Good PR pros know: you have to understand and appreciate your audience in order to craft messages and content that will truly speak to them rather than at them or—even worse—around them.
The journalists on our Twitter feeds spent much of the last week mocking the “glorified press release“ that web entrepreneur Bryan Goldberg wrote to announce the fundraising achievements and subsequent launch of Bustle.com, his new “high-revenue [publication] aimed at women”. We’ll take a moment here to observe what, exactly, he did wrong—and how he could have avoided the poor response he received.
Goldberg, who regularly contributes to the tech site PandoDaily, wrote the announcement as a blog post and Q&A that that initially earned the Internet’s ire for quotes like this one:
My job, as CEO, is to hire the right people…Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.
And this one:
Yes, we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip. On the same day. During the same coffee break. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Can men read Bustle too?
Yes. And they secretly will.
Tongue-in-cheek but off-putting and way off brand for a title designed to appeal to “feminists”. Still, according to the overwhelmingly female writers who disapproved of Golberg’s messaging efforts, the main problem with the rollout stemmed from an implication that major female-oriented sites like Jezebel and xoJane have so far failed to break into the “mainstream”—and that the new Bustle venture would beat them to it with a completely new and fascinating combination of hard news, celebrity gossip and fashion tips designed for today’s intelligent, ambitious woman. Sound familiar?
The original announcement also implies, whether intentionally or not, that editorial sites must throw fashion, gossip and beauty content into the mix if they have any hope of attracting a large female readership. We know that is not true.
At the end of the week, Goldberg wrote an apology letter in which he admitted to making strategic mistakes and not spending enough time praising the achievements of the many, many sites that preceded his. Unfortunately, the story of Bustle’s tone-deaf rollout quickly drowned out the story of the site itself. (Others took issue with the writers’ pay rates, which is a big deal if you want “quality of content” to be your site’s differentiator.)
The main lesson here? If you are not a member of the target audience for a brand you’re looking to promote, then you shouldn’t speak as the voice of that brand. Goldberg’s fundraising memo could have been just that—a congratulatory note about money being raised. If he wanted to outline his editorial vision for Bustle then he should have left that responsibility to one of the many talented women he hired to write for the site.
Now if only he’d asked someone in PR how to go about it…
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