Filling the empty jar

I have found that only a few people in public relations really understand the value of good publicity.

I have found that only a few people in public relations really understand the value of good publicity.

by Andy Wilson, editor, andyw@pennwell.com

Several month’s ago, I spent some time in Germany with our sales representative Holger Gerisch. The purpose of the trip was primarily to attend Messe Stuttgart’s annual premeeting press promotion of VISION 2004, to be held this month in Stuttgart.

While there, I told Gerisch the tale of the invisible box that my brother had told to me just days before (seeVision Systems Design, Sept. 2004, p. 100). As you may recall, this parable was designed to show how a different type of thinking was required to solve today’s machine-vision problems.

After listening intently, Gerisch told me of his own experiences at Bundeswehr Universität (University of the Armed Forces, Munich, Germany; www.unibw-muenchen.de). “One of our professors,” he said, “brought in an empty jar and asked us whether it was full.”

“Nein,” the students chanted in unison. The professor then proceeded to place a number of rocks in the jar.

He repeated the question. “Well, now everyone could see that it was full,” said Gerisch.

But that wasn’t the answer. The professor then placed marbles between the rocks and asked the same question again. The students were baffled. Some thought the jar was full, others that it was not. Sand was then poured into the jar. Of course, now everyone agreed that the jar was full. But was it? Taking out a bottle of beer from his desk, the professor poured the contents into the jar. “And the motto of this story,” he said, “is that no matter how full you are there is always room for a beer!”

Unfortunately, today’s marketing attempts by so-called “high-technology” companies often remind me of that empty jar. Rather than address the questions that journalists may pose about the systems design, many companies are willing to leave their particular “jar” empty. Others, intent on producingsomethingto promote their products, offer badly written filler that cannot be published. Worse, some companies even think that if all else fails, buying the journalists a drink will guarantee some sort of coverage. On one company visit in Germany, I was even told that if I should write some Gute Wörter about the company, it would book an advertisement, which they asked me to place next to the editorial. I politely declined.

This sad state of affairs came to the fore when I received a recent issue of an esteemed electronics trade magazine. There, hidden in the pages, was a wonderful article by a journalist with more than 20 years experience. I won’t tell you the details, but it described the development of a novel technology.

The only problem with the article was that numerous paragraphs were taken from an article that I had previously written on the same subject. I was flabbergasted. But then I realized what may have happened. It probably wasn’t the journalist’s fault. Realizing it had no material for the press, the company mentioned in the article probably did a quick “cut and paste” of the piece I had written and sent it to him. The motto here is simple. “If your marketing jar is empty, drink from someone else’s!”

In contrast to this unfortunate trend, Silvia Stoll and Silvia Blumenschein, two of the Messe Stuttgart organizers of VISION 2004, realize the power of good publicity. In addition to attending their well-organized press conference, I had the pleasure of attending an impressive demonstration of machine vision in action at Sortimat (Winnenden, Germany; www.sortimat.de), a manufacturer of automated assembly machines. There, engineers described the ins and outs of a very impressive system for medical-needle assembly (see “On-line inspection ensures needle quality,” p. 37).

Today, good public relations people like Silvia Stoll are hard to find. Many still believe in the old ways. And it was with some sadness that I reflected on this state of affairs as I wandered off to my hotel room in Germany. Located in my room was the ubiquitous minibar, full of all kinds of intoxicating chocolates, nuts, and liquors. After the day’s events, I decided Coke was perhaps the right choice of beverage.

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