Disney, Sloppy PR and “do you have a degree?”

A while back I wrote a piece about sloppy PR from Disney Corporation and it’s sat there for a while, garnering comment and thoughts.
Today I got one that I thought was particularly interesting, from Kate Runyan:
“I am curious about your comments about Disney’s sloppy PR. I am interning there and trying to learn as much about it as I can… from every point of view. Do you hold any degrees and if so, what field? I hope to hear from you via e-mail as soon as you get a chance out of your busy day. Thank you so much! Cheers!”
Let me tell you a bit about the original article, then answer Kate’s question and make some observations about how she’s structured her query…
Basically, I got a clumsy pitch from Disney’s Family.com travel team that started out “Dear Apparanting, I’m contacting you to let you know about a new travel site Disney Family.com needs your help promoting!”
Even pasting it here, you can see how clumsy and lame this is. 30 seconds of work (scroll to bottom, see &copy notice) would have revealed my name as the author of the parenting blog, but they didn’t do that. That’s a cardinal sin in blogger/PR relations.
The pitch was also ridiculously long and clueless about what motivates people to want to help you join a publicity effort without pay. For example, how different it would have been if they said “We know you travel with kids: can we send you a book that highlights how to travel more easily next time?” or “We’d like to invite you to be a Disney.com VIP by helping us spread the word” or “we’re focused on making travel more green. If you help us, we’ll donate $20 to Plant A Tree” or, well, you get the idea.
However loved the brand, people don’t generally help a commercial business out of a sense of philanthropy or noblesse oblige. Like anything else, you need to give them an incentive and of all professionals, Public Relations pros should know this. And a big corporation like Disney can afford to hire the best. That’s why I wrote about that in the first place.
So, Kate, I’m glad you asked me how and why I thought the pitch was clumsy. I hope I’ve addressed that here. What I also want to ask you is why do you care if I have any degrees?
As it happens, I do. A BA in Computer Science, Masters in Education and an MBA. But I think it’s dangerous to suggest that one person’s feedback is more or less important than another’s simply on the basis of how much they’ve spent for their education. Uh, how much they studied. Um, well, you know what I mean. 🙂
Then again, PR is a profession where I think you have to create heirarchies to survive. If there’s no “A List” and no “key media outlets” then it’s all a quantitative game and sending out a $200 prweb release might just be more valuable with its 300 links from press release archive sites than $10,000 on pro PR to get a small mention in the Washington Post. Hmmmm…..
Anyway, dear reader, what do you think? Was Disney sloppy in its original email to me and was Kate demonstrating a perhaps dangerously hierarchical mind in her query?

5 comments on “Disney, Sloppy PR and “do you have a degree?”

  1. You’re right about the sloppy nature of the Disney outreach. I work in PR and cringe at the “copy & paste the recipient’s name” approach that so many purported PR pros employ.
    That pitch was not sent to “Dave Taylor,” it was sent to a list of sites. No personalization and no thoughtful research into who actually runs that particular site.
    As for Kate’s email, it comes off a little strangely, but I don’t think she’s dangerous quite yet.
    I paid CU thousands of dollars for my education, ahem, but that doesn’t give my feedback/thoughts any more merit than someone who didn’t spend their days at the UMC.
    I would love to know if you hear back from Kate.

  2. I was thinking this was a genuine question from a student/intern, until I got to the “do you have a degree?” part. After that, it just seems like an attempt to discredit your valid comments because you may or may not have a degree in the field, which would — of course — validate your concerns.
    Let be be blunt — BS.
    Let me draw this comparison: do you need a degree in music to tell a Beethoven symphony from two drunk guys with a couple of untuned guitars?
    Of course not.
    The question is not “are you qualified to criticize” but instead should be “is this a valid criticism?” It is, and it should be carefully considered, not just by those who sent the pitch, but by anyone who wants to make their pitches better.
    Doyle Albee
    http://www.metzgerblog.com

  3. If Kate is a Gen-Yer, then her question of education/degree status is consistent with research on that market showing education as a perceived metric of authority.
    Is it a valid metric? Well, if you are of the same age group (born 1980-2000), then it is reasonable since that is the foundation of one’s experiences to date. However, the bulk of the business world (boomers) possess education, school of hard knocks, and OJT.
    I’d assume she is trying to learn and add value in her role as an intern. Nothing sinister, just using her generation’s standard metrics.

  4. ah Martha thank you! You have perceived my three line e-mail exactly for what it is… genuine curiosity. I am a student, currently attending a four year university. I do not discredit anyone without any degrees. On the contrary, I hardly think it matters but for scholarly purposes, I must give credit to my sources. If my sources are not scholarly, a professor will automatically discredit them.
    The original piece that Dave wrote on Disney’s sloppy PR caught my attention because do I really want to intern at a company that is known for having sloppy PR practices? It is ironic that my original comment might offend or suggest that I would discredit someone’s opinion without a degree because come this May, I will have a degree. I feel like this title is no measure of what knowledge I have of PR because I have never put this information to any use. Until I am exposed to real world PR practices, I won’t have the chance. Obviously, I want to work for a reputable PR firm so I don’t pick up any “bad habits” and that is why I felt the need to inquire about Dave’s article.
    Thank you for all your comments and Happy New Year!

  5. Kate’s question was perfectly valid. A little awkward and narrow, maybe, but it seems to me that what she really was asking was, “How to you know the things you say you know?” — one of the most fundamental questions of good journalism (blogging included) and critical thinking. It was merely an attempt to establish your credibility. There are other ways to do that, of course, but her question remains valid.

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