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Phil Gomes

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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Posted by philgomes 1:40 AM

Lessons From My Hero:
I won't go into too much detail, but SAS co-founder and CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight is one of my personal heroes. In my universe, he should be revered at many times the level reserved for "Neutron" Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca. (This Fast Company article offers an excellent profile of the man.)
I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Churchill Club this week. As he spoke on the panel, he casually mentioned something about himself that I've always admired.
Here is a man who owns two-thirds of a ten-figure-per-year private company...And he still writes computer code.
Take heed, PR folks.
I've always been uncomfortable with the fact that PR folks -- particularly in the agency environment -- feel that they are somehow above the task of media relations when they reach a certain point in their careers. What this inevitably breeds is an agency power structure where the people who are farthest from the data make strategy recommendations to clients. These recommendations are often based on how the practice of media relations was performed the last time the strategist was tasked with that responsibility.
In my own career, this has manifested itself in many, many strange ways. I'll offer one example.
We were putting together an event at a tradeshow for a very large company. In addition to printed invites, we opted to email "save-the-date" notices to journalists and analysts who had demonstrated great interest in what the company was doing.
I have never sent an email to a journalist in anything but plain text. HTML- and RTF-formatted emails tend to be bulkier and there is never a guarantee that the recipient's email program will render a richly formatted message correctly. Additionally, sending unsolicited attachments to a contact is always a big, big no-no.
When my supervisor heard that I planned to send my email notices in *gasp* plain ASCII text, she went batshit. She said something vague about making the "best-possible" impression on behalf of our client. I humbly suggested that my approach was best.
Well, I clearly didn't know what I was talking about. She huffed away, fired up Powerpoint, and developed a flashy, graphically rich, one-slide invitation. She saved it as a Powerpoint show, such that the recipient (victim?) would be treated to a full-screen presentation of this colorful invite upon double-clicking the attachment.
"This is how it should be done," I was told. "This is how we go the extra mile for our clients. Now, don't argue with me and send it to your contacts." I did. I liked my job.
And, you know, it's a miracle that some of these contacts will still take my calls.
First, it was a 200kb unsolicited attachment. Yes, that's 200kb for one slide. One editor was traveling and had to deal with the download over a 33.6kb nibblenet connection in his hotel room. He didn't RSVP.
One publisher -- and a very important one -- operated almost 100% on Lotus Notes. Their implementation of Notes didn't like Powerpoint very much. "You mean you actually believed Microsoft's lip service to 'interoperability?'" one reporter screamed.
Of course, by sending the invite as a Powerpoint show, there was no console, button, or keystroke that allowed the journalist to print the invite. The journalists had to hand copy the invite information off of their screens.
Now, if this supervisor had been engaged in some of the media relations, even in a small way, she would have had a much better handle on email etiquette. The notion of sending an email in plain text would not have seemed so terrible.
And perhaps our turnout at the event would have been better.
The lesson: The day you as a PR professional consider yourself above media relations is the day that you've lost control of your career. QED. End-of-list. Sure, as you get promoted, more of your time might be spent planning, strategizing, and so on, but it would behoove you to devote at least some time to pitching.
Things have changed. We should be dedicated to changing with them.




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