Friday, October 23, 2009

What is to become of this blog?

Honestly, I really don't know. For the most part my thoughts on media have moved over to the Fresh Ground Blog, so if you want to follow me just subscribe there.

Though, I'm considering simply changing the feeds so you'll be automatically resubscribed. If people have a problem with this idea please let me know, as I don't want to clog anyone's RSS readers with something they don't read.

In the meantime, head over to Fresh Ground and see what the conversation is like!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Breaking Fresh Ground

So many of you have been asking what I'm working on, and now I can tell you: Fresh Ground!

After many months of planning, talking and researching, I'm happy to announce that Todd Van Hoosear and I have teamed up to launch a different kind of PR firm. Much of this was laid out in my previous post after the Web Innovator's Group panel, but in short, we take a different approach to how PR is done. We start with the corporate story, focus on content and community and then extend that story through the right channels, whether that's a blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, trade publications or the Boston Globe.

Traditionally, companies turn to PR to gain media coverage with the idea that broad coverage in top publications will drive traffic, prospects, investors and, ultimately, revenue. Over the past couple of years several top PR firms have added social media capabilities, some doing it quite well.

But for many social media is an add-on to the primary goal of getting coverage. The PR program in that case isn't about building relationships, it's about getting coverage with occasional social media projects thrown in.

Fresh Ground is about long-term engagement with influencer relations playing a key, but supporting role.

Check us out and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What You Don't Know About PR CAN Hurt You

David Beisel capped last night's fabulous Web Innovation Night with a panel on how entrepreneurs can do PR without PR agencies. Moderated by Mike Troiano, the panel included Bob Brown of NetworkWorld, Peter Kafka of AllthingsD, Scott Kirsner of his own making and the Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe and Wade Roush of Xconomy.

This was intended to be PR 101 lesson for entrepreneurs who want coverage but don't know how to go about getting it. But the takeaway, as I heard it, was much closer to what Bobbie Carlton says in her blog post:

...if I was an entrepreneur, all I would have heard was, “Run away from PR people, they are useless to you. In fact, probably worse than useless because top reporters look down on them as a breed.”
There are two main problems here. First, the panel didn't have a good idea of how PR actually helps media relations; but second is the misunderstanding that PR means only media relations. Today's PR is much more than that.

On the first issue the panel joked several times about how entrepreneurs will do silly things like send them "embargoed" press releases, or conduct an interview and to call back a day later only to say "the first 20 minutes of that talk was off the record, right?" or try to pitch a "news hook" that is a minor upgrade of a product.

Good PR counsel fixes those problems. We guide clients on how to talk with journalists so when you they get their 30 or 60 minutes with Scott Kirsner they use that time effectively, both for them and for the journalists. We guide our clients on what information is pertinent to which audiences and how to best present that information.

Peter Kafka made the point that PR firms make a lot of money selling clients on the idea that they can reach him, but the act of reaching him is quite simple. He went as far as to call PR people liars, since they say they know him when they don't.

A good media relations firm will never sell you on their contact list since we all know that the contact list is worth the pixels it appears on. The fact that any one of us knows or is known by any journalist only gets us an additional few seconds of consideration. Maybe it gets our email opened when others get tossed immediately. But unless that email or phone call includes a good story, then the time is wasted, so we focus on packaging the story.

After the panel, as I approached Wade Roush, I found myself in a very interesting conversation with one of the panel's targets: an bootstrapped entrepreneur whose company is targeting application developers. He had a few questions of Wade that frankly were out of Wade's range. The entrepreneur wanted to know how to talk with specific application development message boards and what impact news and information presented there would have on gaining coverage from Xconomy. He and I then had a nice conversation about communications strategy leading up to his launch. We agreed that getting coverage in the Globe, for example, wouldn't help him reach his audience, but later may be useful in reaching potential investors, a move that affects his communciations strategy. We also talked about his need for a "community manager" who would focus on working with the various application development forums.

And that leads to my main problem with the panel: they preached the misguided notion that PR is only media relations.

There is a reason that the landscape is dotted with the former co-workers of the people on this panel. Individuals today get their information from a number of sources, many of whom are not professional journalists. Today anyone with a blog has the potential to reach their core audience, provided they hit the right keys. Google is the gateway.

Yes, traditional PR is about getting coverage and even today many agencies sell that very thing. In fact, for many companies media relations remains an important component of their overall PR program. But PR is about developing a broad communications program that includes:
  • Building a long-term strategy that establishes lasting relationships with your core audiences;
  • Creating content and managing conversations that engage those audiences directly; and
  • Reaching industry influencers (media relations gets lumped in here).
Tactically this means that the communicator or agency you hire should have skill sets that include: writing ability; audio and video skills; creative thinking and the ability to connect with influencers.

It happens that next week a partner and I will be announcing a PR firm that focuses on just this kind of work. Once our site is live I'll provide a link.

If an entrepreneur walked out of that panel thinking that all they have to do is call up one of these reporters and say "hey, my company's live, come write about us!" and all will be good with their PR program, then they have done a disservice to Boston's startup community. These companies need long-term strategies to drive business, not just the tactical skills to get the occasional story in Network World.

And the right PR counsel will help them do just that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Isn't a Twitter Problem

My beloved Jets find themselves in the middle of a social networking tempest, though frankly, it's of the teapot variety.

This week, Jets Wide Receiver David Clowney found himself benched after he vented his displeasure regarding his lack of playing time during the Jets victory over the New England Patriots.

He didn't do this in front of reporters in the locker room, he did it on Twitter, and that's what has the media all stirred up.

"1 play in the 1st Half, 4 plays in the 2nd half,.... A bit disappointed about my playing time but very happy and satisfied about the win," he wrote just after the game, following it up with "Just time to work harder for next week" and "My team always comes first so I'ma just keep grinding,.. And we gonna keep winning" right afterward.

But it's the first Tweet that annoyed Coach Rex Ryan, and rightfully so. As a coach or manager, you never want your team to be airing dirty laundry. That's just part of your overall communications issues within the organization.

But Twitter is just the tool. Yes, it makes it easier for this stuff to go public (Clowney tweeted from his mobile phone not long after the game ended) and it's up to Clowney, and anyone using Twitter, to be smart as to how they use it.

Basic media training is "don't say anything to a reporter that you don't want printed," the same rules now apply to social media. Don't put it out on Twitter or on Facebook or in your blog if you don't want it to be on everyone's lips immediately.

But this isn't a Twitter problem, despite that its gained huge media attention, it's a communications problem.

A few years ago I consulted with a company that allowed one of their employees to start a password protected blog for internal use only. One of their major concerns was that employees were cutting and pasting whole internal emails onto this blog and they worried what would happen if a client saw those emails.

"What's to stop an employee from forwarding those same emails, on purpose or accidentally, to the client?" I asked.

They had no answer, and after that we discussed their overall communications issues, not their blogging problem.

While I'm laying a lot of blame for this particular incident on Clowney, some may be on Rex Ryan and the Jets. I don't know if the team clearly laid out a communications policy as it also encouraged players to tweet. If it did, then Clowney violated that. If it didn't, then the communications folks still have work to do.

What is your communications policy?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Realistic View of Social Media's Impact

I attended part of the Marketing Profs virtual trade show yesterday (I'd hoped to attend more, but work and life tend to get in the way). Michael Brito and Becky Carroll led a very good session on keeping customers engaged through social media, both had worked for and with Intel to promote the Core brand of processors.

While the case study was quite interesting, what impressed me most was that they didn't oversell social media. "If your customers don't use social media, then you don't need to spend your time on it," Carroll noted. She also gave the simple advice of asking your customers what they're using. What's more, she pointed out that Facebook and Twitter won't be here forever and something else will come along, if you have a solid strategy you'll be able to move accordingly.

It's so nice to hear this stuff said out loud. I've long been a big proponent of blended programs, where social media plays a role, it's how I advise my clients. The size of that role depends on a number of factors, including the audience.

Brito encapsulated that idea when, toward the end, he said "Social media is one channel, it's not God's gift to direct marketing. It should be used with other stuff."


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Boston Solo PR Coffee (Re) explained

I've been getting a lot of questions from people interested in the Boston Solo PR Coffee, what it's for, when it is, etc. So here are some basic facts on the event.

  • Location: Taste Coffeehouse, 311 Walnut Street, Newtonville, Mass.
    Taste is relatively small, but is perfect for our weekly gathering. The owner, Nik, is known for being a coffee fanatic and is quickly earning a following with people who appreciate a wonderful coffee experience in a cozy, neighborhood setting.

  • Time: Tuesday mornings from 9am until around 11, sometimes later.
    It's at 9am because I've found that many solos have children and this gives them enough time to drop the kids at school and then make it to Newton for coffee. It's not a hard start, so people wander in around 9:30, 10 or whenever. They wander out when work calls. This is a casual meetup.

  • Purpose: Many solo PR people used to be with firms where we had a community of co-workers who acted as our editors, brainstorming partners and support groups. Now, as solos, we don't have that instant give and take. Our triumphs and struggles are very different when we're on our own, so we need people who understand this situation.

    The goal of the Boston Solo PR Coffee is to recreate the agency community on a weekly basis, then continue that relationship online. Sure, you'll meet some new people, but this isn't just about networking. It's about building a network of people who you trust and who trust you, people who can become your sounding boards, cheerleaders, pressure valves and colleagues.
We have an Eventbrite listing, if you'd like to sign up, but there really isn't a need. Just come by and say hi. If you can't tell which group is us, just ask Nik behind the counter.

If you want something to put in your calendar, use the button below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speak into the Microphone: Who represents your company?

During this morning's Solo PR Coffee, Tony Loftis said something brilliant (he does this often, actually).

One attendee was lamenting the issue that I've blogged about in the past, that companies are hiring college interns to handle their social media outreach, the idea being that they're young, so they must understand social media, and they don't cost much. Tony pointed out, as many have, that the social media person is the face of your organization.

"If you don't want that person standing in front of an audience representing you, then you don't want them as your spokesperson online," was Tony's assessment.

It sums things up perfectly.

Key Mistake: Who Are You?

The fabulously popular CSI franchise on CBS starts with a simple premise, sung by The Who during the opening of each episode: who are you?

The job of the CSI team, whether they be in Las Vegas, New York or Miami, is to answer that simple question. Who is the person who did this (crime)?

When it comes to putting out your corporate Website, don't make your potential customers and partners turn themselves into the CSI team just to figure out who you are. Tell them, clearly, in the "About Us" section of your site. Put up the bios and pictures of the key officers. Even better, go a step further and provide links to their LinkedIN pages, Twitter feeds and blog posts.

But at least start with the basics. Too many companies ignore this simple rule.

In the traditional world, corporate sales people get on planes and establish relationships because that's how they close deals. All the marketing is great in identifying pain points, creating awareness and growing the prospect list, but most often closing the sale takes on a personal tone.

Online buying changes this slightly in that people buy without a sales person, but that doesn't change the need for a personal connection. That's why companies have instant chat buttons open to consumers and call centers with actual humans. has made a name for itself with this kind of human interaction. Just look at the New Yorker article which talks about the chatty interactions customers have with call center personnel.

That's why I'm always surprised when I run across online businesses that don't put names and bios in the "About Us" section. It's one of their key mistakes.

I'm not going to link to some of the company's I've found as I don't want to call them out, but it's not just one or two and not just companies that lack social media savvy. Some are actually Twitter-focused organizations.

It's not that they're actively trying to hide their identity, a few searches on LinkedIN or even a look through a related blog tell you at least one person behind the organization. But they don't make it easy.

I've asked other marketing folks about this and received a number of good reasons why companies don't put up this data:

  • Fear: They don't want their best people poached
  • Control: Agencies often don't want clients demanding a specific person from the site who may or may not be available
  • Spin: They believe if they put up the one or two people behind the organization then they won't look big enough
I look at the bios as key in building trust. I like knowing the people and faces behind an organization. In fact, companies like Genotrope use the individuals behind an organization as the basis for helping job seekers finding jobs that fit them. Tom Summit, who started Genotrope, told a Mass Innovation Night audience that this is how recruiters work, they look for personal connections to help find a fit.

So by "hiding" your best people, you're not really hiding anything that can't already be found. The same goes for control. As for the spin, even the largest companies have their officers on the site and laws like Sarbanes-Oxley require CEOs and CFOs to sign off on statements PERSONALLY, so even the government wants a face behind the corporation.

Your customers want that information too.