Nick's Blog

Personal opinions. Aggressively stated.

The BullsIT Awards: The Top Ten Tech-Flack Quotes of the Year! Annotated!

bullIt’s that time of year again: families plan holiday travel, tech companies make the push to hit their Q4 numbers, and editors start shouting, ‘We gotta do a review of the year’s top ten!’

In retrospect, 2007 was a spinny year, and I listened to a lot of bull from a lot of executives, flacks and handlers.

Marketing clearly can be done with ethics and morals. And yet, and yet…

And yet I will allow the representatives to speak for themselves. With annotations, of course – don’t panic, I’ll be there to make fun of them even though their own words are indictment enough. I won’t name names, but you – and your clients – know who you are.

Happy new year.

Without further ado, I give you the first annual BullsIT awards: the best of the worst in high tech digital security flackery, from 2007.

god10. “Our offering is very unique in the origination space.”

A double whammy: gradation of an absolute (’Very unique? Is this like a ’round circle’?) and corpo-doody. Rock on, dude, rock on.

9. “Our company is in a very unique space in being a best of breed provider.”

Another double whammy! Okay, this came from the same guy. But still – this one has further quantification of the non-quantifiable and, with ‘best of breed provider’, non-sensical tosh.

You are good.

Clippy8. “Always looking to assist and bolster the brand…As always, let us know if we can offer any relevance to your knowledge base…”

This reminds me of Lisa Simpson visiting Australia and, on seeing on a cinema a sign reading, ‘Yahoo Serious Festival’, she said, ‘I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.’

Or, as a friend said, ‘Hell, even the god-damned dancing paperclip would have flagged that one.’

zeigler7. “I commit to you to let you know and keep you informed, and the analyst community informed, of this kind of information because this is a key part of our missionary market phase. We’re in a missionary market phase right now. So let’s see if we can’t tighten this cycle time up in a little while…All right guy?”

Those of you who remember Ron Ziegler and the Watergate years will feel a warm rush of nostalgia when reading the above. For those of you too young to remember, Ron Ziegler was Dick Nixon’s press secretary who said (among many … oh, so many wonderful things – the most famous being, ‘This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.’), ‘The president is aware of what is going on. That is not to say that there is anything going on.’

I mean, you can hardly do better than that, though, each year, people try. Oh, they try. And ‘We’re in a missionary market phase right now.’ comes darn close.

dogfood6. “The next ROI talks about an internal initiative: some people say ‘Eating your own dog food,’ we say, ‘Drinking your own champagne.’”

Ignoring, ‘The next [Return On Investment]’ – itself a pile of corpo-doody – I guess what he’s trying to do is separate the concept of ‘using one’s own product’ from the classic euphemism for doing that, which is to say that ‘we eat our own dog food.’ Apparently this guy didn’t like the association of ‘dog food’ with his product – lest I be so stupid as to think that, in invoking an image of dog food, I think that his client’s product is somehow dog-foodish.

So he invokes dog food, then tells me that he’s not invoking dog food, but rather, that he is invoking champagne. Which convinces me – the stupid analyst – that whomever hired this frickin’ idjit had to be drinking on the job.

data-leakage5. “I mean, here we have the whole industry standardized on ‘Data Loss Prevention’, and you’re going and calling it anti data leakage and I just don’t get it – are you just trying to be difficult?”

This guy thinks that the ‘entire industry’ has bought his spin – that is, that he has gotten everyone to call his product category ‘data loss prevention’, therefore I should, too! This is the Mussolini school of persuasive argument, and has about as much resonance with me as would other entreaties to kill people because our economic woes are all their fault.

A couple of observations. First, on the call-to-arms of ‘Data Loss Prevention’; I’ve written at length on that subject and will only repeat here that ‘Loss Prevention’ has highly specific industry connotations. Give a few seconds’ thought to the images conjured up by the phrase ‘Loss Prevention’… Cops. Security guards. Jail. Baretta.


Second, I find it richly rewarding, oh, so deliciously ironic, that the company for whom that flack worked was acquired, and that the acquiring company refers not to ‘Data Loss Prevention’ but to ‘DataLeakage Prevention’. A lesser person might say something like, ‘Eat my shorts,’ but I got too much class for that. So to that flack, I simply hold my right hand up, bent at the elbow, with my palm facing forward, extend my right thumb and place it gently against my right temple, then swivel my hand forward and backwards and say, “Thhhhhhhhhhhp!”

mcdonalds-Big-Mac4. “We have a great signal-to-noise ratio … and that is the secret sauce that we have with the actionable information.”

Okay, so first, let me state that the product in question does not involve radio frequencies, and that the guy – in this case not a flack but in fact the CEO, whom I suspect opened awhole can of speaking points just before the call – is trying clearly to refer to a low false positive rate. [According to accessed: November 11, 2007, ‘Signal’ refers to useful information conveyed by some communications medium, and ‘noise’ to anything else on that medium. The ratio of these is usually expressed logarithmically, in decibels.]

Yet what he is saying is that the low false positive rate is the secret sauce. Surely any low false positive rate enjoyed by the user (should one exist, and I concede nothing at all on that point, since all he did was quote jive like the above and give no facts at all) would arise as a resultof any secret sauce in his possession and not comprise the secret sauce itself.

This kind of black-box mumbo-jumbo is the worst to deal with. And for the record, those of you old enough to remember Ziegler and Watergate would accept that ‘Secret Sauce’ most certainly derives from ’special sauce.’

In 1976, The McDonald’s Corporation filed a US Trademark application Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun, describing a Hamburger Sandwich for Consumption On or Off the Premises, quoting a first commercial usage of 1974. The Trademark was registered on October 4, 1983 (Registration number 1253001).

‘Special sauce’, by the way, turns out to be ketchup and mayonnaise – or as Wikipedia says, ’some variation on Thousand Island dressing’. McDonald’s says that a 214 gram Big Mac sandwich has 29 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat and 540 calories.

panacea3. “It’s a single, interoperable, scalable, extensive security framework that protects the data today and tomorrow as the infrastructure changes.”

Here’s what I said about this one on January 7, 2007:

…[W]ith messaging like that, what the reader is left with can be neatly summed up in this actual Instant Message exchange I had with a friend, a respected systems guy whose handle has been changed to protect the innocent:

(01:39:23 PM) nicks: Here’s a mission statement. A real one. I DEFY you to tell me what this company does:
(01:39:34 PM) nicks: It’s under the heading, The Solution
(01:39:37 PM) nicks: “A single, interoperable, scalable, extensive security framework that protects the data today and tomorrow as the infrastructure changes.”
(01:39:52 PM) [respected systems guy]: rofl
(01:39:57 PM) [respected systems guy]: but I know what they do
(01:40:00 PM) [respected systems guy]: nothing!

twins2. “Most of our leadership has worked on prior ventures previously.”

Say say that that again again??

And without further delay, please allow me to bring you the best quote of the year:

Fantasy-Wallpaper-fantasy-19272839-1024-7681. “They’re not related. There’s no relationship to our funding and our research and development cycle.”

Ah yes. It’s the typical situation at a cash-flow negative, non-profitable startup to have R&D and funding remain unrelated. This quote was urgently ejaculated into an otherwise calm if strained conversation, by a flack who actually interrupted the CEO of her client company to get this gem into the mix. We had noted the fact that the firm had raised two, ten million dollar, funding rounds within about a year, and announced both rounds concurrently with the company’s rolling out dot-0 releases of its flagship product.

Extra credit:

“I continue to think that the White House should issue two States of the Union simultaneously. The first will be a lengthy document containing all plans and proposals for each agency, and a review of where we are. The second would be the address, a thematic speech devoted to the greatest, most pressing issue of the day. Just having [the Bush] White House decide what that issue is would be illuminating.”
–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, January 20-21 2007, p P9

I simply cannot wait until 2008. Remember, folks: I know it’s an end-to-end solution, but is it tightly integrated?








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