Author Archives: Rafe

Tip #217: Beware the brand promise you can’t keep

If your business is all about keeping promises — say something like insurance, or perhaps Web site hosting — you really want to make sure that when the chips are down, you can actually make good on those promises.

This comes up because today I visited Luke Rehmann’s  password-checking site, from a link in a BGR story we ran about a big password hack. Rehmann’s site is getting hammered as I write this (my analytics show that the story about the hack is one of the biggest we’ve run in months) and it has buckled under the load.

The site  is apparently using CloudFlare, which claims to provide robust, distributed Web hosting. But when I went to the site, I got this message:

Search_Mark_Burnett_s_10_Million_Usernames___Passwords

Click to zoom, or just trust me that it says, “This page is currently offline. However, because the site uses CloudFlare’s Always Online technology, you can continue to surf a snapshot of the site…”

Needless to say, if the site is a database lookup service, then a snapshot of it does not count as “online.”

Now, to be fair, CloudFlare does not actually claim to be running Rehmann’s entire site. The CloudFlare service caches the Web front-end to the site, but the database that the site hits is, likely, not part of the system. So the site can give you the cached version of the site, but it can’t do anything about the database, which appears to be swamped. That’s not CloudFlare’s fault.

But the messaging is all wrong. CloudFlare’s banner at the top of the site seems to say, “Use CloudFlare and your site will never go down,” when, in fact, CloudFlare can’t make that promise — because it’s not designed to do what’s necessary to keep a database site online.

If the whole point of your product, as spelled out in its brand, is to do a thing, then your product should do that thing. If it doesn’t, sending out self-contradictory messages will just confuse people, and probably annoy the crap out of your customers.  

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Filed under Common sense

Tip #216: It’s “Yes I Got Your Press Release Season” Again

Tablet Man. (Photo: Rob Pegoraro.)

Tablet Man. (Photo: Rob Pegoraro.)

From Rob Pegoraro, writer on the site I edit (Yahoo Tech), this useful post for every PR person going to CES in January: Why yes, I did get your CES PR pitch.

The upshot: optimize for convenience. Recognize you’re competing with not just a million other announcements for coverage, but interminable Las Vegas taxi lines as well.

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Filed under Trade Shows

Tip #215: Stickers for notes

At TechCrunch Disrupt, during a quick stand-up meeting with one of the “demo pit” companies, the startup CEO I was talking with tried to stick a big logo sticker onto the page of the notebook I was writing in. As you can imagine, I didn’t take kindly to this action. But after a moment of reflection, it came to me: Notepad stickers are a great idea. If you do them right.

Here’s what I mean by doing it right: Get some stickers printed up. Logo, company name, your name, email, phone. A small sticker, with small black type and a  transparent background. When you’re talking to a reporter, give them the sticker to put onto their notes. So convenient! (And if they later scan their notes into Evernote, as I do, it will OCR the key data so much better than trying to read handwriting.)

Just remember to not try to put the sticker on their notes for them. Eww.

If you do this, let me know how it goes over.

See also:
Pro PR Tip #103: Agency, Shmagency.
Pro PR Tip #24: No, I will not sticker my laptop

Reminder: Since January, I’ve been the editor of Yahoo Tech. We cover consumer technology. Pitch me.

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Filed under Common sense, Reporting

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

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Filed under Lies