Got English?

Here we are, safely landed in the new millennium (well, almost anyway), but have we retired those worn-out 20th-century atoms-and-ink PR tactics? From the look of several recent online finds, I don’t think we’re there yet.

Pssst… PR Pro: Have you finally come to trust the U.S. Postal Service (the rain, sleet and snow line), or are you (or your agency) still calling after releases to see if the mail got through? (Ninety-five times out of 100 you’ll hit the voicemail wall anyway.) Or perhaps you take a high-tech approach and send follow-up emails or faxes. Sort of the 360 degree approach to totally pissing off the press upon which your very livelihood depends.

At my shop, we build relevant media lists for every client, working from a master list and customizing it as we develop the campaign strategy. We mostly use email now, as well as the paid wires when appropriate (more on that in a future take), but we follow up only as interested journalists reply, which is usually in Internet time (minutes to a few hours, these days).

So I was happily surprised recently to receive an auto-responder reply from Internet World editor and columnist Whit Andrews, who concisely laid out his rules of engagement in an FAQ that provides a valuable lesson for all serious PR practitioners.

There’s more, and it’s a great read. Allow me to quote the following for your edification:

Thanks for your email. I’m afraid this is a form reply, and you may have seen it before. The fact of the matter is that I think a form reply is better than none – and I really do get a lot of email.

    Q. Why a form FAQ?

    A. I get a lot of mail – some days, 50 to 100 pieces. I use a form reply because it’s better than no reply, and it gives me a chance to tell you some stuff. First: Thanks for emailing me; do it as often as you feel moved to do so, so long as the information you are sending is relevant to my beats and to Internet World. I copy much of my email into an information manager. That means your emails should make themselves known to me when I do full-text searches of the manager. [Trend Note… news releases are archived!]

    Q. How do you like to be contacted?

    A. Email is the finest invention since canned beer. Please make initial contacts via email. Word file attachments are OK, although I’d just as soon not get images, presentations or other formats unless I ask for them.

    Q. Will you get mad if I call you?

    A. If there’s something that requires my attention in the email, and I don’t respond appropriately, call me. If there’s a story in it, and you think I might not realize it, call me. I am not so busy that I want to miss good stories.

    Q. Do you accept embargoes?

    A. Virtually never. We have a daily edition now, and I will generally embargo information only until the next time the clock crosses 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. THIS IS CRITICAL: Emailing me something and presuming I will accept some embargo you state on it is a quick way to get yourself in a bunch of trouble with your boss. Embargoes are a contract. Asserting one unilaterally is impossible.

    Q. What’s your fax number?

    A. Fax me nothing. Faxes are too analog for my taste, and I don’t trust OCR to spell what’s precious to you right. (I came to this decision when I imagined someone else OCR’ing my business card and deciding I worked at “Internet Whorl.” If you have something that MUST be faxed, call me, and I’ll set up my fax line, which means I have to drop my ISP connection while I wait, so it better be important.

    Q. What’s your beat?

    A. I have two:

    1. Electronic Commerce. What this means for us may be different from what you think. I cover the business of commerce, not necessarily commerce itself. It is very unlikely Internet World will do a wrap-up story on the best place to buy music: It is more likely that we will examine the business implications of downloadable music, CDs for sale on the web and the shrinking sales channel. We also cover business-to-business commerce, of course, and the software and hardware that will make these kinds of commerce a reality. Company examples include Open Market, Pandesic and Trintech.

    2. Search engines and indices (mostly global in size). Verity, Excite, Yahoo, Alta Vista. Again, those names are for reference only. There are many more companies with credible products and services.

    Q. Are you interested in a story on [your product/web site/client here]?

    A. Internet World is focused on the business uses of the web. We care a great deal about the methods and strategies that result in success and failure in making money in the web market, meaning people who use the web and people who build it.

    Our motto is “The Voice of E-Business and Internet Technology.” It’s a mouthful, but we think it’s fairly unambiguous.

    On the other hand, if you think you have a Cool Site, or you are trying to reach the general consumer market, we may be the wrong people for you to be contacting. Internet World only rarely does site reviews. When we do a story on a single site, it tends to be a case study, not a you-should-visit-this-site-or-not story.

Don’t give the press your tired, huddled buzzwords and empty phrases yearning to make news, because they won’t in this millennium. Beware of The Buzz Saw, a new attack web site created by a coterie of short-tempered journalists. Here, those on the receiving end of “news” missives gleefully turn the tables to rant about our failings and foibles.

Check in and help journalists kill “buzz larvae” – like vortal, monetize, out-of-the box, best of class, and c-commerce – before they get dangerous. Check the Rogues’ Gallery, “where we hang the foul hides of the worst of a bad lot,” or review the grammar duncecaps in “Got English?”

My favorite is the Buzz Board list of tired, empty words journalists can do without. Put them all together and it goes something like this…

    “XYZ company just announced a robust, seamless, interactive, turnkey, scalable (what’s-it) designed to leverage mission critical, next generation, best-of-breed web-enabled value-added B2B end-to end solutions to cyberspace e-tailing.”

Surely Nirvana is just around the corner, or on the next level. Whatever. See you in cyberspace next month.

Related reading