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July 19, 2006

How (And How Not) To Market To Me When I'm in Blogger Mode

As I think I've mentioned before, I am apparently enough of a high-profile blogger that I get people sending me stuff and wanting to do business with me in my capacity as a blogger. People sending me stuff is always fun (it's stuff. And it's free), and that's why I have my publicist guidelines over there on the side bar. Wanting to do business with me is a tricker proposition. This site is (until I am hard up for money, at least) resolutely not a commercial site, and I'm not particularly inclined to 'ho out my readership for a few shiny baubles or whatever. Also, as someone who makes at least part of his money crafting marketing messages for various clients, and has for the better part of a decade, it's not like I don't know how marketing works. I know the difference between a good pitch and a bad one, particularly when it's directed toward me. I get annoyed at the bad ones.

Now, as it happens, yesterday I received two e-mails from two different people, both of whom were trying to get me interested -- as a blogger -- in incorporating the businesses they're promoting into my site. One of them did a bad job of it, and one of them did a good job of it, both in the sense of promoting their services to me as a blogger, and (incidentally) promoting their services to me as John Scalzi. As an object example of each, I'm going to present these marketing messages to you now, and explain all the ways they do and don't work.

First, the e-mail pitch that doesn't work.

Hey
Napster is willing to pay you money, and all you have to do is keep your site lookin' pretty. Napster has taken their catalog of over 2 million songs and comedy routines and acquired the rights to provide sites like yours with streaming flash-based links to their library.
These cool links will add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience.
Super-easy! Your users can cut and paste these audio links into their blogs, MySpace pages, etc. and you collect money. You get 5% for downloads and $10 dollars for each subscription. If you'd like to see an example of what it will look like on your site, checkout www.gumpop.com
Give us a call or email and say, "my site wants a sugar daddy", we'll hook you up.

Interestingly, this pitch came from an actual PR company (this one), which prides itself on being "guerilla marketing specialists." Yeah, well, no. Here's why it fails:

1. The Salutation Sucks. I understand it's meant to be cool and informal, but what it really says is "this e-mail is going out to a whole bunch of different people and rather than registering you as an individual, we'll go for a slangy, hip but impersonal salutation." The problem with this is that slangy and hip or not, bloggers as a general rule like to pretend what we're doing is individual enough that we deserve recognition as individuals (just like everybody else on MySpace or LiveJournal or wherever). An impersonal salutation sets the tone for the rest of the pitch to be impersonal as well, and an impersonal pitch is at a disadvantage when you're trying to shill your wares. "Hey John" would have been fine; "Hey Scalzi" would have been even better (since nearly everyone who knows me or knows of me calls me Scalzi, not John, and this would indicate the marketeer actually knows something about the blog). "Hey" by itself, however, gets nothing.

2. The rhetoric is appalling. The language of the pitch makes it sound like I'm some anorexic skank on the prowl for some easy cash, and that Napster -- the client here, remember -- is a greasy, sweaty pussy-trawler who's willing to toss a few coins my way as long as I'm ready to service him. I mean, really, it's soooo nice that Napster is willing to pay me money, you know, as long as my site keeps lookin' pretty. But what if my site's ass gets fat? What happens when the site develops those mouth wrinkles from all the cigarettes it smokes to ward off the pangs of hunger required to keep its ass from getting fat? What if my site turns 26 and its boobs begin to sag by a millimeter or two? What will my sugar daddy do then? Who will I have to blow then to get this sweet, sweet deal?

Oh yeah: this e-mail was signed by a woman.

Yes, I know it's all third-wave feminist to say that it's cool to be sexy and hot to the men and still be woman, hear you roar and all that. But this ain't third wave feminism; it's some idiot marketer under the impression that using language that equates to "suck this corporate cock for shiny, shiny pennies" is somehow ironic and fun. Well, it's ironic all right, in that Napster, once the symbol of rebellion against the idiocies of the mass-produced music industry, has now been reduced via marketing to the equivalent of a coked-out middle-aged dotcom jackass with hair plugs, hanging out at a strip club and trying to convince the new meat on the stage to do the squishy with him in the back of his C-class Mercedes. I'm not sure how that's fun.

3. It makes it appear like the client is doing me a favor. Let me see if I have this straight: I basically put a link on my site that funnels people to Napster's site, whereupon Napster will then attempt to get them to sign up for its service? And for this Napster is willing to pay me? Well, that's nice. The pitch does include a value proposition for me as the blogger -- i.e., that I can add all sorts of music to my blog, and that people can then cut and paste that into their own blog -- but this value proposition is not purely for my own benefit, and in any event, the value proposition to me is presented after language that makes it look like Napster is providing me some great benefit by allowing me to funnel my readers to it. Certainly a marketer doesn't want to make his or her client look desperate ("please lease us your readers! They're coming to take away our loft! Oh, God, please!"), but fronting a false sense of noblisse oblige is not the way to go, either.

4. Dead-eyed marketing jargon. If you barf out marketing-speak like "add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience," which no normal human uses in the real world -- ever -- its soul-deadening qualities are not obviated by having the next thing you write be "Super-easy!" Also, bloggers don't have users, they have readers, and the fact that the former term is being used rather than the latter is further evidence that this particular message is being tooled out by people who either don't understand to whom they are marketing or who are so adrift in the becalmed sargasso of marketing-speak that their position of being "guerilla marketing" experts is only relative to those folks even more clueless about the blogging world than they.

5. Inconsistent tone. Related to the above, you can't really try to position yourself as offering something all hip and fun and trendy and then let slip in painfully square marketing speak. It's a rhetorical whipsaw, and it tubes the overall effectiveness of the work. It has to be all of a piece, otherwise it can't even begin to be read as authentic. Hell, it can't even begin to fake authenticity, and authenticity actually matters in the blog world. These people would be far better off simply to have an e-mail that says "hi, we're going to try to market to you, and here's the cool stuff we have for you," then this mess of a "We're hip beyond all reason, offering no-cost interactivity to your users" mashup.

My real question is not who wrote it, but, honestly, who approved it? Because this is crap. If I were running this particular marketing shop, I would have punted this back faster than you can say "bring me a skim half-caf latte." Maybe Napster likes it, but a marketer's job is not only to make the client happy but to save the client from its own ass-foolishness. This emphatically did not happen here. This is terrible marketing, both to me in particular and to bloggers in general.

What does good marketing to bloggers look like? Well, let's take a look at my next example:

John,
I am a big fan of your books Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades and have really enjoyed reading your blog the past few weeks. I work for Tower.com and was wondering if you’d be interested in working with us to save your readers a couple bucks in the process. Instead of linking to Amazon.com whenever you mention a book, CD, movie or video game, you can link to us. If you’d like, we can do a couple of things for your readers:
* I can give you a reusable coupon every month for either a percentage or dollar amount off of any order over a certain amount, plus free standard shipping. OR
* Whenever you're going to post about a CD, DVD or book, etc., I can set up an individual coupon for that particular item that would take a dollar or two off of our sale price.
You can also sign up to become an affiliate and put some change in your pocket while you’re at it. There's information about our affiliate program right here: http://www.towerrecords.com/affiliate.asp
I think it would be cool to work with you on this, so if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get a hold of me anytime. Also, the Muse album is amazing. I thought that Showbiz was awesome and had totally forgotten about them too until this album came out.

Why does it work? Pretty much for all the reasons the earlier example did not.

1. The marketer knows who I am. Or at the very least gives the impression he does: He name-checks the books I've written and via the Muse reference gives an indication that he's aware of the recent writing on my site. In both cases I get the feeling that this pitch is to me, and based on awareness of what I do, both in my blogging and non-blogging life. This inclines me to give the pitch more serious consideration, because, who knows? Maybe it will be useful.

2. The language is good. This guy is not trying to be the hippest dude in the room, he's just got an idea that he thinks could work out well for the both of us. The language is simple, direct, friendly and pretty much free of marketing lingo -- note "readers" not "users" -- and is consistent across the board.

3. The offer is to be helpful, not to do me a favor. Napster is "willing" to give me money. Tower Records, however, is ready to save my readers a couple of bucks. You don't need a degree in rhetoric to see what a difference this makes. It's ironic that the hip, supposed-to-be-counter-culture approach in fact reinforces the supremacy of the corporation over the consumer, while this low-key and unhip approach gets what's important: That in the blog world, readers are incredibly important, and doing something that works to their advantage is going to be good for the blogger. In fact, let's pull this out as its own point:

4. This pitch understands its market. This pitch is from someone who actually seems to have a clue how the blog world works -- that it's about readers as much as the folks who write the blogs. And because the guy also seems to have a clue what I do on my site -- I recommend books and music on a constant basis, and I feel reasonably protective of my readers -- he pitches his offer to me on the basis of behaviors I exhibit, and spins the offer to put my readers first. That's all smart stuff for this guy to do, and it also speaks toward the interests of Tower Records in promoting itself online. Tower wants to be useful, and through being useful, hopefully successful as well.

5. This pitch isn't pushy. It knows what it's about -- it is trying to get me to link to Tower, after all -- but it lets the value proposition speak for itself, and the person writing it lets me know that if and when I want to talk to him more about it, he's ready to work with me (as opposed to "hooking me up," which again implies someone is doing me a favor). Speaking rhetorically, this pitch tells me that this guy is confident that what he's offering is a good deal and he's comfortable with me giving it some thought and seeing if it's right for me. This is a far better method of presentation for me, personally; I think it's a far better presentation in general.

What does this all mean?

First, not only am I not likely to avail myself of the Napster thing, but now I have a vaguely negative feeling about Napster in general; the image of Napster huffin' and puffin' at me from behind and then contemptuously slapping down a couple of soiled dollars for my time is one that is pretty much burned into my mind, thanks to this pitch.

Second, I actually am now thinking of sending links to Tower. I currently link to Amazon primarily because many of my readers are also writers, and writers as a class obsess over their Amazon rankings because it's the only sales feedback we usually get. But Tower's book prices, at least, are competitive, and while I'm not likely to do an affilliate thing, if Tower wants to offer a special deal to my readers for one of my books, that's well worth considering. Tower wasn't on my radar before for any of this, and now it is. And that's smart marketing, to me as me, and to me as a blogger.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Update 7/21/06, 5pm: The President/CEO of Guerilla PR responds in the comment thread. I have further thoughts on the matter here.

Posted by john at July 19, 2006 03:42 PM

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Comments

Stan | July 19, 2006 04:00 PM

Phrases like "Super-easy!" set off my brain's spam detector. I gnerally delete messages with phrases like that in less than a second.

I'd expect more from a professional marketing company.

Jerry | July 19, 2006 04:01 PM

Huh, Tower Records carries books? Looks like the prices are pretty decent too. It doesn't look like they have a lot of the browsing infrastructure that Amazon does, but maybe I'll give them a shot when I make next month's book order.

Somewhat more on topic: I can't believe Napster is sending out that kind of marketing material. What an awful way to pitch your affiliate program.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 04:06 PM

Jerry: Yeah, from what I could see the Tower online book selection was pretty good -- and they had a lot of my stuff, which is nice for me. Do give them a shot, and then let us know how they worked for you.

I remember the Tower Records nearest me back when I lived in California also had a reasonable selection of books (including SF), but there's not one near me now so I can't say whether they still do.

Anne C. | July 19, 2006 04:07 PM

Dang, Scalzi (mental note: don't use "John"), you've got a talent for vivid description.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 04:09 PM

Good thing, being a writer and all!

Dave | July 19, 2006 04:10 PM


It always struck me as a bit odd that you didn't do the Amazon affiliate thing. As I understand it, you would just have to change the book link tags. No one would much care, and most wouldn't even notice. Plus, they pay off in Amazon gift cards which, shockingly, people sometimes forget to report to the IRS.

Anyway, your site, your rules, but I always figured it would have been more than worth the hassle.

Has Napster ever done anything that wasn't a bit sleazy. I might actually have taken their pitch as ironically riffing on how sleazy they have always been.

Gwenda | July 19, 2006 04:13 PM

THANK YOU!

I've recently gotten a flurry of weird advertising/let us make you money kind of solicitations, and only a very few do I read beyond the first line. (I too found Napster cringe-inducing; it made me feel dirrrty like an Aguilera.)

One: I don't do the blog to make money.

Two: I don't believe that these people have the capacity to make me enough money for the trade-off having some sort of association with them is.

But yeah, it's interesting in a pitch way. The same things you site here apply with book publicists (whose product I am actually disposed to be interested in).

Gwenda | July 19, 2006 04:17 PM

Make that cite even.

Greg | July 19, 2006 04:19 PM

Whoa, for a second I thought I was at Seth Godin's site.

John H | July 19, 2006 04:42 PM

a coked-out middle-aged dotcom jackass with hair plugs, hanging out at a strip club and trying to convince the new meat on the stage to do the squishy with him in the back of his C-class Mercedes

That's what we love about you, John (I mean Scalzi)...

Bill Marcy | July 19, 2006 04:45 PM

Scal, (I am so familiar I can shorten your last name).

How about a reach around for a bud?

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 04:48 PM

Eeeeeeeeew, Bill. We're not that close.

Also, I don't think anyone in the history of the world has ever called me "Scal." And for good reason.

John H | July 19, 2006 05:00 PM

How about Zi?

As in "Yo, Zi!"

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 05:04 PM

Not really. "Scalzi" is distinctive enough.

Bill Marcy | July 19, 2006 05:17 PM

Scal, you don't get it, it is like Cal, but with an S at the start, you know, Scal.

How cool is that?

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 05:24 PM

Ummm....

Bill Marcy | July 19, 2006 05:30 PM

Scal, yeah, I know, it's one of those nicks one has to live with for a while, before it feels as comfortable as an old shoe. I mean, we could have just branded you asshole, or writer-dude, but you get a cool nick like Scal.

I get tingles.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 05:31 PM

Look! Ponies!

Bill Marcy | July 19, 2006 05:32 PM

Where? Where?

Clearmoon | July 19, 2006 06:06 PM

"...becalmed sargasso..."

That's as far as I've gotten, I'm laughing so hard. Scalzi, you fucking rock.

Owen Lystrup | July 19, 2006 06:55 PM

Scalzi,

More than duly noted. I work in PR and am going to forward this on to all my peeps to give them the 411 on how to successfully pitch a marketable idea to a blogger. (See how hip, and yet corporate I am?)

Great writing. Thanks for the advice. We eat this stuff up like Twinkies.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 07:07 PM

Great, Owen. Please do share.

Teresa Valdez Klein | July 19, 2006 07:54 PM

Hi John,
I'm so glad I put you in my RSS reader after reading your post about purity balls. Your attitude cracks me up hardcore - especially of late.
This post and the post about the "Emily" viral marketing campaign yesterday were so compelling that I linked to both of them from my company's blog.
Thanks for all the fabulousness. I'll be coming back for more.

Annalee Flower Horne | July 19, 2006 08:57 PM

since we're discussing your surname, can I be an illiterate tool and ask how it's pronounced? Is the C hard or soft/silent?

Sorry if this is a dumb question. They're the best kind I know how to ask.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 09:14 PM

I'm not sure how you would pronounce "Scalzi" with a soft "c," actually.

I pronounce it "Skaal - zee." Pronouncing it "Skail - zee" is not unheard of, but I prefer the first.

Incidentally, it's okay to call me "John." I answer to it just fine. It's just that I notice people tend to call me "Scalzi."

Chang | July 19, 2006 09:55 PM

I feel Icky reading the Napster one. The Tower one makes me almost like them.

I didn't see any ponies, though. :(

I'll send this to my brother. He's in PR and he'll dig it.

jenuine | July 19, 2006 10:09 PM

I live in Sacramento about six blocks from the original Tower Records. The company was predominately family run for quite a while, then they started having trouble and have downsized quite a bit.

I've always tried to support local business and it was neat to know that Tower started small and got pretty big. I've always enjoyed going there. I'm glad to know that their PR folks aren't sleazy.

J

Diatryma | July 19, 2006 11:04 PM

I like these entries. They're interesting in a way I wouldn't see without them-- where but J-Sco am I going to find marketing don'ts?

Yes, J-Sco. You should have taken Scal.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2006 11:55 PM

J-Sco.

I may have to kill myself.

Wickedpinto | July 20, 2006 01:20 AM

5. This pitch isn't pushy.

You are absolutely right, but you were being politic in your description.

The second pitch was successful, because the FIRST pitch thinks that you are THEIR bitch, whereas the second pitch acknowledges the fact that THEY are YOUR bitch.

You kiss the tuek of the brand, you don't expect the brand to kiss the tuek of the parasite.

Diatryma | July 20, 2006 01:24 AM

Oh, please don't kill yourself. I shall endeavor to call you Scalzi forevermore, I shall recommend your books to people (already doing that-- thanks for writing a good Father's Day gift), I shall use too much punctuation apologizing. If you killed yourself, no more books, no more interesting, and I've seen your wife and that bat. We will not speak of the daughter's wrath.
She's going to have some good nicknames for you eventually.

Stan | July 20, 2006 09:17 AM

"I'm not sure how you would pronounce "Scalzi" with a soft "c," actually."

like scimitar. You could be Scimitar Scalzi or Scalzi with the scimitar wit.

Tripp | July 20, 2006 10:16 AM

If you really really prefered "Scalzi" I suppose I could force myself, but since we've never really met I am MUCH more comfortable with "John."

It sits between Mr. Scalzi and Scalzi on the familiarity scale, although I suppose I may be wrong because newspaper articles switch to the last name after once using the full name.

My full name is Tripp Davenport although the Tripp is already a nickname for a clunky family name. Nobody ever calls me Davenport.

John Scalzi | July 20, 2006 10:42 AM

Well, Tripp, then by all means, use "John." It happens to be my name as well.

John H | July 20, 2006 10:45 AM

jenuine

it was neat to know that Tower started small and got pretty big

Don't they all? Well, I suppose some companies start big and just keep getting bigger. But that's the rare exception to the rule.

Annalee Flower Horne | July 20, 2006 10:51 AM

Thanks. I feel a lot less dumb knowing that I'm pronouncing it correctly. While I tend to agree with the old adage 'there's no shame in having seen more words written than you've heard spoken out loud,' I've always felt it's more respectful to make every effort to pronounce people's names correctly.

Steve Buchheit | July 20, 2006 11:32 AM

Blech, I think I need a shower after the Napster pitch. Maybe a few showers to get all that off.

I also work in the communications/advertising/PR world. When I was designing I think I was the only one who would talk about what the message was and how we were presenting it. Instead most clients like the Napster approach of, “be hip, sexy, hot, and sell, sell, sell.”

My presentations tended to be drab as I wouldn’t hard sell the ideas. After the second time a client looked at me like I had three heads, I explained, “I could give you the dog and pony. Explain how the type selection matches your corporate mission. How the grid is based on the x-height to cap ratio. I could discuss the mythology/story of the symbol (if it was very abstract I might do that part at least), the psychology of the color, and the power of the balance of positive to negative space. But I’m not going to be there when you hand your business card/brochure/ad to your customer/client and chances are you won’t be there every time either.” Some clients would get it, others wanted the whole magic show.

I told that story to say that most current advertising I see or hear, my main comment is, “I bet it sounded great in the conference room.” Olgevy said that a TV ad would have to work if you could only hear it and if you could only see it. Most modern TV ads fail that test.

The Napster ad is geared toward kids who have no idea how business is done (this is “squee” neat, want some candy?). The Tower Ad is how business is done; they “know” your business and their pitch is of the “we can help your readers and it’ll benefit everybody involved.”

Dr. Phil | July 20, 2006 02:14 PM

To say nothing of the fact that the second marketer came up with his lead and knew what to do with it, thus improving his chances for fame and glory. The first marketer should, by rights, have already run smack into the basement floor of The Peter Principle. Alas, they will be around too long and do too much damage.

Dr. Phil

Chang | July 20, 2006 05:01 PM

I sent this to you John, but I thought I'd post it here for other PR cats to dig. It's from my brother who's a copywriter at a largish PR firm in New England:

Excellent stuff. Sent it to everyone at Via. Next time
you post, tell Scalzi I've been in marketing
communications for 20 (frig, 20?!) years, and that's
one of the best things I've seen written on knowing
your audience.

Good on ya!

Chap | July 20, 2006 06:12 PM

Arrived here via Instapundit.

I concur with your assessment--and well played, sir.

Back in the nineties I lived in Japan. Tower's book section in Tokyo (Shibuya, and far from home) was wonderful; about the best English language book section in the area.

John Scalzi | July 20, 2006 06:17 PM

Chap:

Indeed -- I'd be willing to bet that if I personally had spent any amount of time in Tokyo, I'd probably be haunting the Tower Records.

Response39 | July 20, 2006 06:22 PM

Hey, er, John!, um Scalzy, I mean Scalzi!
Your blog posts are as clean as your writing in Old Man's War. Very easy to read, a hoot with the images you bring up, and informative.

Thanks.
Steve G.

woods | July 20, 2006 07:14 PM

Finally, after reading and enjoying your musings for so long, I'm commenting. Am I more distracted from writing by reading your stuff than you are by writing it? I've noticed that you engage in frequent replying to those who are commenting and I'm convinced it's a sure sign of advanced anything-but-writing disorder. None the less, I thank you for helping me in my quest to avoid productivity.
woods.

Richard R | July 20, 2006 07:17 PM

I also slave in corporate communications for a Very Large Company.

Thank you for that wonderful summary of everything I've been trying to tell people for 7 years.

I bought - and loved - OMW directly from you as an MS Word download. (I only wish I could do that with more books. It's absurd to have to pay hard cover prices for a download, only because I don't want to lug half a dozen books along on a business trip.)

I keep telling these people, strip off the style. Just say it. Style is NOT substance, substance is substance.

Becky | July 20, 2006 07:21 PM

I was a marketing drone for a number of years and you are dead on point. That first bit of tripe was painful to read. And now I'm off to check out Tower because I, also, had no idea they did books.

Ponies! Wheeee!

_Jon | July 20, 2006 08:16 PM


"Scal"
-- That sounds like something you'd catch from doing the squishy with the new meat in the back of a C-class Mercedes.

John Scalzi | July 20, 2006 08:20 PM

That's quite enough of that, thank you very much.

Dean Esmay | July 20, 2006 09:37 PM

One thing to keep in mind here is target demographic. I actually suspect that most of the first pitch from Napster would work with actual young individuals who find obnoxiousness rather appealing. And of course Napster itself is mostly popular with younger people.

Informality, rudeness, etc. tends to play well when marketing the 15-30 demographic.

Problem: most popular bloggers aren't in that demographic. Exceptions are people linke Wonkette (which is exactly the sort of blogger that Napster piece was aimed at.)

John Scalzi | July 20, 2006 09:45 PM

Dean Esmay:

"I actually suspect that most of the first pitch from Napster would work with actual young individuals who find obnoxiousness rather appealing."

I think this is entirely possible (I don't think it would have worked on a younger version of me, but I admit to being weird). On the other hand, I do see it as part of my mission to explain to the young folk why being addressed as if you're a fifty-cent whore at a donkey show isn't, in fact, a good thing.

CERDIP | July 21, 2006 12:09 AM

Scalzi:


and writers as a class obsess over their Amazon rankings because it's the only sales feedback we usually get.

Ain't that the truth. Of course, two years ago Amazon made their Big Change, and now it's maddeningly difficult to extract meaningful trend information without resorting to a reporting service. On any given day one can jump from the low thousands to high five-figures and back down to the teen-K's over the course of several hours. Okay, I'm starting to obsess again, so I'll shut up now...


(Oh yeah, and I read Old Man's War last winter, provoked into it by the Puppy Blender Boy. I'm gonna cue up The Ghost Brigades for the beach later this summer. Excellent stuff!)


Regards,
Ken Finney
/- Non-fiction author working on breaking into military/science fiction someday soon, to his wife's dismay.

CERDIP | July 21, 2006 12:22 AM

re: Dean's Hypothesis

I so happen to have a captive audience of 18- to 30-year olds whose lives I get to haunt for 21-months on a daily basis. I'm gonna cue those two pitches up for my students in a couple of different ways to different cohorts, and see how they respond. I'm tending to lean towards Dean's Hypothesis myself, even though I agree that the second pitch is certainly the one that might win me over-- the first one: never.

In fact, I also have a mandate to "explain to the young folk why being addressed as if you're a fifty-cent whore at a donkey show isn't, in fact, a good thing" as well, and the above experiment would make a great study. I find students to be highly receptive to these kinds of revelations, especially if presented in a sort of "inside baseball" manner thus avoiding those "the old fart's preaching at us again" eyerolling looks.

Brother Bark | July 21, 2006 01:51 AM

This is a little off-topic, but if you want to see lame-o corporate stuff, Wal-Mart is trying to be "hip" by running some kind of MySpace ripoff that's so square it isn't even funny.

http://adage.com/article?article_id=110520

Slashdot covered it, too.

Anyways, the point is that some people just don't get it, and they don't get it so massively that you wonder how they manage not to implode into black holes of cluelessness.

Paul Gaddis | July 21, 2006 08:26 AM

....C-class mercedes LOL

I'll go buy OMW from Tower just for that!

Will Curtis | July 21, 2006 01:52 PM

hilarious scalzi and your points are well taken.

TallDave | July 21, 2006 03:45 PM

I get the feeling the Napster deal was probably mostly aimed at the MySpace crowd.

But any site, commercial or non, that gets more than a few hundred hits a day gets this stuff thrown at it. It's all crap as far as I've ever been able to tell.

Jackie M. | July 21, 2006 04:12 PM

One got the idea that you could negotiate the terms of the Tower offer, whereas the Napster deal was all or nothing. Part of that was probably the lack of individualization: they have a million other people with whom they're doing business, why would they care if you don't quite like their offer?

And now I know longer know how to refer to you in the third person.

Jackie M. | July 21, 2006 04:19 PM

"No longer," not "know longer." Gosh that was a hard sentence to write.

Michael Leifer | July 21, 2006 04:19 PM

Hi John,

I am the President & CEO of Guerilla PR and am quite disturbed by the email that was sent to you by Nadine of my staff and want to personally apologize.

Each of our outreach emails are crafted for a specific target audience and typically go through a quality control and approval process. As I'm sure you are well aware, mistakes occur within even the most strategic marketing campaigns and, unfortunately, you mistakenly received an email that was specifically developed for outreach to a database of comedic fansites (thus the affiliate-focused offer and tone).

Aside from containing messages that were not tailored specifically to you, the email you received was crafted by a Guerilla staffer who took it upon herself to make creative changes to the approved email copy, which resulted in language that was far more cutesy, “salesy”, immature, unprofessional and generic than any which Guerilla pr typically recommends using- with any audience. The copy in the email was not approved by anyone at Guerilla PR, nor by anyone at Napster.

At Guerilla PR, we understand that “guerilla” marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool, but only when well executed. The type of communication you received is NOT indicative of the communications that we send on behalf of Napster or any of our clients.

In all fairness, Guerilla PR and our employees have relationships which we have built up over 7 years and have succeeded in providing sites, writers and users with valuable digital assets, tools, story queries, interviews, videos, and more.

I am glad this was brought to my attention, as it enabled us to correct the situation. We concur with your assessment and strive to continually have our entire staff practice the recommendations you scribed. To reduce the risk of future similar incidents, this GPR rep’s employment has been terminated.

Please email me back if you have any additional needs or questions. Thank you.

With respect,
Michael Leifer

Crank | July 21, 2006 04:19 PM

Brilliant. I got that Napster email too - verbatim, of course, though my blog and readership are rather different - and just stuck it aside to review later because I couldn't immediately make sense of what it meant and it left me with a vaguely bad feeling that this was spam or a trick of some sort. Good marketing never makes you think it sounds like a 411 scam.

Crank | July 21, 2006 04:22 PM

I just noticed who posted while my comment was going through. Kudos to Mr. Leifer for 'fessing up and trying to get it right. On the other hand:

specifically developed for outreach to a database of comedic fansites

My blog is a baseball/politics blog; why'd I get this? (Not that I'm averse to sponsors, mind you)

John Scalzi | July 21, 2006 05:06 PM

Thank you, Mr. Leifer for responding both promptly and completely -- it's good to hear this sort of messaging is apparently an abberation. I'm posting your reply in a front-page post so people can see you've addressed the situation.

D.B. Baker | July 21, 2006 07:57 PM

Sorry, Older Man, time to play Devil's Advocate.

It even sounds like a little devil, but it was Napster that changed the world. Maybe before you were born. And that counts for s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g.

So, some accidental nephew lays an E-egg on you - but you wind up with some good material. A gift, so why complain, gettin' all huffed up about nothin'.

More power to Tower, but what's the real deal with Napster? Maybe there was something there you didn't notice? Sitting right between the lines, like a huge, flashing, neon banner. After all, I'm a reader, too.

Which reminds me, is this how a famous writer spends his time, beating up on someone's nephew? Yeah, like “you” never toked Tuscany oregano.

(Napster logo here)


John Scalzi | July 21, 2006 08:05 PM

D.B. Baker:

Could you say that again, in English this time?

mythago | July 21, 2006 08:22 PM

Lesson of the day: don't smoke 'oregano' and post.

Putting the staffer's name on the e-mail, unless it was on the original post sent to John, was pretty unkind. Simply noting that the staffer in question acted improperly and we're really sorry about that is plenty; did the guy really not realize it would take all of 30 seconds to find out who Nadine is? If so, that REALLY doesn't speak well for his Internet savvy.

John Scalzi | July 21, 2006 08:31 PM

It was indeed in the original e-mail, as well as contact information.

As I noted in the other thread, it's possible that "Nadine" is not the person as the one who wrote the piece; marketing people often have staff write collateral that then goes out in the name of one of the account execs.

Ruth | July 21, 2006 09:01 PM

Our local Tower used to be Tower Books and Tower Music side by side. (Oddly, you couldn't go through the connecting door and pay for books in the music store or music in the book store.) When they closed down the book store, they converted the space into a used music section. As far as I know, there is still a Tower Books in Sacramento (it's on the same corner as Tower Music, Tower Cafe, the Tower Theater, and Tower Liquor), and I think it's the only one left.

D.B. Baker | July 21, 2006 09:23 PM

Hi John,

It's the best I can do, given the circumstance.

Meanwhile, I'm worried about "Nadine," now out on Broadway selling pencils - when it should've been her fearful leader, Mr. Leifer: "Each of our outreach emails are crafted for a specific target audience and typically go through a quality control and approval process."

What the hell is THAT!

Of course, I'm only playing devil's advocate - but still, this is CYA marketing at its worst. After all, you're JOHN SCALZI, successful author - not chopped liver to be past off to a [lowly] hipster like "Nadine" (yes, discarded with the trash!).

I've run a number of [lowly] businesses in my time, but I could never bring myself to blame an employee when things went wrong. After all, "I" was the boss, which made everyone's performance MY fault:

Dear Mr. Scalzi,

Sorry, I screwed up big time, but if I fire myself Guerilla PR is out of business.

Many thanks for your suggestions, which point for point will help improve our business...

___________

As a generic object lesson, I don't necessarily disagree. Maybe it was more your high-horse approach - and on this I must credit Mr. Leifer; he's no fool.

But then you get all English on me - a mystery because if you could understand "Nadine," why not me?

Anyone else out there missing my English?

Btw, John, I read your "10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing," and found it exceptional.

May I suggest a follow-up: "10 Things Writers Should Know About 'NADINE'."


John Scalzi | July 22, 2006 01:07 AM

D.B. Baker:

Nope, you've still lost me. Although I do think "beating up someone's nephew" sounds like it should be a metaphor for something unseemly.

I'm not particularly concerned about Mr. Leifer assigning blame to an underling, if indeed an underling acted irresponsibly. Also, by personally apologizing to me, Mr. Leifer is implicitly assuming responsibility for the e-mail, so that aspect of things is taken care of as well.

Rene | July 22, 2006 04:27 AM

I only have two questions; how much does it C-class Mercedes go for and what does Nadine look like?

Peggy | July 22, 2006 01:52 PM

By "Fired Nadine", I asume he meant "We got rid of that online user name and issued a new one".

Jake | July 22, 2006 06:12 PM

Wow!

Came here via Instapundit (just as I came to purchase your book through Glenn's rec), and I'm just amazed to see you have your own blogsite.

I just wish more of my favorite authors would do the same. Any chance you can put a good word in with the old curmudgeon Gene Wolfe?

Sorry about Nadine,

Jake

Peg C. | July 23, 2006 10:23 AM

This was a great post and lesson on P.R. Could not agree more.

It got me reminiscing about Tower Records stores on the Sunset Strip and on Westwood Blvd., in L.A. and made me visit their website and bookmark it. I'm in upstate NY now and music stores here are horrible. iTunes and Amazon are my music sources, but I will definitely add Tower to my search sites for music not available on iTunes, as well as books.

My days of using Napster are way behind me; their music selection is startlingly limited and unimaginative. Which figures, since they're aiming for kids.

Clearmoon | July 23, 2006 10:21 PM

My days of using Napster are way behind me; their music selection is startlingly limited and unimaginative. Which figures, since they're aiming for kids.

Napster (as it exists today) is a textbook example of how record companies Just Don't Get It. They don't know who they're aiming for, because they're too busy suing their audience to bother understanding their needs!

The Napster you once knew and used is DEAD, as surely as is the fictional Nadine's fictional career. Stick with iTunes... at least Apple is savvy enough to ACT like they get it.

PS: Tagging things "Guerilla" (let alone your whole company) was only cool for about 10 minutes, TEN YEARS ago when Levinson's book came out. Corporate douchebags.

D.B. Baker | July 24, 2006 05:56 PM

Interesting how we assume "Nadine" is a fictional - and expedient - character. Yet, if we accept this premise, an additional assumption must follow; Guerilla PR was as misguided in their response as they were in their original sales pitch. Which makes "misguided" the wrong word.

Keith Jackson | July 26, 2006 02:37 AM

You let Leifer off too lightly. He fires an employee for making an error of judgement for which he (Leifer) accepts absolutely no responsibility: being content to make a string of excuses. What a truly appalling person!

John Scalzi | July 26, 2006 08:19 AM

I disagree. By personally apologizing to me, Leifer is implicitly taking responsibility for what came out of his shop. And if Leifer is telling the truth and the piece went out without approval, firing an employee who ignored that process is not out of line. I think the apology is fine. You are free to disagree, of course.

D.B. Baker | July 26, 2006 04:03 PM

John,

I'm happy to see that you've upped the status of Nadine from "underling" to [ex]employee.

Now, if there were only some way we could get her side of the story, rather than simply accepting Mr. Leifer's boiler-plate explanation (not to suggest ‘you’ have much choice).

You put considerable effort into detailing and presenting “her” marketing approach, we should beg she appear.


John Scalzi | July 26, 2006 04:06 PM

As I've said, if some journalist wants to follow up this story, that's fine with me.

Sara | July 28, 2006 10:46 AM

As a first-time visitor from badrelease.com, a great blog about PR pitches, I am thrilled to see this discussion chain. I'm guessing Guerilla is a small boutique, and I'm hoping they don't fire the junior staff for infractions like this, unless she really did circumvent the pitch process.

Coming from a PR agency, though, my guess is that she did NOT circumvent a process. I bet there is no standard process. The PR world is struggling with how to reach bloggers in a way that matters, and posts like your are helping us understand what NOT to do. Thanks.

Leo Bottary | August 17, 2006 06:04 AM

I agree, but it does amaze me at some level that we have to relearn basic common sense with every new medium. I enjoyed Owen's comments as usual, and thanks to Katie Paine for sharing this post on her blog.

nalts | September 24, 2006 03:47 PM

What a great snapshot, and terrific analysis of the two approaches. I get a lot of the Napster examples. Every once in a while someone contacts me and "asks for my opinion" on something. That usually means they want me to write about them, but it's such a nice way of asking I give in each time.