Just in case any press relations professionals are reading this, here's a quick course in some essential skills that may have grown rusty over the long summer break. All the material in this course comes from PR "best practice" activities enjoyed by me and my colleagues and recently, and is presented as a free gift from us to you.
As a bonus thrill, the companies involved are given at the end of Friday's entry. See if you can match up who said what, and win the respect and admiration of your friends!
Rupert's PR Masterclass - Monday
When a publication runs a story saying your client is Number One by a long way, and then talks about the changing fortunes of numbers two and three, get on the phone to the journalist responsible and complain vigorously about how they didn't say enough bad things concerning number three. Of course, this in no way alerts the journalist to any company you might see as a particular threat, nor does it encourage them to contact the object of your affections and ask, "just what is it between you two?" Tuesday 2/9/2003
Hot news from north of the border, where canny Scots hoteliers are importing illegal jammers that prevent mobile phones from making or receiving calls. "Och, no service" think the hapless punters, who promptly pick up the bedside telephone and incur those legendarily tariffs that have given so many travellers a pleasant surprise. And what do the suppliers of these delightful boxes have to say for themselves? "This is a way to enforce etiquette of mobile phone usage where polite persuasion has failed."
I like that. I expect it to come up again when 'Grinder' Noggins is up in front of the beak for his latest armed robbery. "What, the shotgun? Oh that was just a way to enforce the etiquette of their advertised credit policy where my filling in the form for a loan had failed."
There are legitimate uses for such things: they're popular, if that's the word, in prisons and other secure areas where the powers that be don't want the inmates to have too much freedom to organise activities in the outside world. And a friend wants to modify one so he can zap mobiles on the move -- an idiot piled into the back of matey's car while nattering at speed, and it would be nice, thinks my pal, to make 100 yards around his motor a No Call Zone. As said friend has previously worked for the sort of company who make radar-guided missiles, I think that's the least he could do.
Rupert's PR Masterclass - Tuesday
Invite a journalist to an event attended by your client, and encourage the client to get pally with the jouro -- exchange business cards, express mutual admiration, slag off Man United, all those sorts of bonding things. Then, when the journo next wants to get some review kit following a launch, make sure that this never happens -- and where possible, ignore that journalist as much as possible.
It's fun being Microsoft. You get to do things that would have lesser mortals slapped in irons, and you don't even have to say sorry. Take the case where Burst, a multimedia streaming company, is suing Microsoft because, Burst says, Microsoft ripped off their technology. Not out of the blue, of course: Microsoft first got into negotiations with the company, but then decided not to bother. Instead, they launched their own technology, which Burst says is theirs. Off to court with 'em, says Burst, where as part of the game both sides have to hand over all documents pertaining to the deal that never was.
Microsoft hands over a huge chunk of email, which strangely enough has nothing covering the period of their negotiations with Burst. "What email?" asks Microsoft when challenged. "Oh, that email. We deleted all that. Burst's technology was so rubbish, you see." Er, what? The judge is not impressed, and Microsoft has to come back when it's found the backups.
Still, it's not the first time Microsoft has presented evidence to a court that proved to be less than stellar. Remember the video that showed you couldn't remove Internet Explorer from Windows 98? Oops. But it doesn't seem to have done the company any harm -- any more than losing the court case against Stac. Who? Oh, a company that made disk compression software, called Stacker. Run it, and you apparently had much more disk space.
Microsoft thought this was a really good idea, so they promised to do the same thing. Only they couldn't -- so they "borrowed" Stac's patented ideas (alongside a whole host of other dirty tricks, outlined here) and the whole thing ended up in court. Eventually, Stac won -- but by then, it had been destroyed as a company.
Could MS have afforded to do the normal thing and just license the technology? Of course. But why should it?
Rupert's PR Masterclass - Wednesday
When you take 24 hours to get back to a journalist on a hot story, especially when that journalist has been trying since yesterday to find someone -- anyone -- who'll talk to him in your maze of PR companies spread across two continents, it's really good to start your email with:
"It’s disappointing that you did not make more of an effort to contact us to get our side of the story on this case before posting what, in essence, is an inaccurate account…"
Nice. Note how you've implied that the journalist is both lazy and careless, thus making them feel contrite and keen to do better before even hearing your side of the story. The perfect opening salvo to get them on-side. On no account, make sure any of your local PR companies are properly briefed and able to deal with this matter quickly: this ruins the effect.
In an effort to make us think Microsoft is really a wholesome, apple-pie and motherhood company in no way involved in anything kinky, pervy or painful, the company has launched a new mouse. In black leather. Mmm.
Which makes us think: whatever happened to those haptic devices? The mice that simulated the texture of different surfaces as you rolled it along? They were disconcertingly good: you could choose marble, granite, leather (again), sand, all manner of different tactile feedbacks to give your hand something to tingle about as you did your daily clickathon. Other good mouse ideas that have gone by the board include odometers, telling you how far you'd dragged your rodent that month, mouse massagers that gently buzzed when you cradled them, giving you a nice burst of relaxation in the middle of your working day, and stress sensors that checked your skin conductivity and cued in some soothing music if you seemed to be getting a little fraught.
Individually, all these things have failed to, er, click. But put them together, and you can have the complete hand workout spectacular. In fact, add something like a tiny electric shock when you cause an error and you've got a total SM dungeon in the palm of your hand -- and it's safe for work.
Rupert's PR Masterclass - Thursday
When you organise a big launch party in a posh joint, make sure you keep the grotty trade journos well away from the good stuff. This is particularly easy to do if you get them in the morning, give them the usual spiel, then shepherd them out into the street as you escort the Really Important Journalists from FHM and the Mirror in, alongside whatever B-list celebs and other extra treats you might have planned. That keeps the plebs in their place!
OK - that's the end of Rupert's PR Masterclass! I hope you've enjoyed this brief refresher course, and are ready for that pre-Christmas push into the party season (and special thanks to Virgin Mobile for the first festive invite. Hey, doesn't that summer heatwave seem a long time ago?).
In no particular order, the companies concerned were: Microsoft, IBM, BT, Apple. Match them to their faux pas, email it in and the first right answer wins a rare and special gift -- I (the journo) buy you (the PR) a beer. Thrillingly perverse, eh?
Not to say that many other smaller companies and their PR agencies aren't capable of acts of genius -- we particularly like the press release from companies that the PR says lead their field but we've never heard of. It's even better when the release itself is five paragraphs of dense jargon that never mention what it is the company does, who it does it for or why we might care.
We also like press releases from research companies that say things like "enticed by increasing customer enthusiasm, vendors continue to overhype their capabilities", which we think means companies promise more than they can deliver in order to get the contract. Blazingly obvious and densely incomprehensible: both good.
Keep 'em coming!