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.