Post 80: Today’s complete wastes of my time

Would you believe that twice in two days I have had conversations that went like this?

PR: Do you want to write about my client’s product?

Me: I’ve never heard of the product? What does it do?

PR: I don’t know. I have to get back to you.

What are these people thinking before they call me? PR is in dire trouble as an industry if this is how it adds value!

I’ve also just heard from a PR person who has just received a press release … from another PR company. Now sending press releases to the wrong journo is an honest but dumb mistake. But to other PRs? Someone needs to vet the lists better because … hear that? Yep … it’s money and reputations going down the drain.

Post 79: A few remarks about conference calls

I do several conference calls a week, as PR people sit in as I interview their clients.

And at least 50% of them have some audio problems. that make the interview sub-optimal About 10% are so bad that the interview becomes all-but-useless.

Some of those I put down to my consumer-grade VoIP line.

The rest I think are down to flaws in the networks and technologies that make conference calls possible.

It all gets me thinking why these calls need to be conferences anyway.

I understand that PRs like to know what went on during an interview, just in case I rough up their clients, they say something indiscreet or I  completely misquote them in the stories I write later on.

But aren’t interviewees big enough and ugly enough to fend for themselves?

If they could be taught to cope with a 1:1 call it would be easier for this journalist.

Either that, or find a conference service that works.

Conference call etiquette is also worth a mention. More often than you would imagine, parties who were never mentioned as participants pop up on a call. That’s rude.

It’s also hard to keep track of multiple speakers in a conference call, especially when they do not take the trouble to identify themselves.

This means, in practice, that one of the speakers often will not be quoted.

Post 78: Pitches I’ll almost certainly reject out of hand

Over the years, I have had all sorts of mad ideas pitched at me as sensible bases for stories.

But some recur and recur and … you get the idea.

I think it is time to start listing the ones that just will not work, and why.

So here goes:

  • We’ve got a survey that says something terrifically interesting about how dangerous the world is or how funny people are.

Pfah! Everyone has a survey. No-one ever discloses the forensic details that let the media really dissect it. That’s because it was probably re-purposed market research. You can see my attitude to surveys in stories like this one.

  • It’s easier to use

What? Your client is trying to improve its product? Does that mean everyone else in the industry has stopped trying to do that? By golly that ease of use needs to have rocketed into some new and hitherto unreachable dimension for ease of use to be the basis for a story. Think iPhone vs. normal phones.

  • Our product has won an award from ‘Publication X’

Unless I work for ‘Publication X’, why the hell should I care or tell my readers that one of my competitors likes you?

  • Our product is now in version 8.2

A point upgrade? Didn’t you know I have a weak heart and the move from version 8.1 to 8.2 could cause a cardiac arrest …. NOT! A point upgrade is more likely to induce narcolepsy. Why? Come on, if you are only calling it a point release, why should readers get excited about it?

UPDATE

  • The announcement at the event tomorrow is terribly significant but we cannot tell you why so you’ll just have to come along

The more secretive a company is about the content of an event, the more cynical about it I become. That’s because I often find that events that cannot tell you what is on offer actually have very little on offer. This year, for example, a big event turned out to be the Australian launch of products that had already been launched (and bombed) elsewhere. Most of the press who attended wrote about a cute robot that was also on show. Secretive events also make it hard to prepare with proper questions and research, which is important for folks like me who do not report on things but write more analytically about them later.

More of these to come as they enter my brain.

—————-
Now playing: The Stems – Can’t Forget That Girl
via FoxyTunes

Post 77: Achoo! A modest proposal

How long will it be before Horse Flu gets political?

Part of me thinks that in the current climate neither side will be immediately leaping into action.

But both sides are also finding it hard to pass up any sort of point-scoring opportunity. I reckon it won’t be long before some kind of rescue package gets floated, which will be bloody hard to rebut.

Which way does the horse racing industry vote, anyway?

Interesting, meanwhile, to see that the economic effects are already being reported.But as my wife pointed out, it is ancillary industries like millinery that may be the silent victims – those guys basically rely on the big racing carnivals for their coin!

In any case,  let me offer a modest proposal that could help in these horse-deprived times.

Bicycle racing.

Imagine that, instead of racegoers turning up to watch the horses charge down the straight, they instead got all dressed up to see mountain bike riders churning up the turf. We could put some berms and jumps around Randwick, Caulfield, Flemington and Rosehill. The crowds would love to see the lycra-clad riders (of both genders, naturally) and their shiny iron steeds.

Cycling would love the exposure (and the kickbacks from the TAB). Racegoers would still get to have their afternoons out.

Okay … maybe not quite the same. But worth a try?

Post 76: Worst pitch ever – Asiarelease.com and how to ruin your reputation

Over the last few days, I and several other Australian IT journalists have started to receive media releases from a company called asiarelease.com.

This company has been distributing press releases with headlines such as ‘Cisco and Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to Deliver Advanced Networking Skills’ to a wide variety of Australian IT media. The releases have almost zero relevance to Australian audiences. One described a new implementation of something in Hong Kong.

The company has been completely indiscriminating.

I have spoken with consumer tech journalists who have received this stuff and they are grumpy because this stuff has NO relevance to their work at all! Worse still, none of us asked to participate in this ‘service’.

If there’s a way for these releases to escape being defined as Spam, I cannot see it.

And from my point of view, the vendors that use this service (and it is not just Cisco) really need to wake up to themselves and understand that they are doing their reputations harm.

For example, some of the releases I have received have been from companies that I had not previously heard of.

So my first impression of those companies is that they are spammers who are so inconsiderate they will rob me of time and computing resources before they even introduce themselves to me.

What chance do they have of successfully pitching to me in future after that start?

Is that really what public relations is about? And why are vendors still inclined to use such crude services when far better tools are available and PR constantly preaches that it is more sophisticated than these tactics suggest?

Post 75: Geek-bait

I get so many hits (10% of all traffic) from my references to a torrent of William Gibson’s ‘Spook Country’ that I think it is time for an experiment.

I will involve a list of things any minute now that I think represent geek-bait.

Let’s see what that does to traffic!

  • Watchmen Movie torrent
  • Neal Stephenson torrent
  • Vernor Vinge torrent

Of course this means that even less of my readers will actually care about my ideas.

Which is not good.

But at least I’ll be learning more about this whole traffic/tagging caper which is one of the reasons I run this thing.

UPDATE …

None of the above are working. Time to try:

  • Ratatouille torrent
  • Bourne ultimatum torrent
  • Stardust movie torrent

Post 74: Great candidate for Worst Pitch Ever

Wow! I have just received a press release headlined ‘Vodafone to achieve up to 20% improvement in networks in Iceland’

I kid you not.

Now … I don’t write about telcos. I’m in Australia. And the company that has sold the stuff to Vodafone that makes the improvements possible seems not to operate in Australia.

And the PR company concerned proudly states on its website that ‘ We call our approach intelligent PR’

(Much laughter ensues)

 I’ve asked the PR company why they wrote that ‘I thought this might be of interest to you’.

I’m not holding my breath for a response.

But I now think that a UK-based PR company which alleges it specialises in global campaigns seem rather foolish and not as competent as their website proclaims.

So … should I disclose the name of the PR company and their client?

What are the ethics of that?

Post 73: A new variety of ‘Worst pitch ever’ in which experts and chancers are intermingled to no-one’s benefit

I issue a lot of RFIs to the PR community, but often the responses are odd.

They go like this:

Me: I’m interested in chatting to people about a certain issue

PR: Would you like to talk to my client about this issue?

This is where it gets weird, because an awful lot of the time I have not met the client and do not know anything about their company. So it is impossible for me to judge if they have any expertise or are worth the time taken by an interview.

Experience tells me that often they will not be, because PRs try to shoe-horn their clients onto the phone in areas that are tangential or marginal. I have done many, many interviews of this sort that have been a BIG waste of time because the interviewee has very little to say.

Email responses of the type above usually see me respond that I would love to receive a little of the proposed interviewee’s thinking in advance, before deciding on an interview.

Fewer than 50% of those requests are met, which says to me that the proposed interviewee never knew anything in the first place.

Seems to me we could all save ourselves some time by cutting straight to the chase with a description of a proposed interviewee’s ideas on a subject BEFORE the back ‘n’ forth.

What do you think?

Post 72: An RFI, an exploration of SMEs in Australian and a whinge … all in one.

One of the most consistently astounding things in my work is the fact that the overwhelming majority of vendors I work with do not have a working definition of what constitutes a ‘small business’. Or if they do, they use a definition drawn from their home nations.

This is odd because Australia, as a smaller nation, has smaller small businesses than the US or Europe. And therefore different IT requirements and investment capabilities.

For the record, the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of a small business is a business with less than twenty employees.

That’s an important piece of data because of the 1,963,907 business the ABS counted as of June 2006, only 785,000 employ anyone. Of those, 472,000 employ 1-4 people and 225,000 employ 4-19 people.

Only about 87,000 businesses employ more than 20 and of those only 5673 employ more than 200. The latter can be discarded as small business.

And most of the vendors I speak to admit that the 1-4s are not small businesses in their definitions. They assume those guys will buy at retail unless they have very particular requirements.

That leaves the other 225,000, plus the 80,000-odd in the 20-200 category up for grabs as small businesses. I include the 20-200s because they are the size of what is considered small in the USA and Europe and therefore where most of the products pitched at ‘small’ business are usually intended to land. Many vendors even describe small to me as anything from 10 to 1000 employees.

That assumption means that most of the vendors I speak to about their small business products assume that their customers have the capacity to run pretty sophisticated IT, either themselves or through a trusted partner. We’re talking client/server and/or ERP style applications, financial dashboards, dedicated storage hardware, mobile computing systems … the list goes on. A 100-person business may have that capability. But a smaller shop?

This makes me wonder how can we figure out which among these 320,000 candidate small businesses have the resources to even contemplate this kind of investment?

Well … another interesting ABS stat is that 93.5% of ALL the businesses the ABS identifies have turnover of less than $2 million a year.

If a business of that size budgets to spend 10% of revenue on IT I would be VERY surprised. Even if they did spend 10% very little of it would go on acquisitions. I know from experience that a significant piece of infrastructure, say a line of business application, will be very hard to get out of, fully implemented, for less than $100,000. So any big IT initiative is at least 5% of most small business’ annual turnover.

Reading this data gives me two concerns:

  • It is clear that most businesses in Australia (the 93.5% turning over less than $2million ) do not have much money to spend on anything, never mind on IT. So how are IT vendors marketing to those business?
  • I’m tired of vendors saying ‘this is good for small business’ without accompanying this with a working definition of what an Australian small business looks like

And now for the RFI …

I’ve been expressing some of the concerns above for a while. Now, the Australian Financial Review has asked me to write about whether or not vendors do understand the composition of the Australian market and how they target it based on that understanding. Or lack thereof. If you work for, or represent, a vendor I would love to hear your thoughts on this post, the size and capabilities of the local SME market and how you work with them.