Friday, December 18, 2009

"Trash Proof News Releases" doesn't live up to its title

Since we live in an age of irony, and public relations seems to thrive in it, let me share a true tale with you that takes this concept to new heights.

On November 24th, two weeks after I posted my "When Publicists Spam Other Publicists" essay, I received an e-mail blasted press release touting a book called "Trash Proof Press Releases" by Paul Krupin of Direct Contact PR. This lengthy diatribe -- "expressly designed to be an immense help to anyone who even thinks about writing a news release" -- went on and on with endorsements, ending with the words: "Stay safe!"

Of course, this press release went right into the trash.

E-mail blasts are one of the colossal rookie blunders in PR because it's easier to press a "send" button then establish an actual relationship with a journalist or blogger. And here was the publicist author himself who couldn't prevent his own press release from ending up in the dustbin.

So as I am wont to do, I e-mailed Mr. Krupin to ask him why he sent me this press release.

Ten seconds later, a SpamArrest e-mail bounced back to me that read:


Paul here,

I'm protecting myself from receiving junk mail.

Please click the link below to complete the verification process.
You have to do this only once.


Let me get this straight -- first you spam me with an e-mail blast for your "Trash Proof News Releases" that ends up in the trash. Then when I e-mail you about the release, I get sent to SpamArrest which is supposed to prevent spam coming to you?

After the verification process, Mr. Krupin replied that establishing more one on one relationships with bloggers and journalists "sets a very high bar of time and effort that may not be justified given the coverage one receives." He added that he receives "50 to 60" media requests a day by sending out e-mail blasts.

I invited Krupin to write a guest post here so he could present his point of view on why e-mail blasting is more effective than getting to know reporters and journalists, keep it unedited with no comments from me, and let the dialog with my blog readers begin. He said he would have it for me in 10 days. It did not arrive.

When I reminded Krupin about his post on December 7th, he showed me why his e-mail blast track record of 50 to 60 requests a day was impressive: he was offering freebie copies of "Going Rouge," the "alternative" Sarah Palin book to a customized list of political reporters. This guy is in the giveaway business, including his own book!

But what about non-freebie pitches and releases, do you get media requests then?

He said it was "an interesting challenge" and had "ideas on the subject."

Still, no submitted post.

I've learned my lesson for the future, though -- I am sending coupons for free ice cream sundaes with my press releases from now on, which should guarantee they are not deleted. Would you like yours with syrup?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is the client from hell always right?

My 13-year-old son asked me the other day, "When you are driving the car, how do you know when to signal left or right? Do you automatically do it without looking?"

I responded that just like riding a bike, if you've done it well for years, you instinctively know how to steer in the right direction, when to change lanes, and how far ahead you need to signal.

Public relations operates similarly: if you do it long enough, and undergo many situations, you eventually know how things are done right instinctively. You acquire a set of professional ethics and guidelines to operate on the high road so that you earn the respect of colleagues and journalists, and your execution rate far above the norm.

Along that road, once in a long while, and perhaps luckily never, you will be tested by a client who makes life difficult. It's been drilled into your head that the client is always right, but what if the client is incredibly wrong? Instead of participating in an ideal collaborative public relations relationship, it's a one sided dictatorship where the common standard of practices don't count at all.

An intelligent public relations pro listens to their clients, and incorporates their wisdom into planning and execution. There is always room to learn, and from experience, I can tell you I've picked up many things from my clients.

Yet, there are clients who are not public relations savvy because they are great at the job they do, but not in the ways of PR. They can either learn from you because they trust you and your experience and insight (after all, that's why they hired you), or they can ignore you and impose their misguided will. And that's when things get difficult, because there's nothing worse than being stuck with a client who knows nothing about PR and never listens to anybody else. It's a train that is bound to crash.

Can you or should you jump off that train?

Consider this dilemma...

The press release you drafted four weeks ago finally returns from "approval purgatory" with a new headline and lead that are so wrongheaded and unimportant that issuing it would cause both the company and you great embarrassment. The real relevant and critical information has been pushed down so that the new yawn-inducing stuff leads off the release. The second half of the release is now filled with three pompous executive quotes. Everything about this document smells from amateur hour and an over-sized ego.

It's what I call "an instant delete."

You don't want to issue this release.

So you plaintively make your case to the client -- here's why the original news is so important and will have an impact on the bottom line, the dull material should be given second fiddle. You tactfully allude to the fact that the company will be made a laughingstock in the eyes of reporters and bloggers. You explain why reporters will never get past the present headline and lead. It's all about the good of the company.

Not only does the client not budge one iota, but they advise you to send the press release exactly as it is as an attachment, and you can write a cover note explaining what you really want to say.

You reply that you never send out press releases as attachments because reporters and bloggers have hated that since 1995, so it's not possible to send a cover letter.

They reply that they do not care, please issue the release as is.

Now you are at that fork in the road that you hoped you'd never arrive at...

do you adhere to the old motto "the client is always right" and issue the press release to your great professional embarrassment, knowing this is not the way you'd ever do your job, risk mockery and ignorance, while the real news peg never sees the light of day because it's been buried...

or does your inner professional alarm ring loudly, saying that you can never have your name on that press release nor can it come from your firm's domain, and suggest to your client that they issue it directly from their office via a paid service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or PR Web, not subtly implying how you really feel about this release?

Remember, it's a tough economy out there and clients don't just drop from the skies these days.

What would you do?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When publicists spam other publicists

Publicists have to be social media mavens, but they are finding out, along with the rest of the world, that "old school" bad PR habits get them hung out to dry on Twitter and blogs. They can't get away with it anymore.

Just a week ago, PaidContent.org founder Rafat Ali declared war on "Vocus PR and its scummy PR practices," even suggesting people look up "Vocus spam" on Google -- he wasn't kidding about the results.

Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman tweeted: "FYI to pr folk: If I get a call asking if I received so and so, I always say yes just to rush the person off the phone."

I know first-hand why journalists feel this way because I get my occasional spam from PR firms. I'm only a mild case compared to the avalanche other lucky PR bloggers find in their in-boxes.

Not only are ignorant publicists baiting professional journalists to roast them publicly for their sins, but they are begging to get it from their own kind too.

This is my definition of spam: impersonal e-mail blasts that contain completely irrelevant information.

Yet, as you'll see, there are publicists who think this practice is perfectly acceptable.

PR spam originated from two technological advances: the ability to form groups in e-mail software, and companies like Cision and Vocus which can easily compile media e-mail addresses and export them in Excel format. Even a third grader can cut and paste an Excel list column into Outlook and let it rip by pressing Send.

However, bloggers and reporters have made it no secret over and over again that they can't stand PR spam-filled e-mail boxes. What makes publicists think other publicists don't feel the same way?

I have a simple method of handling PR spam. It's probably far more time consuming than anybody else would do, but I feel I have to make an educational point and it's far less messy than hiring "Johnny Knuckles" from Bayonne.

1) I reply to the sender politely: "Why did you send this release to me?"

Almost all of the time, they reply with a rousing explanation about the press release's importance.

2) I then ask them if they've ever read my blog.

Most of the time, that results in silence.

3) If I am feeling a little more ambitious, I'll actually look up the firm and drop a line to whoever is in charge, asking them if they knew their staff was sending out spam, that this is why reporters despise many publicists, and shouldn't they be enforcing proper media relations instead of shotgun missives? I ask them if it's OK if I blog about it.

Almost unanimously, they shoot back apologies, agree with me, and beg to not be mentioned in my blog. One even called me.

I figured it would be a noble ideal if I let a supervisor know that this is a surefire way to be ostracized, there may be a little less PR spamming in the world. Touching, but true.

Last week, I had a typical PR spam from a JAG Entertainment account executive, who sent out an e-mail blast addressed to "Hey!" and plugged her boss' new Chicken Soup for the Soul book with an attached press release. When I asked why she sent me the press release, she took a different, more direct route: she said she found me on a list of PR bloggers on Cision. Of course, when I asked if she'd ever read my blog, no reply was forthcoming.

When I e-mailed her boss Jo-Ann Geffen about receiving the spam and why this hurts our image in the eyes of the press, she shot back: I hardly consider this spam. [Name of account executive] is extremely capable and there are hundreds of thousands of blogs. It is unlikely that ANYONE could read all of them. Perhaps you should notify Cision to take you off their lists.

Unfortunately, it's not Cision's fault that I am on their list. I do believe it is the fault of lazy supervisors and executives who find sending out e-mail blasts easy but teaching and enforcing the basics of media relations hard.

Do you pitch TV and radio shows blindly without knowing a thing about them? That's a PR 101 concept that still stands today -- watch the show so you know what it's about before you pitch them. Same thing with blogs and every other form of media.

My fellow PR bloggers have their own thoughts about handling our own profession's saboteurs:

The Flack's Peter Himler: I usually ignore them, but if the pitch is so annoying I'd write them
back and ask "why would I ever report this? Do you read my blog? Next time do your homework. In rare cases, I'd post or tweet about it. I might include the offending publicist's client or place of work.

PR Squared's Todd Defren: I ignore 'em. They make me sad. I used to reply but the volume of nonsensical inquiries became too much to do anything but ignore.

PR 2.0's Brian Solis: I'm deluged with horrible pitches by PR professionals who contribute to the stereotype. I delete them, I suppose until I finally get pushed over the edge. However,
please do note, that I proactively write about how to do PR better as a positive means of teaching these individuals how to do their job better...I don't see them reading the posts however.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rolling the dice with a press conference

With a struggling economy, journalists and editors pink slipped more often than baseball managers, and editorial staffs cut to the bone, it takes some kind of cajones to have a press conference these days.

Press conferences are one of public relations' great gambles. It's like throwing a party, sending out a lot of invites, and then praying somebody shows up after you've invested in decor, food and time.

What does it take to pry a reporter away from their desk, especially when they are probably stretched thinner than ever?

Clearly if you are Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo or the President of the United States, you can pretty much count on everybody showing up, even if it was held on an ice floe in the Arctic.

Not long ago, I had lunch with the head of marketing of a Colorado-based digital start-up who was so smitten by his company's product that he proclaimed that it deserved a press conference. Delicately, I asked him what if nobody turned up because they were, uh, so busy? He stopped for a moment -- he had not thought about that -- and then replied that there's no reason nobody would come to a product that was so cool.

However, if anybody get an award for pulling a rabbit out of their press conference hat, it has to be CNN.com. Last week, on the same day Steve Ballmer was unveiling Windows 7, they held a snazzy soiree at the Time Warner Center to demonstrate... drum roll, please... the redesign of their web site with a new opinion section, and more photography and video.

Did that rock your world like, let's say, the introduction of the new Motorola Droid or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts at Madison Square Garden? Didn't think so. Redesigns happen about as often as Metro North trains leave Grand Central Station.

But somebody at CNN.com felt it was worth a live press conference. And not just any press conference, but from what I hear, a lavish one with booze and food. So with that kind of lure, it was no surprise that many members of the third estate showed up. One of them said that CNN.com threw two parties to celebrate the occasion (perhaps to grab the media's attention off the fact that the parent network fell into last place against other news cablers).

Another reporter said they didn't think it was a press conference at all, but "more akin to an internal presentation" that was streamed live to employees, advertisers and the press.

Afterwards, about 25 stories were posted according to Google News. Whether this was the press coverage return on investment CNN.com was looking for after spending some serious party coin, I don't think they'll admit it, versus being a company-wide morale booster.

"Between you and me -- it was strange," one reporter e-mailed me, who didn't post a story about it. "CNN even booked an outside PR firm for help with it."

Free food and booze have almost always the surefire aphrodisiacs to get coverage of any event. Despite the depleting of journalist ranks, they still seem to do the trick -- if you can afford the bill.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The shrinking newsroom changes the game for PR

When the New York Times announced yesterday that they had to eliminate 100 newsroom jobs in a mere 2 1/2 months, it was a chilling arrow shot across both the media and PR professions.

Job loss of any kind is miserable and debilitating. When you sit back and think about 100 reporters and editors losing their jobs, it's an incredibly large number of people who will take buyouts or be shown the door. If you are a regular reader of the Times' excellent reporting, than imagine what a gaping hole in coverage will be made when that many people are gone by the end of the year.

As a public relations professional, I'm encountering the kind of sea change that reminds me of when local and national TV networks began trimming their staffs in the late 80's. Because of manpower shortage, publicists were forced to become amateur TV producers, organizing segments and providing props if they wanted their segments to air, a trend that is still in force today.

For print and the web nowadays, my role has expanded unconventionally as well. For a research client, I have to provide more analysis to accompany the data than ever before because there are not enough reporters to do the job. I'm encountering more editors who are singlehandedly balancing print and web editorial duties. The AP's Houston bureau chief told me she had only three reporters there, so unless there was something earth shattering, she could not afford to take somebody off business, political and sports coverage.

Clearly, there are going to be many stories and beats that are going to fall between the cracks and left behind. From a reader's perspective, we're not getting a complete picture of what's going on in the world. From a public relations perspective, our windows of opportunities are smashed and shrinking.

Social media has forced us to become our own wire services. We are our own distributors. With a lot of moxie and persuasion, we have to use Twitter, blogs, Facebook, StumbleUpon and other vehicles to carry our message and news. It looks increasingly like it's going to be a "change or die" scenario ahead.

Yet, there are still many public relations pro's -- more than you would think -- who don't know their Facebook from their checkbook. Many sign up, make a few friends, and leave it lying. I've run across a lot of professionals who have less than 10 connections in LinkedIn, and I know they are not that unpopular. One unemployed publicist I know is so clueless online, that her friend e-mails her Monster, PRSA and PR Week job ads daily because she has no idea how to have them sent automatically to her. Business Wire's "Lost in MySpace" beginner seminars for learning social media always packed them in.

So when you read about journalists, editors and bloggers being let go, no matter where they are, those big bells should be ringing like the opening of the AC/DC song from Back In Black. It's a wake up call that the game is changing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do reporters actually read quotes in press releases?

The second draft of the press release was placed on my desk, featuring a brand new spanking quote from my client's CEO. Like Pavlov's dog, I immediately crossed out the first sentence which began "We are pleased," only to notice that the rest of the quote had actual substance. Real facts and explanation on a deal.

Then that paranoid thought came bubbling out: do reporters really read quotes in press releases anyway? What if I turned this quote into a regular certified paragraph of information? Would it receive more attention?

I fantasized about inserting a quote about concocting a deadly bomb plot in the middle of my next corporate announcement to see if anybody would notice.

Then I snapped out of it. Before I could do anything drastic, I decided to inquire real reporters and ask them if they read the quotes in press releases and if so, did they find them useful?

What resulted was a still sad commentary on the state of press release quality. At the beginning of this year, I warned everybody about the three words that had to be banned in 2009: "excited," "thrilled" and "honored" because of their absolute emptiness. You responded with more words that had to be eradicated: "pleased," "announced," "held" and "very." All very noble, all very instructive.

You studied David Meerman Scott's annual compilation of press release gobbledygook words that have been repeated into meaninglessness, right?

Unfortunately, we're all still a tiny minority of righteous standard bearers.

Nearly all the reporters I spoke with read quotes in press releases. What they think of and do with them is another matter altogether.

"Sure, I read them," said one trade reporter. "I usually do not use them as they offer little information and are often spin/hype/cheerleading rather than information/facts/details that are useful for readers to have."

"I can't remember one quote I've found helpful,"
replied a New York Times editor.

"I assume p.r. people write them though and then get the person being quoted to make adjustments or sign off. So it's not like I think I'm getting a window into anyone's spontaneous thinking or a slice of their actual voice," said another trade reporter.

"Mostly they are awful, but sometimes I do [use them]," an interactive reporter told me. I asked why they were awful, and they replied: "I'm excited about this partnership. It's going to be great." He added: "'Solutions' -- that is the worst word ever."

"Quotes in press releases are almost always useless and it's plain that a) the person to whom they are attributed didn't write them or b) the person did write them, but wrote them in their 'press release' voice," moaned a wire service correspondent.

"99% of them are useless," echoed the business writer.

But what about that 1%?

"No surprise, but negative quotes work," they advised. "Like how bad the economy is. Essentially, anything you might think is controversial works. Or how difficult or challenging something is." He added that companies which are getting hammered on earnings usually put those kinds of quotes in, "and if they're not there, they're lying!"

After hearing all these complaints, you would think perhaps it's a good idea to stop inserting executive quotes in press releases and letting the genuine cold hard facts and information of the announcement do the talking.

As a matter of fact, I double dare all of you to issue a press release for the next 30 days without an executive quote -- perhaps we'll all be able to gain the respect of reporters while quashing a little ego in the process.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bad Polltaking 101

A good publicist knows the press value of well-done polls. Of even more importance, there's the methodology -- was it scientifically taken? Random sample? Who was polled? Margin of error?

You can have all those things locked in but they won't mean a thing if the questions are bad.

Sir Robert Worcester, founder of the MORI polling and research center, had rules for good poll questions: A question must be logical (allowing a simple answer), precise, even-handed, without a preferred answer. A good poll question must not assume knowledge, must not supply so much information as to be leading and must not be too complex.

From a publicist's perspective, you want to ask questions that have not been asked before, questions that "hit home" with many people, and ideally, nothing that will produce a "duh" response.

Which is precisely what the new teaming of Vanity Fair magazine and CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" have produced in their new monthly surveys of "the American consciousness," as surprisingly reported in The New York Times. Like the first survey results reported in the article, there is just no news here.

For example, "respondents overwhelmingly selected Wal-Mart as the best corporate symbol of America today." Surprising, huh? The TV program's executive producer told the paper: "I wouldn't have guessed Wal-Mart would have run away with that."

I guess if one were living in a New York City or Los Angeles bubble, that would be news. After all, Vanity Fair has a reputation "for being read in elite circles." And for 60 Minutes, known for riveting news journalism, breaking stories and astonishing interviews, these results must seem like they were slumming it.

Here's another one for the vain set: "Which of these men would you most like to trade places with for a week: George Clooney, Barack Obama, Tom Brady, or Bruce Springsteen?" Clooney "narrowly topped Mr. Obama." This seems right out of the Esquire or GQ school of manly polls!

No mention in the article of the survey's methodology or margin of error, but there is the mea culpa of The New York Times being a polling partner of CBS News.

Now that the New York Times article's buzz boost on this first poll is behind us, I look forward to seeing if Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes grasp for better questions and relevance next month... and if they can get press ride without the Grey Lady. There's nothing worse than being a publicist being handed poll results that are as earth shattering as announcing the next Shrek sequel.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Four warning signs that you need a new PR firm

Since car leases first became the rage in the early 90's, consumers have rushed in to get identical deals to the ones they see on TV commercials. But as personal finance magazines warned, if you did the lease math, you'd find out that generally they were not the best deals you could get.

Many companies' relationships with their PR firms operate very much on the same principal: they settle, they're comfortable, and they think they are getting a fair shake.

They either don't know or have a bar of measurement to assess if they are really getting acceptable work. Sometimes they are too preoccupied with other matters to assess PR. Sometimes they are in flat out denial that they hired a dud, so they just keep writing them checks as an act of charity. Sometimes it's all nice and comfortable, nobody wants to hurt anybody's feelings -- they receive a slap on the butt as a warning sign and then it's back to where it was.

The fact is, many clients have no idea what they may be missing, and they could have it so much better. Like that car lease, how do you know it's time to trade in and get a better PR ROI?

Here are the warning signs that it's time to move into a new vehicle:

LACK OF IDEAS: This could be the number one complaint when I speak with potential clients dissatisfied with their current arrangement. "We have to give them ideas," they often say, "not the other way around." Executives are already busy running their companies and doing their jobs, they should not be doing the PR firm's as well. Which reminds me one of my favorite sayings: "If a client doesn't know what you are doing, they think you're doing nothing."

LACK OF SERVICE: Public relations is a service business. It's not just about producing super placements, but all the little things that go with it. What would Neiman Marcus be if they put your beautiful purchases in plastic bags, didn't handle your alterations expertly or had nice chairs for you to wait in? In public relations, the equivalent means being prepared in advance for media interviews, receiving placements on a timely basis, getting a strategic game plan, discussing and being well informed on the playing field, and the ability to anticipate needs before you have to complain about them.

THEY DON'T "GET IT": There's always an "education period" where the publicist learns first-hand about the intricacies of the client's product and ideally how to use it, what it means, and its messaging. One or two months fly by, there's very little press to show, and it seems that the PR team is spinning its wheels trying to figure out how to do its job. You have some more meetings to explain things that result in a couple of hits, but still, it's nowhere what you'd expect. You demand to speak with the company's president, who goes into emergency salvage mode, and throws different people on the account.

ALL THEY DO IS PUMP OUT PRESS RELEASES: While issuing press releases over paid news services like PRNewswise, BusinessWire and PRWeb has its questionable SEO benefits, most reporters don't even bother reading them unless they're from a public company. Good public relations is about relationships and developing your story, so if you're not speaking with genuine reporters and bloggers, but instead paying newswire bills and being shown hits on irrelevant sites like "earthtimes.org" or "newsblaze.com," something is wrong.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The PR conspiracies of Kanye West and American Idol

Kanye West bursting on stage to scare the living daylights out of teenage good girl Taylor Swift during the MTV Video Music Awards -- this was a surprise?

The collective amnesia of America's consciousness didn't go back just a mere three and a half months ago when comedian Sacha Baron Cohen flopped butt first from the sky in rapper Eminem's face at the MTV Movie Awards. Within 24 hours, the whole episode was unmasked as a ruse by Andy Samberg's writer.

MTV, which features very few music videos or movies, is in precious need of all the buzz it can, so if you're a conspiracy-minded person like me, you've got to be wondering about this latest "outrageous stunt," which generated 300,000 tweets in the hour following the "confrontation."

MTV started the precedent of staging outrageous stunts to get people talking, from the Super Bowl halftime show of "wardrobe malfunction" fame to Madonna's infamous kiss with Britney Spears. America swallowed them all hook, line and sinker.

Hollywood is a big illusion manufacturing machine, so it's not a stretch to imagine them concocting elaborately-staged "incidents" to create buzz around the water cooler the next day. No Zapruder films yet, but that's just a matter of time.

This is PR's version of the Matrix, the staged moon landing and Pearl Harbor being allowed to happen -- what you are seeing may simply not be real but being planned by a cabal of highly-paid publicists and entertainment studios and networks. Robert Langdon should forget about the Illuminati and book the next flight to LAX.

My longest-lasting PR conspiracy theory has been with Fox-TV's American Idol, and I'm not talking about rigging the vote for the contestants. There seemed to be a direct correlation to the show's slowly-decaying ratings and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. It reminded me of the Department of Defense during the Bush administration -- when nothing was happening, they goosed everybody with an orange alert. Believe me, I'm not the only one who thinks this is true. Eight years of a Bush presidency has conditioned me for conspiracies!

Paula Abdul's departure announcement from the show raised my eyebrows, since virtually every non-named source in the New York Times story about what went on behind the scenes came from Abdul's camp and the Fox/American Idol people fawning over their love for their former resident kook. At one point, it even looked like Abdul was being asked to come back, with Fox setting up focus groups on whether she was wanted by the public or not. Straight up, indeed!

It doesn't stop there. Superbly timed judges' cat fights, air kisses, speculation of other judges leaving the show... there's no down time for the publicists even after the winner is crowned.

So the next time MTV has an awards program, grab your popcorn, your drink of choice, check your mind out at the door and wait... just wait... because you know it's going to come. Out of left field, above the audience, from behind the stage, maybe outside, high above in a B-52 bomber, that "outrageous" stunt is going to bolt from out of the blue like Amy Winehouse showing up at a monastery door. You've been "bitten" once, you didn't get "shy" before, but now you've wizened up and you "won't get fooled again."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Who sends out press releases on Labor Day

Next to New Year's Day and Christmas Eve, Labor Day is about as dead a news day can be. Most people are off swinging in a hammock or firing up the barbecue. But there are some determined souls who believe this is the ideal day to issue a press release.

The odds are already very slim that reporters will pick up a press release shot out over one of the paid syndicates from a non-public company. Couple that with the fact that today is a national holiday, the press is on skeleton staff, newspaper are thinner than usual, and nobody wants to work. So you really have to scratch you head about what the communications strategy is in determining that this was the best day to issue these particular missives.

Here are four favorites, non-public companies who paid money to send out press releases on Labor Day...

  • "ONLINE DATING CREATES PALACES OF HOPE, LABYRINTHS OF SUSPICION": An immediate candidate for the Press Release Headline Hall of Fame, this release functions as a warning to beware "fly by night" dating site operators. In the third paragraph, we finally get around to learning that "complete disclosure earns consumer trust and breeds success as exhibited by a handful of international sites that pride themselves on having nothing to hide. One such portal is Anastasia International, a premiere online dating resource for Western men seeking women from Russia & CIS for friendship and marriage."
  • "MIDLAND, MICHIGAN VOTED AMERICA'S BEST TENNIS TOWN": In the middle of all the exciting US Open matches and upsets, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) wants to remind you that Midland, which is northwest of Saginaw, best exemplifies "the passion, excitement, spirit and impact that tennis brings to the local level."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The most baffling newspaper correction I've ever read

Usually newspaper corrections range from mistakes such as spelling a name wrong to a flat out factual error. However, highlighted in Friday's online edition of the NY Daily News is an epic correction of grand magnitude, confusion and insanity.

In Walter Dawkins' article, Roxanne Shante, who sang one of rap's pioneering 80's songs "Roxanne's Revenge," claims she had a clause in her recording contract that Warner Music "would fund her education for life." Shante "eventually cashed in, earning a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell to the tune of $217,000 - all covered by the label."

The rapper had to fight Warner Brothers to foot the bill, so she convinced Marymount Manhattan College's dean to let her attend classes for free while battling Warners. Shante said she submitted all her bills to the record company, "who finally agreed to honor the contract when Shante threatened to go public with the story." Shante says she earned her doctorate in 2001.

However, the online version of the article now contains a two-paragraph bizarrely worded correction that is almost comic in its ramifications of questionable journalism and corporate PR bungling. You know when you read this correction below, this has to be the tip of what is probably a whopper of an iceberg. Other than Cornell, almost nobody comes out of this looking good.

Thanks to AllThingsD's Peter Kafka for tweeting a link to this correction.

Correction: It has come to the attention of the Daily News that a number of statements in this article written for the Daily News by a freelance reporter are, or may be, false. Cornell University has told us that Shante did not receive any degree from it under either her birth or stage name. We have confirmed that prior to the article, at least four publications on Cornell's own website reported that Shante had earned a Ph.D. from the university. Those references have now been removed. And in response to an inquiry today, Marymount College stated that Shante attended there for less than one semester.

Numerous e-mail and telephone inquiries by the freelance reporter to Marymount during the preparation of the article to confirm Shante's account were not responded to. Finally, there have been recent media reports that there never was an education clause in Shante's recording contract. When the reporter contacted Warner Brothers Records about the contract before the article, its only response was that it was having difficulty finding someone within the company who could "talk eloquently" about it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leave it to Maxim to show how make a joke replying to the press

When I ran the PR show at Maxim for many years, we perfected the art of using a sense of humor about some of the very silly questions we were asked by the press.

I wrote about this in July 2008 because so many publicists seem to forget to use a sense of humor defusing certain a situation. Of course, you have to read the scenario right when making a joke, which when employed successfully, can take the air out of some real trivial pursuits, often in the celebrity sphere.

Sometimes the more ridiculous a query, the more ridiculous a response is warranted. Why? In England, they call it "taking the piss" out of something. I like to say it's taking the air out of the balloon. It subtly signals to the reporter a few things: 1) you've got a sense of humor about the whole inane thing, 2) you're treating it with it proper due, and 3) you're not giving them the same old convenient "no comment." In an unspoken way, you are both in on "the joke." You are also telegraphing to the readers, "This is silly and you know it too, so let's have a laugh and move on."

So my hats off to my former freelancer and now head of Maxim PR Nora Haynes for picking the right spot in Sunday's NY Daily News to wield the joke axe.

The set-up: entrants in Maxim's "Hometown Hotties" contest lodged a complaint (through the Daily News gossip columnists Rush and Molloy, of course) that 15% of the semi-finalists were never posted on the magazine's web site for voting. Scandal! This is "serious" stuff, folks, so Nora shot back not one but two zingers in the papers.

In explaining that the editors like a couple of candidates who entered too late to post their videos on the web site, she said: "The newfangled Internet moves much faster than our pterodactyl-powered Flintstones printing press."

The clincher for me was her closer: "We did use the same electronic voting machines as Ohio did in the 2004 election. So we fully expect George W. Bush will be our next Hometown Hottie winner."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Great Twitter Babble Experiment

I knew there was a lot of pointless babble on Twitter long before the news broke about it last week. It's just that Pearanalytics put a percentage on it (40% of tweets are "pointless babble").

I began my Great Twitter Babble Experiment at the end of June when it dawned upon me that people seemed to follow other people for no particular reason. I saw a few of these mystery travelers following me on Twitter, so I went to check their feeds and it was a mixture of spam and stream of conscious gobbledygook.

Combining that examination with the herd mentality that follows Ashton Kutcher and others, an idea formed: I would create three feeds devoted to utter nonsense, and see who would take the time to follow them.

I would use no hash marks on my tweets or bookmarks to the feeds.

Here were my three new Twitter accounts: badacne, noanchovies, and itchingpowder. I started each one with a complete no-brainer line about the title topic, cast my lines into the big Twitter ocean and we'd see who would bite. Every few weeks, I'd put up another vacuous tweet.

The hands down winner was badacne, which roped in 16 followers, most of which were hawking beauty and skin products, with a few offering me riches working from home.

I am sad to report that both noanchovies and itchingpowder lured a mere three each.

Perhaps when they say "the great unwashed masses," they were referring to a much larger population trolling through the Twitter landscape.

I guess preventing fish on your pizza is a pretty simple request, and itching powder is out of the Twitter age range. Even the spammers who followed both of those accounts were unrelated to fish, pizza, or practical jokes.

As they require in school, what were the conclusions I drew from my experiment?

1) No matter what you name your Twitter feed, no matter how obscure the reference, if you have not been spammed at least once, you're not official.

2) Anybody can follow anybody, no matter what silliness they write.

3) There's a huge market for skin care solutions on the Internet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My first article for BNET -- "The Real ROI of the Press Release"

My first article for CBS Interactive's BNET site just went live, so I wanted to share it with you.

"The Real ROI of the Press Release"

Enjoy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good Morning America's medical unit defense takes Professor Irwin Corey Award #3

ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" takes the third Professor Irwin Corey Award, given to institutions and people who make unusual choices of words -- sometimes the right ones, sometimes ones that don't make sense -- to communicate with the press.

GMA wins for its rebuttal to a University of Minnesota professor's accusation that all the morning shows' medical reports are "dreadful, sensational, advocacy and hype that doesn't evaluate cost, doesn't evaluate evidence, and doesn't scrutinize the harms and the benefits."

The NY Post jumped all over this report (kind of ironic, huh?).

Professor Gary Schwitzer didn't hold back citing examples of morning show crimes, and for GMA, he lobbed up an April 9th segment "promoting an unapproved use of a $1,200 procedure to combat toenail fungus."

Good Morning America's spokesperson had this response for the Post which had big enough holes to throw a TV camera through: "Good Morning America is committed to providing the most timely and relevant medical reporting. Led by Dr. Tim Johnson, our medical unit is the best in the business and strives to make sense of the complicated health issues on the nation's agenda."

That's nice that the medical team's work is timely and relevant, but what about accuracy and thorough research? Whatever happened to the old cliche standby, "We stand by our work?"

Friday, July 31, 2009

Why you should not send out press releases at trade shows

Unless the company you work for or your client is the 800-pound gorilla of your industry or a Fortune 500 company, issuing press releases during trade shows is almost always a waste of time.

I know it has been the compulsion of many an executive to make big announcements at their trade events. It's easy to get inside an exec's head for this: all my peers will be there and all kinds of reporters and bloggers will be attending. You know, it's a nice ego stroke to trumpet your new product in front of your rivals, imagining your photo being taken and basking in the glory.

Publicists flip into autopilot -- "yes, yes, that's a good idea!" -- warming up their PR Newswire and Business Wire accounts to issue those releases on the first day of the conference or event.

Here are two big reasons to slam on the brakes before you think about doing that:

1) There are probably going to be 200 other companies attending the conference issuing press releases on the very same day. They will clog the paid wire services and bombard the attending journalists. Your release is just a teardrop in the ocean, placing it on a long, long deli line where you are number 87 and there are a lot of people placing the same order in front of and behind you. You're lost. What did your mother warn you -- "Just because Johnny is doing it doesn't mean you have to do it too!"

2) If Google, Yahoo, Apple, NBC Universal or Microsoft are holding a press conference, that's where all the reporters will be swarming and then writing about it immediately afterward. Those companies can pretty much snap their fingers and they will dominate the bulk of the coverage. If you're not the pistol-hot king of the industry, the publicly-traded straw that stirs the drink, well, you'd better cross your fingers somebody shows up to even shake your hand and write a line or two about your product.

If you don't want to be lost in the sauce, how can you still blow your horn around these conferences?

Strategically, the best approach is following the advice of baseball Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler: "hit it where they ain't." Make your announcement in the week leading up to the event when reporters' attention is not diverted and you are standing on the long conga line of event attendees trying to single themselves out. Reporters love to get scoops before everybody else, so why not feed into that basic fact? Wouldn't it be better to get a story out just a few days before the event so when you show up there, your peers and prospects are already buzzing about you?

This tactic worked successfully when my then client, content marketplace Mochila, wanted to unveil its new transaction interface at a forthcoming Ad:Tech event, right after I broke their launch in the New York Times. It wasn't hard to convince Mochila that being part of the usual pack mentality of making announcements at events was pointless. Instead, the week before Ad:Tech, I called up and landed "preview" articles in ClickZ, Adweek and Mediapost. Mochila had the playing field all to themselves.

Just remember this basic PR tenet: The best publicity is done in advance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Who is the NY Mets' "behind the scenes" PR firm?

From a strictly professional point of view, I have always wondered who is really commandeering the NY Mets' public relations because of the so-many ill-advised moves and non-moves.

I was wondering if this was all Jay Horwitz, who has run the team's PR for 30 years?

When the Mets committed PR suicide last year in the inept way they fired manager Willie Randolph, it seemed that nobody was guiding the team's management sensibly. Now all hell has broken loose again and the press has come out with their knives: the team is not only bombing, but reports have broken of VP of player development Tony Bernazard taking off his shirt and challenging their Binghamton minor league team to a fight, getting into a fracas with relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez and yelling at a Diamondbacks scout who accidentally sat in the wrong Citi Field seat.

The Mets ownership is MIA and Omar Minaya's standard press reply, which he repeats over and over, is that they are "investigating, investigating, investigating." Nobody is putting their foot down while the Mets' brand is getting whacked like an Albert Pujols grand slam.

So I'm thinking to myself -- is this all under the advisement of Jay Horwitz? Is it the plan of Mets management who know nothing about PR and communications?

Then, I saw NY Post sportswriter Joel Sherman's blog mention a "behind the scenes" PR firm that the Mets use. This is the first I have heard of the team using an outside communications adviser.

Why is their name not public? Why are they hiding? At least we know with the Yankees, Howard Rubenstein is the mouthpiece!

And whoever they are, is the team listening to them or ignoring them?

I'm curious to know how long this firm has been with the team because I think the Mets are a fascinating case study in dysfunctional communications.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why "pay for play" PR does not work

Recently, an Asian tech company approached me to help them publicize their iPhone app to drive downloads into more revenue. They had one little taste of PR since they put version 1.00 in the store last fall -- MacRumors mentioned them in a few forum posts, sending the downloads number up tenfold for a few days and then back to earth.

Now that they tasted the gold, they wanted it on a regular basis, understandably. However, they only wanted a "pay for play" arrangement where they would only pay for articles that appear from a list of media we'd collaborate on. Not only that, they'd only pay for "positive" articles.

I don't know how PR is done in Asia, but I rejected the plan immediately. Forget about the "positive articles" part -- that's just ludicrous.

"Pay for play" seems like a back-up plan for a company that is just plain insecure about public relations. They know what it is and what it can do. They just don't want to invest in it if they don't have to. Not just monetarily, but relationship-wise as well. It's hard to imagine establishing much of a partnership or strategic collaboration on this basis.

The other big downside for "pay for play" is that the publicist is under no obligation to do the job. If you only get paid when you make a placement, I'd rather be spending my time with the clients who have invested in my work and I have an ongoing productive relationship with.

I explained to the tech company: "Two weeks can go by and you won't hear from me. You'll call me up and say, hey, what's going on with our app campaign? My reply would be 'I'm working with my committed clients and if I get around to your app, I will.' You've lost two weeks and frankly, I may not end up doing it for another two weeks, if at all."

Of course, there's that nice fee that they are dangling for each of those placements. However, there are more important things than that, such as commitment, engagement and ongoing interaction.

Instead of transacting PR like buying a hamburger at McDonald's, I'd rather be in the kitchen creating the menu.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The magic formula for public relations ROI

Over the course of dozens of e-mail interviews for a forthcoming BNET article, several PR firms and their clients could not articulate any discernible return on investment (ROI) metric for press releases they sent out over BusinessWire, PRNewswire, and PRWeb.

If there was no ROI on the money invested in paid for release syndication services, how was anybody measuring success at all?

Here are four answers I received from public relations firms about ROI on the paid wire services:

  • "I expect there is a way to measure ROI, Drew, but it could involve a monitoring cost, and then what would be be measuring? In fact, I believe my clients and I may differ in how we measure ROI. When I place stories in media that reach my clients' markets, then I believe I've done my job. My clients, on the other hand, might measure ROI in the inquiries and reservations they receive from the stories. Others may measure it in the name recognition they know they're getting from paid wire press release distribution."
  • "No ROI measurement or web site traffic measurement done by my clients in relation to PR."
  • "I haven't seen an ROI measurement model yet that I think is worth a damn, so I don't measure that way."
  • "That's really difficult to measure and our clients don't demand it."

In an economic downturn, ROI definitions can't be this hazy because no company wants to throw money away on PR and not know the benefit of what they are getting. There is no excuse for any client to be on autopilot when it comes to PR and just merely accepting seeing their names somewhere.

The old stand-by "what the equivalent cost in advertising space dollars" metric has been weakened, especially with the tumbling prices the media is charging for ads, and the pull power of social media.

Seeing your name and company in an article or blog is half the battle -- it's what happens afterward that is the heart of any ROI.

For example, one of my clients is a brand research firm which desires press in certain industrial sectors because they have the most financial upside. I have a list of those target sectors, so when I get big stories in those places, the phones really do ring for them. Their sales force uses those stories to pry open doors and make appointments.

Clients should tell publicists what happens after interviews are published or broadcast appearances are made. Do they get phone calls and/or e-mails? Do they get a bump in web traffic and online queries? Are the results distributed to the sales force? (Over the years, some of my clients let me e-mail media placements directly to sales reps around the country).

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch's catchphrase was "How am I doing?" This is something that not only every publicist should ask themselves, but every one of their clients too. And they should be talking about "how they're doing" together frequently because that's the true measure of ROI.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What is this line for?

See this long line?

People waiting to renew their driver's license?

Laid-off workers filing for their unemployment claims?

No, it is a line of all the former Michael Jackson publicists looking to get their media sound bites today.

Monday, July 6, 2009

5 reasons you should be using an RSS reader

RSS is the communications technology everybody seems to have overlooked.

It never fails to amaze me when I am speaking with a group and ask the audience to raise their hands if they have an RSS reader, and I get a sea of puzzled expressions.

If you are a believer in the saying that "Knowledge is Power" and you want to be as well informed as possible with the least amount of hassle, there's no excuse not to have an RSS reader.

First, an explanation of RSS (Real Simple Syndication): almost all web sites and blogs have feeds in which the content is sent almost like a pipeline to readers, which can be built into browsers (Firefox), web-based (Google Reader, Netvibes, My Yahoo) or a software program.

Think of all the web sites you read on a daily basis, and you'll see the orange RSS symbol somewhere (or if you can't find it, use your browser's "Find" function and type in "RSS"). Click on it and you'll get the special feed URL for that site, or a set of URL's for each stream of news. For example, if you want to follow PR Rock and Roll, the feed URL is http://feeds.feedburner.com/prrockandroll. A news site like the New York Times has multiple URL's, each one for a different sections of news, bloggers or columnists.

By cutting and pasting these URL's in the readers, you get a continuously updated pipeline from all your favorite sites straight to your desktop.

My favorite is Newsgator's FeedDemon (pictured above), which can be downloaded for free at the company's site. I keep the Windows software program open all the time, and it conveniently minimizes itself into the toolbar, running a visible alert when your feed are being updated. It's truly the Swiss Army knife of RSS readers, where you can save articles as clippings, create a "newspaper" viewing format, search for past articles, listen to streaming audio, watch video, and click onto any story to bring up the actual story posted in a mini-browser or your own default browser.

Why should all of you be using an RSS reader right now? Here are five great reasons, but once you are hooked onto RSS feeds, I guarantee you'll come up with more and wonder how you ever lived without them.

1) More information in less time: Instead of hopping from one site to the other, searching through different bookmark folders to click through on your most important sites, the information from all of them actively travels to you in one efficient package. You will be up to speed on all your favorite web sites and blogs in no time.

2) Clip posts and articles from the web: You want to save a valuable article you're reading, but you don't want to print it out (very un-green). RSS readers can "clip" those articles and put them in personalized folders you set up. Great for referencing information at future times.

3) Follow Twitter and LinkedIn updates: Nearly every Twitter feed has an RSS feed, so look for that magic orange symbol (usually below the Following... box) and cut and paste the code as a new subscription. Here's the RSS URL for my Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline/11213522.rss. You do not have to be a follower of anybody on Twitter to receive their RSS feed. On your LinkedIn home page, click on the orange symbol next to the Network Updates, and you'll be given the subscription URL to follow what all your connections are doing, including adding new people, joining groups, and posting queries. A great way to follow the burgeoning spider web of this highly useful professional service.

4) Find travel deals quickly: If you are searching for a flight or hotel bargain, why go researching on several sites when the bargain alerts can come right to your reader. My favorite is Airfarewatchdog's blog feed, which is on top of many sudden major deals, others feed devoted to fares to the Asia, Caribbean, domestic US flights and others.

5) Unclutter your e-mail in-box: Google Alerts are fantastic in tracking any kind of news, name, or topic, but your in-box can be hammered if you're tracking something popular. As an alternative, do a Google News search, and then click on the "RSS" with the orange symbol below the News Alerts link. Now, you'll be able to get your results in your RSS reader instead, and you can clip the stories you want to keep. Alternatively, FeedDemon has a "Watch" function that you can input like a Google search, and looks for instances of those words in every RSS feed you track.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Everybody had great praise for Michael Jackson... except his former publicist

You know that old saying your mother told you repeatedly about "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it?"

It seems all the notables who issued public statements about Michael Jackson got that memo and sent out a lot of love, sadness and praise. Even his ex-wife Lisa-Marie Presley movingly described her heartbreak.

However, one person that didn't hold back their axe to grind was Jackson's former publicist, Michael Levine, who worked with the singer when he was accused of molestation in 1993. Instead of doing the classy thing and taking the high road, he belly-flopped right into the mud.

According to the Associated Press, Levine said: "I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply cannot withstand this level of prolonged stress."

Wow. Couldn't the guy just stick with nice things to say about his former client instead of playing backstabbing armchair shrink?

If you're a client of Michael Levine, don't get on his wrong side if you part ways. Guys like this give public relations a bad name, even after you've passed on.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wall Street Journal to ad industry: you're not that important anymore

With newspapers and magazines losing ad pages in the current recession, The Wall Street Journal decided to fire back at the advertising industry and drop their advertising column from five times a week to two.

Well, that will show them a lesson!

Of course, revenge might not be the reason. But when one of the country's biggest newspapers, one with a rich history of analyzing what makes business and consumers tick, decides advertising and marketing don't merit articles more than twice a week, that's a real sad dagger to the heart. Even more egregious in light of the fact that they launched a thrice a week sports section not long ago.

Dow Jones' explanation statement sounded contrived and dubious: "Our hope is that by running the column less often, we can better single out the key trends and issues in the industry, while increasing our ability to leap opportunistically on the news." That's pretty noble.

With this dramatic reduction, the Journal seems to be shooting themselves in the foot, as endemic marketers who would normally advertise in the paper around that column, often the biggest television, interactive and publishing entities, will move their dollars elsewhere.

The Wall Street Journal is in effect saying, "We don't think the advertising industry is that important, and we can live with the loss of ad revenue that goes with it."

Scuttling advertising and marketing coverage may benefit rival ad sales departments of the New York Times, Advertising Age, Adweek, and USA Today. Not only have they continued full coverage, but post breaking stories daily on their web sites.

However, I've saved the biggest irony for last: a newspaper company so desperate for advertising itself has ended up devaluing what it needs the most.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Twitter Revolution may not be televised

When I attended Social Media Camp during Internet Week, social media marketing pro Chris Heuer presented a slide in the initial Social Media 101 session that read: "Spin doesn't work. People smell BS a mile away."

Ironic, I'd say.

Tell me if this doesn't remind you of late-90's nuttiness: social media gurus conducting Twitter seminars for anxiously paying attendees and clients... people are signing book deals based on tweet compilations. Just last week, Twitter is on the cover of Time magazine ("Twitter and the change it brings"). One Social Media Camp seminar was about "the science of retweeting." Ashton Kutcher battled it out with CNN for the most followers. Jason Calacanis offered $250,000 to Twitter to become a "suggested user" because he equated it with another "Super Bowl."

Maybe it's a good idea that Twitter executives Biz Stone and Evan Williams are playing it very close to the vest or not jumping into crazed expansion.

The anecdotal and empirical evidence about Twitter's shortcomings is snowballing as fast as the microblogging's growth is slowing. The media hype turning point may be just upon us.

I'm not talking about abject failure -- Twitter has proven to be a financial boon for Dell Computer, apparently help generate more than $3 million in sales since 2007 from its @DellOutlet account. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is milking his Twitter account for everything it's worth to show how cool both he and his company are selling shoes over the Internet. For breaking news and massive outspoken protests (such as the recent #cnnfail Twitter trend) and customer service outreach (notably with JetBlue), the service has absolute merit. I follow certain journalists to get a sense of what they are writing about and how they are viewing their beats.

But Twitter is turning out to be like a huge party that everybody RSVP'd for and very few people showed up. You know that feeling you may have had in the back of your mind wondering how interesting it would really be to let everybody know about what you were doing every hour? You may have been right -- it's not interesting at all.

To me, it started with the ingenious New York Times article at the end of May that revealed most celebrity Twitter feeds were concocted by ghostwriters. Suddenly, Twitter had a little hollow ring to it, that it was a bit of a smoke and mirrors act. And if Hollywood couldn't bother Twittering, then what about other CEO's and well-known names?

Then came this one-two punch this spring: Nielsen Online issued a report that "more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month," followed by last week's Hubspot research that showed that more than half of Twitter's 4.5 million registered users have never posted a tweet. This is going to be a business?

I've heard all kinds of stories of mega-celebrities with tons of followers putting links in their Twitter feed, only to see the click-through traffic produce very disappointing numbers.

Just today, digital traffic measurement firm Compete said monthly unique visitors grew only 1.47% and TechCrunch called it "a breather."

When the cold light of day arrives, and Twitter's ROI is scrutinized by corporate America, PR firms, Hollywood, and everybody else who drank the Kool Aid, it may turn out that Twitter is only effective with a certain niche of early adapters, or highly mobile and connected individuals.
Twitter may be more comparable to the specialized smaller audience of Wired magazine versus the colossal mass outreach of Good Housekeeping.

Spin? Oh yes, it does work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

IAC takes Professor Irwin Corey Award #2 for "rationalizing"

IAC takes our second Professor Irwin Corey Award for its explanation today about why they were shutting down black-targeted search engine RushmoreDrive.com.

Via PaidContent.org (italics are mine):

RushmoreDrive.com will be closing Friday, according to an IAC (NSDQ: IACI) spokeswoman who said the move is “part of our continued effort to rationalize the IAC emerging businesses.”

How does one "rationalize" a company in determining closing an entire division of 17 employees? Does this mean they are still trying to figure out the rationality of all 40 online brands that make up the company so RushmoreDrive.com had to go?

Actually, the word has a few definitions that apply: to "cut" or to "prune" or this impressive one -- "structure and run according to rational or scientific principles in order to achieve desired results."

Of course, they just could have said: "RushmoreDrive.com was no longer a viable business for the company."

The Professor Irwin Corey Award is given to institutions and people who make unusual choices of words -- sometimes the right ones, sometimes ones that don't make sense -- to communicate with the press.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The eMusic PR backlash

eMusic, one of the most popular and reasonably priced legit music download sites (and DRM-free) has found itself in a PR quagmire. I should know -- I am one of their customers.

The beauty of eMusic is that for a cheap subscription, you can download a healthy amount of songs strictly from indie labels, which made them hip to finding new music in all kinds of categories from electronica to rock. Plus you didn't have to worry about messing with computer permissions, etc. like iTunes, which music fans abhor.

In one fell swoop double announcement this week, eMusic has created a whirlwind of ill will. They boasted that they signed their first major label deal with Sony, providing them with over 200,000 tracks from artists, all of them at least two years old. At the same, they jacked up their prices dramatically when these songs are entering their database in early July.

In my case, I will be going from 90 downloads a month for $19.99 to 50 downloads a month for the same price. Personally, the thought of downloading old Journey and Celine Dion songs doesn't float my boat, so all I'm really left with are all the usual indie songs, but now each download costs far more. Not worth it, so I'm leaving the store just before the new prices hit.

Apparently, I'm far from alone.

Techdirt posted a brilliant observation called, rather straightforwardly, "Did No One At eMusic Think About PR Impact of Raising Prices At The Same Time Sony Signed?" Followed by, as of this moment, 42 comments. Apparently, many subscribers on eMusic's own message board are not holding back either.

This scenario is a textbook example of corporate executives living in a bubble. Of course, there is no way people would not have put two and two together (Sony additions + higher prices), and frankly, if there's nothing appealing about Sony's old catalog, then why the heck would you want to pay for it anyway? Are we supposed to get excited about downloading an old Meatloaf album?

I recommend you click through on the link to Techdirt's post because they pretty much nailed it on the head: "Here's a major record label, whose music many eMusic subscribers didn't want in the first place, now being seen as having made life worse (and more expensive) for everyone. By connecting the two issues, it seems like both eMusic and Sony Music are getting hit a lot harder than if the announcements had been separated."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Print is the biggest straw that stirs the news drink

A couple of weeks ago on sports talk WFAN-AM, former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason was aghast when his co-host Craig Carton described who was booked on the show that day -- a guy who "streaked" across Citi Field in the middle of the previous night's night's game.

In two half-pages articles in New York Post and the NY Daily News, the man claimed his boss offered him $1,000 if he would take his sudden naked sprint, which landed him in jail.

Esiason was puzzled as to why this streaker deserved air time and demanded the show's producer Al Dukes come out for an explanation.

"I'm booking to follow the news," he gulped.

In those six words, he's described the double-edged sword of media coverage that every good publicist should know. The key word there is follow because that is exactly what most radio and TV news have done for years -- follow the work of other media, especially print.

For all the pundit calls about print's death throes, print is still doing a heck of a job being the straw that turns the news drink.

I came to this conclusion in the late 80's, which goes to show you how some habits die very hard. While working at Radio City Music Hall Productions, I saw that every time we placed a story in a daily newspaper, TV and radio bookers and producers would call our office like clockwork to do the very same story, sometimes ones they turned down already!

Listen yourself when radio and TV anchors frequently beginning their stories with, "Today's New York Times reports..." or "The mayor says in today's Daily News...." Listen yourself because it's still done now all the time.

With the exception of sweeps programming and TV newsmagazines, radio and TV bookers, assignment editors and producers are often following the news reported by newspapers first, as opposed to breaking news themselves.

Why? There are probably a few reasons:

1) Newspapers, despite their growing and unfortunate endangered status, often have the resources to pursue and break news stories.

2) Newspapers, consciously or not, rank very high on the credibility and respect meter at least to other media.

3) If a story is in a newspaper, "it must be news," so bookers, producers and writers have their butts covered by assigning it.

For example, when the New York Times published a trend article on high school hugging last week, NBC-TV's Today show wasted no time in producing a short segment about it.


From a public relations pro's point of view, targeting a print placement can be the first flick of the finger that knocks down the row of media dominoes.

But let's go back to WFAN's show, in which a few outraged listeners e-mailed in that if streaker appeared on the program, they would turn it off the remainder of the show. Esiason was clearly not thrilled with his producer slavishly booking the streaker either. However, it was too late to stop the fellow from going on air.

Here's where the downside to this trend is: is TV and radio following much of what they read in newspapers a good thing? Does it magnify stories which don't deserve much attention, while ignoring ones that really merit coverage?

WCBS-AM Newsradio 88 news director Tim Scheld likened his station's all-news format to an online news aggregator like The Drudge Report that also credits its sources: "If you listen to us for a half hour, we will get you up on everything you need to know. We'll give you a full plate." Although he admits "Newspapers have bigger staffs."

He points to the local 10 pm and 11 pm TV newscasts: "What they do is similar to what we do during the day, putting their own spin on it."

Of course, radio does have its day in the sun, like when a plane landed in the Hudson River last fall: "All you need is a cell phone to cover that story. You can't beat the immediacy of that."

If newspapers and magazines sadly fold, what will radio and TV stations do with nobody to break a lot of their news for them?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

ESPN's PR department wins the 1st Professor Irwin Corey Award this week

When David Meerman Scott so succinctly broke open the stats on what he called "gobbledygook" -- the nonsensical overused phrases used in press releases -- you knew it was just a matter of time before you could play a game of "Can You Top This?"

With the economy crashing down, large corporations were coming up with some pretty impressive ways to describe their layoffs. BusinessWeek compiled some of these beauties last winter, such as "offboarding" and "rationalizing."

Periodically, I will be awarding my Professor Irwin Corey Award, named after the brilliant comedian who pioneered "doublespeak" comedy, making up serious-sounding but fictional phrases that ended up meaning absolutely nothing, twisting his creations with authentic words until you didn't know if he was real himself or not. He was always known as "The World's Foremost Authority."

ESPN inaugurates my Professor Irwin Corey Award, manufacturing a personnel statement of such mind-boggling runaround jargon today, that it should trigger a violent reaction in every PR professional with some kind of high standards.

It's layoff statements like this which make journalists want to strangle PR people (italics are mine):

"Most of the jobs are being repurposed in support of initiatives which will more effectively grow our company, and our headcount number, ultimately, will remain consistent with current levels.”

According to answers.com, "repurposing" is "To use or convert for use in another format or product: repurposed the book as a compact disk."

The word "repurposed" is not even being used accurately in this ludicrous statement, as these employees are being laid off, not converted into other jobs.

Did somebody repurpose the dictionary at ESPN?