PRs are from Mars, journos are from Venus – can blockchain tech help them live in harmony?

As any stressed-out PR professional will tell you, journalists are not always the easiest people in the world to deal with. Send out a great pitch by email and hardly anyone responds – not even to say thanks but no thanks. Follow up by phone and it soon becomes clear that very few people on the recipient list have bothered to read the original message. And if you resort to leaving a voicemail, be prepared to be greeted by a deafening silence every time you check your phone. At least, that’s how it seems sometimes.

There is, of course, another side to the story. The average working journalist probably receives dozens of e-mail pitches every day and there simply isn’t time to read each one in detail, let alone formulate polite replies to the PRs in question. If a relevant story idea jumps out from the first two paragraphs of a pitch or press release, the sender is in with a chance. If not, the delete key is close at hand.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, but it is. If pressed, most journos will tell you they get sent far too many marginal or irrelevant stories ideas. Sometimes that’s because the sender doesn’t really understand the journalist’s beat, but in other cases, some PRs unthinkingly broadcast press releases to as many people as possible in the hope that at least someone will be interested. As a numbers game it may work – email is free and if sending a press release to 200 recipients gets you two positive responses, all well and good  – but there is an unseen cost in the shape of clogged up mailboxes and disgruntled journalists.

Making The Relationship Work

Without freelancers, staff writers and editors, the PR industry wouldn’t exist in its current form. In the absence of PRs, journalists would have to spend a lot more cultivating sources and chasing interviews. Folks, we need each other. More importantly, we need to come up with some processes and practices that enable us to work effectively together in pursuit of different but overlapping goals. So how can we restore harmony to a relationship that should be productive and symbiotic?

So I would like to make a modest proposal. Blockchain technology can be used to foster a better working relationship between journalists and the PR industry.

Think of it this way: if the relationship is to work well, it surely makes sense for PRs to ensure that each individual journalist receives only the most relevant pitches and stories. The trouble is that clients are clamoring for publicity and agencies are under pressure to deliver coverage. So even if a PR knows that “less is more” the temptation is always there to contact as many journalists as possible, regardless of relevance.

A Game Changer

Blockchain could change the game by creating a financial disincentive to discourage over-sending?

This is how it could work. Let’s assume for a moment that we create a community of PR companies and journalists who agree to communicate via a platform based on blockchain tech. Every sent e-mail is recorded on the ledger, as is every occasion that a message is opened and a response sent back to the PR. In addition, every time a pitch is sent, a smart contract system ensures the journalist receives a micropayment. At a stroke, PR companies will have to think about the financial implications of their campaigning strategies. Thanks to blockchain, every pitch can be measured in terms of cost and benefit.

At this point, I can imagine my colleagues in the PR community saying: “no this is not only costly but it’s also unethical.”  There may be an initial cost but once the system beds in, agencies will achieve better results. By encouraging PRs to think carefully about every pitch, the likelihood is that journalists will respond more positively to the pitches they receive.

Transparency and Ethics

Crucially, there is no ethical problem. Journalists won’t be paid for running stories. They will simply be paid for the time spent reading pitches. And by running this on a blockchain platform, you create an open and transparent system. Major agencies with large budgets won’t be able to gain an advantage by paying more than their rivals.

But what’s in it for the Journos? Well, at a time when freelance incomes are falling, they will have an extra income stream. Everybody wins.

It’s a radical idea but not unprecedented. For instance, in April of this year, the freelance platform Upwork announced that it was rolling out a new pitching regime that would require freelancers to pay at least $0.15 every time they applied for a job. The ongoing aim is to deter freelancers from pitching for jobs they aren’t qualified to undertake. It’s hoped the change will mean clients receive fewer, better quality pitches.

The same principle can be applied to the PR/Journalist relationship. There is a bigger point here. Across a range of sectors, blockchain technology has the potential to change the way that parties transact in ways that are innovative, mutually beneficial and transparent. Blockchain literally can change the world and it can change this industry too.



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Rodney Goedhart

Rodney Goedhart is an advertising expert and sociologist which regularly contributes to researches about tech, business and new marketing efforts. He is a PR manager at Innowire Inc.

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