Chris Edwards: September 2005 Archives

Last week, PRNewswire for Journalists (PRNJ) finally got around to coming up with RSS feeds that lets journalists pick subjects they are interested in rather than have to chew on the entire output of the press-release outlet. That's good. It is, apparently, something that the company has been mulling for some time and was pipped to the post by Businesswire earlier in the summer. So intense was the private mulling been that simply to say that Businesswire had the advantage of time is heresy in some quarters (check the comments).

Now for the bad news. Unlike Businesswire, which custom cooks you a feed based on the preferences you use for the longstanding email bulletins, PRNJ has taken the approach of providing feeds based on each of the industries and topics that PRs select when they post releases. This does not sound too bad at first: you simply subscribe to all the feeds you need and let the aggregator deal with it. The problem is, many things do not fit neatly into one category and many people tick more than one industry or category for their news. If you are like me, and only want the electronics-related segments within the Technology industry category, you are liable to get a lot of dupes popping up in NetNewsWire or whatever you use as an aggregator. It's not a showstopper, but it is an irritation.

PRNJ's categories make more sense than those used by BW. So, if they could come up with a personalised feed akin to that used for the email bulletins, I'd be a lot more impressed with the PRNJ take on RSS for hacks.

Silence by agreement

19 September 2005

Search Engine Watch has reported on the apparently bizarre idea of Google inviting media and bloggers to an event and then making the whole thing "off the record". Steve Rubel asked why invite them at all?

It's a fair point. However, there are times when not reporting what people, at least directly, can be useful. However, a lot depends on what off the record means in this instance. There are four distinct flavours that I can think of, ranging from using quotes without directly naming the person through to just keeping something secret. Meetings held under the Chatham House Rule can be useful to hacks because people speak more freely than if they know they will be quoted and named. If you just need a steer on what is going on and aim to back such a story with direct quotes from elsewhere, then this can work fine. You need to be careful about using this kind of thing directly anyway as people get careless under these conditions and say stuff freely that is just plain wrong. Mind you, that can happen even if they know they are on the record.

What is more bizarre than Google's off-the-record conference is something that older IT companies frequently inflict on hacks: the non-disclosure agreement (NDA). A favourite of Microsoft in particular, the NDA is often used to maintain compliance with an embargo. The only trouble is that if you read them, they last indefinitely not until a particular date, which makes the information technically even more useless than an agreed "off the record". That's the point where you have to wonder why anyone agrees to them.

Yes, there are some people working in PR who still haven't got the hang of timezones. Hats off to the International Engineering Consortium, who managed to ring at 11pm at night (OK I was working after getting in from a late afternoon/early evening meeting) to ask me if I was going to their EuroDesignCon in Munich in October. As they are organising said conference, you would have thought they might have grasped by now that Munich, and indeed London, are in very different timezones to California. In fact, 11pm in the UK is getting past office hours even for US Eastern time. And Munich? It's practically a new day.

However, it seems they don't read their own website either. As I am moderating a panel session during the conference, I think it would be a reasonable assumption that I will be turning up in Munich sometime during that week.

Lego of my trademark

13 September 2005

Among the PR bloggers, Jeremy Pepper has taken a particularly hard line on the blogger camp that regards attempts by any company to protect its trademark, or just its supply of free cardboard boxes as unacceptable symptoms of corporate greed and power.

This week, it's the turn of Danish toymaker Lego. The lovable people from Billund have been getting flak for hosting a website that asks people to call Lego bricks by their brandname and not by the untrademarked plural Legos. The domain was probably bought to prevent cybersquatters from spamming people with offers of "l0w c0st Legos at wholesell pr1c3s" or maybe just V1agra. OK, the wording could be a little better: why should Joe Public who mistyped a URL get a lecture on how a toy company likes to be identified? But I could understand the annoyance a bit more had Lego done what it normally does to the media and bung out cease-and-desist letters at every perceived misuse of its trademark.

Given a choice between two metrics, most people will take the one that is easy to measure and one that is more accurate, but difficult to capture, which one do you think most people would pick? That's right: ease of use wins. Which is why I am less surprised than the chief of search marketing firm iProspect, Rob Murray, about the results of a survey his company asked JupiterResearch to perform.

When asked how they were evaluated by their employers, 80 per cent of search marketers said their performance was tied to some search-engine marketing metric. Half of them looked for increased traffic, 40 per cent for more clicks through to their sites and just under half cited search-engine ranking. The more difficult to measure criteria, such as awareness among consumers or even actual sales - things that any advertising-related campaign should be promoting - came some way further down the pecking order.

A survey of online pressrooms conducted by IBM in Spain has found that, for the most part, the companies responsible are OK at publishing information like press releases. Unfortunately, the staff behind them seem to be shrinking violets with little inclination to answer even simple emails. You will need to scroll down to page 78 of the report or so to find how bad things can get and it is not pretty.

For the report, the IBM team found a reporter to go and ask the companies a few simple questions using the email address or web forms provided in the online pressroom. Seventy per cent of the companies could not be bothered to reply. French companies stood out even among this sorry lot with a 100 per cent no-response rate. Even among those that managed a reply, two out of three took three or more days to come up with any form of answer.

IBM in Spain has put together a survey of online pressrooms in an attempt to work out how many companies are doing them the right way, and how many are getting it wrong.
I found the link via PR Shel Holtz's blog who wonders why companies put up press release archives: "It’s been some 30 years since I was a newspaper reporter, but try as I might, I just can’t remember a time when I needed an old press release."

If you have been following a particular company or issue for a while, you are unlikely to need them but it is handy to have them available when you are coming to a company for the first time and you need to check when something was first announced, or trying to build something like a timeline of acquisitions for a business feature. It is also useful to see what a company said at the time of a launch a year on, when the product in question is still stuck in the lab. However, it can be handy in those circumstances to maintain your own archive just in case the company in question performs a little Stalin-style airbrushing of history on its press website. In this case, a search on 8Ks at Edgar (or its international equivalents) if it is a publicly quoted company can be more useful as those documents cannot be changed after the fact.

I only hope that Holtz is not advising clients to take down their archives: the further back the archive goes the better is the rule for me. For PRs, they might not generate coverage in their own, but for hacks, the more information we have to hand the easier it is to make sure stuff gets checked.