Post 95: Credibility

I’ve been thinking about credibility this morning, in light of a couple of recent pitches in which the vendors concerned asserted that their products are really, really important and/or useful.

They didn’t seem very credible, though, a judgement I make largely by backing my own credibility.

I’ve been hanging around this IT caper for more than 12 years now. That accumulated experience means, I hope, that my judgements are well informed.

So when pitches reach me that claim a breakthrough when I am aware of several other products, some a few years old, that do the same things the ‘new’ product says are a breakthrough I feel comfortable making the call that I do not need to take matters further.

The other pitch was a good old security scare story but the vendor could not tell me what was being protected against.

So why was I willing to rank my credibility ahead of the credibility built into these pitches? Experience and self-belief is one reason.

The other was that the pitches did not contain enough information to make me feel like I lacked the credibility/experience to make a judgement.

So it seems to me a good pitch needs to include buttressing elements to communicate why and how a product or idea expands my world view.

What would work as a good buttress?

Saying “this is really important” will not work. Everyone says their stuff is massively important.

Forget self-conducted surveys. Journalists are suspicious that they only ever prove what you want them to, as Stephen Withers has recently explained.

Independent data will help. But there is so much data out there that it is very hard to take it seriously as an authoritative source unless the source is unimpeachable.

Analysts? They’ll help. But of course they hate endorsing products. And no-one cares where you are on the magic quadrant. In fact I consider a top-right position on a magic quadrant as a sign of competence, seeing as every vendor claims leadership. Those elsewhere on the quadrant are less-than-competent.

Users? The bigger the better. I know from experience that referencability is often the result of deep discounts.

Ideally, I think, building credibility needs the latter three elements to really stamp a pitch as having weight, at least for me.

That’s because my experience is one of my key assets. People pay me to access it. Adding to my experience takes a lot more than a pitch saying a client’s products are ever-so-worthy.

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Post 94: Gone in fifteen minutes

I went to a press event that took just fifteen minutes the other day.

Three speakers, a product launch, even skydivers … all in 15 minutes from ‘Welcome’ to ‘thanks’.

Sure, it was a simple product. But gee it was a nice change from the usual 30 minutes of chat and endless PowerPoint.

If only it had started right on the advertised time it would have been press event nirvana!

Disclosure: The vendor concerned was a client. But I’m not talking them up. Just commenting on the working journo’s life. I’d have written the same post no matter who ran a 15-minute event.

Post 93: One of the classics

I’ve just had a phone call that is one of the classics, especially for freelancers.

It goes a little something like this:

PR: Hi Simon, are you interested in coming to our event

Me: When is it?

PR: Tomorrow?

Me: (Says) Tomorrow?

(Thinks) Tomorrow? No-one sends out invitations to an event 24 hours only in advance. I bet that they are not getting a very good response from the people they really wanted to attend. Hang on … that makes me a second class citizen! 😦 If this event is appropriate to me, why wasn’t I invited in the first round of invitations?

PR: Yeah, sorry for the late notice

Me: (Says) Sorry, I cannot make it to something on such short notice

(Thinks) Why should I bail out your stupid event if you consider me to be a second-class fill-in?

PR: Oh well, sorry.

Me: Maybe next time.

This one is a bit of a timeless classic. I get it four or five times a year.

So, dear PR readers, why not just ask all the freelancers in the first round? If we are good enough to bulk out the numbers, surely we are good enough from the start.

Post 92: PR is very hard sometimes

Over the weekend I noticed a job ad in the newspaper … and I know the current holder of the job.

There were only two options:

  1. He’d been promoted
  2. He’d left

Either way, I had no choice but to ask the company concerned what was going on.

I started with their PR agency and asked ‘Why is your client hiring a new MD?’

They had no idea so I explained how I knew.

‘Gee that’s discrete’ was the reply, which was actually pretty good under fire!

The PR agency then swung into action and, quickly and impressively, confirmed the facts, crafted a statement and let me know what is going on.

Next time the company concerned hires a senior exec, I do hope that it:

  1. Tells its PR agency
  2. Decides to use a slightly less obvious form of advertising

I, meanwhile, have the nice ‘got a scoop’ feeling, even if it is via the most obvious means available!

Post 91: You only read when I am being nasty!

I’ve just had a look through the stats for the blog and it gets a lot more hits when I am dishing out on PR people.

All my big spikes come from angry rants.

There’s a strong trickle of would-be audio book thieves, a few people looking for Australian political debate and some people looking for information about the invention of electricity.

But they all do nothing for traffic compared to a good name and shame of a PR.

Which raises two issues:

  1. I generally try to be constructive, so making the blog all about anger is not my go
  2. The blog seems to be read and digested: several PRs seem to be taking up the suggestions I make on this blog

Where to from here?

Most of my posts are spur of the moment rants.

Anyone out there care enough to suggest what they would be interested in reading here?

Post 89: The telephone is a wonderful invention

A lot of my correspondence with PR is generated by pitches which perplex me.

So I write back with some questions about why my readers should care about the topic on offer.

This can sometimes be hard to explain.

Sometimes it generates wonderful cut and paste jobs where boilerplate gets offered as argument. So let me say right off that ‘Company X provides scalable solutions to make its clients optimally productive’ is not ever going to get through my BS filters.

On other occasions strange, stilted conversations ensue in which several Q&A go back and forth, sometimes over days.

Now call me old fashioned, but those conversations could probably happen as … prepare for a shock … phone calls. Analog, PSTN phone calls even!

We could ask each other questions one after the other, with no need for a lapse between emails, none of the panic that comes with trying to interpret the precise meaning of an email. We could have a conversation in which you could learn more about my questions by listening to the tone of my voice. We could probably get more done.

I know lots of journos hate being phoned. I do not, largely because I think it is more efficient than email which is best for starting a conversation and rubbish at sustaining one.

Give the phone a go, PR readers! You’ll find the phone is a wonderful invention.

Post 88: How to pay for TV

Today, we all pay for the ‘free’ entertainment on TV every time we eat, drive a car, wash our clothes. You name a product, it pays for TV.

That’s because the cost of advertising is built into everything we consume. So a certain proportion of the price I paid for the pasta I will eat for dinner tonight has already been spent on advertising that went to the TV station that carried the ad which used the profits to make the shows I want to watch.

Nothing you didn’t know there? Thought so*.

The reason I mention this is that I wonder if that will change as the fallout from new media takes place.

Right now most of the media I want is available for free. In fact we gave up on Foxtel a while back. There just wasn’t much on.

But I can imagine in the near future, much more media will be available on a paid basis, either as downloads, DVDs or whatever.

So what I want to know is how TV gets paid for in the future.

I would rather pay for it upfront, frankly, and see the price of groceries drop. There is little chance of that happening, however, given that even if TV stations lose their silly role as content distributors and lose their ads, the ads will just go elsewhere.

Does that mean Google ends up paying for TV? No wonder everyone wants a piece of Google.

* Yes. I do know it’s a bit more complex than this, but the food pays for TV argument works even if you do not consider the fact that shows get bought, sold, outsourced and whatever else.

Post 87: On freelancers and VPs

I sometimes get asked to interview vendors’ visiting vice-presidents, often in the hope that as a freelancer my associations with various publications will mean coverage of these folks works its way into places that would otherwise be disinclined to even receive a pitch about this kind of interview.

Here’s why I will always say no to these interviews.

As a freelancer, I have to add value to the editors that are kind enough to take my work.

If all I am doing is suggesting stories that are already being shopped around by PR, that is not adding value and I look like a dill.

So if the visiting VP is of no value to publications I freelance for, they are probably of no value to me either. I don’t know if this is true for other freelancers, but it is for me!

Post 86: An update to my favorite statistics

I’ve discovered a more recent set of statistics on small businesses in Australia

You’ll find the ABS document here.

Long story short, there are now:

  • 1,156,326 businesses that do not employ anyone
  • 807,581 businesses that do employ someone

Of the businesses that do employ someone

  • 721,569 employ fewer than 20 people, the ABS definition of a small business
  • 227,373 of those small businesses employ 5-19 people
  • 80,215 employ 20-200 people, the ABS definition of medium
  • 5,797 employ more than 200, the ABS definition of large business

Another stat: 94% of businesses now turn over less than $2 million.

What does this mean for my work?

Seems to me that with 1,156,326 businesses having NO staff and 721,569 having fewer than four, the IT industry needs to realise that with 1.65  million businesses employing either none or less than four people, product pitched at anything over 100 employees that posit those companies as ‘small’ are very hard to take seriously as hitting the intended market.

I understand that different businesses have different needs and therefore different approaches to technology.

But I think the time has come to realise that in the Australian context, small businesses are much smaller than is generally assumed and that saying small is anywhere between 100 and 1500 users, as is often pitched to me, is simply a nonsense.