As an industry analyst, I receive a fair number of press releases and PR pitches via e-mail.
Most are fine, along the lines of, "Hello, we're announcing our latest whiz bang Zing! product...." The standard format is a first paragraph containing the FBO statement (First, Best, Only), then a short product description, followed by quotes from the company president (and sometimes a customer or analyst), and then the "About the Company" boilerplate. They're stories putting a positive spin on a new product or service, but that's fine: they're about markets I cover, and as long as I have my bullshit detector shields up, they're one of the ways I stay abreast of what's happening in the market.
However, some I get are just bizarre, and consequently do the pitching company more harm than good. They're about product categories I don't cover and never have, or contain pitches that make me go, "Huh?" For chuckles, I'll give you some examples (and resulting lessons), and to keep things semi-short, I'll only use examples from this week.
- Simply Irrelevant -- This week I received press releases about: (1) an e-Learning company that had signed a deal to do training for a networking company, and (2) the release of some "real-time application development tools for Novell SUSE Linux platforms," neither areas that I cover. These are no big deal -- I sent off e-mails to both senders, asking to be removed from their mailing lists, and both replied with, "Oops, sorry about that" messages. Lesson: Scour your mailing list from time to time. While you're incented with metrics to get the word out (sending an e-mail out to 50 editors and analysts is considered better than sending it out to 25), you're creating some ill will if you're sending it to those who don't care.
- Irrelevant, Pitched by a Banker, and Thinks I'm a Magazine -- On Tuesday, I received a pitch from an investment banker: "I have recently begun providing institutional sponsorship and investment banking services to a company that I believe fits your publication's space." He goes on to talk about a vendor that provides "electronic merchandising services for front- and back-end fulfillment operations." Huh? I don't think I've ever gotten a pitch from an investment banker before. Also, I don't cover companies that automate the production of software CDs, and I don't run a magazine. Lesson: If you do something like this, the conclusions I will draw is (1) you have a clueless investment banker who doesn't know who he's talking to and isn't spending his time banking, and (2) you are not doing well if your investment banker is also your PR person. If you can't afford a PR person, the CEO or VP of Marketing should be beating the bushes, not your banker.
- Looking to Get Face Time for a Non-Expert (and Again, Thinks I'm a Magazine) -- On Monday, I received an e-mail that began, "Hi Guy, just thought I'd check in and see if you were planning on doing a follow-up story on today's news from Aberdeen Research that cites a substantial rise in on-demand software usage? If so, I'd love to have our CEO at [company that offers online e-mail, calendaring services] be available to you for comment." This is one of those, "We'll seize any hook we can find to get PR" e-mails. Some background. Aberdeen Group is an analyst firm [I'm familiar with it, I used to work there] that now covers the supply chain market. The report notes [SupplyChain Review story here] that Software as a Service has done well in the Sales Force Automation space. According to Aberdeen's figures, it is starting to see similar success in Supply Chain, in areas such as transportation management, supply chain visibility, collaborative forecasting, inventory optimisation, and demand-supply synchronisation with suppliers and contract manufacturers. However, the CEO the PR firm wants me to talk to does not work in these areas; he runs a company that offers online e-mail and other office services. This is like pitching a bicycle expert to talk about the car market: yes, he can offer general insights into transportation, but he cannot give detailed guidance on the impact gas prices are having on SUV sales, new features car manufacturers are pondering, etc. Lesson: If you're going to pitch an expert, do so; don't pitch an amateur. And once again, I don't do "stories," I do reports. Separate out the mailing lists (and change the wording appropriately) so that one goes to reporters/editors, and another goes to analysts.
- Emulating Spam -- I received a press release from an A/B testing company this morning, and the format was fine. However, there was no subject line in the e-mail, and the sender had her name in all lower case, e.g., "joan smith" (not her real name). Given the volume of e-mail I get, I almost deleted it as spam. The only reason I didn't was I saw the abstract flash by in the notification box as Outlook delivered it. Lesson: Put a meaningful title on your e-mail and use a proper-looking name, like everyone else. Otherwise, at the very least, your announcement looks amateurish; at the worse, it looks menacing -- neither very good outcomes in a profession devoted to positive spin.
So, that's this week's collection of PR goofs and guffaws. I suppose I could turn this into a regular column, but that would get kinda depressing....