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This article was published on April 12, 2017

Do PR people actually suck? A journalist’s perspective

Do PR people actually suck? A journalist’s perspective
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

In true journalist fashion, I’m going to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. TNW has, over the past few days, played host to a boxing match of sorts. In it, PRs used our contributor platform to tell you that PR sucked, or didn’t suck.

It started with a jab.

Ed Zitron, of EZPR says:

But this industry sucks. We are bad. I hope you read this and get angry, or read this and realize you’re part of a horrific trend of failure, a bulwark of bullshit against good taste and good business.

PR is the fucking worst, according to an actual PR person

Zitron’s post wove a tangled web of insults with nuggets of actionable advice. The advice should be common sense to any pro in this industry. It’ll get thrown on to the fire pile while PRs continue mail merging 200 journos before patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

It’s inflammatory, in typical Zitron fashion, but it’s not wrong.

Ayelet Noff, of Blonde 2.0, disagrees. Today, she added this literary counterpunch:

A few days ago, you – the man responsible for the so called “best PR Twitter” – graced us all with a taste of profound and glorious wisdom right here on The Next Web. What was your latest miraculous decree, oh sage oracle of PR wisdom? Apparently that PR, and by that logic, PR people of course, are the worst.

PR is not the fucking worst, according to another actual PR person

Noff takes a different route. It’s not the industry, she argues, but individuals. There are good PRs and bad PRs, but the industry itself is undeserving of this level of criticism.

Where to begin?

First, I want to state that Noff and Zitron are the cream of the crop. Of the hundreds (thousands?) of PRs I’ve dealt with during my time at TNW, it’s clear that these two are among the best. My colleague, Matt Hughes, agrees.

Over time, I’ve developed a personal relationship with both. Or, perhaps they’ve cultivated it. But what matters is: they actually speak to me like a human. In most industries, this is common decency, but — sorry Ayelet — in PR it’s worthy of praise.

PR is that bad.

I took no issue with what Zitron had to say. As a journalist, we deal with PR more than most. And generally speaking, they’ve won few fans in our industry. Most are spam artists, some are outright rude or demanding, and a handful can’t even be bothered to change our names in canned (spammed) pitches. I’m not Sarah from TechCrunch, nor Ashley from Gizmodo, but I’m happy to forward their mail.

There are good PR people. There just aren’t many.

Where Noff goes wrong is assuming that she, and her colleagues at Blonde 2.0, are indicative of the industry. They aren’t, and a quick trip through my inbox can prove that.

She mentions “Of course, it’s easy to sit back and criticize the work of other people; to cherry pick examples of PR people doing it all wrong.” Except, it’s not cherry picking. It’s far easier for me to find bad pitches in my inbox than good ones. In fact, I might only get a handful of good pitches a week, out of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of emails.

In fact, my colleague Matt and I each got a shitty pitch as I was writing this piece. Both from the same chain-spamming goon.

Hey Bryan! My name is Cornelius Wilson and I read your article about the DIY Nintendo build. I wanted to know if you would like to write about

Minutes later…

Hey Matthew! My name is Cornelius Wilson and I read your article about Google wanting developers to consider colors more. I wanted to know if you would like to write about

So, if you’re paying attention, this spammed pitch essentially looks like:

Hey [Name]! My name is Cornelius Wilson and I read your article about [completely unrelated thing]. I wanted to know if you would like to write about the DildoTron 3,000.

Cornelius Wilson, congrats, we covered your product.

But back to the point. Zitron’s language can be off-putting, I’ll digress there. But his premise isn’t wrong.

Noff’s mistake is in assuming all PR people, or even a majority of them, are as good as she is. This isn’t the case. In fact, most aren’t even serviceable. I’m not exaggerating when I say chat bots could replace 75-percent of the PR people spamming my inbox.

Now, where Noff bests Zitron is in her approach. I have the same cynical sort of humor as the latter, so it works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it pisses a lot of people off. Zitron is walking controversy, but this is what makes him popular with journalists — he speaks our language and he’s as frustrated with PR flacks as we are.

Noff drops the gimmick and creates meaningful relationships through the strength of her pitches, not self-deprecation. That said, I don’t agree that Zitron’s gimmick is an act.

He’s a self-deprecating guy in general, and has a cynical and dry sense of humor. He sucks, according to him, and he’s in PR, so the PR industry must suck. I’m sure he’d feel the same if he were a proctologist, a lawyer, or a gigolo.

A final note

To avoid muddying the waters even further, I — a journalist at a large publication — think the PR industry is mostly terrible.

But I don’t think this reflects poorly on the profession as a whole. Quite the contrary. Being surrounded by this many people who suck at their job can only make it easier for those willing to put in the time. PRs aren’t necessarily bad, they’re ignorant, tone deaf, or lazy, which is far worse. Noff knows this, as does Zitron. Both are successful because they take the road less traveled.

The road most in this industry travel on, in case you’re wondering, is filled with gleeful decarations of “the world’s first” (you’re not) or “circling back” (to all 30 of your emails I’ve ignored).

And here’s a final tidbit for those of you wondering whether it’s worth sending me shitty pitches.

This is my inbox. I clear it nightly before bed and again around lunch time. I currently have 139 unread messages, most are undoubtedly pitches. This should be at around 175 by lunch, and another 100 or so by the time I clear it each evening.

Do you really want to compete here?

Or would you rather compete here, which is where the PR people who are good at their job go?

This, if you’re wondering, is a filter. It filters PRs that consistently send me pitches worth reading, removing them from the dumpster fire that is my inbox. Zitron and Noff’s pitches both get filtered here, as do a handful of others. And for what it’s worth, I read what’s in this folder before I check my inbox 100-percent of the time.

This is where you want to be.