HIRPS: A new model for PR and influencers
by Josh Bernoff
Here's the problem. "Influencers" -- that's reporters, analysts, bloggers, anyone with an audience -- are targets. PR people are the ones who want to influence them. The PR folks subscribe to databases from companies like Cision and Vocus and then send out hundreds of undifferentiated press releases (it's called "spray and pray"). Some of the pitches are more targeted, but based on my own inbox, most of them aren't.
This system serves both the PR people and the influencers badly. We influencers get clogged inboxes and ignore most of the email; the PR people may reach a few targets but it's 99% waste.
Right now, I'm proposing a way to fix this. I ran my idea by Hans Gieskes, CEO of Cision, and Peter Granat, who is in charge of products there -- they were intrigued, so here goes.
Let's call my system HIRPS -- Highly Relevant Pitching System. My system includes three elements.
Influencer profiles. Influencers would set up their own profiles -- not "who I am" but "what I'm looking for" profiles. The profile would include not just general coverage areas, but very specific details (e.g. "I am interested in new mobile devices" or "I am writing about how marketers measure social media applications.") As an influencer starts doing new research, she would update this -- reporters would update theirs daily or weekly, analysts maybe monthly. Naturally, the profiles would be free.
PR pitching system. The PR people would pay a subscription for access to these profiles. They would then send pitches to the influencers through the system. All pitches must be kept to 1200 characters -- anything further would be through a link to further information.
Ratings for PR people. Every pitch email would include a simple mechanism for the influencer to RATE the pitch for relevance (1-5 stars) and comment on the person doing the pitching.And every pitch would arrive with information about the PR person's rating for relevance.
In a system like this, the PR people have the ability (though searching profiles) to find 15 or 20 actual, interested people rather than 1000 who are unlikely to be interested. They are also incented to create a few personal, relevant pitches -- not to spam -- because such pitches would generate high relevance rankings. This system incents behavior that's good for everyone, and allows clever, thoughtful PR people to be rewarded for being clever and thoughtful with a highly visible reputation. (They can carry this with them from job to job, too -- it's good for their careers.)
From the influencer's perspective, we would get fewer of these emails, and each one would be short and personalized, and come with a rating. If I got three or even ten of these a day, with a star rating on each one, I'd be far more likely to read and respond to them, even as I ignored most of the press releases. And if they matched my articulated needs, I'd be delighted. This system also reinforces transparency on the part of influencers -- a little effort about what you are interested in gets rewarded with far more relevant contacts.
Here's how this is different from what we have now.
Cision and Vocus and PR Newswire have influencer profiles but they're not like this because they're designed to serve PR people -- they're profiles of influencers, not by influencers. Cision won't let you see your profile, although you can change it. Vocus makes you call them if the profile is being abused (which they all are). PR Newswire lets you see and edit your profile but it's way too general. None acknowledge that influencers have changing needs. In fact, as they stand now, creating or editing a profile just makes it easier for PR people to spam you.
There are tools sort of like this now. HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is designed to hook reporters up with sources (which their founder Peter Shankman told me are as likely to be small businesses as they are larger PR shops). But when you sign up a source, you get undifferentiated email with dozens of entries about what reporters are seeking. This doesn't use the social intelligence of the net, it doesn't scale, and it doesn't include ratings. HARO was just acquired by Vocus.
Profnet, like HARO, is focused on "experts," (especially academics), not PR people. You have to pay to join as an expert. It's now owned by PR Newswire.
I'm sure I'll hear from startups who've done something like this, but frankly, it's the incumbents like Cision who can do this best. They start with tens of thousands of PR customers for their databases; Cision already has indexed a million influencers. More than any startup, Cision or one of its competitors can leverage these connections to make this work. And since it will know what pitches people are rating highly and responding to, it can improve the quality of its database.
This won't end irrelevant PR email. But it could certainly create a lot more relevance in our inboxes. What do you think?