Diary of a PR Amateur

The Brainstorming Session

July 15, 2010
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Oh, what a session it was yesterday. Ben & Jerry’s. Pringles. Great ideas. But there was a much more important outcome as well.

Here’s a minute-by-minute rundown:

10:00 – I am sitting in the conference room by myself, with all 12 pints of Ben & Jerry’s and all nine tube-cans of Pringles open and ready to be eaten. In addition, I have set up the room by basically wallpapering the room with those oversized post-it poster-pages. We are ready to roll.

We had the Ben & Jerry's, but would we get the ideas?


10:03 – The product marketing guys walk in. As expected, they go straight to the Pringles, each grabbing a tube-can and dumping out a hand-full of crisps. Strangely, neither says hello to me. They just sit down at the table.

10:04 – The VP of Marketing (and my boss) walks in. His jaw immediately drops, and he has a shocked look on his face as he takes his seat.

10:05 – The R&D head walks in and grabs one of the pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Chunky Monkey, I believe.

10:07 – I begin the session: “Thanks for coming, everyone. As you can see, we have a lot of snacks that will hopefully encourage your creativity. And you should feel comfortable helping yourselves … but only after you have said something that I will wrrite down on one of the poster-pages. So, Greg, please put back the Ben & Jerry’s. And Dennis and Chris, hand back the Pringles.

“Okay, the first issue we want to address is our logo. Do we like it? If not, how do you think it needs to be changed?”

10:08 – My boss points out that the company’s logo is not up for discussion, as well as mentioning that it’s not even my responsibility, so I should move on to the next topic. I quickly write this down, unshackling him from not being allowed to eat the snacks. And it pays immediate dividends, as he reaches for a tube-can of Pringles.

10:10 – After a bit of debate about whether we are free to discuss the logo – after all, it is a brainstorming session and anything should be fair game – we move on to the next topic, which is one of my favorites: the website.

10:11 – My boss once again points out that the company’s website is not part of my responsibility. I respond by asking him, “Fine, then what should we discuss?” The room is getting a little warm.

10:11:30 – My boss suggests we discuss press release ideas.

10:12 – The product marketing guys begin to rattle off a bunch of ideas, reaching for the Pringles as they speak. “Not so fast,” I say. “I’m not so impressed with these ideas.”

This is no environment for creativity. You have to spice it up ... and stick poster-paper on the walls!


10:13 – My boss corrects me and says that all four of their ideas would make solid announcements. I grudgingly add the four ideas to the poster-paper behind me.

10:14 – The head of R&D, who minutes earlier picked up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s without my permission, and kept holding it, even when I told him to put it down, adds three ideas of his own, concerning development milestones that are coming up. I add them to the list.

10:15 – My boss asks me why I had to use money from his budget to buy so much junk-food, when I could have just as easily just walked around to the participants’ offices to obtain the same information.

10:16 – “Any other ideas?” I ask around.

10:16:05 – My boss leaves the room, and then everyone else begins to shuffle out as well, grabbing pints and tube-cans on their way out with one hand … and high-fiving me with the other. “Great party,” adds Chris.

10:18 – I remove all the poster-pages from the walls and take stock of how much food is left. We still have 10 pints of Ben & Jerry’s that have not been opened, and six tube-cans of Pringles left over. I smile.

You see, a brainstorm isn’t so much about how many ideas can be generated. It’s about instilling a jolt of energy into the team. And if upper management is not going to do it, I sure as heck will. The guys left that room smiling yesterday.

And I’m smiling, too, because all the extra food came home with me.

I’d say that’s a success. Wouldn’t you?


Dog Days of Summer

July 12, 2010
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Every once in a while, it behooves me to pull something out of my bag of tricks. Today and tomorrow will be one of those times.

You see, summertime is a little rough in the PR business. Since there are so many vacations, I just can’t seem to get myself motivated to do the research necessary to get press releases out there.

Of course, my agency (which has improved dramatically recently) is doing what it can, but we still are basically in maintenance mode these days.

So I went rummaging through the recesses of my brain and found a gem: We’re going to hold a brainstorming session.

Why? Well, back in my agency days (months, really), the account team would put together a brainstorming session to get the creative juices flowing. But more importantly, they would arrange for good snacks.

So that’s what I’m going to do. We’re talking Ben & Jerry’s and Pringles, two of my favorite all-time treats.

I guess I have to invite colleagues as well.

The topic will be “Headlines We Want For (My Company).” The idea is that if we can conceptualize some headlines, that will make it easier for me to get my agency to pitch those ideas. Because again, I can’t really get myself motivated to find out what news items my company has for my agency to work with these days.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on how it went. Until then, I have serious planning to do … Cookie Dough or Chunky Monkey?

Ah, what the heck. It’s not my money anyway (I’ll expense it.). I’ll buy both. And three different flavors of Pringles also.

And Coke. Definitely.


What The …

July 8, 2010
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To say that yesterday did not turn out the way I expected is an understatement. As you may remember, my plan was to surprise my agency by showing up, unannounced, and giving them a major motivational speech that would give them the fire in their collective belly necessary to get the media/analyst tour scheduled so that I would be able to accompany our CEO to San Francisco.

So I drove out to their offices and parked my car in the visitors’ lot. I walked in and was asked who I was there to visit.

I told them to let John know I was there to see him.

“One moment,” answered the receptionist.

She picked up the phone and began whispering something into the mouthpiece, periodically looking at me while she whispered.

“John is on the West Coast today,” the receptionist informed me. “Is there anyone else I can call for you?”

“On the West Coast?! What the heck is he doing on the West Coast?!” I shouted. “Get me Dan … you know, the guy with the big ears.”

“You mean Dan (last name), I believe.”

A minute later, Dan was standing in front of me.

“Dan, what is this I hear about John being on the West Coast? He should be here managing the booking of our media/analyst tour. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t fire you guys.”

“Joe, why don’t you come to the conference room and we’ll talk it through,” said Dan, way-too-calmly.

“I don’t want to go to the conference room! I want answers now! Why is John on the West Coast!?” I yelled.

“Fine, Joe,” said Dan. “If you must know, he thought it would be a good idea to fly out to San Francisco to reconnect with some of his top-tier media friends, in the hopes of setting up interviews for (our CEO). Anyway, what are you doing here today? Did we have a meeting scheduled?”

“Dan, can you get the team together?” I asked.

So the John-less team gathered in the conference room and I did the only thing that seemed sensible, given that John had demonstrated clearly that he was, indeed, committed to getting results on this effort.

“What do you think you guys are doing!? Why is it that John’s the only one putting any effort into this? I thought I was paying for an agency, not a one-man team! Listen, I demand excellence, and you should be demanding it of yourselves! How can you look into the mirror at the end of each day, knowing that you are not giving everything you’ve got for your most important client?”

Dan put up his hand.

“Yeah, Dan, what do you want?” I barked.

“We have 11 interviews booked already, Joe. I think we’re in good shape.”

And suddenly, in my mind, it became clear that I will be headed to San Fran at the end of this month after all.

The Likelihood of My Trip to SF Is Less Foggy Now


“Thanks, Dan. Just be sure to confirm and reconfirm the meeting times.”

And I walked out of the room. So maybe I didn’t have the opportunity to give the motivational speech I know I am capable of giving. But I did get to accomplish something …

I did stop at that Mexican place. And I did get those nachos. And boy, were they good.


My Name is Joe, and I AM a Motivational Speaker

July 6, 2010
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One of my favorite skits on Saturday Night Live was the old Chris Farley (may he rest in peace) bit where he plays the role of “Matt Foley,” a supposed motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river.”

I expect my agency to be paying attention when I do my motivating.


It’s a classic, and I remember even as a teenager thinking, “Man, that guy isn’t much of a motivator. I think I can do better, if I had the chance.

Well, you all are aware that I have a major upcoming trip to San Francisco in the works, and it can all come crumbling down if my agency doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.

So I decided to give John at the agency a call yesterday, even though it was a national holiday, to make it clear that this is an initiative to be taken seriously.

I’ll spare you the details of the call, but the bottom line is that it is now clear to him. In fact, his last comment to me was, “It’s amazing that you are calling me on a holiday just to check in about the media tour, Joe. Have a good day.”

That shows me that he is quite impressed with the attention I am giving this effort.

But I know what it’s going to take to ensure this media tour is a big success. I will have to pay my agency a visit to outline to them how to get the job done. But that’s just window-dressing. The real reason I want to visit them is to put into action that amazing motivating talent I have.

I know it will be well-received.

Hopefully, they will all be there tomorrow, when I will pay a surprise visit – further illustrating the urgency of the matter.

Of course, I could do the conversation over the phone, but there is no match for face-to-face, in terms of impact. Also, visiting their office will entitle me to lunch, on (my company), and there is a fantastic Mexican place on the way there that serves the best nachos in the world.

But again, the motivating speech that I will give is the real reason I’m going.


Lunch

June 16, 2010
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How another preposterous PR yahoo became involved regarding the highly demanding area you marketing (or media relations) people and I have been reading and writing about is beyond me. But nonetheless, here I was on Monday, face-to-face with John, our snazzily-dressed agency guy, at one of the area’s finest restaurants.

But I’m no fool. I knew he was going to leave my company with the bill at the end of this in any case, so I purposely ordered light … just a bowl of soup and a roll.

He, of course, ordered a steak, the jerk.

Anyway, the conversation was pleasant enough. Here’s a snippet:

John: I just thought it would make sense, given your disappointment – and the fact that it seems there is a disconnect regarding media targets – that maybe we should get together, away from the office, and talk through some things.

Me: Okay. What’s on your mind?

John: Well, for starters, I have a feeling that you aren’t pleased about the details surrounding my firm being hired by your company. And even though that decision must be frustrating for you, given that you had already issued an RFP, I just want you to know that we see you as our client. You are the day-to-day decision-maker, and we realize that it is you we have to impress.

Me: Well, you’re not doing such a good job of that so far, John.

John: I understand that, and that’s why I thought we should get together. So let’s start with the media targets. Which outlets are most important for you?

Me: Well, as I said the other day (It’s always good to start comments that way, because it makes the other party feel like an idiot for having forgotten what you’ve told him/her.), BusinessWeek, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are the top. That’s why I am paying you. But we also care about the tech trades …

John: Like c|Net, ZDNet and TechCrunch?

Me: Ha! I know what you are doing, Mr. Cuff-links! What? You think I’m going to say that you guys are doing a good job just because you got those three? Not a chance.

John: Now, Joe, take it easy. Remember, I’m just trying to get us calibrated here. I’m not here today to convince you we are doing a better job than we are doing. I just want us to leave here on the same page.

Me: Fine. So yes, those three are important … but there are others as well, and I want to make sure we are in them.

John: Agreed. Can you please send me your “wish list?” We will then be quite clear on what our targets really are.

Me: Sure, but why don’t you send me what you think it should be and I’ll approve or edit it.

John: Fine.

That’s generally how the conversation went. John spending time trying to show me how great he and his team are and me not taking the bait.

I swear, when is he going to realize that we are not on the same team here?

Oh, by the way, just to rub in how much of a jerk he is, John paid. I think he did that just to make me feel like an idiot for only ordering a bowl of soup.


Back … With a Vengeance

June 13, 2010
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Well, I returned to the office on Friday (You always want to return to the office on a Friday. It’s a nice way to demonstrate to your bosses that you are not just packing it in for the weekend …), and called my agency to find out the latest.

John: John (last name).

Me: Hey, John. It’s Joe, from (my company).

John: Joe … how are you feeling? I hope you appreciated that we left you alone so you could get better.

Me: Really, John? You’re going to pull that with me? I know the facts. I’ve been in your shoes. You’ve not been leaving me alone. You’ve been slacking off. I’m trying to figure out whether you guys are actually going to get anything done for us.

(Now, you must understand that I didn’t actually think that about John and his team. But I’ve learned that if I wildly exaggerate my disappointment in my agency, it makes them work all that much harder for me.)

John: Well, we are trying to get results. Did you see the pieces we secured for you with c|Net, ZDNet and TechCrunch? If not, I can re-send the emails.

Me: Listen, John. We can all get stuff in lame on-line magazines. But I want the big stuff. I want BusinessWeek. I want the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times. That’s what I’m paying you for.

John: Actually, in our initial brief, you talked about how the world is changing, and that you expect us to demonstrate that we’ve changed with it. I distinctly remember you mentioning TechCrunch as a key for us. Well, we got it for you. If you want us to shift our focus to business media, we’ll do it, but …

Me: I think you know what I want from you. Listen, I have to go to a meeting, but we’re going to talk more about this. Talk to you then.

John: Uh, okay, bye.

You see, the key is to always keep them off-balance. That’s the only way to be sure that you keep the upper-hand in the client-agency relationship.

Five minutes later, John called me back on my cell phone.

Me: John, I’m in the middle of a meeting right now. Can we talk later?

John: Joe, no problem, but I think it might make sense for you and me to get together one-on-one and figure out where things are and where they should be going.

Me: You sure you want to do that, John? Maybe we ought to get the whole team together.

John: Yes, I’m sure. Why don’t you come to our office Monday and I’ll take you out to lunch. Then, we can talk.

Me: Oh! Is this because of the popcorn tin?

John: What? What’s a popcorn tin?

Me: Never mind. Sure, I’ll see you Monday at noon.


How It Is Done

June 1, 2010
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Well, we are about a week into the relationship with the new agency and I’m already getting a little sick of their excuses.

We met today for a status update and I asked them why there hadn’t been any articles about us yet.

Their predictable response was that they had been in discussions with several top reporters and editors, but that it was too soon to expect articles, or even interviews.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Give me the name of one of the reporters you are targeting.”

“(name), at (magazine),” said John, wearing a fine suit, without a tie.

“Okay, what’s his phone number?” I asked.

“I can get that for you,” said Dan, whose ears were particularly large-looking today.

“If you can’t tell me their phone numbers without even looking at a list, it means you are not calling them often enough,” I suggested.

“His number is (xxx)xxx-oooo,” said Dan, looking it his media list.

So I dialed the number and had a conversation with the reporter, giving him a pitch about my company and suggesting that maybe he should speak with our CEO about the company’s latest developments.

He asked me again for the name of my company, which I told him, and then, of course, he gave me the line I have learned to expect from reporters, based on my almost six years of experience.

“Send me some background on your company and I’ll take a look.”

“Listen (reporter’s name), I know you want to approach every company the same way, but we are different, and trust me when I say that it’s not everyday that you run into a company with unique, revolutionary technology like (my company)’s. So what do you say we skip the formality of sending you info, and we set up a briefing with our CEO for next week?”

I looked at the agency team and winked, feeling like perhaps I just helped not only my company, but also the agency team learn a very important lesson about PR.

“What? Oh, okay. I’ll send something … Yes, I have your email address. Thanks.”

Most of the agency guys were so impressed that they had nice smiles on their faces. I asked Dan to send background information on (my company) to the reporter.

The only one not smiling was John. I wonder why. Perhaps we should have a one-on-one conversation later in the week.


I Knew John Hill … You’re No John Hill

May 25, 2010
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Well, as expected, I met yesterday with the new agency that management thought would be the right agency for us and boy, was I right about not wanting to work with them.

Luckily, I’m good enough that I will make them look so much better than they really are, which, in turn, will make me look even better to my bosses.

Anyway, here’s what happened, which I will run through in time-line format:

9:58 – The agency team shows up, obviously arriving two minutes early to impress us. They are shown into the conference room and asked if they’d like something to drink.

10:04 – I show up to the meeting, four minutes late, to demonstrate that I call the shots here and that they wait for me, not the other way around.

10:06 – My boss shows up.

10:07 – The top guy in the agency introduces his team of four people. One of them has ears that should have been pinned back when he was a child. One of them is wearing a shirt with a button-down collar. However, it is not buttoned-down, and it’s driving me crazy. One, the top guy, is dressed so perfectly that he’s immediately lost my respect. After all, if he’s dressing that well, he must be charging clients too much money. The fourth one, a woman, is a typical marcom chick-type. She’s paid more attention to her hair and nail-polish than her understanding of our business, I’m sure.

10:10 – My boss asks me my impressions of the introductions, and where we should go from here. I stand up.

10:11 – I begin … “Well, those certainly were interesting introductions, John, but I want you to know that as far as I’m concerned you can throw all that experience, all those awards, and even your first name out the window. You know, there was another John in this industry way back when. And he ultimately proved himself. He opened up his own firm. It’s called Hill and Knowlton. You, over there with the ears, your name is Dan, huh? Well, there’s another Dan in this industry, Dan Edelman. Built his own firm, too. It’s called Edelman.

“What have you built? Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters … except for what you can do for (my company).

“I’m going to be your best friend and your worst enemy. I’m going to be in your face and continually pushing you to achieve. And you’re going to thank me later because I’m going to enable you to do things you didn’t even think you were capable of doing.

“Next steps? Ha! I’m not sure I understand the question. We hired these guys to give us their advice, and I’m expected to provide next steps? I don’t think so. So, John, what are our next steps?”

10:16 – John, the top guy, explains that he received from my boss the plan of action I wrote and took the liberty of editing it a bit. He then presents it to the group, giving me full credit for, as he called it, “facing the blank page,” which is a euphemism for “boy did it stink, but it was better than nothing.”

10:18 – I decide that I can’t stand John and his fancy clothes.

10:20 – I’m now spending all my energy calculating how much money John makes by running his agency. Must be at least $500,000 a year after taxes.

10:25 – John finishes presenting MY plan of action and my boss is nodding his head like a bobble-head doll. I’m embarrassed to be associated with him.

10:26 – I explain that plans are one thing, but actual results are how the agency will be measured.

10:27 – Mr. Fancy-pants agrees with me. He’s obviously doing this because he knows I am smarter than he is.

10:30 – 10:45 – We outline team responsibilities. I explain that, with all my responsibilities, they will have to spend a lot of time chasing me for answers and approvals. Dan reminds me that I earlier said that I would be in their face, but it’s fine with them either way, and they look forward to working with me and proving to me that they are up to the challenge.

10:46 – Meeting adjourns. I offer to walk them out, but my boss says that it’s probably better if I get back to my responsibilities, so he will walk them out.

10:48 – I write my first email to our agency. After all, when you are trying to move the PR needle, there is no time to waste.

Are they the agency I would have chosen? No. Does John wear nice clothes? Yes. Are Dan’s ears too big? You have no idea.

But the fact remains that these guys are the cards I’ve been dealt, so I have to make the best of it.

And you know as well as I do that I will …


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