My Etsy picks

Last month I was lucky enough to meet Bre from Etsy at ROFLcon and I told him how much I’ve enjoyed Etsy since it launched. We got to talking and he asked me to drop him an email with a bunch of my favorite items, stores, and sellers on the site.

I whittled down my favorites to a list they just posted, though I could have picked many more. Also, I gotta thank Mighty Goods and DaddyTypes for both consistently pointing out awesome stuff there that lead to many purchases.

Dear PR people: How to Pitch Bloggers

In the wake of my previous post and Gina’s PR blacklist that sprang from it, it seems like a good chunk of the PR industry is blogging about the things they should and shouldn’t be doing, but I’m not seeing a lot of practical real-world solutions that would work for bloggers getting pitched. All the advice has come from the PR side of things so it’s all about how they train employees, how they do their work, and why their work is vital to bloggers (newsflash: it often isn’t).

So in the spirit of extending an olive branch to the PR industry, here are some very basic tips I haven’t seen anyone mention elsewhere:

1. Don’t ever send a press release to a blogger based on a purchased list
I keep hearing about this thing called the Bacon/Cision list and how all the bloggers complaining about getting spammed are on it (the idea of someone selling a list with my email on it is another matter). As many PR people have stated, connecting PR and bloggers should be a connection made via reading their blog and contacting them with a personal note at the very least. Adding 200 names to a bcc: list on an emailed press release because you got 200 blogger emails from some list is the absolutely wrong way to go about it. Don’t ever do this.

2. Go beyond the press release
The rare, few times I’ve felt like enduring all this PR hassle was worth it was when someone from a company contacted me with an invite to preview a product, try out a site, and/or obtain a review item. A press release is the thing I line the bird cage with, a review unit is something I can actually use for a week or two and get a full review story written ready to publish on the day your client launches the product. I can’t stress it enough that a press release sent to me is just plain noise and totally and completely useless. Or if you must, at least just send me a link to one in case I want to learn more about the news you are sharing instead of pasting 2,000 words in ALL CAPS into an email.

3. Introduce a feedback loop!
I’ve never been contacted by anyone in PR that bothered to follow-up with me at any point in our “relationship”. I just get a bunch of press releases emailed to me again and again, often by the same people. If you’ve hand-picked out some bloggers covering topics you have clients releasing news about, at least check with the bloggers after a month, or your second message, or some other regular interval. Ask them if the PR they’ve been receiving is helpful and if it should be tweaked, or even ended if it’s not useful.

4. Provide an unsubscribe link
This is totally bottom-of-the-barrel, least-you-can-do-to-appease-bloggers stuff here, but at the very least provide an instant, no-humans-required way for a blogger to remove themselves from contact they aren’t getting anything but frustration from. About 1/4 of the PR email I get is managed with some sort of list interface and provides this option, and I use the option when off-topic, all-caps press releases get blasted my way. I prefer a no-humans-required option because I’ve asked people at an agency to remove me and they said they had and sorry for the inconvenience, only to be emailed by the same person two weeks later.

5. Use metrics to help you do your PR job
If personally emailing a bunch of bloggers with personal messages sounds like a lot of work that doesn’t scale, try using metrics to help you figure out what works and doesn’t. Right now we have the annual “did my PR firm show up on a blacklist?” metric, but if you implement the suggestions above, keep tabs on what percentage of receivers clicked on a link to read a press release (are your press releases effectively written?), figure out what % click on an unsubscribe link (how effective are you targeting bloggers), figure out how often the bloggers you contact ever write about your clients (how effective your PR/blogger strategy is) and when they do was it because of a press release or did you give them something more (to figure out if newer non-traditional approaches are working better).

update: Just to be clear here, I’m not asking for bloggers to be treated differently than journalists in other media because we bloggers are a cranky lot that can harm your company with a snide blog post if you do things wrong — my point in treating bloggers differently is that bloggers can often publish perfectly informative, up-to-date blogs without PR, instead relying on RSS, other blogs, Google News, and link aggregators to find news about topics they are interested in.

I published multiple blogs for five years before I got my first unsolicited press release, and if PR people want to stay relevant, they need to acknowledge that bloggers work in an information-rich environment filled with millions of choices and as a PR person you really need to be adding some value to their approach instead of taking time away with off-topic press releases emailed to them.

Stop asking, start filtering

PR filters I know it’s a cliché as a blogger to complain about public relations flacks sending you giant PDFs and weekly emails on topics you don’t care about, but recently I noticed my tried and true polite email saying:

Please remove my email address from your PR lists.


totally stopped working. Turns out that a lot of these PR companies have a single database of random blogger emails they’ve snarfed up, but each employee seems to maintain their own personal list. When I ask Alice at PR to remove me, I noticed a week later I got another PR blast from Bob at PR. Then Steve at PR hits me again a day later.

So for now, I’m moving to filters in Gmail. The entire PR agency domain goes into the From: and you set it to delete immediately. Instantly, no more PR spam from Alice, Bob, or Steve, forever, and I don’t have to ask to opt-out of something I never opted into.

And to people working in PR, some bloggers do seem to post the things you send, but in four years of daily PR email blasts that now number in the thousands, I recall one or two being something I was actually interested in. That’s about the same success ratio of general email spam over the past 10 years for me.

update: I was thinking of posting my own blacklist of annoying firms, but it looks like Gina from Lifehacker beat me to the punch.

And to PR folks reading this post, I left a comment describing my dream scenario for how PR people should interact with bloggers:

the perfect PR person would match me up with topics I write about and when they figure out a perfect product pitch I might be interested in, email me personally once to share it, and ask me for confirmation if I’d like to get future email from them. Unless I reply back with a “yes” don’t add me to a list or pitch me again — it’s a not a good match and is only going to build frustration on my end if you keep sending unsolicited pitches.

Another update: I’ve written some tips on How To Pitch PR to Bloggers

GEL recap

GEL Last week, I attended my third GEL conference in New York City. Like previous versions of this conference, it’s a day of talks from speakers that have a variety of stories to tell about “good experiences.” The diversity of the speakers’ backgrounds is the strength of the conference and this year didn’t disappoint. In a world of technology conferences that feature the same five subjects talked about by the same dozen people, I look forward to GEL every year to hear from health care workers, artists, restauranteurs, musicians, and yes, technologists.

A few years back, the conference split into two days where day one is an experience or tour and day two are standard talks given in an auditorium. Last year I had a blast touring MoMA and learning to juggle pins, this year I had a great time doing a Central Park soundwalk (pb describes it here in his GEL recap). The walk was great, you basically blindfold yourself, grab a rope, and start shuffling around for about 20 minutes. If you’ve never tried anything like this before, I can’t recommend it enough. The first few minutes are pure anxiety bordering on panic but eventually you get used to the shuffling feet and with your eyes firmly shut for an extended period, your hearing takes over. I was blown away by the variety of birds in Central Park and sounds of people and music that accompanied our walk. The biggest surprise for me was finding that my brain tried to start “mapping” sound as we walked — I remember hearing strollers rolling towards me or birds growing near and in my mind I was placing them in a virtual canvas so I knew where they were headed and when I could expect to pass them.

After the blindfold walk, we sat and talked about what we heard and experienced, then we walked and stopped at various locations in the park to enjoy sound (with our eyes closed) from a single location. The mind-blowing moment during this section happened when I was sitting next to a walking path just outside of both a softball game and a merry-go-round. As people walked past and balls were hit, I heard some light foot padding and instantly recognized it as a dog going past. The first thought that sprang into my head was “that is the sound of a small, light dog” and surprised at the thought, I opened my eyes to see a little poodle trotting past. Now, I don’t know if I figured that out by chance or if my brain has a database of various dog sounds by weight I wasn’t aware of, but being in that place and state of mind was a wonderful exercise in getting reacquainted with my sense of hearing. The other highlight was walking to the center of the park and being in a spot in Manhattan where I could see no buildings of any kind, I was completely surrounded by natural things like trees and grass, and I could barely hear any sounds from the city. I didn’t know a place like that existed in NYC.

The day of talks went well and the subject matter and style is a lot like the TED conference. The best talks were both entertaining and enlightening and even if I had to classify a few talks as less than superb, I at least learned something about an industry I didn’t know anything about. In past years of GEL, I’ve remembered a few break out amazing talks that stuck with me for weeks and a few horrible stinkers that had me looking at my watch. This year’s talks had a few memorable points but no single talk stood out as truly amazing but on the positive side I don’t recall wanting any talk to end early.

If you attend a lot of technology conferences and you’re growing tired of hearing the same old thing, try out the GEL conference — sometimes it’s hit and miss and all over the map, but it’s always a good time in a wonderful city.

April cycling/diet update

Just a quick monthly guilt-trip for myself: Thanks to a week of travel and a bout of sickness, I only covered 185.59 miles in April and my weight hovered around the same as last month. On the positive side, I did just break 800 miles for the year (normally a year-long amount of riding) and I’m on track to do about 2,500-3,000 miles for the year if I keep it up. Also, since it’s finally May in Oregon, the sun has decided to come out and grace us with good riding weather. I suspect I’ll start going from an average of 70 miles a week ridden to 100-120 mile weeks by June.