Startup PR Myths Busted, via NY Tech Meetup

The NY Tech Meetup mail list is a great way to keep up with the local tech community and make connections. Every day founders, developers, service providers, journalists and VCs hold forth on a range of tech and entrepreneurship topics.

It’s a noisy list, and the debate can get heated. So, I was eager when I saw a post about PR but also anxious about the crowd reaction, as I find that there can be a lot of confusion about the topic.

Indeed, several repeated myths that I’ve refuted (e.g. see this post).  In particular one nut job named Andrew W (who seems to be a troll chiefly interested in tearing down PR and promoting search engine marketing) led the charge with cynical statements, and I did my best to try to turn him around, to no avail.

It felt lonely until some others chimed in with eloquent thoughts about the value of PR and how to best put it to work. I thought the thread would make a good post, and got permission to share commentary (except from anonymous ones including aforementioned nut job), which you can find below.

Please Don’t Let me be Misunderstood

It is a good question, why PR is misunderstood in the first place.  The answer could be the subject of another post; but heck, while we’re at it, here are three (From Madmen to PR’s Holy Grail; PR 2009 – The Color of Brand; and Fighting PR’s Public Relations Problem).  Since 2007 this blog has been dedicated to educating about PR.

It does not help that many PR agencies do a poor job (that said, several journalists on the thread commented that the most amateurish efforts come from startup teams themselves).  I’d argue that every profession has its share of hacks.  But a bad experience with PR should not cause people to condemn an entire field.

Top Startup PR Myths Debunked

MYTH 1: Hiring a PR is a colossal waste of money for most startups. 

Courtney: PR and marketing is a must for any new business or service and I am always surprised how many businesses and start-ups forget this vital component… There are literally thousands – sometimes millions – of products and services vying for each consumer’s dollars… The ONLY way to stand out is through PR and Marketing.

Good PR gets you noticed.

Tony Zeoli, Digital Strategy Works: As someone who has worked on startups since 1995, I can unequivocally tell you that public relations is an important component of your overall marketing strategy…With traditional media viewership down and media ingestion fractured, it’s actually more important now than it was before.

Maybe if you’re launching rockets like Tesla does it’s not as critical, but if you have a small app that targets a niche, you’re not reaching many. So, your PR strategy is going to target that niche and get media exposure for your product. But investing in PR is a long term strategy, because publishing schedules vary among all of your outlets…

As an early stage startup, do you need PR? Well, each use case is different. Some may not need PR early on, as they focus on developing the product and ironing out the bugs. Others will want PR pre-launch to announce funding rounds and building their team and board. It all depends on your goals.

But to say that PR can be ignored is a quaint misnomer. It cannot and should not be ignored, it should just be put in place when there is a clear need to tell a story and get exposure. On the other side of PR, you need to make sure that you can onboard whoever finds your product or service and that you can convert those interested users who you want to serve. The issue with PR is when your product is not ready or you don’t have your onboarding straight, then you’re going to lose users who decide that you’re not ready for their investment in the tools you are building. It’s hard to win back users who have a negative first impression. And, it’s hard to win back media producers who will decide your product is not ready for prime time if they give you ink or exposure and your product falls flat.

MYTH 2: If you really want PR just use Cision for press releases. They have packages that will help get the press you want for a fraction of the cost of a PR agency.

Courtney: NOT having a proper PR and Marketing strategy is a recipe for certain failure. NO, you can’t do it with just a Cision subscription – PR is about RELATIONSHIPS with the press.

I know. I am both a Publicist and run a magazine. Blind pitches from companies and DIY services… where I know that the company was either too cheap or green to hire a PR person are immediately disregarded. And this is particularly true of bigger outlets.

MYTH 3: PR is not rocket science. You can spend a week or two learning it and get 70-80% of the results of a PR agency for 10-20% of the cost.

Miles Rose of SiliconAlley.com: PR clients don’t fully understand the PR process. Press, both writers and editors, see everything and sometimes, more often than not, what’s all about the PR pitch doesn’t resonate with those gatekeepers.

Start small, get some placements, get bigger.

Bob Geller: If the founder and team want to take precious time and resources learning PR instead of executing, their choice.  Most companies that launched and went big did so with the help of professional PR.

Courtney: Agreed Bob Geller. It’s the equivalent of saying you are going to perform your own heart surgery.

Alex Yong, journalist: The PR veteran Gini Dietrich (author of Spin Sucks) admits it’s very very hard. But she also says it’s not rocket science, and it literally isn’t, if we’re gonna be literal here… She also (unsurprisingly) advises against DIY PR because there are half a million pitfalls.

Marcus Logan, Cool World Media: The big question is are YOU and your team equipped to identify the culture of your cool and conversation of your brand? Many are not. The culture of cool is a language that we do not all have and that is ok. Cool is a bit overrated to me but it is still a real thing. Many tech CEO’s and analytic thinkers tend to creatively engage culture in a manner opposite of the public who engage their tech. This is why agencies and/or consultants can be helpful.

Miles Rose: Why hire any professional services firm, just go on line and learn it.

PR works when there is a respectful relationship with the media and the PR person or agency. Prior history of success together. Getting your stuff in the NY Times will not happen unless you have the right PR firm.

PR is changing and given the playing field you need it more than ever. And for your knowledge, less press read PR Newswire than ever before.

Bob Geller: I defy anyone who thinks it is easy and “not rocket science” in this noisy ADD world to get attention for startup companies and news – and to do so consistently, in a way that yes, does, in fact, contribute to positive perceptions and brand, as the better PR shops can help with. Until you’ve done it yourself, easy to talk about and less easy to make it actually happen.

DIY PR can work, especially if the founder or team has the network and some familiarity with PR.  Sometimes, it is the only choice if you are bootstrapping or not yet funded.

Mark: Unless you’re in the industry, you have no idea what it’s like doing this day in and day out. I don’t think PR is that difficult to pick up but mastery takes time, dedication, passion, ongoing learning, etc., just like in any other role.

MYTH 4: Very rarely will a PR agency develop your brand

Bob Geller: It is more than releases, events and media relations.  These days a comprehensive and effective strategy spans channels, influencers, content, digital, traditional, analysts, etc.  it’s strategy and branding too.

MYTH 5: There is not a need for a $10K a month agency, which will not do much more for you than a freelancer or small firm.

Bob Geller: Fees can range from $2-3K per month for a freelancer, to higher for a boutique agency (6-10K) to even higher for a large agency.

These are rough numbers, you need to look at scope, experience, and other factors.  Most work on a retainer basis (meaning monthly fee) vs. projects or performance.

Miles Rose: I’ve seen PR from $3,000 a month to in excess of $10,000 and literally millions for crisis management.

Additional Thoughts and Info

What have been your experiences with PR, good or bad?  Are there other myths that should be debunked?

I welcome your comments.  For more information on startup and tech PR, please go to this link.

 

Posted in Marketing, NY Tech, PR, Tech, Tech PR | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tell Human Stories when pitching ICOs: John Biggs of TechCrunch

I attended the ICORating Investment Summit in New York last week.  It was a day of great sessions and panels featuring journalists, investors and those behind successful ICOs.

One session I was especially interested in was John Biggs’ talk on marketing. He is a veteran tech reporter who spent years at the New York Times and now contributes to TechCrunch.

John was in rare form and gave a nice jaded journalist spiel. He was an early crypto observer and writer (see his 2015 story on crypto mining with Raspberry PI), and seemed as equally wowed by the tech’s possibilities as he was appalled by ICO marketing. “You’re doing it wrong!” John lectured.

The take no prisoners, seen it all attitude was kind of amusing until John lit into PR:  “PR people are awful, don’t hire them!”

It would be easy to get pissed off if he wasn’t so damned funny, the guy should be a standup comic. Plus, John made great points and, let’s face it, the PR field does have some bad actors who make life harder for the rest of us; and thick skin is a job requirement.

(I will say, however, that it gets a bit exhausting hearing people who don’t work in a field lecture about it as I pointed out in Tech Startups, get PR Help for the Love of God. Heck, since I read a lot and work with journalists, maybe I can get a gig schooling on reporting).

John had a lot to say about the do’s and don’t’s of pitching him (and by extension other top tier reporters) your ICO.  Except where noted, I’ve paraphrased, they’re not direct quotes.

Don’t offer an embargo

John opined that a press embargo is a relic dating back to the days when press releases were sent by snail mail.

Tell a human story

“No one tells a proper story,” John complained.

This is largely because PR people and even founders don’t understand ICOs, he said.  The fact that it is an ICO is apparently the least interesting part.  What is interesting?

It’s the fundamentals, stupid!

John likes to look at the product, team and marketplace traction when evaluating story-worthiness.  Don’t bother sending the ICO white paper.

Good luck with email

John pointed to a disheartening number in a red bubble – 1,300 plus some odd.  It equals the unread emails in his inbox – in just two hours! After which John cleans email house and starts fresh.

(Note: So, if sending John an email is a long shot, what else can you do to get his attention?  Attend conferences like this one, for starters, and find a chance to speak with him.  There are other tactics for getting through to busy reporters that we’d be happy to discuss further – see the end of this post for more info.)

An ICO is not

A get rich quick story.  A way to raise crazy C-round cash when you should be at the A, B or seed rounds.

“You get what you get… and don’t get upset.” 

It’s a great quote from John.  He and other journos don’t owe you a story.  That is why it’s called earned media!

John’s talk may seem disheartening – but it was sobering and much needed advice for a space prone to excess. Plus, it really does seem like he has a heart for the true innovators and disruptors – and wants them to succeed. (John closed by saying that he wants your token offering to be more like a cool DeLorean than a plane crash).

So, emails, white papers, crazy fund raises don’t get John’s attention – what does work?

While Fusion PR can’t promise John Biggs, or any others (you get what you get, remember?), we do have ideas and tactics that can be effective in promoting ICOs and other startup stories.

Check out these links for more info:

TokenBoost turnkey ICO marketing service

ICOs: the New Press Release for a Blockchain World

Posted in Marketing, NY Tech, PR, Tech PR | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

NewsWhip’s Benedict Nicholson on Social Data to Boost PR

In my last post, I explained that social media data can be used to bolster PR efforts. E.g., knowing that KDnuggets scores higher than the NY Times for social media engagements about machine learning can be a big deal if you work in that space (and that is not just a hypothetical – it is the exact scenario their system uncovered, as I shared).

I thought my readers would want to know more, and NewsWhip Editorial Director Benedict Nicholson kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

The graph below shows total engagements for machine learning topics. What forms of engagement does it cover? What is total vs. average engagement?

NewsWhip Data

This chart is a ranking of publishers based on the total engagements their web content about machine learning drove. Content can vary significantly in the online attention it gets; two stories from the same publication have no guarantee of achieving the same reach or level of success, so social engagement is a good way to benchmark how content is doing on a more granular level.

This engagement comes across the social spectrum, and can be anything from a reaction/share/comment on Facebook, to a Twitter influencer share, to a pin on Pinterest. Total engagement is the sum of engagements across all the articles for whatever topic you’re looking at, while average engagement is the total engagement divided by the number of articles published, which gives an idea of the rough level of engagement you can expect on social.

This fact that this graph is based on total engagement is part of the reason why Forbes is ranked at the top. Their average engagement is reasonably high, and they published a high number of articles on the topic. If we looked at average engagements per article, that might change the ranking a little.

How does an article get in the ML “bucket”?

Our data sources from headlines, subheads, keywords, and the metadata. We also have the capability to do a full text analysis, but we didn’t do that for this particular search.

Isn’t average engagement a better metric? KDnuggets presumably has more articles about machine learning, that could be why their totals for this topic are higher than the NY Times

It depends what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the impact of the average piece of content, then yes, average might be better. If you’re looking to discover niche websites you might not have been aware of to see who has an audience that is consistently engaging with the type of content you want to place in publications, then total engagements is a good way to do that. The Times is always going to have a high average because of the nature of the publication, but they may also only publish one article on it per quarter. If you can be that article that’s great, but it’s also about finding the best alternatives!

Will you be looking at other content consumption metrics?

We always have more things in the pipeline! We already track comments made on the Facebook post itself, and for native content we can even break down by reaction. As we said in the webinar, a simple view count doesn’t really count for much anymore, especially on social. What you want is an active audience, not a passive one that may be viewing and not taking anything in, which is why we principally have this focus on engagement data.

Please tell us about NewsWhip’s prediction capabilities

Prediction is one of the key capabilities of our Spike product. We use an algorithm to measure all the articles we’re tracking and make predictions about what level of engagement they’re going to achieve in the next x number of hours. So within a matter of minutes of publication, we’ll have an idea of what’s pre-viral, as it were, what everyone’s going to be sharing in the next few hours.

As a publisher, or even a brand that has any kind of newsroom, you can use this to get ahead of the game, and make sure that it’s incorporated into your content schedule.
Our Chrome extension has this same predictive capability and it’ll show you who’s been sharing it so far, but you’d have to already have a hunch about what’s going to be successful. It’s great for checking a hunch, but it won’t show you all the successful content on a topic like Spike does.

Can this feature spot rising news stories to support PR newsjacking?

Spike Predictions Example

It’s applicable in the same way. When I say “content,” I was counting news within that, so as you can see with that Flynn story shown, we were predicting it was going to be a huge story very early on, and it turned out to be just that. We can search by keyword, website, or Facebook page to see what’s predicted to be successful. So what Spike can help you do is make sure you’re the first to know about the next hot story, and by definition you’ll have a head start to get in touch with the relevant people because you’ll know about it before others. It can also do the opposite and tell you when a story isn’t going to be big and when it’s not worth making the effort!

Posted in PR Tech, Social Media, Tech, Tech PR, Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pan for Media Gold with Newswhip Social Data

I have long held a fascination for Newswhip. Their Spike and Analytics solutions provide a wealth of data that can shed light on social media buzz and content performance.

But after seeing demos, and even playing around with the software, it was unclear exactly how to put Newswhip to work to support media relations. Sure, if you are a content marketing or social media jock, or work for a publication, it makes perfect sense. You can use Newswhip to explore the performance of content on social networks, spot rising topics, see how your brand and competitors are doing, etc.

Despite the imperative to get more data-driven, I was just not getting it.

That all changed last week, when I checked out a webinar hosted by their head of blogging and communications, Gabriele Boland, and Benedict Nicholson, editorial director (by the way, the Newswhip blog is a great resource, Gabriele and her team do a fantastic job – it regularly shares interesting trends and data about media, content and social).

In about 30 minutes I quickly grasped the raw power of Newswhip – and how it can turbo charge earned media efforts (as well as paid and contributed content – but I’ll get to that).

Their approach involves the use of social engagement data as a PR metric.

This idea makes sense. Other methods like advertising equivalency value and reach (or circulation or audience) seem outdated and only take you so far. Sure, it feels great to get that top tier media hit that reaches millions, and flaunt the cost to buy the same media.

But what actually happens to the article when it goes live? Who sees it, shares, likes, comments? Newswhip helps answer thesè questions.

The cool thing is, you can explore by topic. So, say that you are a software vendor that focuses on machine learning. You can see which publications rank highest for engagement in your niche.

Newswhip Data

 

They ran through just such a scenario (see the image) and voila! It showed that some niche tech publications like KDnuggets and Data Science Central rank higher than top tier outlets like NY Times and Business Insider for engagement on machine learning topics.

It is heady stuff for a tech PR – as niche media should be easier to crack. (Now we just need to convince the client of the coverage value – it would be easier if they had a license too; and no, Newswhip is not paying me to say this).

Granted, social media engagement is just one metric, but it seems to be an important one. After all, many get our news through the networks these days. And Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm counts engagement as an increasingly important signal.

You can also play your cards right and win on both counts: media prestige (which, let’s face it, can burnish a brand) and engagement. E.g. getting earned or paid placement in Forbes would be a great win for machine learning vendors, as the publication comes out on top.

The session covered other topics, such as how to use Newswhip to craft a meaningful narrative and become more audience-driven. They also mentioned a recently released Chrome extension that they say predicts content virality.

In summary, I came away from the webinar even more excited about Newswhip. But I wanted to learn more, and had some questions.

So I asked Gabriele if they’d entertain a follow-up interview. She said yes. Stay tuned for more.  And please leave a comment with any feedback or suggestions for follow-up questions.

Posted in PR, PR Tech, Tech PR, Technology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Pitch about Nothing – Good PR or Con Job?

I came to PR in a roundabout way, via engineering, marketing, sales and IT consulting. When I finally landed in PR (at the agency where I still work today), I learned I was good at this.

But key experiences along the way led me to wonder what it means to do a good job in PR. Does getting results from what some might call B.S. amount to a good day’s work?

The first experience involved a startup in networking software. It was really dense tech – to do the job well, you needed to sweat the details about core router algorithms, for example. At some point, I got it and started pulling in impressive results.

One time I was at a dinner with the client team following a day a trade show. The CEO was raising a glass, saying nice words about each of us in turn. When it came to me, he thanked me profusely and praised my ability to craft great stories from nothing.

The compliment threw me for a loop. I had believed in them; drank the Kool-Ade. I did not think of my work as spinning B.S. The praise seemed backhanded, took the air out of all the hard work I had done. Should I feel proud, ashamed?

There were other clients back then. This was the dotcom era, also around the end of Seinfeld; a TV show that was famously about nothing. We used to joke that many of our PR campaigns were about nothing.

More recently, I worked on a pitch for a client. It relied on stealth and a humorous come-on to build curiosity. The pitch had remarkably little substance; some might say it was about nothing.

But it worked! The campaign drew interest from the biggest names in tech and business press.

Was this a good job? We’re still converting the early interest into briefings and stories – so it is early to tell, on a pure PR performance basis.

Looking at the bigger picture, sure, we all want to think we are doing meaningful work, our small part to make the world a better place. If that is all that you care about, perhaps a PR agency is not the right place. Go work for a non-profit or some mission-driven organization that you believe in.

If you do work at an agency, I am sure you’ll get to work with many types of clients, some interesting, others real winners, and still others, meh. Hopefully, your agency management has the guts to walk away from anything unethical or dodgy.

Beyond that, all is fair in love, war, and PR. Most companies and products have their plusses and minuses. It is your job to help them succeed.

And that pitch about nothing? If it interested a journalist, who wrote a story their readers enjoyed; if the coverage furthered the client’s business goals – I’d argue that yes, it was PR job well done.

Posted in PR | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Facebook Unfriends News, and it’s a Shame

I had to smile when I read that Facebook’s reducing news content in the newsfeed. Mark Zuckerberg wrote on their blog “our time is better spent bringing people closer together… public content… is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

In other words, pardon the interruption as we’ve tried to crack this news nut.  NVM, JK. You can now go back to your selfies and vacation pics.

I don’t think it is the final word.  If anything is constant with the feed it is constant change; and the flood of buzz, news and speculation that follow every tick (indeed, there were two more news-related announcements since).

But it is a good time to take stock; as Facebook has come full circle in less than two years; from when they were accused of liberal newsfeed bias in May 2016 to their machinations to make news safe, to Facebook’s “no mas” moment a couple of weeks ago.

Frankly, I’m exhausted as they took us on a wild ride.  Just recall the headlines:

Look, I get it, Facebook is a business.  They can do what they want. And I know that this news stuff is hard. How can you possibly select stories that are proven to be true and free of bias? It gets to thorny questions about news – how to even define what it is, vs. opinion, hype, trivial info and outright B.S.  Many others are struggling with the challenge, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight.

But I think it is sad as their move implies that news is not so important or worth pursuing.

When you are a destination where 2B people around the world spend time and get info, it’s an awesome responsibility.  My advice to Facebook is that moving fast and breaking things just may not be the best way. Slow down. Take a few breaths. Don’t take away news or stop trying to tame it because it is hard.

And to brands and publishers who get freaked out by every newsfeed tweak:  you need to spread your bets and develop other sources of traffic (see Josh Constine’s piece in TechCrunch).  Build your own audience.  Craft content and write news that appeal to people, not algorithms.

Posted in In the News, Public Relations, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ICOs, the new Press Release for a Blockchain World

Crowdfunding burst onto the scene years ago giving startups a way to not only raise money but also build buzz. I wrote that platforms like Kickstarter were the new tech PR press release.

Now another form of crowdfunding is rising to prominence. ICOs (initial coin offering) tap into the excitement surrounding bitcoin and blockchain technology.  They make it possible to raise funds by minting a new digital currency while bringing your launch story to a wide audience.

it is hard to understand the significance of ICOs without a little context.  Buzz about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has gone mainstream.  Most of the focus has been on gyrating, mostly climbing valuations.  Many are also excited about the potential of bitcoin to rock the world of money – and blockchain technology to revolutionize how we store and share information.

There are plenty of great articles that tell you why – I won’t take up too much space here.  Suffice it to say that blockchain evokes the excitement of early days of the Internet.  It combines a so-called trust protocol and distributed ledger that can solve privacy, security, and inclusion issues.  Some think that it can deliver on the failed promises of the Internet, put people back in control of their own information, and give them a way to directlty connect and conduct business.

So blockchain is disruptive tech. And ICOs are a disruptive form of fundraising – you don’t need VCs or Wall Street to raise money. If you have any doubt about the importance of ICOs, the numbers tell a dramatic story – Bitcoin News reported that money raised through ICOs eclipsed $1B in a single month in December 2017.

Maxiziming ICO Results

One of the cornerstones of an ICO is the white paper, a document that describes in detail the token offering – and explains why investors (or “participants,” in crypto parlance) should care. What will the business actually do, and why would someone want to hold a new digital currency tied to it?

It’s important to make sure all this is sound. You may not need investment bankers or an army of attorneys – but you do need to comply with regulations, which can seem to be a moving target. Participants need to be careful to avoid scams, in their rush to get in on the action.

The Right Communications and Technology Stuff

The ICO is fertile ground for buzz creation, and a great platform to launch a blockchain or crypto-currency related startup – and we’ve seen many variants, spanning film making, casino junkets, philanthropy, finance and general enterprise tech.

But just like a traditional press release or even a Kickstarter campaign, it needs to be done right. A boring press release blasted out to the masses (”sending and praying”), an ill-conceived Kickstarter campaign, and an ICO without the right communications or tech foundation won’t accomplish much.

How do you build early interest among participants in a presale?  Or bring the story to a wider audience, and build brand over the long term? How can you get some attention for your ICO and navigate tough interview questions about scams and bubbles?

It’s a noisy world and a never-ending battle for the consumer’s attention. ICOs and blockchain are new and can be tricky things to explain.  People are trying their best to understand what it all means – and where to put their time and money.

We are launching TokenBoost today to help ICOs launch and succeed.  Here is the official announcement. Check out this link to learn more about how we can help.

Posted in Agency news, Tech PR, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tech has an image problem. How do we fix it?

I am a PR guy. I build brands and polish images. My industry is technology. It is not my client (well, companies within tech are).  But if it were, I’d say there’s a problem. Namely I am getting tired of all the articles slamming the tech industry, and painting it with the same brush.

Here are some recent headlines, and excerpts: 

  • NY Times: How Evil Is Tech? “Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted. Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.”
  • The Guardian: Silicon Valley has been humbled. But its schemes are as dangerous as ever: “An industry once hailed for fuelling the Arab spring is today repeatedly accused of abetting Islamic State. An industry that prides itself on diversity and tolerance is now regularly in the news for cases of sexual harassment as well as the controversial views … An industry that built its reputation on offering us free things and services is now regularly assailed for making things .. more expensive. The Silicon Valley backlash is on.”
  • Wired: The other Tech Bubble: “Will anyone ever write another positive story about a tech startup? We’ve been burned…. The many hype-building stories about deceptive companies haven’t aged well… The issue is bigger than any single scandal.”
  • NY Times: Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats: “Now tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them. Tech companies have accrued a tremendous amount of power and influence. Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings, and is sparking a backlash that is still gathering force.”

I am not objecting to the reporting of facts, as presented.  And yes; the media are there to keep other institutions in check; I would never challenge their right to do so.  Further, I don’t want to minimize some of the very real problems emanating from the tech world.

All that said, I find the info in many of these stories to be caricatures and generalizations of the industry that I know, having worked with 100s of tech companies, many of the them startups.

Who is to Blame?

There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the role of tech in our lives; and the state of the tech industry.  But my issue is with some of the coverage – and the resulting image issues.  So, let’s go down the list – a long one – because our relationship with tech is complex and did not happen overnight.

  • Do we blame the tech companies? They should be called out for bad behavior; and when their solutions cause problems.  But let’s keep things in perspective.  Don’t assume they’re all evil, or have ill intent – e.g. Facebook did not set out to create a Russian disinformation machine.  Yes, they want to move fast and break things.  This can sound arrogant and lead to unintended consequences.  They have no choice but to address the issues, so people keep coming back.
  • Do we blame journalists who focus on the outsize stories and egos (stoking unicorn valuations), and who conflate Silicon Valley and Big Tech with the rest of the industry?(I guess that is the point of this article. If they’re so sour on tech, perhaps the writers of these stories should unplug and live off the grid).
  • Do we blame the PRs and marketers that promote tech? Sure, if we are peddling hype and misinformation that adds to media cynisism.
  • Do we blame businesses that eat up technology to improve operations and for competitive advantage?
  • Do we blame society at large – and our love for shiny new toys, tech gadgets, and fascination with entrepreneurialism? (Bingo! We have met the enemy, and he is us).

In summary, I just ask for balance in reporting, and that you not kick tech or the industry to the curb.   Tech continues to be an important engine for our economy, and our innovation is key to U.S. global competitiveness  It enriches our lives in so many ways.  We need to improve it, and reign it in when needed.  But not walk away or shame.

Posted in Public Relations, Tech, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lin Pophal on the Evolving Role and Field of PR

I’ve known Lin Pophal for years through her work as a writer for eContent, HR Executive, and others; have pitched her client stories and my own thought leadership topics (I’m in her eContent story on content curation tools).

Earlier this year, Lin posted a Profnet about the changing world of PR. Readers here know that it’s a pet topic of mine, and I eagerly replied. Then, I forgot about it, until she emailed recently that my commentary was included in her new book: 21st Century Secrets to Effective PR.

I was, of course, thrilled to be in it and eager to read Lin Pophal’s book. I wanted to get Lin’s take on the topic, and also was curious about her PR background, since as I said, I first got to know her in her journalist role.

I found it to be a great read, with helpful insights about where the field is now, where it is going, and a wealth of actionable tips for maximizing results. I also learned about Lin’s agency work at Strategic Communications; and that she teaches, and has written quite a few books on PR and marketing.

I asked Lin if she’d answer a few questions, and she agreed; read on for the Q and A:

Journalists have called PR the Dark Side, now quite a few wear both hats.  Is this a sign of the future of PR (and journalism)?

I definitely think that it is. Much of this may be because of the shifts taking place in journalism these days–traditional media outlets struggling to remain viable resulting in many journalists finding themselves needing to pursue different types of work; the rise of the “citizen journalist” where just about anybody can hang out a shingle and be a “writer;” the blurring of the lines between PR and marketing, news and advertising. In smaller markets, like where I live, there has long been a tendency for media professionals to seek corporate roles when they become available. When I was director of corporate communications at a local healthcare organization, I would regularly receive a number of resumes from reporters whenever PR jobs opened up.

Is there the potential for conflict?

Yes. It’s interesting to me that the digital world is still very different than the traditional when it comes to revealing what is “advertising” and what is “news.” Run an ad in a newspaper and it needs to be labeled as an ad. Include a link in an online news piece, though, or pay an influencer to promote your brand in their blog post and it gets a bit murkier. I think the regulations that are emerging are good but more needs to be done to distinguish native advertising from news. The focus on “fake news,” I believe, will definitely aid this process and may result in the pendulum swinging back to reward professional journalists, with a clear distinction between them and anyone with a Twitter feed.

I think there’s also the potential for confusion and the proliferation of, if not “fake,” just misleading information. Forbes “contributors” and other similar sources of information are a good example and I’ve straddled the line with this for some time. With my “journalist” hat on I find the proliferation of these types of sources to be troubling and misleading–they appear to the casual observer to represent well-reported and edited pieces appearing in reputable media outlets. Yet they’re really simply PR pieces. I definitely cautioned students in my university classes against using these types of sources as credible references in their papers/projects. With my PR hat on, though, I’ve helped clients land these types of opportunities.

Is it interesting to get pitches?

It is very interesting to get pitches and I’ve learned a lot from those that cross my desk–both what to do and what not to do. So I think I’ve become much better at pitching myself and my clients and getting coverage. Reviewing HARO and ProfNet pitches also helps me to stay up-to-date on trends and topics that I might not otherwise have been exposed to. Many times an item I see will prompt me to do additional research to learn about something I hadn’t heard of before.

What are your pet peeves regarding pitches?

I have a number of them, and have included them in the book, but I’d say my top ones are:

  • Responding to a query without giving a response – e.g. “I have a great source for you,” or “You really need to contact me.”
  • Following up over and over and over again if I don’t respond to a pitch. If I don’t respond, it’s because the pitch wasn’t a fit.
  • Agreeing to an interview and then becoming a no-show.

What are the three most important trends related to PR?

  • Video – I continue to read about the positive impact of video given today’s heavy use of smartphones and emergence of apps like Facebook Live; I think it’s likely that this will evolve into more interactive video – e.g. AR and VR
  • AI – I’ve read, and written about, AI and its potential for impact on the writing industry/content marketing – I think there is also potential for an impact on PR activities on both sides – e.g. the use of chatbots to engage reporters/editors, using predictive analytics to spot trends, or impending crises, etc.
  • More vigorous vetting of sources, again related back to “fake news” fears – I think it will become increasingly difficult for non-expert “experts” to get traction as reputable media outlets become much more rigorous in their screening of both sources and the information they provide

How are the skills and requirements for the fields changing?

There’s definitely more need for visual skills – photography, video and perhaps an emerging need to also understand AR, VR, 360 video, etc. There’s also a need for not only an understanding of the digital environment in terms of creating, posting and getting traction with online content but the need for analytical skills to help identify what works well and to use that information to continually improve the content being created. There is also a growing need for writers to have their own online following–that seems to be increasingly valued by media outlets who often ask me to “share the link on your social channels.”

The bottom line, though, I think (but of course I’m biased) is that strong writing will continue to be the most important skill for both journalists and PR professionals. And, in fact, I think the bar is being raised here. As more and more content is being created, and even though Google has clamped down on a lot of the “junk content” out there, content consumers will become increasingly discriminating. Media outlets competing for eyeballs will need to meet that demand for higher levels of quality. I think that as AI allows some of the administrative, rote types of activities to be automated, outlets will be able to focus on being more strategic, more discerning and more discriminating in terms of the content they produce–and its validity, accuracy and quality.

 

 

Posted in Books, In the News, PR, Public Relations, Reading Files | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Stone Temple Kills it with B2B Marketing Videos

I first learned of Stone Temple and their great work in SEO and digital marketing through an acquaintance, and interviewed CEO Eric Enge for a post on Maximize Social Business awhile back.  Then, I met Mark Traphagen, who participated in my panel on branding and thought leadership at the Social Tools Summit in October (where he won a Social Guru award).

Through this collaboration I learned of Stone Temple’s very creative use of video. On the face of it, the idea of using video for B2B marketing in 2017 might not seem that groundbreaking. But how do you do this well and consistently if you are not already a huge company? How do you make the topic fun and interesting? It would not seem to have “next YouTube video stars” written all over.

But these guys clearly got it down, and consistently produce compelling segments (one example – they actually duplicated the deck and garb of Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise in this one about Why Enterprise SEO is so Challenging).  The team also clearly have lots of fun doing this – and get great results too.

I had to learn more, and asked Mark if he’d entertain some questions for the blog.  He agreed; see the Q and A below.

How did you get the idea to use videos to promote Stone Temple?

By 2014 it was obvious that video was the rising star of content marketing. More people were showing a preference for video content, and we were hearing the first rumblings from major players like Facebook that they would be giving preferential treatment to video content. Plus we knew it was something we needed to develop firsthand expertise in because our clients would be asking for it. We decided to try something different from the typical “how to” marketing videos, so our Here’s Why series episodes all incorporate a quick skit (usually with zany costumes and props) that introduces and closes each video. We believe that adding an element of fun (especially making fun or ourselves) humanizes our topics, and our audience seems to love it!

How often do you post them?

We post a new Here’s Why video every Monday at this link and on our YouTube channel.

How long does it take to produce a video, from conception to final version?

I’m frightened to ty to calculate that! We are currently about three months ahead on episodes ready to publish. We film then in groups of 4 to 6 episodes at a time, so I’ll estimate the time investment per group: About 3-4 hours for ideation, 6-10 for script writing, 2-3 for filming (we have it down now so we can film an episode in under 30 minutes), an hour or two of post-production work by our videographer per video, and probably another 2 hours per video spent on promotion once they’re published. Please, nobody add all that up!

How many people are involved? Can you walk us through the process?

Four people, with occasional help from others, such as extras for some episodes. Eric Enge and I are the main performers/presenters, and I also write the scripts and handle social promotion. Kiki helps with acquiring props and costumes, prepping the scripts for the teleprompters, and creating the blog posts and YouTube uploads. Finally, our videographer Jon films each episode, does post-production editing and adds captions.

Each video starts with a script (we used to do them off-the-cuff, but found scripting made them tighter and better), usually prepared a couple of weeks before filming. Once the script is delivered, Kiki procures any costumes or props needed, and formats the script for our teleprompters (we use three now—one at the camera and one on each side of the “stage” so Eric and I can talk to each other more naturally). During the week each month that I’m up at our Massachusetts headquarters, we usually schedule 2-3 one hour sessions, and film two episodes in each session. Jon then edits and sends us a draft video for approval. Kiki sends this to a transcription service. Once a transcript of the video is received, Jon creates captions for the video. Kiki uploads the final video to YouTube and schedules it for publication. She also uses the transcript to create a post for our blog with the YouTube video embedded. When the video and blog post publish, I begin paid and organic social campaigns to promote them.

How do you come up with ideas?

Most of the Here’s Why videos are repurposed from other content we’ve already created, both for our own site and for guest posts elsewhere. Sometimes we can get three or four videos out of one piece of content, as the five minute videos can focus more on one aspect of the content. More and more I’m trying to come up with original ideas for the videos, but that’s a lot harder. For those, I usually try to pay attention to questions people ask online about digital marketing, and we also brainstorm with our senior consultants.

Do you have a topic calendar?

We do! Once I have titles and outlines for the next group of videos we’re going to shoot, Kiki adds them to a calendar for production and when they will publish.

What was your most popular video?

Our most popular video ever was not a Here’s Why video, but amazingly enough a very rough video we shot at the last moment to include in our first major study that went viral. It’s a summary of our test of how good Google Now, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri were at answering questions. It now has over 160,000 views and proves that you don’t need expensive production values if your topic is great!

Our most popular Here’s Why video is “Why Micromoment Content Will Increase Your Marketing Wins” with almost 20,000 views. We now have 25 videos with over 4000 views on YouTube, and over the past year all our videos averaged over 3000 views each.

How do you promote them?

We post the blog version of each episode to our social channels on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. We also typically do a paid boost on Facebook, and occasionally on Twitter. We also run paid campaigns on YouTube, and have found the increased watch time those paid campaigns give us has also increased our organic reach there. We also encourage fans to sign up to get an email notification of each new episode.

Is there a certain persona or funnel stage you target?

We consider these videos to be mostly top-of-funnel, brand-awareness builders. They are meant to build our reputation as helpful experts in our industry. While our primary target is digital marketing decision makers at larger companies, we’re happy that these videos have broad appeal to anyone trying to do better digital marketing, even small business people who will never become our customers. Their love for what we create tuns them into tremendous evangelists for us, and increases our social proof and organic authority that helps bring us in front of the people we really want to reach.

What impact have they had on your business and/or web or social footprints?

While it’s hard to measure with data because we typically have a long sales cycle (several months to years before closing a client), we know from a lot of anecdotal evidence that our videos have played a significant role in keeping Stone Temple top-of-mind along the customer journey. As our primary regular content, and because of how widely they are shared and viewed, they have had a significant impact in expanding our social following and reach. And we’re told all the time that in addition to being great educational resources, the humor and personality of these videos make us seem like people our prospects want to do business with.

Can you share anything about costs to produce these or ROI?

It’s not insignificant, but has come way down since we are mostly through with the fixed costs of building our studio, and we now have more streamlined processes to reduce the time investment per video. Since these videos are not aimed at a direct conversion, we don’t track ROI, but we do know the value of customers we’ve gained with the help of the videos far exceeds their cost.

Do you do any live video or native posting on various channels? Plans for this?

Because of the investment we’re already putting into these videos, we’ve only dabbled with live video recently. We did a lot more of it in the past when we used to produce two live Google Hangout shows a week. We do occasionally still do live shows, now using YouTube live, for special programs. A recent example was a panel we put together with several other top marketers for a live (and lively!) discussion of weird Google results we had observed. You can see the recording here.

Posted in Branding, Interviews, Marketing, PR Tech | Tagged , , | Leave a comment