Wednesday, July 28, 2010...10:05 am

Lessons from Clinique – big brands draw a big audience

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Goodness, Freelance Unbound is suddenly all over the interweb thanks to yesterday’s get-your-own-back-on-tiresome-PR-departments post about Clinique.
It was picked up by Jim Romenesko of journalism university the Poynter Institute, who wrote a news brief about the story. Cue a tsunami of traffic (by Freelance Unbound’s modest standards) and a wealth of comments.
There are a few lessons here if you’d like to boost your own traffic and comment threads:

  • Write about big brands (companies, celebrities)
  • Have a nice, snarky story to tell
  • Reveal yourself to be an incompetent fool (see the comments section)
  • Get your post picked up by a bigger publication that will reach out to a much wider audience

Only the last is in the lap of the gods. I immediately suspected Twitter to be the prime mover, but couldn’t find an appropriately smoking gun in terms of retweets and inbound links. According to Jim Romenesko, the story was sent to by “a reader” – but where he or she picked it up remains a mystery.
So – out of curiosity, if you were that reader (and thanks!), where did you see the post? Was it via Twitter, or are you one of Freelance Unbound’s tiny legion of loyal readers? I’d love to know
The comments fell into two camps. One group was simply quite amused by the story; the other took me to task for, basically, not doing my job. “All you had to do was Google the company to find a phone number, you moron,” could roughly summarise this group’s view.
In response, I’d say you are absolutely right. I was totally rubbish in following up my 10pm press office registration and basically did nothing to track down the relevant contact. I am an abject failure as a journalist. I crawl in the dirt in front of my proper, professional peers. I, simply, suck.
Crucially though, this isn’t really the point of the story. I am just bewildered at the PR strategy of a big consumer brand, which apparently doesn’t want to reveal the phone number of its press office, nor the details of any of its media contacts, until it has pre-vetted the person who’s asking for it. And only gets around to it after two weeks.
It reminds me of a feature I wrote many years ago about the promotional use of electrical goods (I know, I know, how you envy my media life). I called up one of the big warehouse electrical retailers to get some information on the subject.
There was no press contact available anywhere I looked online, so I called the main consumer number and asked if the company had a press office. It had, apparently, but the person I spoke to at the call centre couldn’t give me, a member of the media, the number for the media centre because it was “confidential”. That sort of response is, frankly, bonkers.
As for my lack of follow-up to my Clinique endeavours, the answer is simple. I followed the characteristic decision tree of the freelance writer.
Do I have enough relevant information for my feature?

  • [A] Yes – write the feature and put in your invoice
  • [B] No – make more effort to find relevant contacts and ask them for input

The answer that week was “Yes” – which is why I forgot all about Clinique and got on with the rest of it. At least they didn’t seem that bothered…


  • The worst feature I ever had to do in terms of that kind of thing was asking the top ten spenders in direct mail what their email strategy was. I forget the name of the company but its a big junk mail, er, direct mail using financial services group with an acronym – I wasn’t allowed to phone or email but had to submit my request via a letter. So no doubt they had a swinging digital strategy.
    Obviously they were fed up of being harassed by reporters writing anti-junk mail pieces.

  • Did they actually answer the letter? I am on tenterhooks – perhaps you could write to me and let me know…

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