PR becomes mind-numbing BS

Written by on May 27, 2013 in BillingViews, Opinion with 7 Comments

Ask any journalist, writer or editor what they hate most about their job and the answer will probably be press releases/media alerts – the new age junk mail. I’m talking about the endless stream of ‘codswallop’ emanating from mindless life forms that use a well-worn template to make pronouncements that they hope will stimulate attention. I have bad news for these daleks of the written word – you and your templates need to be ‘exterminated’.

For those uninitiated to the clandestine world of PR speak almost all correspondence starts like this:

“Company X, the world’s leading company specializing in Y, have just announced they have managed to do Z.” Woopdedoo! That, or a derivation of that is what they all say! And the strange part is that Company X pays these dimwits to pump them out, week after week. Any eight year old with access to a computing device could do the same, maybe even better.

Last week’s classic came from Subex Ltd, “a leading global provider of Business Support Systems (BSS) for Communications Service Providers (CSPs).” Now, I’m not picking on Subex in particular, in fact I respect the company and its people very much, but they happen to be a big player in our industry sector but their PR machine excels at doing them no favours at all.

I can’t count how many releases I have had from them trumpeting winning deals with a ‘leading operator in Asia, or Europe or any other continent’. That means nothing to most people and is hardly newsworthy. If you can’t name the customers, then why bother to announce deals? This is an especially irritating aspect of the PR process that is made worse by vague, inexpert descriptions of a project that has been awarded.

Readers want to know who the customer is, what they bought, how big the deal was, etc. so they can refer to them if they are planning to buy products themselves. Surely there is a need to hang stories on ‘why is it important’ or ‘what it means’ – otherwise it is pointless. Maybe it’s just a clever ploy to get journalists and customers to call and find out more – but I doubt it.

Just yesterday came the ‘coupe de grace’ of Subex releases stating triumphantly “that leading analyst firm Gartner has ranked Subex as the market leader in the Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management for the third year in succession, based on revenue.” The document made no reference to Subex results that were pretty good, but you had to go and look for them somewhere else. It basically referred to an out of date 16 page Gartner report Subex had mentioned in previous correspondence. If you wanted to confirm that you would have to pay $1,295 dollars to read. At $800 a page I think I’ll pass and just take Subex’ word for it.

But honestly, is that the message Subex really wanted to convey to its customers and prospects? ‘We are the number one RA company based on revenue that we got out of our customers.’ Frankly, prioritizing to the world and your customers that you are proud of how much money you have made out of them is borderline rude. Wouldn’t it be better to quote a report that says it is number one based on customer surveys and feedback, or number one based on technology leadership or even number of customers?

I guess you have to pay extra for those reports. Of course, you could quote your position in one of Gartner’s many seemingly customizable ‘magic quadrants.’ However, after Ed Finegold’s excellent exposé of those, they could be better dubbed ‘magic wedgies’.

Come on Subex, and all you other fine upstanding business systems exponents. Let’s set a precedent for the rest of the industry and send out some really worthwhile news about ourselves. If you can give editors a real story written by a real professional that isn’t full of marketing BS, they will print it! Really, truly, honestly. All they want is stuff that is newsworthy and if you give them that they will love you.

So, simple advice – spend less money on reports and PR that people have trouble believing and more on real people who can research, write and tell a great story. You’ll be doing us all a big favour!

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .

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  1. Marketing executive says:

    You assume that you are the only (or even primary) audience of a press release, which isn’t necessarily true.

    A press release serves many purposes, including communicating company activities to employees, investors (and potential investors) customers (and potential customers), competitors, analysts, etc.

    Your call to have companies invest in people who can “research, write, and tell a great story” is puzzling. One expects that to be the purview of “journalists” such as yourself.

    The press releases you disdain in your article reflect a company’s active contribution within our industry. What contributions are you making? If you need more details, intrepid reporter, why not get off your lazy ass and dig ’em up yourself?

    • Tony Poulos says:

      Dear marketing@executive.com

      Interesting name, did you change your real one by deed poll or just prefer to remain anonymous so as not to embarrass yourself?

      Please allow me to respond. Firstly, I have never assumed that I am the only audience of press releases, nor did I claim that. I am just one of many recipients of the crap variety I outlined.

      Secondly, I agree that press releases serve many purposes, but might suggest that they be crafted according to the many recipients you outline, instead of sending out the blanket ‘one size fits all’ variety. Oh, but that would mean careful consideration from the writer as to which particular audience is being targeted. That would also mean having to work just that little but harder instead of filling out the template. So who really needs to get off their ‘lazy ass’?

      I might add that I have never classed myself as a journalist, or even used that term in the first tense. Journalists are skilled craftsmen that hone their skills after many years of academic and practical work. Many of them are finding work hard to come as print goes out of fashion and because it is so easy for jerks like myself to express an opinion via the internet. The really classy companies are snapping these people up to produce quality whitepapers and information releases that are original, informative and well researched. These are the ‘active contributions’ we all really crave for. As for the ‘contributions’ I am making, and thank you for classing them as such, they are merely observations and opinions of someone who actually does give a damn about this industry and is not frightened to put his name to them.

    • @ Marketing Executive,

      I feel compelled to leap to Tony’s defence, and to question your motives!

      “A press release serves many purposes, including communicating company activities to employees, investors (and potential investors) customers (and potential customers), competitors, analysts, etc.”

      Have you ever read a press release? If so, how many actually communicate anything? What about the press releases that say some unknown company bought some vaguely-defined stuff for an unknown price? Or the ones which say the company won an award?

      And do you really mean what you say, when you imply employees find out about new contracts and company awards through reading press releases? Does that sound even slightly believable?

      You are better off arguing that press releases are aimed at investors. Unfortunately, they are not aimed at smart investors. When a VC-backed firm issues a press release, you have to hope investors and prospective investors are not relying on the extremely limited info in press releases to judge the worth of the business. A publicly-listed company needs to communicate more widely, but that is why they publish audited accounts, as well as the guff in press releases. And only a fool would base his stock market investment on some of the BS press releases which say the company has won an award or an analyst has said something favourable about them. They might as well as buy shares based on internet gossip.

      Tony is absolutely right that telling a great story is a vital, and a misunderstood part of business – probably because marketing guys like you have no actual imagination. Great brands and intense customer loyalty are not created through mindless repetitive waffle that sounds like every other company’s mindless repetitive waffle. To connect with people, marketing call on a human and emotional narrative, saying what the business represents, and how the things it does makes the world a better place for people that the audience can identify with.

      It’s a shame you didn’t identify yourself, Mr. Marketing Executive. Tony Poulos is out banging the drum for business all over the world, and that’s why he received more nominations than anyone else, when B/OSS World came up with their list of the Top 25 Influencers of Telecom Software: (http://www.billingworld.com/galleries/2011/05/telecom-software-s-top-25.aspx?pg=21). Maybe you should do some research, before slagging him off! He is out there, and public, speaking his mind to a very big audience. Who are you? You are an anonymous nobody who gets paid to produce banal press releases, probably. If you were in my business, I would fire you in a heartbeat. Your old salary would go to somebody who knows how to tell a compelling story, and who understands the audience it is aimed at! The fact that you think press releases can simultaneously service investors, customers, and employees, speaks volumes about your lazy and dysfunctional understanding of human communication.

  2. Edward Finegold says:

    “The press releases you disdain in your article reflect a company’s active contribution within our industry.” While I might appreciate the need for PR flow a touch more than my good friend Tony, I’m pretty damn sure the software companies we cover consider their technologies to be their active contributions to the industry, not their press releases. While releases may be intended to reflect the contributions those technologies make for operators, we all know plenty of skilled PR practitioners who are hamstrung by their corporate clients’ review processes and overbearing legal departments. It is very difficult to communicate effectively through these many filters which often results in, as Tony states, codswallop. As for journalists digging deeper into stories; rarely does a vendor’s sale of a solution actually constitute a story. But when it does, you put friends’ and colleagues’ jobs in jeopardy by using them as sources of information that is aggressively protected under NDAs. Because the news in our industry is not of grave international importance, those relationships should be leveraged with great caution and discretion. So, this isn’t an issue of laziness, it is more a frustrated call of “help me to help you.” That said, why not push out a vague release when more than a dozen publications will happily, or for a fee, regurgitate them.

  3. Keith Brody says:

    Tony…coming from a man last seen at a telecom event dressed as Mike Barrell, accusing people of anonymising themselves is a bit rich! Mind you, if he had access to state-of-the-art functionality, he’d probably have tokenised himself instead (just as effective, easier to reverse the process so I’m told.) But seriously, with the exception of one or two specific comments, I couldn’t agree with you more. Great blog, making points long overdue.

    I remember burning the midnight oil many years ago as a journo, stripping the dross out of Press Releases just to render them usable (something modern-day journalists often don’t even bother with anymore which, perhaps, is why PRs feel they can get away with it and why the trade print media has largely gone down the toilet — see my own blog on the latter subject here: http://5thpositionblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/the-death-of-the-b2b-print-media-may-or-may-not-be-greatly-exaggerated-but-the-reasons-for-it-are-misunderstood/).

    Commerce and business evolves…wouldn’t it be nice if PR (and, often, marketing) could do the same? Cheers!

  4. Kavita Balakrishnan says:

    Tony is right. PR is more than just plain ‘announcements’. If only more people in the industry understand this and really work to create value for their clients rather than just churning out press releases and god knows what else, people from all sectors may not misunderstand the business that much. The most crucial thing is ‘value’. What ‘value’ are you creating for all the people involved? Be it the media, your client or the average man on the street. Kudos to Tony for having the guts to highlight this. We need more such ‘news’ to shake things up.

  5. Tony Poulos says:

    Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to pick up the PR anomalies in the Subex press release. Eric Priezkalns gives it the TalkRA treatment here: http://ow.ly/lzm3A

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