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Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Tom Coates and the PRostitutes

I've been following the saga of Tom Coates and his reaction, and subsequent clarification, of his feelings about being pitched to by PR people.

I shall summarise for your reading pleasure (as I know you appreciate it):

  1. Tom Coates' blog gets popular.
  2. Stephen Davies points out to the PR community that Tom Coates' blog is popular.
  3. Some PR people target Tom Coates' popular blog by sending him stuff.
  4. Tom Coates is unhappy.
The fallout has been interesting to watch. Stephen Davies has approached the situation with his usual enthusiasm - from comments on Tom's blog, to special posts, to a reworking of the original list of popular blogs, complete with warning to hapless PR folk about daring to send any of them an email.

Following Tom's initial rant, there was a wave of reaction. Renaissance Chambara spotted it, then Drew joined in. Stuart Bruce had something to say, as did Stowe Boyd. Simon Collister added his two penneth. Journalists like Jemima Kiss and Sally Whittle and Chris Edwards chimed in too. Most people agreed with his sentiments.

I'm amazed at the discussion. I really am. For two main reasons.


A blogger complaining about being so popular that they have become the target of PR campaigns is like Britney Spears complaining about being followed around by the paparazzi. You can't prance around in your bra, draped in a python while singing about being a 'Slave 4 U' that was 'Born To Make You Happy' then decide you don't want to have your picture taken. (Yes, I know too many Britney songs but you get my point.) With fame comes the trappings - be it massive wealth, a dedicated web following or people trying to influence you. There are boundaries, of course. I wouldn't approve of putting cameras in Britney's toilet or rifling through her rubbish. But does she complain when she gets sent free t-shirts? I doubt it. The real discussion here should be what constitutes a degrading or exploitative action. In Tom's case, it isn't sending him a press release. Sorry, but it isn't.


What on EARTH do the PR people targeting Tom think they're doing? There is a way to relate to the public via blogs. Contact with bloggers has got to be direct, considered and personal. If not, you run the risk of sparking a debate that just ends up creating negative PR. And negative PR via a blog is not like negative PR from a legitimate news source. Bloggers don't have a standard set of ethics that say they can't call someone a ****. It's going to hurt. Any PR types that are targeting Tom haven't done anything wrong - but his reaction suggests they've gone about it in a terribly wrong way. He obviously wasn't expecting to hear from them. Perhaps he didn't know them. Maybe he only likes to receive information when delivered by owl - I don't know. And the problem is neither did

I hope this episode, and others like it, doesn't scare PR people off using popular blogs as a new channel in the media mix. After all, it's an exciting way to connect with the public in a world of declining print readership.

Many bloggers are thrilled to be thought of as journalists. And those that are treated like them should learn to balance the advantages (large readerships, public influence, free stuff) with the inconvenience of receiving the odd press release that doesn't interest them.

At the same time, PR types need to realise that bloggers that aren't journalists don't act like journalists.


Tom said...

Look. #1 My site isn't actually that popular. It gets a couple of thousand people visiting a day, so it's not like I'm Britney Spears. And if it happens to me then it happens to other people. #2 This is part of a series of things that have made me very unhappy over the last few years, including having pressure put on me by people at the companies I've worked for, an enormous amount of degrading comment spam, an incident where a PR company pretended to be sympathetic when I started the process of trying to find my biological father in the name of one of their marketing assets and now a year's worth of people trying to pitch and promise me things to squeeze their way onto my site.

It may not seem like much to you, but it enrages me. It's like a continual pawing and rubbing against the thing I write and it makes me uncomfortable and stops me enjoying the process of writing my site. And the thing that really enrages me is the bit when you talk to the people concerned and they start to justify what they're doing, saying that you're an attractive platform for their messaging or that they're just trying to build a relationship with you.

I think these people need to be told to fuck off, so I'm going to do so. I'm sorry you think I should just deal with it, but I don't feel the same way. I consider it a particularly unpleasant and revolting form of spam with easily identifiable spammers. I accept that I'm going to get spam, but under these circumstances I actually have some ammunition and I'm going to use it. I don't see what's wrong with that.

Jon said...

Hi Tom.

Do you think journalists feel the same way?

What ammunition?

(By the way, there was no excuse for the Barry Scott thing. That was just weird. I still can't believe it really.)