Mr. Whippy at the Ryder Cup, Dishing Dirt on Innovation and That Pesky “Send” Key

Today brings a grab bag of business storytelling for easy consumption.

Here goes —

Incredible Product Placement and Mr. Whippy Didn’t Pay a Quid

It turns out there was more than one winner at the Ryder Cup.

Not only did the Euros trample that happy-go-lucky bunch from the U.S.A., but Mr. Whippy — Scotland’s famed purveyor of ice cream — managed to dominate a New York Times photo that was part of the per-Ryder Cup coverage without paying a bloody quid.

Mr. Whippy at Ryder Cup

It’s a shame Mr. Mickelson didn’t make a stop at Mr. Whippy. While there’s no correlation between the consumption of ice cream and being able to stick a seven iron, at least Mr. Mickelson wouldn’t have been so grumpy.

Lest you think Mr. Whippy’s free pub was a case of being in the right place at the right time, check out this section on its website that shows a dash of PR savvy.

Mr. Whippy Services

 Update (10/15/14)

I am a fan of HARO, the service that puts journalists in touch with sources.  While I can certainly be a rule breaker as my Mom will attest — feel free to post a comment, Mom, and let the good folks at HARO know this isn’t the first time — I found their cease-and-desist email a bit harsh.

From: Kathryn Gaab, Senior HARO Editor, HARO Publicity From Vocus []
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 10:55 AM
To: Lou Hoffman; ‘’
Cc: Alyssa Banks
Subject: HARO Warning

Good afternoon Lou,

Thank you for using HARO. A fellow HARO user has brought to our attention the fact that you have reposted HARO queries on your blog ( ). Please note that this violates one of our Five Rules of HARO  (found here: as well as our Terms of Service (found here: ). We ask that you kindly remove this information from your website. Please note that this is a warning. Continuing to post queries on your blog or failing to abide by our other rules or Terms of Service will result in further action.

We thank you for your understanding and cooperation in this matter.

Best regards,

I guess asking nicely isn’t as effective as the threat of legal Dobermans.

I have blacked out the offending copy (below), but for the record a simple “Hey, we don’t allow HAROs to be published so would appreciate you removing the one in your 10/12 post” would have had the same effect.


Financial Times Trigger-happy at the Keyboard

I sent out this tweet on the first Thursday of the month in the morning.

Financial Times Email

A few minutes later this arrived in the mail.

Financial Times email

Actually, I wasn’t wondering.



If Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, We’re the PR Agency That HP Built

HP’s decision to cut along the dotted line and create two companies signals the end of an era.

We supported HP’s communications efforts from 1988 to 2002 when the Compaq merger resulted in a game of musical chairs with the PR agencies … and left us standing. To this day, the experience rates as one of the most painful in my professional life.

The loss involved more than just revenue. We had grown up with HP by landing a sliver of the HP business in 1988 – the application support division (ASD) and specifically the transfer of minicomputer documentation from paper to this crazy invention called CD ROM – which kept growing and growing.

And we kept learning and learning.

Up to that point, my business experience consisted of rising to shift leader at Straw Hat Pizza during my college days. Say what you will about the Carly drama and Dilbert-like bloat that came toward the end of our tenure, HP was a damn good role model. For those prepping for a game of HP Trivial Pursuits, the R&D manager for that documentation on CD ROM project was none other than Ann Livermore who later came in second to Carly in the quest for the CEO reins.

I got my first exposure to problem solving when HP’s corporate communications function informed the ASD general manager, Marc Hoff, that he wasn’t allowed to hire me since “I wasn’t sanctioned by corporate.” It’s safe to conclude that the PR stewards at HP weren’t keen to welcome a one-person PR agency which had opened for business two months prior.

“No problem,” replied Hoff. He promptly had his assistant rescope the engagement characterizing me out as a CD ROM consultant who would support communications as opposed to a PR consultant supporting a CD ROM application.

And we were off and running (sorry about the photo below; not easy to find a shot from 20 plus years ago).

HP CD ROM - PR storytelling

One of my all-time favorite quotes was uttered during an HP LaserRom press tour in New York when a journalist asked the HP developer why HP didn’t program the CD ROM application in Windows: “Have you ever tried to write Windows code? It’s like chewing bricks.”

Two years later our HP business consisted of the company’s  entire support business known by the “clever” acronym of WCSO (worldwide customer support organization). The relationship with WCSO definitely shaped our mentality and what I consider to be a healthy zeal to help our clients get more than their fair share of attention. Keep in mind the media gravitated toward HP’s cash cow – the printer business — and to a lesser extent the enterprise servers. We had to scratch and claw to generate interest in the decidedly untrendy area at the time, customer support and services.

Others at HP noticed our work, which led to additional opportunities with storage, software and later servers. In fact, we won a prestigious Silver Anvil for our work launching HP’s miniature disk drive (1.3-inches) in 1993.

 HP’s miniature disk drive

More importantly, we started to seriously hone our business storytelling chops. We brought out the humanity in the Kitty Hawk narrative, piecing together how the team worked out of a dingy trailer away from the HP campus (in Boise) so they could toil without distractions. This was also the time I got the anecdote religion, gaining mileage from snippets on the manufacturing process and showcasing Citizen using its watch-making expertise to drive screws in the disk drive so small they couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.

All the goodness from the HP relationship — revenue, brand cachet and learning — came together in 1996 when we made the decision to build a global footprint. There’s a reason that the mega shops dominate the global PR playing field. It’s very expensive to create a global infrastructure one brick at a time. Thanks to the HP business, we had been accruing a war chest with the idea of tapping it when the right opportunity came along. Two of our vice presidents at the time, Susan Baldwin and Rachel Imison, deserve credit for managing the HP business and making sure the trains ran on a time.

Fast forwarding to today, we’re a 120-person communications consultancy with offices dotting Asia, Europe and the United States that outperforms the big guys.

The 14 years supporting HP made this possible.

Still, saying I wish HP good luck and I wish HP good luck doesn’t have a great ring to it.


So Did Those 2014 Predictions for the Communications Industry Come True?

Back in January, I offered 10 quasi-mad predictions on how the communications industry would unfold in 2014.

With nine months in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look at the scoreboard.

Prediction 1: The Pope’s Selfie Goes Viral

Pope Selfie 2014 communication industry prediction

I figured the big event would happen at Easter Mass. It turned out to be with two newlyweds during his standard weekly mass.

Pope-Newlyweds Selfie 2014 communication industry prediction

Score: 9 (Except for the timing, I nailed it.)

Prediction 2: NSA Teams with Benjamin Moore for Listening Paint

I expected the covers to come off of  “Operation Knock Knock,” an NSA initiative to embed microscopic audio sensors into latex paint resulting in a PR crisis. Didn’t happen.

Score: 1

Prediction 3: Kanye West Picks on Tesla CEO Elon Musk

After the West beat-down of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh — “your shoes suck” — I figured he would come after Mr. Musk next. Just the opposite happened with West giving a shout out to Elon at Bonnaroo.

Score: 0 (ouch)

Prediction 4: Warren Buffett Increases Twitter Output by 300 Percent

I forgot the financial axiom that scarcity delivers value. Buffett only tweeted once in 2014.

Warren Buffett Tweet  2014 communication industry prediction

Score: 3 (hey, at least he tweeted once.)

Prediction 5: The Chinese Buy PRSA

PRSA is still an independent body, but Blue Focus, the mega Chinese communications agency, did earmark its war chest for U.S. acquisitions.

Score: 4

Prediction 6: Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher Jump into the Venture Capital Game

I still think this will happen.

Score: 1 (but with potential)

Prediction 7: Twitter’s Decision to Shorten Tweets is Short-lived

Coke-Twitter Can 2014 communication industry prediction

Determined to tap the pulse of the mainstream, Twitter has kept its labbies busy this year. The grapevine has buzzed with the possibility of changing the character count, but so far, no action.

Score: 3

Prediction 8: VentureBeat Creates Community Platform Called “Burnt Toast”

This goes back to a story by VentureBeat’s Jolie O’Dell, on how the San Francisco tech industry propagates $4 toast. VB has expanded its channels to over 20, but “Burnt Toast” isn’t one of them.

Score: 2

Prediction 9: The Bezos-izing of The Washington Post.

Apparently, Amazon’s ill-fated phone consumed Mr. Bezo’s time in 2014.

Score: 1

Prediction 10: 7-Eleven Outbids Starbucks for Product Placement on “The Voice”

I thought it was a natural, Blake enjoying a slurpee and beef jerky when not connecting the fledgling artists: “You’re from Oklahoma. No kidding? I’m from Oklahoma.” Didn’t happen.

Score: 1

It’s not like crazy communications didn’t occur this year.

Consider Roger Goodell’s gaffe in guiding how the NFL deals with domestic violence.

Walmart playing English teacher in marking up a New York Times article like a term paper.

Edelman blogging about the death of Robin Williams as a PR opportunity.

I just didn’t predict them.

Naturally, I’ll take another shot in 2015.





Publications Continue to Characterize Brand Journalism as “The Devil Wears a Keyboard.”

The Devil Wears Keyboard - brand Journalism

With the story “The Invasion of Corporate News, The Financial Times became the latest publication to skewer brand journalism.

I suppose the FT figured a headline along the lines of “You’re Too Stupid to Figure Out Journalism from Propaganda” might alienate readers. Because that seems to be one of the themes in the FT piece.

Stepping back for a moment, I’m still perplexed by the rancor that publications dish at brand journalism. After all, as the FT itself points out, this concept of brand journalism has been going on for years with the Hershey Press from 1909 serving as Exhibit A.

Hershey Press brand journalism

People like choices. If you question this, take a look at the section for mustard the next time you’re in a grocery store.

And people want choices in their sources of information.

Unlike the FT, I believe the vast majority of people have the wherewithal to understand that if a certain piece of information is coming from Hershey or any other company/organization, it carries a certain bias. That doesn’t automatically make the information useless. Instead, it allows people to frame the context and determine on their own the value of the information.

Here are some of the choice passages that express the FT’s point of view followed by my three cents:

-  Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst who has studied the “muddying of the waters” between news and marketing, says of Chevron’s Richmond site: “There are not a lot of things that amaze me but that takes chutzpah to do that.”

Chutzpah? My grandmother who spoke Yiddish wouldn’t use this word to describe a company taking the pedestrian actions of telling their stories like journalists.

- With the president-felling image of Woodward and Bernstein still hanging over the profession, and a geekily hip narrative of data-driven analysis pointing to a new future, few journalists like to acknowledge the role PRs play in their stories. Many are well-informed, professional, clever, helpful and fun. Some are former colleagues. Some become friends. But for most journalists, it is an involvement we put up with warily. PRs are spinners of favourable stories, glossers-over of unfavourable facts and gatekeepers standing between us and the people we want to get to.

That’s a fair characterization, although I might quibble with the word choice, preferring something along the lines of “advancing the company’s narrative” over “spinners” (sounds too much like sinners).

- Employment in US newsrooms has fallen by a third since 2006, according to the American Society of News Editors, but PR is growing. Global PR revenues increased 11 per cent last year to almost $12.5bn, according to an industry study entitled The Holmes Report. For every working journalist in America, there are now 4.6 PR people, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 3.2 a decade ago. And those journalists earn on average 65 per cent of what their PR peers are paid.

Journalists love to highlight this flawed dot-connecting, as if the PR profession swung the wrecking ball that left the business of journalism in rubble. Gentlemen, this thing called the Internet disrupted your business model, not us.

- For 20 years, as a reporter and editor in London and New York, most of my time has been spent doing the things non-journalists assume journalists do all day: developing sources, chasing leads, delving into secret files and polishing paragraphs. But I have also devoted countless hours to dealing with PR people. This has involved furious phone calls to protest at my underplaying a client’s view of the world, surreptitious forwarding of material helpful to the case being pitched, and friendly invitations to bend my ear over lunch or drinks. (Only twice has a PR person attempted to play footsie with me under the lunch table – I made my excuses and left.) Then there are the emailed pitches, trying to persuade me to spend time and reporting resources on stories of questionable value to the FT’s readers.

I thought many of us are “well-informed, professional, clever, helpful and fun.”

- Few have succeeded in making the news as well as Apple. This month, as it unveiled the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch in Cupertino, California, thousands of journalists live-blogged every detail of the carefully scripted event. But the company also ran its own live blog, a feed of perfectly lit images of the devices, shareable quotes from executives, retweeted endorsements from celebrities including Diddy and Katy Perry and a gushing running commentary (“So far, so amazing”).

I agree. In fact, I wrote a post on this very topic, “Journalists Accept Apple’s Storytelling Candy.”

- Marketers talk about “paid media” (advertising they have to buy), “earned media” (from press coverage to word-of-mouth buzz) and a growing category called “owned media” (their websites, blogs and social media feeds). The attraction of “owned media”, by definition, is that brands neither have to pay a media outlet for it nor earn it by convincing a reporter that the story is worth covering.

But here’s a key point left out. Companies still need to publish stories that people care about, that they find useful or informative or even amusing. Otherwise, companies are left to ponder “if a blog post falls in the forest and no one reads it, did it make a noise?”

No matter how savvy companies become in brand journalism, journalists will always enjoy a huge advantage in the form of credibility. And while I think readers deserve credit for being able to discern the objective from the subjective, there can still be value in the subjective information.

But I won’t be holding my breath for the FT to link to this post.

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Pitching Journalists, But Were Afraid to Ask

Book Cover - pitching journalists

The influence of journalists remains as important today as when I started in the communications business. While the Internet has commoditized news announcements, what appears in publications still impacts a company’s brand and reputation.

That’s why I was intrigued when I heard that Muck Rack (in cooperation MDC Partners) surveyed a cross section of journalists — newspapers, magazines, trade publications, etc. — to learn how they like to be pitched. With more than 300 journalists responding, we can learn from the aggregated data starting with their preferred vehicle for pitches.

Muck Rack survey - Pitch Preference for journalists

No surprise, journalists value the efficiency and control that comes with email dialogue. They find comfort in that “D” key only being a millisecond away.

I did expect Twitter to rate better than less than two percent. I figured since Clifford Krauss’s clumsy attempt on behalf of The New York Times to dig up sources for the Toyota recall back in 2010, journalists would be more comfortable with the medium.

CKrausss Twitter attempt to set up interview with Toyota

With that said, 93 percent of journalists affirmed that they appreciate it when communication professionals follow them on social media. This has less to do with the actual business storytelling and more about how The Man measures journalists.

As highlighted in “Why PR Should Be Paying Attention to the Turmoil at The Oregonian,” a journalist’s KPIs can range from social media engagement to clicks on his/her stories. PR people who by definition know something about “spreading the word” can play a role in helping the journalist meet those pesky performance metrics.

Which also explains why 88 percent of journalists look at how many times their articles have been shared across social media. In short, shared articles = clicks.

The next question affirms my philosophy, given a choice between a fresh story or a great relationship in landing coverage, I’ll take the fresh story every time.

Muck Rack survey results on pitching preferences from Journalists

Regarding ideal pitch length —

Muck Rack survey results on pitching preferences from Journalists

This one deserves more context. Yes, journalists deal with jammed schedules and can’t afford to spend half their day reading email pitches. As Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson from the Financial Times recently lamented:

My inbox is clogged with the “barking news” about New York’s first doggie-treat truck, the invitation to meet the inventor of the multimedia coat hanger, the press release on the “trail-blazing” motorway service station and the survey on “slowcial networking” (otherwise known as sending greetings cards).

Still, if you can hook the journalist with a compelling and relevant narrative in two to three sentences, he/she will keep reading for a deeper understanding.

But how do you hook the journalist in those precious few seconds?

Muck Rack survey results on pitching preferences from Journalists

Good point and one I would take a step further.

More than personalize, you need to customize the pitch to the specific journalist, his/her beat and the publication. Do your homework. Why the mass email blast lives on when it’s got the effectiveness of the line, “What’s your sign?” is beyond me. This is why journalists get cranky about PR.”

Kudos to Muck Rack for asking the questions (and no, Dr. Reuben didn’t write a book on the topic).


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