The Jennifer Agenda

5:00 PM – From The Philter's PR Pains file, I have a fresh nit to pick with publicists in the technology trades. I will do so by way of a quick scenario:

SCENE: The second floor of the Bowie Center building in Fort Worth, the clandestine workspace of Phil Harvey, Light Reading's BBQ and Modern Dance Editor. One sunny morning, Harvey, who was busily managing his fantasy football team, accidentally read some of his email and noticed an intriguing pitch related to CES. It was the kind of thing he might write about if indeed he could get a detail or two before deadline. He quickly dials up the PR firm from whence the pitch originated.

    JENNIFER (answering the phone): Hello, this is Jennifer.

    HARVEY (absently): Are they all named Jennifer?

    JENNIFER: Excuse me?

    HARVEY: Oh, sorry, hello. It's Phil Harvey, BBQ Editor of Light Reading. I received your note and I've got a couple of quick questions about the new Electric Converg-o-box Entertainment Appliance Solution.

    JENNIFER: That's great! Would you like me to set up a briefing with our VP of Marketing, Bob Milquetoast?

    HARVEY: Well, that sounds a bit formal. If you could just quickly tell me…

    JENNIFER: Bob's really the guy you want to answer your questions. He's very dynamic. I'm looking here on his schedule and it looks like he's back in town next Wednesday. Maybe you can meet him at his office. Is 9 p.m. too late?

    HARVEY: See, the thing is we're online. Daily deadlines. All that stuff. So if there's anyone that could just…

    JENNIFER: Paul? Was it Paul?

    HARVEY: Phil, actually. I just…

    JENNIFER: I really think Bob's your best bet and his schedule tends to fill up fast. If the 9 p.m. next Wednesday doesn't work, he's got a Friday afternoon lunch open in early May.

    HARVEY: Look, all I want to know is how much data, photos, and stuff you can store in the Converg-o-box. The press release said, "thousands of hours of entertainment" but that's a bit vague. I don't need a quote. Just a figure.

    JENNIFER: I really don't have the first clue what you're talking about, Bill. We just started working with this account two years ago, so I haven't had time to learn all their techno-words. Do you want to do a phone briefing instead? Maybe Bob could call you sometime on Saturday.

    HARVEY: If there are no other options, I suppose that's fine.

    JENNIFER (brightly.): That's great. Oh, this is wonderful. Bob's really looking forward to talking with you. He really knows his stuff. Very dynamic. OK, I'm going to send you a confirmation email with the call-in details. Once you reply to that I'll put it in Bob's calendar. Also, could send me a short biography with a few of your most recent clippings? Bob likes to have all that handy when he's being interviewed for a big article. Following that, I have a PowerPoint slide deck -- it's only 61 slides -- and I'll send that to you in time for your conversation with Bob. Is there anything else I can help you with, Gil? HARVEY: No. You've done enough. I'll just make up a number for my article.

    JENNIFER: That does sound exciting. Alrighty, well, thanks for calling, Jill. (Hangs up)

— Phil Harvey, Person of the Year, Light Reading

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Scott Raynovich 12/5/2012 | 3:16:57 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Spot on. That is an eerily accurate scenario.

One thing I don't understand about PR phone calls -- especially the cold calls -- is this: They never seem to have somebody assigned to help you when you are actually interested in something.

It's like you go into a car dealership and say, "I want a car," and their answer is: "Let us get back to you on that. We have to talk to some people to figure out exactly how to sell you a car. We're not equipped for that."

That sale is lost.
sfwriter 12/5/2012 | 3:16:57 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda LOL. One PR person hounded me aggressively for nearly a year to cover his client. Finally I got assigned a Q&A came where the CEO would have been a great fit. The PR person told me the interview was all set and then he promptly went into hiding. Later, when I finally pinned him down, he admitted to having "jumped the gun" and he had forgotten the CEO was really on vacation for two weeks. Yeah, right.
sfwriter 12/5/2012 | 3:16:56 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Or, my favorite trick: the PR person says that said expert really, really wants to brief you about his new widget. But then you get on the phone and realize that the PR person told the expert that you requested the meeting.
DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:16:56 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Another priceless question for journos reading this:

How many big money PR firms frequently put out press releases, quote a guy, put him over as the expert, then claim that the guy is out of the country/unavailable when called by an interested writer?

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:16:56 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Exactly. They're completely unprepared for any sort of success. The larger the PR firm, the worse the problem.

Road Trip 12/5/2012 | 3:16:55 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda As a former VP of marketing at a high tech start-up, I can tell you, first hand, that successful PR requires a commitment by company executives. Without this commitment, any investment in PR is wasted. And, I would say that the lion's share of high tech companies do not understand this.
DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:16:55 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Yes, I've had that happen, too. The PR firm goes a bit too far to drum up interest for the uninteresting.

As long as the client is dynamic, I really don't mind.

tjohnson582 12/5/2012 | 3:16:49 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda I think it's fair to say from Phil's comments and others there are effective and ineffective PR people -- just like there are good and not so good editors.

I've done PR for 25 years and for every anti-PR anecdote, I can provide at least about an editor.

A better approach would be to find common ground so the PR people and editors can actually help each other.
"Ill" Duce 12/5/2012 | 3:16:48 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Could it be that many tech firms don't understand PR and so they hire on people that aren't qualified to shill their product? Are there any PR firms that specialize in tech? Or is it that tech firms fall under the spell of these insidious parsers and wordsmiths.

Can't we all just get along.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:16:46 PM
re: The Jennifer Agenda Ill Duce -- There certainly are PR firms that specialize in tech, lots of them in fact. They're the kind we deal with mostly.

My understanding is -- sometimes, a good PR firm knows what it's doing but the client (the company) doesn't, or refuses to listen to the PR firm's expertise. Then the PR folks have to go execute some ridiculous plan that usually involves overhyping the company. It's just a fact of life in that business.
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