The trip to the holier than thou mountaintop is shorter than you think

humboldt mountains

By now, many of you have heard about the story of Brody PR and the lessons learned by its owner when she inadvertently sent a pitch out to journalists and bloggers by putting all of their addresses in the cc: field instead of the bcc: field. Therefore, I won’t bore you by beating a dead horse — if you want a quick review of what happened, Jeremy Porter has a decent recap over at Journalistics.

The issue here is an important one, obviously, because so many people have reacted and commented. But let’s face it, many people have joined together to make a mountain out of a molehill. Actually, they’ve made a holier than thou mountain out of a molehill. I’m really getting tired of these folks who think their time is so valuable they can’t be bothered with the PR pigs feeding at the trough. Guess what? It seems to me that many of them have become high-prancing stallions intent on building their personal name recognition and Google-search status much more than providing a valuable service to anyone.

The journalists and bloggers involved with the offending Brody PR email went ballistic on this one, from what I can tell, because of the flood of replies that came into their email in boxes. The thing is, Brody PR didn’t send replies to everyone — the journalists and bloggers who clicked “Reply to All” caused that mess.

In the end, Beth Brody has stepped up, taken her public caning and committed to learning from her mistake. I don’t know Beth personally, but I’m inclined to get to know her, if for no other reason than the fact that she has been made the focus of a wrath that was so over the top it’s almost laughable.

I try to have “be cynical and paranoid” added to all my job descriptions, so I suppose it’s no wonder I have a different take on all of this. Was it really necessary for the recipients to reply to all when  complaining about how the email pitch was handled? Absolutely not. They could have ignored the email, they could have replied just to the sender or they could have used their own publications or blogs as a teaching tool. Instead, they decided to make an example out of someone who made an honest mistake. They turned someone’s attempt to do her job and earn a living into a voodoo doll designed to inflict pain and suffering on the entire PR industry.

Are there poor PR practices and professionals in the industry who give it a bad name? Absolutely, but you can say that about every profession, including journalism and blogging.

In my career, I’ve been used as a source for news reports more times than I could ever count. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve dealt with clueless reporters for whom I had no patience. Not only did they not understand a subject they were writing about, they refused to learn and stop repeatedly asking me for the same explanation over and over. Did that mean I hated the entire journalism industry and went out of my way to skewer it whenever possible? Of course not.

Then there are the bloggers writing missives that are opinionated and filled with poor research but passed off as delivering a factual news story. Does that mean all bloggers are evil and not to be trusted because the industry as a whole has no code of ethics? Of course not.

The next time journalists and bloggers want to go on a rant about the public relations industry and how all of its practitioners are evil, they need to take a deep breath and remember this: the trip to the holier than thou mountaintop is shorter than you think. It also is a trip that can be avoided if you just stay on the molehill.

(Image courtesy of kiwinz on Flikr)

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17 comments on “The trip to the holier than thou mountaintop is shorter than you think

  1. Thanks for saying what I didn’t have the guts to say. I’ll be honest — I’ve read more posts about how NOT to pitch and it is intimidating to us PR students. It’s almost a turnoff from traditional public relations because the threat of making a mistake while pitching can seemingly end your career. What gives with all the criticism? Can’t we move on and talk about how TO pitch?

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  2. Great post, Ari. You’ve pointed out an important issue that’s been facing the PR industry for a long time. It’s hard not to get defensive when I tell people I’m in PR and they simply refer to me as a “spin doctor”. What’s even worse, now, is that issues like this get far too much light shined on them and create an even tougher situation for PR professionals and students to feel they’re working in a respected industry.

    There is so much more to Public Relations than many people realize. I hope someday more people will understand that we are just trying to play our part in the business world and aren’t perfect…just like everyone else.

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    • It’s seeing people being jerks and scaring off the great PR pros of the future like you and Nick that bother me. It’s always been one of my goals in class to make my students more cynical before the end of the semester, but a realistic cynical, not a downtrodden one. Hang in there — the industry is filled with plenty of good people. They just need to learn to speak up more!

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  3. We have increasingly become a nation of people who LOVE to criticize others for their mistakes or shortcomings without bothering to take responsibility for our own. We hold others up to standards that no one could hope to achieve and then scold, harass and jeer at those who fall short.

    What strikes me is that, apparently, this is the most important thing these people could think to get upset about. With everything that’s going on in the world, these people are upset because of a “bad” pitch? Get some perspective, people.

    There are bad PR people just like there are bad pilots, doctors, firefighters, taxi drivers and gymnasts and baseball players. I would think that industries like journalism and blogging, where mistakes are so readily apparent and often brutally exposed, would want to be the first to extend someone the benefit of the doubt rather than piling on.

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    • Great point about not wanting to pile on Ryan. One of the things that surprised me in all of this is how many PR people apparently jumped into the fray uninvited to attempt to apologize for the industry as a whole. Really? Who asked them to do that and who determined it was necessary? Why do people think that any group — racial, sexual, industry, etc. — needs to have a single spokesperson?

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  4. I have two opinions that are on pretty much opposite ends of this spectrum but are offered with the exact same reasoning:

    1. Extremely poorly executed PR (and the Brody case was just one of at least three cases of this that I saw last week!) should NOT just be allowed to slide by. Professionals need to hold each other accountable for maintaining the highest of standards in ethics, best practices, etc., as it is important to the integrity of our industry (and also provides valuable “what not to do” lessons for students and young pros). However, just like with any other form of feedback/criticism, the issue is in the tone/context in which the feedback is offered. There’s a difference between constructive feedback and an outright attack. If this scenario had played out differently, it might have seemed more like feedback offered during a teachable moment and less like a critical attack. (Apologies for the self-plug, but I need to stop right here to avoid giving away too much of what’s in my guest post that’s slated to run tomorrow [Wed. 8/26] on Geoff Livingston’s “The Buzz Bin”: http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/)

    2. It is important for communications pros to celebrate the successes of our peers. Again, this helps maintain the highest of standards in ethics, best practices, etc., which enriches the integrity of our industry (and also provides valuable “how-to” lessons for students and young pros). Just the other day, I discovered that a man named Peter Axtman (@PeterAxtman on Twitter) actually is running blog called “A Good Pitch” on which he features pros and students who’ve done good pitch work. I’d never heard of the blog before it was brought to my attention (which says something in itself!), but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of. Check it out at http://agoodpitch.wordpress.com/.

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    • People need to learn to take a step back and look at how bad something really is before they start to make a federal case out of it. The Brody PR “violation” wasn’t
      that serious. As a dad, I’ve learned that yelling at my kids teaches them nothing, but calmly discussing a situation and helping them understand why something they did was wrong and how to avoid making the same mistake twice is so much more productive.

      Thanks for sharing the good pitch blog; that’s great considering how much attention the Bad Pitch Blog
      always gets.

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  6. THANK YOU for writing this post.

    As you said, it was an honest mistake. Of COURSE Beth Brody knew not to put everyone in the cc line instead of the bcc line, but we’ve all done things like this in our careers – even those who criticized her have done similar things, I am sure.

    What irked me the most was the other PR professionals throwing Beth Brody under the bus. COME ON PEOPLE. Like they don’t know first hand the pressures of working in PR – demanding clients, short time frames, small budgets, big expectations. Things in PR move really, really fast. And sometimes we make mistakes.

    Shame on the number of people in the PR field who were hellbent on making Beth into a sacrificial lamb because guess what? They may be next.

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  7. Ari, great post. I agree, and can say that I did NOT RT or post a single comment about this on Twitter. I couldn’t get over all the blog posts and Twitter comments slamming her. I do make a “passing” reference to it on my new post (on BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas) today but tried to spin it the other way around and post pitching suggestions rather than re-hashing the mistakes -as Nick Lucido suggests in his comment here. http://budurl.com/jldq

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    • We can all learn when others make mistakes, but only if we also help them to learn, too. To twist an old saying, “Yell at me and I will shrink, teach me and I will grow.”

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  8. Great post and part of a promising trend of PR people speaking out against journalists and bloggers who love to take cheap shots at PR people.

    Until the advent of social media, journalists had the upper hand in this war of words because they had the bigger microphone. Thank goodness that’s changing.

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    • Thank you for the comment Tony — sorry about the delay in getting approved, I was off getting married! You make a good point about PR people needing to stand up for their own profession. They often are hired to defend others, you’d think they’d know how to defend themselves.

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