In early August, I made a mistake. An email with a subject line of ‘Yikes! Great bikes!’ slammed into my private inbox, the prelude to a message from a PR person asking what email address would be best to receive new product info.
With a bit of trepidation, I responded, with the enormous caveat that “targeted and audience-appropriate products” would be the only thing I’d want to see (and even then, barely, but sometimes someone does something objectively funny like release a Babymaker and a couple of neurons start firing). Their response: “Yes, I’ll make sure you see exactly what you’re interested in!”
Then the emails began. My pristine new Escape Collective email address – unsullied by the unrelenting drip of shitty PR emails that had made navigating my inbox such a chore at The Old Place – was suddenly inundated with a succession of messages from people trying to pitch story and product ideas.
Now, I have no particular opposition to public relations as an industry, and many of the people in its cycling sphere are clued into what is worth firing off an email for. But in direct contrast to these tailored communications are the tidal wave of meaningless gift guide suggestions that inform many of the worst types of online content. That’s what I feared I’d get, and – despite my multiple emails of increasing snarkiness in response, that’s exactly what I got.
I’m not in full-blown dox mode just yet, but my primary nemesis is an Illinois-based PR firm that rhymes with ‘Bill Shit’. According to their website, they have a ‘scrappy’ team that is great at ‘generating placements’. I’m not so sure that this article will make it into their case studies, but after repeatedly telling them that I only want to hear about the cycling things, here are five dumb fucking products that these spray-and-pray PR ghouls want me to tell you about.
I trust that you will find them invaluable to your lifestyle.
- Premium Pickleball Paddles!
This is a two-parter, seeing as the first pickleball email I got from these folks led me to deliver a stern reminder that pickleball is not bicycle cycling and I absolutely didn’t want to hear about it again.
Undeterred, another email landed a few weeks later, promising “BLACK FIRDAY DEALS” on “premium pickleball paddles to fit any players [sic] play and style on the court.” You can get them in pink; you can get them in black. If you A) buy both and B) have a friend, you can probably hit some annoyingly loud ball back and forth with them. If you play your cards right, you might even outrage an entire community with your “trauma-inducing” sound.
Unfortunately, Black Firday has been and gone – maybe it never existed, who knows – so you miss out on 20% off on stupid paddles for a low-strain version of tennis popular with Florida retirees.
- An Easy Soup Mix To Cozy Up To This Fall!
I’m far from being a flag-waving patriot, but if there’s an indisputable fact about me it is that I live in Australia. Australia, which is a big island full of things that want to kill you, is in the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere, as is its wont, has the opposite seasons to the Northern Hemisphere, which is where Bill Shit PR is located. After requesting targeted and specific communications, you will understand my chagrin about receiving an enticing pitch this spring to cover an autumnal sun-dried tomato minestrone soup.
What do you get for your outlay of US$8.99? A sachet of spices, that’s what – our plucky PR person suggested adding your own butter, tomatoes and pasta to make “the season of fall [sic. autumn] complete”.
I would quibble that if you are adding the nutritional substance of the minestrone yourself, it doesn’t strike me that there is very much that the soup people are, in fact, bringing to the table.
I politely requested to unsubscribe from future communications. I did not get a response.
- ‘Tis the season for Cybercrime with McAfee!
What I did get was another unforgettable email warning me that “cybercriminals … equipped with the latest AI tools … are gearing up for the big season”. Bolstering this pitch was the surprising stat that in 2022 “1 in 3 Americans fell victim to an online scam during the holiday season”, which either reveals a nation of profoundly modest web hygiene or is definitely a fake figure.
Anyway, after that bombshell was out of the way, the other bombshell arrived: the fact that McAfee is still a thing.
I’d naively assumed that at some point between John McAfee’s twin failed presidential campaigns on a libertarian ticket the company might’ve nipped it in the bud. I’d also thought that his 2012 implication as a person of interest in the murder of his neighbour, leading him to bury himself in sand under a cardboard box for several hours to evade police questioning, and later extraditions from both Guatemala and Spain, might have been something of a faux pas in the future marketing of his anti-virus software. Or, say, the fact that McAfee himself described McAfee as “the worst software on the planet”.
I could ponder those things further, but unfortunately, John McAfee is now deceased in mysterious circumstances, and cyber-security software is not in any way a cycling specific product, so I won’t. But if you were so inclined (you aren’t) you could probably use McAfee to “fight back against the cyber grinches”. Happy holidays!
- ‘Over the top’ Holidays at Francis Ford Coppola’s Island Hideaway!
Speaking of holidays: you know how you loved Apocalypse Now, the acclaimed Vietnam war epic that explores the descent into madness of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz and [spoiler alert] ends with him being killed with a machete? You know how there’s a palpable humidity to that film that practically drips off the screen and casts the tropics in an aura of bloodsoaked menace? You know how you look at the singular artistic vision of its director, Francis Ford Coppola, and think ‘now there is a man that would know his way around curating a chain of ultra-luxury tropical resorts?’
Me neither! Yet here we are. “For any holiday over-the-top experiences you may be looking for,” my PR Pal giddily wrote, “I wanted to mention that [Coppola’s] Hideaways in Belize and Guatemala are the ultimate buy-out experience for the family – and the extended family as well. Parents can ‘gift’ the ultimate memorable experience for kids and grandparents alike.”
Sure, the Belize private island is so small that you couldn’t ride around it even if you wanted to, but at least you’d be experiencing some marginal gains of the wallet in the form of the “starting price” of US$2,599 a night for two people (inclusive of meals and “personal stainless steel water bottles to fill with the island’s fresh filtered water”).
What’re you waiting for? Eat Pray Love your way into the Heart of Darkness today.
- Turkey Gravy Craft Dog Soda
By the time the Coppola luxury resorts had entered my inbox, I was beginning to have suspicions that I was being trolled by very clever PR satirists. Then, on the eve of Thanksgiving, came the smoking gun. My PR friends slid into my inbox with the announcement that a brand that was “notorious for its unique and creative craft soda flavors” had branched out into artisanal soft drinks for dogs – “including a SPECIAL EDITION Turkey and Gravy dinner flavor” that is the “perfect holiday gift for dogs and dog lovers.”
All of these were words that I understood but didn’t think could exist alongside one another, and the accompanying press release conjured further mental whiplash. This tasty drink is “made with real people-grade meat and poultry stocks … used in premium soups and sauces” making it “not just a great-tasting beverage, but a treat you can feel great about giving to your pet.”
In the broken world in which we live, artisanal dog soda was the final straw in my battle against this particular PR firm, after I’d spent months requesting to be unsubscribed from their communications. I changed tack:
Thanks for the exciting opportunity to write about your dog soda. Can you confirm whether this would be an appropriate nutrition tool for cycling or another sporting application? Does the lid come as a twist top, or would I need to bring a bottle opener with me on the bike?
I don’t know if that worked, or if there was merely a lull between CYBER MONDAY MAYHEM and BLACK FIRDAY BONANZAS. Maybe the nice people of Bill Shit PR finally got the message.
All I know is that the only time I actually wanted to hear back from them, I didn’t get a response.
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