Monday, March 23, 2009

Scoble’s troubling anti-PR rant

Last Thursday’s edition of For Immediate Release contained a very troubling rant by Robert Scoble about the clueless PR pitches he has received. Scoble prefers to be pitched over dinner, from my notes:
The way pr is practiced is just lame. Why anyone pitches you on email is stupid, chances of listening are one percent.
I get far more value having someone come over and have dinner with me tell me something cool. Brian Solis had dinner with ten bloggers and made a fun and subtle pitch at the end.
Jeremy Toeman showed me a block of wood became Bug Labs and asked my opinion.

Wow, OK, Scoble says it is much more valuable to him to be offered a scrumptious dinner and convivial conversation with the pitch at the end. Congratulations to Brian Solis for building such a valuable relationship. Pardon me if I don’t follow his example.

Listening to Scoble’s rant gave me new respect for reporters like Joab Jackson, Chris Dorobek, Roger Hughlett, and so many others who put their readers first and don’t expect to be wined and dined.

I am happy to render small services to journalists. I am happy to submit their work to Slashdot when I think it merits it. I am happy to send news tips, whether or not Presto Vivace clients are involved. I am happy to publicly recognize their awards, and many other things. But I will not buy them lunch and I will not be their buddy. I work for my clients and they work for their readers and if we do business on any other basis we will get into trouble quickly. What Scoble is asking for is nothing less than crony journalism and I refuse to be part of that. Perhaps you have to live in Washington, DC to understand the deadly consequences of that. But I would ask Scoble to listen to his rant and try to imagine what readers, those who are neither PR nor reporters, would think of his words.

Readers don’t care whether you got a lame press release or whether you got a swank dinner. Readers want to follow the news, and it is the business of reporters to make their editorial judgment on the basis of the story.

Edit -
Robert French says the same thing, only with far more eloquence, please read the whole thing.

Jackie has a very witty take on Scoble's remarks.

More thoughts from High Talk.

Mark Story
says that Scoble whines like a spoiled celebrity.
Mark Story has some additional thoughts on how PR goes wrong.

Lisa Barone turns Scoble into a verb.

PR Squared suggest that PR pros shouldn't be so sensitive.

Susan Getgood reminds us that the reasons people blog do not include hyping our clients.

David reminds us that bloggers are just not that into PR flacks.

Tom Murphy
has the funniest take on the whole thing.

Ben Dillion: Can You Pitch PR By Email?

See also: The difference between relationships and cronyism

Edit ii -
A very interesting post ruined by a gratuitous reference to a glass of whiskey.


Robert Scoble said...

It's not about wining and dining. You totally missed the point. This morning I met a CEO at and recorded what he told me. That is FAR better than getting a clueless PR pitch via email. I think people like you need to come and be on our side of the fence once in a while. You'd be horrified to see what comes through.

Alice said...

When you record an entire rant saying that there is one percent chance of you looking at an email and that you need a personal pitch, preferably with a dinner, then you are talking about being wined and dined and you are talking about crony journalism. My views have nothing to do with the matter, it is what readers think.

Shel Holtz said...

The qualifier is "lame." Not all email pitches are lame -- if they were, there would be no need for a qualifier. In fact, I got a note today from a listener who shared an email pitch that rocked...and one that, ignored, would have been a disservice to her listeners.

There are certainly inventive ways to pitch, but suggesting that email can't be a channel for a creative pitch is, well, lame. In fact, one of the most creative pitches I ever received was initiated with an email. And, the most success I ever had with outreach was achieved via email.

The point is to do it well, whether you use email or some other channel.

George Snell said...

Thoughtful post, Alice. It should be the merits of the story - not the delivery method that really matters.

But there's a big problem here. You're assuming that Scoble is a journalist - and he's not. Nor has he ever been one. Scoble has worked for corporations as a spokesperson/blogger for most of his career. He now works for Rackspace in that capacity.

Scoble should not be preaching to PR people about best practices considering that he just received thousands of dollars from Cisco to cover their news - giving Cisco full editorial control over his content.

More info here:

Scoble is a pundit and he is free to do business anyway he wants (including being wined and dined). But please don't confuse him with a journalist.

Alice said...

Email exists for a reason. It is convenient and time efficient. Unlike a phone call, email is always read at the recipient's convenience. It is a good and useful tool, which is why everyone keeps using it.

kullin said...

Good email pitches are still relevant. I have just done a survey with more than 1,000 Swedish bloggers and one question was how they prefer to be contacted by businesses and organizations.

85% preferred personal email, second was "comments on my blog" 46%. But then again, wine and dine was not an alternative...

Worth noticing also was that press releases by email was only preferred by 18%.

Robert said...

Good points, Alice. It spurred me to write about it. Scoble not only disdains PR, he is also not to keen on journalism.

Back in 2005, Scoble left a comment for one of my students, “I have a journalism degree. It isn’t worth that much, believe me. If you want to get paid there are a lot better things to do with your time in school.”

Scoble's trying to redefine journalism (in his own image) and jumping the shark in the process.

Robert Scoble said...

Whether or not I'm a journalist (I'm currently not) is not really the right point to make. I talk with TONS of journalists and I haven't had one tell me they like what is coming through their email stream. In fact, one of the best tech journalists I know (he was key in getting the DOJ to look at Microsoft) is Dan Gillmor. You might read up on his PR suggestions: -- they sound an awful lot like mine. Oh, and everytime there's a dinner there's usually a lot of journalists in the room, so I think wining and dining works with even "real" journalists.

Alice said...

Wine & dine wasn't an option? Why ever not? ;-)

Alice said...

I am familiar w/ Gillmor's dear PR people letter, which is linked on this blog in an earlier post. I am also familiar with his post about trade shows, about how the most interesting companies can often be found around the sides of the show floor. Gillmor share's my view that the smaller companies often have the most interesting stories.

All I can suggest is that you listen to your rant again with new ears and ask yourself how it comes across. I would suggest you read my post about why you should read that boring press release; but I suspect that would be pushing my luck. Just try to keep in mind that it isn't about you, it is about your readers.

Robert Scoble said...

Alice: I read all my emails. Love that you think you have my readers best interests in mind. Not based on the PR emails I get. Yes, I get a few good ones. But they are so buried in the bad ones that it's funny to watch PR people try to defend the industry. PR people really do need to live on the other side of the fence. By the way, it's very hard for me to pick out a good product's pitch from a bad one's via email. I need to SEE it. I do video, which, luckily, keeps me honest that way.

George Snell said...

As an early adopter of technology it's funny that you need to dig up a five year old blog post to defend your position. And drag Dan Gillmor into a mess you created - not him.

Per usual, you miss the point. This isn't about email pitching from PR people. That's a red herring that you keep falling back on. PR people should pitch a reporter the way they prefer to be contacted. Period.

This isn't about that. This is about your idea of a substitute: wining and dining. A tit-for-tat pay-off system. That's what is at issue.

And I have been on both sides. I was a journalist (a real one) for 10 years. Never would I accept payment for a story - not even a dinner. Not only was it against the policy of my newspaper, but against my own journalism ethics.

Please don't be patronizing to PR people because you've already shown that one way to pitch you is with a check in hand. And guess what? That isn't very honest.

Robert Scoble said...

Sorry if I made it sound like you must wine and dine me. Yesterday's interview proves otherwise. I wasn't wined and dined for that. I didn't receive anything. I was SHOWN a product live, though, and didn't receive a stupid email pitch. I love how you are making it about something lame like wining and dining. TOTALLY the wrong point to focus on, but that figures. If that's the kind of "journalism" you did, no wonder you aren't a journalist anymore.

Ask around: almost ALL of the videos I did in my career didn't happen because I got some stupid food. Geesh.

Robert Scoble said...

NONE of my videos ever were done for money and if you think some $20 dinner is gonna be worth selling my soul for, you aren't worth the time of day.

Prof Mark said...


Thanks so much for the link to my post. Yours (and others) were more measured, and I certainly was impressed that you had the Scobelizer himself weight in. Although by reading the comments, he *still* does not get it. His posts present him as one angry person ("you aren't worth the time of day.") I'll have a post coming up today on "cewebrities."

Aside from my own bluster (and there was plenty of indignation), the point that Shel makes as well is that pitching is but a small sliver of what public relations practitioners do. For Scoble to say that "PR is lame" is ignoring 90 percent of what *good* public relations encompasses. And that's what got me honked off.

Anyway, I have discovered your blog and added you to my blogroll. Thanks again for linking.

Are you going to be at Blog Potomac?


Mark Story

Michelle Tripp said...

Bravo! You cut right to the basic truth:


When a journalist forgets that, it's time to wrap it up. And anyway, preferring to be "baby fed" pitches at private dinners sounds like an excuse to not do research. And certainly doesn't reflect a desire to do honest investigative journalism. Yes, sometimes that requires digging and getting your hands dirty. And (gasp!) reading emails.

Another thing... Does Robert Scoble not realize that by making the dinner comment that savvy readers will now wonder if his stories are bought and paid for?

The whole thing smacks of payola.


Alice said...

Scoble's blog has always been about what is new and exciting in tech, not really a platform for investigative journalism, so I don't hold that against him.

But it was certainly a very foolish rant.