A very expensively staged waste of time

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 04/88 item 01 - scanned

Handling the press can be a tricky affair. If you've ever had anything to do with organising press conferences, you'll be aware of the pitfalls. You have to get the journalists along in the first place, make it worth their time and trouble, and make sure you get the maximum favourable exposure after the event.

If you already know the ropes, turn the page. If you want to know how to really cock things up, the following true story might interest you.

It all started with an invitation to a press conference. I turned it down because it didn't say who the company was or what type of product or service it was offering just some vague 'we want to take over the world' hogwash. That isn't enough to get the press out, not even on a quiet day.

The next trick was to fix the conference for the Friday preceding two four-day weeks. The editors will be going ape trying to rejiggle their schedules. Just before any public holiday is a bad time and, for the weeklies, Friday is usually a busy day anyway.

However, I allowed myself to be persuaded by the PR company to turn up. It claimed to have been muzzled by the requirements of the stock market. It assured me that the subject matter was central to my interests and added darkly about the company possibly 'giving Amstrad some competition'. As a precaution, I made two others appointments so the day wouldn't be completely wasted.

When I entered the reception area, I couldn't help noticing an almost complete absence of UK journalists. There were quite a few journalists from Europe, presumably those who fancied a couple of days in London at someone else's expense.

A huge auditorium had been booked with expensive staging, including the company name in neon lights above what I seem to remember was a pyramid. Stirring music blared deafeningly - I presumed we were being aroused for some sort of worthwhile climax.

It was nothing of the sort. We were treated to an hour of 'mission-speak'. We were told that this new company was into 'office information management solutions'. (Hardly a new concept). It talked of a fresh approach based on 'stability, credibility, international presence and mission'. (We've heard it all before). 'We will satisfy all information needs,' they said. (Come on, we want facts).

By now, the few journalists there looked glazed. The French journalist in front of me had removed her headphones (real-time translation), presumably in despair. Then the company got to the meat of the presentation. You still had to divine exactly what it was announcing. My best guess was some sort of application server and protocol translator for use in networks.

We were treated to some demonstrations of a fairly ordinary front-end which could host PC applications and pass the results around the network to other applications. Very nice, but was it really innovative? And did it really warrant the big build up?

You may have realised by now that journalists don't like being disappointed. Razzamatazz is no substitute for a real story. We're also not stupid. We were shown documents which were claimed to be substantial, when anyone with even a passing knowledge of the application could see they were trivial demonstration examples. We can live with the trivial examples, but we don't expect the speaker to pretend otherwise.

In my more charitable moments, I wonder if the venue was booked and the conference organised to tell us about some stupendous order, when the deal fell through or got delayed. If this was the case, a little honesty would have gone a long way to getting our sympathies.

Taking the event at face value, it was a very expensively staged waste of time, and a classic example of how not to handle the computer press.