Few people inspire me to think harder than Tom Foremski at SiliconValleyWatcher (after all, he spurred me to dream up the Social Media Release). Tom got me puzzling all over again last week with his post on “The Killer Pitch?” (and his follow-up post). The premise:
While there are lots of bad pitches out there, there are also lots of good pitches. Even with a perfect pitch, sometimes a reporter won’t write the story because there is not enough time, there’s too much else to do.
But here’s a killer pitch. It’s one that I haven’t heard yet but it’s only a matter of time.
” … and we have the ability to drive a lot of traffic to your story.”
In a world where reporters are increasingly rewarded not on the quality of their work but on how much traffic their stories attract — this becomes the killer pitch.
In his posts Tom explores the ethical and practical challenges. Forget about “tasteful,” would it be ethical for a PR firm to suggest such a thing to a journalist? Tom says yes, and he’s right to note that PR firms’ raison d’etre is to drive positive coverage for their clients.
The better question is whether the journalist has the ethical backbone to resist this siren song if the story idea is a bad/inappropriate one, or to write the article with no regard for whether it will meet the PR firm’s standards for “positive” (promotable) coverage.
From a practical standpoint, Tom suggests it’s not so easy for a PR agency to drive traffic at its whim. Yet he also points out:
News aggregators love to pick up on “popular” or “trending” stories. A relatively small traffic boost from a PR agency can become magnified if the story makes it onto a ‘most popular’ list.
Consider what might happen if an agency like Edelman or Porter-Novelli decided to try to “move the needle” on a particular piece of client coverage. These agencies boast THOUSANDS of account staff, some of whom have THOUSANDS of followers (e.g., Edelman’s David Armano, who runs a popular blog and has 24,000 Twitter followers) … If these thousands of employees were mandated to tweet about the client’s news article, and/or to Digg it, and/or to StumbleUpon it, etc., and those thousands of tweets were RT’d by dozens (or hundreds!) of their own followers, and so on … Well, pretty soon you’d see a needle moved.
You’d see that client article as a trending topic on Twitter, a top item on Digg, etc. — which might catch the eye of yet another mainstream journalist, who unwittingly sees this heat+light as evidence of a hot story worth yet another article.
It certainly seems like a slippery slope. But it’s hard for me to offer an opinion on this, as my agency is far smaller than an Edelman or P-N; thus to call it “unethical” could just as easily lead to suggestions of sour-grapes on my part. When SHIFT is over 1,000 employees, I’ll think hard on where those ethical lines must be drawn in pursuit of client satisfaction.
You think it’s cut and dry? You think it’s unethical, period? OK, consider this: one of your clients offers a green technology that could save the world. Asking your 1,000+ employees to RT the article might help draw further media attention to the client’s very worthy product. What do you do? … See? – not so easy now, is it?
In any event, there are enough clever people at those megalithic PR organizations that I have to think they already considered — and rejected — such schemes. For now.
What do you think?
Posted on: January 18, 2010 at 8:20 am By Todd Defren