Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Marybeth from Orca Communications might be an idiot. I’m not saying she is; however, her behavior is certainly in-line with the kind of idiocy that some PR firms are practicing. I know I’m going to sound like a dink here, but there’s a hard truth to face, and it’s that these groups just aren’t “getting it”.

This is how PR firms “do” social media

Yesterday Marybeth sent me an email about Veeple, “a new breakthrough in advertising”. It’s not the first time I’ve received a message about this. Last month Ann (also possibly an idiot) sent me a rather identical and “personalized” message about Veeple. It read like this:

Hi <<First Name>>,

With You Tube and MySpace all the rage – there’s a new breakthrough in advertising that takes advantage of these online videos in a brand new way. Viral marketing has gone high-tech!

I thought you might have interest in a story.

Software geniuses out of Silcone Valley are introducing Veeple – revolutionary software that gives the ability to add interactive “VeeSpots” — in-stream text, web page links, speech, and even thought bubbles — to videos! This opens up a whole new way for advertisers and web publishers to effectively deliver their message to the billions of people who are hooked on viewing and posting videos on the Internet!

Please let me know if you are interested in more information. We have some great examples. We’re also happy to set up an interview with Veeple for more on how this technology works and how it’s poised to shake up the advertising world. Thanks!

Best Regards,
Ann Noder
Orca Communications Unlimited, LLC
“America’s PR Firm for Inventors & Entrepreneurs”
(480)907-5298 (fax)

Now, I suppose that Ann and Marybeth have been successful in a way. I’ve now made reference to their press release (link strength added). I’ve talked about them with some degree of vitriol around our office, and I’ve checked out Veeple’s site. It’s nicely “inspired” by the Surface folks at Microsoft with the addition of YouTube interface embedded within. (As we all know, originality just takes way too much time.)

Why such an asshole?

The other night, one of my students referred to me as an “asshole”. He was smiling when he said it, so I suspect it was all in good fun; nevertheless, I’m the first to admit that I am sometimes just that. That being said, with these alleged “idiots”, I’m not actually trying to be an asshole. It’s just so easy that it’s impossible to resist.

When Ann (the firm’s President) first contacted me, I was a surprised by her inability to actually insert my name. As much as I assumed that <<First Name>> was intended to reference yours truly, I felt it to be rather a faux-pas. I was being sent PR spam, and I didn’t really like it.

As such, I sent a good-hearted, albeit cheeky, response to her:

Hi Ann,

Thanks for the tip! I’m going to pass this on to <<First Name>>, <<First Name>>, and <<First Name>>, who’ll get back to you on this. ;-)

(Could you take me off of this list please?)



I kind of thought I might receive an “Oops! Sorry about that Eric.” Instead, I received this:



With You Tube and MySpace all the rage – there’s a new breakthrough in advertising that takes advantage of these online videos in a brand new way. Viral marketing has gone high-tech!

I thought you might have interest in a story.

Software geniuses out of Silcone Valley are introducing Veeple – revolutionary software that gives the ability to add interactive “VeeSpots” — in-stream text, web page links, speech, and even thought bubbles — to videos. This opens up a whole new way for advertisers and web publishers to effectively deliver their message to the billions of people who are hooked on viewing and posting videos on the Internet.

Please let me know if you are interested in more information. We have some great examples. We’re also happy to set up an interview with Veeple for more on how this technology works and how it’s poised to shake up the advertising world. Thanks!

Nice; the same message, but this one with my name included. (I have to wonder what these folks bill their clients to tap this keen attention to detail.)

I then became rather crabby and sent one more message:

Do not send me these messages. You are sending spam.

Once again, there were no responses until Marybeth’s email yesterday, which (as I’m sure you can imagine). I was thrilled to receive. I must say they’re pretty smart about time-management. Instead of wasting a moment by changing their message, they just send the same one over and over again.

They really don’t get it

Now, perhaps I’m being a little mean. These folks just have a job to do. They’re trying to spread the word, and this is the best way they know how. They know “press releases” and keep hearing that this social media thing is really, really big. So, they tackle it the only way they know how: they email press releases. Some have been audacious enough to invent a new bollocks term for this. They call it the “social media release.” Right.

Again, the problem is that they’re completely stuck in an old paradigm. First of all they don’t understand what they are selling; honestly, who uses the phrase, “Software geniuses” with a straight face? Moreover, they don’t understand that social media isn’t just a newfangled version of a fax machine. You can’t just chuck the same repetitive crap at people and expect that anyone will pay attention. (Oh, right, footnote here Ann: “Silcone Valley” should have one more “i” and one less “e” in it.)

But, what are all these PR firms to do? After years of doing things the same way, everything’s mixed up. And who’s there to explain this weird social media phenomenon.

Doing it right(ish)

Make no mistake; the future of advertising is PR. It’s just that it’s not the kind of PR that’s being practiced by most today. Currently PR is about “push”; by this I mean simply sending messages. Many bloggers have experienced this first-hand. Daily I receive a handful of emails from companies just like Orca, who think that they’re servicing their clients’ needs by spamming press releases of little or no relevance to their recipients.

Although some may respond differently, I immediately file these messages in the trash bin. I might add that I hit that delete key with a bit of a vengeance. These people are getting paid to fill my inbox with pointless drivel by clients who actually think they’re going to see results. They profit by irritating us, while associating their clients with spam. (In my mind this isn’t the most healthy business model.)

But it will be different. In the future, people like Ann and Marybeth might start to understand it’s all about “pull”. They’ll first do this by researching who they are contacting and actually ensuring that they are sending messages to interested people.

Then they’ll learn to actually engage these people in a dialogue. You know, either Marybeth or Ann could have simply emailed a brief apology to me. In this they might have explained that they had thought that I’d be interested in what they sent. Instead, it seems they were so busy spamming that they had no interest in actually bothering to write even the briefest of responses.

This is a shame, because doing so could have been quite effective for them. It might have even started a dialogue and set the stage for future mentions for their clients. Ann, Marybeth, pay particular attention to this word, “dialogue”. Honestly, it’s no longer about the number of messages you send; instead, concentrate on the actual interaction or engagement that results. Heck, I’ll even throw you a bone here. Read this: A Primer in Social Media. It’s my little helper for people just like you.

On the other hand

Then, we have folks like Darryl, Bill and the crew from Plaid. They are involved in a brilliant little publicity/fun/teambuilding exercise called the Plaid Nation Tour. They wrap a van in the Plaid “look”, and then drive it across parts of the country meeting-up with people they like. Along the way they Twitter about their travels, post video synopses of the day’s events, live-stream from the van, blog, chat, and so on.

Why’s it so smart? Well, to use Seth Godin’s word, it’s kind of “remarkable”. First off, they get to play extensively with the technology that most PR firms only understand from an anecdotal standpoint; additionally, they have a free-pass to visit with any company they want. While there, they show off how pleasant and interesting they are, hand out a bunch of swag, and then carry on. (See their visit to our studio for an example.) Along the way, they have actual fun. How novel.

It’s brilliant PR; I only wish that we would have thought of doing it first.

The important part here is that it’s not business as usual. Things like social media releases signal pure idiocy and leave bloggers like me wanting to punch people. The sensation is similar to opening my front door expecting a friend, and instead finding a burning bag of shit.

So, there you go Orca Communications! Your press releases have resulted in an article at ideasonideas. (I hope it was all you wished it would be.)

Follow @karj to hear about these posts first.

Comments & Trackbacks

  1. David Airey says:

    It's sadly typical, and you're not alone in receiving such messages.

    Sometimes common sense just can't be pulled back in the window.

  2. What do you really expect from a company that doesn't even use their title tags?

    Orca Communications

  3. Pat says:

    Great article, Eric. It's interesting to me that we see this trend in just about every industry. There are those stuck in their paradigms, doing the same things that were effective 20 years ago to reach today's generation. There are also those pushing the mold and creating something new, in some cases to the point where what they are doing isn't that relevant to our generation today, but could have lasting effects on future generations.

    Can companies like this make the appropriate transitions? What do you think? Can old PR firms change, or do they need to deconstruct and rebuild?

  4. Hi Pat,

    I think it all comes down to caring. If these folks cared about the product they were promoting, they'd get excited and seek to truly understand it. They'd also spread this news to those who'd find it relevant and would start real conversations with them.

    Of course, there's nothing that physically stops any group from doing just this. The tough part is that it could be hard for big PR firms to make as much money doing so as they might be accustomed to with more “boilerplate” methods of working. Needless to say, starting an in-depth conversation with each individual is time consuming. As such, one would have to limit the number of dialogues they’d start. Even by doing so, however, this would still be costly given the level of involvement and hours spent.

    I don't work in PR, so I can't accurately comment on how these firms work. That being said, it seems to me that the only people who will really be able to do PR effectively will be those who work within organizations (they'll have the time and interest to start slower, longer, more meaningful conversations), and those who actually love the products and actually want to talk about them.



  5. Ryan La Rosa says:

    Brilliant post Eric. I agree wholeheartedly and as someone who's title regrettably includes "public relations" I understand both sides of the table. I've been the mindless drone before. I've sent things I wasn't proud of and I knew people could care less about. You're right - the true crime is that we're not stopping our clients in their tracks to tell them what they're doing is ineffective and even worse, obnoxious.

    You ask what are all these PR firms to do? Unfortunately in many cases it's nod your head and collect a check. But if you're lucky like I was, you find a company willing to take risks and jump in head first. You win some battles, you lose some battles and you learn from each along the way. You hated people like me. I hated people like me - as clearly evidenced by my first company blog post, - but I'm getting over it and I'm learning to love this profession, and my title, all over again.

  6. Pingback: Idiots - article | Pat Dryburgh

  7. Kim Stewart says:

    Writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 saw this kind of marketing coming and denounced it. If you visit the Cluetrain site, scroll down to #20, (see 17,18 and 19 for context.).

    Also #91 which says, "Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that have no part in this world, also have no future."

  8. Dave Klonke says:

    A good friend of mine recently shared a quote with me:

    "People get into PR because they're allergic to work."

    That pretty well summed up my experiences with the industry. Your post is dead on. Yes, they work in an old paradigm, but the experience you share is probably more pure laziness than anything else.

    PR is a very real and necessary function within any business. Unfortunately, many (not all) practitioners generally have no business sense or any idea how the media actually operates.

  9. Superb. Enjoyed every word here and loved your bit in Plaid's video.

  10. Seth Godin just sent me this link. Very much worth reading and sending when you receive messages like the one mentioned in the post:

  11. When I first started receiving emails from people promoting design related contests and events I thought, "Hey, I'm being noticed!" Now I wish I was under their radar. I definitely think PR firms would get more mileage out of their emails if they would do research on who they're sending to first, like you said, Eric (love the link from Seth that you shared, too!). The leads would be more high quality and they wouldn't risk being associated with spam as much. The Plaid Nation Tour sounds like a brilliant bit of PR! How fun!

    I was able to spin around a situation like the above just a couple of days ago. I was approached by a PR person from a software company asking me to publish a "blog post" that turned out to be nothing more than a testimonial for their product (and which appeared on at least half a dozen other sites, verbatim). I politely responded and told her as much, but offered to do my own review of her company's product in exchange for a free review copy, to which she enthusiastically agreed. $200 piece of useful software for me and an honest, thoughtful and real blog post/review for them. Good deal on both ends, I think.

  12. Fubiz says:

    Great article!

  13. bg says:

    I served with <>. I knew <>. <> was a friend of mine.

    Eric, you’re no <>.

  14. Pat says:


    You're very right. There's an emotional disconnect when an outside company is responsible for sharing a product or service. You almost instantly know they don't care about the product, they are just hired guns for their expertise.

    You say that starting a conversation with an individual is time consuming, however with the way the web works today, it doesn't have to be so. You could hire one person 8 hours a day 5 days a week who could be responsible for simply having conversations with people. The conversation you and I are having now collectively has taken maybe 3 minutes each so far. Imagine that on a grander scale and the impact that could have. As you wrote in your post, even if they had used a standard letter to begin the conversation and then continued the conversation personally, your opinion on the company would be different.

  15. Ann Noder says:

    Your hurtful reference to my pitch on Veeple as well as my colleague’s was certainly not necessary.

    As I’m sure you can appreciate, typos and accidents happen. The original pitch was inadvertently sent before it was ready. It was an unfortunate mistake. I never received any email from you, but I immediately corrected the pitch and resent to the entire media list. Marybeth and I work independently on behalf of Veeple and regrettably your name was on both of our media lists. We apologize for the duplication of pitches. Does this warrant a nasty write-up?

    Orca Communications Unlimited, LLC ( is a highly reputable public relations agency. As a former journalist myself, we take our responsibility seriously and have a wonderful working relationship with the press including top national outlets. Our clients are typically entrepreneurs and inventors and we are proud to have unique programs that make public relations more affordable. We understand and appreciate the value of online editorials and blogs, which is why we are diligent at including contacts such as you in our media list distribution. Given your subject material, we thought Veeple may have been an area of interest. We will surely make sure you are no longer on our media distribution lists.

    I hope you’ll consider removing this post from your site. It’s also unfortunate for our client.

    I appreciate your consideration.

    Thank you.

    Best Regards,
    Ann Noder
    Orca Communications Unlimited, LLC
    “America’s PR Firm for Inventors & Entrepreneurs”
    (480)907-5298 (fax)

  16. Hi Ann,

    Thanks for your email; it's good to hear from you. :-)

    I understand your concern about the post and agree that it's certainly on the “caddy” side.

    In some respects, you're feeling the brunt of my frustrations with PR firms in general. Your email is endemic of a growing trend. Over the past few months bloggers like me have received an increasing number of these releases. Some days it feels like my inbox is overflowing with them. This becomes doubly frustrating, when I email asking to be removed from these lists--the times when my requests are acknowledged are few and far between.

    I appreciate your desire to have this article removed; however, I do think it's important that it remains here. The message is relevant and topical; additionally, I feel that this is a valid dialogue for us to all engage in.

    For the record, I understand and empathize with your situation. When ideasonideas started, we wanted to spread the word to fellow bloggers. As such, Peter (one of smashLAB's great designers) and I reached-out to some people at blogs we admired.

    We sent personal emails to these bloggers and were very careful to ask if we might be able to contact them with relevant posts. Some told us they weren't interested, and some noted that they already subscribed to RSS feeds so they didn't need any additional notifications.

    The important part here was that we asked for their permission to stay in touch. We all need to "get the word out" from time to time, but respecting these people’s wishes is really important.

    Additionally, I have to stress that every person who contacts me gets a response. The one exception is Mr. Hakan who offered to send me Eight hundred and Fifty thousand British Pounds if I send him my banking info. I dunno... something just seems fishy about that guy. ;-)

    The problem with your press release wasn't so much the typo. It's that none of my three emails asking you to remove me from your lists warranted any kind of response or action. I’m sure you’d agree that it's unfortunate that I had to post an article like this just to get your attention. (My feeling is that if you're going to take the time to email someone you don't know, you at very least should acknowledge their responses.)

    What is good is that you're responding here. This is the beautiful part of social media. You made a mistake and you've acknowledged it. Now, you can use the blogosphere to help define how you utilize and interact with social media.

    I've always found that the readers of ideasonideas have great responses and insightful comments. Sometimes they’ve said things I didn’t initially want to hear; nevertheless, I appreciate that they've taken the time to share their opinions. Even though a few of comments have "stung", I know that I have learned a great deal from them.

    I think the best thing now is to open this up to the readers. Are there any observations you'd like to share? Do you have suggestions for Ann and the team at Orca? Or, perhaps you could add your thoughts on how PR can work in the blogoshpere?

    All the best,


  17. Marga says:

    Hi Eric,

    Great post! I love that it started such an intense conversation... great use of social media ; )

    When sending mass emails you should always think etiquette... even more if you are sending emails on behalf of your clients (great reference to Seth's email checklist).

    On typos: yes, we are all human and we all make mistakes, but when you are sending "promotional emails" (p.c. for spam) to any potential audience with typos and name omissions; that to me is treating them as sub-humans, you don't deserve any human understanding from that audience. So, to quote Seth: "If I need to apologize, then yes, it's spam, and I'll get the brand-hurt I deserve"

    In the end, Orca got the spotlight somehow, as they say any publicity is good publicity, right?... right?

  18. Mark says:

    I used to work on mailing lists and emails that went out to 1million+ subscribers. We took CAN-SPAM and user lists seriously.

    So, last year, when I received a promo email from a neighbor of my new office, I assessed the email from my experience, not just as a neighbor down the hall.

    I had exchanged business cards with a few people and thought she got my address off that. See, it's technically acceptable to send someone a first email if you've made contact with that person, and then invite them to click to join your list. This wasn't that--It was a general email with an opt-out message.

    No, I hadn't given her my card or address. And only my personal, not business, name was on my door. I deduced that my neighbor had cruised the business park's directory, visited firms' web sites, and loaded email addresses into her ConstantContact list. (And emails sent with that ConstantContact promo footer embedded look so amateur and trashy--you do your business a disservice.)

    I couldn't let it slide. Instead of barking at my office's neighbor that she just really pissed me off and violated my inbox, I let her know (via e-mail reply) that:

    * I had some experience in the field.
    * That she did, in fact, spam me. It was unsolicited and she added my address to a list.
    * That opt-in is as important a requirement as an unsubscribe link.
    * That I could have not only flagged her message as spam, which does count, but also could've contacted ConstantContact's abuse address to report her with full details.
    * That I did not do so as a courtesy, and instead let her know how the law worked.

    Her response? "Thank you for your email. As a new member of the [Business Park] community, we were simply trying to introduce people to our services here. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate you taking the time to educate me on best practices."

    They don't get it. They don't get that the introduction emails they send are just as annoying to the uninterested as the v!agr4 and p3nis emails drowning their own inboxes. Part of the problem is that it's just too easy. There's a responsibility that goes along with contacting someone -- would she be so inclined to sit down and cold call every number she gleaned from the directory? -- that gets ignored when ConstantContact lets you send email for free in exchange for plugging their service. "Why wouldn't I send my crappy JPEG email to 1000 people and get some exposure?"

    Because it's lame. And it's bad business. And some of us will hold it against you.

  19. Steve says:

    Nice article Eric and the discussion following has been fun to read as well. I'm glad that Ann found the article and has participated as it has generated some thoughtful and enlightening conversation.

    With regards to any e-mail solicitation (on mass) it is vitally important to maintain one list that gets de-duped before sending out to avoid any duplications as well as provide automated opt out links for those (like Eric) wishing to me removed. When manually removing users, many often slip through the cracks.

    And internal revision and proof reading cycles never hurt either!

  20. Pingback: Our Own System » Blog Archive » 28. “Getting It”

  21. Jeff Pulver says:

    Hi Eric,

    I have had a series of similar experiences. Idiots is the right title and there is no excuse why PR firms continue this lazy approach while even at times acknowledging that they are living in the past. captures something I was thinking as a reaction to a similar situation.

    Good luck in changing the way PR firms approach social media.

  22. CT Moore says:

    Hi <>, as a blogger, you must understand how You Tube and MySpace are all the rage. It looks like viral marketing has gone high-tech! How exciting!

  23. @Mark: As another designer who works on major email marketing campaigns for a retailer I totally understand the experience of people who completely disregard the practices.

    A customer is instilling a sense of confidence in your company that you won't spam them every chance you get. In your case, a "No email soliciting" sign might help on your door :-)

    Excellent article Eric, and it's interesting to see that you got one of the PR folks to discuss it with us here. Isn't the Internet nifty?

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  25. Great post and great dialogue from both of you. I would love to have you share your experiences with other media and PR pros on my network, PitchEngine. To send a little of my own "spam" - we're trying to change the way media relations happens currently- check us out!

  26. A follow up post - PR Spam: 10 Ways to Avoid Being Blacklisted

  27. Don Martelli says:

    It seems like posts similar to these are popping up all over the place these days. As a former reporter and now VP for a global PR firm, I tend to agree with the scribes on this issue.

    IMHO, there are three key reasons to at the root of this problem:

    1. PR pros are not read enough, meaning a majority of the people in the business don't take the time to read the people they are going to pitch. Our business is all about research and you have to research the right outlets and contacts. It sounds easy, but with everything else going on with client work, sometimes this is part of the process that gets lopped off.

    2. Clients: Clients are another problem with the PR industry. And what I mean by this is that clients want coverage all the time. For the most part, companies are run by men and women who are part of the old school regime where putting out a press release automatically got you covered. We all know that this is not true anymore (unless it's an earnings release). Our business depends on the happiness of client service. Clients are happy when they are getting clips so there's this mentality that exists in the industry that it's about quantity vs. quality. This, in turn, results in laziness and "just pitch it" mentality.

    3. Training: PR training isn't what it used to be. When I was in college there were no PR degrees. Basically, you went to journo school and eventually ended up in the business because you didn't want to work for pennies, work on holidays and chase ambulances. You needed to get a job, make money, pay off college loans, etc. You had to put in serious work to become one of the well-paid types - even then, the money never compared to the PR side of the fence. So now, with PR degrees, schools are teaching students about how to put pitches together, how to write good press releases, etc. I think the success I've had in PR is due to the fact that I was a reporter. I know what it's like to GET pitched and what translated into coverage. So the training responsibility comes down to the agencies and really the senior leadership team. It is our job to work with young professionals and teach them the ropes. However, if your senior leadership team is practicing bad habits (as clearly is the case here), they get passed on to jr staffers.

    There are a number of other points to be made here (build relationships, don't rely on media lists, etc.) but for the most part, these are the three key reasons why this sort of thing keeps happening.

  28. Josh says:

    I interned at a PR firm (big one) as a designer and it was one of the most frustrating places I ever worked. I had previous experience and at that point was not some newcomer(though not a veteran), but still ran into major conflicts with the PR staff about how to approach designing visual solutions for our clients. Most of their suggestions never took concept into consideration or avoided cliches long in place before they contributed such ideas to a project.

    In some regards what I noticed was exactly what Eric is talking about when he mentioned belief in the product. They had none. Cancer benefits, candy and bottled water promotions all we're built around something cliche, safe and ultimately uninteresting.

    This difference is glaringly obvious between most designers and PR agencies. Perhaps it's because people don't "get" what we do still, but most of us invest significant time in really understanding what our clients do and what we can do together to make them successful. PR seems to lie in focus group hell, where you're hedging bets on people who lie around eating Cheez Its and watching reality TV.

    Their profession is a valuable and functioning one. I know of excellent agencies in my former hometown who function on the highest levels in traditional and online communications. So all is not lost, but perhaps Orca should re-evaluate its own PR blunder here and consider the constructive criticism as a lesson learned.

    I think there is much we could learn from each other, but who's bringing the Jagermeister to the party where we can bro up and start the process?

  29. Adam Zand says:

    I thought I was reading another in a never-ending series of slam PR professionals posts. But then, wait, Eric made some good points about pull, conversation and the potential of PR.
    But then Ann jumped in to defend a colleague and a sloppy pitch. Ann, nice of you to jump in but your firm set up a "blast" mass email list - that is a brutal way to get the word out and it is just lazy.
    I've done PR since 1993 and while part of Topaz Partners and now on my own, it's not that hard folks to be real, transparent, do your research, participate on the forums and still get your clients ink/blog post and better yet have them talk to customers and prospects.
    I love that there are dumb PR practitioners out there and firms too busy to move beyond the buzz words ("we offer blogger relations" and "social media strategy" or "threat analysis") - makes it a lot easier for me and my peeps.

  30. They don't get it. We fortunately are launching a site for an old school PR Agency which TOTALLY gets it.

    I'm not sure why this is hard for them to understand, it's sort of the same way with all the large ad agencies out there.

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  32. Pingback: How NOT to Pitch Bloggers « David Mullen

  33. Dirk Singer says:

    Was it absolutely necessary to publish Ann's name and company to make the point about bad PR practices?

    Sorry, I consider this kind of naming and shaming to be a completely disproportionate response to the original "crime."

  34. Hi Dirk,

    I thought about that at some length prior to publishing the post. In the end I reasoned that the email was ultimately a press release and as such I didn’t feel it was unethical to include it in its entirety. (Should the email have been personal correspondence I certainly wouldn't have posted it without permission.)

    Additionally, I should stress that this post was intended to get a bit of a reaction from Ann and her colleagues. I couldn't get any feedback to my "nice" responses. As such, I hoped that posting about the experience might perhaps get their attention for a moment. It turned out that this was effective (perhaps more so than I had hoped); that being said, I doubt it would have been so without using real names.



  35. Bob says:

    Fascinating post -- and the responses weren't bad either.

    As for whether Eric should have published Ann's name, I say this advisedly but as someone who writes newsletters, etc., I say that if someone doesn't like what I'm doing out in public, they have every right to criticize me. It's a little like releasing a movie with your name on it as the director and complaining about a review criticizing you as the director. Your name is on it. You've got to live with it.

  36. TravisV says:

    I think copying / pasting the press release is fair game, but the signature line and email inclusion was mean spirited. I also find it interesting how whenever a journalist or blogger "outs" a bad PR person or pitch, there's this flood of sycophant "right on" comments (what percentage, disingenuous, merely to get the link back to their blogs, btw?).

    Have you ever accidentally sent an email (I think if you hit "CRTL+Enter" it automatically fires an email off, and I've done that before in a flurry of typing, when the email was not suitable for consumption). Sometimes PR people - no matter where they stand in terms of passion or lack of passion for what they're representing - are under the gun to send out a lot of communication in a short time frame. And often times the body of a message may be similar, while the personalized messages that get dropped on top of them for different journalists / targets is what changes. I think you just outed someone who made a simple mistake. Congratulations - deftly reported. Agree with Dirk that the punishment far exceeded the crime.

    There's also something pretty tired about the sanctimonious tone of a lot of these flack "outings" by bloggers or journalists who are so put off that they got spammed again. Talk about fair game. When you're out there writing, pitches are fair game. And spam - while not good PR - is part of the game too, unfortunately. Think you can pick up the pieces and move on?

    In the brief time I was in PR for IT, I tried to make my emails as personalized as possible. I tried to avoid pissing off any journalists on deadline with discourteous or lazy communications. I actually READ the articles that the journalists I was pitching wrote (which I do not think many PR folks do in the IT industry). But if you have multiple clients and your hair is on fire one one day or another, sometimes you screw up.

    And what's funny is that the really good reporters in the industry - few of them bother to get all bent out of shape about getting spammed by a flack. They've got bigger things to worry about, better things to write about. I've gotten lit up like a Christmas tree after calling a San Francisco Business Times reporter with a pitch that was very targeted. And on another occasion (very early in my career) I really screwed the pooch by giving a high profile New York Times reporter a bad fact (which caused him personal grief come time to file the story) ... and the guy could not have been more gracious about letting me off the hook.

    You could have made all your points without rubbing this person's face in the mud. I'm sure she was already beating herself up for it anyway. She's probably usually good at her job, made this blunder ... and you tied her to the whipping post.

  37. TravisV says:

    Wait a minute, I thought I'd reached the end of your post, and hadn't read the part about multiple spam pitch offenses and requests to stop. I respectfully withdraw my previous appeal to compassion and understanding.

  38. Clayton Misura says:

    I believe there is a certain threshold for condonation, in particular instances, like the 'Orca Communications' erratum - and had that threshold not been exceeded, there really wouldn't be any need for an article such as this. However, I do agree with Travis: if you're committing anything to the public domain, even if it is something as menial as uploading photos to Myspace, the author in turn becomes "fair game". It's the double edged sword of social media. What makes this case a bit different is that Ann could have reconciled her first slip-up with a properly researched, well written letter, and perhaps even garnered a positive response.

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  40. Zoe Winters says:

    I agree that it's all about dialgue. And I'm not sure these PR people get the fact that you can't just slap something on the interwebz and expect it to go "viral." In order for something to go viral it has to at least be mildly entertaining, funny, smart, or interesting. Preferably all of the above.

    When it isn't, it's just so much advertising, and people ignore it, as per usual.

  41. Zoe Winters says:

    On the topic of mass emails, IMO you shouldn't send mass emails to anyone period unless they have opted in to receive them. If they have not opted in, you are spamming them, no matter how super fabulous and awesome your offer is. It's no different and no less annoying than telemarketing.

    People resent being advertised to in their own personal space, be it at home with their telephone or in their email inbox. If you can't be bothered to form personal relationships with people, or spread information in less intrusive ways, then get out of PR.

    When emailing a stranger who hasn't opted in, it should always be a personal contact that speaks directly to them as an individual human being. If you don't know enough about the person to send them an individual email (more than just getting their first name right), or don't have time to be bothered with that, don't send the email. They don't have time for your spam.

    One other tip on mailings. Three exclamation points in any sales copy that short is too many. (there may have been more, but I noticed at least three.) It doesn't impress us anymore. There was a time when a zillion exclamation points worked. That time has passed. Now I just feel like you're trying to lie to me. Convey your excitement in other ways besides lazy punctuation.

  42. Bob says:

    Zoe, in a different world, I'd totally agree with you. But there are numerous companies out there who simply lack the cold hard cash to do anything else. If you can tell me how these companies can "form relationships" without spending significant (i.e., over low three figures) sums on PR/advertising, I'd love to hear it.

    I also disagree that it's as annoying as telemarketing -- though perhaps that's just me not owning a iPhone. At least with spam/unwanted e-mails you aren't interrupted, and there's always the option of deleting stuff sight unseen.

  43. Zoe Winters says:

    I think your answer lies in this: If we didn't have the internet, how would you build your business, understanding the realities of telemarketing annoyance?

    You might do a direct mail campaign. Junk mail is mildly annoying but at least I can have respect for the fact that the person who sent the mail paid money to do so, they didn't just free of charge send me a bunch of crap I'm not interested in.

    The problem with this: "But this is the only way I know to do it" mentality, is that it's the excuse everyone is giving. And so unsolicited email IS annoying. The more of it you get, the more true that becomes. I never deal with anyone in a business sense that sent me an unsolicited mass emailing, just like I don't buy things over the phone.

    With all the social networking opportunities available online, to get your name/face in front of others, IMO there is no real excuse for mass impersonal emails and I don't want them in my inbox under any circumstance. Because I don't know the person.

    Marketing is far more effective, IMO when you get people to come to you. When you went to them first via an unwanted intrusion, then you're already fighting past their annoyance.

    Yes, it takes time to build an opt-in list. It takes time to social network. Anything that isn't instant gratification takes time, but I believe your customers/leads are far more targeted and qualified when you do it this way. But that's my personal opinion.

    And it's connected mostly to how *I* respond to mass email. (Which you should care what the customer thinks, not what suzy PR person thinks, unless she's your end customer. But I think even Suzy PR is annoyed when she has to go through 100 pieces of spam to get to the real mail.) It's a golden rule kind of thing. Do unto others. Maybe there is a segment of people that gets wildly excited about receiving spam, but somehow I think not.

    And I AM interrupted when I have 30 emails in my inbox that I have to delete before getting to the important stuff. I think most who believe that anyone but the naive or tricked are reading their spam, and then responding positively to it is kidding themselves. If they are, your company is likely catering to the absolute lowest common denominator and there will likely be customer service headaches from such customers that cost even more.

    Sorry that was so long winded. This issue just irritates me. It's not meant to be griping at you personally.

    As for the money issue, you either spend money or time. You can spend very little money and lots of time. My point is, if you specifically highly target who you approach, and then you send a personalized email, you're going to have far better overall results. Because you've formed a personal respectful connection. You're doing business differently from the people annoying everybody. And that is remembered. I know I remember it. I seek out people who don't try to annoy me.

  44. Zoe Winters says:


    One other thing. If you want to reach people, get people to talk about you in a positive way, don't talk about yourself. One of the big problems with traditional advertising/PR is that everybody is talking themselves up and by now most people are savvy enough to know most of it is bullshit.

    People don't like being lied to. Even for the sake of "marketing."

    And if you are the one in a million person actually offering a service or product that really IS a cut above the rest, then you get lost in the noise of the other con artists around you.

    So, my feeling is...if other people are telling me about a product or service and how great it is, it's far more valuable to me, than if the company themselves tell me. They have a vested financial interest. They're not a reliable source about their own product/service in my eyes as the consumer.

    I think it's ironic that the above spam email was about social media. And making things viral, because it's using old marketing to try to convince someone to use new. Wouldn't a more effective campaign by them have been to actually USE social media and viral marketing principles to attract customers? If their product/service works, they should be using it to attract their target audience in the first place.

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  46. The great irony in this post is that it has resulted in PR agencies emailing me even more. Now, they write to me as though we know one another, but the body of the message is still, ultimately a press release.


  47. Simon says:

    This kind of reminds me of the SEO "spam" emails I get by the dozen on a daily basis telling me how they can make my website number one in the search results for my keyword "logo design" when their own site is languishing on page 1000 or so.

    If you want to sell me SEO, make sure you are at least findable on the search engines. Likewise, if you want to sell me PR and Marketing that usues a viral approach, then at least have the decency to approach me in the same manner.

    Great discussion by the way.

  48. Hans Saefkow says:

    Sad truth is that, while this practice is annoying, everyone who read the blog is now on a first name basis with the president of Orca Communications and, whether you like it or not, Orca Communications is on the radar, which makes this kind of activity continue...
    In addition, if the negative response to lazy marketing were as strong as we'd like to believe, it wouldn't be happening. This might not be the greatest tool and it's arguable that it MAY result in some blowback for the client, but now that the seed of Veeple and Orca Communications is planted, and once we get over our initial annoyance, if we see either referenced elsewhere, we're already partway 'on-board' -Unless you now have a visceral allergic reaction like Eric had -In which case, you may have convulsions anytime you hear either name!

    By the way, I feel like I know the folks at Smashlab, and would like to invite you to check out my great new si....


  49. These last few posts made me think about how no one has referenced how the very act of using social media has created an illusion of familiarity among PR and marketing professionals with the public at large, i.e. bloggers. Wrong. Social media is mediated. It's an illusion of person-hood. It's not direct communication, even in the kind of conversation evidenced here. The medium is shaping the message. It's mildly personal.

    What I love about Eric's post is that a mere typo elevated a spammy corporate attempt at catching someone's interest for a few seconds and perhaps getting some mindshare into a real exploration into how much traditional PR and marketing firms just don't understand how to pierce the mass-media veil and get personal. Don't think of bloggers as "press outlets" or "influencers" or anything that you can put between quote marks. Even if we're taking an editorial approach towards our writing -- which we should, because otherwise we wouldn't ever find an audience -- we're still human beings that are way more complex than these words here on the page, and not beholden to the rules that a journalist or a tried-and-true publication may need to follow.

    I guess it just boils down to: Be human. Pay attention. Don't contact me unless I want to be contacted, so ask me first. And don't assume that you know me based on what you see here. Just because someone writes a blog post about how much they love, say, dark chocolate, doesn't mean you should start spamming them about the latest and greatest in dark chocolate truffles. Or design software. Or social media.

  50. shanti says:

    I agree with David in regards to how the medium shape the message. And to reaffirm what's been said in previous comments, it comes down to caring. Make sure you understand the nature of the medium first before you start using it so you can avoid such blunders that might end up costing you more than doing any good. A translation of your traditional business practises is necessary. The way you say it is as important as how you say it.

  51. yani says:

    Great article, made even better with comments.

  52. Brett says:

    Any request that includes "high-tech," "revolutionary," "breakthrough" and "all the rage" should immediately be dumped into spam. Like a 90's version of spam, where words like that belong.

  53. Adrian says:

    The original post was amusing, but a gentleman would have omited any references to real people (not just for manner's sake, but to avoid any possibility of litigation), and perhaps the word "idiot" altogether.

    Here's the rub: you seem to be angry about Orca Communication's lack of "sensitivity" while exhibiting none of your own.

  54. Hi Adrian,

    Good to hear from you--it’s a nice surprise to learn that you read the posts. (I’ve always enjoyed the spirited debate we’ve had over the years, but worried that you found this off-putting.)

    You’re right; my post wasn’t “gentlemanly” but I feel that’s largely beside the point.

    I wasn’t angry with these people for a lack of sensitivity. Instead, I was calling them out for unethical behavior. Doing so in a different fashion may have been nicer, but not nearly as effective. This approach both sent a clear message to the people at Orca while spurring an overdue discussion regarding PR related spam.

    You likely know this better than anyone: social graces are largely foreign to me. My interest is in ideas, truth and integrity (even when it’s inconvenient). I may seem uncouth at times, but this doesn’t concern me. In today’s climate we’re bombarded with disingenuous messages. I’m interested in cutting through them, even if I ruffle a couple of feathers. ;-)

    Thanks for dropping by!


    BTW - For other readers of the blog, I’d encourage you to visit Adrian’s site and see his work: Adrian and I were good friends who chose rather different paths. I’m always interested to learn what he’s up to.

  55. Adrian says:

    Thanks for the plug. I say fair enough if you're aware of what you're doing--it just struck me that, as a figurehead of a company, it could be percieved as somewhat reckless to risk "ruffling feathers" unneccessarily.
    Different of course if you're Howard Stern.

  56. Hi Adrian,

    I can see where that notion comes from, but I think that it’s likely a bit of an older idea of what business is. In the past businesses had to keep a stiff upper lip, and never show signs of humanity or personality.

    In my humble opinion, that was always a rather crappy idea. It’s why we started to distrust so many companies. As organizations become less human, they tend to “give a shit” less about what they do, and people often mirror this attitude. Part of why I don’t care about GE is that I don’t know any people there, nor can I identify with them. To me they’re just a machine. (This probably isn’t the case, but it is how I feel.)

    Most people want to work with other humans. (I know that I certainly do.) So, we choose to “call them as we see them”. Sometimes this comes off as abrupt, and perhaps could be argued to be reckless. The fact is; I’m no “figurehead”. I’m just a person who’s a partner in a small company, and this company is largely just an idea. I find that this is a really important distinction: Corporations aren’t somehow special. The corporation is simply a construct that we subscribe to. There’s no reason that it needs to be protected or sheltered. At its best, it should be a representation of the people within it.

    Our company is tiny, so perhaps that’s why I’m less concerned about saying what we think. That being said, if we do ever grow, I’d hope that our principles aren’t compromised in the process.



    As for Howard… I only wish I had that hair. ;-)

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  61. great article, I've been guilty of similar acts.

    Hopefully those dark days are behind me.

  62. Andy says:

    I get SPAMMED by "orcacommunications' constantly; and I say SPAM in the sense that they don't give you an option to opt out of receiving their plain text emails.

    I have been told by them on 2 separate occasions that they will "remove me" from their list, but then the next day... more SPAM.

    I just can't believe that companies pay them money to represent them and pay them to SPAM people. I wouldn't think twice about a company or product that knowingly SPAM's me.

  63. designbysoap says:

    Fascinating post. Some interesting responses too.
    I'm not sure you needed to publish her name and company, but it's a really good post. Thanks for putting it out there

  64. Alicia Skkag says:

    Hi, I think the title is as good as the post. Nice post keep sharing.

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