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#EDU11: You Give PR a Bad Name
October 6, 2011 - 9:15pm

To all the PR firms who are doing a great job of building relationships and sending out relevant pitches, I apologize. This post is not about you. This post is for two distinct audiences: PR firms that give PR a bad name and the companies that pay PR firms for atrocious PR tactics.

It is October. This means that the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference is right around the corner. Last year, EDUCAUSE was my favorite higher education conference. I wrote about the event before, during, and after the conference. EDUCAUSE puts on an amazing conference. The combination of higher education professionals and technology providers make it the premiere student affairs technology event.

When I registered for EDUCAUSE, I signed up via my Inside Higher Ed blogger credential. This was my first mistake (having an email address was my second...). While it is nice to get on the press list for the event, this is a double-edged sword. PR firms swarm when they see a potential story by a blogger. My inbox swells with PR pitches from a variety of strangers who work for unfamiliar PR firms. They are often representing well-known higher education technology providers. However, they are almost always pitching something that has absolutely no relevance to this blog or the audience for which I write. Most of the PR pitch emails read like they came out of an email shotgun. They are not targeted, customized, or contextually relevant.

Because last year was my first EDUCAUSE as an IHE blogger, I responded to every single PR pitch email. I spent a great deal of time engaging with PR representatives and tried to get the word out about student affairs and the work that we do. This year, I'm being more direct. My reply email has generally been brief with a sentence that asks about what they are trying to pitch that is of interest to the student affairs community. The response to my query has been abysmal. Let's just say that once you start to engage with the majority of these firms, they are not capable of representing the product or company for which they work. It's astonishing to me that big name companies outsource their PR to shotgun PR firms.

I'm sure that #EDU11 will be a fabulous event. I'm confident that the meetings that I've scheduled with a handful of companies (via their PR reps) will result in truly interesting conversations and blog material. These PR firms get it. Those who understand that sending a generic email pitch will result in deletion instead of dialog are the firms that should get everyone's PR business.

Building a higher education brand is a tricky task. You want to get the word out to every corner of the edusphere, yet at the same time, you don't want to come off as boring or intentionally non-strategic. PR firms need to reach out to higher education bloggers prior to events like EDUCAUSE with a targeted approach. Ask us about our blog. Find out if our audience is the niche you are trying to reach. I happily write about content, services or solutions that are introduced via creative PR pitches. What is student affairs? Know the answer to that question before you email me. I will be thoroughly impressed. See you in Philly!

Full disclosure #1: My undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Iowa is in Communications: Public Relations. I have a low threshold for bad PR techniques. PR in 2011 is about relationships and context-dependent communications. If you're one of the companies attending EDUCAUSE and your response rate has been low, send me an email. We should chat about your PR initiatives.

Full disclosure #2: I have a cold and my PR pitch patience is paltry. Additionally, if I get one more email about how I can manage mobile devices in the classroom... #fail.

Full disclosure #3: I used to have the tape that featured the single that is of course the inspiration for this post title.

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