Author Archives: Rafe Needleman

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.

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Filed under Reporting

Tip #204: It’s a press release, not a graduate thesis

While there’s something perversely beautiful about a press release that’s aimed way over the heads of the reporters who are likely to get it, please remember that the generally-accepted protocol is to at least hint at what you’re talking about in plain English, so the clueless journo who receives it can figure it out if he or she knows anyone who possesses the knowledge to decipher it. Then it can be forwarded. Opaque releases get dumped.

Happy Holidays! Thought I’d update you on LexisNexis Big Data as we roll out new use cases in the upcoming year!

HPCC and Hadoop are both open source projects released under an Apache 2.0 license, are free to use, with both leveraging commodity hardware and local storage interconnected through IP networks. Both allow for parallel data processing and/or querying across architecture. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that certain HPCC operations don’t use a scatter and gather model (equivalent to Map and Reduce), but HPCC was designed under a different paradigm and provides a comprehensive and consistent high-level and concise declarative dataflow oriented programming model.

One limitation of the strict MapReduce model is that internode communication is left to the Shuffle phase. This makes iterative algorithms that require frequent internode data exchange hard to code and slow to execute (as they need to go through multiple phases of Map, Shuffle and Reduce, ea representing a barrier operation that forces serialization of the long tails of execution). HPCC provides for direct inter-node communication at all times and is leveraged by many of the high level ECL primitives.

Another disadvantage for Hadoop is the use of Java for the entire platform, including the HDFS distributed filesystem — adding overhead from the JVM; in contrast, HPCC and ECL are compiled into C++, which executes natively on top of the OS. This leads to more predictable latencies and overall faster execution — we have seen anywhere between 3 & 10 X faster execution on HPCC when compared to Hadoop on the exact same hardware.

Would love to explain more — any chance to set up a meeting or call on this?

Best,

[Professor Incomprehensible]

When I was a tech magazine editor, my general rule was to make 10% of the stories in each issue over the head of the majority of the audience. I wanted to give readers something to shoot for, and to show them what was beyond the horizons of their knowledge.

But I do not think this is a good guideline for press releases.

Hat tip: Pat Houston.

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Filed under Compassion, Email

Tip #203: Business in the front, party in the back

Thinking about printing something on the back of your business cards, as is the rage right now? Here’s a tip: Don’t put anything on the back that should be on the front. In other words, don’t put your company name, your name, and email on the front, and your Web address on the back. Don’t put your Twitter handle and email address and company name on the front, and your name on the back. Don’t put your name, Twitter ID, and Web address on the front and relegate your company name, in big bold logo colors, to the back.

I’ve seen all of these things, and they infuriate me. Why make extra work for people? Worse, why make extra work for people who use scanners or business card capture apps like CardMunch or Evernote Hello? (Disclosure: I now work at Evernote.)

Look, I get it, that white space on the back of those cards beckons. Blank looks cheap. So use the real estate for your logo, or a coupon, a photo, or something fun. But don’t forget that all the standard contact information — all of it — should be on the same side of the card. Please.

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Filed under Common sense

Tip #202: I’ll take unrelated tangents for $400, Alex

I’ve seen plenty of pitches that stretch from current events to product news, but this one wins the Infinite Gap award, no question:

Hi,

We’ve all looked forward to this summer’s movie blockbusters, Spider-Man and Batman we’re both good movies but the real excitement starts with Object Storage :-) I wanted to share with you the top 5 must haves to look for when evaluating an Object Storage solution. Give it a read below, feel free to use the content and let me know if you need more info.

PS: Batman was the better movie, thoughts?

A list of 5 ultrageek things related to “object storage” follow. The company name isn’t even mentioned until the “about” paragraph after the list.

And although I hate to kick a decomposing horse, please, PR folk, learn English. Apostrophe’s have they’re place’s. Elsewhere, generally. Also, regarding smileys: If you feel the need to wink at me in text, rewrite that sucker.

Finally, What do you think you’re doing associating your product with a tragedy? The Batman movie is tainted. At least to journalists, who always have an eye on the news.

Thanks to: Stephen Shankland

See also:
Pro PR Tip #184: Piggyback
Pro PR Tip #167: Don’t bury the lead

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Filed under Common sense, Email

Tip #201: Don’t you dare cut me off

That is what they say about YC startups, isn’t it?

Ok, maybe not so much a tip, since watching out for this all the time could drive you insane. But maybe you want to consider what your company name might look like if it gets truncated through no fault of your own.

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Filed under Email

Tip #200: The oxymoronic press room

Oddly, the press room at an industry event is not a good place for press releases, nor for press relations people to hang out. It’s where writers go to write, for the most part. Some press rooms have stacks of press releases that journalists can grab if they want, but the pros rarely do.

Here’s the worst thing you can do, which just happened to me at the MobileBeat conference: Walk up to a writer hunched over his computer, you know, writing, and drop a press release folder on the table next to him while mumbling something about what it is. Trust me, this is not going to get you coverage. As Drew Olanoff said to me, “I don’t like real-world spam any more than email spam.”

Bonus Tip! You see all those MacBook Airs that we’re writing on? Yeah? Then why did you put a CD in your press kit, and not, say, a USB stick?

Mega Bonus Super Score! Good job not labeling the CD, either.

Unwanted, unloved, and unlabeled.

See also:
Pro PR Tip #111: Fling.
News.com coverage from MobileBeat: Zynga CEO on future of Mobile.

Yow! I made it to Pro PR Tip #200! I’d like to thank all the hard-working PR professionals who’ve managed to screw up and make this blog possible. You guys rock. 

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Filed under Meetings

Tip #199: What kind of circus is this?

I don’t usually write Pro PR Tips about stories that carry my own byline, but man, I had to hold my nose when I pasted this bit into today’s story about the Yahoo/Facebook patent battle resolution. From the official press release:

Going forward, Yahoo! and Facebook have agreed to work more closely and collaborate together on multiple tent-pole and anchor events annually over the next several years to provide unparalleled experiences for consumers and world-class sponsorship opportunities for advertisers.

As usual, emphasis mine.

Am I supposed to know the difference between a tent-pole event and an anchor event? Can one event have both tent-poles and anchors? That would seem to me to be the safest. And what if there’s neither? Is that like doing something outside in the open air?

I just don’t know how to dress for these things, assuming I get invited. And can I bring a guest? Someone help a guy out.

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Filed under Compassion

Tip #198: Don’t subject me to this

You know you’re competing for attention with PR reps who actually do the work, right?

If you can’t be bothered to write a subject line, why should I bother opening your email?

Check out this screen grab. All these emails are from the same firm, which specializes in infuriating me. “Helpful app?” “New Tech Trend?” Yeah, that stands out.

Bonus crime! This outfit also likes to use “Follow up” as a subject line when it’s the first message on a topic.

By the way, this is from the same PR company responsible for Pro PR Tip #178: Fool me once. The only reason I haven’t blacklisted this entire outfit is because it’s such a good source of bad PR.

See also: Pro PR Tip #98: Make it snappy, Sweetheart.

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Filed under Email

Tip #197: Assistant Executive Superstar. Got it.

This email warmed my heart. Or would have, if I had one.

Hi Rafe,

Hope you are well! I wanted to reach out to introduce myself and let you know of a new client my agency has brought on board which I think will be of interest to you. My name is [musical girl's name]  and I’m an Account Superstar at [whatever] Agency, based in SF. My official title is Assistant Account Executive, but I strive to be a stellar reference to my close contacts as well as tell my client’s stories as they deserve to be told – and “AAE” just doesn’t serve my goal justice!

Short Pitch… [Sorry, didn't get this far]

Emphasis mine.

Listen, you adorable young thing, I’m a crusty old jerk who doesn’t give a damn about your hearts and unicorns. Can we just get straight to the business? Thanks.

Related Pro PR Tips:
Tip #167: Don’t bury the lead
Tip #98: Make it snappy, Sweetheart

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Filed under Email

Tip #196: Gone and forgotten

If you get me on the phone, and you ask if I got your e-mail, which you shouldn’t, but if you do, and I say, “I don’t see it here,” then I’d like you to know a few things.

First, I’m not lying. When someone reaches me and asks me that question, I check.

Second, I also believe that you sent it. It’d be a dumb thing to fib about.

So where is it?

Deleted. And already forgotten. Sorry.

Journos get lots and lots of email pitches. We delete out of hand the ones that don’t look right for us, or anyone else we work with. When you call and I can’t find your email, it means that it was one of the messages to not make the first cut.

I don’t know how you should respond to this. You could try to pitch me on the phone. Most people do, and 99% of the time, I begin to vaguely remember the email. And why I deleted it. Awkward.

Or you could just save everyone a bunch of time and say, “I’ll re-send it,” and ring off. And not call back about it.

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Filed under Email, Phone