British Business Boneheadedness
Paris has Venus De Milo; Florence has Michelangelo’s David; New York has the Statue of Liberty; Copenhagen has the Little Mermaid; Brussels has Manneken Pis—a fat naked little boy proudly relieving himself in a fountain.
Now London is going Brussels one better by placing giant billboards throughout Belgium—in Antwerp, Brussels, Liege and Ghent. The image is a grown male skinhead in jeans—with a big red cross painted on his bare back—creating a great arching stream as he proudly relieves himself into a teacup atop a small, round Hepplewhite table a few feet away.
The purpose of the billboards is to promote Eurostar’s new high-speed train service between Belgium and London.
This bizarre campaign was unleashed the very week of the inaugural Eurostar service from London’s St Pancras Station, which has just undergone a $1.5 billion restoration. Among the features: upmarket shops, bars, restaurants, a world-class brasserie, plush waiting lounges, WiFi connections and the longest Champagne bar in Europe.
Only the Brits could equate what is now the most glamorous railroad destination in the world—officially opened last week in a lavish ceremony presided over by the Queen—to a skinhead urinating in a teacup.
Question #1: How does a Belgian parent explain this gross billboard to her seven-year-old daughter?
Question #2: Does not the image of a skinhead urinating into a teacup reflect badly on how Britain’s national drink tastes—as well as on those who made it famous: Tetley, Fortnum & Mason, Harrod’s, Sir Thomas Lipton, Taylors of Harrogate, Whittard of Chelsea, Williamson & Magor, Bentley’s, St. James and Twinings?
From where I sit, the Brits can be a brood of weird dudes.
Brit Book Publishers: Dumber Than Their American Counterparts
My two first jobs after getting out of the Army in 1960 were working in the publicity departments of two book publishers: Prentice-Hall and Franklin Watts, Inc. I was responsible for getting books reviewed—jollying up reviewers and radio talk show hosts in hopes they would give the authors and new titles some coverage.
In PR as well as direct marketing, it is imperative to give enough information so that the person can act—NOW. When sending a book for review, it is essential to send the following:
(1) A copy of the book—either the finished product or a bound galley.
(2) A personal cover letter to the reviewer selling the book and telling why a review (or broadcast appearance) would benefit the reviewer and his audience. This is the “you” copy—the benefits to you of covering the book.
(3) A press release that enthusiastically describes the book along with some fascinating tidbits to whet the reviewer’s curiosity. In the ten months I was at Prentice-Hall, I learned to take the galley proofs of a full-length, non-fiction book, know what was in it and have a finished two-page press release written, all in the space of two hours. The release is the “it” copy that describes the many features of “it”—the book—as opposed to the benefits to you. The highest compliment I could receive was when a book critic signed my release and called it his review. This happened more than once.
The top of a press release must have the following information:
Phone Number - URL - Sender’s E-mail
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Sender’s Name
Press release copy here
(4) The review slip that formally states the title, author, publisher, price, publication date and description of the book—trim size, binding, number of pages and ISBN (International Standard Book Number).
(5) The address label, which is the most important element of all. Because a packet of materials sent to the wrong person is a colossal waste of money. In direct marketing, the late Ed Mayer’s formula for a successful promotion is: 40% lists, 40% offer, 20% everything else.
In the world of PR, the ratio is more like 60% lists and 40% everything else, no matter what the product or service being touted.
“Editors are basically lazy,” said my first mentor, Evelyn Lawson, when I was working as an apprentice at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut at age 15. “If you give editors something they can use—and save them the effort of creating something new—they will use it and be grateful to you.”
I am an editor. I am lazy. When somebody wants to sell me something or have me review something, I want guidance. I do not want to spend time searching for essential information that should have been provided at the outset and then waiting around for the people to get back to me.
It was with bewilderment that I received a cardboard envelope from Random House—one of the world’s largest publishers—addressed to “Hatch, Denny” at my home-office. Random house spent $2.13 on postage. Inside were two elements:
(1) A dreary, scholarly trade paperback book of 64 pages titled, “Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern Roman Empire c. 900-1204” by Timothy Dawson, illustrated by Angus McBride, published by Osprey Publishing.
(2) A press release that broke all the rules: No address, no contact name, no phone number, no Web site, no pub date.
What is this thing? I asked myself. Why am I receiving it? What list am I on? Where was a personal letter that shows me that the sender knows what I do and that relates these Byzantine soldiers to the Mujahideen our troops are battling in Afghanistan and Iraq—or some other concept that would make the book relevant to my readers?
Being a conscientious reporter and an old publicity hand, I did some sleuthing. I went to the Random House Web site and that of Osprey Publishing, which, it turns out, is a British publisher of military history books.
I wanted to tell somebody—anybody—to save their money and take me off the list. But on both the Random House and Osprey Web sites I clicked on “Contact Us,” and in both cases, not a single name of a real person was there. Rather, I had the choice of info@, copyright@, ecustomerservice@, marketing@ and webmaster@. All the employees and executives are hiding like cockroaches under their electronic rocks.
I gave up and tossed the book and press release into a carton destined for a donation to Philadelphia’s Book Trader—a used bookstore.
Several weeks later, I received the same package, this time containing a book titled “Hittite Warrior.” And last week, a third carton arrived, this time with a book titled “Thermopylae 480 BC: Last stand of 300.”
Coming out of (1) book publicity and (2) direct marketing, I am a nut on efficiency and ROI—Return on Investment. And just as Eurostar’s signature image was a skinhead pissing in a teacup, here was Osprey/Random House pissing away money.
The message here is that British marketers expect you to work.
British ads frequently feature puns, puzzles and/or puerile images (as in the Eurostar peeing poster boy on billboards throughout Belgium) and all of us on the receiving end are expected to connect the dots. Their message is loud and clear: if you don’t “get” what we are up to, we are smart and you are a dunce.
These smartypants creatives are talking to themselves, rather than to their customers and prospects.
Billboards Impossible to Read
One typical example of British boneheadedness in marketing is found in the London Underground, the subway system where the trains run a hundred or more feet under the surface. Along the walls beside the escalators are small, framed theater posters, roughly the size of a piece of American stationery.
At the speed these escalators are moving, it is impossible to read these little billboards. Sometimes the name of the show is big enough to grasp, but all the rest of the copy—the actors, the theater, etc.—whiz by. I am made to feel stupid, because I don’t “get it.” If this is an “awareness” effort, I am aware that these people are money wasters and idiots.
More Nitwit Brits
On 22 October I received a cold e-mail from a Brit running the American branch of a UK business that sells deeply discounted generic versions of brand name office supplies over the Internet. He has built a small business on the Web and wants to expand his horizons by reaching businesses via the more scientific marketing technique of direct mail. From his e-mail to me:
I am writing to you to investigate working with you as our direct mail consultant. It is an honor to write to you. . .
We are looking for a direct mail expert to consult with us on a monthly basis. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few days researching your background and I feel very comfortable with your achievements. Actually I am very excited about the prospect of working with you, I wanted to contact you and provide you with some information to determine if we are a fit for each other. . .
This kind of cloying, sycophantic approach makes my teeth itch. But to be polite, I responded. After a couple of weeks of phone and e-mail exchanges, I decided the guy has a product and a proposition worth testing and we struck a deal.
The Deal Killer
On November 14 I received a confidentiality agreement to sign with the following title and lead paragraph:
Inventions - Non-Disclosure - Restrictions
BE ALL MEN KNOW BY THESE PRESENCE that for ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration the receipt and sufficiency for which is acknowledged that this agreement is made this 5th day of November, 2007 by and between [COMPANY] LLC, a limited liability Company and Denny Hatch, (“Employee”.)
From the Agreement:
Restrictions. Employee agrees that:
a. In the event Employee’s employment is terminated for cause, or in the event Employee elects voluntarily to terminate his employment, Employee shall not, for a period of five (5) year following the date of termination, directly or indirectly solicit or accept any business or trade from any of the customers, clients, accounts, or competitor’s of [COMPANY], in [COMPANY]’s service area, either for his/her own benefit or account, or for the benefit or account of any party.
First off, I was emphatically not signing on as Denny Hatch, an employee, but rather as Denny Hatch Associates, Inc., an independent contractor.
Secondly, signing away my rights to do business with one of his customers for a period of five years is preposterous. The guy is selling office supplies. His customers could be anybody on the planet. I resigned the account before billing him for the first month’s retainer.
Shakespeare (a Brit) said it best in “Henry VI” (Part 2):
“The first thing we do is let’s kill all the lawyers.”