The latest skirmish in the PR/journalist fight: ghosting each other

Some of you might know about Cision as the company that currently operates PR Newswire (where vendors can post press releases). But they also maintain a database of press contacts with their beats and contact preferences. I have been on this list for decades, and periodically they ask me to update my data. Last week they asked me to participate in their latest survey that will form the basis of their “Global State of the Media” report. I gladly filled it out. One of the questions was: “What would make you block a PR person or put them on the “do not call” list?

Now, I sharpened my virtual pencil and got ready to dish. I have noticed a notable degradation in the quality of PR responses to my own queries. In a recent story for CSOonline on email security suites, four of the vendors (out of 13 initially contacted) didn’t even respond.

Anyway, to answer the question you were presented with lots of situations. I checked the following:

Last minute cancelation, spamming irrelevant pitches, repeated follow ups (more on that in a moment), broken embargo promises, failure to respond within my deadline and lack of transparency. All of these I have experienced since 1987 when I first began writing for PC Week as a tech reporter. The repeated follow-ups is a thing, and one of the subsequent questions from Cision was how often is too many follow-ups? (That’s easy. My answer, anything greater than zero. Assume no answer means no interest.)

I probably could have checked the others, but restrained myself:

Brochure-ware sounding pitches, inaccurate information (this is the only product that does X), calling me by my wrong name (making botched mail-merges obvious) and unsolicited social media pitches.

I will give you an example of “this is the only product” sort of email that I periodically get, this one taken from recently correspondence where company X was defined as “the only company that unifies identity proofing and passwordless authentication.” I replied: You could say the same thing about half a dozen companies right now, depending on how you define “ID proofing” or “passwordless” or even “authentication.” HYPR, Auth0, Secret Double Octopus, Trusona, Iovation’s TruValidate (maybe, but they didn’t respond to my queries), Cisco/Duo, and many that are part of the FIDO Alliance all could fall into this category. All of these vendors do identity validation beyond the “typical” multi-factor authentication mechanisms. My PR contact said, “Getting people to understand that identity and authentication are two different things is why account compromise attacks are so rampant.” Very true, dat.

Now, that was a nice discussion with this PR person, whom I have known for at least 15 years, and probably longer. He is genuinely good at his job, which is why we could have this back-and-forth discussion and not just hit the eject button to ghost each other.

As I have already hinted at, one of the preset responses that wasn’t included in the Cision survey was being unresponsive to my own queries. I am amazed at how few PR people (or at least their email address) don’t respond to a direct question about their products. What, they are too busy? One of the challenges of having this group email box is that it relieves everyone from any actual responsibility to follow up. The generally accepted reply time period is that same business day. Often, I have to send a second email, or try to track down a real person’s phone number, in search of an answer. You would think that a live press query would move the massive PR machine like a tsunami moving across the ocean, but in a good way I hope.

This isn’t new, sad to say. Around the virtual water-cooler that my fellow tech reporters frequent, the complaints about badly behaving PR folks is an evergreen topic. Some people do abuse their contact lists, to be sure. Given that the supply of freshly minted comms undergrads continues (my daughter is one of them, ahem), there will always be inexperienced PR folks to train and to learn the ways of world. Back in the late 1980s, the incoming tray of the PC Week fax machine would be filled to overflowing with unsolicited pitches. Now we just have our inbox, plus all of our social media accounts to deal with. I am not sure that is an improvement.

Let’s talk about that hallowed ground, the reporter’s email inbox, for a moment. Some people are offended by receiving a single email: I guess the effort involved in placing your middle finger on the delete key is too much effort. Certainly, this is more effort than tossing a bunch of faxed pages into the nearby trash. But I try not to get too worked up about my overflowing inbox. Yes, if I am out of the office (where else am I going to be these days, anyway?) for any extended period of time the emails do pile up.

Should we ghost each other? I don’t know but notice how I phrased that question. It has to be a two-way street. Should there be allowable offenses, or red lines that we can’t cross? Perhaps. Cision does try to indicate the preferred contact mechanism (hint: for me, it is email). One good thing about the modern era is that I almost never get a telephone pitch call, something that was common c.1989. But let’s hope we can treat each other with respect. We are in this together.

8 thoughts on “The latest skirmish in the PR/journalist fight: ghosting each other

  1. I find it intriguing that you expect an answer to your queries but you also expect that the PR person understand a lack of response means no interest.
    When I was actively writing (I don’t anymore), I used to reply “this topic is not relevant to me,” as a courtesy.

  2. David,

    I appreciate the thoughtful and candid insights which you have shared here in your article. In the relatively new online world in which we now function, it’s worth reflecting on the practices that you discuss here. Thanks,

    Dick Fleming
    Community Development Ventures, Inc.
    St. Louis

  3. Dave,

    I think you and Paul Gillin should have me back on a FIR (For Immediate release) podcast to explain the how the ongoing pandemic has impacted PR agencies and the corporate comms/product PR functions within companies and startups alike trying to service you. This just adds further strain to the always fraught relationship between these two groups groups who – for better or for worse — just can’t quit each other.

    Since we last spoke, I founded my new company, Bateman Agency, ( in August 2020. While the first six months were rocky, it turns out there has never been a better time to start a new PR agency than 2021 and 2022. The new business pipeline is exploding with very exciting, well-capitalized leads vetted by top-tier VCs. There is more than enough business out there for all of us.

    But you can’t take advantage of it if you can’t recruit and retain top-notch talent and/or your agency is over burdened by expenses, like office leases, signed pre-shelter-in-place mandates.

    My main point is its the junior PR people who have entered the industry the last two years who have suffered the most professionally due to pandemic-driven work from home policies. They simply cannot learn the nuances of the PR craft via Zoom – not to mention just complete the transition from college to the workplace – as difficult as any major life changes.

    This is why Bateman Agency opened up a Boston office on Jan. 3, 2021 at One Lincoln Street near South Station and due to open in San Francisco at 1460 Mission Street at 11th on Feb. 1, 2021. There is no replacement for the cultural upside, plus the mental and physical benefits of working at least part time from an office filled with supportive colleagues and friends and from home when you need flexibility.

    Much respect,

    Fred Bateman

  4. I love your posts. They’re always intriguing, even if I have no idea about the technical topic. You’re a fantastic and engaging writer.

    As a fundraiser, I would get nowhere if I didn’t persist when people ignore me. Not only that, I’d be doing donors a disservice! Philanthropy is joyful. Giving up on a person for one or two (or a dozen) unresponded messages would be a shame. My best donors thank me for my pleasant persistence as they write big checks. People are busy, and I’m not their priority. Perhaps it’s just the difference in our professions. Or perhaps I’m super annoying! Haha.

  5. PR vs. Media vs. client – as Celine Dion sings – “Tale as old as time”

    I’m sure Moses ran into issues with the 10 commandments and his constituents trying to publicize “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” – which translated to a PR person is “do I act like a silly goose because I don’t know how to work effectively with my client, or I don’t know what my role/job is as a communications Pro or is the reporter actually arrogant or overly entitled or all of the above?”

    PR 101: your job is to make media’s job as easy as possible, if at all possible, otherwise quickly say you can’t and for the reporter to have a good day.
    Reporters: live in the now, don’t carry around baggage
    Clients/Service Providers/Founders: media are your allies and have a specific job to do to stay employed, help them do it and you will be rewarded handsomely and don’t hire fools for PR.


  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts David. It’s always good to hear both what doesn’t work and what does work (from PR people). Appreciate your honesty.

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