Can’t I just watch your website launch from here?

Ah, PR invites.

It is with pleasure that we invite you to the launch of the most anticipated website on the internet … [name removed to spare pain] The presentation and unveiling of the new website will be followed by drinks and canapés. Your invitation is attached – it would help us if you would confirm your acceptance by email or phone.

It’s so 1995, isn’t it? Come to a room and we’ll unveil a .. website? Uh? Surely one unveils objects. I recall a line from an Arthur C Clarke short story I read long, long ago but which stuck in my mind:

“At the ceremony, the chairman pressed a button (which wasn’t connected to anything). The chief engineer pressed another button, which was..” (The story was “Travel by Wire“.)

And so when I go to these events and see the chief executive brightly press a button and declare sites “open” I think of the web folk labouring like Molochs and actually making it happen. Ah, scepticism (or is mine cynicism?) – how young it gets planted.


  1. It also reminds me of a story on the Beeb news site, which i cannot seem to find a reference for on Google, (it was a good few years ago). In seem to remember it concerned an elderly couple who travelled a significant distance, c.30 miles?, to their local BBC radio station to see the new ‘web site’.

  2. Go on name and shame. I’m trying very hard to think of why you’d possibly want to do this. I can’t remember the last time we organised a ‘press conference’. Well actually I can it was a ‘NEWS conference’ about a court case where journalists actually got some added value by turning up (like hard news, interviews and quotes).

  3. What is the difference between a press conference and a news conference?

    What does this response have to do with press events that are no more than pressing a button or cutting a ribbon?

    But back to the original “story,” how do you produce drinks for an on-line event?

    Paradoxically a “non-event” like an opening can be much more fruitful in the way of story gathering than something designed to sell a news line. For example, an event, whatever you call it, about a court case is less likely to appeal to a journalist who wants to get a unique angle. They want to ask their own questions and not to share them, and the answers, with everyone else.

    The non event is good because the participants all know that it is a sham and happily chat about anything under the sun. So a capable hack will find something to write about.

    A had a “non lunch” lunch on Friday where I managed to pick up half a dozen interesting leads. All I need now is the time to chase them.

  4. Wasn’t email created as a tool to aide and ease communication?

    Yes we all know we get too much email, that is an old and tired excuse. That is why the delete button was created, and the junk mail folder.

    What is irritating, is people who [name removed to spare pain] decide to rather than deal with or delete so called ‘junk’ communication, use it to further their own gain. Such as complain about it on their own soap box!

  5. And to correct further mis-information about said launch.

    The launch is being held some days prior to the site going live to the public, hence there won’t be any button pressing, or ribbon cutting.

    It instead gives those who are in the business of gathering information before everyone else, the opportunity to see the service, and use the service, prior to it going live to the public. It gives those journalists who do not just rely on press releases for their stories, to talk with those behind it, and give some more depth to their writing.

  6. Charles

    Tuesday 16 May 2006 at 1:31 pm

    However, since the emails about the site go as follows:

    A mystery website that has kept its visitors, and advertisers, asking What is it all about? for over two months is set to reveal all at a launch party on May 25th 2006.

    [redacted] went live on March 22nd 2006 with a countdown clock to the official launch of the site. This clock has already attracted over 20,000 visitors, who have spent their time taking guesses at what the website will contain. Even advertisers have purchased space on the website, despite not knowing what [redacted] is all about.

    Emails like these are what journalists who have worked for, oh, quite a while on national newspapers called “a complete fucking waste of time” because they don’t give us any way to determine whether the people you’re trying to get us to come and see are (a) really smart or (b) complete tosspots.

    Unfortunately for PRs sending out emails like that, due to Sturgeon’s law, the likelihood is that they’re tosspots, and hence not worth the time; and one can always – always – find something else that one judges is worth the time, even if it’s just scanning the news wires or reading web feeds.

    That’s why, David Micallef, I’m not interested in your teaser emails with zero content. You think you’re being clever. I can tell you you’re not. Any time you find yourself in a lift with Max Clifford, ask him if he sends out teaser emails about sites that nobody has heard of in which he doesn’t tell anyone about what the content is. Ask him whether he thinks that’s a good idea.

    I know from my side of the fence what works, and it isn’t your approach. And that’s why I use this soapbox – to try to point out to the PR people considering using tactics like this that while you think it’s a good idea and the client thinks it’s a good idea, the journalist thinks it’s a crap idea, and it’s the journalist you have to persuade.

  7. But unfortunately Charles, you seem to have once again missed the point.

    If you don’t like the tactics, that is your perogative. There are many out there who have liked these tactics, and that is indicated by the interest we have had in this launch.

    The problem here is, that you were sent an invitation to a launch, and you were targeted for the invitation because we regularly read you work and thought it would be appropriate. However, instead of dealing with the invitation as you would expect most professionals to do, you decided to slate it.

    That is both self-serving and unprofessional. This attitude reeks of tabloid sensationalism, slating the source on the basis of one communication without even having the decency or professionalism to show both sides. An attitude which I assume is not a regular part of your persona.

    Yes, i do know that as a PR person this debate probably is not the most appropriate way for me to get my clients into your section but, and I believe I speak for quite a few PR people here, I am not going to fall over backwards for any journalist who I believe has overstepped the mark of professionalism – which to my opinion you have on this occasion.

    I am all for a debate about PR tactics – but when you’re debating mine directly, or anyone else’s for that matter, readers would better be served if they are given the opportunity to hear both sides.

  8. Do you mean I’ve been going to press conferences not realising they are really NEWS conferences? How could I have not seen the difference? However, I recently found that the world of PR has something even more impressive for us: the “media summit”. The last one I was at was so good I left halfway through.

    I am wondering whether David Micallef of Infoplan PR has quite grasped the concept of blogs and comments. We are, indeed, getting both sides of the story. So much so, that courtesy of Google my reaction to the initial post of “how quaint, is gearing up for its comeback? It really is the 90s all over again” turned to “oh, look, a site I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, and only if attached to some magnetic gripper thingy so I don’t have to touch the bargepole”. If you want a client to be taken seriously, I’d think about all of the tactics used here and then dump them in the nearest bin.

    I am more than a little curious, however, about the Observer ad at the target site. Did the “Chief Editor” at GNL really splash out on pixel advertising at the site as the blog tells us?

  9. Curiosity finally got the better of me. I searched for the mystery site and, for good measure, Infoplan PR. If there’s a story here, it’s more about PR tactics than technology.

  10. Charles

    Friday 19 May 2006 at 11:28 am

    From the site’s ‘blog’: “In other news we are still generating over 350 unique visitors a day which makes us still the top pixel selling site in the UK!”

    Milliondollarhomepage it is not. I’m intrigued too by the identity of the “chief editor” of The Observer, since there’s no such moniker. Chief sub? Managing editor? Editor-in-chief? Whatever, this person seem to have lashed out 120, which I find a bit hard to believe – you could get a decent lunch in the canteen for that. Plus I’m pretty sure the managing editor of the Obs (who I know) wouldn’t spend that on that.

    Oh, and Definitely about to make a comeback. Whois gives
    Mooney, Sinead
    3 Merton Drive
    Ranelagh, Dublin 6

  11. Further searching found this: “…advertising and promotion services and information services…telephone answering services. The bringing together, for the benefit of others, of a variety of goods namely sports clothing and equipment enabling customers to conveniently view and purchase those goods from an Internet web site.”

  12. Not to mention: “…information and entertainment services, all relating to sports; provision of electronic publications, provision of databases on-line or on electronic media relating to sports; competition services…”

    Hard to keep a secret when you invoke IP law.

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