Wednesday, October 07, 2009

When a P.R. Company Gets Social Media Wrong

A few months back, I ended up on the mailing list of Ragan Communications, a "publisher of corporate communications, public relations, and leadership development newsletters" firm located in Chicago. I didn't get my knickers in a bunch over it, as I'm interested in knowing how the p.r. community is understanding how and what social media is about. And I don't doubt that Ragan Communications, which has been in existence since 1971, is very good at what they do, is well-respected, and has extensive knowledge of the field in which the staff is writing about....


The other day I received an email from Mark Ragan, Publisher and CEO of Ragan Communications. The subject line read "Would you be interested in this?" I thought maybe that Mark Ragan was actually contacting me about something....

Now, I may be small potatoes in the social media consulting world (oh, I've just worked on some pioneering projects in social media and journalism, but what does that matter?), but I was floored to receive what looked like an email from a CEO, someone who might actually contact me about social media, turn out to be nothing more than an impersonal pitch to sign up for their Ragan Select program. Here's the letter:

You have been a customer and reader of mine for years. But I haven't been successful in recruiting you as a member of Ragan Select. Can I try to change that?

I'm writing to a few long-time Ragan readers to offer them a free two-week trial to Ragan Select.

So what does that mean?

It's pretty simple to explain: You'll get unlimited access to 15,000 searchable case studies in our archives. And, you'll get huge discounts on Ragan products, including all Ragan events and webinars. If you have plans to register for any of my conferences, webinars or workshops, you're trial membership will give you access to hundreds of dollars in savings.

But enough selling.

It takes about two minutes to sign up for the trial. Just go here. I'll handle the rest.

Thanks for considering this. And keep in touch.


Mark Ragan
111 E. Wacker Dr.
Ste. 500
Chicago, IL 60647

P.S. I know I say this all the time, but it's true. I want to hear from you. If you've made any communication breakthroughs at your company, hit reply to this e-mail and send me a quick note. I personally read all of my mail and will forward any interesting story ideas to our managing editor at Thanks again, Tish. Hope to hear from you soon.

P.P.S. Also, feel free to forward this e-mail to any other communicators you work with. They can sign up for the free trial as well. Again, here is the link to the sign up page.

P.P.P.S. I shot a video explaining this free trial program. Take a look and let me know what you think. here I've got this email that also has several P.S's where the CEO is saying that he *really* wants to hear from me. Really?!? I sent a response to this email a couple of days ago and haven't heard a thing yet. Sure, Mark's a busy CEO, and maybe he hasn't gotten to it yet. Then again, maybe the bit about really wanting to hear from me is just another bit of marketing b.s. Make the "customer" feel as if he/she is being listened to...

This is not to say that Ragan Communications doesn't value their long-standing customers. They probably do--they probably wouldn't be in business as long as they have. I have no idea of knowing exactly, although their site is rather extensive....

But this isn't the way to handle things in the new social media world....

What this email tells me is that my business card went into some mailing list and my identity as a social media consultant--and maybe as a potential help to Ragan's own social media efforts--has not once ever been considered. I probably wasted a whole lot of breath talking to someone from Ragan, who probably has no idea what it is that I do in social media.

Which is pretty sad.

Am I insulted? A little-but hey, it's happened before and it probably won't be the last time, and I know I've got some image issues to work on. Yet I think Ragan Communications needs to not spend so much time developing content about social media inasmuch as it may need to better understand what social media is really about....

Social media isn't about content. It's about connections. It's about people. Not about your newsletters and how great you may be. It's about whether or not you are providing something of real value. And if you don't know your stuff, someone will bust you on it..

BTW, it was on Ragan's site that I read an horrific blog post that talked about "managing" negative or critical blog posts by discrediting the blogger, firing the employee who tried to put out positive responses to negative blog posts, and basically treat the whole social media scene as if it's one giant war zone. If that's the attitude of people in the P.R. industry (the poster wasn't from Ragan), I think they just might be doing more harm than good for their clients with social media.


Mark Ragan said...

You won't believe this Trish, but dozens of my story ideas at actually come from the type of e-mail you received.

In fact, I do read EVERY response that comes to me from these e-mails. Ask my managing editor. Those postcripts you describe have yielded so many great leads and have connected me to so many readers and customers.

Now, because I do receive a lot of replies, it takes me a few weeks to answer all of the letters. But answer them I do. Every single one of them, and I do so personally.

I am very close to my customers. I meet about 3,000 of them a year. Right now as I type this, I am relaxing after teaching 30 communicators in NYC. Those PR and internal communications professionals will also receive a similar letter from me in a few week---a letter that I personally write.

Is this a bad thing? I don't think so, not if it's sincere. Is it also a good marketing technique? Absolutely.

I apologize for not getting back to you immediately. The demands of the road don't allow me to respond right away. But rest assured I DO appreciate your response and I AM reading my mail. You did not reply into a dead zone, believe it or not.

I will be in touch.

Mark Ragan
Ragan Communications

Tish Grier said...

Hi Mark,

I didn't doubt that you were quite busy--I think I mentioned something to that effect in my post. And I certainly don't doubt that you are indeed close to your customers, esp. ones that you either know personally or with which you've had long-standing relationships .

But what does that say for potential customers? What does that say to those of us whose business cards end up on someone's desk somewhere and end up subscribed to a fair amount of your newsletters that we didn't know we were going to end up subscribed to? As I said, I didn't get all knickers-bunchy as I usually do (you should see the emails I send to folks whose lists I really *don't* want to be on...)

oh, and no need to tell me how many people you were teaching. I gave two talks on Saturday at Marlboro College in Brattleboro, VT: one on crowdsourcing and one on hyperlocal journalism. It doesn't matter to me that you were teaching inasmuch as it matters to me that you don't spam me.