Diary of a PR Amateur

My Grandma Made A Fool of Me Once … Once.

August 9, 2010
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It’s so funny when you run into someone who thinks s/he is smarter than you. Perhaps that doesn’t happen to you very often. But to me, it seems to happen all the time. I imagine it comes from the other person’s general insecurity.

Anyway, in response to my simple inquiry regarding the results of the media tour, I received this from John at the agency:

“Joe –

Thanks for the email, and for including (my company’s CEO) in the cc line. I am surprised that you needed to ask about it, given that we sent you a full report on the tour the day we returned from San Francisco. (By the way, I hope you can go next time. SF is a great town.)

Anyway, I’ve attached my original email summary to this email so you and (my company’s CEO’s first name) can both review it. In short, it was a major success, and I hope we can do this every 3-4 months.

Please call me with any questions and/or concerns.

John”

What a jerk. What kind of an agency guy cc’s the CEO on an email designed to make me look bad? Well, I decided to put him in his place, so I responded with this – without cc’ing my company’s CEO:

“John –

Thanks for the re-send. I don’t think it makes sense in the future to waste (my company’s CEO)’s time with these kinds of emails. Perhaps you should just send these kinds of things to me in the future.

Thanks, and by the way, I found the formatting in the summary to be confusing. Please make sure it is done properly next time.

Joe”

Danny Vermin's got nothing on me.

So that’s the end of that, and I think I’ve made clear who’s running the show at this point.

By the way, there are big things on the horizon here for me. I just found out about a potential salary increase for myself. And I plan on bringing it to the attention of my boss tomorrow.


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.


Think You’re Up To It?

June 29, 2010
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Sometimes, when running a campaign and an agency relationship, you have to get tough.

Yesterday was a perfect example.

As you know, we have a major media tour coming up next month. And I will not allow this agency to ruin my potential trip to San Francisco, so I have been, uh, prodding them along a bit. And the way I see it, they and I – as well as my company – stand to benefit from this initiative.

And that is why I thought it would be a good idea to check in with John first-thing yesterday morning, even though I had already sent him that email over the weekend.

But his assistant answered the phone.

Assistant-to-John: “Hi, Joe. John isn’t available to speak with you right now. Can I give you another member of the team?”

Me: “Well, it’s very, very important that I speak with John right away.”

Assistant-to-John: “I know, but he can’t speak with you now. Can I connect you with someone else?”

Me: “Oh, alright. Give me ear-boy, uh, I mean, give me Dan, please.”

Assistant-to-John: “Right. Very well. Here he is.”

(phone ringing)

Dan: “This is Dan.”

Me: “Dan? It’s Joe. How are you doing?”

Dan: “Hi, Joe. I’m doing fine. How can I help you?”

Me: “I just want to know how many interviews and briefings you have booked so far for the media tour.”

Dan: “Joe, we just started working on this on Thursday, and it’s now first-thing Monday morning.”

Me: “Dan, are you listening to me? I asked you a question. I don’t need a history lesson. How many things have you booked for San Francisco so far?”

Dan: “One, but we have …”

Me: “Thanks, Dan. Now listen. Are you listening?”

Dan: “Yes.”

Me: “(My company’s CEO’s name) is expecting a full schedule, and I’d hate to be you – or John – if we get to the media tour date and the schedule is not full. And we need top-tier. None of this www.crappytechblog.com garbage. Do you think you’re up to it?”

Dan: “Of course, Joe. We wouldn’t have recommended it to you if we didn’t think we could get the job done.”

Me: “That’s what I want to hear. By the way, have you been following the World Cup?”

Dan: “Sure have. My father’s Brazilian, so I’m feeling pretty good these days. Hoping they win today against …”

Me: “Dan, I couldn’t care less about the World Cup. I just want a full schedule for my CEO. Claro?”

Dan: “Yes. It’s clear.”

Me: “Actually, I don’t even know Portuguese, but I did know that one phrase from a movie. I guess, since your father is from Brazil, you know Portuguese, huh?”

Dan: “Yeah. Um, anyway, Joe, have a good day, and we’ll be sure to get those interviews booked. Do you want John to call you back?”

Me: “Nah, that’s okay. It seems like you and I are in synch, Dan, so no need to John to call. Talk with you soon.”

Dan: “Bye.”

So, you see, This proves that if you rule your agency with an iron fist, not only do they fall in line, but they give you genuine respect.


An Important Week

June 27, 2010
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Here we are, with just one week standing between me and a three-day weekend, thanks to the curious law that a holiday taking place on a weekend gets an extra day following the weekend as the official national holiday. Not that I’m complaining.

Anyway, what this means is that I will need to see serious progress on the media tour front, so that I can begin to plan my trip to the West Coast.

So I’m going to be putting significant pressure on John and his team leading up to this holiday weekend. In fact, I already started pushing by sending the following email to John, cc’ing not only our CEO and my boss (the VP of marketing), but also the board member who had recommended John’s firm as the PR agency we should hire:

John –

I’m glad you are comfortable implementing my idea of a media tour to San Francisco. Given that (my company) is a hi-tech company, that is an important market with many top trade publications. As we discussed, your goal will be to secure 11 meetings over the three days, with five of them having to be from the top-tier.

I know it’s a challenge, but as you have assured me time and time again, you and your team are up to it.

Please let me know if I can be of any help.

Regards,

Joe

Will John Check His Blackberry Today (Sunday)?


What’s best about this is that I am sending it to him on a Sunday. So either he’s checking emails with his Blackberry, in which case he is already going to be thinking about the tour 24 hours before starting work tomorrow, or he’s not checking emails, in which case he’s going to be majorly bummed out come Monday morning when he reads it.

But hey, he’s the one who decided to work for an agency, rather than working in-house … like me.


A Media Tour

June 24, 2010
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I got a call from John today, asking me if our CEO would be open to a media/analyst tour in the next month or so.

But I’m no dummy. I know the reason he asked about that. He just wants to have a nice few days in San Francisco. So I told him that it sounded like a great idea, and that he should get moving on booking it ASAP.

Meanwhile, I’m going to find out when our CEO is free to travel to the West Coast, and I’m going to make it clear that it is I, and not John, who will be heading out there for the tour.

But I’m not going to tell this to John yet. What I told him on the call was that we’d do the media/analyst tour, but only if he booked at least seven meetings/interviews. And I told him that at least three of them have to be top-tier, with outlets like Red Herring, wire services and the Wall Street Journal.

I want him working really hard to earn “his trip” to San Francisco…


Cruise Control

June 21, 2010
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One of the things I love about being the client – remember, I worked for an agency for a bit as well, so I know both sides – is that there are times when you can shift into cruise control and let your agency do the heavy lifting for you.

After the lunch meeting John and I had, I believe we came to a nice understanding, and he and his team – I must admit – have produced some nice results in the last week, including an interview with BusinessWeek and a nice piece about our technology on one of the New York Times blogs.

And it’s exactly during times like this that I love my job, because I’m able to just sit back, play some Bloons, and let the agency make me look good.

As it happens, I received an email this morning from John. It read as follows:

Joe –

We are achieving nice traction in the market, especially given the nice recent NYT blog coverage. But we need to put out some announcements to keep the momentum going.

Is there anyone at (my company) who we can speak with to mine a bit for potential announcements? We’d like to get a nice bank of press releases going so we can send one out every so often.

Please advise.

John

I don’t understand what he’s stressing out about. I mean, we’re getting things done these days. Why do we need to distract ourselves by focusing on writing and approving announcements?

I think I’ll let this one ride. On the one hand, if I respond to him that his request isn’t necessary, he’s going to probably push me to speak with some guys here. On the other hand, if I respond that his request makes sense, I’m going to have to be the one to do the legwork to connect his team with the subject-matter experts here.

But if I ignore it for now, I get to keep on chilling out for a while.

I know, it’s a no-brainer. I love cruise control.


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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