OK, let’s be truthful: I hate Romeike, and the future of PR is not email

And who or what, you’re saying, is or are Romeike? It’s a company which aggregates huge numbers of journalists and PR contacts and charges the one for information with which to spam the other.

You can see some of its cheery PR at its web site.

But let’s admit a dirty little secret of the PR/journalist scene: these high-priced products like Mediadisk are just no use, in my opinion. I’ve been the target of hundreds of thousands of press releases, first by post and then by email, mediated by Mediadisk. They’re useless. The press releases are badly targeted; Romeike isn’t interested in my getting just the right press releases, because it would prefer to sell its database more widely, so the more interested it can claim I am, the happier it is. Thus its categories are ridiculously broad, and the press releases badly targeted.

However this can’t last. Email in newspaper and magazine offices has reached overload – made worse by the fact that many newspapers (The Independent, Guardian/Observer, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard, all of the Mirror Group) use Lotus Notes for email. If you set out to design a really bad email client, Lotus Notes is what you’d end up with. (Yes, Steve T, it may be great at the back end, but the front stinks.)

This means that most newspapers won’t find an email you send them. It’s become a needle amidst a hundred haystacks. And when you ring up to ask them if they got it, they’re too busy ploughing through them to know. Or perhaps they’ve just abandoned their email and are watching the wires, which at least have *news* on them.

It’s time to renounce these damn databases. They are a waste of money. A bit of time spent building up your own database – buy magazines! read websites! – will yield far better, longer-lasting results.

And just to add insult to uselessness, Romeike’s latest directory seems to have given my @charlesarthur.com address as the one to send press releases to. It emphatically is not; I reserve that for PRs,and other people, getting in touch with specific ideas. See my contact page for how to contact me; I’ve got a Gmail address for all those press releases. Please amend your directory accordingly.

That’s not quite the end of the story, though. Right now I have around 1,000 unread emails that have been sent to my Independent and Gmail addresses since the start of this year. (Includes spam, but that’s not a sizeable proportion.) I’m not going to read those. Probably ever. A glance tells me most of them are junk. So I’m going to ask Romeike to take me off their database.

Perhaps then I’ll find out who’s really got something interesting to say, and who was just emailing me on autopilot. I still think the future lies in RSS feeds – which resemble, in concept, the wire services that national journalists get on their desks, and to which they pay much more attention than any press release, in whatever form. Interestingly, I spoke to the PR person I mentioned earlier – who told me that there are now RSS feeds for one of their clients, as a result of our conversation. Bonus points to the company for moving quick. Let’s hope many follow.

Update Sunday 20th: Spin Bunny follows this up, giving the view from the PRs’ point of view. OK, a slight touch of the blogosphere echo-chamber about this, but it makes the point that there are lazy hacks too. (Good gracious, are there?)

26 Comments

  1. OK – I’ll bite.

    I hate spam. I hate endless pointless e-mail. I certainly receive way too much of the stuff.

    But with a story to tell, I need to get it out to people (like you, Charles) who can tell it for me, and who can reach audiences I can’t.

    I’m good enough at what I do, but what I do isn’t writing articles in newspapers, etc. That’s what you are good at. I’d also rather not pay Romeike et al to spam you on my behalf.

    So what do I need to do to make my story rise through the dross flooding your inbox?

    Take a (pretty important to us) Press Release issued last week… http://www.common-info.org.uk/press/2005-02-03_mori.shtml. It’s been quoted verbatim on a number of blogs and websites, but hasn’t really moved out beyond the already converted.

    Using it as an example, if you have the time and inclination (and I can entirely understand that you probably don’t!), how would you change it so that you’d jump on it, and plaster it all over the front page of the next broadsheet to ask you to write them something? ;-)

  2. …and I forgot to say… the news was carried on our ‘News’ blog, http://www.common-info.org.uk/news/, as well as the main ‘Thoughts’ blog, http://www.common-info.org.uk/thoughts/...

  3. What do you need? To know me, or someone like me. Which sounds obvious, but that’s what good PR is really about – knowing the journalists in a position to make a difference.

    That’s an interesting release; I’ll certainly be writing something involving it later today (Thurs). What would it take to get a broadsheet to use it? Umm… a really good PR person who could (a) write the release in a way that catches the attention (b) knowing someone who writes for broadsheets.

    Really, this stuff isn’t rocket science. But it is about networking, and people think that’s something you can short cut. You can’t. You have to meet people, you have to have interesting stories to tell, and interesting ways to tell them. Dry facts aren’t stories. Stuff involving people is. That Blackberries can be misused is obvious; that Alastair Campbell misused his is a fabulous, people-based story.

    Obviously I should subscribe to the common-info blog. I hope it’s full-text…

  4. Charles

    thanks for that – most helpful.

    And of course the feeds are full text… ;-)

  5. I’ll also chip in with a bunch of comments here.

    Firstly, as a press officer who does sporadically have stories that are of interest to you and that you’ve run, are you saying that we should forget e-mail, and now phone you or “network” you every time we have news? Is this really the most effective use of your time – i.e. I spend (or attempt to spend) 5 minutes verbally pitching you a story versus you spending maybe 10 seconds speed reading the first line or so of my press release?

    Or do we all run blogs somewhere where we rely on you to proactively view on a daily basis, and presumably where you psychically “know” to look just at the right moment when there’s some news in the offing? Will you really look at hundreds of blogs every day?

  6. Hey! I’ve always said the Notes client for the Mac sucks. One of the worst pieces of software ont he Mac I’ve ever seen.

    Because it’s the only piece of software on the Mac that sucks I’m not going to start using PCs though. And yes, Give me Domino over Exchange any day.

  7. Well, poleshift, it’s a problem – true. Journalists throw up defences around themselves not because they don’t want to hear potential stories, but because they have to sift to an amazing degree. I’m describing how things look to me at the moment; when I was on the Indie staff full-time I had an amazingly complex set of filters to send stories from various sources (Nasa, Nature, PR people I knew, those I didn’t, mailing lists) to various mailboxes – because I use(d) Eudora.

    That meant I could handle 200 emails per day. But I was the *only* journalist in the building not using Notes (because I could do my own technical support). Notes users is what you’re up against, and they get an unfiltered flood. Which they largely ignore.

    I’m looking to the future when I talk about RSS being the ideal, though some analyst companies already use it. But yes, a carefully-chosen phone call made to a journalist you know is far more valuable than 20 emails to people you don’t. (Unless you’re Alastair Campbell, in which case one email to a journalist is a surfeit…)

    It’s not quite an intractable problem, but I think the PR companes need to step back from what they’re doing, and ask why companies like Romeike are making so much money from them with so little measurable effect. I mean, I post here regularly about what stories I’ve written. So why do I still get press releases about supply chain software? Someone isn’t listening. PR – and I say this when I give talks to PR companies – is about conversation, just as journalism is. I’ve always been impressed by the people who’ve taken the trouble to get in touch and ask if we can meet so they can find out what I’m interested in and what I write so they can decide whether to send it to me. That, at least, is a move in precisely the right direction.

  8. Charles, I’m very interested in the RSS concept as a method for businesses to get news out to journalists. BUT … I’ve been using RSS feeds for a little while to try and keep track of stories that interest me and I’m already hitting information overload – these things can make Reuters newsfeeds look like a monthly periodical!

    I need a filter, like you do for your press release inbox. If all companies jumped into the world of RSS, wouldn’t you be back to square one? How would you filter out the crap?

  9. Better RSS newsreaders can let you set up “watches” on topics that interest you – I have searches set up for spyware, Apple’s new Tiger OS, blinkx, and Skype, for example. So I can see if anything comes up on those topics without having to scour the whole newsfeed. (I use NetNewsWire, for the Mac. Find it at http://www.ranchero.com.)

    Of course that doesn’t help you find subjects you didn’t know you’re interested in, or new topics. That’s where talking to people matters.. and doing lots of reading.

  10. Oh if only every journalist got the RSS thing. I’m a hack who’s jumped on the flack bandwagon with a wire service for UK travel journalists. It uses RSS to save them the hassle of wading through a mass of unwanted email/bits of paper and I’ve signed up half a dozen of the top travel PR companies to post their releases onboard.
    Unfortunately trying to get my fellow travel journalists to understand the value of RSS in this situation is tougher than selling a press trip to Mogadishu.
    It’ll happen eventually, but I’ll probably go bust first.

  11. As Charles half indicates, RSS is never going to be the complete solution. I reckon though there’s room for someone to develop a more sophisticated filtering/search tool for both RSS and indeed inboxes.

    Ultimately, however, I can’t help feeling that the solution to Romeike email blizzards, is more PRs operating sniping rifles, rather than shotguns.

  12. I’ve worked on both sides of the PR/Journo fence (in unrelated industries) and can well understand Charle’s ire when it comes to being ‘spammed’ with well intentioned but often baldy targeted press releases and other PR communications.

    However, while RSS appears to be a ‘push’ comms channel, I presume it can only push news to the media that want to ‘pull’ it in? How many journalists are going to want phone calls and e-mails asking them to accept an RSS feed from a PR company? That’s not a pejorative question, I’m just unsure as to how welcome yet another “Hi, I’m from blah and blah agency, have you got five mins to talk about my client’s RSS feed?” interruption is going to be!

    Having said that, I will certainly be investigating RSS as a new means of getting my client’s news out to key media contacts, though I suspect the actual list of subscribers will be small and very well targeted…which I guess is what Charles is arguing for?

  13. Paul, RSS is a “pull” medium – which has the benefit that the journalist (or whoever) must *want* it, or at least feel it’s important to watch. Would you rather have a few subscribers who really care about press releases, or be sending out 1,000 emails none of which gets read until it’s too late, and which might just annoy people who don’t want them?

    You could even have advantages to those who take the RSS feeds – getting info before it’s sent on email (won’t work for embargoes, of course, unless you have password-protected feeds). It’s got to be a mixture of carrot and, um, carrot.

    No, it won’t make sense to phone people to ask them to subscibe to RSS (just try describing how to do it over the phone) but you could have a clickable link at the bottom or even better, the top of all your PR emails saying “Get our press releases by RSS from [eg] Bloglines” which would take them to a pre-set-up Bloglines/Technorati/etc URL with your RSS feeds all nicely set up already.

  14. “I’ve worked on both sides of the PR/Journo fence (in unrelated industries) and can well understand Charle’s [sic] ire when it comes to being ’spammed’ with well intentioned but often baldy targeted press releases and other PR communications.”

    Sue the bugger Charles.

    Baldy targeted, indeed.

    RSS may be pull. But it can still turn into the electrinic equivalent of the yellowing heap of paper in the corner.

    M

  15. PS Your clock is wrong.

  16. AS a former journalist, now a PR I totally understand and sympathise. Spam in the form of either a paper or electronic release is usually destined for the spike no matter what format is used.

    I would like to know more about RSS if this is the way forward, but am not a technical guru – is it simple to get to grips with and use. Is it a widely used system on Fleet Street?

    BTW, tried to access your contact page via the link, but was denied access!!!!

    NzS

  17. Paul Miller wrote:

    “So what do I need to do to make my story rise through the dross flooding your inbox?”

    And Charles answered:

    “What do you need? To know me, or someone like me. Which sounds obvious, but that’s what good PR is really about – knowing the journalists in a position to make a difference.”

    And I say:
    That’s bulls*it.

    A. Knowing a journalist is useless if the news isn’t important or distinctive or timely or a whole bunch of other things. (And I’m not commenting on Paul’s piece of news here, by the way.)

    B. Good public relations are A LOT MORE than simply media relations. I do PR all the time and rarely, if ever, pitch news to journalists. I do internal communications, I lobby the government, I do analyst relations, I write public interest ads, I counsel clients on setting up blogs, I write peeches, annual reports and web sites, etc.

    Regards,

    MS

  18. Agreed, it is largely bullshit. Realistic from neither the media nor PR point of view. Releases have a role — and chums in the media also sometimes have a role — but PR truly is about advancing the cause among multiple constituencies. Using RSS feeds for releases is enticing — and gets talked up a lot by blogging PRs — but I know very few journos who know what RSS is. And given the weaknesses of RSS 2.0/Atom vs NewsML — for filtering purposes — it’ll take a while for that to change.

  19. . Using RSS feeds for releases is enticing – and gets talked up a lot by blogging PRs – but I know very few journos who know what RSS is.

    Seven years ago very few journos knew what Google was.
    My other point remains though – email is already broken as a means of sending press releases to most of Fleet Street. Faxes are broken; they get ignored. (Still get sent, though.) The post is too slow.

    You’ll be on to text messages sent to mobiles at this rate. You either embrace a new way to communicate, or find that the methods you’re using produce less and less return.

  20. But there’s still that problem of filtering. I haven’t tried NetNewsWire, but RDF/XML simply does not provide for the kind of tagging the news biz is accustomed to and probably needs. If (for instance) I were a tech journalist, I wouldn’t want to be checking individual news feeds from specific companies. I think I’d want all feeds aggregated and then sortable in various ways. And – oh — isn’t that what the release wires do now, with PA aggregating them into newsroom systems?

  21. NetNewsWire allows smart lists, as I thought I’d said. Which means you could have hundreds of blogs and feeds in your listing, but the smart lists would offer only those posts which contain words like “environment” or “science” or “technology” (or are tagged as such).

    That’s certainly how lots of journalists in specialisms work with the PA feeds, though on newsdesks people just watch the raw PA feed most of the time. I had to set up all sorts of weird filters for particular words and word stems to stretch along the tech waterfront.

  22. Romeike is now Cision, having worked for them for too long I suspect the name change for something to do with poor repuation they started getting in recent years. A really really bad company that almost wrecked my life.

    All the best Charles, great blog.

  23. Yep Romeike is now Cision alright. Different name, same useless products offering little practical use to the PR industry. As they say, You can’t polish a turd! I too suspect that they “rebranded” due to a poor reputation within the industry.

  24. Fh you’re a useless no good for nothing turd!

  25. Charles

    Tuesday 5 May 2009 at 2:53 pm

    And for what it’s worth, that last comment came from the following IP address:

    (IP: 195.188.241.104 , pgpod.romeike.com)

    Little biased, are we, “Rita”? But perhaps have something to learn about how computers enable tracking these days.

  26. Ha ha Rita!

    Anonymity FAIL! Also, double negative FAIL!

    I’m STILL listed as editor for a publication which hasn’t existed for a couple of years now, despite calling Cision and trying to get them to update their contact information. Amusingly, all my calls managed to achieve was to get me added to their telemarketing contact list. Joy.

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