More on that J.M. Allain interview

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08/08/2008
So, I've got a little bit of guilt creeping in about my post below about that J.M. Allain email interview (go ahead and read it if you haven't already (find it here if you're reading via a feed that doesn't show my whole blog)). My intent wasn't to slam J.M. in any way, and in my mind I don't come across critical of him, per se, but am rather expounding on how journalism actually gets done nowadays. The email interview is something that I think does a real disservice to the readers, and this was an opportunity to talk about that on my blog. Plain and simple. All of the lead up at the beginning is not meant to be about this email exchange in particular, but rather about email interviews in general. I am not accusing J.M. of engaging in gobbeldy-gook. Well, maybe a little. But I'm not faulting him for that. It's the way things are done. Messaging and marketing are important to success in any industry, and I'm not trying to criticize anyone for using whatever language and terminology they think is important for their own success. I'm just saying, as a reader and as a journalist, that it's not any fun. And who needs fun, right? Well, everyone does. If you're a reader at all - of the Wall Street Journal or Discover or ESPN the Magazine or whatever - you know that you want a little sizzle with your steak, right? Because, like with anything, business and sports and science are about people above all else and we want to feel like we know them a little bit after reading about them. It's why Manny Ramirez can be so equally loved and hated. Why Warren Buffett isn't just a rich guy. Why people the world over love Einstein even though they can't understand a dang thing he discovered. We've come to know them as more than just athletes and businessmen and scientists. Why shouldn't we feel like we know security professionals a little bit? That's why you've seen me champion on more than one occasion Cris Carter's presence in the industry. Because he has presence! Do you want the security industry to always be a largely overlooked, in-the-shadows marketplace where the top executives are never on CNN and the media only talks about it when something goes wrong? Or do you want the security industry to be seen as a place where things are happening, where people are getting excited, where new technology is making things possible that previously only appeared in episodes of the Jetsons? I like the latter, personally. The major point I was trying to get across in the blog post about the Allain interview is that it could have been so much better. That was my fault as much as anyone's and I thought I made that clear. Why didn't I follow up with further questions? Because I had a deadline to hit (maybe it was artificially imposed - really that interview could have run next week, I suppose) and the answers had just come in and I didn't feel like there was time, and anyway I felt like the extra effort on both of our parts would have only made the piece negligibly better, since it was an email interview anyway. To further my point, read these interviews, also done via email: Here's one with Peter Botelho, executive VP at Speco. Here's another with Uri Englehard, CEO at Mate. Both I think are stilted and relatively uninspiring, largely because of the medium. Now read these interviews that were done in person or over the phone (and I'm sort of just grabbing them at random): Here's one with Dieter Kondek, then being interviewed as new CEO of Aspectus, an analytics maker now known as Agent VI. See how we get lines like "several new algorithm guys" and "We don't want to have an overly large partner network. We're looking for the top players in the verticals"? Right out of the gate, you know Kondek is comfortable with his R&D team (they're his "algorithm guys") and he's a straight-shooter ("we're looking for the top players"). This sort of directness generally only happens in inter-personal conversation. Here's one with Dean Seavers, head honcho at GE Security, done right after he took over. This is great quote: "I start with the end user and I quickly go to our channel partners, emphasizing installability and functionality in the design of products that are easy to service and easy on our partners. But I start at the end and then work my way back." Would anybody ever use "installability" in a written communication? No. Because it would come up on spell check and they'd think it wasn't a good word. But it's a great word. It says all you need to know about Seavers' integrator background. What does he worry about with a product? What's it's installability? That makes sense on a very basic and gut level and is the type of thing that could only come through an interview. And what about this interview with David McDonald, former CEO of Pelco? This was one of my first interviews in the market and I didn't really know what I was talking about, to tell the honest truth. I was just asking your basic interviewing 101 questions: What's your vision for the company? What do you feel you do really well? What not so well? Etc. And Mr. McDonald (that's what everyone called him there at Pelco) was clearly pretty bored with me. But then I asked him about customer service and it was like a light went on: That's why you listen in rapt attention to the story of Vickie Garcia, the first EWS manager, who found herself one day, after a couple of power outages and faulty computer messages, with a package in her hands that hadn't been shipped by its allotted day, and all the shipping carriers gone. So she called up the customer and, despite his insistence that he really didn't need the part that badly, drove his multiplexer through the night to meet him at his place of business in Sacramento, just before the clock struck midnight. "We had to create a carrier in our computer system," McDonald chuckles, "for Vickie. That's the only way management knew what she had done." This didn't come up until 20 minutes into the interview, long after he would have been done with answering any emailed questions (actually, I doubt McDonald could be bothered with an email interview, but that's another thing entirely). And it didn't say as much about Pelco as it did about McDonald. I could tell he loved that story because he really loved his people. And I think that came across in the story. He was a guy you really wanted to work for and it made a lot of the rest of the Pelco story make sense. So, for people who might have thought I was picking on J.M., I hope you see where I'm coming from here. This blog is a way to pull back the curtain for readers and show them how this whole news-generating thing works and I thought I'd give them a peek. I wish nothing but good things for Allain and Panasonic, and I'm serious when I think they made a good choice in bringing in someone with so much IT and integration background. If they can get closer to the customer and the channel, that's nothing but a good thing. Just as I try to always get closer to the reader, my customer.