Google rarely issues press releases; the company that defines the current tech economy to many releases news on its blog. Earlier this month, Google distributed a very short statement directing people to its website to see its most recent earnings news.
The statement by Google is significant. Press releases are a main method public companies use to inform audiences about material events, as companies must simultaneously disclose material news. Press release distribution services, such as Business Wire and PR Newswire, exist to satisfy these requirements. In the case of Google, they decided to merely post their earnings release on a blog and use the distribution service to note that the content is there for all to see.
I am not a lawyer, and decisions about simultaneous disclosure and the material nature of news are to be made by lawyers, but there has been some discussion as to whether blog posts satisfy simultaneous disclosure. The SEC decided a couple years ago that they do satisfy disclosure, but the guidance issued at the time left a lot of gray areas, and many companies, based on my observation, are still relying on press release distribution as a primary means of disclosure. Even Google straddled the line; while their earnings release was online, they used a standard distribution service to tell everyone it was there.
Interpretations of the SEC rules are vital to the future of the press release, one would argue. If lawyers think blog posts satisfy disclosure, it would eliminate one of the primary reasons for press release distribution.
For a long time, PR companies have talked about the end of the press release. The ubiquity of the Internet as a distribution platform puts the spotlight on the good old-fashioned press release, which has had a place in PR since the industry's beginnings. Almost all technology PR and healthcare PR pros will agree the press release is "old school," yet press releases are still requested by every professional journalist we talk to.
While press releases are still a fundamental PR tactic, their role in what we do is changing. Not to mention the fact that press releases themselves are changing.
My industry brethren over at Shift Communications came up with the infamous "social media press release," which they originally defined as a press release that is formatted so as to be easily digestible by the media. More recently, the definition of a social media press released has morphed and forked, with some saying it's a release that can be easily shared or interacted with. Others describe it as a release that incorporates multimedia.
Now, obviously, press releases are read by a far larger number of audiences than just the press. (Even though they are still called press releases.) Anybody with a web browser can read a release on a company's website. Schwartz's teams talk all the time about writing the press releases differently so as to appeal to the strategic audiences of a given piece of news.
Since press releases are published on the web, they are vital for search engine optimization. News distribution services, such as Business Wire or PR Newswire, assist SEO by placing press release content all over the web. Creating a well-written, optimized release and then distributing it with these services can affect your SEO rankings.
The ongoing discussions about the demise of the press release are driven by the ubiquity of the Internet and the fact that a blog post to a company website can reach anyone. Which brings us back to Google, their propensity to issue news via blog posts, and the increasing number of examples of other entities that are following suit.
Take the White House. White House officials post often to the White House's own blog. The New York Times regularly references White House blog postings in its coverage. White House officials often refer reporters to the blog for additional commentary or more information.
We have been actively incorporating blog content into our clients' programs---and we even manage and write blog content for a number of them. Our client ESET has a very active and well-read blog (content by ESET employees) and a very popular podcast series that is produced by the Schwartz team. Across our clients, we tell reporters, analysts and other influencers to read our clients blogs on an ongoing basis. We often brainstorm material that can augment announcements. The supplemental material makes for good blog content; and we use other promotion channels to refer audiences to it.
Are press releases dead or dying? People like to say so, because press releases have been around for ever. In reality, a press release is just one of the many types of content that are a part of a PR program; likewise, standard press release distribution is just one of the many channels a PR program can use to reach a target audience.
A well-run, organized technology PR or healthcare PR program recognizes the value of press releases, blog content and other content, as well as the various channels that reach target audiences. Such a firm is not overly reliant on press releases, nor overly dismissive of them, but rather understands how PR today involves a variety of methods to connect strategic messaging with strategic audiences.
In the bad days of PR measurement, some PR professionals would try to impress clients (or bosses) with the ‘Thud factor’ how big and heavy a clip book could they drop on a desk. It was all about volume, circulation and hits. But as KD Paine says, HITS stands for “How Idiots Track Success.” This lead some to focus on quantity rather than quality and to some inflated circulation and reach figures that didn't tie back in to core business objectives.
At Schwartz, and at many other firms and organizations, we focus on measuring outcomes and results. Impact and Influence are core. What business impact did our PR programs have?
Yes, we use measures such as share of voice and key message penetration. We look at conversion, change in consumer perception, increase in Web traffic, increase in searches and other metrics. These are elements of good PR measurement that have a tie back to business results. Many of these have a direct correlation.
But now I am seeing the poor measurement of yesterday rearing its ugly head in the social media world of today.
I call it Thud 2.0.
Instead of ‘hits’ the new Thud factor is “How many followers/fans” do you have. The bigger the better. People are flexing their social media muscle and getting out the measuring tape.
Of course, they are measuring the wrong thing.
At the Social Media Club Boston meeting Thursday last night, EMC, Vico Software, IDG and other companies showed us how they are measuring the right thing. Most impressive was Holly Allison. She handles public relations and marketing for Vico Software ( a company that makes software for commercial construction). She was showing how her efforts worked throughout the sales funnel and how they translated directly into sales. Yet she seemed apologetic for having such small followers or visits. She is selling to a much smaller B2B universe. The business results were impressive, so it doesn’t matter how big the bicep is…
The SMC session was an interesting contrast to a talk by Paul Gillin with the Mass Technology Leadership Council the day before. He exposed how many B2B executives with whom he speaks are still just looking at the Thud factor when it comes to social media. (Aside from a few that are showing a direct tie to more effective recruiting).
I plan to be writing much more on measurement in the coming months, but I wanted to start it off with a simple call to action. Resist Thud 2.0.
Make sure your social media efforts are tied to business results. Don’t become obsessed with followers. Look at how engaged they are. Do they click through to your Web site? Respond to tweets? Praise you to others? Purchase products?
The goal of social media for business should not be trying to see if you can be the most popular kid in school.
When I have the opportunity to lead internal training sessions here at Schwartz Communications, every one of them begins with three simple words: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. While it may seem like an obvious message, all too often PR practitioners, marketers and even sales people sometimes lose their way, either forgetting who their audience is or not applying the appropriate thought to go along with what they are presenting and to whom. Ultimately, the end result can lead to not closing the deal...in whatever capacity that means to the person "selling". Even worse, a lasting impression can be made that might prevent you or your organization from having future success with those particular people (and wherever the word of mouth spreads).
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a relatively small IT industry conference -- about 250 attendees. For the most part, attendees of this conference were not your average IT professionals, but rather highly advanced and among the best at what they do. At this event, they gather to hear about what their peers are working on and to share experiences. Now that you have a sense for what the predominant attendee profile is like, I will share one of my experiences from the event that ties back to the importance of knowing your audience.
As with any event or form of communication, you typically need that "eye-catching" component that is going to lure the prospect in and serve as the basis for why they should care about what you are selling. For trade shows or related events, often times the keynote speakers work in this capacity. For this particular event, one of the attention grabbers was a very well known C-level executive from a prominent technology vendor. For an event of this size to land a speaker of this cache' was pretty impressive, or so it would have seemed on the surface.
While it was great for this fledgling event to land a big name for one of the showcased sessions, in my opinion the presentation was not only lackluster in the content itself, but also a complete failure by both the presenter and the show's management in terms of knowing their audience and what value would be derived from the session. The presenter used what appeared to be a "corporate-approved" and tremendously wordy slide deck (aka: "Death by PowerPoint"). What's worse, the presentation consistently came off as an advertisement for the speaker’s employer and how the company is structured. Arguably, *some* of this information was of interest to *some* in attendance, but the overall nature of what was presented was a miss for this particularly adept audience.
Based on the role that this organization plays in the IT space, there certainly could have been a far more appropriate and appealing conversation with this crowd of highly intellectual practitioners. Delivered content aside, it is hard to pin this failure on the speaker alone, as someone of this stature, in an organization of this size, likely had little to do with putting the slide deck together. It is even less likely that the presenter had any sense of the audience that was being presented to.
Despite being a relatively small audience, it is my estimation that the presenters organization failed to capitalize on the unique opportunity that they were given to present at this topically-focused industry conference. By either ignoring or failing to understand the audience, the content shared by the speaker was devoid of any meaningful value and largely amounted in wasted time for not only the attendees looking to be educated, but for the speaker and the speaker’s company itself.
Later in the day, one of the event advisors caught up with me for a chat and asked what I had thought of the aforementioned session. When I began to provide some candid feedback, it quickly became evident that he was not expecting to hear this. When we discussed this further, I got the sense that the audience itself was overlooked and that the event’s management was simply very excited about landing the big name speaker.
I'd be willing to bet that had they started with identifying who the audience was and asking what big name people are out there that could provide value for those paying to be educated, they may have still come up with this particular speaker or an industry executive of similar stature, but would have done so under the condition that the presentation material was designed for those in attendance.
This brings me to another area where I believe the conference organizers failed: they never provided an abstract of what this executive’s discussion would be about in their event session guide handout. I thought this was odd, as all of the other sessions being conducted included an abstract. However, for the headliner speakers, all that was included was a bio, which is arguably the least valuable information that can be provided. After all, the folks that were keynoting were presumably the MOST well known at the event. As an attendee, I would prefer that they give me bios of some of the lesser known folks that conducted some truly amazing sessions, so I can get to know them a bit better. I am sure everyone at the event knew the role that this executive serves in and at which organization. Knowing where the speaker matriculated from is, well, about as valuable as the slide deck that was presented.
While "big" names out there might be considered a drawing card for an event, it is equally important to ensure that the content to be delivered speaks to the audience. My advice to this conferences management for next time is to either better leverage the speakers and have them talk to the audience about issues that matter to them or bring in someone that the actual attendees would consider to be a drawing card. If the event’s audience was different, then perhaps this speaker would have been a draw, but my guess is based on the amount of folks in the room at the time of the presentation (with no other competing sessions going on), it clearly wasn't the case.
Whether you are writing a press release, preparing marketing collateral, participating at an event or putting together any communications vehicle where you are seeking to get a message or point across to someone else to best position your organization's products, people or services, always start by knowing your audience. By beginning with this simple step, you will not only find yourself in a better position to create content that helps address why the audience should care what you have to say, but it will also help you avoid the possibility of doing more harm than good and alienating those that you want to influence in a positive way. In this example, the show organizers and the speaker failed to embrace who the audience was and an opportunity was lost for all parties involved.
Here's a question for social media and corporate PR gurus to ponder. Are bloggers really journalists? The edges of the media have blurred into the blogosphere and now courts are starting to define who is a journalist and who is not. How this all works out makes a difference to marketers who are blogging and then feeding their content to social networks.
The ABA Journal reports that a decision by New Jersey appellate court will help shape that definition. The court ruled Thursday that a blogger was not protected by the state laws that shield journalists from revealing their sources. The blogger, a former Microsoft employee named Shellee Hale, claimed that Too Much Media, a company that supplies software to online pornography sites, had violated state laws protecting consumers against identity theft. Several media companies, including the New Jersey Press Association, NBC Universal Inc. and the New York Times Co., joined with Hales attorney in part of the lawsuit regarding libel, slander and damages.
Last weekend, Gawker employee Jason Chen, who dissected a prototype of the next iPhone purportedly found in a bar, became the poster boy of another tussle over the definition of blogger-journalist. First, Apple's legal beagles politely asked Gawker for the return of their iPhone. Then Jason Chen's house was searched by the police intent on finding the iPhone. Various devices were seized, most of which don't even remotely resemble an iPhone. Now Gawker claims that the search warrant was not valid because Chen is a journalist whose sources are confidential.
So when does a blogger qualify as a journalist? When they reach 1000 page views? 100,000? a million? What about a corporate employee who contributes to the company blog? Corporate marketers have embraced content marketing to drive traffic to their blogs. Are they journalists or marketers or a hybrid of both? I'm betting that Gawker will be in a better position to claim journalist status than a solo blogger or a corporate blogger, but stay tuned. Each of these legal cases will continue to define who is what.
When talking about social media, the truism is that people need to try it for themselves to truly understand it. That much learning comes from trial and error.
Over the weekend, I was reading Dreadnought, by Robert K. Massie. The book focuses on naval developments and politics of the later Victorian Age, leading up to World War I. One of the passages in the book struck a strange (and unexpected) chord with me.
Robert Cecil, Third Marquess of Salisbury (and three times Prime Minister of Great Britain) was one of the key political figures of the time.
He was a quintessential early adopter – having some of the first telephone lines and electric lights in all of England. Yet his approach to child rearing is what struck me.
Lord Salisbury believed in letting his children explore on their own to develop a passion for learning. Most notably he left one of his sons alone for a few days, and (as he wrote) “Having tried all the weapons in the gun-cupboard in succession – some in the riding room and some, he tells me, in his own room – and having failed to blow his fingers off, he has been driven to reading Sydney Smith’s Essays and studying Hogarth’s pictures.”
It’s an amusing, and slightly scary, anecdote to read. Now, to me any gun going off is a warning sign, let alone firearms being discharged in my house. Yet unfortunately, it too well describes the way many companies approach social media. Powerful guns (social media tools) are available to every corporate communications department. They think to truly engage in it you need to let people play with the guns first, and if nothing too bad happens, they can get down to the serious business of learning and fix things for the second attempt.
Schwartz is a strong advocate of everyone being engaged. But instead of seeing if people blow their fingers off, Schwartz is a proponent of rigorous training and guided engagement. Social media needs to be integrated at all levels of a company. Not something less experienced people play with and see what happens, hoping not to blow anything up too much. Experienced, senior level people need to be guiding the discussion and plans. That is how you will get the best results. If your agency or your company does not have senior level resources dedicated to social media engagement, training and strategy, you need to take a step back before any fingers get blown off.
I am not saying anything revolutionary here, but I was just stuck that the same philosophies that were used more than 100 years ago, are unfortunately all too prevalent today when it comes to social media.
Last Friday The New York Times ran an illuminating feature on women in the technology world. "Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley" describes a tech and VC community that's perhaps not been overly welcoming to women. An excerpt:
"Tech communities in Silicon Valley and in other hubs -- like New York, Austin, Tex., and Boston ... -- pride themselves on operating as raw meritocracies ready to embrace anyone with a good idea, regardless of education, age or station in life.
"For women, though, that narrative often unfolds differently."
I'll pause right there and note that I almost didn't read this article because I figured I already knew what it would say. It's not that I think the issue must be avoided or that there is, in fact, no issue at all. It's just that I already know that men are well represented in the tech world and I don't need the Times to confirm it for me. I've long felt that I'm here to do a particular job and if I'm doing it for companies comprised mostly of men, marketing to people who are mostly men, so be it.
For example, I've never been one to attend women's networking events or to seek out interaction with people just because they're women. There's always a group of junior coworkers who I'm paying extra attention to at any given time and trying to help in some way, but I know I've not tried to "mentor" more women than men. Call me naive, but I'd rather not get too caught up in whether the person I'm working with is male or female--there's a finite number of hours in the day and I'd prefer to put my focus on the collaboration at hand.
So I don't think I'm particularly obtuse, but I just didn't feel like reading the Times article on women in high tech. I relented only because I felt I should read it simply to be informed, the same way I should be informed about the Google security breach or IBM's earnings. Here's what struck me:
- 35 percent of database administrators ARE women.
- 22 percent of network administrators ARE women.
- 20 percent of programmers and software engineers ARE women.
Those numbers are dismal, you're thinking. And in the grand scheme of things, they are. But to me they were eye-opening because I've had companies that market products to these people--to DBAs, to network or system administrators, to developers--tell me, literally, that these people are essentially all men. (Of course I know they're not all men. But I'd have believed that the numbers would've been similar to the figure below for women in hardware engineering, for example, at about eight percent.)
Acknowledging that a small but still significant percentage of potential customers are women--discontinuing the practice of assuming the prospects are just about all men--seems like a smart move for marketers of business technology.
So what does this mean in practical terms? My most basic observation is that as they move money from traditional advertising toward more personal interactions via social media and social networks, tech marketers have got to be in a better position to reach potential customers, partners and employees who are women. (Advertising from IT companies, when it exists, features images of guys in suits jumping over stuff, guys in suits shaking hands or stoic-looking guys keeping watch over servers, or it makes something of an attempt to be gender-neutral by showing the product or an abstract image.)
When it comes to PR, I think about tactics like arranging for clients speak to local groups of Java developers, for example, or Oracle database administrators. Those meetings have been successful vehicles for clients to make connections with potential customers. But knowing that people who have children are less likely to attend networking events in the evening than people who don't, and understanding that most women with children who work outside the home don't have stay-at-home husbands, one might assume that evening networking events may not draw as many women as, say, mid-day events.
I wonder whether this shift away from one-to-many toward one-to-one allows tech marketers to start targeting a small but still meaningful percentage of their potential customers in a more thoughtful, and successful, manner.
I attended the Boston Business Journal’s Pacesetter Awards last Friday. It was a very nice breakfast event at the Westin Copley in Boston. The event honored the 50 fastest growing private companies in Massachusetts, ranked by revenue growth. It shows that growth is strong even in the midst of a staggering recession. You can view the entire list here.
The list is determined by survey information gathered and analyzed by the BBJ from private companies throughout the Greater Boston area. Companies are selected on their revenue growth between 2006 and 2009. Revenue had to exceed $1 million as of 2006.
The top 10 companies came from different industries – from Internet marketing, healthcare technology and IT services to environmental engineering and design, anti-static flooring, general contracting and international business services.
The event began with an hour-long panel discussion moderated by Dan Hutchins, Boston Private Company Services Market Leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The panelists were: Wendi Goldsmith, CEO, Bioengineering Group; Steven Hauck, Co-Founder and President, AgencyPort Insurance Services, Inc.; Girish Navani, CEO and Co-Founder, eClinicalWorks; and Mont Phelps, CEO, NWN Corp.
Two themes that kept reappearing in various forms were customers and employees. “Look internally….” “Listen to customers….” “Keep your culture and motivate your people….” “Bring in good, quality people to serve the customers well….” “Hone in on the company….”
Balance was another topic of discussion. Whether it pertained to balancing the kinds of clients a company goes after or balancing one’s own lifestyle, balance seems to be an important part of a company’s success.
Another interesting point to make is that the top 10 aren’t brand new companies. Founding year ranged from 1992 – 2006, and percentage growth (from 2006 – 2009) ranging from more than 100% to more than 400%. This aligns with the customer and employee focus. If your leadership and employees are creative and understand the market and their customers, then a business can stay flexible and survive even in the most difficult times. Easier said than done, sure, but it’s working. They keep their eye on the prize. One of the panelists even said, “Don’t overthink risk.”
A proud moment came at the end of the 50-company countdown, when they announced Schwartz client High Street Partners as the #1 Pacesetter for 2009, with revenue growth at 473.92% to $12.4 million in 2009. Larry Harding, founder and president, accepted the award. He offered thanks to his clients and to his employees, without whom HSP wouldn’t be where it is today. In an interview with Keith Regan, Larry also said that High Street enters 2010 in “full-throttle hiring mode,” with the firm expecting to add significantly to its head count of 60 employees over the course of the year. “In 2010, our focus is on putting our foot on the accelerator and really growing now.”
Schwartz offers its congratulations to High Street Partners and all of the winners, and wishes them the best in 2010 and beyond.
Photo of High Street Partners, from left to right: Scott Aldsworth, Vice President, Business Development; Larry Harding Founder and President; Deborah Millin, Vice President, Client Operations; Christian Snyder, Managing Director, Higher Education
Oracle announced today that it's going to acquire Waltham, Mass.-based Phase Forward. The company makes software that helps pharmaceutical firms manage information associated with clinical trials, and they're Schwartz Communications' immediate neighbor.
Across Route 128 we've got the lovely new Adobe building and Symantec. Up the way, we pass Novell and IBM to get to Autodesk's spiffy outpost. Keep going and smile when we arrive at Oracle, which I swear moved up 128 a few years ago so it could be directly next door to SAP.
Of course the only one of these companies that grew up locally is Phase Forward and now it's being vacuumed up by a Silicon Valley company. Xconomy's Wade Roush notes that this "fits a now-familiar pattern in which Massachusetts high-tech companies grow to the sub-billion-dollar stage, and are then scooped up by West Coast giants with deeper pockets."
When I saw the news, my first reaction wasn't so much "there goes the neighborhood" as "I hope Oracle won't cut jobs at Phase Forward." Job preservation and creation is of course on everyone's mind.
Recently some coworkers and I attended the Mass Technology Leadership Council's annual meeting, where the overriding theme was jobs and, specifically, the organization's goal of supporting the creation of 100,000 IT jobs in Massachusetts over the next 10 years. They note, in a useful presentation that's available here, that IT is the second largest employer in the state with 178,000 workers. What's more, there's a ripple effect and each IT job creates 1.63 "incremental jobs."
At that event, Michael Mandel, editor in chief of Visible Economy and former chief economist for BusinessWeek, talked, in what I found to be a fascinating presentation called "The Road to Optimism," about his belief that communications technologies will lead the next economic boom.
Internet publishing, broadcasting and search; computer systems; and wireless technologies are the areas he sees helping lead the economic recovery. He says it "would be nice to have a boost from the life sciences." (A helpful summary of Mr. Mandel's presentation and his optimism about communications and perhaps biotech is on the Foley Hoag "Emerging Enterprise Center Blog.")
Then there was The Wall Street Journal's piece yesterday, "Tech Sector in Hiring Drive." It doesn't talk about geographic hot spots, but instead highlights things like growth of social media when it comes to IT job creation.
Consulting the job growth barometer nearest to me--the Schwartz HR department--I know the agency is hiring. Perhaps Massachusetts tech companies really are, after a year and a half of a tough economy, gearing up for growth.
My favorite game growing up was LIFE. You spun a wheel to see how many spaces to move your car around a checkered path, making an obligatory stop to get married, before possibly picking up some peg kids. Maybe you’d land on Pay Day and get an extra Share the Wealth Card or you might loose some money gambling on Lucky Day, but you always got something just for playing. Everyone bought a house and everyone retired.
Now Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” may have a new modern day application. As Jesse Schell, a game designer and Carnegie Mellon University professor, predicts a "gamepocalypse” is coming where all of us players will win points for our daily activities. And the game has already begun…
Of course, loyalty based rewards programs aren’t new. Almost daily I earn discounts from my Starbuck’s black and Loehmann’s diamond cards as other consumers rack up credit card and grocery store cash-backs. But Schell envisions a much more saturated game-like life experience in which brands track and reward our consumption everday (he uses the example of daily teeth brushing) and incentivize positive behavior. As he notes, we’re talking about positive behavior from the brand’s perspective (a.ka. frequent use), which may be aligned with consumers’ best interests at Colgate, but what about at Coca-Cola or Camel?
Game developers saw the life-as-a-game future coming in 2008, coining it “funware” but only now are consumer packaged goods (CPGs) marketers starting to be convinced that “the brand can be the game” and much more engaging and interactive than the dying 30-second ad spot. At the MI6 game marketing conference last month game marketers discussed how if “the game makers and the brand experts get together, figure out how to create long-term brand loyalty through engagement, then everybody is going to make a pile of money.”
Why is “funware” gaming attractive to the non-gaming masses? We want to play something we know that we can win. And while we can’t level-up in our marriages or accumulate points for sensitive communication with our teenager, in the gamepocalypse we may be rewarded for the number of miles we ran and cups of frozen yogurt devoured.
As we move toward incentive-based, interactive brand experiences, the role of marketers and PR professionals may just be to ensure consumer’s best interests take center stage and that everyone playing this game of life gets to feel a little more victorious.
Today in advance of its Chirp Conference, stories appeared about how Twitter was going to start offering promoted tweets in 2010. People are commenting - What does this mean? Has Twitter flown the coop? Will fan backlash cause it to soon be singing in the Choir Invisible?
I for one am glad to see at least one way in which Twitter is monetizing its service. Despite what some companies have done, you can only go so far without positive cash flow. What does this mean to the average user?
Probably not that much.
A random, I mean highly targeted, Tweet will be inserted into a user's Twitter stream (not sure what that will do to my multiple TweetDeck stream). Initially they will only appear as a result of Twitter search. Ads/sponsored tweets will be removed if they don’t generate much engagement.
For those that follow a lot of people (like I do), that sponsored tweet may fly right by. For those that follow a few folks (which appears to be the majority of people not in marketing, PR or social media) it might be an unexpected interruption. But people will gloss over it quickly.
Reports have it that only one ad will appear at a time. This may make it difficult for the niche marketers. While I have a passion for personal financial management software, I also love soda and coffee, and expect Starbucks to trump any PFM vendor in terms of volume and response, relegating the PFM ads, I mean sponsored tweets, to much less frequent appearance.
What are some key takeaways for consumer technology, green and B2B marketers and PR professionals.
This is a new and intriguing way to leverage the Twitter channel to drive some short-term engagement and customer response.
Sponsored tweets are not a replacement for authentic, two-way conversations. They may help attract a new audience in a flock, but the audience will not necessarily be loyal, remain engaged or start to follow you. The only way to do that is through interaction and providing value beyond a deal of the day.
The sponsored tweets could be a good complement to existing initiatives and crisis communications campaigns. (I can foresee a day when Toyota uses a sponsored Tweet in the future to spread the word about its response to customer concerns).
This will benefit the brands that have an established Twitter presence. Do not think of this as a solution for building a long-term, loyal, base. You need to reach out to folks to do that, not expect them to reach out to you.
This week I met a young woman who writes a popular blog about dining out in the Boston area. A sophomore at Harvard College, she has built a following for her blog among young foodies, which has generated a second following: PR agencies that represent restaurants.
Like many popular, grassroots bloggers, it seems that she has become a journalist almost by accident. She asked me a simple but important question. “If a PR person invites me to an event for their client,” she said, “Do I have to write something? And if I don’t, will they retaliate somehow?”
“No,” I said, “You don’t have to write anything. You are a journalist. You write only what you care about, what you think is compelling. That’s what journalists do. There is no quid pro quo. You don’t owe PR people anything if you attend their event.”
Typically, I said, when journalists take the time for a briefing or an event, the chances are good they’ll go on to write an article or maybe just a mention on their blog. That’s just being a productive journalist who uses his or her time wisely. And if you never write about their clients, eventually the PR people will stop inviting you to their events.
For me, with more than 20 years of PR experience, this conversation crystallized the shift in reporting created by the social media revolution. Just 10 years ago, the print and broadcast media employed thousands of journalists who graduated from journalism programs fiercely embracing their journalistic integrity. Our jobs as PR people was to bring them stories that were so compelling, so newsworthy, that the reporter would take an interview with our client and write a story.
Now the ranks of journalists are thinning while an army of bloggers has sprung up in their place. Each blogger makes up his or her rules as they go along. If they are lucky enough to become popular, bloggers may start to wonder, as she did, what, if anything, they owe to those friendly PR people who keep offering them story ideas and inviting them to fun events. And another question is even more important: what do bloggers owe to readers who rely on their opinions?
The fact is that independence is the source of a writer’s authority, credibility and power. PR simply mirrors that credibility. Every good PR person prizes the stories about their clients that are written by good, skeptical, independent journalists, whether they write for a popular blog or for The Wall Street Journal. Winning their good opinion is an achievement we value highly, and so do our clients.
So if you are a young blogger, here’s some advice from a PR pro who has arranged interviews with some of the smartest business journalists of our times. Do you owe anything to the PR people who invite you to events or send you interesting pitches? Nope, you do not owe us a thing. Nada. Zip. And that’s just as it should be.
The Pulitzer Prizes were announced this afternoon and, the New York Times reports, "... ProPublica became the first of the new breed of online, non-profit news organizations ..." to win one of the awards. One of ProPublica's reporters won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for a story on what happened in a New Orleans hospital shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The piece ran in the New York Times Magazine and on ProPublica's website.
As communications people, Schwartzers have had a close look over the last several years at some dramatic changes in the world of "traditional" journalism. Even the most established media outlets have been under tremendous financial pressure due to the plunge in ad revenues. From the trades to the biggest of the big business and national outlets, it seems they've all been affected.
Blogs get most of the attention for supplanting traditional media. For some types of stories, blogs do a good or even great job. I've wondered for some time, though, about the type of story for which ProPublica was just recognized--investigative journalism. Specifically, I've worried that it'll no longer be funded by publishers who consider it too expensive. And if they don't do it, who will?
Taking a look at ProPublica, it's clear that it's not someone's hobby--it's run by some very experienced editors who come from "mainstream media" outlets. Still, their business model is different than those of the big publications and the organization has been in existence for just two years.
I'm heartened to see that a group of journalists who stepped out of the world of traditional media have had the same impact you'd expect from a big, prestigious publication, but in a small non-profit. Congratulations to them on their achievement.
My colleague Mark McClennan recently posted Top News Source Surprise, which is a great introduction to what I’d like to talk about – blending what some might call “traditional" PR with social media PR. In other words, don’t abandon traditional PR.
In his post, Mark reported on a survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that revealed the top three news sources:
• 78% of Americans say they get news from a local TV station. • 73% say they get news from a national network such as CBS or cable TV station such as CNN or FoxNews. • 61% say they get some kind of news online.
Take note that the online venue came in 3rd.
The other day a fellow Schwartzer and I remarked at how much PR has changed over the last decade. Gone are the days of sending press releases to reporters by fax. Email was a huge productivity saver, but it now pales in comparison to the number of social media tools and channels we use. There’s no doubt that social media has shifted the way companies gain publicity and raise awareness. But it’s not going to replace what we call “traditional” PR – outreach to influencers at newspapers, trade publications, analyst firms, awards, speaking venues – the core elements and foundation of any PR program.
Sure, there are many newspapers and journals that have moved online, but they're still professional media outlets.
We like when clients ask, “What’s the best way to get my message across?” That gives us the opportunity to find the best strategies given the target audience and goals. While we’re creating that plan, we never forget the importance of traditional media. Where social media comes in is to build the brand at the individual and community level. To create a comprehensive, up-to-date communications strategy, a company must understand how its customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders receive and share information in today’s “always on” world.
It boils down to balance between traditional and new public relations techniques. The use of online conversation with tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging should be combined with, but not replace, the tried-and-true.
One of the main reasons to stick with trade publications and other mainstream outlets is that a majority of most companies' audiences are still reading them. Social media strategies are critical and in many cases can generate mainstream media coverage. But companies breaking through and sustaining media attention using only social media are rare.
Smart companies are capitalizing on social media. Many are blogging, joining online communities and keeping their websites fresh and current. Social media has taken a potentially static material generated by professional media and turned it into something that’s dynamic and the subject of extended conversation.
Oh the pressure of the big show. CES. RSA. NAB. Interop. These are major venues for many tech vendors, including countless clients. The pressure to announce big news - even if the time isn't right - presents problems for many clients. Some struggle with the ethical and business dilemma of announcing products that are still evolving day-to-day with no foreseeable ship date or corresponding revenue.
It begs the question, is pre-launch the equivalent of vaporware, and how do you make the most of the opportunity a trade show provides?
Vaporware defined Wikipedia describes vaporware as “a product, usually software, that has been announced by a developer during or before its development, if there is significant doubt whether the product will actually be released.” The term dates back to the 1980s and there’s even a running list of known vaporware on Wikipedia.
One long-awaited product that evaded the vaporware watch list was CrunchPad, now called the JooJoo tablet, with recent reports in Engadget, PC Magazine and elsewhere that it is finally shipping—just as the iPad is also coming to market. Both JooJoo and iPad were pre-announced long before development was completed and the products were on the road to eager consumers.
Pre-launch without getting burned When clients ask about how to pre-launch visionary technologies at their most important event, the first question we ask is, What are your goals?
If generating reams of news articles is your top priority, you might want to reset expectations or reconsider. With fewer beat reporters going to trade shows, competition for media exposure is steep. Most hard news reporting from the show floor focuses on major industry developments and commentary from industry luminaries.
Don’t mislead a reporter about a new product and damage an important relationship in the process. It’s okay to discuss future technologies but call it what it is – Alpha or even pre-Alpha, a prototype or skunkworks project if it’s unclear whether it will ever come to market. By respecting reporters and not wasting their time if you don’t have anything concrete or truly time-sensitive to discuss at an event, you’ll win in the long run.
On the other hand, if the main goal is showcasing prototypes of next-gen products to engage customers and prospects, and further define your long-term technology roadmap as well as that of an evolving market category, a trade show could be the ideal venue. Industry events provide a captive audience of target customers and enable companies to get feedback from user communities and industry analysts. Customers drive innovation as much as vendors do. A request for major new features, a redesign or companion technology from a major customer can push vendors into rapid development, often without a clear sense of the final outcome and product delivery dates.
Identify goals—Determine what is most important - press coverage, customer engagement or general buzz at the booth – and if a major venue is the best option.
Be clear—When previewing next-gen technology, call it what it is, a prototype or a skunkworks project that is being tested for viability and for general customer and end- user feedback.
Contextualize it—Explain how it fits within the technology roadmap and existing product ecosystem, and the broader story your company is trying to communicate.
Make it tangible—Show a prototype or visual schematic to illustrate the merits of the product under development and what sets it apart; provide initial test results if available.
Don’t lie—Don’t promise to deliver product by a date that’s virtually impossible to meet.
Keep market updated—After the initial announcement, update relevant constituents about the status of the product.
While it might be harder than ever for small companies and start ups to secure news coverage at big events that feature billion dollar global enterprises, it’s not impossible.
One Schwartz client previewed a prototype of new mobile networking software at Macworld. The company exhibited at the show to network with developers who might want to use its SDK to embed the new software into their products. Our client had spent six months on R&D, had a working prototype, and field test results to share with customers and reporters. From all counts it was a success and the client was pleased with the experience, both as exhibitor and from the resulting news coverage.
Help PR succeed If you’ve decided to pre-launch at an event, below are top ways to help your communications team succeed:
Prepare early—Give PR enough time to get ready by educating them on the new development and the impact it will have on the market.
Pre-brief reporters—Share the news before the chaos of the event to increase the odds of getting your product announcement included in show daily reports.
Share data—Reporters like hard data; when possible, incorporate proprietary industry research, preliminary test results to make the product real.
Enlist customer support—Connect reporters with customers who can address the need for the new product. Customers can convert a background meeting into coverage.
With trade show season is in full swing, stress about the big event is palpable for many tech executives and their PR counterparts. But careful prep work and clarity on goals will ensure everyone gets the most out of the event.
Ten years ago today (April 7), iStockphoto launched. The site is one of the world's largest repositories on stock images (6.5 million stock photos).
Possibly no site has done more to help and to hinder corporate presentations. As such I wanted to give them a tip of the cap.
Seriously, iStockphoto (and its competitors) are a great resource for any marketing or public relations professional who has to create PowerPoint presentations, marketing collateral or a Website. They even have a pretty interesting 10 year celebration page (which they obviously spent more time on than many companies celebrating their 10th).
I also wanted to take a minute to share four iStock warnings.
1) Beware iStock overload - Not every slide needs a stock photo. Sometimes a small amount of standalone text on a slide works wonders.
2) "Downloads" is not your friend - The default search for iStock is "Best Match." But in talking to many communications professionals they immediately resort by "Downloads." Why? Sure it can get you an appropriate image that meets your criteria, but it is am image that often hundreds of thousands of people have used (Two hands shaking in front of a globe, anyone?). It gets you an image that has generic appeal, just like vanilla ice cream.
You want to use stock photo to enhance your presentation. Not repeat the same stuff as everyone else and dilute the value the image can bring. Spend the time to find the right photo for you needs. Find the outlier. That is how you can differentiate your presentation from the thousands of others people have sat through.
3) Don't settle - Sometimes even with 6.5 million stock photos you can't find what you need. When that happens, search elsewhere. If it is important enough, commission your own shoot. Powerful images can capture the attention of jaded executives who have suffered through years of PowerPoint Heck.
4) Downloading the photo isn’t the end – Once you have the photo, modify it to fit your needs. Schwartz’s designers have done simple edits of iStock images (changing a color here or there, or editing out a background) to make an image pop.
Stock photos are a boon. But they are the clay from which you can either mold a great presentation or create a river of mud.
Over the past couple of years, I've watched and wondered as many self-appointed social media gurus have worked to convince technology industry executives that they can market on the cheap, if not for free, using social media.
The idea is so appealing. Entrepreneurial companies are working with limited budgets, their marketing people are being asked to quantify ROI pretty quickly, and if the "I" is supposedly nothing and the "R" is greater than zero, they're in good shape, right? And let's be honest--social media is the newest thing and just sounds like more fun than the options.
What's becoming apparent is that using social media effectively requires a fair amount of knowledge about the industry at hand and more than a few minutes a day of time. In other words, the "I" can be substantial. The fact that many of the tools are free is great, but this doesn't obviate the fact that execs' time is, in fact, money and the people they might hire to use the tools charge for their time and expertise. And then there's the critical question of tangible returns and how they stack up versus returns from other marketing or customer support activities.
Late last week blogger Tony Faustino suggested, in "Successful Social Media Marketing Is Neither Free Nor Easy," that small business owners need to understand that there's not likely to be fast pay-off for using social media. Think several years, not a few months, he says. (I'd personally suggest that there's benefit to be had after several months of consistent use, but understand Mr. Faustino's point.)
"Last year, social-media adoption by businesses with fewer than 100 employees doubled to 24% from 12%, says a survey released in January of 2,000 U.S. entrepreneurs from the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business and Network Solutions LLC, a Web-services provider in Herndon, Va.
"Meanwhile, a separate survey of 500 U.S. small-business owners from the same sponsors found that just 22% made a profit last year from promoting their firms on social media, while 53% said they broke even. What's more, 19% said they actually lost money due to their social-media initiatives."
The article offers a few anecdotes of success and frustration. What I'd have liked it to suss out, however, is whether the companies that have met with some success with social media employed some strategy other than "interact with customers." I'd also be interested in learning how the small business owners are balancing social media with other forms of marketing and customer support. I assume social media isn't the only tool they're using.
At Schwartz, we generally advise companies that are starting to use social media that they need to work with it consistently for about six months before really starting to judge what it's doing for them. The next step is figuring out, based on early results, how much time and effort should go to social media compared to other customer outreach and support programs.
I suspect that the self-styled gurus are learning along with entrepreneurs and communicators that social media isn't free, that you can measure returns only if you defined a goal at the outset, and that those returns have to be stacked up against those of other marketing programs.
I recently came across a new survey from the folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. They asked Americans how they get their news. Most get it from multiple channels - no surprise there. The channel results surprised me though.
The top three sources:
78% of Americans say they get news from a local TV station.
73% say they get news from a national network such as CBS or cable TV station such as CNN or FoxNews.
61% say they get some kind of news online.
At Schwartz we are one of the many who understand the sea change of social media. But it is good to take a step back and remind ourselves that just because we may be living on blogs, Twitter and Foursquare; and just because we read about declining broadcast ratings; local and national television news still have great power to inform and educate. Communicators should not ignore these channels.
I joined the Schwartz high-tech PR delegation that attended the Mass Technology Leadership Council's (MTLC) annual meeting yesterday. As a quick piece of background, the MTLC is a major industry group in New England. The group provides networking, education and leadership to the various market sectors that comprise the technology industry in the state. Interestingly enough, current MTLC Executive Director Tom Hopcroft worked at Schwartz Communications earlier in his career.
The clear highlight of the meeting for me was a keynote address given by Michael Mandel, former chief economist at BusinessWeek. He discussed the state of the economy, and job numbers were the primary metric used as part of his analysis. As Mandell explained, job numbers are the best way to evaluate the economy, since the numbers are concrete. "Governments tend to pay very close attention to who is paying unemployment insurance," he explained.
Dr. Mandel's talk sheds light on where we might see-- or be seeing-- an economic recovery. He noted that the industries that recover the quickest after a downturn tend to be the ones that lead the economy in the resulting boom. Right now, he sees job growth in a few different areas: Internet publishing, broadcasting and web search portals (essentially Internet companies); computer system design and programming; and wireless and telecom.
Dr. Mandel's overall verdict? "We're heading toward a communications-driven economic boom."
MTLC Chairman Steve O'Leary, Entrepreneur in Residence at General Catalyst, began the meeting by noting the advantages that Massachusetts brings to business, and he referenced a study by Dr. Robert Krim of the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative, "Shaping the Future from Our Past: Four Amazing Centuries of Innovation."
Of the many points argued by the study is the need for innovators to have proximity to one another in order to grow businesses. The study calls this the "bump effect," literally the result of having innovators "bump" into each other. It's one of the reasons why groups such as the MTLC are so important. [Editor's note: Schwartz Communications is a sponsor of the MTLC Social Media Cluster.]
It is always pleasant to spend a morning with optimistic entrepreneurs. And after attending the MTLC meeting, I am certainly feeling very optimistic.
You can read more about the annual meeting, and see some of the presentations, by visiting the MTLC blog.
When I learned about this week's launch of a new review site for people, Unvarnished, I was reminded of squatters who reserved domain names for popular brands years ago, patiently waiting to cash in when companies paid to take ownership of domain names that some would argue should have naturally been theirs to claim in the first place.
The new website Unvarnished, which is being called the "Yelp for LinkedIn," allows anyone to create a profile and post an anonymous review about whoever they want. This has several implications, the first of which is how easily you could lose control of your own online identity and reputation if you don't put a stake in the ground by creating your own profile on websites like Unvarnished. The second concerns privacy; people who do not wish to have their information and profiles on social networks could then end up with an unsolicited or unwanted online profile -- positive or negative.
While reviews sites are nothing new, at first blush, Unvarnished appears to be more personal and spotlights the growing need for everyone to have their own personal PR plan that enables them to manage their online reputation much in the same way they manage their credit score and protect against identity theft. One company that identified this trend early and got an early start at helping consumers protect their only identity and persona is ReputationDefender. On the topic of Unvarnished, ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik asserted last night on CBS news that "You have to take your online reputation seriously," something not a lot of people do. This notion is supported by a recent Microsoft study examining the hiring habits of HR Managers and the weight they place on job candidate's online activities and profiles.
In addition to an emerging market for tools that help you manage your online presence (including establishing a Google Alerts for your own name - something I would recommend for anyone in professional services ), there is also room for someone, or some company, to start educating people on responsible web posting. I am very curious to watch and see who takes the lead in this advocacy ...