Corrections or additions?
These articles were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 8,
1999. All rights reserved.
Pitching the Critic
The new simpler computers — without floppy drives
and other legacy systems — will be less likely to break down,
says Stephen H. Wildstrom, technical editor of Business Week
magazine. Unlike many other technology writers, he recently praised
Apple computers for breaking with the past and eliminating floppies,
and he predicts good results for when the PC world makes a similar
change this fall.
Wildstrom, who has written Business Week’s Technology & You column
for five years, speaks at the Princeton Macintosh Users Group on
September 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Princeton University’s Jadwin Hall.
The meeting is free, and a help session for new users begins at 6:15
p.m. Call 609-252-1163.
"You will start to see computers this fall without the floppy
drive," says Wildstrom. Not the disemboweled network computers,
but regular PCs running with Windows 98. Instead of several different
kinds of ports or "plug-in" sockets, these computers will
have only the universal serial business port; it has been on all the
PCs for the past few years, and Wildstrom deems it underused. "It
simplifies things to have only a single connection," he says,
"and it can connect up to 127 different devices. Ultimately it
is cheaper for the manufacturer and it should make computers work
Wildstrom decries the fact that PCs have not changed since IBM’s basic
design in 1984: "A lot of stuff in Windows has been added and
nothing has been taken away." Not having to support ancient
he believes, may make Windows more reliable.
Though Wildstrom has had some lively dialogues with Macintosh
speaking at a Mac users group is a first for him. The son of a
store manager in Detroit, Wildstrom went to the University of
Class of 1969, and worked for the Associated Press before joining
Business Week. When he was covering the auto industry in Detroit,
he met and became good friends with Walter Mossberger, now a prominent
technical columnist at the Wall Street Journal. Then 25 years ago
Wildstrom moved to Washington, where he lives with his wife. They
have two grown children, one working at IBM and the other a student
Wildstrom says he and Mossberger have similar perspectives — both
very concerned with consumer issues, usability, and consumers’ rights.
"I am not a Microsoft hater," says Wildstrom, who has just
finished writing an even-handed piece about the Microsoft trials.
"I get aggravated about Microsoft, but there are good things about
everyone. Certainly it is a rare week without some kind of contact
Being a critic is not as glamorous as it might appear. Critics don’t
get to keep the Palm Pilots and laptops they review, and even
storage is a problem. In fact, he uses an assistant to help unpack,
repack, and return all those packages.
Examining a laptop starts with evaluating the keyboard for efficiency
and ergonomics and working on it until he draws down the battery.
"I haven’t found a battery-use test that gives a reasonable
he says, comparing the official results with gas mileage estimates.
"They are all too high."
He is deluged with 100 pieces of daily mail (E-mail:
and treasures reader response, but most of the mail consists of pleas
for coverage. "The little companies don’t have lot of money and
can’t really afford to advertise, but are desperate to get themselves
publicity. I can’t write about a tenth of what I see," says
"I try to look at, but I can’t look at, everything. I’m sure I
sometimes make mistakes."
Other than showing up at the users group to meet Wildstrom, here are
some strategies to get your product reviewed:
user, not a tool builder. "I get a lot of pitches for really
back-office products," says Wildstrom.
before. "I put a lot of stock in who is pitching the product,
somebody who knows me and knows what I write about, rather than a
stranger or someone who has steered me wrong."
— Barbara Fox
One way to make news is to create news. For example,
use a survey to draw people in. That idea paid off for Rick
president of Planned Television Arts, and his client, author of The
Corporate Coach. "There are probably 10 books that were similar
in nature but we came up with the concept of the `Best Boss, Worst
Boss’ contest," he says. "The one who won got a trip to
That took off." The Associated Press, Forbes, and Fortune all
picked up the story. "The media took it and a book that might
have sold 7,000 copies ended up selling 70,000 copies," says
Publicity stunts may not work for everyone, but PR skills are
that everyone can brush up on. "With everything you do you’re
trying to create a buzz," says Frishman. He gives "Tips,
and Secrets to Develop PR Opportunities" on Tuesday, September
14, at 11:30 a.m. at the NJ CAMA meeting at the Doral Forrestal.
agenda: "I hope to meet interesting people who I can teach the
right tips about PR so we don’t embarrass ourselves as an industry,
and so they can learn how to do it themselves." Call 609-890-9207.
Frishman has been with Planned Television Arts since 1976 and remains
president even though the company merged with Ruder/Finn in 1993.
Frishman attended Ithaca College School of Communications, and then
moved to New York City to work for the leading radio station at the
time, WOR. He booked guests for the out-spoken talk show host Barry
Farber. Frishman’s arts clients include big publishing companies like
Random House and Putnam, as well as movie and pharmaceutical
"It’s changing so fast," he says. "We used to send people
to over 30 cities to do local shows, newspaper. Now we do just about
everything electronically. There’s so many types of media out there
that you have to learn how to access that media."
Research, knowing whom to approach, is the key. "If I’m calling
a radio show, then I know which kinds of guests they will take and
I’m not going to waste their time calling them with someone they won’t
produce," says Frishman. "My selling point is that I have
access and they will take my phone calls. Otherwise, I get a
of being a Bozo."
Then there’s the hook. "When you’re dealing with producers and
reporters, your job is to make their life easy," he says. "If
they have to be creative, they’re not going to do it." That’s
why you need an angle. For example: How business X has solved problem
Y, or three things that Business X is doing to change people’s lives.
"If it’s just a fluff piece it doesn’t do anything to help
says Frishman. For the pharmaceutical companies along Route 1,
says to focus on breaking events news, such as FDA approval, and get
a big name spokesperson.
Once you have a message, and know whom you want to hear it, Frishman
says proceed as follows:
it the "`Magic Seven,’" he says. "You have to have people
hear about your message at least seven times before it sinks in. The
ideal campaign has radio, television, newspaper and Internet
E-mail is also great shortcut for the publicity because "you don’t
have to deal with the pleasantries. It’s yes, no, or goodbye."
can "sell them in 30 seconds, the time it takes to talk to someone
on an elevator," says Frishman. A good press kit, to the point,
should be ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Magazine, or in the Wall Street Journal, and make your story relevant.
Says Frishman: "You have to tie it in with what’s going on in
the news today."
I become someone who is welcome," says Frishman. "That’s where
research makes a difference."
"You’re only going to be successful a certain percentage of the
time," says Frishman. "They need us too if we’re good. What
they don’t need are lousy PR people who have no idea what their needs
are. Then we just become a pain in the butt."
Oprah or the Today Show, but not everyone is going to do it,"
says Frishman. You have to get the word out to the local community
first. Otherwise: "It’s like a guy walking into a hospital and
saying he’d like to do brain surgery today."
a good product," says Frishman. "If word of mouth isn’t good,
Corrections or additions?
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