Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tired of Poor Pitching

I'm a fan of The Bad Pitch Blog by Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan — it's a regular must-read for public relations professionals. It is to that blog that I must give credit for the idea behind this post — a bad pitch.

The longer I'm in the journalism/PR fields, the more my name gets out there on random mailing lists of companies and people looking to sell something or hoping that I'll write an article or blog post about them. Most of them, like many of the companies Laermer and Dugan 'highlight,' do a poor job of this, simply because they are using outdated, traditional methods of pitching and primarily because they are mass mailing without taking the time to craft a real, dedicated pitch or without trying to learn anything about me as a practitioner or writer.

So, who am I about to call out? That would be Vycor Medical Inc., a "medical device company that designs, develops and markets next (sic) generation neurosurgery retraction devices." Bored yet?

Oh, where to start about the suck that is the e-mail I received today...

Salutation — There barely was one. The e-mail started, "Please let me know if you would like to connect with..." Well, don't try to get me excited or anything. The pitch didn't address me by name and provided little call to action up front. An ill-formatted link (they placed the full URL in the middle of a word, i.e., S"URL"ite) just made it even worse. Then, "Merilee" signed her first name, even though (A) I don't know her and (B) she never bothered to introduce herself in the e-mail.

Hed — "Vycor Medical's Revolutionary ViewSite(TM) Neurosurgery Retraction Devices Adopted by the North Shore-LIJ Health System" was the three-deck headline. Not only is the headline boring and way too technical, but also it's unrelated to anything I've ever written about for a news site or blog and also unrelated to virtually any entity for which I've ever done PR.

Sub Hed/Dek — A 52-word subheadline in italics is pretty much where I stopped paying attention. Get to the point already!

Dateline — Bohemia, N.Y. What? I could probably Google Maps this location, but instead, I'm just left wondering why I was sent this release. There's no topical relevance for me, and now I find out there's no geographical connection either. I've been in New York for less than an hour my entire life.

Lede — The lede and nut graf here are long, filled with URLs in parentheticals and riddled with technical jargon that tells me nothing about the newsworthiness of whatever it is Vycor is promoting (I'm still not sure, though I think it's some tool that makes brain surgery easier).

Content — The news release was lacking an actual narrative of any kind. The quotes within were stuffy and sounded as though they were crafted specifically for *gasp!* a news release. This isn't the way to catch a reporter or anyone else's attention. After rereading a few times, it seems this entire annoyance of a pitch was to announce that a health system in New England has adopted the company's neurosurgery technology. Again, tell your local paper, tell a medical journal — but why pitch to me? And why do it in such a boring way with a cookie-cutter, traditional news release? (A little research about me if they were going to pitch to me would've revealed that I'd prefer a well-done social media release.)

Boilerplate — As Bob Roseth would say, boilerplates are fine if you're from Purdue (home of the Boilermakers). But to refer to the BPB folks again, there's no better way to end on a lame note than the boilerplate. Words in Vycor's actual body copy — 252. Boilerplate words — 577. If your boilerplate crap is more than double the length of your 'news,' it's either probably not news or your boilerplate is too long — or in this case, both. The lengthy, mostly useless, legal jargon-filled ending to this release moved my snooze into a coma. End with something more useful and interesting, and link to this info if needed.

Final thoughts — To make matters worse, when I went to Vycor's Web site to find a copy of this news release to which I could provide a link, well, it wasn't there. In fact, the most recent release on the Web site is from 2008. If you're going to mass e-mail pitches with your Web site URL plastered all over them, wouldn't you at least make sure your site looks up-to-date?

The image included with the news release (above) is probably the most well-done part of the whole ordeal. The design is actually sort of interesting, even if the messaging seems more geared toward medical professionals than someone who would be interested in talking to company executives about publicity.

Has anyone else out there received similar pitches? What are your thoughts about companies that take this shotgun approach? What are your thoughts about folks who still use traditional news releases with corporatespeak and giant boilerplates?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top-drafted Quarterbacks Likely No Good

By Guest Blogger Daron Williams

Editor's note: Every now and then, I like to add some variety to the blog and stray away from all PR/journalism posts and talk about some other stuff I love — family, food, football, you name it. And when one of my favorite guest bloggers sends something on a topic such as those my way, well of course I'm going to post it. Keeping in the vein of our theme, though, here is the result of guest blogger Daron Williams' journalistic digging that shows why potential top draft picks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford might need a lot of PR in the future.

As I do every April, I’m thoroughly enjoying the hoopla surrounding the upcoming 2010 edition of the NFL Draft. This year, the talent pool has been classified somewhere between 'good' and 'very good,' and there are several juicy storylines to follow. Where will 'Jesus of Gainesville' land, and will there be some water nearby for him to walk on? Who will draft a boy named Suh? And what to make of the other QBs in the draft?

It is this last issue I want to analyze. With so much emphasis placed on the quarterback position, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little extra time breaking down the numbers? Without getting too technical, I’m going to undertake this effort, mainly with the intention of showing just why the Rams may want to think twice before taking likely no. 1 pick — Sam Bradford.

So let’s go. My contention is that no Big-12 QB is likely to succeed in the NFL. Two Big-12 QBs are generally listed among the top five (if not top three) QBs in this draft – Oklahoma’s Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Both come from powerhouse football farms, and both can boast record-setting offensive careers at their schools. But dig deeper.

Let’s look at the success, or lack thereof, that the current Big-12 schools have produced at the quarterback position. I’m going to focus mostly on the schools with big-name QBs in the hunt this year. For NFL purposes, I’m going to stick to the last 10 years or so because I look at St. Louis’ 1999 “Best Show on Turf” as being a pivotal moment in the proliferation of today’s pass-happy NFL offenses. You would think this would play into the hands of the Big-12’s also-pass-happy schemes. You’d be wrong.

The last three QBs drafted at Texas include Vince Young, who’s already experiencing his second NFL life, just four years after being drafted by the Tennessee Titans. Nobody doubts his athletic prowess, but I don’t think anyone sees him going to Canton either. And he still has plenty of doubters as to whether he can even throw a slant (believe me, speaking as a Titans fan, I know from whence I speak). Before that, it was Chris Simms, who’s had an unremarkable career thus far and may never start another game. Before that? Third-rounder Rick McIvor in 1984 – I’ve never heard his name, but Wikipedia tells me he played in six games over two seasons and threw four total passes (all incomplete).

OOOOO-klahoma, you say? They’ve had six QBs in the last 10 years to Texas’ four. Names such as Josh Heupel, Heisman winner Jason White and Rhett Bomar may ring a bell in college lore, but not one of them has played any real minutes in the Not For Long league. The only OU QB currently on a roster is Bomar, whom the Giants took in the fifth round, and he certainly won’t see the field behind Super Bowl winner Eli Manning.

After digging a little, I can’t really find much success in the QB ranks from any Big-12 program in the last 10 years, with the exception of Young’s moderate success with the Titans. There are currently two likely starting QBs from Big-12 schools – Young and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman (Kansas State), ranked the no. 16 and no. 28 QBs in the league, respectively. With two (likely) starting NFL QBs, that puts the Big-12 behind the Pac-10 (eight), the SEC (five), the Big-10 and the ACC (four each). USC alone has four current starters listed (Palmer, Cassel, Leinart, Sanchez).

So what’s the big deal? I can’t hold the professional failures of their predecessors against McCoy and Bradford, right? Watch me.

The point is, historical success by QBs hailing from a particular program, especially when controlled for coaching era in college and offensive era in the NFL, has turned out to be a great indicator of expected success for incoming QBs. The system that a player runs in college has a lot to do with how they will adjust to the NFL game, and Big-12 QBs simply haven’t cut the mustard, despite the high-flying offenses and gaudy numbers they put up in college. Why, I do not know – that’s for another column.

To be fair, one could apply the same logic to the NFL quarterbacking black hole that is The Swamp and say that Tebow has no shot at success, and one would be justified in saying so. But McCoy and especially Bradford are expected to sign sizeable contracts and challenge for starting positions immediately, and in this, one of the last few years of the pre-rookie-contract cap era, a team simply cannot afford to go wrong selecting a quarterback so high.

But they will. Sorry, Rams fans.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Toyota's Recovery: Inevitable or Out of Reach?

A couple months ago, the Toyota scandal was still freshly ripping through America, and it was the only thing you could find on the news, it seemed. Daily mentions on the 24-hour news cycle still happen, but health care, Tiger Woods, iPad disappointments and coal mining have all taken over the headlines for now. Slowly, but surely, the negativity surrounding Toyota is… well, not going away, but it’s on the agenda far less.

Shortly after the whole thing went down with floor mats and sudden accelerations and supercharged Prius hoaxes, I wrote about the importance of relational history for organizations and how, based on Toyota’s previous good standing with its customers, the company should be able to rebound. Heck, just look at Audi, once the target of similar scandal, now known as a high-class brand. Though, it did take the automaker 15 years to recover, and Audi was exonerated of building faulty cars in the end. The point, though, is — recovery is possible after a crisis.

Toyota’s problems might be more severe than originally thought, though. It seems there was deception going on within the company, as newly released internal memos urged officials to “come clean.” When the pre-existing good relationship with consumers was built on a lie, it certainly complicates image restoration. Again, here is an example where having a public relations professional at the table and actually listening to his or her expert advice would have come in handy. With all the available case studies out there, you’d think by now corporations would realize that cover-ups never, ever work — at least not for very long. Honesty always has been, and still is, the best policy.

Still, however, my prediction that Toyota should rebound from its crisis seems to hold some water. The company is doing some things right, such as offering unbeatable deals and promising via its advertising that it will do better in the future by its customers. Toyota’s sales were up a whopping 41 percent in March, compared to the same month a year ago. This increase was likely more a result of unprecedented deals than Toyota’s mostly successful social media outreach efforts since the crisis, considering you’ve probably never heard of the Toyota Digg interview. Regardless, 41 percent is quite a bit for a company the media has demonized enough to make any Toyota owner hesitant to touch the acceleration pedal.

It seems Toyota’s woes are far from over, but it also doesn’t sound as though we’ve seen the last of them. Will it take 15 years to recover? Only time will tell, but if Toyota plays its cards right by becoming more transparent, it should remain profitable.