— @dickc, to @charlierose, on mobile marketing
Everyone hates embargoes. It’s true. I’m talking about the PR person-to-journalist kind here, not the more benevolent version that applies to Cuba or North Korea. If you are ever in the mood for some sausage-making, naval-gazing goodness, just cruise around the Web and read up on how writers feel about this structured, and increasingly prevalent, information exchange. Actually, let me save you some time. As Jerry Seinfeld said to George, when asked for an evaluation of his new toupee, “It’s not good, OK. Not good.”
There are probably a million different ways for a company to put out information, and a million different ways for enterprising reporters to pursue stories. Outreach today can take the form of blog posts, pitches, Tweets and other direct-to-consumer tactics. But, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s limit ourselves to the classic preparation, the press release. A document that, for better or worse, still represents the bedrock and cornerstone of proactive media relations. A document that, at its best, conveys timely information about some meaningful business development - the launch of a new product or service (or company), an enhancement to an existing product or service (or company), some material information that seems to form the basis for trying to “earn” some media attention.
In the case of this time-tested PR genre, there are basically three main distribution strategies to consider:
1. Push “send” on the release, do some follow-up and hope for the best.
2. Offer an “exclusive” to some chosen reporter/outlet, put them in a position to break the story and then follow with the broader release.
3. Work with a range of key reporters/outlets in advance, with coverage (to the extent it materializes) timed to appear as the release is distributed. Yes, the dreaded embargo.
Let’s elaborate on these, one at a time.
First off, just pushing send, which is probably the easiest, least involved and - for the PR person - most irresponsible approach. Remember, this is called earned media for a reason, you earn it, based on the substance/strength of your information and how much thought and care goes into making sure it reaches the right reporters/outlets. You know that thing about how a new car is instantly worth thousands less the moment it is driven off the dealer’s lot? Well, the press release that’s been distributed on PR Newswire, Business Wire or PRWeb before any writer has ever seen it is like that, too. Sure, it might get covered, but you will be swimming upstream from the moment you press the button. Say all you want about the purity of good/legitimate information finding its way into copy, the new car analogy holds. Things move fast, people are busy, and once a release is “out,” it’s out, and it’s typically less valuable and less interesting and you are less likely to get someone to write about it, whatever it is.
Now, let’s turn to the exclusive, the surest fire way to alienate your entire media list in exchange for - you hope - one decent clip. This is generally not recommended.
That leaves the embargo, the hated, maligned, insidious embargo. Let’s break it down. You have a press release that includes some legitimate information you would like the public to know, through the media. So, you sit down and you make a distribution list. In a perfect world, who would write about this? Which outlets do you care about writing about this? This is careful, thoughtful, custom work - it requires relationships, awareness, analysis of past coverage and of the quality/significance of your own information, let’s say you wind up with 5-10 really key people at the end of this process. Maybe it’s 10-15. Under no circumstances is it 50.
You pick a date and a time that makes sense in the context of the business development you are trying to communicate, you wait as long as you possibly can to limit your pitfall exposure and then take your list and get on the phone with the reporters who are on it. The conversations go something like this:
“Hey [reporter], we have a release we’re going to be putting out, and I’d be happy to get it to you now as long as you agree not to publish anything until [date, time], are you OK with that?”
If the agreement is made, proceed to Step Two. Depending on the announcement, this may include a variety of elements to supplement the written document - an interview with a relevant executive, a demo, a tour, preview device, whatever. This all falls under the heading of Additional Information Being Provided In Advance Of The Formal Release, or AIBPIAOTFR. I just made that up. Keep in mind, you are not in a position to demand coverage in exchange for delivering the information, the choice to cover or not cover - as always - rests with the reporter, all you’re doing is previewing an announcement and asking them to agree not to burn you in the process by going early.
If it works, everyone’s happy. The people who decide to write, write. A wave of coverage in meaningful outlets occurs and when you actually do press “send” on that announcement it hits the water on skis, behind a 41-foot Sea Ray moving at a decent rate of speed, as opposed to being tossed over the side of the Northwestern like one of those crab pots on Deadliest Catch.
So what could go wrong?
Well, a lot of things. Don’t forget, there are human beings on both sides of this exchange and, depending on the relative greed or nonstrategic nature of the PR person offering the information, there might be a lot of them. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It seems like the vast majority of embargo backlash originates in the tech press, where an expanding array of start-up companies fighting for attention, funding, successful exits and single-family detached housing in Palo Alto supplement their internal media relations staff - to the extent they have any - with PR firms. Boots on the ground. Dialers for dollars.
This can be a problem, because the integrity of the embargo depends on everyone playing by the agreed-upon rules. If someone breaks the arrangement, no one wins. Well, one person wins, but just for one day, and they mess everyone else up and should subsequently be excommunicated from all future discussions/outreach. You can (and should) blame the offending reporter/outlet, especially if the breach was deliberate, but if you want to trace the affront all the way back to its source, it starts with the PR person who put that person on the list. Did they know them? Had they worked with them before? Did they go into the discussion thinking they would ever speak with them again? Because someone, somewhere, looking at an Excel spread sheet with names and phone numbers decided it was worth risking a continuing relationship with a smart and important guy like Ryan Lawler of TechCrunch in pursuit of blog post #36, by someone named Franz who just finished hiking through Europe and took a writing job to generate a new round of hostel money. Not the greatest of bets. You might also want to think through the broader company events happening in the general vicinity of your announcement. Maybe holding a party with beer and wine, a little bit of food and a room full of tech bloggers is not such a great idea when you still haven’t gone public with the fact your company exists. These are all things to consider.
As a PR person, It also helps if you start with a piece of information worthy of this kind of framing discussion, worthy of embargo treatment. If you are going to ask someone who writes for a living to hear something and not write until a designated time, that content better be worth hearing. If the information is pretty marginal, maybe just choose option #1 above, push send and get on the phone. Don’t call established journalists and crank up the gravitas because the dominant color on your company’s revamped website just changed from pink to magenta. Whatever you do, don’t be this guy.
I’ve been a part of dozens of embargoed announcements, maybe more, and have had things go wrong just once or twice, and that was in the early days of the Web, when the magic around when an outlet posted coverage online was typically controlled by one guy who worked in the basement and no one liked to talk to. The process, approached responsibly and with an appropriate level of thought and care, works. This may be one of those rare instances when “don’t hate the game, hate the player(s)” applies.
So, media relations people considering an announcement and a round of embargoed outreach need to ask themselves a simple question. Do you want to be Al Pacino at the end of Scarface, wild-eyed, shooting bullets and rockets in your own house and ultimately lying dead in your ostentatious indoor fountain? Or do you want to be Al Pacino at the end of The Godfather, having strategically taken care of all family business and reviewing porcelain tile samples for the patio outside the new place in Lake Tahoe?
Here’s a hint. There was no Scarface Part II.
Authentic. It’s a powerful word. It can be applied to a million different things, in a million different ways, but has just one universal, accessible meaning. Authentic. Genuine. Real. Right.
We spend a good amount of time in Vermont (authentic state) and at some point started to patronize a sandwich shop that offered “sourdough wheat” as one of its bread choices. It was amazing.
After a few dozen memorable sandwiches, we finally asked about the source of the bread, and were told it was the creation of a local baker in West Rupert, VT named Jedediah Mayer (authentic name) and was also available in a handful of stores in the Manchester/Dorset area under the name Rupert Rising Breads.
That was about a year ago. We found the bread and started buying - many loaves of the flagship sourdough wheat, he calls it “Pain Au Levain” - and also probably the best cinnamon raisin we’ve ever tasted, appropriately named Rupert Raisin. When we hit town, probably 10 times a year, finding the Rupert Rising is always at the top of our “to do” list, and this local artisan has become a mini celebrity to our foodie daughters, 9 and 11.
There’s an e-mail address on the Rupert Rising label, and last spring I sent Jed a message to confirm his delivery schedule and the list of shops lucky enough to get a piece of his very limited distribution. Got a very nice response. Picked up the thread a few weeks ago to let him know we had hit our summer Vermont phase and would love the opportunity to stop by and see his operation, maybe grab a loaf right out of the oven and just say hello and express our thanks in person for the many, many overachieving egg sandwiches he had enabled.
That visit happened Thursday, one of the three days each week he dedicates to making this incredible bread, in a town of about 700 people, surrounded by mountains and farmland. When we arrived, around 6 p.m., he had finished his dough work and already formed the thick loaves of sourdough wheat, the smaller baguettes and cinnamon raisin rounds. They were waiting in linen (sourdough), or in small wicker baskets (cinnamon raisin) to be carefully placed into the wood-fired oven he had made by hand almost a dozen years ago. Authentic.
Watching Jed make bread reminded me of watching Anthony Mangieri make pizza, which - unfortunately - is not something you can see in New York anymore. Simple preparations, high-quality ingredients, an exacting, single-minded approach, and complete commitment to the product, which defines the product. Authentic.
He makes about 200 loaves on a production day. When we got there he said he started off in this little room off the back of his house, which used to be the kitchen, around 5 a.m. He and his family could not have been more gracious or welcoming to a group of strangers known only through appreciative e-mails.
The only slightly awkward moment across our entire 45-minute visit was when we asked about buying a little stockpile for ourselves and for friends, and it quickly became clear every single loaf in the room was spoken for. He tried to give us one - oddly shaped, a factory second - we insisted on paying, and once we started tearing the thing apart it didn’t stand a chance of making it to our car.
Margaritas and summertime are a study in symbiosis, and one we’ve been happy to extensively explore across our adult lives.
We like them by the pool, we like them when the kids are out of school, we like them at the beach, they’re never too far out of reach. At the end of the day, most any kind of way…
The only real problem is that, historically and by convention, margaritas require some kind of extraneous “mix,” as part of the tequila delivery system. Over the years, we’ve experimented with a number of homemade recipes, trying to overachieve the wide variety of sugary bottled mixes that are out there - the radioactive lime green Jose Cuervo high fructose corn syrup concoction probably the primary offender of the bunch.
I think we finally got it right, and so - with a month of summer left and the solemnity with which Christopher Walken conferred “the watch” to Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction - I give the recipe for the perfect homemade mix-less margarita to you.
Tequila (good - we’re talking El Tesoro, Patrón, something of that quality - this is not a Jose Cuervo moment)
Cointreau (again, this is not a “triple sec” opportunity, there’s not a lot of masking happening in this concoction)
Agave Nectar (You could substitute granulated sugar for this, but why would you want to? Agave Nectar is basically the greatest thing on earth.)
The preparation could not be simpler.
Juice the limes - we cut them in half and use one of these to move through them quickly, squeezing the juice right into a measuring cup. Then follow the following proportions - you can make more, or less, just do the appropriate math.
Combine 2/3 cup of fresh lime juice with 2/3 cup of tequila, 1/3 cup of Cointreau, two or three teaspoons of the nectar (to taste - I think two is perfect) and a little ice in a metal shaker - not enough to really dilute the mixture, just to get a little turbulence and cooling going on - then shake vigorously.
Pour over ice in a glass, accessorize with salt or an extra lime slice if you want.
You’re welcome. Or, depending on how far things go, I’m sorry.
We’ve been making pizza at home for years. It’s a great casual and rolling family meal, even better with family and friends. You get your ingredients together, heat up a pizza stone to around 500 degrees in the oven or on the grill, and just start cranking out pies. Red sauce with mozzarella, white with mozzarella, or goat cheese, or a combo of both and toppings like spinach, caramelized onions, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, sliced cherry tomatoes, shredded chicken breast - all kinds of ways to get creative and embrace your inner Ed LaDou.
The foundation of all of this creativity and savory goodness, of course, is the dough. It all starts with the dough. It’s funny, when you first introduce the notion of homemade pizza, the fundamental stumbling point for people is almost always this essential platform, and how it’s sourced. Finally, you convey the unthinkable - you made it yourself - a revelation that is met with the kind of verbal and non-verbal reactions David must have experienced right after Goliath hit the dirt.
Over the years, we have experimented with many, many dough recipes - white flour, white whole wheat, whole wheat, sugar, honey, olive oil, hand-mixed, Kitchen Aid-mixed, active dry yeast, rapid rise yeast, overnight rest, rise at room temperature, rise in the refrigerator, punched down three times, not punched down at all, kneaded while the name “Frank Pepe” is rhythmically chanted, you name it. I think the first dough we ever made was right out of The California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook, and it was good and respectable, a fine start. Then, we moved on to a kind of modified Peter Reinhart and stayed there for years, happy, while continuing to tinker.
But, a few weeks ago, I had a random encounter with a personal chef named Lisa Schoen and, as is to be expected, we got to talking about pizza. More specifically, pizza dough. Esteemed cooking school, a few years as a baker, time in the kitchens of NYC restaurants you’ve heard of, the inevitable brush with Food Network fame, she had all the prerequisites to be taken seriously, and when she offered up her recipe for arguably the most important handmade concoction to ever come out of a kitchen, I broke out the iPhone and started typing.
We took our maiden voyage last weekend and it was like my eyes opened for the first time. We found it. We found the perfect pizza dough, and that brief encounter changed my life - changed all of our lives - because in a complicated world, this very important piece is now set. Forever. And, like the culinary equivalent of Jerry Seinfeld’s “move,” it’s too good not to be passed on, but appropriate care is required.
So here it is:
1 package, active dry yeast (1/4 oz.)
1 Tbsp, sugar
1 Tbsp, kosher salt (seems like a lot, go for it)
4 cups white flour (can substitute white whole wheat, whole wheat, etc.)
1 cup warm water
3/4 to 1 cup ice cold water (may need a little more based on dough consistency)
Olive oil drizzle on bottom of holding pan, and for the top of the dough balls
The preparation of this dough could not be easier, which was surprising given how far superior it was to versions we have slaved over, here are the detailed instructions, in steps.
1. Combine the packet of yeast with one cup of lukewarm water and the Tbsp of sugar, stir and leave to the side, the yeast will react with the sugar and start bubbling, you will see it is “activating” and working.
2. Put four cups of flour and the Tbsp of kosher salt (course) in a food processor, with a plastic dough blade. Pulse a few times to mix the flour and the salt.
Note: The way this recipe was given to me, only white flour is used. We’re pretty partial to whole wheat flour around here, so for the initial run we made two batches - one with all white flour, the second with half white flour and half white whole wheat. They were both incredible, and the next time out we’re going to try half whole wheat and half white whole wheat and see how it goes. I’ll report back.
(Editor’s Update: We tried this recipe over the weekend with equal portions of King Arthur whole wheat and white whole wheat flour - full health - and it was terrific. More dense than the other versions, very good and crisp crust. One thing to keep in mind is that you do lose some elasticity when you are working with this wheat version of the dough, you have to be much more gentle with it to avoid it pulling apart and creating holes when you’re in the stretching out process.)
3. Add the warm water/yeast/sugar mix to the flour in the food processor, and pulse a few times to combine.
4. Begin to slowly add ICE COLD water to the mixture, continuing to pulse. The amount of water you need will range from about 3/4 to one cup, maybe slightly more, watch the dough in the machine and when it becomes a fairly solid clump moving around together with each pulse, you are there. If you over-water, add more flour, but try to avoid adding too much water and having to “save” the dough in this way.
5. Remove the dough from the food processor, put on a counter or cutting board that has been liberally dusted with flour and knead the dough for about five minutes. You want to end this process with a nice uniform ball.
6. Cut the dough into four equal portions - one cut from top to bottom, the other from side to side - and shape the dough into individual balls. You want a smooth top, so work from top to bottom and use the sides to sort of fold the dough over onto itself, pulling together the “loose ends” on the bottom of the orb.
7. Drizzle some good olive oil on a baking pan and place the individual balls on the pan, smooth side up, leaving enough space between for them to about double in size. Then use your fingers to lightly coat the “perfect” top sides with olive oil and cover the tray in plastic wrap. Doesn’t have to be snug or too loose, doesn’t need to be air tight - the oil on the top of the dough is intended to keep the plastic from sticking to it. Once you have completed this step, it looks like this (white/wheat mixture on bottom, all-white on top):
8. Place the pan on a counter and leave aside to rise, the dough balls will roughly double in size over the next hour or two. When this has happened, put the tray directly into the refrigerator to rest overnight. Don’t punch the dough down. Don’t put on fresh plastic wrap. Don’t do anything else. In the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, “Don’t touch it, don’t even look at it.”
9. About a half hour before you are ready to make your pizzas the next day, pull the dough out of the refrigerator and let it come back to room temperature. These will now be pretty flat and, as you work with the individual balls, you’ll want to get them into flour pretty quickly, work them, stretch them out on a pizza peel, top appropriately (a lot of discretion here, see above) and slide onto a searing hot pizza stone in the oven or on the grill.
One step left at this point, let’s call it #10.
Get ready to be happy.
I remember making a concerted effort to pause a few times over the course of my wedding day and really breathe it in. I wanted to be able to appreciate the things that were happening around me, to access them again in my mind, and not just get lost in the blur of this Big Day as it moved from step one, to step two, to steps three through ten and then - before I knew it - step over.
You could apply the same dynamic to daily life, and moments big and small, because there are reminders everywhere, in myriad forms, that “step over” will arrive before we ever see it coming. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, making his students stare at the intent and earnest faces of their long-gone predecessors staring out from class photos and reminding them that we are all “food for worms,” or Anthony Hopkins, at an elaborate birthday celebration to end Meet Joe Black, wistfully asking, “Sixty-five years… don’t they go by in a blink?” or a guy named Seth in a nursing home telling a young David Carr in The Night of the Gun, “It goes so fast; so, so fast. Never forget that it goes by very fast. One minute you’re sitting there, just like you, a young man, big and strong, and the next, you are lying here like me, all dried up and almost done. I have memories, but my life is mostly gone.”
Compelling, real, and very hard to remember or honor in the moment, because we’re usually moving too fast, and - from our current vantage point - the path stretches out ahead as far as the eye can see.
Our girls wrapped up another school year yesterday, we’ve tied the ribbon on 3rd and 5th and will be moving into 4th and 6th next fall. They’ve been with us for a decade, give or take, have become full-fledged human beings, and I still remember taking the money out of my wallet to pay the cab driver an extra $10 for the 10 block ride between the hospital and our NYC apartment so Madison wouldn’t break. Feels like yesterday, and a million years ago. Thank goodness for digital photos and video. Parenting pro tip: Don’t ever hesitate, don’t get lazy - shoot it, shoot all of it.
The Internet and our always-on devices are great in many ways, but they haven’t exactly helped further a “stop and breathe it in” agenda. “Dad, put your phone down!” is probably the most distressing admonition I hear in life, so I’ve been trying to focus on not offering up the opportunity.
It’s hard not to climb into that screen, no matter how small, but no Tweet, no word with a friend, no Instagram feed is worth being absent or distracted when surrounded by the people who make up our actual lives. There’s a balance, and a way to make “present” a priority.
Taking Ava to soccer practice and spending a good part of the hour staring down at my device is not the same as sharing her experience. It’s not really watching TV with Madison if the show is a background track to go along with an open laptop. And even if we’re sitting right next to each other and her eyes are glued to the screen 96 percent of the time, the other 4 percent - when she turns to the side to see if I saw the thing that just made her laugh - matters. I’m trying to remind myself to lock into those moments, to see them as opportunities instead of just incremental or incidental interludes, because Seth was right. It goes so fast. So, so fast.
Steve Jobs, with @waltmossberg and @karaswisher, at D5 - May 30, 2007. Five years ago. Five. Years. Ago.
D10 is next week. Who’s going to say something that shines as clear a light on 2017?
The Cablevision cable TV sales reps walked through my suburban Long Island neighborhood in December of 1975, promising better reception and a new channel called HBO.
They carried these little “HBO On Air” guides with them, left behind as part of the sales pitch, a featured film on the cover, full listings inside. “The Towering Inferno” was on the cover that first month, “Young Frankenstein” the next.
These miniature books captured my imagination, along with the notion of television channels that didn’t go to bed every night, after playing the Star Spangled Banner to footage of the American Flag blowing in the wind. People younger than 40 probably don’t remember that TV wasn’t always an around-the-clock proposition. It actually ended, in the neighborhood of midnight, and then fired back up again the next morning. There was no Sig Hansen on the Bering Sea at 3 a.m., no Tony Robbins offering encouragement in the dark, nothing.
We subscribed to cable, largely at my urging, and the guides - which soon transitioned from “HBO On Air” to the broader “Cablevision” to reflect the expanded programming options and listings - kept coming. I started saving them, my Frank Costanza moment, and wound up with a pretty complete set from that first edition through 1983 or so. The dawning days of an industry. I still have them in a box.
When The Weather Channel turned 30 this week, I dug them out and took a little stroll through 1982, looking for the first sign of a channel that has been my default background option for more than 20 years. The first mention of Cablevision having added TWC showed up in October, followed the next month by a full-page ad.
Since I had my little time capsule out, I flipped through a number of the guides and found a few more programming ads from that same period (1980-82) that seemed worth sharing, promoting in their infancy channels that went on to become household names, and preeminent global brands.
An ESPN ad invited viewers to call a toll-free phone number for the night’s programming line-up, one from C-SPAN offered a free booklet called “Gavel to Gavel,” that outlined “all the key congressional terms,” so viewers could fully appreciate its “coverage of Congress in action.”
Nickelodeon used a New York Times clip to pitch a new channel for kids, blessed by the National Education Association, that entertained “without relying on violence,” and CNN promised “a world of information, analysis and opinion conventional networks simply haven’t had time to explore.” HBO was experimenting with the notion of “HBOnly” more than three decades ago, The Movie Channel was willing to “suffer through the bad movies, so you don’t have to.”
Today’s Goliaths, before they even dreamed of being Davids.
— So many great nuggets in this brief NYT Q&A with Garry Marshall, including this line. Quick read, worth it.
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