Why PR Folks Should Blacklist Bloggers - Social Media Explorer
Why PR Folks Should Blacklist Bloggers
Why PR Folks Should Blacklist Bloggers

I’m a PR guy by trade and, in light of recent developments in the PR-bashing arena, am suggesting a list of blacklisted bloggers. These folks are performing the largely unfair, wholly unprofessional, shortsighted and, frankly, ignorant practice of outing public relations professionals who don’t pitch them well. Here’s my suggested starter list. You’ll notice it’s a list comprised of people who consider themselves bloggers, but are also considered journalists or blog for websites large enough to make an argument for said title.

I’m not saying public relations professionals don’t need a wake up call on the stayed and stale practices of copy-paste pitching. I’m not saying there aren’t unethical hacks out there who should shape up or ship out.

I am saying that a journalist (or a blogger for that matter) who publicly humiliates someone just trying to do their job – even poorly – or goes a step further by declaring that person’s employer on a permanent banned list is performing the adult (though not mature) equivalent of Chris Hargensen ordering up buckets of pigs blood to be dumped on Carrie White at prom.

Geoff Livingston is a friend and fellow public relations pro who seems to agree with me.

My biggest beef is this: Public relations professionals most often serve a valuable purpose for media members, including bloggers. They provide access and useful information about their clients or companies. Without them most stories that entertain and enrich the public through traditional media and many on blogs would go untold. The others would have half-assed information.

For Gina, Chris and Matt (almost) to say, “One person … Jane Smith, the 23-year-old newbie who doesn’t know any better but I’m publicly and forever humilitating because I’m an almighty and powerful journalist/blogger person, bwahahahahahah! … from a firm sent me a pitch that didn’t catch my attention, therefore your company is forever considered a spammer and won’t make the consideration set,” is unfair to the individual, the company, its clients, its future clients and, most importantly, their own audiences.

My suggestion is that by declaring these media members or bloggers unfit for pitching, they are the ones who will ultimately pay the price as they cut their audiences off from the world of valuable information public relations professionals provide them.

What if a company Lifehacker routinely covered or highlighted in their posts were represented by a firm on her banned list? Oh, wait. Ogilvy, one of the most respected PR firms in the world, is on there. LG Electronics is their client. Guess Gina won’t be using info from LG anymore.

What if Steve Jobs hired Ogilvy one day? Would Gina backtrack and accept emails from them? If she’s not a moron, yes. Hope she knows how to re-white list people and if she does, that she’ll publicly admit reinstating PR firms into good graces.

For the record, I know firms like Ogilvy, Shift Communications and Future-Works, all on the banned list, are very committed to best practices in blogger outreach. But because of the short-sighted cruelty of the triumvirate above, if they hold true to their word, are forever banned from doing their jobs, and without the opportunity to make amends or draw retribution. Even if PR firms followed my unrealistic notion of blacklisting journalists, their clients would suffer, so it’s not an option.

I’ve had the good fortune to sit on both sides of the aisle in the media/blogger vs. PR pitch person relationship. I’ve even been a real, full-fledged journalist, not just a blogger, and at a large media operation. In the noisy world that is PR pitches, it’s easy to get frustrated, especially with the bad ones. But starting a public embarassment wiki is below the belt and unneccessary. It’s the kind of thing that feasibly could negatively effect people’s careers or a company’s ability to earn business.

And, as it turns out, Gina Trapani’s personal email address is listed in Cision’s media database, meaning she and/or Lifehacker have volunteered to put her on outreach lists. It doesn’t excuse bad pitching, but she kinda asked for it and now wants to humiliate those she gave permission to. Sad. (NOTE: Graph added after initial publishing.)

NOTE ON PREVIOUS GRAPH: As we’ve reported in a subsequent post, Cision admitted making the mistake of adding the incorrect email address for Ms. Trapani. As such, the previous comment from me was based on incorrect information. I still think humiliating PR firms and folks is bad form, but she didn’t do it with the insinuated contradiction.

Does PR have a long way to go? Yes. Do many public relations professionals need to learn that reaching out in the digital world demands relevance, personalization and relationship-building? Yes. (I would argue reaching out in the traditional world demands that, too, by the way.)

But is it cool for journalists or bloggers to publicly humiliate those with pitches that are bad, hastily done or perhaps even just ones the journalists don’t like? Hell no.

On Media Pitching

The immediate predecessor to this blog was one called The Straight Pitch. The original premise was for journalists and bloggers everywhere to fill out a simple form explaining how they liked to be pitched. Several outstanding media members participated. I gave up on the premise after recording over 2,000 custom asks of media members and bloggers to tell the world how they like to be pitched and notching a success rate of less than one percent. While I didn’t approach Chris, Gina or Matt in that array of 2,000 approaches, journalists aren’t really interested in helping with the problem. The recent attacks on PR firms and folks by the three amigos above is further evidence of that.

I’ve also written some pointers on how to appropriately approach bloggers, including a case study for everyone to comment on, here.

IMAGE: Gina Trapani by Will Pate on Flickr.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Dean J. Garrett

    There is a new public database of blacklisted people on Social Network sites. The database can be found at:


    Just search on the keyword “blacklisted” and then you can enter your own blacklisted people. This is a new database so there isn’t much there now, so add your own data now!

  • theregoesdave – Read the post, dude. I’m not really suggesting blacklisting bloggers, just using a dramatic headline to make a point and open the conversation. Thanks for chiming in though.

  • Let me make sure that I have a clear understanding of what you’re saying here. You start by saying what a deplorable practice publicly blacklisting PR professionals is and then go on to start a public blacklist of bloggers?

    Honestly, I agree that there are some unprofessional bloggers out there just like there are unprofessional PR people. Please don’t become one.

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  • Mediahub from Marketwire collects journalist data in a variety of ways-phone, questionnaire, survey. It’s a challenge to get detailed information, but if journalists take the time to set up their profile, they can choose to filter based on over 300 subjects. The more detail, the greater our ability to target the message to only those who cover a particular industry.

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  • Social media grew out of the desire to circumvent traditional media channels and has roots that start before the internet. Social media is not a marketing tool. While it can be used effectively for marketing, it has to been transparent and authentic.

    Many of the PR pitches that form the basis for the blacklist suffer from a lack of authenticity. There are also plenty of examples of PR uses of social media that turned out to be less than transparent.

    Starting a blacklist for bloggers would have little effect on bloggers and would not help the cause of PR folks. Traditional media is based more on the PR model. Social media is not. Until PR firms truly understand that attitude, they will have to learn the difficult way.

    Whether you like the PR blacklists or not, that is what social media is about. If a firm knows that going in, they’re less likely to appear on the list.

  • Dan – Well said. I’m glad we’re having the conversation because I think we can all agree that we want a better circumstance for bloggers, journalists, PR folks and the client for which the latter works. The discussion is good and probably past its due.

    Ed – Agreed. I have no problem using examples to educate. Just think public outing is a little unfair.

    Thanks to all for chiming in. This is obviously a great discussion.

  • I can certainly agree with being mindful of those that simply blackball PR pitches, let alone publish a “blacklist.” However, one thing that we all must keep in mind when it comes to any “pitch” is that people’s “spam” filter is so sensitive that anything that has even the slightest scent of an agenda gets thrown out. As many have said already. It’s very difficult to weed through it all, and as with any relationship, first impressions make a huge difference.

    That said, when pitching traditional media, having a trust relationship is key to your success. Why do we feel that pitching to a blogger should be any different? Simply because sending an email is easier and more efficient to hit several people at once is not an excuse for being lazy about building that relationship.

    All that said. we’re all still learning to play on this new media playground. As bloggers and new media entities, we need to be mindful of this and we need to use bad pitches as a way to educate. I also get tons of non-targeted pitches from promoters and PR folks. However, if I have time(big key of course), I will reply back with a little information about how to properly pitch the influencers in new media. Most often, it’s simply a copy-paste of something I put together a few months ago. If we all take the time to educate bad practices instead of condoning them from the start, we’ll all be better in the long run.

  • I think the positive thing is that you, me, Chris, and everyone else is working towards a common goal – which is better, more relevant PR which as a direct result gets better responses and coverage.

    I’d disagree that a new, inexperienced PR person has no recourse after being on the blacklist – they could phone, use a different email address, blog about it, etc, and try to make amends – I was pleasantly surprised by getting a direct email from Chris when I got in touch months ago with a question about The Long Tail, as a blogger who had never had any contact with him previously!

    The follow-on question is why a PR firm would give the job of contacting bloggers, particularly prominent ones, to someone inexperienced. It’s a little like letting the office junior run the newspaper website, because the ‘good’ people are needed for print!

    As Mark said, bloggers are guilty of comment spam, we’ve all had endless emails offering various services and augmentation, and there’s a steady stream of phishing scams doing the rounds. Add into that irrelevant PR messages with no obvious solution, and it’s understandable why people hope a public display of disapproval might change things.

    And if someone isn’t listening to emails etc opting out, what other option is there to bring it to their attention? Email their boss – who might be sanctioning their actions? Simply filter all their stuff out as yet another bit of spam and watch as it continues until the end of time? Or blog about it in the same manner as we’d all blog about our complains with broadband providers, telecomm firms, software companies et al?

    As bloggers/social media people we’re used to being able to comment, respond, and converse. If a company contacting us doesn’t give us that option, then they’re actively encouraging discussion about them – rather than with them.

    I’ve toyed with ways to facilitate blogger/PR relations, but as you’ve said, this is a period of growing pains for all parts of marketing/PR/editorial, and I’m not sure everyone gets the reasoning behind Cluetrain type communication yet, even in online media.

    The good agencies and individuals that do get it will succeed, and will provide the examples, and the carrot for everyone else to follow. The question is where the stick comes from, if not from a little public humiliation now and again for the worse transgressions

  • Tamar – I will follow up with Cision today and see if we can get some official explanation of their information-gathering. Perhaps they and media list firms like them are part of the greater problem here. If so, we can open that discussion and hopefully curb the unsolicited junk. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Tiara – Matt’s an honorary member of my list, not MetaFilter. Sorry for the confusion there.

    Your points are valid and well-stated. I would only say that having a blanket blacklist policy for one transgression, like your example with Ogilvy, is potentially cutting you and your audience out of a fruitful relationship where relevant information can be had. The blanket, informal pitches are no less constructive than blanket ban policies, in my opinion.

    Matt – And seeing both sides is precisely why I’m glad you’re in on the conversation. I’ve been on both sides and think my point of view is objective, even if it is passionate. Your perspective is much appreciated.

  • Jason:

    “Your perspective seems to intimate that PR folks are just trying to sneak one past the blogger or advertise on the blog.”

    Nope, not at all. In fact, I think bloggers (or black hat SEOs, more likely) are actually worse offenders than the vast majority of the PR industry – that’s why virtually every blogger loves Akismet, after all.

    However, PR pitches, when incorrectly directed, might feel like spam to the recipient.

    You’re correct in assuming that I don’t fully appreciate the value of what PR does – I’m an amateur, remember? Neither am I trashing the industry. I think the blacklists are a bit extreme, but I don’t know what it’s like to be deluged with unwanted contacts either. Just trying to look at both sides.

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  • Odd that you’d say Matt Haughey’s a “honourary” member of MetaFilter – he’s the *creator* of MetaFilter.

    I run a blog in a somewhat niche area, so PR releases are few and far between. Problem is, when they do come by, they’re totally irrelevant. Even after posting a detailed pitch page on my blog, I still occasionally get random stuff like one fitness company that said I was an “esteemed guest” for their opening in the US (note: I live in Australia and have nothing to do with fitness), or sometimes you get the borderline stuff like one company that was insistent on me testing out their homeschooling program – I write about homeschooling, but how the hell do you test curricula?!

    Most of my posts come from research on my side. I scour news, other blogs, info websites, books – and post up things that are interesting and relevant. I find young people to interview, and feature them. I’ve featured very few things from Press Releases, and those ones are those that have demonstrated a relationship with me and have shown the relevance of information. Random pitches? Meh.

    So what if it comes from a big company like Ogivly – if they can’t be bothered to even research the blog properly, how am I to trust their services or messages?

  • This is an interesting debate because I love you, Jason, and I love Gina too. I know you both personally and one of you even employs me.

    I just want to clarify one of your comments here: “Her personal address is listed in Cision media source … a fertile ground for thousands of PR hacks making email blast lists. She or someone at Lifehacker had to raise their hand and make that available there.”

    Yeah. And somehow my *personal* email addresses made it to Cision’s database too — and I certainly did not put it there. It appears that someone is helping Cision get a complete database, but having our email addresses on that list was not something we had a hand in.

    I took up the issue with Cision a few weeks ago when I started getting bombarded (seriously) with emails from multiple PR firms. (Cision resolved the issue.) But I was disturbed to know that Cision had all of my websites on file, including schwagaddict.com. Now Jason, you know that site is pretty small — it doesn’t even have an email address associated with it at this time. Apparently, someone is volunteering my information without my authorization.

    I’ve begun getting cold calls from PR folks as well, which is becoming a nightmare. I understand Gina’s intentions, and I can tell you that knowing her, she’s not trying to embarrass anyone. She’s simply making it easier for these emails to stay out of personal email. The Lifehacker tips email address receives pitches all the time, and we’re not filtering anything from there. When the emails invade our personal space without our consent, that’s when actions are taken.

  • Dan — Thanks for the perspective. Agree wholeheartedly that repetition despite requests for removal is an unfortunate byproduct of the old system. I think the media list-gathering agencies, like Cision, are to blame just as much as the PR folks, for facilitating list building. But I also feel strongly this is a transition period in the history of journalism/PR/etc., and all this is a growing pain.

    To your last point, I’d say this: PR folks on Chris and Gina’s list have no recourse. They’ve been publicly pointed to as pitch violators, put on a black list and told they have no chance of ever getting through again. They cannot make amends. Apologies and outward examples of working to improve the craft, learn from mistakes, etc., be damned. They’re bad PR people and it’s written in digital stone.

    Chris’s verbiage is absolute, though his email list is specific, and not a blanket ban. This is why I didn’t react to his post quite as passionately as Gina’s wiki. She not only makes a public list of who she is outing as bad PR practitioners, but is encouraging people to add to the list. Her list starts with the line, “In the spirit of sharing,” which makes her sound rather friendly and giving. But the outcomes of her actions are the opposite because the list is made public and the damning of firms and individuals is encouraged.

    So, no, I don’t feel bad pointing out that she and Chris are “being mean,” for speaking out about something that annoys them. Yes, the PR hacks and list users should clean up their act and pay closer attention. But that doesn’t mean a permanent black eye on them is warranted.

  • The problem comes when you try and contact a PR professional to ask them to stop sending you irrelevant information, and the torrent continues.

    I moved from my previous journalistic role three months ago, but I’m still having to filter and delete 100s of emails every day -despite sending out a reply to every single one informing them of what I actually do now.

    People in any public profession have to accept that mistakes will be publicised – it’s happened to myself and colleagues in the past as journalists, and will probably happen again as a marketing manager.

    If an inexperienced PR person has made an honest mistake, then why aren’t they, or their boss, capable of getting in touch and sorting out the situation – as I believe did happen on Chris Anderson’s original post?

    If social media is all about listening, and conversing with the customer – surely the journalists are the customers of PR, and we should be striving to reach them in the best way – as you show in the examples etc in the last paragraph….rather than telling them they’re being mean for speaking out about something which has obviously really annoyed them?

  • Matt — Thank you for coming by and responding. You are right that there are a lot of PR hacks out there not approaching you, Gina or any number of others the right way. They shouldn’t be doing this.

    “That’s not good PR, and when the same person from the same company keeps doing it, I ask to be removed. This week I found out that even after doing that, two other PR folks at the same agency hit me with press releases on the same topics and I realized it was time to filter the entire company to my trash.”

    Not a single problem with any of that. It’s how you should react and completely in-bounds.

    However, starting a public wiki that serves no purpose but to out and embarrass firms or individuals that don’t think, know any better, follow instructions, etc., is extreme to me. It childish. It’s unfair. Your description of how you handle it is completely in-bounds. Public humiliation isn’t, in my opinion.

    “There are 10,000 places to read apple news as it happens, faster than PR people can pitch to her inbox.”

    Okay, but take any company with relevant, valid news. If Ogilvy represents them, you guys have blocked their addresses. You’re cutting your audience out of valid information, scoops, access and the like that can often result from a good journalist-PR relationship.

    These offenders made mistakes, perhaps more that once, and in a transition era between old school and new school media. The rules have changed. You don’t have to go the public embarrassment route to prove the point.

    It wasn’t about mud slinging until Chris and Gina when public with names. Then it became unfair.

    For what it’s worth, my address for The Straight Pitch (a blog I only publish del.icio.us links to now) is also in Cision. I get a fair amount of noise from that listing as well. Perhaps what you should do is ask to have your name and contact information removed from said media listings. That’s where many of these blast email lists are derived.

    Thanks again for chiming in. I view this as intelligent discourse and am happy to be disagreed with or even proven wrong.

  • “Public relations professionals most often serve a valuable purpose for media members, including bloggers. They provide access and useful information about their clients or companies. Without them most stories that entertain and enrich the public through traditional media and many on blogs would go untold.”

    I think this is a ridiculous attitude when all the professional bloggers I know seem to do fine ignoring the daily onslaught of press releases in their inbox. Keep in mind that yes, there is some good PR being done out there by people that truly know the topics I am interested in but they are few and far between.

    What I and Gina are reacting to is the noise in our inbox — the stuff that has nothing at to do with what we cover online. Check out a screenshot of my inbox when searched for Gina’s blacklist:


    it’s just a small slice of the stuff I get (I delete most all of it, these were from firms I was trying to get my name removed from) but notice how wide ranging the tech topics are and how they are all pretty much just “Hello Matt [2,000 word press release pasted in]”. That’s not good PR, and when the same person from the same company keeps doing it, I ask to be removed. This week I found out that even after doing that, two other PR folks at the same agency hit me with press releases on the same topics and I realized it was time to filter the entire company to my trash.

    Gina’s list wouldn’t exist if it really was just a one-time mistake by a new employee. This stuff is happening dozens of times a day and it not only doesn’t help anyone blog about technology, it’s also incredibly annoying.

    “What if Steve Jobs hired Ogilvy one day? Would Gina backtrack and accept emails from them?”

    There are 10,000 places to read apple news as it happens, faster than PR people can pitch to her inbox. I think she’d do fine as she and other tech bloggers have said, they can do their jobs without PR folks sending press releases every day to them because there are loads of better sources for them (Google News, del.icio.us, RSS feeds of other blogs).

    By the way, this isn’t about mud-slinging as I’ve posted some ideas on how to do good PR with bloggers:


  • I don’t doubt her lack of sinister intent. I only see the abundance of sinister outcome. We’ve all made mistakes, me included. Just think this is a pretty big one.

  • You can disagree with her posting the blacklist but I don’t think her address appearing on the Cision list is proof that she put it there. Like I said, I know her personally and if she says she’s only put that personal email address on one site and not voluntarily added it to any other site or list then I believe her. So I believe that she personally has only listed that address at one place, so I don’t think my facts are mistaken.

    I get that as a PR guy this is a personal subject for you but again, knowing her as a person I don’t think her motives are nearly as sinister as you think they are. We’ll naturally just have to agree to disagree on this.

  • Mark – I think your perspective is certainly valid and your points good. I think, however, you don’t truly see the value in a PR relationship. 90 percent of the stories you see in national magazines, probably upwards of 60 percent of the stories you read about in newspapers and, certainly less but a good number of stories you read on blogs are ideas presented or compiled from PR pitches. Good PR provides useful support to the reporter/blogger with that publication’s audience in mind.

    Your perspective seems to intimate that PR folks are just trying to sneak one past the blogger or advertise on the blog. That’s not the case with legit PR folks. You write about StumbleUpon a bit. If my firm is working on behalf of a software company that has developed a third party app for SU that the users might find helpful, I’m going to reach out to you. I’m not trying to pitch you useless wares. I’m trying to help you provide your audience with information they’ll find useful, insightful, etc. The difference is that good PR folks try to let the blogger/reporter have the information they need to write. Bad PR folks try to milk corporate spin and gratuitous accolades from them, if their pitch even gets the attention in the first place.

    Jane — Alas, the media/bloggers would never admit how much of the material they publish is PR-related. If they did, the entire profession’s credibility would skyrocket.

    Michelle — I wholly disagree with your assessment of Gina’s intent and your facts are mistaken. Her personal address is listed in Cision media source … a fertile ground for thousands of PR hacks making email blast lists. She or someone at Lifehacker had to raise their hand and make that available there.

    Regardless of where the pitches are sent, to publicly say, “These people are pitching me in a manner I don’t want to be pitched. Here’s the companies they work for/addresses they have,” or in Chris Anderson’s case, the actual person’s email address, shows but one intent — to publicly embarrass. To humiliate another professional in such a manner, intended or not and nice person or not, is unprofessional, uncalled for and has ripple effects beyond just sending the message that the pitch was bad. She didn’t just list them, either. She created a public wiki? I mean, come on!

    I won’t defend PR folks using bad practices, but it’s just not respectable to point fingers and make fun.

  • Gina is a friend of mine, she’s a good person. I honestly don’t think her intention with her blacklist is to embarrass. I think her intent is to help. Meaning she’s saying “I’m getting mail from these folks that I don’t want to get and here’s how I’m dealing with it, feel free to use this technique as well.”

    I think it’s worth reiterating that she’s taken this step because these are all emails she’s received at her personal address. A personal address that she’s only listed in one place accompanied by a note asking specifically not to have pitches/releases sent to that address. She’s more than happy to receive Lifehacker pitches at the Lifehacker address.

  • Jason – great post. I think Brian and Todd D (as well as you and Geoff) have made wonderful and thoughtful entries making the case. With no response so far.

    Can you imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed? These sites get their numbers from news stories, some, if not most, that come from…PR people/bloggers.

  • “Eye for an eye?” ;) [Tell me if I’m making an unwanted joke, Jason.]

    I left a long comment at that Buzz Bin post where I tried to look at things from both sides using my own limited viewpoint.

    I don’t like spam or unwanted contacts, but I’m self-aware enough to realise that there could be some hypocracy in that viewpoint. Don’t we all start off as spam to someone at some point?

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  • Thanks Geoff. This conversation may start a nice migration of the serious bloggers to behave more like journalists with regards to PR folks. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Heh.

  • A-fricking-men. We do think alike. Way too many people throwing mud ot there. And quite frankly it is because they are bloggers who have never been journalists, who have attained success, but don’t know how to handle it.

    Will add this to my post as an addedum.


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