Here is another guest post from Per Henricsson of Elektroniktidningen. Per has some strong views on how PR and marketing departments can help journalists – and how they all too often end up hindering the people who want to promote their companies and products. This post is called The Art of Obfuscating.

Per HenricssonOne of the pleasures with my job as a journalist is that I can pick up the phone and call anybody. Normally, people will happily talk to me about their products or about their companies.

But why shouldn’t they? When I write about them, it’s free publicity, something that’s regarded as more valuable than advertising. Even when companies are in trouble or have gone bankrupt people mostly return my calls and kindly answers my questions.

There are of course exceptions. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the company, the harder it its to find someone who says anything meaningful. In Sweden, there is the telecom giant Ericsson. Our patriotic hearts love it for being successful, but our logical brains hate it for being so hard to write about. One of the world’s largest semiconductor company, is in the same league.

Just like Ericsson, this company is keen to talk to you when it calls the shots, but not so easy to deal with when you want to find something out.

Recently, we were planning an issue of Elektroniktidningen and thought it would be interesting to learn more about a new product from this company, espcially since the product is the first foray of the company into this highly competitive market.

I wanted to do the interview mid-January, after all the holidays, so I thought I was pretty early when I sent a request for an interview to their Swedish PR-agency about a week before Christmas.
“No problem, we’ll arrange that”, was the prompt answer.

Back in the office after the holidays, I realised that I hadn’t heard anything from the PR-agency. It was still enough time to do the article, so I wasn’t that worried. When I asked them how things had proceeded, I got a short reply stating that it had indeed been Christmas and now everyone who could answer my questions were at the Show-piece in Las Vegas.

The answer perplexed me a little, knowing the size of the company and also that Americans like to tease us Europeans for taking long holidays. My response was to contact the local office in Sweden, which I hadn’t done in the first place as the PR-agency normally handles all the contacts with the press.

The Swedish office sent my request to the US. After a day or two, the Americans wanted to know exactly what questions I had. I explained that I wanted to discuss the applications for the new product, why customers had chosen it and not gone with two separate circuits or why they hadn’t gone for any of the well proven solutions from the rivals?

After a day or so I got a written reply. I don’t know who wrote it, but it didn’t answer my questions. Or what do you think about the following comment?

”The number of design wins we have is aligned with our expectations for where we expected to be at this time.”

Or this one?

”There are really no competing products on the market today that we are aware of benchmark against. Since XX is an YY paired with an ZZ, performance comparisons would be similar to the comparisons of the separate products to their competing products.”

I didn’t expect the company to present any real customer cases or the exact number of design wins. But at least I’d hoped for a living marketing manager that could discuss the questions. Let me also state that the Swedish office wasn’t happy about the reply either.

The answers made me suspect that the product hasn’t done particularly well. Or maybe that the company designed it for one or two customers with high volumes – customers they’ll never disclose.

But that’s just a guess, only the company knows the true answer.