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In this issue: a chilling experience with IBM PR.
You remember the kids' game: Carmen tries to track down the bad guys from a series of clues that have geography-oriented answers. Well, I felt like I was in the game when in late August, 1995, I did the research for my review of IBM's NetFinity network management software for Infoworld. This is a good example of what not to do when it comes time to getting a product reviewed.
The review is called a First Look, and the object of my game is to get the product up and running, and get the article written, quickly. Not an easy task when the product comes in three operating systems (Windows 3.x, NetWare, and OS/2) and especially when I have to deal with finding the person within IBM that has the right answers. Turns out I spent more time tracking down trivial information than on testing the product, which isn't the way I usually like to work.
Indeed, this is a classic case of how to do bad product-related PR. Here are the mistakes that IBM (and its PR firm, Brodeur and Partners) made:
-- bad press release. The press release (which was distrbuted at the end of July) tried to do two things: announce the latest version of NetFinity software and announce the availability of some new server hardware. Guess which product launch got most of the attention in the release? Hardware, of course.
Missing from the press kit was the kind of information that Infoworld typically prints in a "data box" at the end of the article: you know, the phone and fax and Internet address to contact if a reader wants to get more information from the company. Here is where my search began. The contacts at Brodeur (that info was on the release) initially gave me the wrong phone numbers. (IBM has lots of 800-based phone numbers for information, and finding the right one isn't easy.) Did anyone at the agency ever call the number and pretend they were a customer? Nope. After five hours and several phone calls, we got a better number.
-- bad web site management. NetFinity was shipping for at least a month before I finished my review -- you would think plenty of time for IBM to get its act together and put information up on its web site? Nope. A search around the site yielded plenty of information and some on earlier versions of NetFinity. Nothing on the version I was testing. I dropped email to my IBM product contact asking for the URL. Didn't hear from him all day. Called him and found out that he didn't read any email since the morning. Turns out they were still working on preparing the data for the web server, and it would be up "real soon." Still wasn't there on September 9th, either. Bad news.
-- faxback jungle. I also wanted a number where my readers could get faxed information about NetFinity. All that IBM had was information on its servers. Is this sounding familiar?
Now, I could see if I was asking a fairly technical question about the product that I would have trouble tracking this down. But I wasn't: I wanted a phone, a fax, and a URL that would lead me -- and more importantly, a potential customer -- to the product. Maybe I should have called Carmen Sandiego to track them down.
Moral of the story: put the contact information -- for customers and for press folks -- in the press release. And make sure that it is on your web site the day of the launch. For their efforts, IBM and Brodeur get the current Web.Foot award.
We've got lots more awards, and we want you to take a look at all the stuff we've put up on our site itself. Check it out.