Category Archives: Common sense

Tip #221: What do you do again?

I get about one of these a week:

From: UltraCorp
Subject: A Followup from UltraCorp

Dear Rafe,

This is Suzie from UltraCorp.

I’ve noticed that you haven’t been using UltraApp lately. We would really like to make UltraApp more useful for you, and it would help a great deal if you could tell us what went wrong. [Etc., with more whining. Also, I changed the names.]

The problem with this email, other than the fact that it’s sad and desperate, is this: I don’t know what went wrong, because I forgot what the product is and what it does. You’re assuming that I know something I don’t. And you just lost an opportunity to re-sell me on it.

Now, I’m sure there was a good reason I downloaded or signed up for it in the first place. I was probably excited to use it. Maybe it did just what I needed.

But then the need diminished, and I forgot about it. That happens. So what’s the best way to handle that? By reminding me of the product name?

Of course not. You need to remind me what WhateverApp did for me, or how it made me feel. Anything else is a massive failure.

Here’s what these letters should look like:

Hey Rafe, I’ve noticed that you haven’t used MomApp lately. According to our logs, you signed up for MomApp, the #1 app for reminding you to call your mom, on January 15 this year, and used it six times.

Remember, MomApp is the #1 service for
* Setting reminders to call Mom
* Telling you the top trending topics in Mom calls
* Keeping you up to speed on what you mom’s friends are posting on Facebook.

If you still need to do these things, try MomApp again! We even just added a new feature: Now we’ll remind you to call Dad, too!

If the app let you down in any way, we’d like to know why. Our engineers are always improving MomApp! Reply to this email and let us know.

We’d love to see you on MomApp again. So would your mom.


In other words, don’t look at user fall-off as a failure. Look at it as a way to delight the customer with your pitch all over again.

Keep it upbeat!

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Filed under Common sense, Email

Tip #220: What is it?

This is what happens to teams that are so insular they assume everybody out there in the real world shares their frame of reference:


This ad appeared in my Facebook stream. But what is the HP Elite Slice? A Wifi router? A USB hub? A computer? A doorstop?

(Spoiler: It’s a computer.)


Update: They fixed it!

See also:
Pro PR Tip #213: Know your audience

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Filed under Common sense

Tip #219: Have a code

Oh, this is great: PR firm Publicize has a page of “Principles When Contacting The Media.” Very nice. Hope the company can actually live up to them.

Live the code.

Live the code.

Do have an internal code of conduct for yourself or your firm? Is it public? I think it’s a good idea. Especially since most of these principles are already Pro PR Tips!

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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:


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.  


Filed under Common sense

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 #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.


Filed under Common sense, Email

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


Filed under Bad ideas, Common sense, Twitter

Tip #206: Sound it out



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.


Filed under Common sense

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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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:


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


Filed under Common sense, Email