A couple of weeks ago I was in a small yet luxuriously decorated room beneath a London hotel, taking part in a "Meet ZDNet UK" evening laid on for various PRs by tech marcom firm Fullrun (If you think Tech Marcom is the name of a film noir detective, I would like to emigrate to your world. Send forms). One of the things we talked about was the art of effective press releases - or, indeed, adequate ones. Many don't even get as far as our inboxes, as they fall foul of the spam filters.
As you already know, Professor, spam filters work by spotting various clues within a message and assessing how likely they are to add up to it being spam rather than legitimate correspondence. The trouble with press releases is that they're awfully like spam already - impersonal, over-written promotional documents advertising something slightly sordid. Stuff like embedded HTML, coloured text, CAPITALS, attachments, weird abbreviations and so on only enhances the resemblance - and so PRs who concoct that sort of release will frequently find that it goes nowhere.
What is less frequently known is that a reverse process takes place in the mind of a journalist when scanning a press release. If enough plus points are amassed, something wonderful happens and the thing gets through to the next stage. This is something that Helen Carroll of Octopus Communications clearly understands when she managed to couple today's Silly Sod story - City lawyer is a complete berk to his secretary, is discovered - to one of her clients.
Briefly: a solicitor at Baker & McKenzie was at lunch with his secretary, who spilled tomato sauce on his trousers. He had them dry-cleaned, and then emailed her asking for the four pounds that cost. She's late paying, because she's sorting out the small matter of her mother dying, and he leaves a Post-It note on her desk to remind her.
That story had all the things that makes a chap on a deadline go ping. World's biggest law firm embarrassed? Five points. Underdog gets own back? Five points. Solicitor specialist in computer law and electronic commerce undone by email? Five points. And the killer? Trousers are involved. Ten points. Ping ping ping.
Alas for Ms Carroll, her client - Autonomy owned Aungate- undoes the good work. Aungate? Sounds like a scandal involving Japanese sects. Can't even pronounce it. Minus five points. What it does - email tracking. Ooops, sorry, it's a "total communications management solution". Dullsville. Minus five points. Connection with real story - minimal. The damage was done outside the company, after the email had escaped, and nobody's trying to hide anything. Minus five points. Any mention of trousers on Aungate website? None whatsoever. Minus ten points. Ah, well.
But you can't hang a woman for trying, and a darn fine try it was too.