Tech PR is horribly broken. On the eve of the Big Pitch—that's SXSW—an industry vet lets loose.
This was sent to us this morning, unsolicited. It was written by a 35-year-old PR executive working in New York City. He has worked at five different agencies, and is now running an independent consultancy. He wishes to remain anonymous. Here's what he has to say.
Dear Startup and Tech PR Industry,
Hi! Hello! How’re you doing? Hope you’re well! Hope things are great with you! Hope things are just fine! And other meaningless platitudes that we start our emails with.
Chris Dixon recently wrote a piece about how to interact with the press, and many PR people were hurt by it. Many claimed it was unjust – “Heh, that’s not me,” we collectively muttered, many of us ignoring our own pitches, our own internal memos, our own reality, just like we have every single time a new article comes out slamming our profession. We flood PR blogs, talk at PR panels and parties, post on external and internal networks with hashtags like #PRChat and claim that we, as professionals and peoples, are worth a damn. That these people ‘just don’t get it.’
Most likely they do. We outnumber journalists at an alarming ratio. We hammer them – and I mean the we as in the hundreds of thousands of shitty emails we send out a year that are just bulk press releases and really, really crappy pitches.
“Heh,” I hear you say. “Heh, I don’t send out form pitches.”
Guess what? You probably send out pitches that sound a little like this:
And they work. Maybe. Sometimes. By sheer numbers you probably get one crappy pitch through to someone, and they maybe respond, and they maybe meet with the client, and they maybe write about it. Congratulations! You’re now ‘good at PR.’
But you’re not.
Journalists hate you because you (whether you know it or not) hate the journalists. You don’t show them respect. You’re sending them an email that sounds like you don’t give a shit. You’re insulting their intelligence. If you’re pitching Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook or someone else of note, someone who doesn’t need a blurb to explain why they’re relevant, then you can email someone asking them if they'd like to speak with them. If you have to explain why the CEO is worth talking to, they’re probably not worth talking to. Nobody cares that they’re the former VP of One Division of a big company that people probably don’t care about.
You probably know they cover startups. You probably know they cover tech. They might have covered something maybe a little close to what you’re pitching. Or you downloaded a 100-person list from Vocus and you’re just sending the same “customized” (you changed the name, maybe a word) pitch to all of them.
You use breathless hype. You use words like exciting or amazing or (“truly!”) revolutionary or evolutionary or ingenius or that it’s amassed users or you’ve found learnings from a study or any of the hundreds of things nobody would ever, ever say in person.
Now, why do we talk like that? Because someone high up has probably told us to. The managers and the Assistant Vice President Chairperson has told us that we need to use these hokey words. And we’re scared. We’re scared of sounding dumb. We’re scared of missing some beautiful part of the statement.
And now I’m not even talking to the managers, because they’re not the ones pitching. They’re telling you to pitch. A whole other ballgame — one that anyone hiring a PR firm should watch out for — is that these smartasses are the ones coming up to you and promising someone else’s work, then whipping them to provide it. Don’t not hire a PR firm, but make sure you’re being represented by the people who sell you whatever crappy package you’re buying.
Anyway, back to you, the pitcher, the guy or girl sending emails. If you really think that shoveling a 300-word or 500-word pile of ass into an email and sending it off is ‘doing PR,’ you are an asshole and part of the problem. Why do you give a shit about what you ‘discussed as the company messaging’?
Facebook is worth billions of dollars. Your company probably has a standard valuation of a hamburger, and nobody cares about it. Maybe it’ll die before you do? Here’s hoping.
I’m not saying this to be cruel. I’m saying it because this is what we do, PR people. We don’t read the blogs and newspapers we want our clients to be in. Many of us will claim we do, but we just skim-read some crap that we saw on our RSS feeds, or maybe that one of the writers linked on Twitter.
Then there’s the issue of just not knowing shit, and in many cases being proud of it. In the ten years I’ve been in PR, I’ve seen enough assholes be proud of not knowing tech, saying they are the ‘consumer voice.’
Sidebar: Nobody in the fucking world uses the word "consumer" or "influencer" outside of press releases, and if you do you sound like an asshole.
Okay, we’re back. You’re not the ‘consumer voice’ if you don’t know shit about tech or startups or your industry. You’re another asshole. You don’t give a ‘fresh perspective,’ you give a ‘dumb series of bullshit answers.’ You make suggestions that don’t have any relevance to the client or their problems or their users’ problems. You tell journalists ‘angles’ they can use that aren’t even close to what anyone writes about ever.
When you talk about your client or pitch it, you sound like a dumb PR guy or girl. If you’re a pretty girl, you’re automatically picked apart for being ‘flirty.’ If you’re a guy (who cares what you look like) you’re ‘just another seedy PR guy.’
And when you do that, you damage the entire industry irrevocably. You become the problem. And Chris Dixon sits there, glasses on his nose, teeth clenched, writing another diatribe about you.
You sit there at your desk, filthy Office Depot chair bouncing, and sigh right back at him. He’s the asshole, man. He doesn’t ‘get’ PR. You know your INDUSTRY, duh, you read TECHCRUNCH and the NEW YORK TIMES TECH SECTION BITS BLOG. You follow WALT MOSSBERG on TWITTER.
That is your limit. That’s your ‘work.’ That’s what you do. That is your contribution to society and the industry. You don’t challenge yourself to know more. You take no pride in your clients or your work. You don’t really care about anything other than the paycheck or getting your boss off your back. Which is fine, everyone’s like that. You move through your day like a zombie (even if you think you’re peppy and fun) and contribute nothing but ‘like’ and ‘um’ and a few long-form ways of saying short-form sentences. You go home, and your Twitter profile says “PR pro interested in tech, media, coffee, running and sports.”
Then you wonder why people hate you.
Here’s your answer: you don’t make enough effort to be liked. You don’t read enough. You don’t know enough. You don’t try.
If you want PR to be a respected tradition, stop jacking off on PR blogs about ‘best practices’ and do something more than make yourself feel smart. If you’re pitching, email eight people a day and spend the rest of it reading. Read Technology Review. Read The Economist. Read Monocle. Read a book that isn’t about your work. Read some poetry. Read something that will open your mind further than the little world of startup bloggers and people tweeting about SXSW.
Become a person. Be as funny and interesting as the journalists you’re pitching. Otherwise you’re just another number.
Or don’t, and make my life easier.
Actually, forget everything. Thank you. Thank you for making my job so easy. Thank you for making it so that each reporter who speaks to me is pleasantly surprised that I don’t sound like a retarded robot from the planet asshole.
Thanks for your time and interest,
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!