Author Archives: Rafe Needleman

Tip #214: When PR stunts go wrong

I love PR stunts. Especially when they go wrong. It’s like… justice.

What’s a PR stunt? It’s an event or made-up news item that’s about itself, not a product and not a company. Sometimes PR stunts can go incredibly well, especially when they’re attached to a well-loved brand. If they are awesome unto themselves, they can actually make the brand stronger. I’m looking at you, Red Bull Flugtag.

Or sometimes they can go horribly wrong. Like today’s study in PR stunt flops: Skittles. To go along with the candy’s new Skittle Cloud ad campaign, Wrigley (which makes Skittles), created a remote-controlled Skittles Cloud robot and thought they’d trot it out to reporters to reinforce the ads.

My team in New York loves Skittles. They accepted the request to host the Skittles robot, and thought they’d get a nice, harmless, feel-good story about a magical robot that feeds them candy.

But what arrived in our New York office was a remote-controlled robot that, in everyone’s opinion, pooped Skittles.

skittlepoop

During the robot demo, the PR rep must have known things were going amiss. After the meeting, but before our story ran, our writer got an email from the PR rep pleading,

Could you leave out any mention of pooping Skittles?

I had to make the call on this one. And I had to come down on the side of accuracy. Which is to say, the robot that visited looked like it pooped Skittles. That was its strongest impression, so that’s what went in the headline. To say anything else would have been inaccurate and a capitulation to PR. We were expecting to have fun with the Skittles bot, not make fun of it, but ultimately, how could we not?

Read the story here: Skittles Made a Candy-Pooping Robot, and It Visited Our Office.

USA Today had a similar take: A candy-filled cloud? Skittles unveils new ad campaign

That’s the way it goes. If yout stunt crashes, that will be the story, and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.

Related Reading:
Tip #206: Sound it out

Leave a comment

Filed under Bad ideas

Tip #213: Know your audience

Understanding jargon is a big part of covering technology. But no one reporter knows all the buzzwords. So saying that “everyone is talking about” acronyms you can be sure that most people have never heard before (except the geeks in your particular industry subset) is a waste of an opportunity to connect.

Dear Rafe,

Everyone is talking about SDN and NFV. But at Mobile World Congress 2014, [[company]] will go beyond the buzzwords and conduct the first public live demo of its Distributed NFV (D-NFV) solution.

On the other hand, you don’t want to talk down to people, either. Because then I’ll do another Pro PR Tip that’s the exact opposite of this one. So you can’t win.

Unless you know who you’re pitching.

3 Comments

Filed under Common sense, Email

Tip #212: This Pitch Will Amaze You!

It’s come to this, has it? Pitches are taking style hints from Buzzfeed and Upworthy? While it may work to get pass-along readership from the jamokes surfing Facebook, when you’re trying to pitch a writer, maybe focus on substance.

Or not. What do I know? This might be the way we all communicate now. “Kids! Get ready for school. What you’re going to learn about fractions will blow your mind!”

Subject: This woman went to the Mac App Store for personal finance software. What happened next will amaze you.

She bought Quicken Essentials.

She bought it because it was the brand she trusted — because that’s what everyone uses.

The poor woman never even noticed that Essentials is a four-year-old product, developed for… Snow Leopard. It hasn’t seen a single update in almost 10 months. It’s practically abandonware.

But she soon figured out: hey, this sucks. And so she returned to the Mac App Store, and bought the next-best-selling personal finance manager, iBank 5. It’s full-featured, it’s only been out a couple of months, and it’s already had four updates! The developers really care!!

In fact, the fifth update, iBank 5.1, is now available as a public beta. It incorporates over 100 new features and fixes.

When the rest of the world gets the message, this iBank 5 thing is going viral.

This really doesn’t make me want to cover the product. Way too much hype, not nearly enough substance. But I do appreciate the energy.

By the way, I’m working now a new site, Yahoo Tech. Send me your (informative) consumer tech pitches here.

2 Comments

Filed under Bad ideas, Email

Tip #211: Young at heart

Hi Rafe,

I wanted to follow up with you to see if you would be interested in setting up an interview with Joe [[Somebody]], co-founder of [[some company]].

Joe is a bright, young (under 40) executive who would love the opportunity to introduce himself to you…

Look, this is technology, not Congress. “Under 40″ isn’t young. In fact, for execs between 30 and 40 you should probably instead say, “experienced multiple-time entrepreneur.” If you can’t, what the heck was Joe doing for the past 20 years? Doesn’t he believe in startups?

So what’s young? This is young:

Brian Wong on a slow day. (Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET)

Brian Wong on a slow day. (Photo by Rafe Needleman)

Brian Wong is the CEO of Kiip, a brilliant mobile marketing and advertising company. He was 18, I think, when I took this picture. He gets a pass on not having three previous startups. Maybe.

Here’s my metric for “young:” If I can legally buy the CEO a beer in a bar, he’s not young.

See also: Brian Wong mines happiness (CNET)

1 Comment

Filed under Lies

Tip #210: Why so mysterious?

This may be the worst cover letter I’ve ever received.

Subject: [Company I don't know] Launches Exciting New Solution Upgrades

Dear Rafe,

I hope this email finds you well.

If you haven’t already heard, [Company] announced today the general availability of a major new set of upgrades to our solution. For your convenience, I have included a copy of the press release below.

We’re making amazing progress with our solution, largely due to excellent customer-driven feedback and the fact that we have a phenomenal development team.

If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to share more information on the value proposition we bring to the market and/or engage in a demonstration of our solution’s capabilities.

Kindest regards,
[Some guy] (press release follows)

What do you think the chances are that I will read the press release? I’ll tell you: Zero. Because this email just annoyed me. It says exactly nothing about what the company does or why I should care. Next!

1 Comment

Filed under Email

Tip #209: Type abuse

Let your words tell your story. That’s what they’re for. Using multiple emphasis styles in your writing is not clever, and it looks like spam…

Rafe, Remember [[a company I don't remember]] whom you wrote about for CNET? Thanks by the way – you’re on our Buzz Page:

The social enterprise “workhorse” for business, offering more than social chit-chat – is changing the process and pace of work of 5,000 largely deadline-driven companies, getting products to market, meeting news deadlines and delivering campaigns – fast. One customer summed it up, “I’ll never again work in a company that only relies on email.”

Fast Adoption & Sustained Usage Bypasses E-Mail
A customer’s employee user adoption spiked to more than 75% of the office after just 20 days of deployment; employees consistently collaborate with between 500 to over 1,000 daily posts during the typical work week.

Mobile adoption is already outpacing desktop usage, making it critical for the mobile app to work as hard and as well as the desktop. On April 24, [[Company]] will launch a new mobile app (40% faster) with all of the robust capabilities for work on the go. New, industry-leading advisors formerly at YouSendIt, TechCrunch and Yammer have joined the team and also will be announced.

Please let me know if you are interested in a briefing and/or reporting on this story …

 

In the example above, fully 67% of the words are emphasized with bold, italic, or underlining. It’s counter-productive. As any designer will tell you, when everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.

1 Comment

Filed under Bad ideas

Tips #208 to 217: Class is in session

This one started with one ill-advised tweet and spiraled in from there. Thank you, Ziklag Systems!

The tweet that launched a two hands' worth of tips.

The tweet that launched a thousand Pro PR tips.

Each of the following crimes against the media could be its own Pro PR Tip. Many already are. It’s also true that some of these flops are more important than others. But since this one tweet led to so many great PR lessons, I thought a list here would be educational.

Crime #1
Contact via Twitter. Unnecessary and annoying. (I also got an email).

Crime #2
In all caps.

Crime #3
From a new account whose only purpose, so far, has been to send the same spam tweet to journalists.

Crime #4
Say What Systems? This company is new to me, and it’d be nice to know what it does. The tweet didn’t help. That’s too bad. It could have.

But since you have managed to get my attention, I might as well check out your main Web site. Which leads to more lessons…

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Bad ideas, Common sense, Twitter

Tip #207: How far will you go?

Elyse TKTK, CEO of Tealet.

Elyse Peterson, CEO of… what was that again?

You have a startup? Fascinating. Everyone has a startup.

Your challenge: Get noticed, and get remembered. It’s highly advised to appear at work events with some form of your logo on your clothing, but apparently that’s not enough these days. Witness this photo of Elyse Peterson, the CEO of Tealet, a grower-to-consumer tea distributor. She’s pitching at the 500 Startups event I am at. She looks ridiculous. And those peacock features must snag on things as she walks around.

But of all the companies about to pitch here, I’m pretty sure Tealet will be one that everybody remembers. How far will you go to be remembered?

Leave a comment

Filed under Meetings

Tip #206: Sound it out

Seriously?

Seriously?

This is a promo postcard I picked up at MacWorld. I think it means App Store Optimization, Limited Edition. But for most people spying this out of the corner of their eyes, I do not think it means what you think it means.

2 Comments

Filed under Common sense

Tip #205: Yay for lazy writers!

After years of working in the mainstream tech press, most recently at CNET, I now find myself removed from the grind of traditional journalism, working at Evernote on the platform team. I’m still writing about startups, in a column called Opportunity Notes, but since my goal with this column (and my Evernote job overall) is to actually and tangibly help entrepreneurs, and not just generate pageviews for a media company, my perspective on journalism is different. As a writer, I can relax.

Except, no, not really. I’ve been covering technology for over 20 years, and I have old-fashioned standards that transcend the company I’m working for. When I write about a product or a business, even if it’s for our corporate blog, I won’t write what I don’t believe or understand, and if the story can be made better by actually talking to someone involved in the product I’m interested in, then by God I’m going to make a call. I worked that way at CNET, at Red Herring and Byte and InfoWorld before that, and I work that way now.

You’d think that’s what all journalists and bloggers do. Especially in such a competitive media environment. But they don’t. Not anymore. The drive to be first on a media company-run site means that some writers post some stories without doing journalism. I know this because I am now advising entrepreneurs on how to work with the media, and more than once, when I have given the standard advice — form a relationship, craft your pitch, be prepared to answer questions — the response I’ve gotten has been an incredulous look and a question like, “Shouldn’t I just write the story for them?”

“Oh no,” I say. “Writers hate that.”

But unfortunately, some (not all, but enough), do not. Entrepreneurs are telling me that they are being asked, by writers, to send them more pre-digested stories.

I’m getting this intelligence from another angle, too: I find companies to cover, often, by reading about them in other sources. To prepare my own stories, I call the entrepreneurs running these companies. In too many cases (two in the last two weeks), these entrepreneurs have told me that I’m the first writer who has actually contacted them before writing.

And I’m not even working for a news site anymore.

Cue the indignation. Feels good.

But let’s move beyond that. Because this is actually a great thing for you PR people!

Now all you have to do to get your story out is write it yourself and plant it in the hands of the right writer. The PR tip for today is this: Learn how to write the story you want to read about your company or product. Basically, that means writing a press release that sounds like a news story. There’s a fighting chance that that is exactly the story that will run — and least the first story.

And hey, if you’re working with a startup or anyone doing a new technology, drop me a line, too. Just a line. Not the whole story. Save that for the poor schlub who lives by the pageview, and has to churn out six stories a day.

5 Comments

Filed under Reporting