Jul 14

A different type of pitch for this PR guy

Pictures 060 Thanks to freelance publicist extraordinaire Greg Schmalz, this blogger had the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at last Friday night's Lakewood BlueClaws game.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but to a guy who grew up loving all things baseball, it was huge. I'd even call it a bucket list kind of thing.

It was unbelievably cool to take the mound in front of 7,200 fans (most of whom had naturally turned out to see the heralded RepMan's pitching debut). And, I need to thank Tommy Powers, the David Clyde of credit unions, for warming me up prior to my big moment.

Once given the ball, I'm pleased to report that I grooved a high, hard one right down Broadway and smack into the catcher's mitt. In fact, I think I spied a feint puff of dust explode from his mitt as a result of the ball's impact. And, like a crack addict, once I'd thrown one pitch, I needed to throw more. Lots more. I was ready to toss seven or eight strong innings had the BlueClaws felt the need to call upon the skills of a crafty, veteran lefty. Alas, no such summons was forthcoming and I dutifully returned to my seat in the stands.

Now that I've thrown out the first pitch in a professional baseball game, I need to move on to new, and even cooler, challenges. Maybe Sir Paul McCartney needs a stand-up comedian to open for him on his next tour? Maybe not.

Oct 15

Attention vendors: “Your feelings mean nothing to us. Thanks again for wasting your time and money chasing our business”

I know I sometimes sound like a broken record, but I cannot believe how poorly some  
prospective clients treat the agencies competing for their business.Wspicture3

For example, there's a certain Midwestern home appliance maker that more than six months ago rushed us to develop a presentation, travel to their godforsaken headquarters and deliver a two-hour pitch. After awarding the business to another firm, they've refused to respond to our repeated e-mail and voice mail entreaties asking for feedback.

And, then there's a certain well-known consumer brand that just really put us through the ringer.

The top communications honcho called me about two months ago. She said we'd come highly recommended and invited us to be one of a “…few, select firms” to pitch her seven-figure account. She asked if we had conflicts. I assured her we did not.

So, she issued the RFP and we answered the typically inane, 'fishing expedition-type' questions ('Tell us how you'd break our brand through the clutter and overcome the poor economy to once again become number one in our field.” Prayer was one obvious answer.).

We submitted our lengthy proposal before the 5pm EDT deadline on the appointed day and crossed our fingers. Surprisingly, we heard right away. The lead prospect asked me to visit her HQs ASAP for an “informal working lunch.” Wow. Good sign, no?

So, I moved around my schedule, hopped in a car and traveled to god's country for the command performance.

Once there, I was greeted by the prospect, who carried a dog-eared, Post-it flagged copy of our RFP. We ate lunch. (She didn't treat.) In between bites, she'd flip to a given page, skim down to a section and say, “So, on page 22, section three, paragraph two, you say you'd jump on breaking news opportunities for us. Give me an example from today's news to show me how it would work.” Fair enough. But, the questions became more arcane and more intense up to, and including, how we KNEW our program would guarantee a sales increase. I told her the G word didn't enter our vocabulary, whether it's applied to media or sales. That seemed to cause some mild indigestion.

The 'lunch' ended and I returned to the office. The next day, I sent her a spot-on example of a breaking news story she could leverage on her organization's behalf. She responded effusively and said I'd given her the ammunition necessary to make some decisions. That sounded promising.

And, then, radio silence. Two weeks passed. I sent a follow-up note. No response.

Then, yesterday, came a note headlined: “To vendors.” It read: “Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, you are not being invited to the final round.”

I was appalled, but not at all surprised. I shot the erstwhile prospect a note, asking for an explanation and letting her know that we had expended lots of blood, sweat and tears pursuing the account. At the very least, common decency dictated a personal phone call.

That said, I expect the same type of radio silence from this character as we got from the 'Midwestern nice' prospect.

I'm at a loss to explain why highly-paid, highly-educated and highly vulnerable corporate types treat their agency brethren with such indifference. If the economy doesn't turn around and these 'overhead expenses' find themselves on the streets, their reputations will precede them. In other words, I won't be inviting either of them to a working lunch anytime soon.

Jun 09

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Guest Post by Anonymous

June 9 Once upon a time, people relied on this cool invention called a telephone to remotely communicate with others. Then, e-mail came onto the scene and people practically forgot about this nifty communication device. While e-mail can be a time-saving method for getting messages out, it can also be unreliable ― an aspect that can be a reputation killer in today’s fast-paced business world.

For example, a reporter recently sent me a request via e-mail, which I gladly would have replied to if I had received it. However, due to the mysteries of e-mail servers and fiber optic cables, the message never reached my inbox.  Instead, it ended up in that black hole known as “cyberspace.”

Now, you may think this seems harmless, but this reporter was extremely offended by my lack of response (mind you, I was completely unaware of his request). Rather than pick up the phone to determine if I received his message, he decided to email the head of my company and bash my PR skills. Thankfully, my boss knows I would never be so unprofessional so he did not take this to heart. However, if I did not build this rapport with him this email could have completely damaged my reputation. 

All that said, my advice to everyone is to remember that e-mail is not always reliable. So whether you are managing your reputation or others’, if  e-mail is not getting the job done, take AT&T’s advice: “Reach out and touch someone.” 

Sep 18

I Don’t Like the Energy Level in this Room

Freelance Publicist Extraordinaire Greg Schmalz often forwards blog suggestions to me. And, more often than not, I act on them.

Today, Greg sent me a fascinating survey undertaken by the Society for Human Resource Management. Unbeknownst to Greg, though, his idea prompted a different blog than the one he intended.

That’s because I have a Pavlovian response whenever I see the SHRM acronym. It immediately reminds me of one of my all-time worst new business experiences.

Back in the early years of this century (sounds romantic, doesn’t it?), I’d nurtured a lead within SHRM’s management hierarchy. I knew they were doing a lot of publicity work and was hoping we might snare some of it. And, sure enough, it paid off. We were invited to pitch a significant program with a sizable budget. The goal: to advance the image and reputation of human resource managers and increase their credibility with the C-suite.
Cool. We can do that.

There was one major hitch, though: we needed a strong public affairs/lobbying firm with whom to partner. And, back then, we didn’t have one. So, we needed to scramble. My partner, Ed, had a college buddy who worked with one of DC’s most powerful law firms. He happily agreed to join our team. We also added Dr. Richard Harte, our strategy consultant, to what we thought would be a presentation dream team.

Instead, it became a nightmare.

To begin with, we were scheduled to present at the very end of the day. As we waited outside the conference room for the competing agency to wrap up, we heard lots of hearty laughing. Ugh. Not good.

Finally, we sauntered in. It was already 4pm. We were tired, but the SHRM people were even more fatigued. Some yawned openly. Undeterred, we went ahead. The first part went fairly well. There was some head nodding and a few grunts. But, then, we came to the public affairs/lobbying part. And, that’s when all hell broke loose.

Not only did the SHRM president disagree with our lobbyist guy’s recommendations but, worse, he disagreed with hers. They actually started arguing with each other. One could cut the tension with the proverbial knife.

And, that’s when Dr. Harte stepped in as only Dr. Harte can. He shouted "Stop!" He told us he didn’t like the energy level in the room and asked us all to stand up and stretch our limbs. Talk about bizarre. If looks could kill, we were already dead, if not buried.

We somehow stumbled our way through Harte’s recess, discussed the budget and a few other items, but it was like attending a wake. In this case, our own.

And, sure enough, the call came the next day. "We really liked what you had to say, Steve, and will be back in touch if things don’t work out. But we’re selecting a global agency partner. Thanks again for your time and effort," she sniffed.

I’ll never forget the SHRM battle or Ed’s buddy. Funny how one experience can color one’s feelings about another person, place or thing. That said, I’m not liking the energy level among my readers right now, so I’m going to ask you to stand up, stretch and share your new business war stories with me.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

Aug 28

Might This Be the Next Chapter in “The New Adventures of Old Christine?”

I admire initiative. And, I have a special love for entrepreneurs, what with Peppercom and all. So, when I received this unsolicited e-mail pitch from "Christine," I was initially impressed:

Attention Entrepreneurs & Executives,

Do you have a unique business or product that you want everyone to know about TODAY?

Get a $1 million dollar publicity campaign with expert publicists working for you for as little as a couple of dollars per day.

How much is an appearance on the "Good Morning America" TV show worth to you?

Join the many happy product innovators that received this offer in the past and can claim great exposure and unheard of income.

Note:  A new media campaigns launch on September 1st.

There is a selection process, so CALL ME TODAY and watch your sales SOAR Sky High.

I look forward to talking with you today,

For more details, call Christine at xxx-xxx-xxxx or send her an email at xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com

Testimonials available upon request.

Then, I noticed the wording: "Get a $1 million publicity campaign with expert publicists working for you for as little as a few dollars a day." Hmmm. Well, okay, since this pitch is aimed at "entrepreneurs," I can certainly understand the price-cutting angle. We still receive lots of calls from small start-ups who would love to work with us, but have only a fraction of what we’d need to implement a program. So, yes Christine, those one and two-person start-ups should be your targets.

But, to suggest that "executives" of substantial companies would receive the equivalent of a $1 million publicity campaign by retaining your services is disingenuous at best.

I don’t know exactly what you do, but I’m guessing you have a Rolodex of media to whom you’d pitch the entrepreneurs’ products and services. Fine. That makes sense. But, to suggest that your smiling-and-dialing is in any way comparable to a sophisticated, million dollar public relations program is simply wrong.

Smiling-and-dialing is purely tactical and not the appropriate strategy for most, if not all, Fortune 1000 companies. Corporate executives like the ones we’re working with are struggling to understand the nuances and subtleties of the new media landscape. Smiling-and-dialing publicity pitches are just one small part of a much larger and more sophisticated outreach.
So, I wish you and your fellow expert publicists well, Christine. But, I suggest you edit
your blast e-mails. First, limit the distribution solely to entrepreneurs with limited budgets. Second, don’t suggest that your one-dimensional efforts are in any way comparable to a rigorous, multi-faceted PR program. That’s like saying The New Adventures of Old Christine is just as good as Seinfeld.