Two SEO experts and a nice crew of PR practitioners gathered at Schwartz MSL last night to discuss the best ways for PR peeps to help clients achieve better results with Google search. The topic is not new, but conventional wisdom has changed dramatically in recent years and months. Here's what we learned last night:
1) Paid search (PPC) is very hard for B2B companies. The two experts, Lora Kratchounova from Scratch Marketing & Media and Ian Klein from inSegment, agreed that paying for placement in Google search results is difficult for B2B companies. It seems as though it's hard to sort out key words that are specific to a B2B audience against the backdrop of those terms appearing in Google searches for other reasons.
2) A company *should* bid for PPC placement on its own name. Apparently, Google offers discounted rates for companies to place PPC bids on their own company names (awfully nice of Google to do that). And even though a given company should have excellent organic SEO for its own name, it's a best practice to secure top paid placement for that company name as well.
3) BIG: For PR people, the little SEO press release tricks no longer matter. My co-worker Mark McClennan publishes an annual report on how PR pros fail to optimize their press releases for SEO. The numbers are stark. Three-quarters of press release headlines are too long, given that Google seems to prioritize terms that appear in about the first 65 characters. Well, as it turns out, the SEO tips and tricks I learned several years back are no longer applicable. Google is smart enough to understand context and to make very good guesses about the quality of writing. In general, PR pros don't need to worry about keyword density, links, etc.
4) What does matter is good writing. As Ian Klein mentioned, if a PR pro writes a solid press release that is clear and includes appropriate links to supporting content, then that pro will be rewarded from an SEO perspective. It's that simple.
I have experienced this fourth rule a few times. Sometimes, when I read an especially good press release or blog post written by one of my teams, I run a keyword density check on that writing. And I find a near perfect density for the keywords the client cares about. In these cases, the writer is merely trying to write something good; they are not paying attention to the SEO "rules."
It would appear that Google has improved its algorithms so that it can serve its users best--the best content is given the best authority. I guess that's the way it really should be.
Lora Kratchounova agreed that good content is key. However, she expanded the concept of content to include other deliverables besides writing. It could be visuals or games, even.
5) Media placements that link to client websites or pages significantly impact SEO. For good old fashioned media relations experts, Ian Klein nailed it. A high-profile placement with a link back to a client's site might take a lot of time and a lot of effort. The SEO benefit from that placement (and link) is equal to the effort that went into the process.
So the big takeaways for PR people affecting SEO? It's about good writing and media placements that refer to my clients.
One of the things to love about MarketingProfs is its focus on B2B social media strategies and B2B content marketing. Certainly there is a lot of hype about how various consumer brands are using social media channels to their benefit. Often those stories are the bane of a B2B marketer's daily life. We get to the office in the morning, greeted by a voice mail imploring us to read a [enter business publication here] article about how [enter worldwide consumer brand here] executed a [enter social media tool here] campaign and saw thousands of customers flood in as a result.
Let's face it, B2B marketers, one of the reasons we work with B2B companies is because just adopting social media is not enough. One must carefully consider the end-user audiences that are the result of a given campaign, what tools and platforms realistically are best to reach that audience, and how to measure a given effort's effectiveness. At the same time, we must also put in place processes to make companies truly social companies, alleviating any fears and demonstrating how the long-term benefit will greatly outweigh the short-term pain (without being specific as to how "long-term" we're talking, here).
MarketingProfs agrees with us. Which is why I was thrilled to attend MarketingProfs SocialTech 2012 event last week in Seattle. Without a doubt, the event featured some of the most forward-thinking B2B social media marketers on the planet. The sessions at SocialTech were great. I heard front-line observations from marketers at SAP, Network Solutions, Boeing and Cisco, and I mingled with dozens of other B2B marketing pros who could speak, on and off the record, about their own successes and challenges.
Now that it has been a week since my return to Boston, I have had a chance to take a deep breath, review my notes, and draw up some observations based on my trip. Here goes:
Practicality is not a sin with B2B social media: I have been to a number of events where the "true" social media marketers in the room are aghast if you bring up older B2B marketing techniques that actually might still have an impact today. Many social media zealots think that these older techniques--which they tag under the ignominious "traditional" category--all became juvenile with the advent of the social platform.
It was refreshing at SocialTech 2012 to hear the role that email marketing still plays within a B2B social media effort. (I believe one speaker even said that email marketing is a *vital* part of a B2B social media effort, noting that it is the beginning of the lead generation process.) I also liked how many people talked about incorporating blog content into their social media programs. As an aside, I am often amused at how many marketers don't even consider blogging to be social media. The earliest "social" campaigns I remember tracked a series of influential blogs and made recommendations on how to engage within those blogs' comments sections.
Measurement today still stops with audience reach: At Schwartz MSL, we press our clients more and more to connect our work with lead generation, since for the most part, that's what B2B companies care about. (I should mention I work only with B2B clients at Schwartz MSL.) Most of the measurement discussion at SocialTech centered on how to measure the reach of a given campaign, stopping short of measuring an audience's action. Most campaigns noted website traffic, Facebook likes and other metrics that outline how well a given campaign is noticed. The bleeding edge here, which was also discussed at the event, is creating content marketing programs that connect a given social media campaign to leads--and even sales. At the next SocialTech, I am going to press to see case studies of campaigns where leads were the measured result.
It's entirely possible that my measurement observation at SocialTech is based on an over-fascination with lead generation as a metric. Admittedly, the lead counts provided by various content marketing and marketing automation platforms will under-represent the true impact of a campaign; for one thing, they cannot account for programs or content that greatly impact leads generated at some point in the future.
Further, despite the role content marketing must play in a B2B marketing effort today, it does not mean that other, older, dare I say traditional ways of generating leads are no longer important. Business cards still exist, and people exchange them at physical events. (Here's where I go back and read the description of my first observation again.)
Finally, social media marketers (including myself) just can't seem to stop our love affair with tools. Each and every session at SocialTech devolved for at least a period of time into a discussion about tools. Tools for scheduling content. Social media platforms. Tools for listening. Pinterest. Tools for Twitter (lots of love for Hootsuite---Is it bad I still use TweetDeck?).
Not that discussing tools is bad, but what often gets lost in the discussion about social media tools and social media measurement is the actual juice that drives interest. That's right---the content. One of the best parts of my entire trip came when Ron Ploof, new media strategist at OC New Media, put us through an exercise on how to create "fascinating" content that is still strategic to our businesses. The reality is so much of the content out there within B2B marketing content campaigns, frankly, is just boring.
Always the teacher's pet, I was happy Ploof applauded the "fascinating" content I brainstormed for Schwartz MSL. I focused on a recent popular question from friends about whether my job really is like the setting of "Mad Men" (it's not), and wondered if I could tell a story about a day in the life of a B2B PR pro from the perspective of the scotch bottle that is on every "Mad Men" executive's office table. Don't worry HR, I don't have scotch in my office. As to whether such fascinating content ever does see the light of day, well, I guess you will just have to keep reading this blog.
An understated fact from this past holiday shopping season was the torrid sales pace of tablet computers, especially iPads and the new Kindle Fire. For anyone watching developments related to content marketing and marketing automation, the news is significant, for these devices are useless unless there is something on them to read.
At least that's one of the findings in this year's "State of the Media Report," which was recently issued by the media tracking and analysis company Vocus. "When people hold a tablet in their hands and seek content to consume, they are willing to pay for it," the report quotes Rebecca Bredholt, managing editor, Magazine Content. The context of the analyses was the iPad's impact on magazines, but the implications of both tablet adoption and the Vocus study reach far wider.
It would seem that humans have an insatiable appetite for consuming media. I would love to see a study on the most prolific iOS apps. Something tells me that beyond apps for searching, the most popular category has to be news (even more so than games). That's because of our innate desire to gather content.
Enter content marketing. No discipline can have a greater impact on both SEO (affecting those search iOS apps) and materials that can be consumed by those tablet devices. Given the value of the content and the insatiable desire by all of us to consume it, consider two other realities: the shrinking universe of professional media and the low-cost of entry for becoming a content producer. The Internet today allows anyone to be a publisher, which means companies have a significant opportunity to fill the void left by shrinking professional journalism staffs.
Companies are hiring journalists to write content for their blogs. Many of Schwartz MSL's clients are signing up for our content marketing services, and we are driving the content creation efforts for them. When done correctly, such efforts aid SEO, increase website traffic, align to other marketing efforts and campaigns, and--when tied to a marketing automation solution such as HubSpot-- ultimately lead to leads and sales.
More fundamentally, the content marketing efforts work because, very simply, people want the content. To radically oversimplify the point, it really is a case of if you write it, they will come.
One banner hangs above my desk at home. Thanks to players like Clinton Portis and Randy Moss, and my deft coaching and motivating skills, I am a fantasy football champion.
My league held its draft last night, and ahead of making my picks, I scoured the news wires for information about players' health. There is nothing more embarrassing than picking a player who blew out his knee the week before. In our league, everyone's nice. Someone typically pipes up and says the player is hurt, but still-- it's embarrassing.
Lo and behold, there was huge news in the NFL fantasy world yesterday involving star running back Arian Foster, the Houston Texans fullback who was being picked first or second in most drafts. Foster tweeted yesterday an MRI image of his hamstring, which had been injured a few days earlier. Foster noted that a "white spot" on the image, the actual injury, was "anti-awesomeness."
He's going to get fined for violating team rules. I am hoping the rule in question relates to a sophisticated social media policy for the Texans. Twitter is firmly embedded in the culture of football, and if used properly, it can help to grow and strengthen a fan base. An appropriate social media policy for NFL players would actually encourage Twitter use, but it would clearly note content that should not be tweeted, while explaining the consequences.
Something tells me the rule Foster violated is less savvy, and is more old school, restricting communication about injuries in general. And something also tells me we won't be seeing many tweets from Foster in the future. And for Texans fans, that's a shame.
Lately, a few outside experts have visited with us here at Schwartz. We love it, because it allows us to test our thoughts about how tech PR and healthcare PR are changing with people "outside the Schwartz firewall." It also allows us to twist the arms of our guests and get them to sit down on camera so we can ask them some questions.
Ann Handley came to Schwartz recently for a couple hours of fun mixed with good discussion about the state of content marketing and how it fits with a company's overall marketing program. Ann recently teamed with C.C. Champan to publish Content Rules, which is a fantastic read and provides an excellent analysis of practical content marketing examples.
Ann sat down with my co-worker, Laura Kempke, to discuss some trends and best practices with regard to content marketing and PR. You can watch below. The Schwartz digital team goes further in an earlier post by poking fun at a particularly "amusing" story related to Ann's visit.
Sam Whitmore's invaluable media survey site is used by PR pros every day for insight into the changing nature of the media universe.
Occasionally, Sam pays a visit to Schwartz to exchange views on what we are seeing from the front lines. This week, during his visit, Sam agreed to sit down in front of our cameras. Per an earlier blog post, I was eager to talk to him about new approaches certain media outlets are incorporating to derive revenue. Most recently, the New York Times has launched its digital subscription services. You can watch the video below.
In college, I got into the habit of reading the physical copy of the New York Times every day. Granted, that was in the mid 1990s, but I still read primarily the print copy of the paper even today. Over the past month, the New York Times has gone through the oft-dreaded process of starting to charge for its electronic version. Sure, you can read X number of articles for free, and any articles you are brought to via a search engine are free, but the bottom line is, the days of free NYTimes.com content are over.
An admired media watcher, Sam Whitmore, is visiting Schwartz next week. Last time he was here, we had a nice discussion about the bifurcated models used by certain publications in an attempt to derive revenue from online content. He noted how many efforts have not worked.
In the case of the New York Times, my reaction to the whole shift has been interesting. For the first time since I was in college, I might actually become a permanent New York Times subscriber.
I have dabbled with the idea for a long time. Subscribing to the print edition, that is. However, often the paper is delivered to my downtown Boston apartment after I have left in the morning. With an electronic subscription, however, the game has changed.
This morning, I signed up for a NYTimes.com subscription for access via my work and home computers and via my iPhone. I don't own an iPad yet, but when I eventually get one, no doubt I will upgrade so that I can also read NYTimes.com content there.
As an aside, a co-worker came to my office this morning and showed me how she accesses morning newspaper content on her Kindle. The advantage of the Kindle is that you don't have to pay for wireless charges like you do on an iPad. Then again, the newspaper content on the Kindle is not as jazzy or colorful as that on the iPad.
Why am I suddenly hooked on the electronic options? The reason is convenience. I often search NYTimes.com content for work, and I like the immediacy of news on my iPhone during the day. I wonder if other avid New York Times fans have had a similar reaction to the electronic options.
And I wonder if the day is coming soon when I will no longer buy the paper in the morning.
Congratulations are in order for Schwartz content marketing partner HubSpot, which a few weeks back closed a significant round of funding, clear validation of the increasing attention paid to content marketing. Schwartz has been working closely with HubSpot, which sells online software that aids inbound marketing and content marketing programs, for about a year.
For several months, we have been incorporating content marketing and inbound marketing into our PR programs, using HubSpot when necessary for certain content marketing tactics. We value optimized, good content. We have implemented closed-loop campaigns that incorporate blogging, social media and outreach to professional journalists and bloggers. We use all appropriate channels to reach our clients' strategic audiences.
We believe strongly that content marketing is key not only to the marketing mixes of our clients, but that it is also crucial to where B2B PR is heading. HubSpot founder and CEO Brian Halligan agrees with us. Schwartz is proud to be an agency that gets it, and we were proud to host Halligan at a content marketing event in December, when he lauded our approach:
If you are interested in getting a marketing message in front of me, here's a quick look at my profile. I am on Facebook. I do use Twitter as well and occasionally will look for something on YouTube. I write as often as I can for this blog as well as my personal blog. I have been in the tech PR business for over 10 years.
What would one surmise from this short little survey? From a B2B perspective, if you are looking to market to a tech PR pro in the Boston area, you probably should develop strategies for social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. And you should evaluate if content I write for a blog has any impact in your lead generation activities. Of course, this assumes that other people in my profession with my length of tenure have the same social media habits that I do.
Unfortunately, there isn't too much research out there on specific social media usage. A recent study by IDG provides some good insight, but it leaves me asking more questions. It would be great to know, for example, if CIOs use Facebook as part of their tech buying decisions. More specifically, it would be great to know if CIOs in a particular market-- say, IT security-- are using the social media tools for this purpose. And those are just some questions I am thinking about today.
Since I get asked (a lot) about appropriate social media usage for B2B marketing, I wrote an eBook outlining some general best practices across all tech markets. Included are some recommendations on social media tools that all B2B tech PR and communication pros should be investigating.
The fact I can't find answers regarding social media usage, in reality, should not be a huge surprise. It's probably due to a couple of things. Even though it's been hyped for a long time, and even though social media programs are a part of every campaign Schwartz's executes for its clients, social media is still a relatively new concept.
However, at the same time, I think many of us marketers can get a bit caught up in the hype. We read about a company that uses Twitter in a major publication and instantly want a Twitter strategy of our own.
In the late fall of 2009, I attended a social media cluster event organized by the Mass Technology Leadership Council (Schwartz is a sponsor of the cluster). I asked the panel how they researched which social media channels their strategic audiences used. The panel universally answered that they didn't conduct research. Social media was a game of trial and error. They tried out a new Twitter handle, or ran a Facebook contest, and if it reached a key audience, they claimed victory.
Fortunately, for those of you out there investigating social media, certain strategies have already proven effective, and you don't need to try them to know they will work. Based on the social media programs we have managed at Schwartz, I offer the guidance in the eBook to the entire B2B tech PR and communications communities. I welcome your feedback.
It is perhaps human nature to be a bit optimistic to start the year. And early headlines to lead off 2011 are fueling that optimism.
Two days into the new year, The Boston Globe pointed optimistically to the start-up community, noting that it has never been easier to launch a new company, because of efficiencies created by cloud computing and other data center advances. Of note is this sentence, which fittingly stood out as its own paragraph: "It’s also possible today to target potential customers online rather than pay traveling sales forces." No doubt that's a clear reference to content marketing and inbound marketing, two services that Schwartz now provides.
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal pointed to large companies across a number of industries as having "cleaned up their balance sheets and, flush with cash, appear open to using it in 2011 on factories, stores and even hiring."
Also yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed higher to start the year, and at one point intraday the market was at its highest point since August of 2008.
It would appear there's a lot of good news to go around as we begin 2011.
One of my very good friends and a former co-worker here at Schwartz, Beth Monaghan, invited me to coffee early last week with Scott Kirsner, a well-respected Boston Globe reporter who covers entrepreneurs and emerging companies in New England.
We intended to discuss the topic of embargoes, which are when a PR person asks a reporter to hold a specific piece of news until a certain date and time. When I first started in tech PR back in the late 90s, an embargo was rarely used, because there was no such thing as an online outlet, and the weekly tech pubs for the most part published on the same day (with the exception of the infamous InternetWeek). Embargoes are a big deal now, and Beth wrote a great post that outlines that part of our discussion.
Beyond embargoes, Beth, Scott and I had a great chat on a few other PR issues that are important to entrepreneurs. We ended up providing nice general PR advice. Here's a partial transcript (thanks to Beth for transcribing):
Beth: There is a huge value in entrepreneurs having relationships with the media. Our job is not to be the relationship with the media, it’s to facilitate it. I don’t have a problem with entrepreneur doing outreach. At the same time, when you’re a small company, you may have the ability to do that because there’s a finite universe of media you’re talking to, but as you grow, scaling to do PR on that level is never going to be feasible.
Ross: My number one piece of advice for entrepreneurs who would like to do their own PR is to remember that the publications that you care about are probably not the publications that your strategic audiences care about…What really excites me about PR now is that there is an ability to have a lot of science and to be specific about the audiences we’re targeting based on the response and results we’re seeing, and to cater to that as we go through the process. A lot of times, that’s the type of science that’s missing when you deal with the emotional side of the equation [CEOs wanting coverage in the outlets they read].
Beyond the advice I provide above, I invite entrepreneurs to call me or any of my co-workers here at Schwartz. I think many of would like to hear how PR is changing---how it's becoming more a part of marketing and how new techniques exist to connect PR to action.
Below is an embedded player so you can listen to the portion of our talk that dealt with PR and entrepreneurs. You should also check out Beth's post. I should point out that Scott, at one point in the conversation, offers some general commentary about the cost of a PR firm, such a Schwartz. I am worried that concerns over cost cause many entrepreneurs to avoid talking to firms; even if it's not in your budget now, we are happy to provide guidance to any entrepreneur at any point in their company's development.
I mentioned to Beth and Scott that our talk was very informative to me and it would be great to make the discussion a "series." I hope to sit down with them again soon. You will see more posts on this from either Beth or me, and the entire recording will also be posted online in the near future.
Schwartz offers content marketing services that increase website traffic, convert traffic to leads, and provide a framework for measuring, in concrete and strategic terms, the effectiveness of our programs.
We believe the best content marketing programs are closely aligned to visibility efforts. We also believe that visibility comes from professional media, bloggers of all shapes and sizes, and social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We try to close the loop in our programs by developing a strategic plan, creating content of all types, earning visibility, and then measuring how we did in terms of website traffic and lead generation.
In December, Schwartz is hosting a breakfast event to discuss content marketing and inbound marketing. We are very excited that two incredibly influential experts on the topic are joining us for the discussion.
--Brian Halligan is chief executive officer of HubSpot, a Schwartz partner and Cambridge software company that provides tools to power content marketing programs.
--Ann Handley is the fuel behind MarketingProfs, an outstanding resource for marketers given the shifting nature of our world.
I strongly believe we're on to something at Schwartz, which is a combination of content marketing, inbound marketing, and visibility programs that define the future of B2B communications.
I hope you will join us December 15 at 8:30 a.m. for our breakfast roundtable event. The location is the Schwartz Communications headquarters at 230 Third Avenue in Waltham, Mass.
The biggest trend words in B2B marketing today are: content marketing, lead nurturing and marketing automation. At Schwartz, we believe that a PR firm has the answers for making those concepts a permanent part of any communications program.
Respected journalist and marketer Bob Scheier agrees with us. While not calling out Schwartz by name, he notes how "forward-looking" PR agencies are using marketing automation software solutions such as Marketo, Eloqua and HubSpot. Schwartz recently announced a partnership with HubSpot.
Schwartz sees our services as having an ever-expanding role in marketing, and we are defining new services that connect visibility and influence to lead generation in a way that is measurable. An article in DemandGen Report that Bob Scheier refers to in his recent post quotes a director at Bulldog Solutions: “Marketers need to be able to identify new prospects, engage them effectively and hand them off seamlessly to sales. And they need to be able to prove that they did it." I could not agree more.
Beyond new services, which Schwartz will be rolling out and marketing more aggressively in the coming weeks, we are investing in skills that align directly to marketing automation roadblocks.
The same DemandGen Report article includes an infographic on the roadblocks themselves. According to an Executive Benchmark Assessment from Frost & Sullivan and Bulldog Solutions, 52-percent of respondents say that a lack of resources is the reason marketing automation has not been maximized. Forty-two percent say they don't have the right processes, and 32-percent claim they lack sufficient content.
Schwartz is investing in programs and processes that will address all three challenges. We understand fully the value of content to a marketing program. As Bob Scheier notes, a PR firm is closer to the strategic content of a given company than most audiences. We advocate for closed-loop programs that take an idea from strategy through impact, with methods for measuring effectiveness, repeating what works.
And our relationship with HubSpot (as well as Schwartz's own use of HubSpot) teaches our teams the tools available today that incorporate science and a measurement framework into the innovative and strategic marketing ideas we surmise; ideas that make full use of the multiple channels (traditional media, bloggers, search engine marketing and social media) available today.
A co-worker last week put it directly, "The stage is set for VMworld." The comment was perhaps a bit hyperbolic, of course, as the approaching VMworld conference certainly did not drown out chatter about Lindsay Lohan on the news channels. Looking at the calendar in the technology PR world, however, there certainly doesn't seem much between now and the annual conference for lovers of all things hypervisor.
Virtualization is a hot topic within the data center. Each week, technology reporters write about the adoption of virtual servers and the related concept of cloud computing. With VMworld merely weeks away, technology PR pros are paying close attention to what those reporters are covering. The theory is that what's written now might provide insight into what will be hot at the conference.
Given Schwartz represents a number of virtualization and cloud computing technology providers, we're watching what's being written collectively. And in the spirit of openness, we're going to share some of what we are seeing on this blog. Along the way, you will get to meet some of the people who are leaders within our data center practice group.
So consider this issue 1 of the "Approach to VMworld." The Schwartz research team has produced a word cloud based on an aggregation of content from the top virtualization and cloud computing bloggers. In future issues, we will talk more about the methodology we used for this research. It's all part of a larger research project into identifying the top bloggers for the data center practice group (watch this space for that research, by the way).
Here's the word cloud the research team produced:
Again, remember the word cloud represents an aggregation of content from leading virtualization and cloud computing blogs. Admittedly, in some cases these exercises are a bit of a Rorschach test.
However, here's what struck me:
-- Management and security are big. Many reporters have written about security and availability as the two major roadblocks for the deployment of cloud computing. Security stands out in what bloggers are writing, and while there's not a direct correlation between management and availability, there's no question that enterprise IT is focused on virtualization management concerns. (I guess it is a bit interesting that "availability" or its derivatives does not show up in this tag cloud.)
-- The word "data" is prominent. Again, I would connect this to the general concerns IT staffs have with data availability, especially when one sees that "data" and "management" are the same size.
-- Pretty nice prevalence of "SaaS," which has for a long time been one definition of cloud computing. Of course, many would argue that the prevalence of that definition is causing confusion over what exactly cloud computing is. SaaS is a service from a cloud, while the purists might more directly relate cloud computing to what is being called PaaS (Platform as a Service) or IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service).
-- In the not so surprising category: "VMware" is easy to see, but where is "Microsoft" or "Citrix"?
In summary, if you are selling security for virtual environments or anything related to desktop virtualization, I hope you are planning to go to VMworld. Even if you are not exhibiting, you should send someone for media and analyst meetings (and I know many experts who can help you arrange those meetings).
Of course, I am always interested in your input. What do you see in the word cloud?
Issue 2 of "The Approach to VMworld" will be published here next week.
Schwartz recently announced a partnership with HubSpot, an inbound marketing software vendor based in Cambridge, Mass. Even ahead of the partnership, many of Schwartz's clients used HubSpot to measure the effectiveness of their websites. HubSpot provides very valuable data, especially for companies that wish to increase traffic to their websites.
Schwartz teams are conducting regular HubSpot evaluations for many of our clients. Among the variety of data points HubSpot can provide, a few are especially important and have a direct impact on SEO. They are outlined below.
- Website Grade HubSpot has created a proprietary method to measure if a website is effective as a marketing instrument. The website grade places a given site in a percentile relative to all other sites on the web. A grade of 73, for example, means that of all the sites HubSpot has graded, the site in question is more effective from a marketing perspective than 73 percent of them.
- Traffic Rank This is a ranking of the amount of traffic to the website versus all other sites on the web. The ranking is provided by Alexa, an online service that measures and monitors website traffic.
- Inbound Links This is how many other pages on the web link to content contained on the evaluated website.
- Google Indexed Pages This is the number of pages within the evaluated website that Google can see.
For marketers who care about SEO, inbound links and Google indexed pages are significant, since they are used by the search engine to determine the authority of a given page and website (Translation: if those metrics improve, a company's ranking within Google improves).
Schwartz has been including these sorts of metrics in the ongoing tracking we perform for our clients. Our programs directly and significantly impact the number of inbound links (based on media relations) and the number of Google indexed pages (as a result of our content marketing programs, which include blog management).
I was standing outside the entrance to the main expo hall at Microsoft TechEd last Monday night when I noticed the board. Staffers at high tech PR companies typically pay close attention to any stimuli at tradeshows-- be it publications, billboards, box trucks, etc. For the most part, activities are standard.
Inserts into tradeshow bags. Decaled sports cars. Free t-shirts.
But what caught my eye on "the board" at TechEd was different. Part of the screen showed a continuous stream of tweets, all with the hashtag #TechEd. Not to lose the chance to help create visibility for my client at the show, ScriptLogic, I pulled out my iPhone and tweeted about the company's activity that night at their booth and included the hashtag. Sure enough it popped up on the big screen.
Suprisingly, Twitter is still a relatively new tool to Microsoft TechEd attendees. That said, all of the IT security clients we represent at Schwartz have some sort of Twitter strategy. For IT security, every second matters. When there is news of an IT security vulnerability or a breach, the industry wants to know yesterday and is hardwired to respond.
The same sense of urgency doesn't exist in other industries. But the board at TechEd showed how Twitter can have other equally impactful uses for community building. In essence, Microsoft TechEd is a yearly gathering for the Microsoft community. The enthusiasm on the tradeshow floor was visceral; these developers and IT opps are passionate about their work and about how Microsoft platforms can help them.
The ongoing Twitter feed on the board showed the attendees how powerful Twitter could be to communicate within a group. It was suddenly common to see attendees posting their observations, including the best evening receptions and I was proud to post ScriptLogic's win for Best of TechEd Award in one category, as well.
Even if a given company's strategy is merely to monitor and engage in a limited fashion, all technology companies need a strategy for Twitter. Across Schwartz's technology PR and cleantech PR programs, Twitter is a key channel to reach a variety of audiences. And our programs evaluate how that channel reaches strategic audiences and develop creative ideas for using the channel.
We are story tellers at Schwartz Communications. For almost 20 years, our teams have translated complicated technical and medical concepts into messaging that resonates with strategic audiences.
Being a good story teller means that at your core you need to be a good writer. This is why, for as long as Schwartz has been in business, every employee candidate takes a writing test, sitting down at a desk specifically reserved for the task.
This test continues to be important today as content has become a core aspect of everything we do for our clients. Every company needs content to attract potential customers, partners and employees, and to establish a corporate image to existing customers, partners and employees.
We certainly have moved beyond just the writing test in terms of what we now look for in potential Schwartz staff members. Our employees now are creating YouTube videos, managing social media content, conducting interviews for podcast episodes and suggesting graphics to augment stories. And we teach them to optimize and promote what they create, so our clients receive SEO impact from our efforts.
While content remains king, the tactics and tools available to PR pros in recent years have expanded dramatically. With social media, the ease of creating digital content, and the changing, flattening nature of how people can find information via Internet-driven tools, PR and communications today have become larger, more influential parts of marketing than at any other time. We are also able to measure our effectiveness in ways that directly relate to our clients’ businesses and their strategic business objectives.
Many of Schwartz’s services are, in fact, transforming marketing, creating a direct connection between PR, marketing, lead generation and marketing measurement. Since Schwartz is a top five technology PR, healthcare PR and green PR firm, we have taken a leadership position in defining this connection for our clients and in offering marketing transformation services.
Today, we extended that leadership by announcing a partnership with HubSpot. HubSpot sells web-based tools that help companies create, optimize and promote content so those companies can easily be found online, tools that help convert those visitors into leads and customers, and tools that track who comes to their websites, which visitors become active leads and close into customers---and a whole host of other information.
In many ways, HubSpot’s inbound marketing platform complements Schwartz’s methodology and services. Many of our engagements have capitalized on HubSpot for some time. Schwartz teams use HubSpot to help create and promote optimized strategic content for clients. The analytical tools within HubSpot allow us to see directly how the content Schwartz creates and promotes generates leads and fills the top of the marketing lead funnel. By seeing how many leads the traffic generates, we can repeat tactics that generate significant results.
Inbound marketing and HubSpot software are not new to us, and we certainly are not talking about them for the first time based on today’s partnership announcement. But today’s news exemplifies how PR and communications can have an even closer relationship to marketing and sales---not to mention how PR for innovative companies has changed dramatically in recent years.
Schwartz has maintained its leadership position as a PR firm for innovative companies because it has stayed ahead of the curve in offering services that define how PR is changing. You can expect so see many posts about the topic in the weeks and months ahead.
In HubSpot, we have a partner providing solutions that contribute directly to how PR has changed and how we deliver services to our clients here at Schwartz.
At Schwartz we believe that the modern PR firm should be content-driven, strategic and able to measure its effectiveness. My co-worker Laura Kempke has authored a white paper that goes into more detail, and I invite you to download it. We are constantly evaluating products and services that can be managed by our clients’ account teams and can seamlessly enhance our clients programs. Over the past several months, we have added new measurement, lead-tracking and content marketing programs that are powered by HubSpot. Our clients and their Schwartz teams see the clear benefits of these marketing transformational approaches.
At the same time, we recognize that the HubSpot partnership is based on the premise that, at Schwartz, we are fundamentally still story tellers. What excites us are the new possibilities for telling those stories, identifying and connecting to strategic audiences, and measuring our work. We’re excited by the ways that PR, communications and marketing are all changing, and feel this partnership with HubSpot is a good indication of this transformation.
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.
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.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of participating on a webcast panel with two other social media experts, Paul Gillin, the journalist, former IDG Editor and social media maven, and Amy Black, senior marketing communications manger at Kadient.
The webcast idea came from a conversation I had with fellow Schwartz employees in September 2009, when I lamented that numerous discussions with my clients about the role of social media in their PR programs had left me dismayed. Not because the clients didn't want social media in their programs; indeed, they understood our counsel---social media must be a part of any marketing and PR campaign when the people clients are trying to reach are online. It certainly is a part of the PR strategies that we create here at Schwartz.
The problem is the hype around social media had created unrealistic expectations. Many expect it's kind of like flipping on the light switch. Create some YouTube videos, and witness the viral boom. Start a blog, and hopefully your web servers can handle the resulting increase in traffic.
I thought discussing a few common social media myths would be a refreshing way to investigate the proper role of social media within PR programs. Wednesday's webinar is available on the PR Week website; Schwartz teamed up with PR Week to help promote the discussion.
The webinar was a panel, and any panel is only as good as its participants. Paul Gillin and Amy Black were fantastic. Hopefully you will have a chance to watch the webinar; also, Schwartz released a white paper that discusses the myths exposed during the panel discussion. You can download the white paper right from the Schwartz website.
At the same time, what's great about participating in a social media webinar is witnessing the reaction to the webinar---on social media. Searching for the hashtag #prwwebcast shows the discussion that ensued mainly while the webinar was in progress. Some interesting takeaways from the Twitter "gallery":
-- Content may be king, but interaction defines social media. @datingdad tweets that "without conversation, [content creation] is just broadcasting." It's a very important point. We talked on the webinar about the need to create content, given the reducing numbers of professional journalists. However, creating the content is one thing, getting it to the audiences that matter to a given company is equally as important.
-- Social media is a marathon. @sarahweddle notes how there are "no overnight successes." Just like many other marketing functions, repetition and ongoing programs are the key to long-term success from a social media program. Amy Black also described on the webinar how a social media campaign can create content that fuels many other programs. A YouTube video she created includes a song that is now the hold music for Amy's corporate phone system.
-- Mapping a company's level of social media involvement to their corporate culture. Paul Gillin noted how many companies have numerous internal resources capable of creating content for social media. @sarahweddle says that "companies have to decide how social they want to be." At Schwartz, we begin our engagements by mapping the level of social media involvement to a company's culture and the industry they are in. It's quite effective. @sarahweddle continues in her tweet "...but there should always be some level of involvement."
Special thanks to Paul and Amy for agreeing to participate in the webinar.
The Butterball Turkey hot line scene from "The West Wing" is one of my all-time favorites.
Talk about a promotion homerun. The President of the United States (albeit fictional) is calling your hotline.
I always thought that the Butterball Turkey hot line was a phenomenal marketing idea. Certainly Butterball is providing a service, but no doubt the return Butterball has received from a branding perspective far outweighs the cost.
I wondered, has Butterball expanded the Turkey hot line concept onto the Web?
With a few clicks, I found a special Turkey Talk-Line(R) website and a unique hotline email address. I also noticed that Butterball provides biographies on each of their hotline experts. That's a nice touch. The hot line seeks to make the Butterball brand more human, and putting faces and bios on the website only accentuates this quality. I do wonder, however, if the hotline experts actually wear their blue aprons when they stand at the ready to answer phones.
I was initially disappointed not to find a special Butterball Talk-Line Twitter account. Butterball has an account, but not the Talk-Line. On reflection, though, Twitter might not be the best channel for fielding Turkey cooking questions. Why would you go to Twitter if you can pick up the phone or write an email?
I also noticed that the Talk-Line does have a mobile strategy. You can text the word "Turkey" to 36888 and get weekly Turkey cooking tips. They even say on the site that there's a maximum of three text messages per week during the peak turkey-cooking period of the year, in case one is worried about their phones buzzing too many times.
Overall, and not surprisingly, Butterball has nicely enhanced its Talk-Line service with the web and emerging social media channels. Would today's "West Wing" episode have the President firing off an email instead of picking up the phone? While I love the option, the original West Wing scene is just too funny to change.
From all of us at Schwartz, we wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!
Xconomy.com, the online publication covering the innovation economy, is hosting a cloud computing forum on Thursday, December 10. Called "Cloud Cubed: Cloud Computing Goes Exponential," the event is at the Microsoft New England R&D Center at 1 Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For full disclosure, Schwartz Communications is an underwriter of the event, and with good reason. Schwartz has helped to raise the profiles of several of the most successful business software and data center software companies.
As a preview to December's event, I made a phone call to Wade Roush, chief correspondent at Xconomy.com. We chatted about the cloud computing "phenomenon" and the strong line up of speakers at the forum. A partial transcript is below, and you can listen to the entire interview by using the audio widget at the very end of this post.
Ross: Wade, I don’t know, obviously through your history in journalism you’ve seen a lot of phenomena in technology. Have you ever seen a phenomenon like cloud computing that has attracted so much attention over the last several months, you know at the same time it seems like no one really knows exactly what it is?
Wade: It is a lot like these other waves of jargon that periodically crash over the IT world, definitely. I mean I think it’s a legitimate question for people to say “Hey wait a minute, is there anything really new here or is this just sort of the latest version of what people were calling, you know ASP, Application Service Providers, in the past.” There have been other words around this idea of outsourcing your computing power and your computing needs to off premises equipment. You know the idea of having somebody else pay for or buy the actual equipment that you need and the storage that you need, rather than having to invest in those things yourself has been around throughout this whole decade. I think the term cloud computing is one that only kind of came together maybe two years ago, 2 and a half years ago, so I think it’s legitimate to ask how real it is and how much hype there is to it and how much substance there is to it. But when you get a bunch of people together all in the same room talking about it the way we’re going to doing in December and they all agree there’s something to this, that it’s more than just hype, that the term actually has some real meaning to it and cloud computing most importantly is really different in some ways from everything that’s gone before. You know I think that’s a sign that people really do need to pay attention and entrepreneurs need to know what cloud computing is really about in order to stay competitive and take advantage of the great capabilities that it does offer.
Ross: What I really like about cloud computing is it’s really a kind of level-headed or common sense approach to IT. What I mean by that is really it is fundamentally about doing more with what you have, maximizing IT resources. The concept is based, to some extent, on virtualization. Do we see this as an approach that is catching on a lot of extent because people are constantly looking to do more with less? Is that a fair assessment?
Wade: Absolutely, obviously in this economy to use those famous words “in this economy” everyone’s looking for ways to reduce their capital expenditures and get more work done with less and virtualization is wonderful because it lets you make full use of the hardware you did invest in rather than buying one server to run one program all day long. You know you’re actually soaking up the excess processing capacity by loading many different programs that might even be running on different operating systems onto the same server. Or you’re yoking servers together so they can act in concert. You really are using your resources to the fullest extent and cloud computing centers, where the actual processing is happening are definitely heavily virtualized, so that’s where the technology comes together with cloud computing.
But what I think what’s great about the cloud is that its not just making better use of you local resources, it’s really about being able to get jobs done without having any local resources at all. You really can off load, depending on what kind of business you’re running, you can off load practically everything you do, to Google or Amazon Web services or one of these other providers. And there are going to be panelists attending the Cubed event, talking about how they do exactly that. One that comes to mind is Pixily, for example, a local company that is in the business of digitizing people’s paper documents and putting them online so that you can basically get all of your tax records, or all of your receipts or all of your medical records together in one place online and throw away the paper versions so that you don’t have to have files and folders and boxes full of stuff anymore. And the only part they do locally is scanning the documents. Everything else happens on the cloud and as such they were able to scale up without having to buy a single space of big iron, which is just amazing if you think about it.
Ross: Right, let’s talk a little bit more about the actual panel itself because I know you were instrumental just in terms of the areas that you cover for Xconomy for identifying a lot of the panelists that comprise the event itself. It looks like there’s a nice mixture of the venture capital community in terms of folks that are monitoring some of the trends as well as some of the cloud services themselves, and also some other technologies that are important for cloud computing to happen in the right way. Maybe just walk us through some of the headliners that are at the event.
Wade: Sure, absolutely. So one of the cool things about, just to brag a little bit about Xconomy in the way that we do business. We are both a media company and an events company and the two things turned out to be very synergistic. As a personal side, I’m one of these people who loves to just report and write and be just heads down, and when I joined Xconomy I was a little bit skeptical about this hybrid model where we do events and write stories was really going to work, but it turns out that the two things are extremely complementary because the stories I’ve been writing about cloud computing or whatever the subject may be, are the stories that bring me in contact with some of the smartest people around town, and then I’m able to reach out and invite those same people to our events.
Every time we have an event I meet more people who I eventually end up writing about. So it’s a virtuous circle here and we are going to be featuring quite a few people at the Cloud Cubed event who have already turned up in the pages of Xconomy in one way or another, so there are folks from the sort of startup end of things, people who are building companies that either provide some variety of cloud service or cloud add-on or companies that are making use of the Web, sorry you said the cloud, like Pixily for the infrastructure of their business. And we’ve got people who represent the really big enterprise end of things. We’ve got companies like Akamai and Microsoft, and of course, given the strength of the Boston area and venture technology investing, we’ve definitely have some folks from that world as well and other parts of the ecosystem so its going to be a great day; a lot of different types of people on one hand debating what the cloud really is. And most importantly what are sort of the nuts and bolts, what’s the situation right now in this day and age with the options available to entrepreneurs who are thinking about how to get on the cloud, what market niches are open to entrepreneurs who are thinking about new cloud services.
Ross: This certainly should make for a great event. Wade Roush, the chief correspondent at Xconomy.com, thanks so much for joining us today.
Wade: My pleasure Ross, thanks so much.
Ross: And the event is called "Cloud Cubed: Cloud Computing Goes Exponential." It’s being hosted and managed by Xconomy.com and it will be at the Microsoft New England R&D Center, 1 Memorial Drive, in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Thursday, December 10 starting at 8:30 in the morning and running till just after noon, 12:30. Thank you all for joining.
To listen to the audio interview, use the widget below:
Let me start out by saying there's no question that social media has a place in technology PR and any company should look to their tech PR agency for social media expertise. We advise all of our clients about social media. Depending on the audience they are trying to reach and the message they would like to promote, we incorporate appropriate social media tactics into our efforts.
A side project I have been working on is to determine how social media PR can stand on its own---What results can one expect from purely social media tactics?
One premise I can investigate fairly easily---but that is not immediately apparent in conversations I have with colleagues---is that social media is driven in a major way by coverage that is written by professional journalists. Consider the launch of Microsoft Windows 7. Not sure what day Microsoft actually made the announcement? One way to find out is to evaluate social media coverage of Microsoft over the past month.
I created the chart below using Radian6, a social media monitoring tool that Schwartz is now using quite regularly. The red line charts, on an ongoing basis, social media coverage of "Microsoft" and "7." Can you guess, based on this chart, when Microsoft issued the press release announcing Windows 7, and saw the corresponding wave of coverage about the new O/S?
The blue line represents social media coverage that included a link, meaning the coverage was inspired by something else that was written. I am making a big assumption that most of those links refer to media coverage. Don't worry, my research is just starting, and I plan to investigate this more thoroughly.
A few things strike me about this graph. The social media coverage that refers to something (presumably coverage by professional journalists) tracks nearly identical to the overall social media coverage for Microsoft. This would suggest a direct link between coverage by journalists and social media placements. Also, you will notice that there was no uptick in social media activity after the Windows 7 launch. Social media coverage continued to track to coverage by journalists. And, in fact, you will see that social media activity has recently significantly tailed off.
If social media is an animal to itself, why didn't social media coverage continue to rise after the news came out? Where's the viral effect?
Again, there's no question social media is important to tech PR. There are campaigns Schwartz has led where social media proved highly effective in creating visibility while contacting journalists proved futile. It depends on what a company is trying to promote and the audience they are trying to reach. At the same time, the process of contacting reporters and getting them to cover news is a fundamental element to any social media program.
Xconomy is hosting a forum this Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the state of the pharmaceuticals industry. Ahead of the event, I interviewed Luke Timmerman, national biotechnology editor at Xconomy. You can listen to the entire interview by scrolling to the bottom of this post and clicking on the embedded player. A partial transcript is below.
Full disclosure: Since Schwartz Communications has a track record in pharma pr, the Agency is an underwriter for the event. If you are planning to go, we look forward to seeing you there.
The event is scheduled for Wednesday, November 4, 2009 from 2:00 till 6:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Mass.
Ross: There’s a little bit of a synopsis on the Xconomy.com website about this event next week. What is the current state, in your estimation, of the big pharma industry in the United States?
Luke: Well the big story for big pharma for a number of years has been this patent cliff that their facing over the next few years. The latest estimate that I’ve seen is that something like $137 billion worth of drug revenue is going to be subject to generic competition. So that’s a big segment of the industry that’s going to go away, and so they need to come up with new drugs to fill up their pipeline. And the big companies through various mega mergers have had a hard time doing that and so they’ve been looking to do more partnerships, more venture investing, forming all kinds of relationships with smaller biotech companies that have a lot of innovative things that might be able to light a spark in their pipeline.
Ross: In terms of regions of the country, I know that you’re based on the west coast, but Boston has always been an area that has fostered a lot of innovation within the pharma industry. Is that a fair assessment?
Luke: Oh, absolutely. It’s got the kind of core academic strength with all the great institutions there: Harvard, MIT, MGH, etc. And a lot of the big pharma companies for probably the last 10 years have been setting up research centers in the Boston area to put their own scientists close to a lot of that academic activity, hoping that some of it might rub off, you know when they attend seminars and events. But we’re seeing even more, we’re seeing new trends actually, in terms of increased activity with pharma companies investing in biotech and doing more partnerships with a lot of the biotech companies that are there in Boston as well.
Ross: I know that you’re going to be actually in Cambridge, Massachusetts (right next to Boston) next week for this forum. As an attendee coming to the forum, what would be kind of your expectation of a good question to ask of the panelists? What do you expect to see next week at this forum?
Luke: I think people will want to know about what technologies actually can improve the success rate in drug development. This is one of the big problems, even despite all of the information that we have from the genome and various technologies that you read about. The fact remains that about only one out of every 10 drugs that enters clinical trials ever makes it all the way trough FDA approval. And a lot of effort is going into determining which patients are more likely to respond to certain therapies. So I think that a lot of people want to know what can pharma do to really increase its success rate in development, which in turn ought to bring down the cost of development and make them just a lot more efficient.
Ross: You know one of the things that I love about these events, you know I was at the XSITE event that happened back in June at Boston University, is the fact that there’s so much optimism at these events and certainly while there’s been a lot of talk about big pharma and it's going to lose a lot sales to generic drugs and generic pharmaceuticals. Certainly one of the themes to take away form this event, without question, is optimism in the market and innovation that is still happening.
Luke: Yeah, absolutely. If you just look at the quarterly earnings reports or the venture financing statistics, the overall trends aren’t that great, we are in a recession after all. But it doesn’t really change the fact that a lot of innovative, exciting things are still happening in the labs and coming out of them with commercial potential and we see that all the time. Companies like Aileron, a couple others that are going to present here are AVEO Pharmaceuticals and Enlight Biosciences, Hydra Biosciences. Hydra has a portfolio of drugs for pain that are supposed to have the power of morphine but without the narcotic side effects. So there’s just a lot of exciting ideas like that in the Boston area and we’re excited to be able to showcase them.
Ross: It should turn out to be a pretty good event. Well, Luke Timmerman, national Bio Technology editor at Xconomy thanks so much for joining us today and giving me a review of the industry and what to expect next week.
Luke: Great, Thanks a lot Ross, looking forward to it.
Ross: It’s the Xconomy forum, Pharma’s bet on Boston innovation. It’s scheduled for Wednesday November 4, 2009 from 2:00 till 6:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I have had a couple of interesting conversations lately about the word "start-up."
When I first started in Boston high-tech PR at Schwartz, every company I worked with wanted to be a start-up. There was a romantic allure to being two guys in a garage (in fact I once helped a company with a name that was an acronym for "Guys in a Garage"). It represented an innovative spirit related to cultivating an idea and getting it to market.
The dot-com collapse in the late 1990's spoiled the idea of being a start-up. Suddenly the conventional wisdom made a start-up a risky bet. Many clients opted to be called "growing" or "emerging," rather than a start-up. There was just too much negative connotation around the concept.
Based on recent conversations I have had, however, there is building momentum for a re-emergence of the "start-up." Given the attention to new innovations, the entire entrepreneurial community is pointing to the start-up culture as a good thing. This is especially true within the clean tech market, and also within new data center technologies that focus on efficiencies.
I noticed more start-ups-- young and growing companies-- on the trade show floor at VMworld last week.
What has been clear to me from my years in PR and marketing is that there is always room for new ideas that lead to good companies. Whether you call yourself a start-up or something else, in reality, probably is not the point.
While President Obama doesn't like the term, last night's meeting feet from the Oval Office was aptly called "the beer summit."
Just like the Academy Awards ceremony spotlights who's wearing what, the sit-down for the President with Cambridge (Mass.) Police Sargent James Crowley, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, and late-addition Vice President Joe Biden highlighted who was drinking what.
I mean no disrespect at all to the seriousness of the topics that were discussed at the meeting, but there were certainly PR ramifications from the event, given how high-profile it was. The brews chosen by each person are highlights in the news coverage.
For the record, here was the beer menu:
President Obama: Bud Light
Vice President Biden: Buckler Beer
Sgt. Crowley: Blue Moon
Professor Gates: Sam Adams Light
I already had one friend respond to a Tweet I posted this morning on the topic, joking that he would not have voted for a Bud Light drinker had he known the President's preference in November.
The PR winner following the meeting? My guess is millions of people are doing what I did this morning-- They are searching online for "Buckler Beer."
The third result to a Google search for the variety brings back an epinions link that reads: "Buckler is Perhaps the Best NA (Non-Alcoholic) Beer On the Market."
No doubt numerous weekend beer drinkers this weekend will ask for the Vice President's choice.
As a side note, I am curious if the White House actually has Sam Adams Light as part of its regular selection. The choice is hard to find. They do serve it in the Boston area, where I live.
Maybe we will soon hear what type of pretzels were served?
Schwartz Communications recently sponsored XSITE 2009, which was held last week at Boston University. As an employee at a Boston PR firm and a BU grad, it was great to see a New England-based event focused so squarely on innovation.
Of interest, the show gave equal time to healthcare, cleantech and tech developments within the region. Presenters came from pharmatech, wind and solar energy companies, cloud computing and other technology start-ups, and from the venture capital community.
From my perspective, it was notable that many of the more promising areas are in markets where the United States government is investing. An IBM executive in attendance noted that he's spent almost all of his time over the past few weeks working on proposals for money from the government's stimulus package. Another cleantech executive proclaimed that unless stimulus-related money was approved, her company might no longer be based in the U.S. Given the realities of the venture capital community, the government's money is vital to the emerging growth economy.
One of the most entertaining parts of the day was a keynote address from the well-known inventor Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development Corporation. Kamen delivered a strong message about how innovation is not fostered within our young. His project US First strives to cultivate excitement in technology within young individuals.
Kamen is clever in relating his competition to athletics. To quote Coach Winters in the early 90s movie "The Program": "Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a ... chemistry experiment?" Kamen challenges that notion. And in recent years he's filled the Georgia Dome for his competitions.
Optimism filled the room. It's somewhat of a cliche around Boston that the enthusiasm found in the steady stream of ideas ultimately propels the region in times of economic uncertainty. The cliche was a reality during XSITE 2009. And it was great to experience it.
Fast Company Founding Editor Bill Taylor is among the exceptional list of presenters and moderators at next week's XSITE 2009 event, which is being held June 24, 2009, at Boston University's School of Management. Schwartz Communications is sponsoring the event, which will focus on innovation happening in New England.
As a preview to XSITE 2009, I interviewed Mr. Taylor to get his thoughts on the local economy and the spirit of innovation in the region. He's a great interview subject, which is not surprising given his many years covering growing companies. Mr. Taylor is also the co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.
A partial transcript of the interview is below. You can listen to the entire conversation by using the widget imbedded after the transcription. And if you really like the interview, you should listen to other Schwartz podcast recordings, and you can subscribe to Schwartz's ongoing podcast series.
Ross Levanto: Bill, we’ve been talking in the month of June about the concept of innovation, and in some ways we’re calling this an innovation month. I think it’s kind of interesting that we do this in New England, which has been a pretty good setting throughout the years for innovation, and this continues to be so even during the current economic slump, would you agree with that?
Bill Taylor: Oh, absolutely! What is really important now is less macroeconomic indicators and the innovators' mindset, and for me, we heard a lot about it during the campaign, the mantra of the moment right now is this quip by the great Stanford economist Paul Romer, who famously said, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Basically, we’re all struggling right now to make sense of the economic crisis, to learn lessons that will guide us as we go forward. One of my big worries in general, although I think it’s one of the strong suits of the New England economy, is that there are a lot of people out there learning the wrong lessons. They’re becoming more conservative, more risk averse, they’re choosing to resist innovation rather than embrace it; to me that is a huge mistake. It’s a huge opportunity for innovators, because, as the business environment get’s tougher, meaner, more unforgiving, customers are going to become more selective about who they do business with.
So now more than ever, start ups or companies of any size have to offer a positive alternative to a demoralizing status quo. I think in some sense in terms of the natural optimism and raw animal spirits of innovators, as tough as it is in the big picture, if you can project a presence to the world both in terms of the substance of what you’re doing and the spirit of what you’re doing, this can be a good time to start something new or widen the gap between you and the competition.
Ross Levanto: You know, one thing that we hear a lot about, and certainly I’ve heard a lot about, in my years in this business, and I’m sure you hear it much more often than I do, to the point of it being almost cliché, is the concept of the entrepreneur spirit, and you alluded to it in your answer there; the fact that entrepreneurs certainly are very optimistic about the future, no matter the mountains that face them. The questions for you though, in terms of what you see, in terms of the broader New England economy, are there any bright spots that you’re spotting or watching in terms of the broader economy?
Bill Taylor: Well, I’m not sure in terms of technology sectors, I could do a better job than anyone else in terms of saying, “hey, it’s bioinformatics over here, or new materials over there.” What I do think is the virtue of the New England economy, we sometimes think of it as a weakness, but ultimately is a virtue, is that there is a blend here of both timeless tradition and long standing excellence and that’s the legacy of Harvard, MIT, BU, and all these institutions, with also the start-up entrepreneurial spirit. I think we’ve all as entrepreneurs and as a business culture, gotten tired of the boom and bust cycles that seem to have driven the economy over the last 20 years.
You know, when we had the internet crash back in 2000, there was that funny bumper sticker on the cars driving around Silicon Valley, “Please God, just one more bubble.” Well, I think we’re all kind of tired of sitting around waiting for one more bubble and to some degree being able to blend, and I think New England is a little bit unique in this, being able to blend absolute start-up and innovation fervor with being literally the oldest part of America. In the sense of history and the long time frame, as a business culture I think that may in fact serve us well. We sometimes beat ourselves up, why aren’t we as about hip and crazy and wild Silicon Valley? Maybe this new sensibility, blending the best of the long term with the start-up fervor is the right way to go.
I’m hoping the unique New England entrepreneurial culture will serve us well going forward.
Listen to the entire interview by using this widget:
With all the headlines saying negative things about the economy, sometimes we forget that innovation is still happening. Schwartz is sponsoring XSITE 2009, an event planned for late June at Boston University.
I interviewed Bob Buderi, editor and founder of Xconomy.com, an online publication that is organizing XSITE 2009. I have posted excerpts from the interview below, and you can listen to the entire interview by using the embedded audio feed at the end of this post.
Ross Levanto: Bob, you know, a lot of folks who have been in the industry for a while, including myself, we look to some of the local organizations including Xconomy.com as kind of like a bright spot, especially given the economic uncertainty and the economic downturn that we’re all kind of struggling through. What do you see, just explain to me a little bit about, what you see just in terms of the role of this event, is it really to serve as kind of this spot of optimism given the economic uncertainty?
Bob Buderi: Absolutely, I mean a spot of optimism and basically to say, you know, people are already working on issues that will bring us out of this mess we’re in. They’re going to make our health better, our, you know, access to information better, our energy use better, all kinds of aspects of our lives and our businesses are going to be improving based on innovations that we want to bring, so we’ve just lined up an incredible array of speakers and companies who are going to come talk about all these sectors. Some of them hidden, relatively hidden, and unknown here in Massachusetts that are driving growth in the economy or that will drive growth.
Ross Levanto: And also giving a chance for some startups that at this point have been in stealth mode to actually launch themselves.
Bob Buderi: We’re going to have a few stealth companies that unveil themselves, and I think we’re going to have a few other surprises or announcements that are made, companies will take the occasion of the event to make about exciting knew things that they’re doing. And of course, kicking it all off, because this is in partnership with Boston University. BU’s president Bob Brown will be delivering the welcome address too.
Ross Levanto: You know, something interesting that we’re doing with those attendees that are signing up by visiting xsite2009.com, we’re asking them their thoughts about the local economy. There was a study that came out last week from the New England Economic Partnership that talked about the fact that it’s quite possible the recession here in Massachusetts is going to outlast the national recession. It certainly brings up thoughts from a lot of folks. Given your editorial role, Bob, from an Xconomy.com perspective, what are your thoughts in general on the Massachusetts economy and ways that we already are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?
Bob Buderi: I don’t have a good sense of comparing it to the recession across the United States. I would be surprised if we lagged the United States. I would be unsuprised if we came out in advance of it. We all felt the tremendous depth of this recession and swiftness with which it fell upon us. I think the pace of innovation is faster now than ever, and I think the recovery will also be faster. I don’t think we’re going to go to full blown dot-com bubble kind of mode or anything like that.
Ross Levanto: It’s probably of a good thing.
Bob Buderi: Yeah, but I think we’re going to see certainly in the next nine months to a year the real fruits of what’s going on and what’s been going on for the last several years and what’s going on now at an accelerated pace with all these companies, to help us recover.
From the embedded application below, you can listen to the entire interview:
Not sure if I am supposed to give props to a competing agency on this space, but the Social Media Press Release (SMPR) invented by Shift Communications a few years back was a novel idea.
Today, the SMPR means different things to different people:
-- Originally, an SMPR meant content organized online so that it is easily digested by the media. Features are presented in bullets; it's easy to click from content to supporting quotes; and graphics and other content are easy to find to support a story.
-- Some services today describe an SMPR as a press release that is formatted and presented so it is easy to share. A newer example is Pitch Engine, where one finds readily available tools for sharing a release on Facebook, posting a release on Twitter, or using other social media platforms.
-- Certain news distribution services, such as PR Newswire or Business Wire, describe a SMPR as a release that is augmented by multimedia content, including videos or pictures, and a release that includes hyperlinks within the body of the release.
-- Some describe an SMPR as any combination of the above.
The reality is that press releases serve a far greater audience than just the press. Anyone who visits the web can end up reading a press release. Furthermore, since press releases are syndicated by distribution services and are often modified slightly and presented on news web sites, they can have significant SEO value.
The topic of the SMPR was front and center this week, mainly because of a webcast produced by Hubspot that noted how old fashioned press releases, without fancy graphics and presented as just plain text-- are more likely to be syndicated than any form of a SMPR. In addition, Hubspot postulated that the old fashioned releases were better for SEO, since links were more likely carried in the syndicated releases.
The report prompted some debate since Hubspot tried to find away to measure an instrument used in PR-- a marketing function that itself is very hard to measure.
Internally here at Schwartz, we have been debating SMPRs, press release distribution services and the role of a press release for some time. Here are a few points related to the conventional wisdom internally and the discussions this week:
-- Adding visuals or videos to a press release makes the press release more attractive to media and any other audience that views it,
-- For companies especially interested in SEO or web traffic, it's a better course to host visuals, video, graphics, etc. on the company's website, and then link back to the website from the press release,
-- Making the release easier to share is important, and the best press rooms today are those that incorporate tools for sharing content right in the press room,
There is no clear-cut guidance on this issue, and we're experimenting with a number of press release distribution options and press release formats here at Schwartz. If you are interested, keep reading this blog or drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We like what the XSITE Event represents. Despite the current economic situation, the entrepreneurial spirit in New England lives on. The Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship will spotlight positive developments in the local economy, with speakers representing green technology, biopharma and Web 2.0 markets, academia and goverment.
The Summit’s intimate setting will provide a backdrop for high-impact presentations and unique, interactive sessions. In true entrepreneurial form, XSITE will unveil several stealth-mode companies.
In the coming days, Schwartz will be supporting a number of initiatives to raise visibility for the event, including activity on Twitter--you can follow event developments at @XconomyXSITE (hash tag #xsite09)--and Q&A's with event insiders through this blog.
We agree with the tag line for the event, "The Recovery Starts Here." It is true that the entrepreneurs within the "innovation economy" will play a key role stimulating economic growth and driving it well into the future.
On a more personal note, I am enthused by the venue for the event (Boston University's School of Management). There are many Terriers working at Schwartz Communications.
While in San Francisco last week for the RSA conference, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced he was running for Governor. He made his announcement on Twitter.
At the same time, the Mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, announced he was running for re-election. He also first "officially" made his decision on Twitter. [Since I work for a Boston PR firm, I had to get the hometown plug in here.]
I remember that when Hillary Clinton announced she was running for President, she did so on YouTube. It was clever then. Now it seems a political candidate must use a new media method to announce their intentions, or risk being clumped in the "old school" category.
While the new media tools are changing the way communication is done, they are not replacing reporting from reporters. And they are not replacing the content created by reporters.
The same morning Mayor Menino made his announcement on Twitter, The Boston Globe ran a front-page story discussing his planned announcement. The Mayor's campaign website launched the same morning, as did a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. These new-media vehicles were pre-populated with content.
At Schwartz, we incorporate new media into our healthcare PR and technology PR programs. We constantly coordinate the creation of content for press releases, contributed articles, or blog posts. We dovetail published content with our outreach efforts to reporters.
At the same time, we must be cautious. Since new media is a buzz word, new media tactics often overshadow tactics to reach reporters and others who then publish content read by strategic audiences. For all the popularity of new media tools, the results of Schwartz's clients still show that the best way to drive interest is by generating media coverage.
New media cannot be overlooked. Coordination is critical. And the combination of publicity and using new media to attract an audience is vital for marketing success.
RSA, one of the biggest IT security shows on the planet, takes place this week in San Francisco.
Given the size of Schwartz Communications' security practice, we are involved in several aspects of the show, and you can follow along through the Security PR blog.
-- Schwartz will have a big Twitter presence. Check out all our Tweets on a special page on the Schwartz home page.
-- Mike Farber, Jen Spark and I will be blogging, plus Jen will be recording interviews from the show floor with industry luminaries. So navigate over to the Schwartz podcasting page for more information.
-- Director John Moran will be hard at work behind the scenes, editing podcast content and posting the interviews so they get out to our subscribers.
Given the temperatures in San Francisco right now are unusually warm, I could say something like "RSA is already heating up." Whether you are at the Moscone Center or following along elsewhere, enjoy the show!
We are having an interesting internal debate at Schwartz about the value of Twitter brands. Specifically, whether Twitter accounts that are identified as a brand are better than Twitter accounts that are identified as a person.
I follow numerous people on Twitter, but I also follow many companies. When a company I am following issues a press release, I receive a tweet with a short note about the news and a link. I follow co-workers and reporters, as well as executives at the companies I represent, who are people. I receive a whole host of assorted posts from them, including industry news, details on in-progress projects, and thoughts about their hobbies.
From a consumer perspective, which is better? Is it better to associate a tweet directly to a brand, or is it better to associate the tweet to a personality, which is then associated with a brand?
I often warn companies that it costs twice as much to promote two brands versus one. It's why I like companies with product names that are similar to their company names (Google, anyone?). However, the Twitter feeds connected to people are far more attractive to me, and I am very likely to associate them to the brands of their companies.
Consider Scott Monty, who directs social media efforts for Ford. He once responded to a tweet of mine about bailout money for the car companies, and he noted that Ford had not asked for federal money. Instantly, I associated his Twitter account to Ford, and I noted that Ford is the car company that doesn't need federal funds. Future tweets from Scott (who I now follow) reinforce my association of his Twitter account to Ford. His tweets make more of an impression because they are coming from him, and not some amorphous Ford brand.
I saw an interview of Scott from the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, conducted by Cambridge, Mass.-based Hubspot. In it, he states, "Be authentic. People don't want to talk to brands. They want to talk to other people."
At the same time, another Twitter corporate success story represents the opposite approach. A team of Comcast employees monitor Twitter on an ongoing basis, and the Twitter account @comcastcares is well known and well regarded (and well covered by the media). In the case of Comcast, they have created a positive feeling for their Twitter account despite the fact it's branded as Comcast. (To try it out, tweet the next time you have a problem with your cable, and see how quickly @comcastcares responds).
Given both case studies, one can see arguments for either approach. So I am left with personal experience. And I like to follow people more than I like to follow companies.
Perhaps there's some wisdom in a conversation I had earlier today with my colleague Davida Dinerman.
"Social media is about people," she said. In business, people and personal relationships are vital. We're all human and value human interactions, and social media is another conduit for those interactions. The answer to my Twitter branding quandary might be that simple.
When the Red Sox were in Japan to start the season, thousands of members of Red Sox nation turned on their TVs early in the morning to watch the broadcast from the Far East. Except for many DirectTV subscribers, there was a problem; for whatever reason, the satellite TV service could not deliver the signal.
Fans hit the Internet hard with their complaints, sharing stories and quickly learning that Comcast cable customers were also having trouble receiving the broadcast.
Last night, ABC's World News Tonight aired a segment on how Comcast has quickly realized that the Internet can be a great way to listen to its users; in fact, Comcast employees are on Twitter specifically for the task.
The process is a great example of a consumer company understanding the value of social media. The user profiled in the ABC News piece saw Twitter as a way to vent frustration. This type of "flashpoint" customer service issue is ideal for a service like Twitter.
Comcast, in general, has done a great job of harnessing the Internet to provide better customer support--in ways that make best use of available methods while most certainly reducing Comcast's support costs. For example, Comcast's online presence let's users initiate real-time chats with customer support. Many issues with cable boxes can be fixed simply by restarting the box, and the real-time chat format is great for teaching users how to perform that remedy. (A user might be reluctant to follow an online set of troubleshoot directions if one instruction is "disconnect power to the cable box.")
The real-time chat feature via Comcast's site has been available for some time. More recently, Comcast has realized that Twitter's use as a frustration vent is a newer phenomenon. Users that resort to Twitter to complain about Comcast, it follows logically, may have lost their Internet connection and are using a mobile device to update their Twitter post (the exact example in the ABC News piece).
Comcast's use of Twitter has been well covered in the blogosphere. Of note, well-known blogger Michael Arrington has had very public issues with Comcast, and the cable company dealt with them.
Beyond what has been covered by many other blogs, Comcast's ongoing success hints at some important lessons for B2B companies and their use of social media for customer relations. Since many of Schwartz's work is done in the B2B arena, these lessons are of interest to me. Here is what I have learned:
1) The world *is* listening. Comcast is, and prospective customers are as well. If you are a B2B company, you should add Twitter-watching to your customer support operations, and you should tell your customers that. The added benefit of conversing with your customers via Twitter is that your customer’s colleagues on Twitter--many of whom are likely prospects--will see it.
2) Twitter is the ideal venting medium. As a Twitter user myself, I take satisfaction in using Twitter to simply express frustration. This is both good and bad for B2B companies. It's good because it's a quick way to cool down hot tempers, but it's bad because it means the customer has likely already tried other means to either correct the issue or navigate the vendor's customer support. As some bloggers have stated, Twitter is the last line of defense. It should not be a substitute for other, more proactive, means of keeping customers in the loop.
3) Don't use Twitter unless you are ready to use Twitter. Social media creates new ways to communicate with customers, prospects, and everyone else. Relative to a company's overall communication infrastructure, it may not necessarily introduce new efficiencies. Companies must be prepared to invest when they use Twitter (bear in mind, for example, that Twitter is on 24/7). With the power and viral nature of the Internet, a tweet falling on deaf ears could turn into a PR crisis.
I arrived at RSA, the largest tradeshow in the security industry, and in no fewer than 15 minutes had run into a dozen industry people. The main security reporters, analysts and key vendors (including numerous Schwartz clients) within IT security are here.
It got me thinking about Facebook, Twitter and the other social media applications I have been testing for some time. Without question, these applications have their uses, but when it comes down to it, there is no substitute for seeing someone face to face.
When I first started at Schwartz in 1997, we would organize elaborate tours to introduce companies to reporters and analysts who would follow their wares. Tours would typically involve multiple cities and would be timed to coincide with a company product launch (the news hook).
Such tours are rarely planned now in certain industries. Reporters tend to be far more geographically dispersed than they were in the late 90's. More importantly, reporters are busier than they have ever been--a result of many changes in the publishing industry. It's too hard to coordinate schedules to make a tour worth the effort.
For that reason, tradeshows are the best way to meet and catch up with the influencers in a given industry. They provide central gathering points. Also for that reason, perhaps, have I noticed that many aspects of RSA have not changed much. And perhaps, for just that reason, the show seems more crowded this year than in recent years.
Considering how the media have lavished attention on the 2008 Presidential race, it's surprising that it does not show up more on this blog. For me, the reason for not writing on the topic is my personal interest in the race; I have made an effort *not* to write about the campaign here since I am so interested in the contest outside of the office.
But Fast Company, a publication I respect and read to provide guidance to my growing clients, crossed the chasm between tech and politics in this month's issue, and it has pushed me to write about the connection now. Fast Company is not the first to discover how tech can help politics. Many other blogs report on this topic regularly, including how political social media campaigns are eliminating the need for the politicos to advertise online.
A reporter and friend of mine at the Denver Post, Kimberly Johnson, wrote about Facebook and campaign fundraising last month. Interestingly enough, Kim called me and asked for my insight on the topic after notcing a Facebook post I made referencing a previous entry on this blog (a mini-example of the power of Facebook marketing).
A quick summary of my thoughts on the topic: Both Democratic Presidential rivals are using new media to reach important demographics; as it turns out, the audience influeced by social media is a more likely Obama voter, and for that reason, Obama's online efforts have been more extensive. In each case, proper use of social media tactics depends on the strategic target for the overall campaign brand.
The article in the April 2008 Fast Company discussed the Obama brand. I had not heard that the whiz behind Obama's online efforts was none other than Facebook founder Chris Hughes. What he has done to define and extend the Obama brand is a lesson to any company:
-- Giving the power to the supporters. Through a portion of the Obama campaign website, supporters can launch their own Obama blogs. They can also use their Obama websites to organize fundraisers. The key here is the Obama site powers the transactions, and automates receiving necessary contribution information to comply with federal laws. A supporter could set up a mini site and run a fundraiser with zero involvement from the campaign staff.
-- Bringing information directly to other online communities. The article talks about how a post on a Community Connect niche demographic website drove a lot of traffic to the Obama web presence. The Obama team noticed this and responding by reaching out to Communicy Connect and ultimately setting up a presence through the Community Connect online community.
-- Understanding that social marketing is about giving up some control. A lesson to all marketers: The days of having 100-percent control over your message are long gone. While this reality is not new, Obama is the first candidate to embrace this. His team understands that bringing constituents into the process is part of Obama's brand itself---that he is about letting people invest in the campaign in any way they can. Social media is a great platform to let voters exercise this, and at the same time accentuate the campaign's brand and image.
The now-infamous "Yes We Can" video, starring a singer from the Black Eyed Peas and several of his friends, is a perfect example noted in the Fast Company article. The video is extemporaneous and viral, and some have called it the best marketing vehicle for Obama to date, which is ironic given it was made free from Obama campaign involvement or investment.
An online video created by Clinton's campaign is in many ways the exact opposite. "Hillary's Leaving the Band" is a scripted story with hired actors and is described in Fast Company as being too slick to be accepted by the online demographic.
Obama's use of social media reflects his need to connect to one of his crucial demographics-- young and tech savvy voters-- so called "millennials" who want content brought to them in a method of their choosing. One cannot fault Hillary for not catering to this demographic. It's not really her target. For her voters, the scripted, slick actors work just fine.
While Obama is more flashy, new and connected, in reality his brand is just catering to the voters he must influence, while Hillary's brand is far different. In either case, the teams behind the brands are using social media wisely. How the overall brands will impact voters is a separate discussion.
Twitter is not a new application to many PR pros. As with Facebook, though, we are all still trying to learn how Twitter can help our clients and their marketing programs.
My recent interest in Twitter was inspired, in part, by a Schwartz podcast segment featuring Paul Gillen, who himself has recently become more of a believer in Twitter's potential.
A few weeks back I linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account, so that any update on Twitter would automatically update the "status" of my Facebook profile.
The response to my move from some of my high-school and college friends provides insight into how PR pros are early in the micro-blogging hype curve. Here's a sampling of what my friends posted to my Facebook wall:
"What the heck is a tweet?"
"Dude, was 'twittering' like the word of the week on your desk calender or something?"
or my personal favorite:
"Ross--you've been twittering a lot lately--do you think you should cut down on the caffeine?"
A few months ago, I wrote that many friends who I saw at a holiday party did not have Facebook pages. It is now clear that many of my friends who have Facebook pages have never heard of Twitter. It is another example I can use when cautioning clients about getting wrapped up in the craze of social media marketing.
Discussing the value of social media in tech marketing is important, and unfortunately, it can be hard to do. As someone who has tried out many social media services, I feel like a social pariah among peers when suggesting that social media campaigns may not be appropriate for every company. I can relate to Mike Rothman in this respect, who wrote in his blog about an experience with Twitter at last week's SourceBoston security conference in Boston.
What I don't argue is that Facebook and Twitter do have an emerging place within marketing. I just spoke to a current client about ways to appropriately use Facebook Groups to promote new online content that relates to certain groups' fan bases. My colleague Mark McClennan saw significant result by using Twitter to promote his client Epocrates, when that company's application was demonstrated by Steve Jobs on stage during the recent Apple iPhone SDK launch.
On a basic level, I see Twitter as a great way to learn more about reporters and analysts. For example, I noted via Twitter that many key social media bloggers and reporters attended SXSW (shorthand for South by Southwest). At a high level, Twitter and Facebook tap what I see as a golden rule of marketing: We are most influenced by what our friends and families do. If I post a tweet or Facebook status message saying that "No Country for Old Men" is a fantastic film, people who know me might share that review or go see the movie themselves.
The marketing possibilities for Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps are evident. It's just a matter of those services gathering members, and then for companies to better understand who, from their key target audiences, is actually signing up. If for a given company those audiences have not adopted the social media tools, then you don't have to worry about a social media campaign...at least not yet.
A friend and respected high-tech marketer at EMC sent me a link to this movie, which she recently produced to help introduce a new EMC storage product.
For many reasons, the video, the related URL and website, and the marketing efforts at a trade show announcing the product this week, are commendable. I like them because they present EMC as hip and innovative. The video reinforces the strategic messages for the new product, and it's best summarized in the name of the video, "The Revenge of the Mainframe."
Perhaps most importantly, I enjoy the humor. And I am not alone.
The video is one of many that EMC has produced, and many of them are equally humorous. Certainly EMC is on to something here. Perhaps there are additional ways to integrate the video and other marketing efforts using social media into PR.
For example, I notice there is no mention of the video in the "Revenge of the Mainframe" press release announcing the product. Certainly the press release is for the media, and the video was not produced for that audience, but isn't the press release also reaching other audiences, such as potential customers and prospects?
I am not saying I have the answers, but EMC's example is a good one to study.
One of the latest waves of new Facebook applications is the ability to create a "cause" Facebook page and encourage fundraising from that page. The CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess hospital in Boston launched a cause page to raise funds for a harp player who visits the hospital.
Using the web to fundraise is not new, but the sheer viral power of Facebook is new, especially since Facebook cause "pages" can enhance the giving experience for donors. Facebook makes giving more personal than the simple chain email asking for a check. Moreover, if you deliver an invitation to the cause page with a nice personalized invitation, it might replace the need for a hand written note.
Of greatest interest to me were the comments after the post by the hospital's CEO, Paul Levy. A consultant notes that the efficacy of a Facebook fundraising campaign might eliminate the need for the classic charity golf tournament. Levy, in a later post, agrees.
But before you put those clubs away, or revel at the thought of no longer having to duck to avoid an errant tee shot, bear in mind that there has to be a saturation point with all of the various applications and causes popping up on Facebook. I wonder if the best Facebook campaigns, ultimately, will be those that combine Facebook-based applications with real human interaction. It could be the new definition of an "integrated" campaign... or at least, an expanded definition.
Mike Farber and I are at the AlwaysOn OnMedia show in New York City. One early theme I am seeing: Part of the issue with new media campaigns is resistance from companies toward taking a risk.
Traditional advertising has ways to track and rate results. New media does not.
On a panel I watched yesterday morning, Jean-Philippe Maheau of Ogilvy noted that companies need to crack the code on measurement to feel comfortable with new media campaigns.
In response to a question I asked about virtual worlds and their affect on brands, Maheau noted some interesting work he's doing in those areas, however he said the budget for those investments does not come from the advertising budget, but rather from an experimental part of the marketing budget.
The high-tech industry is booming again, and smart PR and advertising firms are growing thanks to creative campaigns using new social media technologies. I am paraphrasing Doug Scott, the executive director of branded content and entertainment at Ogilvy. He spoke Friday, November 9 at a breakfast in New York City hosted by AlwaysOn. I attended with a Schwartz colleague to get an update on AlwaysOn and its upcoming OnMedia conference, and found the event very informative.
Scott is in charge of introducing social media to existing Olgivy clients as well as finding new business that would rely on social media exclusively. Olgivy clients are very different than ours, most having big, defined consumer brands. He spoke about how many of these established brands are exploring social media tools to extend brands for their products.
What I found enlightening was Scott went way beyond talking about how the Internet levels the playing field for companies by giving them a direct route to consumers. That was a given; Scott is talking about how every company needs to capitalize on this with a unique program to deliver a brand essence to consumers. I will not go into detail about some of the campaigns he mentioned, since I am not sure if they are public, but suffice it to say he's working on some very interesting programs.
Following Scott, Anthony Noto, the Internet, entertainment, and cable analyst at Goldman Sachs spoke to a topic that is one of my current fascinations: Facebook. Noto predicts that Facebook will be a highly disruptive technology, much in the same way that Google has been. He believes that while Google disrupted the publishing model by eliminating the cost to create content that would generate traffic, Facebook will disrupt the content distribution model.
AlwaysOn is organizing what looks to be a pretty informative event in New York in late January: AlwaysOn OnMedia NYC. From what I heard at the breakfast, the January event likely will provide quality content and advice.
What excites PR people the most about Web 2.0 is that some of the social media companies that are hot can help us do our jobs. A red-letter date for the relationship between PR and Web 2.0 came earlier this year when Facebook let third-parties develop applications to extend Facebook's functionality.
On November 2, Forbes published a Q&A with the founder of RockYou, Jia Shen. RockYou offers a very interesting business model. The company creates these third-party applications that can be selected by Facebook or MySpace users to augment their memberships to those social networking sites. As a consequence, the applications attract more users and encourage social interaction. RockYou can then "monetize" the user base by selling advertising.
From my perspective, there is certainly potential for using RockYou-powered applications as part of coordinated marketing campaigns that would combine PR and social media to drive web traffic. We are thinking about those campaigns each and every day at Schwartz.
They are already starting to happen. If you are a Facebook user, you see Facebook applications that invite participation in contests or other collaborative experiences run by companies. By relying just on your own list of friends, an interesting contest spreads rapidly. If it does not catch on, the cost for developing and executing these contests is fairly low.
Bringing this idea very close to home, more and more reporters have Facebook accounts. My colleagues and I will occasionally post news from our clients as part of our Facebook status messages. It's a non-assuming way to alert the reporters and analysts on our friends' lists, and certainly the topics we post are relevant to the Web 2.0-savvy Facebook audience.
Facebook offers its own marketing vehicles, where companies can "rent" space to include small little applications on Facebook home pages that promote an offering or encourage interactivity. Beyond these sponsored opportunities, there are a number of unique ways to use the social networking sites to augment PR programs.
The key is to use these sites judiciously and transparently. As recently noted in Twitter conversations including Robert Scoble and others, what you place on Facebook can be read by all of your "friends," so everything one does is open to criticism.
Add this to your file on the long-discussed difference between the entrepreneurial climates on the two U.S. coasts. Recently, I traveled on a press tour with a client to meet with business press---reporters and bloggers---in Boston, New York and Washington. My client also went to San Francisco, and we compared notes on all the meetings.
The reporters in San Francisco did not ask any questions related to the client's business model. They were impressed with the technology demonstration. They like gadgets.
The reporters on the east coast generally asked about revenue models in the first five minutes. The common question: "How do you make money?"
Questions about west coast versus east coast have permeated my entire career in PR. My first-hand experience provides clear on-the-ground evidence of the split.
Extra Credit: If you have not seen it yet, you should read an account by Scott Kirsner, who freelances for the Boston Globe, on why Boston lost Facebook. It describes how an idea hatched on the east coast ultimately earned financing out west.
I propose a new theory: You can tell whether a specific market is hot based on the value of the give-aways at that market's tradeshows.
Tradeshows are part of the foundation of any good PR program. Perhaps most importantly, a trade show offers a chance for key players and influencers (including reporters, partners, analysts and end users) to congregate at the same location. The concept of a press tour today is somewhat hard to grasp--reporters, analysts and bloggers tend to live and work all over the place. But they all come to a tradeshow if it represents a market they follow.
So can one base the "hottness" of a technology market by its trade show? Sure. Look at the number of attendees, number of exhibitors, and number of reporters and analysts attending. See if large recognizable vendors are sponsors. And, perhaps, per my theory, take a look at what exhibitors are giving away.
Joan Geoghegan, a senior vice president at Schwartz, recently attended VMworld, the trade show run by VMware, a leader in the virtualization market. Anyone will tell you virtualization is hot. So given that, let's take a look at what certain vendors were calling tchotchkes at the event:
-- EqualLogic: A $40K Harley
-- Wyse: A Mercedes Smart Car
-- Dunes: A hardened PC fully loaded with their software (one a day)
-- Microsoft: A 42-inch flat TV screen (one a day)
There were too many iPods, Nintendo Wii consoles and other "basic" give-aways to count, she notes.
I don't know about you, but if giving away a Wii at a specific show is blase, that show must be very hot.