Damn spam

This is an article by Richard Bailey.
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PR: we have a problem

PR has a spam problem. It isn’t new – and nor do I have anything to add to the well-rehearsed arguments (don’t EVER forget this, or this).

For those still unclear on what the problem is, here’s a recent case study. The comments focus on the intern’s ignorance of the BCC (blind copy) function. Yet email protocol was not the problem: it was the lack of understanding and empathy in the question ‘who is in charge of receiving press releases having to do with the garment and accessories industry?’

Here’s my advice: before hitting the send button, try to answer the ‘who cares?’ question. If the answer’s no one, then send it to no one – or go back and come up with an approach that someone somewhere might find interesting.

The PR spam problem stems from the old technique of mailing out news releases to publications being extended to the online world in which anyone and everyone is potentially a media organisation. Bloggers are being treated as full-time, professional journalists. It was always a hit-and-miss practice limited by the cost constraints of paper and postage – and now the misses are on a monumental scale because of email.

SEO what?

This year, I’ve been receiving rather more ‘pitches’ from SEO spammers than from PR spammers (the latter are still mostly identifiable as they’re based on news announcements or invitations to events).

The SEO spammers look just like PR pitches. People approach me with some comment on this site and offer to write a ‘guest post’ on a topic that seems connected to our subject matter.

So what’s the problem?

They almost never identify themselves or provide any source credibility. For example, if you’re offering to write an article about getting on the PR career ladder, at least tell me what rung you’re on and what insight you have on the topic. If you don’t, I might suspect this is a blatant attempt to get a link to some business or service you’re being paid to promote.

Some kindly offer to write the article but are up front about their demands: I must link to such-and-such a service or website in return for their well-crafted words. No thanks!

SEO pitches rarely have source credibility (because the sender either doesn’t have any or hasn’t considered why explaining credibility might be important). PR pitches almost always do, because the sender represents the brand or company (and is usually up-front about this relationship – it’s a requirement of professional practice).

Publicity or relationships: you choose

PR spammers and SEO spammers must achieve some success or they’d give up (depressingly, so must those generously offering to transfer millions of dollars of unwanted Nigerian money into my bank account). Yet if success for the spammer means duping some blogger or editor, then it means getting off on the wrong foot. Win-lose is not a good start point for a happy relationship (aim for win-win). So any short-term success you may achieve is at the expense of a long-term relationship.

Short-term hits may make for good search engine results – but almost certainly make for bad public relations.

How to contact this publication

We helpfully provide an About page that should answer most basic questions. If it doesn’t, then editorial contact information is provided. So don’t contact me to ask me to tell you about the publication (that’s a sure way to irritate me). Don’t ask if I accept ‘guest posts’ because the About page should make clear our policy on contributed articles.

Instead, tell me who you are (source credibility) and tell me what you would like to write about (content). My one additional request is that you offer original content – so please don’t send me an article that you’ve already published on your own blog (though you could send me a different version of it).

I’m sorry if I sound picky. It’s just that I’m an individual. Spammers (of the SEO or PR variety) don’t want to get their heads around complexity or contradictions: they don’t want relationships. They just want to get away with a quick assault and move on before being caught.

It’s a grim metaphor, but I hope it explains the problem. It also indicates that there is a future for PR practitioners who understand the importance of relationships, and aren’t just after one-night stands.




  1. Richard, thanks so much for citing my post. I completely agree that whoever trained (for lack of a better word) that intern didn’t instruct him/her in that fundamental question – “who cares?” That’s a critical question and should be the basis of everything we do, the strategies we create, etc. And when it comes to training young professionals, that is the first question we have to teach our young colleagues to ask (and have to continue asking ourselves!).

    I too have started getting a lot of the SEO spam masked as pitches. I thought my “how to” pages for WUL (pitch, write, contact) were detailed enough, but apparently not… so I updated them with even more clarity.

    Though I wonder if I should be grateful that the SEO spammers think my blog is worth sending spam pitches, too…?!

  2. Those are very helpful guidance notes, Shonali (though there’s some confusion between ‘I’ and ‘we’ – probably inherent in a medium that began as personal publishing and is now morphing into something more collective).

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