BrandLink Communications Has the Internet Drop on its Head

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed this will be old news, but for the rest of you, The Bloggess has an object lesson on why Public Relations people would be well to remember that antagonizing bloggers is something you do at your own peril, and in any event, under no circumstances should you commit to text that you think one of them is “a fucking bitch.” Because then that blogger might, in fact, drop the Internet on your head. Way to go, BrandLink Communications, which will get to spend the next few days in damage control. This little contretemps reminds me of my own little skirmish with a PR firm a few years back, which ended up (or so I am told) with someone getting fired. Good times, good times.

To be clear, and as someone who both gets rather a lot of PR pitches and who is also from time to time the subject of PR pitches himself, the very large majority of PR people are perfectly decent people who are doing a particular and peculiar job as well as they can, namely, trying to raise awareness of their clients and their products to outlets that have a large or very specific audience. I don’t mind getting PR pitches in my e-mail; I even have publicity guidelines. When there’s something I’m interested in, I follow up and then both the PR person and I try to see if there’s some way to make both of us happy with the arrangement. If I’m not interested in something, I’ll just delete it and carry on. I suspect that’s how most people in this situation work. It’s usually a congenial thing.

What I find interesting about spit fight between Bloggess and BrandLink Communications is that the folks at BrandLink appear to have an inverted view of the relationship between their PR firm and the people they are pitching — which is evident when a vice president of the company, the one who called Bloggess a “fucking bitch,” also informed her that “you should be flattered that you are even viewed relevant enough to be pitched at all.” In other words, it’s the PR film doing Bloggess a favor by spamming her inbox with a press release that’s entirely irrelevant to her or her blog, rather than hoping she will do them a favor by mentioning whatever thing they are pitching (in this case, something to do with the Kardashians).

Dear BrandLink Communications and in particular Jose Marino Martinez, the fellow who typed those ridiculous words: You can’t possibly actually believe that, right? That you are doing any of us a favor by cramming our e-mail boxes with irrelevant crap? I don’t mind getting PR notes, as noted, but I wouldn’t miss getting the 99% of PR notices that aren’t actually useful or relevant to me. If my blog was viewed “not relevant” by the vast majority of PR folks who currently clutter my inbox on a daily basis with their missives, I’m pretty sure I would somehow find the inner strength and courage to go on. Being relevant to most PR people is not particularly relevant to me, or especially flattering.

I’m also frankly flummoxed this far into the reign of the Internet that these folks didn’t understand one of the maxims of the medium: The Internet is Looking for an Excuse to Drop on Your Head. The PR folks at BrandLink Communications were stupid to respond to Bloggess in any way other than “okay, we’ll drop you from our mailing list,” but they were even more stupid to think that their rude and obnoxiously smug response to her would not get out into the wild. Surprise! Meet the Internet. It’s kind of pissed.

What have we learned today?

1. Most PR people are nice folks just doing their jobs.

2. But some of them have apparently forgotten how the PR relationship actually works.

3. Those folks should still be scrupulously professional when dealing with the people they pitch to, especially if those they pitch to are bloggers.

4. Because if they aren’t, the Internet will drop on their heads.

5. And in any event, when in doubt, don’t call someone a “fucking bitch.”

I hope Mr. Martinez and the rest of the folks at BrandLink Communications have learned something useful out of all of this. If they haven’t, well. The Internet is still out there. And it’s climbing back up to a high perch.

65 thoughts on “BrandLink Communications Has the Internet Drop on its Head

  1. Ok, I totally love the Will Wheaton picture. And her “stand by for a demonstration of relevance” line ought to be emblazoned somewhere on the interwebs. If I could just find some sticky tape …

  2. I like Blogess’s statement

    “but then I remembered that this isn’t the 18th century and that I’ve never taken a high road in my entire life.”

  3. In my mind, it wasn’t about the swearing. That could be one guy having a bad day. There but for the grace of God go I.

    It’s about the entitlement. There is a segment of PR/marketing people out there with a bizarre, otherworldly sense of entitlement — a sense that they have not just a First Amendment right but a MORAL right (nay, an imperative!) to spam us, and that there is something uncouth about even the gentlest criticism or fun-making in return. It’s an attitude I’ve encountered from SEO spammers and comment spammers and others — the offended, indignant “why couldn’t you just delete it or say ‘no thank you,’ why did you have to make a ‘big deal’ of it?” As if recipients of spam owe some sort of duty to the spammers.

    [The attitude is oddly similar to the attitude of con men -- a fake-invoice-scammer I've been writing about wrote me and asked indignantly why I couldn't just throw the fake invoice away like everyone else instead of making a big deal about it.]

    Unsolicited and unsolicited promotional email is not entitled to the same polite treatment that we would offer to a more courteous, invited, or rationally directed approach. It’s hubris to think it is. We don’t owe spammers anything. If more bloggers did what The Bloggess does, at least some segments of spammers would be more selective.

  4. Griffin Barber:

    I’m certain they will survive. I doubt the VP will lose his job, either. One does hope, however, that “don’t call someone on your pitch list a ‘fucking bitch'” is not the only lesson that fellow learns from this incident.

  5. I’m baffled that they didn’t realise what calibre of person they were dealing with when the first response they received was a pre-prepared page of Wil Wheaton collating paper. The Bloggess came prepared.

    “Please stand by for demonstration of relevance”, and then having both Wil and Neil Gaiman share it, was most entertaining.

  6. In situations like this, I think it is important for people making unsolicited contact with strangers to make sales pitches: you contacted them, they didn’t ask to be contacted by you. You intruded on their life, and if they respond rudely then that is the price you pay.

  7. I vividly remember being the victim of an accidential “reply all” wherein my boss made derogatory comments about me to the entire office and her follow-up “apology” just made it worse. We were later called into OUR bosses office where he turned to my boss and said, “Is there something you want to say,” like he was talking to two children who were fighting. Here actions just reinforced to the office and me what she was like. Moral of story, she’s gone and I’m still here!

  8. I have to wonder if that guy has any sense of humour whatsoever. I mean, it’s a funny picture, but he gets all cranky about it. It’s not like she told him to take a long walk of a short pier (or something a little less wordy and more curse-y).

  9. My perspective, as a freelance writer who apparently is on the e-mailing list of about a thousand PR firms around the country (whether I want to be or not), it seems fairly apparent that PR companies typically advertise themselves to their clients with something along the lines of, “We have contacts with 10,000 media outlets.” Yes, John, you are a media outlet, apparently; and so am I. Yippee. That probably 9,950 of each of those PR company’s “media outlets” have, in fact, little or no relevance or interest in the press releases they’re receiving is besides the fact.

  10. I’m not sure they understand damage control in the least. They appear incapable of providing a sincere apology, there are suspect claims of Twitter accounts being hacked, and comments on their FB wall are being deleted and they claim they aren’t doing it. I’m also not sure they understand social media at all.

  11. I’ve actually been grappling with this, at least on the blogger front. There’s this symbiotic relationship between a lot of book blogs and authors — they need authors to provide content (interviews, guest posts, giveaways, etc.), and the authors need them for promotion/exposure. These can be very beneficial relationships — right up until one side starts thinking the other can’t live without them.

  12. I love The Blogess’ response and watched this unfold in realtime yesterday. She was absolutely right and Wil Wheaton also pointed out, yesterday in Twitter, that every page of paper he was collating said “Don’t Be A Dick”. i missed that Neil Gaiman picked it up.

    I note that she did take the time in her blog to say that not all PR firms are like this and most react to her response with politely and with good humor.

  13. What makes this whole thing more and more fascinating to me is that Jose M. now seems to be larger than life to me. Is he playing the role of a megalomaniac and overdoing it? I cannot fathom how such a person is real. (I guess I am blessed to never have to interact with such personality in real life). From the apology that was not really an apology on Twitter “All hail The Bloggess”, to the comment he left on The Bloggess’ post “I just got calls from 4 clients praising my defense of their brand. Ill be fine. But thanks for making me so important. Xoxo”, to this whole exchange between him and Perez Hilton that one commenter unearthed from 2006 http://gawker.com/153068/perez-hilton-makes-us-hate-ourselves

    He’s been behaving this way since 2006 and he’s still around…

  14. @Merus 11.47a – There are people out there on the Internet who 1) cannot identify Wil Wheaton by sight, and 2) do not understand Wil Wheaton is one of the gods of the Internet. If they think of him at all, they think of him as some no-name actor who was on a science fiction show once.

    Mr. Martinez has learned the error of his mistake, hopefully. If not, well, I’m sure the Internet will be glad to school him again.

  15. I never fail to be amazed by PR people who seem to have very poor social skills. Isn’t that… disadvantageous?

  16. My theory is Jose is in an extended game of “Hide the Sausage” with the PR ditz who sent the initial message. In order to continue with previously mentioned sausage related activities he had to appear to stick up for her by trying to berate Jenny.

  17. Thank you! I now have a new blog to read! I feel kinda dumb that I hadn’t found it before, though :-(

    As for the content, as I’m at work it’s really not appropriate for me to laugh hysterically at a PR firms smack down, but it was REALLY hard for me to stifle my laughter,

  18. Is it really that easy to hit Reply-all ? I try to double check things before posting on my blog (for spelling etc.), and with email I don’t think I have ever used Reply-all in 5 years.

  19. Exactly what Ken said. I made a major reply all mistake earlier in my career, and you can be darn sure that the moment I realized it went out , I bent over backwards to apologize to the person I had been rude to. Backwards and sideways really. And then I KEPT MY MOUTH SHUT.

    Instead, Jose chose to jump on twitter, issue a lame faux apology under BroadLink’s handle, and tweet away under his own handle @broadlinkjose about the great day he was having. That was like pouring napalm on a match.

  20. “the internet is looking for an excuse to drop on your head.”

    heh.there seem to be a few attributes to the internet.

    The internet never forgets yet simultaneously has the attention span of a … oh! look! Bunnies!!!

    Wil Wheaton is to collating like Christopher Walken is to monologues: no one else can do it like he does.

    Bloggess is naked and covered in hamburgers??? I… I… dont even know what to say…

    and a PR who has little capacity for relating to the public? Didnt Orwell write a story about that?

  21. @Ken 11:45am a sense that they have not just a First Amendment right but a MORAL right (nay, an imperative!) to spam us

    Their Manifest Destiny extends to the far coast of our inboxes. Yeah, eColonialism!

  22. @Ken – Jose’s attitude was EXACTLY like that of many of the scammers we came across back on the old MMF Hall of Humiliation. Which is one of the reasons I LOVED TheBloggess’ responses.

    “Standby for a demonstration of relevancy” is right up there with “Knock knock, mother…” as one of my favorite sayings.

    In fact, I am a bit surprised that a 5-ft tall metal chicken didn’t show up on that PR firm’s doorstep this morning.

    ~EdT.

  23. “He’s been behaving this way since 2006 and he’s still around…”

    Yeah, but apparently not at the same company. If he goes after this, maybe it’ll be the last time he’s heard from? I suppose that’s too optimistic.

  24. What gets me the most is the utter lack of professionalism combined with a lack of basic literacy. The initial pitch couldn’t distinguish between plural and possesive! (Hint: it’s “Mommies” not “Mommy’s”). Even the senior partner can’t tell the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than’ – where did these people go to school? And today’s Tweet from Brandlink whining about being buliled is just more of the same unprofessional attitude that got them in trouble to begin with. There’s only one thing to do in this situation – apologize, without reservation, and then drop it. These people aren’t real grown-ups; I’d be very leery of doing business with them.

  25. A relatively recent twitter from Brandlink:

    “Ironic that today would be the day that technology would bite me in the butt, lesson learned. All hail @thebloggess”

    Always the victim. What was that particular piece of technology? Reply All? Because entitlement and swear word technology have been around for long enough that everyone should to be accustomed to them.

  26. The Bloggess has updated her post over lunch to essentially say that she got an apology from Jose, and that the “woman in charge of the company” has assured her “that they are aware and are handling it the best way they know how.”

  27. @JIm: I don’t think that global illiteracy is a paying client of theirs, per se. But they are definitely doing pro bono work.

  28. While it is true that if pr firms (and others) followed the steps you list above, they would avoid this sort of kerfluffle, it’s also true that this kind of thing is so entertaining for the rest of us!

  29. The Will Wheaton picture is pretty great, but I have to admit that I’m sort of disappointed that she didn’t go all Defcon I and show up at the PR firm with Beyonce the big metal chicken.

  30. My theory is Jose is in an extended game of “Hide the Sausage” with the PR ditz who sent the initial message. In order to continue with previously mentioned sausage related activities he had to appear to stick up for her by trying to berate Jenny.

    … Really? Your explanation for “man is a jerk (to a woman) on the Internet” is “there must be a woman behind it all”? That’s what you’re going with? Okay then, Bob. And here I was thinking that this actually sounds really familiar, because there’s an undeniable fact that people (more often than not male people, as it happens) react nastily to women on the Internet given the slightest or flimsiest excuse…

  31. What I find interesting is the lack of savvy PR and Marketing insight that the entire situation bespeaks. If your position is to find ways to spread word on the internet, you better understand the internet. You should at least have a fairly good understanding of the key players you are trying to cajole into spreading your current message.
    Jose never did any research before or after the contact with Jenny. He never understood that he was poking a Bee’s Nest.
    I’m guessing he is just entirely surprised that the “internet could easily be dropped on his head” by poking someone who has such a strong and dedicated following.
    To me, this entire thing is about the actual incompetence of the company, as represented by Jose, who appears to be something of importance there, at least in his own mind.

  32. What Cairsten said at 3:31pm. Seriously, Bob, why do you come to the conclusion that Jose is showing his ass to one women out fear of being denied sexual access to another woman? and since your comment leaves it at that, are you even aware of the implicit excusal of Jose’s behavior you are making?

  33. More on point: I must stand in admiration and awe of those who can summon the Internet down from its perch.

  34. @Steven Burnap, 12:48 PM:

    “The first rule of email is that if you want to call someone names, …”

    close your office door and make SURE you’re not on the phone with anyone, then call them names until you calm down. After you’re calm, send out a professional reply if appropriate, or no reply if it isn’t. Remember both Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick.”) and the Second Law of Kindergarten (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”)

    Since I know someone’s going to ask: the First Law of Kindergarten is “No hitting, kicking, or biting.”

  35. It’s a pretty classic presentation of narcissistic personality disorder. Certain professional fields attract the pathological narcissists, and marketing and P.R. get a disproportionate chunk of them.

    No amount of internets on heads will ever teach somebody whose illness renders them incapable of seeing themselves in the wrong; Jose will continue being Jose the rest of his life.

  36. “Please stand by for a demonstration of relevancy.”

    At last we have a 21st century phrase which approaches “My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character” for ominous overtones.

  37. “Please stand by for demonstration of relevance”

    Shields up. Red alert.

    165,000 Twitter followers (multiplied by all of their followers = a lot phaser power. What a mismatch. LOL

  38. I think it’s the Benjamin Franklin effect!

    Er, that is, why people like Jose (and scammers) can walk around thinking that people owe them respect. That is, they are doing something they know is annoying (because they’ve probably been annoyed by it themselves) so they tell themselves the people aren’t worth anything more. And that in turn elevates themselves.

    Also, I definitely got the impression, reading the exchange, that Jose thought the whole WilW collating paper page had been assembled Just To Annoy BrandLink. He accuses her of cursing first, and of going to tons of effort to be rude. Which puzzled me, because all she did was send a polite link. But there’s mild cursing on that page, and the page itself did require some effort.

    So… while they use auto list technology to target the PR recipients, they can’t imagine the same thing being used on them. Because it’s All About Them. That’s the part I love the most.

    Well, other than ‘Stand by for a demonstration of relevancy.’

  39. The scary thing about the phrase, “Stand by for a demonstration of relevancy,” is that my brain follows it up with stock footage of the Mike Test.

    Also, @cairsten, thank you for that follow up.

  40. Wil Wheaton –

    Cooks Source was exactly my first thought. I don’t think that Judith Griggs will be topped for a long time, but this one is pretty good.

    I guess that high class spammers are PR companies now. They don’t seem to know anything about PR. Even after the company Tweet that they had ‘apologized’, the couldn’t resist following up with:

    “I am sad that with all the lessons to be had this is now turning into a bullying platform, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    STFU – I’m sure that’s one of the top ten rules for when nothing you say is a smart thing to say. They’re are a whole lot more than two wrongs here, and they appear to all be yours.

    (165,00 followers against 1,300 followers = Be careful who you f… with.)

  41. “I am sad that with all the lessons to be had this is now turning into a bullying platform, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    It’s amazing how often perpetrators use the ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ defense. Retribution is not bullying…. It may or may not be right, but it’s not bullying. I think in this case, the mob justice was righteous. I loved how The Blogesss pointed out how often they must have tried similar bullying tactics on other bloggers who may have not had the same bully pulpit or following she had. In this case, I thimk the internet smackdown was a public service.

  42. Thanks to this “demonstration of relevance” I have a new internet crush. I’ve just spent the last hour and a half devouring sections of her blog. Oh man, the internet hammer can drop with serious black hole spawning force can’t it.

  43. I’ve been a fan of The Blogess since her Big Metal Chicken story went viral. The woman installed an enormous metal chicken outside her (alleged) spouse’s study window over a disagreement about buying towels. Did BrandLink really think it was a good idea to insult this woman?

    “Knock, Knock, MoFo.”

    I admit my favorite of her bits was her zombie speech. She’s an inspiration to the rest of us who experience social phobia.

  44. What I remember about the chicken story was an ugly little trend in the replies posted which I brought up over at Making Light to see if there was a better term than the one I heard years ago or if we’d need to make one up. (Open Threads work better for this than Pimp Threads or I’d have brought it up here as well.) Suffice it to say “hlep” and “helpiness” have a new friend courtesy of that thashout and I read posts by The Bloggess and not the replies to them.

  45. Sorry for posting again so soon, John, but part of BrandLink’s reply has been bouncing around between my ears: “they are aware and are handling it the best way they know how.” I keep hearing Stan Freeberg’s massively stupid Junior Bear in the Three Bears series that Chuck Jones made for Warner’s shouting “What’d I do, Paw? What’d I DO?”

    And then I hear an oily voice say “Hire Cantor and Siegel. They’re OUR kind of people. “

  46. I am a huge fan of The Bloggess. She does things for the funny. Or for informational value. She’s also nice enough that she wants all of her followers to “take a deep breath” about the whole thing. I think that shows some real class.

    Thank you for helping share this.

  47. Why am I not surprised that it didn’t occur to Brandlink that suddenly having 165,000 x the internet people looking at their twitter feed instead of their usual 1,300 might be a good moment to at least check the spelling and grammar of their Twitter profile. People seriously choose Brandlink to be their bridge to the media? Tragic.

  48. Me, I’m nagged by the persistant suspicion that Jose not only does not recognize Wil Wheaton’s name but as a complicating factor has no idea what “collate” means, and a vague memory of it being a euphemism for sexual congress.

  49. It occurs to me to wonder about Jose’s relationship with his (female) boss. Not in the sense of “are they shagging”, but if the words “fucking bitch” are so quick to roll off his fingers when a woman disagrees with him, is he the kind of guy who has trouble taking orders from somebody without the Magic Dongle?

  50. I think that, in part, Brandlink suffered from really bad timing. The Occupy Wall Street movement is growing both in size and popularity, and a whole bunch of people really want to help in some way but can’t afford to donate money and may not have events in their area yet.

    Cue EVIL EXECUTIVE attempting to bully ONE OF US.

    I’m not saying the internet wouldn’t have dropped on their heads regardless. But maybe a bit more of the internet jumped a bit more enthusiastically than they would have in better times. Corporate entitlement isn’t exactly “on trend” right now.

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