The mystery of my non-existent invitation to meet Steve Ballmer.. and other PR triumphs

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 explain the joys of Windows.

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 the latter two being CNet siblings (see comments below). 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.

7 Comments

  1. And of course when those who were there try to correct those who weren’t, it can get ugly!

  2. I tracked-back to this entry but I can’t see it here; how do I get the trackback entry to appear?

  3. Well, speaking unofficially – the reason there were two people from CNet UK (the company who owns, runs and waters ZDNet UK and silicon.com) was that we are a different publication and have a different news agenda to Silicon: although ZDNet UK wasn’t at first invited, we talked our way in by the old and time-honoured method of the persuasive phone call. It wasn’t MS’ idea, it was ours. Well, it was Michael (not Mike – he wears a suit, you know) Parsons’ idea: he’s a bit bullish about flying the brand flag where it should be flown, and Steve Ballmer’s dinner table is one such place.

    Also, if MS thinks that CNet UK is pro-MS, it hasn’t been reading much opinion that myself or anybody else on the team’s written of late. I’ll take your scepticism and raise it by twenty years of being first a developer, then a developer/hack and of late just a pure (!) hack, who has used a vast range of MS products going back to MS-DOS 2.0 and MASM, has had much contact with the company over the decades under many hats, and has found it arrogant, unhelpful, deceptive and manipulative.

    The reason MS doesn’t like the Reg is, of course, that it’s scared. The Reg has that wonderful combination of aggression, wit, knowledge and an absolutely massive nose for cant. Which makes for good journalism in any medium, and good journalism means –inter alia– annoying the hell out of people who would rather be left alone to do things that affect us all.

    R

    (I also think bad things about the Reg too, but they’ll keep :) )

  4. Reed Business Information. We changed from Publishing around four years ago.

    Pedantic, I know…

  5. Actually Mary and I were invited too – but as we were on honeymoon at the time….

  6. Charles, as the above point suggests you should do your research. silicon.com is not a ZDNet property at all and I’m sure the folks over there wouldn’t thank you for suggesting they are (no offence to the esteemed poster who sounds like a ZDNet hack.). I think you’ll find silicon.com is a CNET property – the company which also owns ZDNet. They have a common parent – and are perhaps siblings, but they are certainly not as you suggest owner and ownee… Such shoddyness!

  7. Although VNU didn’t get invites to the round table one of the titles did get a one on one with Ballmer.

    Agreed on The Register, Microsoft do seem to be a little cowed by the style of the site and even more so in the case of The Inquirer.

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