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At Show Time Editorial Abuse Gets Easier With Email

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

In the dark ages of public relations people used typewriters.  They crafted releases and sent their work to a select group of editors and reporters. When they wanted to talk with editors…they called.

Thirty years ago the rudimentary personal computer crept into the industry.  With each new system generation our ability to crank out volumes of paperpulp increased.  Practitioners found they could produce and send more messages to more media people.  Volume became a measure of productivity.  The post office reaped the benefits and still they called to talk with editors.

A little over ten years ago the fledgling Internet began its global sprawl.  Suddenly publicists had a new tool to add to their arsenal.  With very little practice they could cheaply spray messages to any number of editors and reporters as well as the masses -- nationally and internationally.  Now to reach editors they can fax over IP, call and send emails. 

Today, our “hit” happy crowd not only keeps up the paper barrage but have also begun to squander innocent IP signals and email electrons.

The Person at the Other End

This year at several conventions we convinced clients to have a non-business dinner with senior editors/reporters rather than a pitch-n-dine event.  The goal was for management and the media people get to know each other as individuals. 

To share laughs and horror stories, we asked editors and analysts to discuss some of their company/PR experiences in preparing for the show.  While the responses varied all over the map, including a number of compliments for PR people.  There were also a number of common “abuses:” 
  • The smiler and dialer -- Phone calls from individuals who would say “Hi I’m (name) with (company/agency) and we want to set up a meeting with you at (show).”  There was no discussion of what was important at the company’s booth but simply that they wanted a meeting.  It was generally agreed that the caller had absolutely no idea what the publication, on-line service or research firm focused on.  There was no understanding of the editors/reporters primary coverage area and how the products/services might be used by or of benefit to the readers.  As one reporter noted, “It is amazing how little some of these people know about their company’s technologies, products, or the market.  It’s pretty obvious that they don’t read our book or they would know what we cover and they would pick up what was going on out there.  Too many aren’t even grounded in the industry or business fundamentals.”

  • The one, two, three punch  These are the individuals who send a fax for a meeting and follow this up with an email.  Finally they call to say they’ve sent the fax and email and now want to know when the reporter or editor wants to meet.  “Before every show the routine is the same,” a long-time veteran commented.  “I get 150 plus mail invitations, 50 fax notifications and at least a hundred phone requests for meetings…every day.  Now I also get 200+ email requests.  If I don’t recognize the company name, if something doesn’t jump out immediately or the sending party isn’t someone I know; I don’t waste my time trying to see if it’s going to be something I should be covering.  I’m not an investigative reporter.  If the company can’t present the salient facts, I don’t have the time to do their job.”

  • The email invitation plus  A number of dinner guests said that over the past year there was an amazing increase in the number of blanket email attached show invitations.  The email not only carried the message in the text but they also went to the extra effort of showing off their DTP and HTML skills.  “I’ve opened a few of the files only to see it is some party invitation and I immediately trash it because it’s taking up space on my hard drive,” one editor commented.  Several said they don’t even open the file because they won’t take a chance of unleashing a virus.  One put his thoughts very simply, “There are too many nuts out there that think it’s cute to create something that destroys your hard work.  If I don’t know the sender and it isn’t a dotdoc it doesn’t get opened.  If I know the person I’ll ask them to check the file for viruses before resending it to me.”

  • The HTML release  The editors said they still get bushels of printed news releases every day but one editor noted there was a new wrinkle in the pre-show barrage.  “It amazes me that some of these people are so in love with their bad work that they want to clog up my Internet connection with electronically printed releases, complete with company letterhead,” he noted.  “Don’t they know how much bandwidth and storage capacity that image takes up or do they think we’ll be so awestruck by their use of the technologies that we’ll have to read their messages.  Poor writing is poor writing no matter how pretty you make it look.”

  • More is better  “Send me an email on what you’re doing at the show I should be interested in, isn’t an open mailing invitation,” one editor commented.  “It’s a way for me to flip through all of the things I need to, want to and have to cover at the show.  But some people get carried away.  On more than one occasion I received the email explanation, a news release, a product photo, a backgrounder and bios of senior management.  At least when I threw it all away I didn’t feel as though I had killed another tree.”

  • The Next Killer Solution  Looking into the future, one editor said he could hardly wait for true convergence  voice, data and video over a single pipe.  “Somewhere lurking out there is a ‘brilliant’ PR person who is already planning on sending his video news release across the Internet to clog up our email,” an editor ventured.  “He’s going to be so proud that he reached us so effectively.  I hope he doesn’t tell his friends.”
The dinners were eye-openers for client management.  At our last dinner a company president asked apologetically, “When do you have time to do your work?  At some point you’ve got to shut off your phone, disconnect your email, think and write.  It seems it will be better for both of us if we talk throughout the year instead of just at trade shows.”

When was the last time you simply talked with an editor?

© Copyright 2000, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

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