Your PR Agency is Probably Robbing You

In addition to running a health IT company, I also write for a few media publications. I decided to attend the mHealth summit this year as a member of the press. This is was my first time to attend a major health IT conference as a member of the press. I thought it would be fun to comment on my experiences looking at the vendor - PR - media triangle from both sides of the fence.

PR agencies exist for a single reason: to manage and maximize the relationships between their clients and the media. One of the many responsibilities of PR agencies is thus to know members of the media, what they write about, what their interests are, and their views and opinions so that PR agencies can make appropriate and relevant introductions between the media and vendors. It would be rather difficult to effectively manage relationships with media outlets or journalists without having some sense of who writers are or what they write about.

Before the mHealth Summit, I was already skeptical of most PR agencies. After getting a flood of inbound emails and inappropriate phone calls over the last few weeks, I'm more skeptical than ever. PR agencies are overwhelmingly lazy and incompetent. There are exceptions but most are downright awful. Allow me to elaborate:

On November 20th the mHealth Summit released the full list of registered media and analyst attendees to the exhibiting vendors. There were a total of 81 media attendees representing 68 media organizations. The mHealth Summit rightfully does this to help vendors maximize their dollars spent at the conference and to help media learn about companies that are doing interest work and that warrant media attention. This practice theoretically creates mutual value for both parties.

Since November 20th, I've received fifteen direct emails from PR agencies trying to schedule a meeting at the mHealth Summit. I've also received four unwarranted phone calls. This process is broken:

1) Not a single PR agency sent me a personalized message. Not one. I was mail-merged or copy-pasted by every single PR agency. This is an utterly pathetic business practice. Why should a PR agency be paid so they can mail-merge? This is particularly irksome since I take pride in writing meaningful analysis of the industry from the perspective of a passionate technologist and as CEO of a company in the health IT space. I don't cover companies for the sake of covering companies. I don't write top 10 lists. I don't "look" for stories. I write interesting and meaningful analyses. Every post has a thesis. I have no quota, no minimums, or maximums. I write out of passion. Anyone who's read three of my blog posts would know that.

2) Some of the messages were written in the format: "Who: [CEO / SVP of X]  Where: Booth #Y What: Next generation of awesome Z." This is total shit. Just absolutely awful. If I was a sheep in search of stories, perhaps I might have appreciated this, but I am not. I am a person looking for engaging vendor executives who can intelligently discuss their products and market opportunity.

3) Every single message I received was written so that I could copy-paste it into a blog post. The PR agencies assumed I am brain dead and incapable of writing on my own, so they tried to do it for me. I know this is common practice in the PR industry, but that doesn't mean it's not insulting.

4) Most of the PR agencies had no idea what their clients actually do. Of the four that called me without warrant, not a single one could concisely describe what their client's product does in two sentences. They could read a listing of benefits such as "decrease complications in the ICU to reduce admissions" but none of them could actually tell me what the product does. I decided to take advantage of their naivete and press them for details. All four PR agents continued to re-iterate "improving healthcare" and "doing good for the world." These assertions imply a fundamental inability to think: I live and breathe healthcare and health IT. How can a health IT company produce a product or service that doesn't isn't good for patients and the world? If they wanted to get my attention, the PR agents should have told me that their clients' products are strictly a cost center with few proven benefits that succeed in the market because they have strong expertise in sales and marketing. At least that would have caught my attention.