The following article was also published on 3/2/10 on Journalism.co.uk here.

The An Inconvenient PR Truth campaign has generated a considerable amount of debate about the issue of irrelevant press release emails or PR spam.

What prompted this campaign? Critics have called it a stunt, but as a small business RealWire was taking far too big a risk in raising this issue in this way – particularly given what we do – just to get 15 minutes in the spotlight. And then only to share it with competitors.

Conversations about PR spam

For a long time we had been listening to what journalists and bloggers had been saying about the issue of irrelevant press releases and observing that the discussions were always reactionary in nature.

They generally follow the same story: journalist or blogger reaches the end of their tether with a particularly annoying example of bad practice pushing them over the edge; online rant appears; PROs agree that the bad practice is unacceptable but nothing really changes.

None of the points raised are particularly new. It’s just that the internet and in particular social media has meant that reputation damaging rants are amplified in their impact.

Realwire wanted, along with our supporters, to start a constructive discussion around the issue. Despite the content and language being polarised, it has occurred, with some very interesting ideas already being generated and discussed around education, standards and technology to try and tackle this issue once and for all.

PR and media industries in turmoil

As we all know the PR and media industries are both facing unprecedented changes in the communications landscape. The, mostly, free nature of online reporting is leading the publishing industry to pressure journalists to deliver more content in less time.

Meanwhile PR professionals are under pressure to not only deliver coverage through traditional media channels, but to also engage with a wider range of influencers than ever before – from bloggers, to academics and the general public.

In this environment the relationship between the PR and Journalism communities is arguably more important than ever. But because both groups are time poor it is imperative that this relationship is as efficient as possible.

Journalists need interesting and relevant content, provided in a timely manner. PR professionals need to be able to identify and connect with the key influencers that are relevant to their organisations and clients in an equally effective way.

Seeking solutions

From the debate to date I have picked up on four areas that people seem to think could help address this issue.

  • Social Media – with many PROs and journalists, not to mention bloggers and other influencers, now being part of social media networks, in particular Twitter, social media is already bringing the communities together. The asynchronous nature of Twitter allows PROs to follow journalists and understand their interests, while at the same time allowing journalists the option to follow back and engage if they see value in the relationship.
  • Technology – this is an area that service providers and database companies need to invest in. We need to seek more sophisticated ways of matching PR content to recipient’s interests to make it easier to achieve higher standards of relevance in an efficient way and at the same time build in more safeguards to systems to prevent abuse.
  • Education and training – there is a need for a shared understanding of what each group needs from the other. This understanding should then be codified to an extent in guidelines or a code of practice. Though perhaps not quite as dramatic as the campaign’s Bill of Rights, at their heart these guidelines should promote respect for each other and, in particular, respect for each group’s time and expertise.
  • Measurement – the thorny, age old, PR issue of measurement requires revisiting once again I’m afraid. The industry needs to educate clients on the importance of relevance and influence, rather than just simple numbers, when measuring the impact it achieves. This should hopefully discourage clients from wanting to send releases to as many recipients as possible.

I suspect the likelihood is that the solution is probably a combination of all four of these areas and perhaps more. But the fact that the campaign has generated ideas such as these from the respective communities, fills me with optimism that the situation can be improved significantly.

If we don’t grasp this nettle though and start to address the issue of irrelevance, then the impact will continue to be felt on both industries’ financial bottom lines – through the waste of time and money, never mind people’s talent.