Just Say 'Yes' to PR
November 19, 2022 3:41 PM   Subscribe

As I delete these emails, I often wonder: Who are all these people who want to talk to a reporter, any reporter, so badly that they will pay a publicist to email every journalist they can think of—including me, a guy who doesn’t write about pool safety or divorce or witches at all? Who actually opens these emails, let alone responds to them? Do they ever work? And what would happen if I tried? from My PR Day of Yes posted by chavenet (11 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Ooh, a parental-control app for social media … “Mom, I told you not to post that to Facebook again!” BZZAP!
(uh, I don't think they mean that, but one can dream)
posted by scruss at 4:03 PM on November 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

Ha! This was a fun read. Thanks.
posted by fruitslinger at 8:05 PM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I quite enjoyed reading that! (And I hope The Lipstick Monologues had a good turnout.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:09 PM on November 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing!
posted by freethefeet at 3:15 AM on November 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by MarianHalcombe at 5:35 AM on November 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, the stories I could tell. (You've been warned.)

I was in very niche-y trade journalism throughout the 90s. Starting for a publication called Lubricants World. (And yes, you would not believe how much shit I've gotten over the years over that.) It covered the fascinating world of motor oil, metalworking fluids, hydraulic fluids, etc.

The first thing about this piece that resonated with me was his admission that, to his surprise, he really enjoyed talking with these people about their esoteric little things. I was amazed at how interested I managed to get in these incredibly boring topics talking on the phone with people. For one thing, whenever I called a company, they'd be so excited! I was not calling Exxon. I was writing about tiny little companies with like 50 employees in a small town in Missouri that made small batches of base stocks for synthetic coolants or something. I'd call the main number and ask a receptionist if they had someone I could talk to about their product, and she'd be like, oh, our President will want to talk to you! And a minute later I'd be on the phone with the President of the company.

I mean 30 years later, I can still remember details like the company that made motor oil bottles and was thrilled about their new process for incorporating the label directly into the blow molding process. In blow molding, you have a mold in the shape of the bottle, and a blot of hot plastic gets put in at the top and then a blast of compressed air blows the plastic against the sides and it cools and boom, you've got a bottle. Then they used to stick a self-adhesive label on the outside. One problem with that was that in shipping sometimes a bottle would leak and you'd get motor oil all over the other bottles in that case, and it would dissolve the adhesive and the labels would slide off, and you had a mess and a bunch of product that couldn't go on the shelf.

This company's process fixed that, and some other things, by putting the label inside the mold first. It was held in place against the side by air suction, and then they blew the plastic in. The label was thus an integral part of the bottle and wasn't going anywhere. This also had the benefits of reducing the amount of plastic they used. (By a very tiny amount, granted, but over thousands of bottles it added up.) It also meant that the labels didn't need any adhesive, and they also didn't need a backing strip to protect the adhesive until you peeled the label off and used it. So less waste!

This was thirty years ago, mind you, and it's boring as fuck, but here we are talking about it because it made an impression on me.

After Lubes World, I wrote B2B newsletters for a company that covered everything from telecom (me) to finance to aviation in incredibly niche-y subjects. These were eight-page weekly or bi-weekly print newsletters, no ads, that sold for close to a thousand dollars a year and supposedly were providing high-level analysis and insights for industry leaders. (That was highly debatable.) It was a business that was even then in the process of being eaten alive by the Internet. I think the company still exists, but it just does trade shows now.

And yes, we used to get bizarre pitches. Only bizarre ones as I recall, the reputable publicists knew better than to waste their time on us. We had a guy who did something on CDs/DVDs as data storage, and he kept a shelf outside his office where you could help yourself to the albums and movies he got sent. I found a couple fun things that way. I'd get stuff about model railroading (I was writing about wireless telecom, mind you.) Rare stamps. The ones I felt worst about were from this one vanity publisher that would push their customers' horrible novels at me. Some of these people clearly did not speak English as a first language. The sample excerpts they'd send me were just sad. There was one called "To Save the Titanic Again" or something like that, where I couldn't even figure out what it was about. Apparently someone had built an exact replica of the Titanic that was going to complete its maiden voyage but...and there was something involving the real Titanic and the hero had to save both ships. I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

Another favorite, I don't recall the title, but basically the Russians got all bent out of shape about the Super Bowl because how could we claim it was the world championship of football when it was just Americans playing? And they put together some team of badass ringers and thugs and challenged us to a real world championship of football. I kind of had to grudgingly admit he had a point there, but I wondered why he didn't go with baseball. I mean there we actually call it the World Series. Probably because there's not as much bone-crunching violence in baseball.

So I've rambled. (You were warned.) But I know well the odd back corner of the world this guy stuck his toe into for a day. It's a deeply weird place.
posted by Naberius at 5:55 AM on November 20, 2022 [57 favorites]

The article (and Naberius's comment) reminded me of how in the 70s, The New Yorker Talk Of The Town used to run little stories about Promotional Events for small, off beat things, and they were my very favorite part of The New Yorker, even more than the cartoons. They were always written in a deadpan but upbeat way, not condescending at all. I loved them so much. Now I realize they must have been responding to random PR invitations.

Then my first job out of college was for a magazine about Meetings and Conventions. As a junior assistant I got to go to a lot of little luncheons and cocktail parties promoting this hotel's meeting facilities or that resorts charms. The absolute best was a lunch at The Danish Consulate promoting some cruise line's newly launched tours to Greenland. They got me very drunk on Tuborg and aquavit and when I went back and submitted my paragraph for the magazine, the editor in chief said it was the best thing I'd ever written.
posted by maggiemaggie at 2:12 PM on November 20, 2022 [11 favorites]

This part gave me a mental note in case I need some future surgery:

And I loved talking to two doctors, a vaginal surgeon and a radiologist, about the hidden anatomy of the clitoris and the Clitogram™, their “game-changing approach to sexual wellness.” What it is, basically, is just a sonogram of the clitoris, revealing the entire internal organ, not just the “tip of the iceberg” atop the labia. They argued that hospitals ought to do that before vaginal surgery. No one would perform a urological procedure without performing a penis sonogram. “
posted by tiny frying pan at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Naberius, your excellent comment reminded me of a wonderful book I read ages ago, The Enthusiast, by Charlie Haas:
Through little more than sheer entropy and a chance encounter with the practitioner of an obscure sport, Henry quits the pre-law track and ends up writing for a kite-buggy magazine. For 10 telescoped years, Henry bounces around various esoteric, specialized publications, from Martial Arts World to Cozy, The Magazine Of Tea.
I've always loved the wildly varied enthusiasms people have for things, whether jobs or hobbies, and I've often thought that being able to listen well to people's enthusiasms is both a gift to the world and a gift to yourself.

chavenet, thank you so much for posting this, and Naberius, thank you for your comment!
posted by kristi at 11:11 AM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

The cell phone purse is $23 btw.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:41 PM on November 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hehe, I think a lot of journalist have a keen appreciation of human weirdness and the joy that comes with it.
My favourite PR invites I ever got:
- Yogic flyers wanting to convince the public that the European Union's political problems could be solved if their politicians learnt how to fly
- A press breakfast by intestinal experts on the topic of "when your guts rebell"
- Introduction of a brand of "business lingerie"
- A yodelling seminar
posted by Omnomnom at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

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