Friday, February 13, 2009

Yuck: The Worst Pitch In Memory for Valentine’s Day

It’s not often New York Times reporters stop what they are doing to start emailing each other a release, but that’s what happened this week among several of them when “this” appeared in their in-boxes. It’s not a funny one – but it does show how stupid PR people can do when they don’t take a 30,000-foot view of their own work. For at least a second!

This one came from AAO-HNS, a jumble of an acronym for American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Its headline was, well, bad enough for you to wonder if I made it up:

Sinus Problems, Cancer Stand in the Way of Healthy Valentine Lips

Yeah that pesky cancer – hurts the lips, I guess. This whole release is squirm-inducing for its awful teaching method, and starts with one sentence that I had to read a few dozen times to believe: "What's a Valentine's Day without the kiss, and what's a kiss without your lips?" It's got an SNL quality to it that is shameful.

And this subead seems wrong: Nation's ENTs Urge Patients to Keep Lips Kissable

They go on (and on) to discuss lip problems, particularly “Perhaps most concerning is lip cancer, which can severely impact one's quality of life, and in some cases, lead to death." The whole idea is to use V-Day (February 14) to urge people to “keep lips kissable.”

Heart is in the right place, maybe. It is, however, the first time a release was editorialized by people who were disgusted (in email). I saw some comments from Timesmen and women like “Yes, cancer stinks. Especially the kissy face part. Sheesh.”

And yes, it’s for Immediate Release.

Sinus Problems, Cancer Stand in the Way of Healthy Valentine Lips
Nation's ENTs Urge Patients to Keep Lips Kissable

Alexandria, VA- What's a Valentine's Day without the kiss, and what's a kiss without your lips? This year, the nation's ear, nose, and throat doctors offer a reminder that healthy lips are the key to a memorable Valentine's Day experience; unhealthy ones can indicate serious health conditions.
"Healthy lips are certainly important on Valentine's Day," said Jordan S. Josephson, MD, member of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). "Dry, cracked lips, which aren't good for kissing, can be the result of sinus problems and nasal blockage from septal deviations and other causes. Those sinus problems can also result in snoring, which will take the romance right out of that Valentine's night."
Cracked lips can occur when a person with a blocked or stuffed nose is forced to breathe through his or her mouth. The flow of air decreases the moisture in the skin, and causes the lips to crack and peel. As a side effect of nasal congestion, stuffiness, or obstruction of nasal breathing, cracked lips add to the real discomfort of nasal congestion. The discomfort is one of the most common complaints seen by otolaryngologists.
"Cracked lips are just the tip of the iceberg when we discuss lip health," Dr. Josephson warned. "Perhaps most concerning is lip cancer, which can severely impact one's quality of life, and in some cases, lead to death."
Lip cancer usually appears as squamous cell cancer and/or malignant melanoma. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip, and can be caused by tobacco usage, UV exposure, or alcohol use. They may look like the more common, and less dangerous, basal cell cancers, and if caught early and properly treated, usually are not much more dangerous. If there is a sore on the lip or lower face that does not heal, consult a physician. Malignant melanoma classically produces dense blue-black or black discolorations of the skin. However, any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may be trouble. A blackish spot on the lips, face, or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by a dermatologist, otolaryngologist/ear, nose, and throat surgeon, or at least by a primary care physician.
"Before you wind up with lip cancer, it might be a nice Valentine's present to your loved one to give up those cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco," Josephson added. At the very least, make sure to protect your lips from sun exposure with a UV-rated sunblock, just as you do the rest of your skin, he said.
For more information on ear, nose, throat, head, and neck health information, visit Reporters who wish to speak with an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon about lip health should
[squirm here].

I think it’s gross, and I’d like to get opinions: Did this company go too far? Did the "PR person" simply have no idea what an angle is not supposed to be? I get what lip cancer appears like and that’s a good thing. But the rest was not good PR because, firstly, it was sent to multiple reporters at once; then that odd and ill-conceived approach to a serious illness; one heck of a horrible headline; the fact it makes its point and then rambles on to make a dozen others; plus this strange idea that YOUR Valentine’s Day gift is giving up cigarettes (I mean, is a reporter supposed to?) and most important, its mixed-bag tone. In PR everything is Tone…………………………

This one really missed the boat by several miles.

Twitter @laermer


  1. Anonymous10:03 AM

    Oh gosh...that release just totally crosses the line. It's silly, and insensitive....PR people shouldn't try to cram a story into a trend topic just because they want to be 'relevant'. I was also forwarded a press release the other day capitalizing on the Rihanna/Chris Brown debacle. Subject: "21 year old heartbroken seattle fan to make rihanna a valentine after missing the grammy's" and by valentine, they mean making a custom piece jewelry so she doesn't "go empty-handed on the day of love". What BS.

  2. Anonymous10:40 AM

    "Unexploded Land Mines scupper Cambodian Soccer League", "Heroin addicts risk eating disorders caused by irregular eating patterns" "Kids needn't let Salmonella ruin a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich". "Give a hug, not a punch this Feb 14th - NO to domestic violence day".

    Whatever next? Somebody really took health 'trivia' to new depths.

  3. Oh my..awful pitch! Hard to believe that it is a serious pitch...

  4. Well, the information is valid, but yeah, you're right, it's not the best way to go about getting your message out. I would expect to see "Keep Lips Kissable" ad for ChapStick, Carmex, Blistex, a lipstick or lipgloss brand, etc., not an ENT MD. And it would be pretty, not scary.

  5. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I recall a release from a couple of years ago by a UK supermarket that claimed young people didn't know the meaning of Easter - which the release claimed was the birth of Jesus.

    Hardly in the same tasteless league as your example, but again had journalists scratching their heads about the lack of knowledge of PR folk.

  6. Eeek. I'm sure the writers of this release had their heart in the right place, but they just tried to hard.

    We PR folks are always trying to find ways to RELEVANTLY tie our news into what's timely. I can't tell you how many clients have asked me "How can we tie this in to Valentine's Day?"

    Since V-Day is more of a fun holiday, tying in something so serious misses the mark.

    Perhaps they should have waited for Halloween? ;)


  7. Agree with RockstarJen completely. Also, why even make this a release... Seems like a case of, "oh we better do a release."

    Using a release in this case makes for an even colder approach. Wouldn't it have been worth the time for this org to find people who have suffered from the problem and put together narrowly-targeted pitches to the right places?

    Oh, right... that requires work.

  8. Anonymous1:21 PM

    I don't know guys. It is really hard to get the attention of the media on specific healthcare issues. If you are not representing well-known diseases, then you have to find a way to get attention. This one did get your attention, even though it did cross the line and probably never got published. Having been in PR in healthcare, I've tried sending releases with heartfelt stories of people who suffer from a disease. The only ones that got attention were the ones that profiled celebrities. If this one were worded just a bit differently, it may have been viable.

  9. Disturbing! Way to keep it classy, AAO-HNS.

  10. Anonymous7:55 PM

    An example of insiders not understanding how the wider world will see things, I think.

    I would have suggested maybe some news tips or sources on the lines of, "ENTs offer advice on lip health."

    And less about cancer.

  11. For a mini-lecture I gave at my alma mater yesterday, I used this as an example of a PR person who wasn't quite listening on news values day in J-school. Hilarious.

  12. Anonymous1:31 PM

    I recall hearing about a PR firm pitching the Houston Astros with suggestions for "fun things to do during halftime."

    Not grossly yucky like this pitch but just as stupid.

    (for the non-sportspeople among us: the Astros play baseball...not football)