Your First #Ferguson Pitch

shutterstock_87109075Ed Zitron told us this would happen and we were skeptical, but yesterday Valleywag posted on PR promoting a client’s community alert-style smartphone tool as an “app for the Ferguson riots.”

While Sam Biddle predictably called it the worst thing ever of the week, we are conflicted. (The author of said pitch spoke to us back in February for a post on House of Cards‘ portrayal of the political communications game.)

The product, as we understand it, allows citizens to take pictures of crimes complete with geolocation info so they can more effectively alert law enforcement.

How good or bad is this pitch, though?

First, how directly might a writer tie the product to the larger Ferguson story? That’s not quite clear except that the pitch promotes the client as a source to comment on general topics regarding citizens who use technology to document crimes.

One of our close contacts gave us a quick judgment: certainly not a pitch to be mass e-mailed, but the connection makes sense on one level.

On the other hand, this story has dominated the news for the past week, and, as Common Ground PR proved yesterday, the act of inserting oneself into it (even indirectly) can be very dangerous. Also: why does a pitch for a free app feel like it is directed toward law enforcement? The tagline “If you see something, snap something” does not feel like it could apply to citizens reporting police misconduct, for example — so why would someone participating in the Ferguson protests use it? With that line, a hand has been tipped. While the pitch does contain a line about helping police departments “create transparency”, it doesn’t say anything about the inevitable “How?”

This very app could play a significant role in citizen movements resembling the 2011 Egyptian revolution, but the pitch reads like it is targeted at someone looking to help reduce local crime rates.

We get that PR has to push the client into the news and that such a powerful story (driven in large part by Twitter traffic and social media created by those who experienced it first hand) seems like a good, if risky, opportunity to do so.

But if we were, for example, a journalist actually risking our freedom and personal safety to cover the events on the ground in Ferguson, we would probably react harshly to this pitch.

We imagine that’s exactly what happened to whoever decided to forward it to Valleywag.