Post 111: I am not alone

Wired’s Editor in chief has started blacklisting PR people who send him unsolicited material.

His post explaining his position is here.

Of late, this blog has not named names. Kelly has gone so far as to list the email addresses he has blacklisted in the post, knowing full well that they will  be harvested by spammers.


Post 110: Feedback

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event at which, as things wrapped up, the visiting V(i)P said he hoped the session had been valuable and looked forward to the feedback he felt sure local PR would organise.

That caused a lot of blank stares from the journos around the table, because none of us had ever been asked for feedback on a presser before.

And indeed, the local sub of the US company that threw the event has not been back in touch for our opinions.

Last Friday, I experience an incident that also pertains to feedback. I was called by a PR to whom I had previously indicated I would “maybe” attend an event.

She called to confirm my attendance. But I confirmed in the negative, which she felt odd as a I had previously seemed “very keen” or words to that effect.

This was not what she wanted to hear. So she asked why – a very unusual act of seeking feedback.

I said, basically, that I considered the product launch trivial and not worth the time. The PR tried, gamely, to convince me otherwise. At this point I must admit I was not at my most charming as I tried repeatedly to explain that I was not interested as I did not think the product of particular interest to my readers. The PRs arguments in response were, sadly, not sustained by facts. So we got exchanges like this:

Me: I’m not convinced that small businesses need high definition videoconferencing. It is not as if they have adopted any other form of it.

PR: But it is now so much more affordable.

Me: How much is it?

PR: I don’t know.

Once that vein was mined out, the PR also showed no evidence of:

a) ever having read the publication she was pitching to;

b) knowing I write for more than one publication.

That kind of stuff kind of ticks me off. It seems to me, as I have said very often, that a pitch should be better-informed because frankly I find it hard to be civil when they are not.I ended up saying “I am at No on this and I cannot imagine you will get me to Yes.”

Today, she even rang back and offered to send me the press release which by then I no longer cared about. Once again, gamely, she tried to win me over by mentioning some research that accompanied it but seemed strangely miffed when I rebuffed the chance to read some vendor-sponsored research commissioned to accompany the launch. Let’s see … that research is not going to be super-independent, is it?

So there we have it. One organisation in which a senior rep from HQ believes in and expects feedback but does not implement it locally. And a lone PR who seeks it and then walked a line between worthy if bloody-minded plugging and refusing to understand that No means No.

Post 109: Image vs. reality

A lot of what I feel about PR is encapsulated in this story.

If you can’t be arsed clicking on the link, here’s the meat:

“Bacon, an Australian who heads the Oxford Leadership Academy in Britain, told the audience an instructive story about the time he introduced the incoming president of McDonald’s, Charlie Bell, to the world’s richest investor, Warren Buffett.

Bell was the Sydney boy who started working at McDonald’s Kingsford at age 15, made store manager at 19, and became the head of the multinational at 44.

The Aussie whiz-kid was a little nervous about meeting Buffett, the sage of Omaha, who was not only a venerable hero of the investment world but also happened to be one of the biggest shareholders on the McDonald’s register. McDonald’s was in the process of its Super Size Me-inspired fall from grace, its share price falling by half.

Buffett came straight to the point: “What are you going to do about McDonald’s image problem, Mr Bell?”

Bell replied: “We don’t have an image problem. We have a reality problem.”

The new president addressed the reality. He introduced the health food options to the McDonald’s menu. He deleted the supersize option. He turned the McDonald’s share price around.

This story should be core advice to every chief executive, president and prime minister. Addressing the reality of a problem rather than the perception of it is much harder. But, on the bright side, you’ll save a fortune on PR flacks, spin doctors, image consultants and crisis managers. And who knows? You might even solve the problem rather than storing it up for future outbreaks.”

My take on this is simple: try to spin your way out of bad products and bad behaviour and people will see through you and think less of you. Change your behaviour and you have a chance of really changing perceptions.

Post 108: More reasons I hate this election

It occurred to me today that this election is largely about measurable outcomes.

We’re being asked who will ‘keep inflation low’ or ‘keep interest rates low’. ‘Making housing affordable’ gets kicked around a bit.

But while there are measurable outcomes, there is no way to predict those outcomes.

Makes me wonder.

I also wonder why everything is about outcomes and nothing is about ideals. Both major parties are for “the fair go,” whatever that means.

But what do they stand for beyond that? I have no idea in either case.

Post 107: A nice exchange

A PR I quite like has a new job and today sent me the compulsory “I’ve landed” email.

Here’s the exchange, neutered slightly to protect the identities of the innocent:

PR:  I’ve landed at company X. If you have any inquiries about company X, don’t hesitate to get in touch

Me: (hoping and expecting it will be taken the right way) What’s company X?

PR: I’ll have to look up our FAQs and get back to you on that.


Post 106: Hating the election campaign

I’m hating this election campaign, for the same reasons that PR gets up my nose so much.

I have long felt that PR is a corrosive influence on society because its stifles debate. By teaching people who encounter the media to stay within a narrow band of content without appearing totally disingenuous, it restricts the amount of information that enters the public domain and debases debate. This in turn restricts the information people can use to inform themselves.

The Leaders’ debate on Sunday night was a great example of this stuff at work. Rudd mentions ‘working families’ at every available opportunity. Howard mentions ‘economic management’ and in what I am sure was a planned tactic to create a sound bite said ‘Labor governments= high interest rates, Liberal governments = low interest rates’.

It’s debate via sound bite, rather than any engagement and discussion of the ideas that fuel the respective leaders and how they might actually govern!

And it was tosh.

No wonder the worm got all the coverage the next day.

For me, PR’s fingerprints were all over this. The need to manage messages and implant very simple propositions in voters’ brains may be the way to win votes, but I think it debases society by simplifying things abominably.

I also think it bites the feeding hand because when the media does not have a lot to work with, coverage of the campaign gets awful dull.

Of late, I find political commentary terrifying because it relies on increasingly futile attempts at divining trends from recent events, which serves no-one because writing descends into hackneyed analysis of the latest new thing and leaves analysis of actual policy well in the background. Some very good writers (Annabel Crabb, Matt Price) have to be employed to make this stuff readable. But we all know that MSM are struggling to retain audiences.

Seems to me that when they let the people they report on resort to sound bites and key messages we get the media we deserve AND the government we deserve, neither of which is optimal.

Of course I am also part of the problem here – seeing as I contribute to the media. But one of the reasons for this blog’s existence and some of my grumpier moments is my conscious attempt to step outside of the massaged messaging that goes on and try to do a better job.

Post 105: Live from HCMC

Here I am in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City. My plane is running late, which I think is about to really mess up my Saturday.

The past few days have been illuminating. You’d think that in our webified world that flying 150 journos into one city to speak with the top tier of a vendor’s executive would be redundant.

Well it isn’t. Conference calls are turgid. Telepresence is in its infancy. So for the time being, we still need to move through meatspace to … erm … meet and get FF points.

The vendor concerned did very well to make the event lively. There was blessedly little PowerPoint.

There was also some time off, during which I walked t’earth. Or the streets of HCMC, anyway.

I do not understand the tendency of tourist districts to all be the same around the world. The shops carry more or less the same stuff (carvings, clothes, miniaturised version of local quirky transport/large building and [insert name of] local specialty handicrafts/textiles) and are hard to distinguish from one another.

One interesting variation comes from the fact that HCMC’s tourist junk is markedly different from Hanoi’s tourist junk. I was in Hanoi last year and up there it was all silk boxers and sleeping bag liners. I hardly saw either here.

Vietnam (now that I have seen both its major cities) seems poor but happy – I saw two begars today which is less than i would see in Sydney. There is a buzz in the cities. Commerce is being conducted. Connections to the world exist – Internet was everywhere and tolerably fast not-slow. It’s very warm and very moist. Things grow. My hotel room was on the 20th floor and a small plant had sprouted in the gutter beneath my window. And the fruit is divine.

This country has the fifth-highest headcount in Asia, after India, China, Indonesia and Japan. Poor but happy today will be something different and hopefully better before too long.

Indications are that the Christmas shoppping I accomplished today consumed about 20% of the average annual wage. Which is bad. Or good. Or something. I don’t know. No insights. Too tired. Will resume normal grumps later!

Post 104: Ignorance

Today’s whacky phone call …

PR: Simon, I see you are writing a feature on software development ‘Methodology X’. My client has a customer and we could probably get you in touch with them.

Me: Erm … does the customer practice ‘Methodology X’

PR: Oh yes … the customer uses my client’s software to develop software.

Me: But does the customer practice ‘Methodology X’?

PR: Pardon me …. but what is ‘Methodology X’?

Me: [Offers sketchy and ill-articulated description of ‘Methodology X’] while thinking …

Golly! Methodology X has been one of the hottest things in the world of software development for a few years now, how can someone PR-ing software development tools not know about it?

PR: Oh … I’m not sure if my client does that or not. Can I send you a link to their website?

Me: Can’t hurt.

A little later …

The URL arrives in my email. It contains only the absolute URL and offers instructions on which other bits of the site to visit in case Methodology X is discussed there.

Just another day on the coalface.


Have since had a follow up

PR: Actually, my client employs one of the great founding gurus of ‘Methodology X’. Would you like to speak with him?

Me: Would I ever!

So … a happy ending. But it sure was a silly start.

Post 103: RFI for a story about Charity

Movember - Sponsor Me

Next has commissioned me to write a story about how charities use the net.

Are you involved with a group that does things like Movember (click the image above) or MS with the Gongride?

(Oh and feel free to click on the link or the image to sponsor me in either or both)

Drop me a line and we’ll tee something up! But do it fast I gotta write this by Oct 24th and will not be around on Oct 17-19.