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March 03, 2008
Out of Vocus
I've had many anger-inducing run-ins with a company called Vocus, a software firm that sells access to its database of journalists and media outlets so companies can pitch them.
Vocus first came into focus last year with the release of a white paper called "Five Golden Rules for Blogger Relations." Rule number one in the Vocus paper: "Don't spam bloggers." In a classic PR blunder, Vocus spammed bloggers to tell them about the paper that instructed them not to spam bloggers.
Undaunted, Vocus powered on in its spam-like ways by adding the contact information of bloggers to its system. A few months ago, without warning, I've been spammed regularly by Vocus clients like the Virginia Tourism Board and Eight O'Clock Coffee, telling me about some wonderful new campaign. I will use this space to say to the Virginia Tourism Board and Eight O'Clock Coffee: Please, get a clue.
Once you're in the Vocus system, it gets Kafka-esque. Bloggers can unsubscribe from Vocus PR spam, but from the spamming client only. Other Vocus clients can, and will, spam you because you are still in their main database. This takes "captive audience" to a new level and seems like a possible violation of CAN-Spam laws.
Four times in four months I used the contact info on the Vocus website (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask for full removal. No reply to any email. Finally, I called Vocus' main number and asked to speak with someone. Julie returned my call 30 minutes later and promised to remove my name from their system. It seemed like a good time to ask Julie about Vocus' practices:
- How do bloggers get added to the database? Vocus monitors top blogs in certain categories then adds their contact information to the database. Without permission, I asked? Yes, she said. Most bloggers are OK with that, she said. How does she know if they don't ask first?
- Why couldn't I opt out entirely? We're working on that, she said, and promised to investigate why no one responded to my four emails.
Julie also said a client could have copied my email address from the system and might continue to send me emails. Lovely.
Hey Vocus clients, such as Scottrade, People's Energy, and Southwest Airlines: You should know that Vocus has simply tacked an old-world model of media relations onto the new-world model of blogging. Vocus doesn't get it. I'm hoping that you do and you'll tell Vocus to clean up their act.
UPDATE(3/11/08): Just got an email from the Director of PR for the Virginia Tourism Board who apologized and said she was also contacting Vocus to make sure my info is removed from their system. Nice to see they are listening to comments about them in the blogosphere : )
Other blogs that reference Out of Vocus:
I agree w/you & remember the Vocus spam mail incident. Seems that others in the PR industry forgive & forget more quickly:
I'd say they're running the risk of some major problems with regards to Can-Spam. What they're doing is unethical at best. Not only that it's just plain rude. Just because people blog doesn't mean they want to be added to a bunch of list. What planet are these people from?
This kind of stuff drives me crazy. Thanks for writing about it -- it amazes me what people will do without your permission, thinking it's OK.
Well, you just answered a question for me, which was, "How in heck did all these people get my email address?" When I read about Eight O'Clock Coffee I just shook my head - mystery solved!
Great post, it's as if rather than putting in the work to find and engage their perfect customer (which is so easy on the internet these days), these companies would rather piss a ton of people off to get a couple sales. People would stop this if NO ONE ever responded to spam, but until that happens I fear that it will continue.
I've had a similar experience in trying to unsubscribe from Ziff-Davis's eWeek Magazine's list. I blogged about it here: http://www.1goodreason.com/blog
I wonder if there would be any way to implement a "DO NOT EMAIL" list? Companies getting fined if they break that rule or would that be too hard to do? Either way, it's pretty ridiculous how much spamming companies can get away with these days.
Its funny to me when Bloggers that shape opinion(or like to think they do)believe theyre process is sacred and thus shouldnt be polluted by the spam of the real world. Truth is,if you hold sway in your corner of the world youre no different a target than any other media outlet or editor in the trenches. So deal with it like all the professionals before you, be gracous about it and be greatful your relevant enough to be included.
Here, here! I completely agree with Ric. Bloggers are self-publishing "journalists" and should deal with news pitches the same way main-stream journalists must. It isn't spam. Obviously Vocus should do a MUCH better job of training its clients to only send news pitches to bloggers that are relevant to what they blog about (and clean up its customer service - Hello!). It seems like Bloggers want the right to act like journalists, but don't always take on the responsibilities most journalists must.
As a blogger and former email marketer formally trained in PR, I can easily see each side of this issue.
I have used Vocus and similar tools in the past, however, I use it to find journalists, then I research that journalist, then I send a one-to-one targeted pitch or introduction, and while I'm at it I may ask if he/she wants to be added to our company media list to receive regular communications. I think if every PR rep/agency used it in this manner, there'd be nothing wrong with it.
I also think Vocus should ask for permission to add journalists to the list. As a customer, I don't want to approach journalists (or bloggers) who are cranky because they get hundreds of pitches they don't want. It's unfair to everyone really.
It saddens me to see people in my industry cheapen our value by spamming anyone--whether journalists or bloggers-- just because it's easier and faster. Anyone who's done it my way can tell you the results are far superior when you take the time to do it right.
Vocus is one of the most annoying companies ever. They call me all of the time, in addition to the aforementioned spam problem they have. Hopefully this post gets back to them!
Andy and Ric,
The issue I am talking about in the posts is not the random pitch email I get from PR people, though I don't love those either.
My issue is with a company adding my contact information to a database without my permission and then SELLING that database to clients so they can send me spam pitches. Plus the fact that there are no easy ways to get off the database.
My issue is never so much with receiving PR pitches, but with receiving ones where they've clearly not done their homework. My colleague Tarek's post came to mind when reading yours: http://www.tarekesber.com/?p=106
His blog often states that he works for a competitor of the company for which Citigate Cunningham was pitching, showing blatantly that the PR person hadn't even browsed the site to get a rough idea of whether it was worth mailing that blogger in particular.
I'm an ex-email-marketer and list-buying makes my blood boil. If marketers are too lazy to build up their own list and community, then they don't deserve to have an audience for their PR.
Here's to hoping PR people open their eyes one day...
I have been reading the comments on this post. I appreciate the input. We are working on ways to address your concerns.
Excellent discussion. I can see both sides of this issue. The question I have: If bloggers put their email addresses on their blogs, isn't that an invitation to get email? Agreed this is not an invitation for spam, but it shouldn't surprise someone that spam is a result.
It's one thing to get a single email from a PR firm. But it is quite something different to be put on a distribution list that is sold to companies without your permission.
I'm just started in a marketing position with a small software company and I'm considering the use of Vocus software. When googling 'experience with Vocus' I came across this blog, and it has given me a lot to think about...
However, I have a question to all the bloggers who don't wish to be 'spammed' by Vocus: how do you wish to be addressed instead? Do you prefer to be called by PR people who wants to sell their story 'personally' which means you have to provide a phone number, or don't you want to receive any input at all?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not sarcastic. As a starter I'm just trying to figure out how to pitch my very interesting story to the media in a way that keeps everybody happy!
Some bloggers will have info in their Contact Us page. Also google "how to pitch a blogger" to get various ideas on this.
I think most bloggers are whiney little snobs that think their blog is a personal space. It's not. You operate a web site, plain and simple. If I can to any corporate web site and collect contact info for each company, what's wrong with blogs as well? Yes, it's most likely an individual behind the scenes, but it's only a web site, not a person that people see.
If it's on the internet, it's fair game to anyone. Leave your email address out in the open, it will be taken and used for any purpose the taker wants.
Ain't nothin you can do about it except perhaps not leave your contact info for anyone to grab.
I too have been a victim of Vocus and no matter how many times I ask, demand, threaten in order to get removed, the spam just keeps coming. How are we going to shut these guys down? They need a big fine because they are breaking the law.
UPDATE: If you respond to whichever vocus client sends you these with a cc to abuse@ that same domain, and explain that it's unsolicited spam, you just might hear back (as I did) and get some action. Long story short, the sender contacted vocus, and I got an email from someone at vocus apologizing and saying they had removed me from their lists. There may be hope...
Perhaps I could ask for a little help here. I work in the press office of a small UK charity. I was looking for a system that would help me keep my track of my contacts and list the email addresses of relevent journalists. Something that would be a bit easier than the current paper directories that I have to go through. I'm no PR expert but I know I won't get coverage from spamming bloggers our journalists. Vocus was one of the contacts databases I was looking at but having read a few posts about how the system works I'm having second thoughts. Any suggestions of a system that would give me the details of the (rather limited number) the journalists that cover the areas our chairty works in but doesn't encourge people to spam you guys?
I called Vocus to be removed. Of course, I was transferred to voicemail. The woman in charge of the lists is Beth Coleman. Email address is email@example.com. Do with that what you will.