR agencies have got a total crush on us.

So this is my open letter to all PR agencies we have had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with recently.

“Dear PR agency guys & gals,

We’re all very flattered that you fancy us now that we’ve gone from being viewed as the losers who spend too much time on their computers to being the cool kids with influence. We appreciate it’s difficult to accept that bloggers were never in the curriculum in your marketing theory classes, and that you feel the need to poke us with a stick while observing us from a distance, like you’re the Steve Irwin of public relations and we’re a wounded python. But I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re actually really quite normal. And we don’t even mind being treated that way.

I won’t be pointing fingers and naming names today, but I’ll use a few examples to illustrate where you unnecessarily complicated your own lives recently. If you recognise yourself, feel free to either take it as a call to action to review the way things are done, or roll your eyes and mutter that I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But if you choose to do the latter, I may just name and shame you next time you stick your foot in stinky cow dung.

Exhibit A: The Lazy Approach

“Hi,

Please see below for news on this weeks launch of the [Product Name], which I thought would be of interest for the blog.

Let me know if you need any more info.

Thanks,

R”

Now, not only did I not give permission to R’s agency to email me, but R here failed to call me by my name (it’s in my email address, can’t miss it), use my blog’s name (also in my email address) and didn’t notice that I’d already reviewed the viral campaign for the product they’re pawning. Already, 3 strikes, you should be out.

Below that dull message is an equally dull press release, using 3 different fonts and sizes, a LOT of ® characters, no real call to action, no freebies/samples offered and a link to an entirely Flash-based website with no HTML alternative. What the hell good is all that tripe when I’m on my iPhone?

Honestly how this PR agency received two PR Consultancy/Agency of the year is beyond me.

Exhibit B: The psychopath

Blogger pal receives mail from PR agency who wants them to show up at a product launch in exchange for a measly fee and liveblog the event like it’s the Spice Girls’ reunion tour. Blogger takes offense (rightly so) at the suggestion that his readership can be bought for the price of a cheap pair of shoes and chooses to ignore PR agency.

PR agency follows up deluge of pushy emails with “Email broken – Msg me your phone #. Love facebook!” via social networks. Next thing you know, they’ll be outside knocking at the window as he gets out the shower.

Creepy. Not good. Sometimes, the non-verbal signal should be enough to tell you to back off.

Exhibit C: The foreign agency

“Hi,

Hope you would forgive the intrusion.

We have been working on this for a couple of months now and are NOW live. Allow me to present Plooshh [name changed for anonymity] – why the extra ‘h’? We think it’s sexy! We think it gives you an extra H – oops, ‘extra EDGE’ we mean. :)”

And it continues on for two full screens worth of awkwardly friendly banter, filled with bright coloured large fonts, caps-lock sentences and extraneous exclamation marks. The English flip-flops between too formal and chat-speak, a bit rough ’round the edges yet endearing.

Exhibit C is the product of an Indian agency jumping head-first into Web 2.0. Nothing wrong with their pitch, everything strikes me as being done textbook-style, ticking every box. But it’s soulless. Again, there’s no attempt to get to know the bloggers they approach, opting for a scattergun mail-out. Throw enough stuff at the wall, something’s bound to stick.

While this wasn’t a particularly thrilling email, I suspect that once these guys catch on to the nuances of public relations in the new media age, their willingness and motivation might allow them to overtake many Western agencies who otherwise had a headstart in the game.

Jury’s Verdict:

Toilet cat is guilty! PR agencies are too!While a few PR agencies have embraced social media and are actively engaging with the communities their clients have an interest in, most have totally blown it so far. They’re as guilty of carelessness as this cat is of drinking out of the toilet bowl.

But hope is not lost. Assuming said agency is willing to put some elbow grease into their day’s work, I dare say there is a huge amount of potential for a beautiful relationship to blossom between PR people and bloggers.

So dear PR guys and gals, behave in a natural and human way; you’ll resonate emotionally with us. Emotional resonance is invaluable; we feel that we can become friends and are far more willing to listen to you, even when the product you’re pitching isn’t 100% on target.

I appreciate that we are the means to an end, helping you reach the (sometimes unrealistic) targets set by your client, but remember that we’re all human – yes, even us weirdo bloggers – so treat others as you would like to be treated and we’ll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In Summary

Your future cheat-sheet.

Do…

  • Have a Twitter account or personal blog where we can find out about the real you.
  • Have a product geek or evangelist we can speak to and quiz without getting the canned marketing answers (Carphone Warehouse and O2, I’m looking at you, guys. You could have definitely done with a public-facing real-person on the days surrounding the iPhone launch.)
  • Participate in events in an altruistic way every so often. We’ll get to know each other, and it’s bound to be good for your karma.
  • Put some chili in your cornflakes; By that, I mean, have genuine energy and passion about your client’s product. If you don’t get up in the morning loving your job, maybe you need to find something else to do.

Don’t…

  • Try to buy our participation to your event. Telling me you’ll pay £150 to show up on Thursday morning with a video camera for a “secret launch” isn’t social media, it’s cheap labour and fake hype.
  • Send us a stock press release with an intro that betrays you’ve never even looked at our blogs
  • Always play it so safe that we’d rather read the back of the cereal packet than your press release. Have some balls, and hey, have some fun!
  • Don’t run with scissors Be afraid of asking a couple of bloggers for a pint to bounce some ideas. Most of them will be happy to help you out!

I’d love to hear what PR agencies or other bloggers would like to add to this. How’s your PR-to-blogger relationship going?

With much love & geekery,
Vero”

Wikio Top 20 UK Tech Blogs

The wonderful team at Wikio gave me a sneak preview at the July rankings for the UK Tech blogs. Amongst the ranks are some of the usual suspects and, just off-the-podium, yours truly coming in at #29 30 this month – up by a smashing 81 places from last month!

Fingers crossed you’ll see That Canadian Girl in the Top 20 next month. 😉

Wikio Top 20 UK Tech Blogs

1 dot.life =
2 TechDigest =
3 gapingvoid =
4 Coolest Gadgets +1
5 TechCrunch UK -1
6 The Guardian Technology blog =
7 The Red Ferret Journal =
8 xlab =
9 Technology Blog =
10 Speckyboy – WordPress and Design +2
11 jkkmobile =
12 E-consultancy News Blog -2
13 BlogStorm =
14 Dial-a-Phone =
15 Wonderland New
16 hicksdesign +2
17 NevilleHobson -1
18 Gizmodo UK +1
19 confused of calcutta New
20 Simon Willison’s Weblog +1

[Update: Wikio even gives That Canadian Girl a mention in the July top blogs review. What an honour, thank you Wikio!]

Cory Doctorow speaking in Cambridge, UK on 22nd July

Quick post to tell readers that things do happen up here in Cambridge, interesting things!

Cory Doctorow is a blogger, science fiction writer and journalist. He is an editor of Boing Boing, the 11th best blog in the world (according to Time Magazine). He was the 2006-2007 Canadian Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. He founded the software company Opencola which was later sold to the Open Text Corporation. He also writes regularly for The Guardian newspaper

Cory will be speaking for one hour at 5:30pm on July 22nd 2008 at ARM, 110 Fulbourn Road, Cambridge CB1 9NJ. Robinson College, Grange Road, Cambridge, CB3 9AN.

If you’re thinking of coming to Cambridge for this, get in touch and we’ll make an evening of it.

I'm a SOB apparently

Woke up this morning to discover I’ve been described as a SOB by a fellow blogger – a Successful and Outstanding Blogger. Liz Strauss regularly publishes her list, which I really enjoy readging, so it’s an honour to be added to it.

Thanks Liz, and most of all, thanks whoever you are faithful readers since 2004. 🙂

What top 10 keywords give you blog traffic?

Last week, I suggested on The Blog Medic that finding out what were the top keywords leading readers to your blog could give some very interesting results. Some of us probably look at our stats daily (ahem, hourly?) but I’d be curious to see what your top 10 is, if you’re willing to share it!

Here’s my top 10 keywords list

  1. canadian girls
  2. baxi boilers
  3. i can sing a rainbow
  4. pouding chomeur
  5. japanese makeup
  6. cracked macbook
  7. funny google searches
  8. postsecret archive
  9. virtual barbershop
  10. canadian

Now I can’t believe I come up as the 4th result for “Canadian” in Google – when searching from a UK IP address, granted – but still!

So, go on, little Friday afternoon meme. What are your top 10 search terms?

Bloggers: Be confident, positive (and humble)

This evening, I came across a post where I couldn’t help but think that I had to share with fellow bloggers.

Darren Rowse, pro-blogger and six-digit-salary man, tells bloggers to get rid of their inferiority complex, and I could not agree more! He gets loads of emails from bloggers asking for tips or advice (why don’t I get more mail from you readers?!) with many self-deprecating comments, claiming they’re “no A-list blogger” and “don’t write as well as they do…”

So this is to tell you, my fellow bloggers, to take pride in what you do. It doesn’t matter if all you write is a weenie little blog to track your child growing up, your BMI going down by preparing for a half-marathon for charity, or a technology rant.

Think positive, be proud of the fact that you’ve braved the wild world of blogging. You may not realise it but you’re boldly going where most of people around you won’t have. So grab that blog by the horns and be a sassy self-promoter. Whether it gets you a job, helps you find like-minded people for a project or just gives you an outlet to blow some steam off, enjoy the fact that you’re still more cutting edge than you might think.

Why Twitter is so unbelievably awesome

Anyone who’s witnessed a typical weekday for me will have noticed my slight addiction to Twitter, a service that simply can’t be explained and has to be experienced.

But in my attempt to justify the thousands of updates I’ve posted on it, I’ll highlight a few amazing ways Twitter has helped me and those around me this week.

  • It helped me discover how other bloggers felt about being accosted by PR agency, resulting in an article for The Blog Medic called “Marketing Ethics: Ten ways to piss off a blogger”.
  • An ad hoc conversation led to a friend getting a job offer, and the entire conversation up to scheduling an interview call happened over Twitter.
  • It allowed me to find a couple of new contracts for Pepsmedia redesigning blog templates & site launches.
  • Since SXSW, I’ve managed to stay in touch with many of the lovely people I met there without going through the usual “ok I’ll reply to that email later”, where later becomes never. By keeping it bite-sized, Twitter makes it easy to stay in touch.
  • I’ve found amazing support for the idea of SocialMediaCamp in London in July through fellow Twitter users who are interested and can provide skills and contacts I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • A few people offered sound advice with regards to the process to setting up a limited company, again calling on the experience of others.
  • It was the fastest channel through which I heard about Russell’s decision to stop developing Mowser on Monday night.
  • It’s a great way to swap kitty photos with Mel Kirk 🙂

So there you go, it’s a business resource like no other, a great communication tool and an entertaining place to have water cooler conversations with like-minded people.