Of course Steve Ballmer was in town earlier this week. And gracious me, he had a round-table interview with a small group of journalists. As I’ve said before, I like the round-table format, especially for Microsoft personnel.
The post I point to there is mostly about my dislike of one-on-ones vs round tables, rather than a huge criticism of the PR company which didn’t set up an earlier round-table format. However, what I wrote got reported in the “marcom” area (such as Peter Kirwan’s Fullrun site for PR and marketing folk). And some people, perhaps at Microsoft, or at Edelman (its PR company) read the reports, though clearly not the original, and wrinkled their noses a little at my declining to come and meet Microsoft’s man whose mission is to
diss Linux .
So then Steve Ballmer is on the way. Who gets invited? Jack Schofield of The Guardian, Nick Hopkins of The Times, Stephen Pritchard, a freelance for various business pages, Mike Simmons of Computer Weekly (Reed Business Publications), Mike Parsons of ZDNet, and Andy McCue of silicon.com –
another ZDNet property. Interestingly, no VNU invites. Have they been naughty bloggers too?
As it happens Damian Reece of the Independent’s City Desk was invited; but he couldn’t make it. (I’m not on the City Desk; I’m on News. Separate departments.) That would have made seven people there. But when he said he couldn’t, someone – it’s not clear whether at MS or Edelman – did not think “shall we get someone else from The Indie then?” Instead, the number of seats was cut from seven to six.
Why am I telling you all this? Because when I faux-innocently (first rule of cross-examination: know all the answers to the questions you put before you put them) asked Edelman what had happened and whether it was about my blog post there was an uncomfortable acknowledgement that the post hadn’t, you know, helped. To which I replied that if they’re offended by something in blogspace, either post a comment there – say, to clarify whether the meeting had originally been intended to be round-table or not – or phone me up. But just simmering away is a really dumb way to do things. This is a modern, connected world, and Microsoft has played a big part in that. You might as well play by the new rules. The old ones don’t work.
Besides which, the absence of anyone from The Register, surely one of the very largest IT news websites in the UK, whilst having two people from ZDNet, begins to look like real Mandelson-style favouring of those likely to be positive about you. (Which prompts another lesson: journalists just want a juicy story, not to curry favour. silicon.com’s stories about the meeting are hardly what you’d call glowing with praise.)
The Register takes what you could call a sceptical attitude to most things, including Microsoft. That could probably be applied to me too: I’ve seen 20 years of computing marketing hype, and I’ve long since stopped buying it. And as the coverage of the last few days shows, all that happens if you don’t invite people is that they repeat the story but add their own spin. Bad strategy, people. And you’re welcome to comment.