Last month, I wrote a press release for a fundraiser a friend of mine is organizing, which will take place on January 19. As the date of the event nears, we’ve been trying to get the word out through media pitches, social networking sites and word-of-mouth marketing. Any exposure or media attention is more than welcome.
Today, a freelance journalist based in Toronto posted the press release on his blog and on DigitalJournal.com. This was great news to my friend, and I was quite pleased, but herein lies the rub – while it was posted verbatim, it was not sourced or credited to anyone. Furthermore, my contact information at the bottom of the release was removed. With his byline, it looked as though it was his post/article.
I didn’t know what to think. This isn’t about me getting attention; as a professional communicator, I don’t expect personal accolades and recognition for my work – any attention should be directed at the organization I’m working for. But in my opinion, a simple notation about the source (my friend’s comedy troupe, StandUp For Your Sisters), or an article based on the release, would have been the right thing to do.
The releases I’ve issued for the Ontario Dental Association have either been reprinted and credited to the organization, or cited by reporters as a source of information for their articles or broadcasts. This situation was entirely new to me. So I sought advice from friends and colleagues: Is this normal?
Most agreed that yes, it was (unfortunately) normal and legal, albeit very unprofessional and amateurish. One friend told me I was lucky to have the release posted by a journalist, because it lends more credibility (as opposed to having a release posted by me or my friend). He added that I should be happy it was posted verbatim because at least the message was not distorted. “Welcome to the state of journalism in 2010,” he quipped.
I suppose I should be glad about the coverage – the event will hopefully receive more exposure, and the message was, indeed, intact. Yet something about the whole thing smacks of laziness and a little disrespect. It also got me thinking – what’s stopping someone – anyone – from taking a press release and posting it online as their own? Should we allow our material to be appropriated as someone else’s work and just be grateful we’re getting the attention?
To me, there is a fine line between reporting and plagiarism, and I’m still unsure if it’s been crossed in this case. But it does feels like it has been broached.
Does this really constitute journalism in the 21st century?
Earlier this week, my friend Catherine posted a Tweet about her mother’s new website. It was a gesture from a loving and proud daughter – this was her mother’s first foray into social networking and Catherine wanted to give the website a little exposure. The responses from Catherine’s followers on Twitter and Facebook were welcoming, kind and gracious.
I remember how nervous I was when I published by first blog post. Unlike posting a note on Facebook, it was out there for the whole world to read and comment on. I overcame my fears because: a) I had confidence in my writing skills; b) I have a thick skin that makes me impervious to trolls; and c) I had a great network of friends and colleagues that supported and guided me.
But if you’re a 60-year-old woman who lives in a small town and is unfamiliar with social networking, starting a website can be a daunting experience. It certainly doesn’t help when your first efforts get slammed by a stranger.
The following is an email sent to Catherine’s mom that same evening.
First, I know am probably going to regret this. I just know I will. My apologies up front!
It generally happens when I poke my nose in where it does not belong.
Ok, that being over with – here is the scoop.
Your daughter whom I have never met, but see on that stupid thing called Twitter sometime, just announced that your NEW website was up and running.
GOOD FOR YOU!!!
Well, I went and had a peak.
Here is where I will start to regret all this …
First, my background is online. I have built well-over 1000 sites. They (who ever the heck they are) say I am an expert in this stuff and have been online from day one, in truth
well before the web was invented. I am also a writer and a photographer and a musician.
I am happy you have a site. We should all have sites.
However, and I am not sure how to put this, yours is horrible.
I am sorry, I am not trying to be rude.
And I am not talking about look and feel or design although it is not as good as you deserve – there are simply things that have been done incorrectly and will more than likely diminish your brand.
I am not suggesting you use what I have done. There are probably dozens you would like better.
This site is built properly. Meaning people can navigate through it and it will be found buy search engines and a bunch of other stuff I will not bore you with.
I tried to get hold of your daughter to see if I could get her to bridge this – but she did not get the message (the Twitter thing is useless at contacting people – probably a good thing)
Anyway – please accept this message in the spirit it is intended.
Your daughter seems like a great Gal and moreover you seem pretty amazing yourself. You need a better online presence.
I just hate seeing people do what I consider is the wrong thing.
And if you want this work I did – I will happily complete it of course – this was 10 minutes work so I would add your gallery and what is missing. It is no charge.
[Business contact information removed.]
I can’t even begin to list all the things that are so wrong with this email. I won’t go into the obvious, but here are a few that stand out:
1. The unsolicited sales pitch. Yes, this was a sales pitch, albeit a very poor one. I don’t care how carefully you choose your words or try to be friendly, when you list your CV and offer your help at “no charge”, you are selling something. If you are truly interested in helping someone, with no selfish motives, then start a conversation. Don’t be a spambot.
2. The casual tone of the email. Pete has never met Catherine or her mother, yet he thinks it is perfectly okay to speak to and about them as if they’re friends. And don’t get me started on the “great GAL” comment.
3. It’s never a good idea to insult the person you are trying to help/sell to. Hard to get buy-in from a person whose website you describe as “horrible”. Hint: look up “finesse” in the dictionary.
4. Was he that anxious to tell Helen how “horrible” her site was that he couldn’t wait one day to hear back from Catherine? Despite its limitations, Twitter IS a good way of contacting people you don’t know. Just don’t expect an instant response if they don’t know you personally. (And if you think it’s a “stupid thing”, then maybe you shouldn’t be on it.)
5. Just because you call yourself an expert, doesn’t mean you are one. “I just hate seeing people do what I consider is the wrong thing.” Pete should have taken the time to find out the purpose of the website before making this arbitrary call. The site is clean and easy to navigate; it’s a forum to showcase her work to friends and colleagues. What is so “wrong” with that?
6. If you think you are being rude, and if you think you’ll regret what you say, then don’t say it. Stating it upfront in your email does not mitigate the damage that will follow.
To the unfamiliar and uninitiated, the Internet can be quite intimidating. Some of us put aside our fears and dive right in. Others prefer to dip their toes in to get a feel for the temperature – let’s invite them in, and not push them under the water.
When I was in university, I took a few feminist-driven courses. In one of the classes, we were shown a presentation on sexism and misogyny in advertising. Open up any fashion magazine, we were told, and really LOOK at each image. Why is that women naked and surrounded by fully clothed, menacing men? Why is that model on her knees? It was also around the time when Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. I began to look at the world differently, and filtered all images, no matter how harmless they seemed, through strong, feminist rhetoric.
I’ve loosened up since then and fashioned my own view of what it means to be a woman and my place in society. Ads that got my back up so many years ago are now met with smirks or shrugs. But when I saw this print ad for Burger King, I nearly blew my tea through my nose.
With the popularity of blogs and websites like Adrants.com, nary a sexist ad goes by without its imagery being noticed and commented on. Given the reality of the consumer being so in tune to what’s going on, most advertisements no longer hide their intent behind their images because, really, what’s the point? They’ll be called out on it anyways. In fact, ads these days seem to give you a wink and a nod, as if to say, “Yes, our ad is racy but we know you’re smart enough to see that. You know we’re being ironic, right?”
But the BK ad is not winking at us. It’s acting like a sleazy guy trying to usher us in to a peep show.
It’s not the stupid clichés or the fact that it’s equating a sandwich with a penis. It’s the woman in the ad – why is she made up to look like a sex doll? Why is she not enjoying the delicious sandwich she is about to eat? Why is she not showing any emotion? Is she, in a misogynistic sense, supposed to open her mouth and eat (take) it, whether she likes it or not?
Several fast-food chains in the U.S. have hired attractive, female celebrities to hawk their food. Food is often linked to sex and Carl’s Jr. is one of the brands that gets it.
What I like about this ad is that you have a smart, beautiful and successful woman who really enjoys eating. (Note to Carl’s Jr. – more like Padma, less like Paris, please.) There is none of this eat-this-and-fit-into-a-size-2-dress blow to our self-esteem that we get from Lean Cuisine. I don’t eat burgers that often, but when I do indulge in it, yes, it can be close to orgasmic. The Carl’s Jr. ad is quite cheeky with its wink-wink premise that a Carl’s Jr. burger is just THAT good. At least it doesn’t ignore their female audience.
The difference between those ads and the BK one is what is being objectified. In the Carl’s Jr. ad, the burger is the object (most men would disagree with me on that, but hear me out). The women are responding with lust, enjoyment and gratification to the burger (the object). In the BK ad, however, the woman is the object – the way the sandwich is placed draws your attention to her. She is not reacting to the (assumed) tastiness of the sandwich, because frankly, who cares what she wants? the ad seems to say. She is just a prop used by the advertisers to make their clever blowjob joke. Besides, aren’t women supposed to be satisfied with their Lean Cuisine entrees and carrot sticks?
To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have that much of a problem with the ad if she was licking her lips in anticipation. At least she’d appear more human and willing.
I don’t know why BK stooped so low. Was the Super Seven Incher trending low in their 18-24 male demographic? In any case, my appetite for Burger King has suddenly gone flaccid.
I received this in my junk email folder at work today. Clearly, my spam filters are set too high – I narrowly missed being recognized for my achievements.
It is my pleasure to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion into the 2009-2010 Princeton Premier Business Leaders and Professionals Honors Edition section of the registry.
The 2009-2010 edition of the registry will include biographies of the world’s most accomplished individuals. Recognition of this kind is an honor shared by thousands of executives and professionals throughout the world each year. Inclusion is considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement.
Upon final confirmation, you will be listed among other accomplished individuals in the Princeton Premier Registry.
For accuracy and publication deadlines, please complete your application form and return it to us within five business days.
There is no cost to be included in the registry. If you’ve already received this email from us, there is no need to respond again. This email serves as our final invitation to potential members who have not yet responded.
On behalf of the Executive Publisher, we wish you continued success.
The day after the arrival of Cardboard Dave, the flesh-and-blood one called me. He sheepishly asked me if I received his package, then stated that he wasn’t egotistical; the idea was his marketing departments. (Um, you are the VP of Integrated Marketing, so I assume you have a say in their campaigns?)
In my most pleasant voice, I gave him feedback on this, the most ostentatious marketing campaign I have ever witnessed. (See my original post for my thoughts.) While I understood the reasoning behind it, and how tough it is to get into an organization to pitch your product/services for the first time, I told Dave a more personal touch would have worked for me. It got me in a lot of doors in my previous job. He thanked me for my thoughts and promised to relay this to his marketing department.
I could only promise Dave I would ask my Director if he’d be interested in a meeting and the conversation was closed.
I received this email five minutes later:
From:ODA Info Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 3:14 PM To: Bonnie Dean Subject:FW: From XX…
From: Dave Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 2:44 PM To:ODA Info Subject: From XX…
If you could please forward to Bonnie Dean, that would be most appreciated!
Thanks for the conversation on the phone earlier today. Hope you don’t mind me sending through the info@ email address… [Um, yes, I do.]
It was great to get some constructive feedback from you on our sales approach, and I would completely agree that a customized message is 100% more beneficial (and effective). I’m sorry Big Dave turned out to be cumbersome for you…we can come and remove him from your office if you wish…
I did have a deeper look on the site and what better way to address your #1 core goal which is “to promote optimal oral health” than to turn the association inside out from a consumer perspective, brand your url http://www.youroralhealth.ca, and serve up relevant, interesting dental education content that is completely user-friendly and very current. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest this is more progressive than some of the associations we’ve worked with in the past…
I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me…if there’s a chance to meet, that’s great and if not…all the best and here’s to dental hygiene!
Have a great weekend.
I promptly declined his offer of a meeting. Here’s why:
If he dug into our website and opened one of our news releases, my email address is at the bottom of every release. Why not take the time to search it out?
His ideas for our website? We did that a year ago with a complete overhaul of the site to appeal to the public. We think it’s pretty rad. Is he saying our content isn’t relevant, interesting or user-friendly? (Take a look and you be the judge.) Isn’t it a tad counterproductive to criticize the website of the company you wish to work with? Instead of insinuating that it could be improved, perhaps offer suggestions on how to add to its greatness. Flattery does get you places.
I still have Cardboard Dave looming behind me, and the search is on for a life-size picture of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s face to superimpose on his mug. The only good things to come out of this was a few blog posts and hopefully, a life-sized, cardboard cut-out of the Comedian watching my back.