Sunday, February 26, 2006

Man Bites Dog

Over-cooked pasta with no sauce? White bread in a bowl of milk? Pat Boone singing Lawrence Welk favorites? Pfft. You don’t know blandness until you’ve seen most of the press releases that cross our desks—or, more accurately in this age, our desktop. We as reporters look for man-bites-dog stories. Press statements make every situation seem like a pup getting its belly rubbed. Every flake of spice, every hint of controversy, any variance from the expected-and-boring is hidden under language that dulls and obscures. Chipotles become marshmallows; heavy metal is diluted into the elevator music at a retirement home.

And then come last week’s releases from Creative Eateries. Two parts Fellini to one part Michael Jackson, the statements were so outside the norm that you wonder if they somehow figured into a little-known reality show.

Loyal readers will know that this space recognized Creative’s unique statement of a few weeks ago, in which it gushed about the strong initial stock offering and general market might of Chipotle Mexican Grill, a competitor to its Kokopelli Sonoran Grill. At that time, I pointed out that a major investor in Creative has demanded prior approval of press statements released by the company.

Either that stockholder botched the job, or it needs to consider seriously the help of an outside PR firm, because Creative could have been a Daily Show sketch last week. First, it issued a statement urging stock pickers to help the company determine what party had issued a recommendation that investors buy Creative shares. It also urged stock pickers to ignore the purchase advice, explaining that the counsel had been based on faulty information. And it asked anyone who received a postcard or e-mail to forward that information to Creative’s Scottsdale headquarters, so the source could be verified. Creative said it suspected the disseminator was a concern called Early Bird Messenger.

Even if you don’t work for a public company, you’re likely aware that most corporations would welcome someone’s stock-purchase recommendation. Creative was arguing against it, and perhaps even stoked deeper shareholder concerns by referring to incorrect information, without saying what it was.

Then, a few hours later, Creative followed with what it labeled a correction. That second statement “explained” that the company had issued the earlier press release because it believed the stock-buy recommendation had been based on “misleading information,” specifically an indication that Creative had 70 restaurants open. In fact, said Creative, it had only three stores in operation, with 61 additional franchises sold.

Yet, it acknowledged, the service that advised buying Creative’s stock had not been at fault; the incorrect figures had been approved by Creative, apparently before the positive statement about the company’s share price had been issued by Early Bird Messenger, the promotional company that Creative had suspected of spreading the word. Creative “sincerely” apologized to Early Bird for slamming it in the earlier statement.

So let’s recap: A public company alerts shareholders that a buy recommendation on its stock should be ignored, and asks for the public’s assistance in silencing the source. Then, within hours, it suggests that it had exercised some right of approval over what was disseminated, which raises questions about the connection and why Creative wasn’t certain of the broadcaster’s identity.

I just love those guys.

But enough of a break from the ordinary. Time to read some more releases, and see how many times “exciting” can be work into a sentence.

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