Why Spray and Pray PR Pitches are Full of Fail

by Christina Gleason on September 6, 2011

As the owner of a parenting blog – one of those mommy blogs I’m sure you’ve heard about – I receive a high volume of pitches and press releases from PR professionals every day. I must confess that I delete most of them without reading them. But sometimes that little one-sentence preview I can see before opening the message is enough to intrigue me. Today, that line was:

“The U.S. has one of the lowest birth success rates in the world…”

So I clicked on it, hoping it was something about ensuring prenatal nutrition and care. But the sentence continued on in a manner that made my face darken:

“…schools are testing four-day class weeks, and liberals want to take ‘one nation under God’ out of the pledge of allegiance.  What is happening to our country?”

Dear PR agency, you have just offended me, and possibly half of the other bloggers you pitched due to political alignment. You see, I happen to consider myself one of those liberals, and I take offense when “liberal” is used as a dirty word. The next paragraph continued to derail, emphasis mine:

“Patriotic artist, Jon McNaughton, created a painting representing his fear, sorrow and hope for this nation titled, ‘One Nation Under God.’  He painted it in the hopes to awaken Americans and the government to return to the principles of freedom under the Constitution and recognize God as the source of these blessings. With over 60 figures and symbols in Jon’s painting, Jesus is holding the Constitution while the founding fathers and other symbolic individuals from the past stand directly behind him.  This is to show the belief that God & Country should be united.  To the left side of the painting are the strong Americans who hold the country together while on the other side are those who are weakening it.”

So this pitch has insulted me by assuming I would agree that “liberal” is a dirty word, and it goes on to tell me that I am weakening the country because I believe in separation of Church and State – like the Founding Fathers did. Also, by branding Mr. McNaughton as a patriotic artist, that implies that I am unpatriotic because I believe strongly that, for a country founded on the ideals of religious freedom, we should not be pushing Christian doctrine through government, because we have many Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic Americans, as well as those of other faiths, all living in our country.

And for the record, “under God” was not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance. It was added during the Cold War in 1954 by Joint Resolution of Congress after being adopted as a change by the Knights of Columbus. The pledge was also initially composed to inspire patriotism as a method of selling American flags. It was written by John Bellamy – a socialist (gasp!) – who had wanted to include “equality” and “fraternity” in the pledge, but left them out to avoid displeasing school superintendents who did not believe in equal rights for women or blacks. (Feel free to let me know if I used the wrong word there, but I know that not all people with dark skin are of African descent, which is why I did not use the term “African-American.”)

Bloggers often lament the multitude of untargeted pitches we get that clog up our mailboxes: breastfeeding gear when we have teens, “How to Talk to Your Teen about Sex” when we have babies, outdoor adventure gear for homebody tech geeks, male enhancement products for women… Oh wait, that last one was spam. But it’s the same idea. Someone who is trying to market something decided to “spray and pray,” sending out an email blast to as many people as possible, hoping that enough would act on it, without regard for the actual recipients. This may work most of the time, as bloggers are just as likely to delete anything they aren’t interested in without feeling more than mild annoyance, but when pitching something fairly controversial, it would be a much better idea to vet the bloggers you would like to reach out to. I’m sure those on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me would react similarly if they were pitched something with a decidedly liberal slant that also spoke ill of their views.

I almost told the PR agency to take me off their mailing list completely. Instead, I asked them not to send me politically oriented pitches in the future. But how many other bloggers will they lose, people who may be a perfect fit for a future pitch they will now never see?

I do not want the comment section of this post to get into political debate. I am well aware that there are people who disagree with my politics, just as I disagree with theirs. We are not going to change each other’s opinions. I would like the focus of any discussion to remain on the soundness of the decision to send out an untargeted mass email pitch like this without considering the possibility that people may be offended by its implications. There is a reason many people avoid talking about religion and politics – because they are very heated, intensely personal subjects. That being said, feel free to preface your comments with something like, “I disagree with your politics…” but kindly refrain from explaining why. I reserve the right to edit out political and religious views if I feel they are derailing the conversation about business practices.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

TechyDad September 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

I think you hit the nail on the head when you compared “spray and pray marketing” to spam. The economies are the same. It costs basically the same amount of money to send to one person or one million people. A targeted listing of people (for this pitch, a list of conservative Christian bloggers would have been appropriate) likely costs more than a “everyone in the same bucket” listing.

So some people, especially those with little to no PR budget, will get the “everyone” list, toss the e-mail out to everyone and pray that some people will blog about it. And they will, by sheer chance, reach some people who will find it useful. The problem is that they will also be looked upon as spammy by everyone else and that’s *NOT* good PR.

Now the only question is: Did they tell you that you should post the press release to their blog for the chance of winning a $10 gift certificate? Because if there’s one thing more insulting than a spray and pray, it’s a Do-Our-Job-And-Maybe-We’ll-Toss-Something-Your-Way-But-Most-Likely-We-Won’t campaign.

Christina September 6, 2011 at 11:48 am

Nope, this wasn’t a “chance to win” anything in return. It was simply a “please blog about this.” Well, I’ve blogged about it, but not quite the way they wanted me to…

I did consider redacting the name of the artist and his painting, but ultimately, I thought that leaving it in would be best.

Alysson September 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I had a similar meltdown moment some time ago when local morning radio show hosts denounced the heresy of those who believe in the true separation of church & state. Ignorants and revisionist historians alike lit up the phone lines for the opportunity to perpetuate the notion that patriotism and a belief in God are inseparable…and that one cannot exist without the other.

And the DJs publicly agreed with each & every one them…with no concern whatsoever for those who might have a different perspective, nor a single call aired from anyone who didn’t parrot back their flawed interpretation of the true meaning of patriotism.

From a business standpoint alone, potentially alienating a percentage of their listeners didn’t seem to be taken into consideration. They obviously didn’t care about the perspectives or opinions of those with whom they disagree and didn’t mind if people turned the station never to return. “Good riddance”, they’d likely say, “…blaspheming hater of ‘real America’. You don’t belong here, you !”

Here’s my response (and no…I never got a response): “The Pledge of Allegiance Controversy – An Open Letter to 99.9 Gator Country in Jacksonville, FL” – http://www.alyssonfergison.com/pledge-of-allegiance-controversy-999-gator-country-jacksonville/

Joe Hall September 6, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Also, there is no such thing as “birth success rates”. There are “Infant mortality rates” of which the US is ranked 176 out of 222. Which means that there are 175 countries worst than us.

Data win, scare tactic fail.

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

Carolyn G September 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Amen sister!! It’s nice you blogged about it. ;0)

Christina September 8, 2011 at 9:46 am

Yeah, that phrase bothered me as well. I think they were probably trying to get around using the word “abortion,” implying that more women have abortions here than anywhere else. What that strains to ignore is the number of spontaneous abortions, aka miscarriages, that happen both here and to women all over the world. Some estimates say that as many as 80% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, though a majority of those would happen before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, and instead would be experienced as just a heavier period. I can only assume that U.S. women fare better on that scale than their third world counterparts due to better nutrition and access to medical care.

In any case… Yes, scare tactic FAIL.

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