What companies need to know about “slow” PR

August 14, 2012, 6:16 PM UTC

FORTUNE — It must have been a proud moment for McDonald’s when they sold their millionth hamburger — proving the success of Richard and Maurice McDonald’s system of making meals quickly that milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc recognized and ultimately scaled.

Of course, a good thing can go too far. By 1984, McDonald’s (MCD) cooked its 50 billionth hamburger, prompting Jerry Seinfeld to wonder why McDonalds is still counting. Just two years later McDonalds open a restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, which caused protests that sparked the slow food movement, and more generally the slow everything movement.

If we charted the number of pitches sent out by the world’s PR people since Bacon’s Publicity Checker  — the first directory of journalists — in 1952, it might resemble the chart of the number of burgers sold by McDonalds since its founding in 1940.

Just as Carlo Petrini spearheaded the slow movement as the Golden Arches went up over Piazza di Spagna, journalists and bloggers are starting to speak up about the relentless volume of mail-merged pitches they’re receiving that’s been made possible by technology.

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The slow movement’s Wikipedia page quotes professor Guttorm Fløistad’s summary of the philosophy:

The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.

Technology has posed a huge challenge to everyone’s attention span, especially journalists. PR pros can now blast thousands of journalists with the same message with just a few clicks of a mouse. As PR and marketing departments set their sights increasingly on bloggers and “influencers” (a loosely defined industry term for any person with more than a couple Twitter followers), many more civilians’ inboxes will face the assault journalists are suffering right now. Just like any arms race, the trend has been about figuring how to blast more people more quickly.

However, social media offers hope. As everyone opens up on Twitter, Facebook (FB) and other platforms, there’s an opportunity to spend time understanding a journalist’s beats and an influencer’s interests like never before. Unlike the days of expensive industry phone books and fax machines, anyone today can build meaningful relationships through real human interactions globally using technology. If they use technology the slow way.

To adapt the professor’s quote, perhaps there’s a need in PR for “nearness and care, and for a little love”, which “is given only through slowness in [public] relations.”

Gregory Galant‘s the CEO of Muck Rack, the social network for journalists and companies in the news. He’s also the cocreator of the Shorty Awards which honors the best of social media. Galant advises several startups and is a mentor in the TechStars startup accelerator. Follow him on Twitter.