The Best and Worst of PR: Rick Frishman

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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

at MIT.

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

from Microsoft."

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:

Send an appropriate software product suitable for an end

user, not a tool builder. "I get a lot of pitches for really


back-office products," says Wildstrom.

Arrange an easy pick-up for your hardware product.

Hire a public relations firm that has worked with


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

Top Of Page
The Best and Worst of PR: Rick Frishman

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.

Cost: $35.

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:

Get the message out many times, in many ways. "I call

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."

Prepare an "elevator speech," a story that you

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.

Latch onto hot media stories. Look at what’s in People

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."

Marry a product to a well-known face.

Become a "source," not just a publicist. "Then

I become someone who is welcome," says Frishman. "That’s where

research makes a difference."

Even if you get a "no," preserve the relationship.

"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."

Think globally, act locally. "It’s nice to get on

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."

The best PR, though, you still can’t buy: "It has to be

a good product," says Frishman. "If word of mouth isn’t good,

you’re dead."

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