Of course it had to be a Monday, and the assistant online editor was off with the flu. Our phones were also on the fritz, at times supplying just 12 of the normal 60 lines typically available to our company. In a job that often relies heavily on doing interviews by phone this is called being in interview
But as luck would have it on that day, a great story came across the wire. Things start looking up. Two significant vendors of software to the retail industry announced a five-store pilot project with The Beer Store — an end user just about anyone who claims they are citizens of the province recognizes instantly. In fact, a statistic on The Beer Store Web site claims 90 per cent of Ontarians live within five minutes of one of the 436 stores in the province.
The press release from Triversity Inc. hit the wires at 8 a.m. eastern. Our online editor Shane Schick passed it my way around 10 a.m. and I started calling the contacts on the list, beginning with The Beer Store’s public relations contact. Now, as bad luck would have it, their communications person was off sick, although her voice mail didn’t indicate that. In addition to the voice mail I left, I e-mailed her to let her know we’re working with tin cans and string that day and if she can’t get through the switchboard could she try e-mailing me back with interview times? I called the other three contacts on the release: corporate PR for Triversity Inc., PR for Triversity on the agency side and PR for the other vendor, Yantra Corp.
The voice mail for the contact at Triversity’s PR agency indicated he is out of the office. After waiting an hour I called The Beer Store’s IT director directly. He indicated his wish to wait until the PR person has vetted my call. Sighing heavily, I acquiesced — for now.
I tried e-mailing one of the vendor’s PR people, mentioning our switchboard problem.
Meanwhile I got a call back from The Beer Store’s IT manager. He had discovered, after some digging of his own, that the PR person is off sick so suggested we go ahead with the interview. Hurrah! He also suggested the others might not be available that day as they are down at the National Retail Federation annual show and convention in New York.
The ahah moment hits me: they issued a press release knowing they would be out of town when the press would be seeking interviews?
Now I find myself in the almost unheard of situation of having the user interview in the can but no word from the vendors. What kind of parallel universe is this?
Later that night I received a voice mail from Yantra’s PR person indicating he can try and set something up for me the next day – he’s calling from the tradeshow floor. Great – maybe the story will happen this week after all. We reconnected on Tuesday morning. The interview finally happens much later that day around 3 p.m.
Over at Triversity I asked the receptionist in the U.S. office if there is someone else I can speak with. She gave me careful instruction how to key in the extension of the receptionist at the Canadian office. I explained my plight to the woman in Toronto who promises to try and get me someone. I get a call back from the U.S. office saying a guy from the Toronto office — who is at the show and quoted in the release — can speak to me Wednesday. We connected on Wednesday and he is a great interview. Too bad his cell number wasn’t included on the release. Triversity’s agency rep calls back much later Wednesday night. Thanks.
Now, this was not a breaking news story — The Beer Store will begin rolling out the pilot project in April. Our online editor had back-up stories and we agreed it was a story that was not time sensitive. But a question one has to ask is, why issue a release when no one is going to be available to take calls from the media? This is not a unique situation. It has happened before when at least one of the parties listed on a release is not available the day an announcement is sent to the wires or to the media on the agency’s mass mail list. In fact in some instances, the users seem somewhat unaware they are required to speak to the media.
A recent PeopleSoft announcement with a Canadian customer was sent out FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE during a week when many of the PeopleSoft folks were at a corporate meeting in California. The agency rep informed us the customer wouldn’t be available until late afternoon. The story didn’t run that day, although the PeopleSoft interview did happen at 5 p.m. that day.
In a time when vendors and agencies rely more and more on getting their message out via the daily news press, it might be fitting that after the long approval process is complete on a news release, the sources are actually available the day it is set free.
Contrary to one contact I spoke with, who suggested all I needed was in the press release, often we want to know significantly more than what’s quoted in the IMMEDIATE release.
Jennifer Brown is the assistant editor of Computing Canada.