Archive of ‘Communicating’ category

You took the words right out of my mouth


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?


If you can’t say any­thing nice…then just shut up


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.

Subject: Hi Helen.
Date: Wed, 11 Nov 2009

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.


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.

Here have a look …


I did this in 10 min­utes. I used a sim­ple tem­plate I had sit­ting around — there are a lot of tem­plates just like this. http://​www​.styleshout​.com/​f​r​e​e​-​t​e​m​p​l​a​t​e​s​.​p​h​p​?​p​a​g​e=1

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.


Is that a sand­wich in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


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 Montréal. 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.


Junk Email of the Day: Special Edition


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.

Dear Bonnie,

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.


Jason Harris

Managing Director

Princeton Premier


Son of Son of a Pitch!


UPDATE to Son of a Pitch!

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

Hi there–

If you could please for­ward to Bonnie Dean, that would be most appreciated!



Hi Bonnie–

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​.youro​ral​health​.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.


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