Lessons From the Top

Last night I bought an unintentionally hilarious book: "Lessons from the Top: The 50 Most Successful Business Leaders in America and What you Can Learn from Them."

Always ready to learn something new I jumped on the Path train and plunged in... I should have looked at the date of publication.

Here they were, America's top business leaders: Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Hank Greenberg, Dennis Kozlowski, and their companies Enron, AIG, and Tyco International. All ripped from today's deadlines or should I say Court TV. Doing a quick Google search on these titans of industry revealed common search results: "The Rise and Fall of Bernie Ebbers," "The Rise and Fall of Dennis Kozlowski," and on and on. I would estimate that nearly 20 percent of the companies and CEOs profiled have been indicted, tried, bankrupt, and/or disgraced. Even more have suffered major financial setbacks, if not scandal.

But the book's title still holds. There is a tremendous amount to learn here, just not in the way originally intended. We often learn more from others mistakes than their successes.

Take e-mail, for instance. (Guess you were wondering how I was going to tie e-mail in to this, weren't you?) You would imagine that the people who understand e-mail the best would be those tireless individuals in the public relations industry. After all, their life's blood includes writing press releases and getting them into the hands of lazy journalists and moronic opinion writers like me who stare at a blank sheet of paper every week wondering what to write. You'd think they'd have e-mail down and would have segmented their contacts (i.e writers) by the type of stuff they write about. Well, you'd be wrong.

I've been writing now for 10 years in various magazines and newsletters. I've only ever written on three topics: 3D computer graphics, rich media, and now e-mail. I receive dozens of press releases every day. Guess how many are about e-mail? Zero.

For instance, yesterday I received a press release from a guy named Dave asking if I'd like to interview one of his clients on Global Media habits and how long people spend watching TV, listening to radio, etc. I wrote back and said, what does your client have to say about e-mail? No response.

The same guy has pitched me Dow Jones Management issues, broadcast flag issues, Viacom succession issues, and more and each time I write back and say, "Dave, I only write about e-mail. What does this have to do with e-mail?" I never receive a response.

Worse are the folks who try and set up meetings with me at trade shows with their clients that have nothing to do with what I write about. It is one thing to blanket your message to every reporter in your address book; it's another to waste a CEO's time talking to someone like me on issues I couldn't write about if I wanted to.

The opposite is also true. Based on my circulation figures and open rates, I'm probably one of the top three most read writers on e-mail in the trade magazine space. And yet I receive almost no press releases on e-mail studies, new products, and other items I end up reading about in other publications.

So who is not doing their job?

Here's a Lesson From the Top: segment your list, find people who fit your profile, and e-mail them a custom message based on their interests and ability to act on your offer. If they respond to you, e-mail them back. This Lesson From the Top brought to you without charge from the World Wide Public Relations Industry.

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