A tale of global stupid

I like The Strokes, so when I saw that I could pre-purchase the band’s new album for just $US7.99 I jumped at the chance.

The official Sony Music download site offering this service is US based and has made the album available on March 22nd.

So fancy my surprise when I learn that the album has already been released here in Australia. I can even buy it on iTunes.

Without waiting for the 22nd.

I’ve argued before that territorial copyright just ain’t working no more. Giving away distribution fiefdoms to subsidiaries or rights-holders in different nations makes little or no sense in an age when no matter where you disseminate information it can reach the whole planet.

But this incident takes the whole thing to  new dimension of stupid. We’re all used to the USA being the “master market” where stuff gets released first. Now territorial copyright is making even that assumption unreliable.

I just wanna buy the entertainment I wanna buy, when I wanna buy it?

Can someone get rid of all these arsehats who decide on the dates it suits THEM to release something ?


Post 32, 2009: Why are online image libraries *STILL* so amazingly shit?

One of the most disappointing things in the journo/PR interface is the continued patchy availability and quality of online image libraries.

The need for online image libraries became glaringly apparent in about 1996.

Since then, I reckon less than 50% of vendors get them right. I have no idea why as a good image library is a blindingly obvious idea.

Some holdouts, I suspect, wish to control distribution of their images. I cannot imagine why.

Others have just been lazy.

Whatever the reason, let me state this now, loud and proud, for the last time.


So get to it!

Post 28, 2009: I do not hate PR

At a Christmas party tonight, a fellow journalist related to me an incident in which a PR approached him and said they did not want to talk to him, as he and I are, in the PR’s opinion, haters of PR.

For the record, I do not hate PR.

I do, however, resent the fact that much PR is practiced thoughtlessly and in ways that frustrates me, wastes my time or hinders my ability to do my job. I resent this bitterly for two reasons:

  1. Many of my encounters with PR people represent known worst practices that the PR industry and senior practitioners repudiate
  2. Basic mistakes continue to be made with horrible regularity

I am not the only journalist that thinks this way. If you ever get a chance to be a fly on the wall when journos get together, you’ll hear very similar complaints to those mentioned on this blog.

I am, however, one of a few very small number of journalists to blog about their feelings.

But not for long.

I’ve been mining this vein for a while now and have become tired of doing so, largely due to point 2 above which shows I am not having much impact.

So at the end of the year I shall take this blog in a new direction.

But before I go, I will exhaust my thinking on PR before moving on to some new ideas I want to explore. I will continue to document my experience of a working journalist’s relationship with PR in other fora.

Post 26, 2009: Why issue a press release if you aren’t ready to discuss it?

I’m experiencing one of the more regular PR-induced frustrations today, namely an organisation emitting a press release without having spokespeople ready to explain it.

Here’s what happened.

A release arrived in my inbox and piqued my interest.

I contacted the in-house PR person listed as a contact and sent her an email … then received an “out of office” email saying she is unavailable for a further two days.

So I contacted the agency, who called back and told me they have to discover who the spokesperson is for the press release.

This is a big, fat, contemptuous fail for two reasons.

The first is simple logistics: if someone is out for two days, they simply should not be included as a contact for a press release.

The second is the terrible mixed message it sends. Emitting a release, after all, says “we want to discuss this.” When that experience turns into “actually, we are not ready to discuss this” the company involved looks amateurish. The company also looks cynical and disrespectful, because the idea of communicating with media (I have always felt) is to facilitate the free and rapid flow of information so that media can act on it quickly. And quickly is important these days!

When a vendor and agency are unprepared to actually follow through in a timely fashion, I feel like they simply do not get it and are wasting my time and complicating my life.

The chances that I will respect the vendor and its agency decline markedly* and I become less inclined to reach out to these organisations for assistance in future. I am pretty sure those outcomes are not what PR tries to achieve.

* I try, of course, to remain objective. But poor experiences like this mean I am more likely to turn to reliable sources of information and remember this product in light of the poor experience involved in sourcing information about it.

Post 19: Giving up on surveys

I’m very glad that Media Watch had a go at coverage driven by vendor-created research this week, because I have reached the decision not to use them any more.

For ages I have been uncomfortable with the way surveys are used to generate coverage, largely because the methodologies used are far from transparent and the intent – generating media coverage – is blatantly obvious.

Recently, however, I encountered the worst, most dishonest piece of research I have ever seen. I label it as such because it simply asked the wrong questions and the researcher was ignorant of the right questions. For example, the survey contained assertions that business data stored on computers is not well protected. But it had not asked those surveyed about the use of the most common data storage and protection technologies, so was simply not reporting on the real world. The research also asserted that businesses cannot recover lost or damaged data at acceptable speed, citing 40 hours as disastrous. Yet when I pressed the researcher on the fact that many organisations deliberately set recovery time objectives of more than 40 hours, the researcher was ignorant of the term “recovery time objectives” and admitted it was something it should look at in the next version of the research.

That’s not good enough.

Yet the research concerned has been cobbled together into a glossy brochure and will be pressed into the hands of prospects and suspects for a year, until the next edition of the research is produced.

I sincerely hope that no-one falls for this flawed study which has (to mix cliches) pissed in the well and broken the camel’s back, because it is such an obvious example of research being abused to prove a point that I simply cannot contemplate trying to find out what is wrong with other research I encounter.

Independent research created by dedicated researchers without commission remains something I will consider. But I simply feel I can no longer trust anything initiated by a vendor. And if I cannot trust it, why would I present it to my readers?

Post 8, 2009. PR “Truthiness”

When I practised PR, there was often a certain amount of truthiness involved in the way I communicated with media.

I hope it was pretty harmless, because what I was trying to do was to explain to media how an event, issue or product could become a story for them, even though I knew the content on offer would not be 100% about the matters I felt could make a good story for an individual journo.

I’m pretty sure the practise is common, because many of the representations made to me by PR people today polish the truth to make it shiny and attractive. For example, I’ve been told an upgrade from version 3.4 to version 3.5 is a “revolutionary” change. And I was certainly never counselled by management not to do so during my five-and-a-bit years in PR.

It’s just part of the game.

But in the last few days, I feel I have been involved in an incident that tipped beyond the usual “standards” of truthiness.

Here’s what happened. I was invited to an event that I saw little value in attending but made further inquiries on the off-chance it was important. After some back and forth by email, I was told the event would include unusually deep levels of access to a vendor’s security team and its labs. On that basis, I decided to attend the event.

But at the event there was no access to the security team, other than a short presentation from its leader. And we were only able to view the labs through a window. I asked the PR agency concerned why the promised access had not taken place and they explained that the agenda had changed just prior to the event. I had not been informed of that change, an omission for which they apologised.

I have since checked with about half of the other journos who attended the event and, surprisingly, none of them were ever offered the unusually deep levels of access to the vendor’s security team. Nor did any of them receive a notice about a change of agenda for the event.

In my correspondence with the PR company concerned, I stated that I do not feel there was an intention to deceive in their offering me access to the security team. As I am not privy to all of the information sent to all the media in attendance at the event, I cannot say for sure if I was the only attendee offered the chance to access the security team. So it’s not certain I was misled.

But the incident smells. Badly. And I sure feel like the usual and accepted standards of “truthiness” have been abused.

Post 1, 2009. Twitter is not a zoo in which PRs can watch journalists work

The big trend of my year so far has been the daily ritual of checking out my new Twitter followers. They’re coming thicker and faster than ever.

And about half of the new ones are in PR, as that industry seems to have decided that Twitter is important to their work.

Now I have no problem with this. But I do have a problem with PRs who lurk, instead of converse. Twitter is a social network. I want all the nodes of my social network to be adding value to the network, instead of being dead nodes whose only motivation is to extract value from the network without putting anything back in.

And -duh!- it works the other way, guys. If following me on Twitter is designed to either increase your knowledge of my activities or somehow “build a relationship” you’ll get much more out of it if you come to play, instead of coming to watch. (Quite what you get in the stuff I tweet, I have no idea, but that’s another post)

But worse, far worse, are the PRs who follow me but protect their own updates. I’ve had two of those in the last 48 hours and have blocked them immediately because if they are not willing to play, I’m not willing to let them watch.

At this point, some will think I’m doing the “I hate PR” thing again. But do you go to the pub with people who don’t talk to you? I’m betting not. You find friends that are fun to hang with and who participate in conversation. That’s what I’m doing!

Post 65:08 PR kids deserve better from their managers

Over the last week or two, I’ve had a few sad calls from young PRs.

I’ve tried to be nice but the calls have been dreadful. They go like this:

PR: Hi. I’m XXX from PR Agency YYY. I see you have a feature on topic ZZZ.

Me: Yes I do. Who’s your client?

PR: Company A.

Me: Why do they belong in this feature?

PR: Ummm … I’m not sure. Their products help people to communicate
My client sell solutions for this
I think my client might work in this area.

Me: Yes, but lots of companies do the same thing. Why does your client belong in the feature?
What sort of solutions?
Okay: I understand they are in the right areas. What is their response to the three questions I wrote in my feature brief? It would be nice to know that, before committing to an interview with no idea of what might be said.

PR: I don’t know. I’d better ask them.

I don’t blame the young PRs for this. They are young. They have little experience and therefore are not very good at pitching … yet.

My anger for these calls – which are supreme time wasters for all concerned – is not directed at the kids. It’s directed at their managers.

Why are these kids being hung out to dry by their bosses? Why aren’t these kids – who have to be pretty smart to get a gig in PR – coached and educated to make better calls than these? Why aren’t their colleagues giving them some techniques that help them to deal with a senior (I don’t think I’m big-noting myself here) journalist?

And why can’t their managers, who are, after all, allegedly good at managing reputations, see that their agency’s reputation is being trashed every time they put an inexperienced and under-educated person on the phone?

I understand the need for some on-the-job learning. I understand that a kind of Darwinian test that winnows out those who can pitch and those who cannot is important in PR. That’s why the kids who make the calls have my respect. They’re having a go. Often, they plug away with multiple, increasingly futile, calls. They’re trying to get the job done.

But the people they work for, I believe, often have not taught them how to do the job adequately. The constant calls I receive in which young PRs know nothing about the technology their clients offer, their clients’ activities and the wider technology industry leads me to believe the kids just are not getting decent on-the-job training.

That’s cruel, unfair … and massively stupid for dozens of reasons. And if you use a PR agency – you’re paying for this at probably 50% of agencies I deal with.

Post 60:08 Speaking in a human voice

I’ve bene thinking a lot, lately, about how to put a human voice on PR so that it works better on me.

The thinking comes from a recent bout of PR from a major vendor that has decided everything they do is epoch-making. A .3 release is a revolution. A .4 release has become a remaking of an industry. Throw in the fact that one of their spokesfolk could not even define AJAX for me the other day, and all of a sudden I have an image of this vendor as hideously out of touch, self-obsessed and naff. I’ve also been watching more corporate YouTube and falling asleep inside 120 seconds most of the time, as the talent learns that a job in marketing, the gift of the gab and a decent salary that buys some nice new on-camera clothes does not translate into an entertaining or engaging presence. I do not claim the latter two traits for myself, by the way.

Anyway, Jason Calcanis’ post on the subject resonates with me. If you don’t feel like clicking on it, he basically advocates going anywhere it might be sensible for you to go in order to promote your self/client/cause and networking like mad while somehow not coming across as a publicity whore. This is an egregious simplification but was fun to write.

Thing is, this kind of behavior works. I’ve seen PRs (nearly always in-house) who do appear anywhere it could be advantageous for them to appear. It takes a certain type of PR to pull it off (Generally youngish, no kids-ish, ambitious, very gregarious) but it can be done. When it works, you get a wonderfully genuine and human voice for a company.

But the average agency person … fuggedaboutit. In my experience as a PR, they don’t want to work on half their accounts, which they’ve been dumped into for various reasons. In my experience as a journo, more than half don’t understand their accounts. Both of these disqualify them from speaking with a human voice on behalf of their clients.

So what’s needed is someone very close to the organisation that wishes to reach the public and is willing to do so, with some actual charisma. Then all they have to do is figure out how to be human, or let their organisations let them be human. And then, hopefully, be good at being human, because not everyone is good at that.

Better stop now. I think it is too late for this to be insightful, readable or  … human!

Post 57:08 An old favorite returns and more social media musing

Twice in the last week PRs have sent me material in emails with several others cc’ed or included in the To field.

In one case more than 100 email addresses were there to be harvested.

To me this is the most basic breach of email etiquette (and privacy!) imaginable and quite astounding in this day and age, let alone for a company concerned with reputation.

Anyway, I’ve sent scorching emails to the folk concerned and now have my ‘what the hell does social media mean’ hat on again.

I’m no closer to the answer, although it does occurr to me that one of the reasons I keep asking the question is that, as a parent of two young kids, I do not really HAVE a social network to digitise. Everyone I know is so flat out any socialising is rare, comes in snatches and needs very little organisation. I do have good networks for the few social activities in which I participate, especially cycling. There are nice conversations there, but the tools on offer are not yet really functioning as social utilities. Now to figure out why!