Category Archives: Bad ideas

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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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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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.

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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…

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Tip #192: You can’t be serious

Just because you take yourself seriously, it doesn’t mean I have to.

This tip is for everyone who’s pitching me to cover their smartphone case or revolutionary screen cleaning product at CES next week. You’ve been warned.

Hat tip: Paul Sloan

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Tip #161: Don’t gross yourself out

If the pitch makes you want to wash yourself after writing it, don’t send it.

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Pro PR Tip #154: Why 2010 will be like 1984

Just got this doubleplusgood announcement from Apple regarding the company’s press conference tomorrow (September 1):

Apple® will broadcast its September 1 event online using Apple’s industry-leading HTTP Live Streaming, which is based on open standards. Viewing requires either a Mac® running Safari® on Mac OS® X version 10.6 Snow Leopard®, an iPhone® or iPod touch® running iOS 3.0 or higher, or an iPad™. The live broadcast will begin at 10:00 a.m. PDT on September 1, 2010 at www.apple.com.

Emphasis mine. Yep, that’s “open” in Apple’s world: It only applies to Apple hardware. Even Safari on a Windows computer doesn’t qualify.

As a PR stunt, it is brilliant. If nothing else it’ll give people a reason to run Safari on their Macs tomorrow. (I haven’t used the app myself in months.)  And it’s a great demo for HTML 5.

But as worded, it reads Orwellian. This is shaping up to be a great case study in how companies lose the trust of the people who cover them. You get a free pass on a certain amount of doublespeak. Apple’s running way beyond that. It’s not an example worth emulating.

(By the way, I’ll be covering the Apple announcement on CNET Live, starting at 9:45 a.m. Pacific time.)

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