Don't call us

We'll call you, dot-com publicists, if we ever want to use your silly story ideas.


Janelle Brown
August 14, 2000 11:02PM (UTC)

We all know that it's not easy to publicize a dot-com. There is, after all, only a finite amount of money for marketing, and only so many journalists willing to write fluffy stories about every new company's latest ploy. Publicists are paid precious sums to come up with new and amusing ways to get a journalist -- any journalist! -- to write something about their clients.

But every once in a while, those schemes for press coverage become so ludicrous that there's not much we can do but sit back, laugh and share them with you. Witness a small company called Freeworks, which in the last two weeks has sent me two different press releases suggesting "story ideas" that I might be interested in writing.

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In the first, Freeworks' wily publicist suggested that I compose a riff off of the voyeurism sensation brought on by "Survivor" and call it Dot-com Darwinism. As she wrote: "With the success of the new TV show 'Survivor' and the cutthroat behavior on the island, I'm wondering if you've considered writing an article on the similarities of what is happening on the show and the dot-com industry these days? Since the 'market crash' in March, who is going to be a survivor and who won't is becoming more and more clear as the days go by." Among those who wouldn't survive, she pointed out, were the "young, hip wannabes" and "novice and cocky CEOs." Who would survive? Well, duh, Freeworks of course!

I ignored this silly suggestion -- and not just because she's got her dates wrong. (If she was actually on top of the dot-com world, wouldn't she know that "crash" was in April? Hellooo!) But just a few days later, a different Freeworks publicist sent me a new idea -- this one entitled "Dot-coms in S.F. vs. the valley." This Freeworks employee suggested that I write about the way that San Francisco dot-coms were competing with dot-coms down the peninsula: "There is a growing tension between the two regions for dot-com dominance," she wrote: "Though only separated by about 50 miles the two regions are thousands of miles apart in the business philosophies of the new Internet economy."

If you worked for a San Franciscan dot-com, she informed me, you were "likely young, hip, stylish, 20-something" and "your company will spend thousands of VC dollars in marketing programs often without solid business plans." (Ooooh, I'm noting a trend here.) If you're from the valley, on the other hand, you're "less of a conformist" and "are in the job for the long haul, wanting good work experience and company success," and of course, you have more of a chance at a successful IPO. Guess where Freeworks is based?

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I still have no idea what it is, exactly, that Freeworks does, and maybe it will, in fact, go public and be successful. But I don't know what it has against hipsters, and I'm certainly not going to profile the company as an example of that hard-working, "Survivor"-winning valley lifestyle. Thanks for offering.

Of course, Freeworks doesn't have the only publicists who manufacture silly story ideas in order to garner their companies some ink.

In five years writing about the Net, I've seen a lot of ridiculous endeavors -- like publicists who fax over press releases and then request that, if you don't plan to write about "Making Merry with Shari's Berries!" you fax back an explanation of why you passed on that hot story tip. Or the folks who organized for journalists to attend, free of charge, a Dave Matthews Band concert last week, complete with limo ride and dinner and the promise that not one minute of the evening would be wasted listening to a product pitch by FileMaker, which was underwriting the grand adventure. (I guess they just wanted to buy our loyalty for the next story we write about, um, FileMaker.) I was even invited to observe the founders of TheMan.com getting the company logo tattooed on their bodies. And God knows how many publicists have asked me to write about the removal or addition of the "dot-com" moniker from a client's company name as a "trend story."

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Recently, a publicist called trying to get me to write about the new marketing campaign for Why.com, a search engine that bases its results on user ratings. The company was about to embark on a "World Why'd Web Bus Tour" -- traveling the country in a logo-plastered bus in order to "determine which site the country prefers: AOL or Yahoo?"

Never mind that America Online is an Internet service provider and Yahoo is a glorified directory, and the comparison isn't very analogous. Never mind the pointlessness of forking out precious marketing dollars to such an uninteresting poll. I just answered Why.com's question in 3 seconds flat, no bus or money required, by visiting Media Metrix: roughly 30 million more Americans use AOL than Yahoo.

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You're welcome.


Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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