"If it's wrong, it's not our fault - the client made us do it"

11 April 2008

I've seen plenty of releases with disclaimers - mostly about forward-looking statements. Or as the CFO of one big analogue chipmaker put it at a financial conference some years back as he put up the obligatory safe-harbour statement: "This basically says that everything I am about to tell you may be a lie."

This disclaimer from Webit PR, however, is a new one on me:

"Disclaimer:

Whilst WebitPR Ltd endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this Release, WebitPR Ltd cannot accept any liability for:-

• the inaccuracy or otherwise of any information contained in this Release; or

• any loss liability or expense which may be suffered by any party in consequence of acting or omitting to act as a result of any information contained in or omitted from this Release; or

• any loss or suffering which may be caused by or to any party either as a result of the information contained in this Release or such information contained in this Release being inaccurate or otherwise misleading."

I guess this is one of the consequences of more releases being turned up directly by search engines. But it only serves to confirm what we already know: everything in the release may be a lie.

6 Comments

Sheesh, is this what we've come to? I guess it makes sense. I get requests regularly to just distribute news releases without editing, vetting or asking any questions ... because people think it's cheaper.

The only jobs I accept like that are from people I know well and have worked with in the past. But if PR people are so desperated that they will accept releases blind now, I guess the disclaimer is necessary.

To be fair to WebIT, they are more of a distribution service, than a 'conventional' PR company like Lou's or mine. But I still think they're getting the liability issue backwards. Our standard T's & C's have a clause which says - if you, the client, lie to us and we act on that, then we'll pass the liability back to you.

Peter,

That's a fair point. However, from my perspective, it's sometimes hard to tell what role someone has adopted in the chain. With Techwire, another distribution service, it's much clearer as the release in the inbox seems to come, for the sake of argument, from Vishay rather than Techwire.

Webit PR stuff comes with their name at the top and as the sender, as I recall. Also, the name suggests that it's a conventional PR company. I guess if I'd had a relevant release that I'd followed up, I'd have discovered the difference. You don't want to know the reason I picked up on the disclaimer, but I was tempted to send the text that preceded it to Lost In Showbiz.

Hi Chris

You raise some fair and interesting issues about the language around our distribution. Firstly as Peter states despite our name webitpr is NOT a PR agency. We are a press release distribution service and as such we are in the middle of the chain between in house PRs/Agencies and online journalists/bloggers. This should have been made clear to you before we started to send you press releases as this is our standard practice but if it wasnt then I apologise. We are actually in the process of looking to change our name so our identity is clearer to all parties we deal with as it is not our intention to mislead the name is just a historic thing – though our website and correspondence with prospective recipients does highlight this. However all of our releases that we distribute state the party on whose behalf we have sent the release and give their contact details.

The reason for the disclaimer is it would be practically impossible for us as a third party to verify the accuracy of the press releases that we receive due to time and access constraints e.g. via an agency to the originating companies themselves. However we do take steps to verify the standing of the organisations on whose behalf we operate before we send a single release to try and ensure we are only operating on behalf or bona fide companies/agencies/PRs. In addition as you yourself point out the networked nature of the internet and the power of search can lead to indirect parties finding our releases in all sorts of ways and places.

However despite this Peter’s point about how to manage this risk is a good one and something we will now review.

On a different note I am very disappointed and curious to hear that you seem not to be receiving or may not have received in this case relevant release/s. This is something we strive very hard to achieve and I would welcome a conversation to understand how this has happened so we can address this. Also we are just in the middle of planning a detailed feedback exercise where we will be looking for a sample of sites to whom we distribute releases to give us feedback on how we could improve how we do this and if you had the time to give I would be delighted if you would be part of this.

Thanks
Adam

Adam,

On release relevancy, I think I can see the problem and it’s one that afflicts all distribution services or, indeed, the product finders you get in show catalogues. The releases are going to the electronics editor at the IET - which is all fine. Naturally, it seems I’m sent releases that are tagged ‘Electronics’. Everything’s dandy so far. I’m guessing that clients pick the tags as the releases in that bucket aren’t really about the things you want to cover in an electronics mag.

As with show guides, what happens is that companies see a tag like ‘Electronics’ and go: “Well it’s got electronics in it.” The result is that you get sent stuff about MPLS routers in use at a hairdressers rather than who's just opened a 45nm fab, which is the kind of stuff you’re looking for if you’re managing an electronics section.

You’re not alone: it’s the same deal at the bigger distribution services. However, I get very little unsolicited from them and just use the RSS feeds. The feeds are, for the most part, chock full of irrelevant rubbish but, with a bit of keyword filtering in NetNewsWire you can get something almost usable.

The technology exists to improve on this situation. Unfortunately, I can’t see a viable business model for deploying it - as distribution largely depends on PR’s clients understanding what they are doing. Which, for the most part, they don’t.

Chris

Thanks for the feedback and I understand your frustration. Yes our clients do pick the tags, however we review them as well and looks like we arent doing as good a job as we could at this stage in the process where Electronics releases are concerned so I am looking into it and we will improve this. On the unsolicited point I believe having looked into this that we spoke to someone else at IET before we commenced sending the releases hence why you yourself didn't receive any direct communication from us in advance. However we do have RSS feeds for all our releases, see http://www.webitpr.com/rss/feeds.asp, the general electronics feed is http://www.webitpr.com/rss/?id=342 so if you would rather use these and/or stop receiving emails then please let me know and we will take you off the list.

Thanks again for the feedback.

Adam