Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2010 and a Clean Slate

2009 is done and dusted, all mistakes water under the bridge, our futures bright and sparkling with possibilities, promise and potential. It is with this spirit that I’m issuing my Ten 2010 Resolutions:

10. I will treat all people with respect, courtesy and kindness with the understanding that each person in the PR/Media/Analyst/Blogger ecosystem is at a different stage of development and maturity;

9. I will not re-tweet other people’s news just because I think it’s something I should do;

8. I will not rise to the bait when reporters decide to use the power of their pen (or keyboard) to get on a soap box and preach to PR people about what they should or shouldn’t do;

7. I will help our clients understand what is original news and what is “me too” news and how each should be treated differently;

6. I will work with our clients to help them put every announcement into context so that people understand why it matters and to whom;

5. I will ensure that my team understands the market and business objectives and our clients and how that determines how we create and shape programs;

4. I will become more vocal/less vocal about things that matter/don’t matter to our industry, my company and our clients;

3. I will become a better resource to reporters that need help understanding how technology works, how it fits into the network and how it can impact markets;

2. I will think more regularly beyond what my clients tell me they want to what they really need and what the market is ready to hear; and

1. I will create programs that enable our customers to reach target customers with relevant news, presented in a way that is meaningful and easy to consume by the media/analyst filter, which is supportive of the clients’ short and long-term business and market objectives.

Now you know what I’m going to focus on in 2010. If I don’t stay true to these resolutions, please let me know. As we all are, I’m still a work in progress.

What are your goals, resolutions, etc? Please comment and share your ideas for the New Year or tell me what you think of my Ten for 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Evolving Your Media Relations for 2010

As I've just read my twelfth article summarizing the highlights of 2009 (because you just can't seem to avoid them this time of year, and I admit, I'm kind of a sucker for them), I've realized that 2009 has been quite a remarkable year for the technology press industry. There have been so many changes that have occurred with the press this year - moves, layoffs, budget cuts and publications redefining themselves. While some of this happens every year, I think 2009 will go down as a particularly harsh one for this industry.

Throughout the year, we have been asked by our clients how these changes will impact them and their ability to get their news across. Our simple answer has been to realize there are fewer reporters with more work to do, and as a result, you need to tailor the information you provide them so it is relevant and timely, and really, just make it easy for them to do their jobs. One client took this to hear, and took it to the next level.

Earlier this month, we helped one of our clients host a Press and Analyst Day at their headquarters for a two-day event that included announcements, executive and customer presentations, a tour of the site and some good old fashioned wining and dining. With employees, executives and customers available throughout almost the entire event for Q&A and casual conversation, the 28 press and analysts who attended were really able to get a good sense of the company, their products and the benefit they bring to the market. This client provided everything the press and analysts needed to know in one setting and made their jobs very easy to do. In addition, the client got to establish some relationships that will benefit both them and the press in the long run.

While it's certainly not possible to pull off a Press and Analyst Day on a regular basis, it can be an excellent tool to add to your communications arsenal. Building personal relationships are so important to this business and some of the traditional opportunities to do this, like tradeshows, are attracting less press than they have in the past. As you build out your 2010 budgets, you may want to consider doing standalone activities liek this for maximum impact for both you and the press.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Owning Your Online Identity

Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Oh My! There are thousands of social networking sites today that enable you to create, and maintain, a personal space online. This ability allows us to reconnect with old friends, stay on top of what friends and family are doing, and learn more about topics of interest.

While this level of Internet interaction is exciting and generally beneficial, blending personal and professional contacts into the same social networking identities can be problematic. For better or worse, the way you are around your friends and family is different than the way you are around people you know through work. And while your best friend from college will be excited you saw U2 (Coldplay, Green Day, whomever) last Wednesday night, the client you have a meeting with on Thursday probably won’t be as thrilled.

Even more complications arise when you use social media to promote a social or political view. Most likely, your friends share similar views as you do on areas that matter most to you. But can you say for sure that your professional contacts do as well? You might want to believe that if your views aren’t the same, they will appreciate your opinion, or better yet, that they have to take you for what you are. But that’s naïve. They don’t have to take you for who you are, especially in today’s job market that features a dozen people just like you in your own zip code.

What’s the answer? Maintain a healthy separation between your personal and professional online identiies. Use different profiles to connect with friends and business contacts, or segment your contacts into categories that are relevant to how you know them. When you have something to share that might interest your business friends-- post to that group or profile. When you finally manage to get Aunt Pearl to share her brownie recipe, keep that info private to friends and family.

Let’s face it-- business is about putting your best foot forward. In today’s globally-connected marketplace, that first step might be online. With that in mind, it is critical that the professional image you create on social networks is the one that represents you in the best possible light and is the one your company, partners, customers, potential customers and influencers will want to be associated with when the relationship moves from online to in person.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

5 Things that Your Agency Should Be Doing

With budgets tight and planning in full swing for next year, many companies are evaluating their PR agencies to determine ROI. As someone who has both managed agencies and now works for an agency, I thought I would showcase some pearls of wisdom: The five things that I looked for in an agency. Without a doubt, your agency should:

1) Make you look smarter. You are busy. You don’t have time for everything. Your agency should be coming up with ideas and being creative—in turn providing you the tools to do your job with great success, in essence, making you look smarter.

2) Know your industry. Most agencies can write a press release, or submit a speaking opportunity. But, those agencies who truly understand the industry in which their clients operate will be most successful. Knowing the right terminology and the right people to talk to allow for efficient and quality work.

3) Align their activities with your corporate strategic goals. Some people say winning any award is good, but make sure you’re asking the question, “How does winning this award positively affect my business?” If your agency doesn’t know the answer to that, then it might be time to look elsewhere.

4) Serve as strategic counsel. You want an agency that serves as an extension of your staff. One that you can listen to, that serves as your eyes and ears of the industry. You should trust them to give you an honest, well thought out opinion and go to them for a trusted, outsider view.

5) Be proactive. There’s nothing worse than constantly telling an agency what to do. A great agency looks ahead and presents opportunities and trends well ahead of the curve so that you have the best chance of making a splash.

So, as you’re planning for 2010, make sure your agency is doing the above, and if you find they aren’t, give us a call!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


When I first sat down to write a blog about SUPERCOMM 2009, I started writing about all the things that went wrong this year that made the show…lackluster. To be fair, we had several clients tell us that while they had fewer meetings than they would have liked the quality of the meetings they had were good. The press and analyst community seemed pretty bored though with the meetings they had and the general quality of the news released at the show.

Part of this is a result of firms like ours that cautioned our clients about SUPERCOMM 2009’s viability as an industry news cycle and our counsel to make announcements prior to the show instead of at the show itself. After viewing several versions of the press list, and talking with editors and analysts about their attendance, we were concerned who from the press community was going to actually show up.

But instead of focusing on the past and bemoan what could have been, I wanted to provide my top ten ideas that can make SUPERCOMM relevant again.

Top Ten Ideas to Make SUPERCOMM 2010 Relevant Again!

1. Focus on a segment of the market and do it better than anyone else. Wireless, mobile and Ethernet are well covered with other events and the time when SUPERCOMM could be the “one” show are over. Applications and services are options for focus that will keep the content fresh as the market evolves. The equipment vendors need to rethink how they approach the show to align what their technology does with what the service providers want to offer.

2. Release the Service Provider Hounds! The US Telecom Association needs to do a better job promoting the show, and the benefits of attending, to its entire member base instead of focusing on AT&T and Verizon. As Carol Wilson of Light Reading points out in her blog "How to Save SUPERCOMM" neither AT&T nor Verizon need SUPERCOMM but other service providers certainly the equipment vendors would benefit from a more dense service provider presence.

3. Less focus on pleasing the gorillas. More focus on innovation and standards would help level the playing field with SUPERCOMM instead of focusing on the standard topics that appeal to the industry’s big vendors. In the past, SUPERCOMM did a fantastic job getting industry groups to run live interop and service demos. These programs allow smaller vendors to expand their presence and enables service providers to see combinations they might not have otherwise.

4. Start marketing now, I mean yesterday. I know there were some changes with show management but I didn’t receive any pre-show conference information until four weeks before the show and I’ve gone for the last nine years. The conference programming under Jason Meyers was strong and could have been used more effectively.

5. Show the love to those that came. SUPERCOMM could, and should, offer incentives to companies that helped make this year happen. Moving the show from June to October on short notice, changing the date structure to end on a Friday, was not popular. Folks that stuck by SUPERCOMM should get something, for you know, the effort.

6. Challenge Keynotes/Vendors to be Provocative. SUPERCOMM used to be a show where big news happened, the kind of stuff that got everyone buzzing. That was missing this year. SUPERCOMM should start working with key players to help them understand what it will do to ensure it a powerful industry news cycle next year.

7. Be honest. The SUPERCOMM 2009 website states “SUPERCOMM 2009 was a hit!” Sure, a base hit, but people want the show to be a home run. Trying to make this year out to be anything other than a small success is disingenuous and will do little to help people understand that SUPERCOMM understands the work ahead and what it needs to do to rebuild the brand.

8. Get the Press Back. Nothing creates buzz about an event than stories run on trusted industry news sites that starts with “Today at SUPERCOMM…..” SUPERCOMM needs to get the press and analyst community back to the show. While all the major publication had people there, no one had folks there in force.

9. Go Social. SUPERCOMM should set up its own new aggregation site and tap into the various social networks to drive awareness and promote the show, its participants and the conference programming. Many of the companies that exhibited and/or spoke have a presence on one or more social networks. To be fair, SUPERCOMM was on Twitter and Facebook but with only 125 Facebook fans, they are clearly not connecting.

10. Get regular input. SUPERCOMM needs to conduct a brand audit to understand what its brand identity is today and then develop an integrated marketing and messaging program that helps them become what they want to be. Without a concerted effort, based a realistic understanding of where they stand today in the minds of the industry’s decision makers with two key groups – the marketing folks that commit the spend and the operations and engineering folks that are looking to buy – SUPERCOMM is in danger of becoming SUPERGONE.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What You See is What You Get?

Over the last couple of months there have been stories in the New York Times and CNN focusing on the ethical relationship between advertisers and bloggers. First, the National Advertising Review Council called out two different blogger sites for their so-called product reviews and not mentioning the fact that these products were actually owned by the company running the site. More recently, the Federal Trade Commission announced blogger rules as part of revisions to the agency's Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising to address this specific issue.

Why is this important? When the line between journalistic blogger and advertiser is clearly being blurred, it is important for the organizations policing these types of activities to step up and do something about it for both the integrity of the site and for fair disclosure to the reader. Bias is what taints the blogger community in any industry and readers need to understand where a blogger’s bias lays. Readers can dig a little deeper and uncover the other relationships a blogger has that might impact their objectivity in their writing. This is something we did this summer when Connect2 called out a technology blogger for his rants against press releases and the way they are written. When we dug a little deeper we found that this blogger was also a marketing director for a company and was guilty of doing exactly what he was ranting against. In this case, the digging showed the irony of the situation, but it also highlighted his bias.

One of the ways Connect2 Communications has always measured the credibility of bloggers is by looking at the other ways they are credentialed in the industry. For example, they are a journalist writing for an industry publication or an analyst who writes his own personal blog in addition to the research work his does for his firm or the conference organizer sharing her thoughts on the industry as a whole. We believe when a blogger has another identity in the industry it lends more credibility to their work and you know that you are working with a more legitimate resource.

Bloggers are still a relatively new phenomenon in the world of press relations, but they are becoming a much stronger voice and relevant player within many industries. As a marketing manager looking for advocates within the industry, you need to be careful who you work with so you can be assured that what you see is really what you get.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Measurable Metrics that Matter Most

Try saying that five times fast.

Whenever we get ready for a pitch meeting, we debate the issue of metrics. Potential clients always ask, “so how can you tell if it’s working?” Some folks in our industry will tell you it’s about impressions or “eyeballs” if they like to metric around online stats. Some will compare the prices of advertising vs. the editorial space devoted to your company. Some will even try to claim that the number of press release pickups is what’s really important.

Well, I think they are wrong. Dead wrong, wrong as wrong can be. The measurements listed above are tactics, not metrics. A PR firm should have an internal goal that they will help generate up to XXX press release pickups for each release. To accomplish this, they can leverage Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, post the release to various news aggregation sites, and Tweet about it.

The ad comparison I don’t really get as meaningful simply because it’s not an apple to apples comparison, or at least not a Granny Smith to a Golden Delicious comparison. Both advertising and PR have a role to play and sometimes they overlap when the marketing objective is brand or market pull. But an ad’s content is controlled and orchestrated while a news article is objective and unbiased. Both can move markets but the measurement seems false and simply a way to protect PR as it relates to a bigger advertising spend.

PR metrics should be about how the program or programs help a company achieve its business and marketing objectives. If your company’s marketing objective is to be considered a “thought leader” in your market, then the metrics should measure the program’s success in making that a reality. For example, if thought leadership is the objective, you might want metrics like:

1. Have three industry analysts willing to support company announcements with supporting quotes about the company’s leadership in ABC market.

2. Have the company’s Point of View (POV) included in part of four industry trend stories where it can articulate its opinion about a market issue or trend.

To make the first metric achievable, the PR firm might have to set up briefings with ten analysts over the course of six months to find people that believe in the company, understand the market and whose opinion can help shape the public debate.

To make the second metric achievable, the PR firm will have to know what reporters are writing about, and not writing about, certain subjects and how your company can help the reader better understand the issue. Then the PR firm has to set up an internal system that keeps them in regular contact with reporters and industry issues come up (think Broadband Stimulus, Net Neutrality or Hacker Days) so that your company is top of mind.

There are dozens of ways a PR agency will want to metric the programs they create for you, just make sure those metrics measure how the program helps your company achieve its market and business objectives, not theirs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

R.I.F. to Success in Media Relations – Part Deux

My blog post earlier this week addressed the importance of reading to be successful in media relations. I talked about how Vocus and Cision only get you so far in your goal to secure coverage. Today’s post will be an ode to Research.

You may be wondering what does research have to do with Vocus and Cision?

Well, consider this – Vocus and Cision sell its database products based on the idea that PR agencies will enjoy unbridled access to complete research on all of the various reporters and editors covering any number of topics. Personally, I don’t know how Vocus and Cision can keep up with the myriad staff changes in multiple industries. But they try.

Here’s a scenario: You are meeting with a new client and reviewing a media list hot off the press – fresh from your Vocus database. Your client, the SVP of Public Relations for a global enterprise software company points out that your list contains the New York Times reporter covering Google. You acknowledge the mistake and think to yourself that the account coordinator just didn’t know how to put in the correct terms to get the correct information. After the meeting you check Vocus for yourself and can’t find
Vindu Goel in the database!

For the record, Vindu Goel is in the Vocus database with an expansive pitching profile, this is just a hypothetical example to make a point.

If you have experienced this frustration, you know that Vocus and Cision will only get you so far. You have to train your teams to do research.

Frank Strong, director of public relations for Vocus, agrees. “You have to understand who covers your area. Technology only gets you to a point.”

Heidi Sullivan, director of media research for Cision said, “We give you the starting point… great PR people do research.”

I think that unless you’ve worked in a PR firm and understand how the business is run and the unique needs of various clients, you can’t possibly create a product that is the “be all, end all” to help me everyday. I’m not bashing all databases. Different agencies or in-house teams have found a great use for them. In a previous life, I was a fan of Bacon’s MediaSource. Although, I have to admit that I was on the phone with the research team at least weekly to correct errors in the database.

There is a new kid on the block in ITDatabase. Former tech PR industry veteran, Travis Van, founded this service that is only focused on the technology sector. Just hearing that makes a lot of sense. If you are focused on tech PR, why buy a database from a company that tries to be everything to everyone? Because ITDatabase focuses only on the tech sector, you can place a stronger reliance on the quality of its research. Connect2 Communications does not use ITDatabase, but several of my colleagues and I have evaluated it extensively. It contains a lot of the same research that we already have in our lists so I trust it.

Our clients appreciate the time we take to read everyday and our research matches up with all of the industry changes. Because of this, we have been able to build media relationships which are critical to our success.

By taking the time to read and do some research in equal measure, you too will be successful in media relations.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Did Michael Vick’s PR Strategy Work?

So Michael Vick got what he wanted—a deal with an NFL football team—any NFL football team. By signing a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick might just have pulled off a PR miracle.

As we all know, Vick was convicted of dog fighting and served 18 of his 23-month sentence, the vast majority of it in jail. His goal was to get back into football and his strategy worked. Let’s review it. First, and probably most brilliantly, was that Vick finagled Tony Dungy, ex-coach of the popular and successful Indianapolis Colts, to go on a media extravaganza on Vick’s behalf. I heard Dungy on varied media outlets from NPR to ESPN saying that he was serving as Vick’s mentor and if he were still coaching he would certainly give Vick a second chance. This media blitz was then followed by Vick’s only granted interview on 60 minutes.

Vick had a good PR team working behind him. Given the furor surrounding his arrest, and the outrage at the planned “Michael Vick Community Celebration” and its quick canceling, showed that the public wasn’t quite ready to forget and forgive. So they put others in front of the camera to help tell his story, people like Coach Dungy who are admired and respected. By having a likeable, well-spoken and respected football icon speak on his behalf, the tarnish on Vick’s reputation started to fade. People soon began to think, “Hmm, if Tony Dungy has forgiven him and seen real change, then maybe I can too?” One of the key elements of the Vick messaging playbook was “he paid his debt to society so it’s time to move on” and “American is the land of second chances, doesn’t he deserve his?” His one appearance was easily scripted to show remorse and appear a changed person—Vick’s was controlled and well thought out.

So what’s the lesson here? Good PR doesn’t just happen, you need a plan and that plan has to take into consideration your situation’s strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities are and how to play to the strengths, leverage your assets and limit your liabilities. By limiting Mr. Vick’s face time, and putting Mr. Dungy front and center, the PR team did just that.

Now it’s up to the Philadelphia Eagle’s public relations team to conjure up a winning strategy as this story might be over for Vick, but it’s just started for the Eagles

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

R.I.F. to Success in Media Relations

Since starting my career in tech PR in 1999, I have created my share of media lists. Back then I used the big green books from Bacon’s (now Cision) or the Yellow Book. In addition to my media list duties, I did media monitoring. Media monitoring required me to read actual clippings that arrived in the mail from Burrelles or Luce, which ironically is now one big happy family operating as BurrellesLuce.

As I moved up the ranks in the agency, I realized that all the reading created some pretty good habits and knowledge. I learned everything about my client’s competitors - from the names and features of its products to the customers they recently signed. Equally important, I had a good handle on which reporters were covering various beats and which analysts were often quoted in their articles. In media relations, that information is golden, if used properly.

Today, it seems like reading has been replaced with a type-and-click methodology. It is very common for agencies to supply their account teams with access to media databases from Vocus and Cision. Both companies boast robust media information and accurate research. If you have used Vocus or Cision, you know how fast you can type in a few words, click and then get a media list with reporter names, outlets, e-mail addresses and phone numbers. With the type-and-click method, it is possible that you will get Joe the Reporter from Food Network Magazine that covers new oven technology. That’s not exactly the person I want to speak to if my client roster is comprised of companies selling mobile technology to the government.

I wanted to get other perspectives. So I went on Twitter and asked, “If you are using #Vocus or #Cision or one of the others send me your thoughts on which is worse.” I got many responses, but one from @PerfectPitchPR stood out. @PerfectPitchPR uses both databases and noted, “Searching is better in Cision for me, and think they have more niche pubs (had to import alot). Distrib. is GREAT in Vocus.”

Personally, I would not blindly distribute anything in Vocus or Cision. The problem with Vocus and Cision is that unless you actually read the profiles that it spits out, you may be running around with an awful list. Actually, I’m willing to bet that your list is 85 percent off. I think Cision and Vocus should carry some of the blame for the reporter angst we often read about – the reporters who cover Windows that get pitches about the iPhone.

My tweet sparked conversations with reps from Cision and Vocus. I’ll fill you in on our discussions in my next post. Cision and Vocus will get you to a starting point, but it won’t get you through the finish line. Overall, there was agreement on my premise - Reading is Fundamental to success in media relations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Got Hacked?

Last week saw Twitter’s fourth Internet security breach this year and still no good PR strategy—again only updates from their co-founder Biz Stone referring people to view the status on their Twitter blogs. For a phenomenon like Twitter, their company will be fine—there will still be plenty of Tweeters, but this begs the question—why do technology companies, such as Twitter, rely on internal blogs and internal strategies to deal with such a crisis? Why not have a PR agency on retainer for just these types of issues? Many companies react in a crisis because they get caught off guard when most emergencies are within a known possible threat category. Credit Card companies get hacked, social sites have Denial of Service Attacks, banks get robbed, etc. In a crisis such as this, the first thing a company needs to do is understand what they want to say, who they need to say it and who is the internal person that will say it. A PR agency can do just that—quickly and efficiently.

Technology companies that deal with or collect any sort of personal information can’t sit back and think they will never get hacked. Sites and networks are hacked each day and each of them is vulnerable. Case in point: in the not-so-distant past, a high school student with the Internet alias of MafiaBoy successfully launched a series of highly publicized denial-of-service attacks in February 2000 against large commercial websites including Yahoo!,, Dell, Inc., E*TRADE, eBay, and CNN. If these companies can get hit, so can yours!

And, as soon as word hits the news that your service has been compromised, your reputation is blown and you now have a PR issue at hand. You need to have a crisis communications plan and PR agency at the ready to field phone calls and develop answers to the inevitable questions that will make your clients and customers feel comfortable continuing to use your service.

Remember, your IT guys repair your systems to get to the bottom of your problem quickly, let your PR guys repair your reputation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Alternate Point of View

Wall Street Journal. Business Week. Fortune. Forbes. Each of these publications represents a perceived ultimate win in public relations exposure. We get asked all the time by clients and potential clients about how they can get into the business press. Sometimes the door is easily opened, especially when a company is actively participating in a hot topic like the government’s Broadband Stimulus initiative, green technology or the latest wireless project from Apple. It’s easier for publically traded companies to participate in the business press discussion, as those are the types of companies these publications are consistently writing about. For your average, privately held tech company focusing on bits and bytes of the network infrastructure, the challenge becomes a bit more difficult.

One of the ways Connect2 Communications has been successful in getting our clients involved in the business press dialog is through our Point of View program. This program allows us to introduce clients to the business press they may not have been aware of and share that client’s particular perspective on a current issue. The program has opened a few doors for several clients and laid the groundwork for being included in future stories. It has become a key tool in helping companies expand their exposure in not only the business press, but also with trade publications as these companies branch into new markets and talk to unfamiliar press.

So the next time you see an article in the business press and have a few thoughts to share, let us know, because next time that article might be from your point of view.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Please Release Me

There has been a lot of talk recently about news releases and what should, and should not, be in them. This online conversation got me thinking about the dynamics of how news is consumed today and the role a press release has in the process.

In the not so distant past, the media was the filter a company had to go through to get their news into the hands of current and potential customers, partners, investors and distribution channels and the press release was a support tool to help the various reporters understand the news, its context and broader industry implications.

Today, people read news from a wide variety of sources including traditional print and online media sites, local and cable broadcast, blogs, RSS feeds and social networking sites. These changes have already changed the way companies communicate, but what it hasn’t done is change the way press releases are written and it’s probably time it did.

So what should a press release be? To me, a press release should tell the story that you want your customers to read. It should articulate why the announcement is important to the market as a whole, the company’s particular customer or partner base and what it means specifically in terms of the company’s progress and opportunity. And the current inverted pyramid style of press release just doesn’t accommodate this very easily.

Headlines should be clever and catchy to grab the eye and invite readers to read more. To use an example from today’s news, no more:
“Sprint Expands Environmental Leadership with New Initiatives and Debut of Eco-Friendly Samsung Reclaim”

And instead, something written to entice and engage the reader like the headline Saul Hansell of the New York Times used for his story about the announcement:
“What’s Green, Made of Corn and Has Buttons?” or the headline used for Ed Baig's story in USA Today on the news: "Samsung and Sprint Unveil Eco-friendly Cellphone."

Sprint and Samsung's PR teams did a great job telling this story. Original stories appeared in every level of publication: business, dailies, trade, blogs, social media sites, etc. My point is, though, that the press release itself was picked up by over 150 news and content aggregation sites. My question is, would a more engaging and entertaining headline in the news release have increased the number of "click and reads" generated by this pick up? My gut says yes.

With short-staffed newsrooms where reporters are required to meet the demands of an 24/7 news cycle, don’t you think they’d appreciate a release written to be engaging as well for those pieces of news that catch their eye? For some releases, earnings, acquisitions and other materials announcements, the standard format still works, but for other announcements, why not use a different spin.

My point here is not that the media isn’t needed. The media provides validation, perspective and insight that a company won’t have. But the press release, in its current form, isn’t really part of that process, at least in any meaningful way. And if the current form of press release isn’t really important to how an article gets written, shouldn’t it be updated to serve a different purpose? My two and half cents for today.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter’s Unapproved Vacation

Twitter’s unapproved vacation at the hands of hackers this week left me feeling a bit off track for a few hours. It was like I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch without Twitter’s hands of comfort. As a PR pro, I make it my business to understand what people are reading and talking about first thing each day. It wasn’t until I realized that I couldn’t tweet or receive the useful banter of the community how much I rely on Twitter.

Unlike my complete devotion to Twitterville, for many companies and government organizations, Twitter is still an experiment in which they are afraid to participate. I even saw a press release with findings from a survey conducted by Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law which stated that social media use is “generating its share of corporate heartburn.” The release went on to describe that more than half of executives surveyed “fear social media could be detrimental to employee productivity.”

I beg to differ with those executives. Twitter makes me more productive – I find just as much useful information as I do in an e-mail exchange from a client. I often find things that I’m convinced I would have no awareness into but that I definitely need to know. Other marketing and PR folks agree. According to those interviewed for an article by BusinessWeek staff writer Douglas MacMillan, the headline says it all “Twitter's Blackout: Bad for Business.”

The blackout was bad for business. I was unable to get information. Information to increase my engagement in and awareness of key trends affecting the traffic in my in-box and the papers on my desk. Earlier this week, I followed reports on Cisco’s earnings and got insight into the hearing on Nortel’s assets from Twitter, not CNN. Information is only useful if you can receive and then act on it. And for now, with 10 million users, Twitter is the information axis for public relations.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Amusing Rants

Over the past few months, several high-profile reporters have started a very public campaign about what they hate about PR practices and people. I find this particularly amusing given the current state of media and how reporters are becoming more and more irrelevant in today’s information cycle. The most recent comes from Robin Wauters of Tech Crunch where he writes:

“Ever since I’ve started blogging about technology a couple of years ago, I’ve been consistently growing an immense feeling of hate towards press releases, and it’s not getting any better.”

The inverted pyramid style that most people use for releases is one that has been around forever simply because it’s what reporters wanted. It gave them the meat of the news up front and then added context with additional quotes, market stats, etc to articulate why the announcement was newsworthy. Reporters wanted to know what the news was, and if the first paragraph grabbed them, would read more to get additional details. Press releases of this era were written for reporters to be read by reporters. Today, that’s not the case.

I do agree with Mr. Wauters that companies often want to use terms that are dated and meaningless. Companies often make claims about leadership and the potential impact of a product or service that are loosely based on the truth. Often these terms are used to try and generate excitement into a release that might only be moderately interesting. The disappointing part of these releases is that if the PR person took the time to understand:

1. How this announcement impacts the market
2. How this announcement will impact the target customer and what benefit will they derive from it
3. What this announcement means in terms of the company’s overall growth and progress,

they might have been able to draft a release that is interesting and engaging for the person reading it.

What I find amusing is the idea that Mr. Wauters thinks press releases are still written for reporters. Press releases are a mechanism for Fair Disclosure and a means to take your story directly to end users. With RSS feeds, content aggregation sites and email, press releases are now written for the end user. Companies now have hundreds of direct communication channels to their target audiences and, for better or worse, the terms Mr. Wauters listed are important to them. If a company’s products or services have won an industry award or been recognized as industry leading, that provides validation that might be important to a potential buyer, partner, investor or potential employee.

When press releases are viewed as a way to tell your story directly to the target audience, without the filter of a reporter’s interest or bias, it changes the way press releases can be written. In this context, you don’t have to worry about snarky comments from a blogger that can create a bias in the article. You’re writing a release to tell a story, much like reporters used to do when reporters were journalists and not former entrepreneurs, lawyers or political pundits.

What I found even more interesting, given Mr. Wauters’ post, was several press releases issued by Oxynade where he is listed as the Partner/Marketing Director. See how many of the words he hates are included:

From “Oxynade Raises $1.3M Series A Fund”:
Internet startup Oxynade ( has secured 1 million / $1.33 million in Series A funding in a round led by venture capital firm Arkafund and joined by Vinnof (Vlaamse Innovatiefonds), a provider of seed capital to innovative Flanders-based startups with global ambitions.
Oxynade puts its advanced (isn’t this another word for next-gen, cutting edge, etc?), proprietary aggregation technology into practice by making all collected event information accessible through a vertical search engine dubbed Happenr ( This way, European users have an easy-to-use, central service to discover what's going on in their neighborhoods or their holiday destinations. In Q1 2009, Oxynade will enable Happenr visitors to directly buy tickets for paid events online, thanks to a series of partnerships with e-ticketing service providers and by offering a proprietary digital ticketing platform to event organizes who don't have a system in place yet.

Oxynade's rich database of event calendar information is perfectly suited for media companies as well as the cultural and travel industry, who can benefit from the company's advanced technology and open philosophy (e.g. free web controls and public API) to offer a value-added service to their customers and users. It allows them to offer more information about what's going on where in Europe, and effectively use the content to generate more revenues out of their online presence.

Oxynade, founded in 2007 by engineers Hans Nissens and Niko Nelissen, will use the investment capital for aggressively expanding its current coverage for events, speed up the development of a robust online ticketing platform and close strategic partnerships with large media companies across the European continent.

Hans Nissens, co-founder and CEO of Oxynade, explains: "There was a genuine need in Europe for a straightforward, overarching way to discover what's happening where, regardless of one's interests or location. People are social creatures who like spending their leisure times actively. Happenr allows them to find out which events are going on where exactly, and buy tickets for payable events in one go. We're extremely pleased to see both Arkafund and Vinnof had a strong belief in the potential of our services and people."

Corelio, the second largest Belgian media Group, has already evaluated the opportunities that lie in integration Oxynade's data in their websites, particularly for local news outlets. The media conglomerate has inked a deal with Oxynade that will allow them to leverage its data to expand its online services and increase revenue from their internet properties.

Patrick Saliën, Corelio: " is working on a pilot project together with Oxynade to use its valuable data for our online event calendar. The partnership with Oxynade will turn, as well as other Corelio news sites, by far into the most extensive event agenda in Belgium. For a media company like Corelio, it's important to support online innovation and look for opportunities to expand our reach and services with value-added initiatives."

Thierry Geerts, Arkafund: "Oxynade has a solid management team, an outspoken vision and a realistic business model. All good reasons for us to participate, particularly because of our own positioning and Arkafund's focus on media and ICT investments. We're absolutely convinced that this collaboration will prove valuable for both of us."

Tom De Moor, Vinnof: "Oxynade is a company that intelligently aggregates valuable data from the internet using innovative technology, and by doing so they respond to a clear need from the market. The mix of these ingredients sparked an interest from Vinnof to participate in this investment, so we can help develop the current potential even further."

Enough fun for today. I now need to draft a release on a company’s new award-winning, innovative next-generation service that will revolutionize the industry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Unspinning a PR Web

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times wrote a profile piece about how public relations has evolved with the advent of the World Wide Web and cleverly titled her article “Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley” to underscore that point. Lots of PR folks have blogged, posted and opined about the piece and I’m not going to belabor any points made elsewhere or jump on any bandwagons.

My issue with the article, and it’s based on a common misconception by journalists, is that PR starts when you engage with a member of the media. Of course, that’s Ms. Miller’s entire experience so it’s natural that she would assume that a briefing with her is the sum total goal of the public relations profession.

I disagree. What Ms. Cain experienced was the end game for Media Relations – the stage of Public Relations when a company decides to communicate to its target audiences through the media. Don’t forget, the reporter is the conduit through which a company can tell its customers, partners, investors and any other stake holder what the company is doing. It’s a way to benchmark progress and show market relevance. Don’t misunderstand my point. The reporter is a key audience for the PR person but for the company itself, they are a channel.

Ms. Miller’s article does a great job of articulating that for some companies, using traditional media might not always be the best path to reach a company’s target market. The example of Wordnik’s success with the influencer community underscores this point that the goal is reaching the right target market with the right message. In Wordnik’s case, traditional reporters were not the right channel.

My belief is that 90% of the work in PR is completed before a company ever gets in front of a reporter. We work with our clients to understand their business and market objectives, as well as where they want to be in the next 12 – 18 months overall. Based on this understanding, we help create a messaging timeline and announcement schedule that combines company, product, technology, partner and customer announcements that all help tell that broader story. Once the plan is in place, the announcements are set and we reach out to specific reporters whose readers might find this aspect of the company’s business interesting.

Having a great rolodex of reporters, analysts, bloggers, influencers, conference organizers, publishers and other PR people is a huge advantage and, as the article illustrates, can open doors to reporters that are willing to listen because you have strong, market relevant connections. The value of the PR person is to know who to call and when because reporters receive hundreds of pitches a day, mostly from PR people that don’t take the time to understand the beat or what the reporter is currently writing about on a topic.

Like the folks mentioned in the article, I was involved in the tech boom of the late 1990s when I ran the PR group at Sycamore Networks. I was on board to take the company public and then stayed through the ups and downs that followed. We secured profiles in Business Week, FT, WSJ, NY Times, Red Herring, etc and had our pick of appearances on the cable news shows. The key decisions we made though, were determining which opportunities helped us tell our story. If it didn’t, we passed. Like some of the folks profiled in the story, my phone rang and rang from reporters and producers that wanted access to our executives. We actually passed on more opportunities that we accepted and instead worked on cultivating the right story, with the right reporter and publication at the right time. We never lost sight of our 12 – 18 month goals and how each story could impact, positively or negatively, our ability to achieve those goals.

I started Connect2 Communications, Inc. shortly after leaving because I felt there was a real opportunity in the marketplace for a PR firm that understood how to build long-term programs that served a company’s business and market objectives over time. One that didn’t live and die with each clip or story, but instead viewed how objectives were met and the needle moved over time.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, maybe not. My firm has created Facebook fan pages for clients and viral videos about cash cows. We tweet about our clients and of course we host “No Pitch” nights for press and analysts at ball games. We also spend a great deal of time briefing bloggers and industry influencers. In fact, in the past month, we’ve had clients provide comments to stories in the WSJ, Fortune, Business Week and Smart Money, as well as traditional trade publications such as Telephony, Light Reading, Fierce Markets, Xchange, Network World, and NGN Magazine.

But…I’ve never been on Michael Ovitz nor had Ms. Huffington attend one of my parties. I’m open though so if either is interested, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Are Blogs Open to Libel?

The blogosphere in North Carolina (where Connect2 is based) is churning based on a state bill introduced yesterday that would open bloggers up to libel suits. The reaction? Interesting, but a bit predictable. Some folks are claiming the bill violates First Amendment rights, other are arguing that a public figure must prove "actual malice" regarding negative coverage, meaning that the reporter published the story, knowing it was false, with the intent to harm the individual. As some posts have mentioned, under common law, you can be sued, but the state's libel laws include specific protections for newspapers and magazines that may not apply to individual bloggers.

It's an interesting argument. Personally, I think there needs to be some sort of recourse against bloggers. For all the posts (by bloggers no less) on the topic, they are not all the same and do not all operate by journalistic rules, and quite possibly, don't even know the rules exist. Journalists understand that rules apply to objective coverage and that you need to source material before going to print, even if that source is unnamed. Journalism isn't run on rumors. Sure, stories can start as rumors but journalists fact check before running. When this doesn't happen, people lose their jobs and publications lose credibility (CBS, Washington Post, etc have all dealt with this over the past several years.)

Bloggers don't always operate under the same constraints and do not adhere to the same standards as traditional news outlets. Newspapers and magazines have mastheads to enable people to make contact and often have a OpEd page where readers can raise their voices. Bloggers don't have these tools and often hide behind pseudonyms instead of saying who they actually are. Sure, you can post a comment but you don’t really have recourse against the blogger if they are hidden. And...they often post things that are completely speculative without restraint.

That being said, there are many bloggers that do understand the rules and run their sites by traditional journalistic principals. These sites are great and deserve First Amendment protection.

Blogs are easy to set up and anyone can have one on any topic they choose. And I'm not sure everyone that has a blog understands the impact a post can have on people, which is unfortunate. Ultimately, I believe there has to be the same transparency within the print journalism world as there is in the online blogosphere – bloggers slandering citizens need to know that there repercussions to their actions and conversely, private citizens need to know they have choices/actions should such an incident occur.

Let’s face it. This law is not meant to protect people from credentialed bloggers like the Huffington Post and GigaOm who most likely will never have issues, but from the random blogger that is just out to throw stones.