Wednesday, November 29, 2006

MatrixStream: How to Screw Up Blog PR

One of the first blog strategies any organization should implement is PR - identifying bloggers who write about topics related to the organization, and doing outreach to them as you would with any opinion-maker (analysts, editors, writers, etc.).

And of course, sometimes this is done very badly. I offer this tale as an example of what not to do.

I started blogging not as a marketer, but as an individual. I started a personal blog some years ago when I was living in DC, mainly to find out what this whole blog thing was all about. Much to my surprise, people started reading it, it developed a following, and I was on my way in blogland.

And for a long time I had an email address on there - a special blog-specific address. Naturally, that address attracted spam. Most of it was the usual kind (Viagra! Breast enhancements!). But a year or so ago I started getting a steady stream of press released from someone named Aaron Keogh at a company called MatrixStream Technologies. Here's an excerpt from the latest:

MyTVPal.com, the world's first 1080P high definition streaming Video on Demand ("VOD") and IPTV service for PC Player and IPTV receiver set top box (STB) clients will be launching this week.

The service to start, will offer over 700 free IPTV channels from over 70 countries, including standard definition and high definition channels to any broadband user with 1.5mbps speed or higher. A wide range of video on demand titles will be offered for a low monthly cost in the months to come with new TV channels and VOD titles being added each month.

(The earlier emails opened with a chatty "Hi John, it's Aaron at MatrixStream," as if I knew Aaron or had any reason to care who he was. That kind of fake familiarity sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to slap someone. Don't open your email with "Hi John, it's Aaron" unless we have some kind of existing relationship, and there's a single reason in the world I would actually know who "Aaron" is.)

Now, there's nothing on my personal blog to suggest that I'm a technology writer, or that I cover anything related to their business. So I replied to one of the emails and asked, "Why are you sending me this?'

No reply from Aaron. Another time, I was more direct: "Please stop sending me this. I'm not interested." Again, no reply.

This is PR as implemented by the hopelessly stupid: harvest a bunch of email addresses of bloggers, and start spamming. It's a good way to accomplish nothing useful, although I think it might be a violation of the CAN SPAM act.

Being a marketer, I just couldn't let it go. So I went to the company's web site, and in their press materials, found a press contact: a fellow named Gene Choi. I wrote to him, explained the background (the steady stream of spam from Aaron Keogh), told him I was planning to write about the company's PR approach on this blog, and said this:

Since part of my business is advising marketers on how to use email and blogs in their efforts, I'm using you guys as an example of what not to do - practices that are ineffective, annoying to those who might right about the company, and possibly illegal. I was curious, though, if this is actually part of planned PR efforts, and if there's a rationale for spamming bloggers that I'm missing. I'd like to include that in my piece to make it more complete.

Is anybody surprised that Mr. Choi hasn't responded? (Actually, it is. You're the PR guy. Someone writes and says, "I'm about to write about you, it will probably be negative, but I want to hear your side of things. You ignore them for days. Good approach? I think not.)

Okay, am I just kicking a little company that has clueless marketing and PR folks because they annoyed me? Well, maybe. But it's more than that.

People like the marketing practitioners at MatrixStream make life harder for the rest of us - the people who want to be professionals, do things that not only help our companies or clients but also accomplish that by providing some benefits to others we work with. Ideally, good PR doesn't just help the client; it helps the journalists writing about them by providing them with accurate information.

When people engage in these kind of amateurish PR-as-spam techniques, they create an environment where all of us have to work harder to be considered credible. They're a bit like the spammers who've created a whole email filtering industry that often blocks legitimate messages that the rest of us send. Or, more crudely, the people who visit a foreign country, behave like the stereotypical "ugly American," and leave those of us with a little respect for the places we visit to deal with the bad feelings in their wake.

And so my message to you is simple: if you are tempted to try something like MatrixStream's spam-the-world approach, just don't do it. It's the wrong thing to do. It makes it harder to be a marketer.

You may not see any immediate fallout, but you're degrading the overall marketing environment. Yes, you might get some good lead or story while most of your efforts just piss people off. But do you want to be the jerk that leaves the metaphorical Big Mac wrapper lying in the Grand Canyon?

Plus you'll have some pissed-off opinionated marketers talking trash about you.

1 comment:

Alley Kaye said...

Dear Mr. Whiteside: Actually, I'm a Grand Canyon tour booking agent who came across your blog a bit accidentally - when I got my Google blog alert this morning, all I saw was a snippet about someone "leaving a Big Mac wrapper in the Grand Canyon," and I was all "NOOOOOO!" Upon closer examination, though, your post was very illuminating and I found the others (about SecondLife, Google Maps, etc) very informative also. I will bookmark your blog and visit regularly. I have a blog about the Grand Canyon at http://news.grandcanyon.com Thank you for your quality content and have a nice day!