Monday, July 20, 2009

Boston's Algonquin Round Table, um... sort of

Tomorrow is our next Boston Solo PR Coffee at Taste Coffee House, 311 Walnut Street, Newtonville, Mass.

I can't guarantee the types of discussions you may have heard between Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, but Bobbie Carleton is usually there and she's nice. And Tony Loftis had a lot to add to the discussion last week as well. Of course, there were many others.

I'll be hanging around Taste starting at 9am, per usual. Feel free to stop in for a minute or an hour. Whatever works.

Some topics on my mind this week:

  • What qualifies as a pitch?
    Mom bloggers have declared a PR blackout and Adam Gaffin asked (again) to be removed from Cision for getting lousy, off-topic pitches. But is it a pitch if it is just a discussion between colleagues? If you run into a person, or speak with them on IM and tell them about your client, does that fall into the "pitch" category in the same way that the mom bloggers are considering?
  • Where is the money?
    Marketing budgets are drying up, is this a short term reaction to the economy or a long-term change in the industry? Are social media programs going to be handled from the CMO/VP of Marketing position or through other aspects of the organization such as customer service?
  • And more?
    What questions do you have? Can't make it to the coffee? Then tweet us with a question using the hashtag #bostpr and we'll ask the collective. Last week we helped an AAE better understand the basics of pitching through Twitter.
See you then!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Art of Pitching

I have only pitched Adam Gaffin once, and rather unsuccessfully at that. Frankly, I wasn't so much pitching him as making him aware of my Boston-based client.

That said, I have managed to be referenced on his highly-trafficked Universal Hub blog quite a bit, because over time I've learned how to write blog entries that he finds useful and that, I believe, he'd find useful to share with his readers. If I notice he hasn't linked to something I believe is relevant, I may drop him a quick email to make him aware of the post.

That's just Adam. You can send him a traditional pitch, and he may even use it, but you're better off writing on your own Boston-based blog something about the community. Ultimately, that's what Universal Hub is all about.

Someone like Robert Scoble is a different story, he's very pitchable if you know how to reach him. He'll listen and tell you if you're full of crap or if you have something he can use.

Of course, you'll find none of this data on the database most used by PR people called Cision. I could tell the very first day my blog got listed in Cision, because I immediately got deluged with laundry list of bad pitches, few of any relevance.

I could blame this on Cision, but as a (former) Cision user I don't think that would be fair. It's actually user error. I found that a lot of people would do some searching, create a list and then just start pounding away. If they stopped and looked first, reading a few blog posts, perusing a few articles, looking at a LinkedIn profile or two, they'd immediately determine which names on their lists are for real and the best approach for each person.

Of course, that kind of work takes billable hours to do, and right now the name of the game is to keep hours low and hits high.

So Adam is going to continue to get pitched about "nipple covers for 'moms hitting up the pool.'" Only, with Twitter he can complain about it.

But to Cision's credit, Ruth McFarland has been very responsive to complaints, but the fault doesn't always lie with them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What's on your mind? Boston Solo PR Coffee Tomorrrow

Solo PR People of Boston, what's on your mind?

Laying out a strategy and need and ear? Maybe want to vent about some odd client demand? How about balancing work and life?

Or maybe you're having trouble with client development.

Come to the Solo PR Coffee on Tuesday at Taste Coffee House in Newtonville, Mass. and meet with other people in your shoes. We'll be there from 9am until whenever we break up, usually between 10:30 and 11am.

I'll be there!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Good Marketing Isn't Free

Quick show of hands: how many of you have Word on your computer?

Great, that's just about everyone (if you didn't raise your hand, check out Google Docs).

How many of you used that tool to write an amazing novel?

I don't see many hands.

OK, how many of you wrote your memoirs? Family history? A decent article?

I see a few more, but not many. Why didn't you? Because the tool doesn't make the talent.

Four years ago I did a video about my daughter's adoption. After this 9 minute video that took me hours to produce, distilling 3 hours of video, re-cutting music, selecting other Chinese music and fretting over the order of certain sequences given the audience, my cousin said to me "Oh, so you just need to choose the right music."

Um... right. That and get a graduate degree then spend a decade producing TV news. But sure, just pick the right music and you're on your way.

I thought about this after reading George Colony's recent post referencing a Forrester report noting how marketing budgets are dropping. I've seen the impact of that myself.

A lot of CMOs and Marketing VPs see the free tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all those other great social media buzzwords and figure "great, we can do this ourselves!" And yes, some can. But in reality, to handle these tools effectively you need someone who can help you tell your story.

Of course, you can always go and work on that novel.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Come for the Companies, Stay for the Company!

It's hard to believe that this is only the fourth Mass Innovation Night, since it's quickly become a great place to network with some amazing people. It's also cool that it's in America's First Factory. We get a sense of what innovation can do and how transformative it can be.

And yes, of course there are some great innovative companies there. Some, like Drync and Web Notes I've seen at other events in town such as the Web Innovator's Group and Mobile Monday, but it's nice to see how they've progressed since then.

I also had a fascinating discussion with Andreas Randow, CEO of, not only about his company but about is own history of innovation. I was also impressed with the passion with which Paul Martin showed me SpaceMAX, as well as the innovations coming out of Intuit Labs. Who knew that the company behind QuickBooks can help small businesses effectively use Facebook? A great example of what happens when you empower your employees to come up with new ideas.

But the true value of Mass Innovation Nights is the after-party at Biagio's in Waltham. It's there that I got a chance to talk with Elli StGeorge Godfrey about the issues that entrepreneurs have when they try to shift from having an idea to making it a reality. Her business is in coaching those entrepreneurs. It's also where I get to meet, face-to-face, many of the people I follow on Twitter such as Jeff Cutler, Bob Collins and Ari Herzog.

Because social media allows us to easily connect with people who have like interests. Turning those connections into meaningful and profitable relationships takes a little more work... like having a beer.

Monday, July 06, 2009

How much is experience worth?

Today I was told by a VC that his portfolio companies operate extremely lean and that as an advisor he doesn't encourage any spending on marketing.

In fact, those that do anything just do some blogging, and he encourages them to hire a recent college grad--"they're available dirt cheap," he said--to do the writing work. For about $1000 a month you can direct them to write some posts then take what you want and discard the rest. Content for short money.

Another startup told me that they hired a woman who had been with an agency for a year to do their PR. One year out of college, one agency job under he belt and she was in charge of getting them coverage. To their credit, they know that eventually they'll outgrow her experience and they will need to invest more in PR.*

If you're a startup exec, the numbers person in you is probably saying "wow, that seems to make complete sense!"

But let me ask you this: could your college self do the job you do today? My college self certainly coudn't, though he thought he could. Why would you trust your company's image to someone with no worldly experience?

Last week I met with someone how commented that he liked reading my blog because my punctuation and grammar are on target. That's a pretty low bar. Though, having had recent college grads writing for me, it's one that is apparently pretty high.

Back when I taught a news production class at Emerson College I had to teach the juniors, seniors and master's students the difference between present tense and active voice. Many simply did not know.

So, are you now willing to trust your brand to someone with no worldly experience? Someone who doesn't know the players, doesn't know the language and doesn't know how to market?

Maybe it's me, but seems like a waste of $12,000 annually.

* Added 7/7/09

Just to clarify, I think this is a smart strategy on their part because of their situation. They need a launch right now, it's all they need. They are focued on a tight market and there are just a few blogs and publications that will get them off the ground. Also, as a very small company they have the time to focus on these details. They do understand, however, that this is not a long-term strategy and won't help them to sustain exposure, nor will it help them as their business focus expands.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

New York Times: Hey , bloggers matter too!

The New York Times devotes quite a bit of space today to the changing face of PR in Silicon Valley. Not the whole tech sector, mind you. They avoid talking about the outlying areas like, oh, say, Boston, New York, Austin, Seattle, San Diego and the Research Triangle.

Regardless, the piece breathlessly follows PR execs who, shock of shocks, pitch people other than the A-list "journalists" such as the Times itself, Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, etc. Instead, the PR folks pitch bloggers and social media influencers.

Instead, [Publicist Brooke Hammerling] decides that she will “whisper in the ears” of Silicon Valley’s Who’s Who — the entrepreneurs behind tech’s hottest start-ups, including Jay Adelson, the chief executive of Digg; Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter; and Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo.

Notably, none are journalists.

This is the new world of promoting start-ups in Silicon Valley, where the lines between journalists and everyone else are blurring and the number of followers a pundit has on Twitter is sometimes viewed as more important than old metrics like the circulation of a newspaper.

So nice that the Times is now only 2 years behind.

The fact is, the new PR needs to be about creating content, not just pushing it. Hammerling touches on this briefly when she points out that when she represented Flickr back in 2004 The Times touches on this briefly in referencing the 2004 PR program for Twitter headed up by Donna Sokolsky Burke, co-founder of Spark PR: "she never issued a press release for it, even when it was acquired by Yahoo. Flickr would publish news on its company blog, a few more blogs would pick it up 'and two days later, BusinessWeek would call,' she recalls."

In all, the story paints a picture of PR that's straight out of Sex in the City. Attractive women partying up a storm and hobnobbing with the who's who of influencers. It also talks about measurement in terms of followers and number of Twitter mentions, but gives short shrift to metrics such as "traffic driven" or "conversion rates."

In all, the view of PR portrayed in the piece is still about pitching and about having other people tell your story, but less focused on creating a story built on your own content.

There is so much more to do in the trenches, even here in the hinterlands.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Do the Blogs = Voters?

During the recent discussion about whether the TAB should be allowed in to photograph the progress on the new Newton North High School, the Mayor's Spokesman suggested that the opinions expressed on the blogs are but one data-point.

Frankly, he's right on that. Though, as TAB Publisher Greg Reibman points out in the extensive discussion on this post, "neither do public comments at meetings, letter writing campaigns, petitions, protests, or any other forum the public has used over the centuries to communicate with their governments."

So I'd like to call on a few Newton citizens to help me. I'd like to take to the streets and conduct an old-fashioned survey of people walking around Newton's various villages.

The goal is to find out if people feel that the project is progressing well. Also, whether they'd like to see an external group, such as the TAB, photograph the site, or if they feel the photographs and information coming from the city is enough.

I'd also like to show them some of the photos the city is offering up and find out if 1) they've seen the photos before and 2) if they feel the photos give them a good idea about how the project is progressing.

Who would like to help?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What is Twitter? Twitter for Non Tweeters

Despite all the buzz about Twitter a lot of people still tell me "it's a lot of people talking about what they had for lunch."

They're not entirely wrong, but they're not right either. So let me run through a few things to help you better understand what Twitter is and what Twitter isn't.

Twitter isn't a Website.

The Twitter website sucks. Everyone knows it, even the folks at Twitter. In fact,
if you go to and expect to figure it out, you're just going to be overwhelmed and confused. Trying to understand Twitter from the site is like trying to understand your telephone by walking up to one of those huge phone-switch buildings and looking in the windows at the rows and rows of technical equipment. Sure, there is a lot to look at, but it's not going to help.

Twitter is a service

Think of Twitter like your phone company. Just as you use the phone service by plugging in your
phone, you are best using Twitter by getting a different application like Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop and Twirl, or even a good application for your mobile phone. That's why most Twitter devotees point out that Twitter is broken into two pieces: the company and the service.

Twitter isn't all inane.

Sure, some of Twitter is people talking about silly stuff, but if you listened in on every phone conversation in the world you'd find that much of it is people talking about junk. That doesn't mean you're going to throw away your phone for being useless, it just means you're going to pick the right people to talk to. If someone can provide you with useful information, you'll call them
(or answer their call). If not, then you don't.

Twitter is your customers, partners, friends, relatives

This is where we get into deeper value. Imagine being able to search every conversation going on in the world at any moment and find the people talking about your company or discussing an issue that your product can solve. That's what Twitter offers. One easy way to get into this is by using Twitter search. If you want to go a little deeper, an advanced page on Twitter search lets you include specific terms, multiple terms, eliminate terms and even search by geography. Very useful for restaurants and other companies with a specific geographic focus.

Twitter is SEO Friendly

Recently Twitter searches have started showing up at the top of Google results. In fact, many in the search community believe that Google feels the threat of Twitter, since it offers an instant glimpse into information. Google famously provided information to the CDC of people searching on the term "Flu" in order to understand where the flu is spreading in the US and around the world. But with Twitter you can find out in real time how people are feeling in your city. Not how they WERE feeling, but how they ARE feeling, right now.

Important for your company, however, is the fact that people go to Google to find out information about products. Often they go with a problem and let Google answer it. Twitter helps them find you. Even more importantly, they're starting to go straight to Twitter to ask their friends and get instant feedback.

Ultimately, Twitter is who you follow

Twitter lets you select the people important to you and talk with them. Sure, you can just listen and see all the stuff your customers, colleagues and friends are saying, but you can also talk with them. Many people will now say "my customers aren't on Twitter," but frankly that's a tricky supposition, you don't know that until you ask. Also, even if they're not on Twitter, you may be able to glean information to help them do their business by listening to THEIR customers. Even better, if you find that your customers are there, you can talk with them quickly and efficiently in a way that makes them comfortable.

Oh, and if you're going to start, why not just follow me?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mayor's Spokesperson Calls TAB Photo issue "Contrived"

The sun has finally come out in Newton, but Newton TAB photographers aren’t capturing that light at the Newton North High School construction site, because they aren’t welcome.

As Dimeo Construction pours cement, puts up dry wall and affixes windows around the city’s single largest expenditure, the one that will act as the legacy for a mayor who has spent more than 2 decades in elected office, the question remains: does the local paper have the right to photograph the site as it’s under construction?

The TAB believes it does, saying that the people of Newton need to see what their tax money is buying, that their photographers are trained to tell a story with their images and that it’s unfair for Dimeo to allow city officials to snap photos, but not them. Dimeo, it should be noted, gave a TAB reporter a tour of the site, but prohibited a photographer from coming along.

And apparently most of the people running to fill the soon-to-be-vacant mayoral seat agree with the TAB. Though, the skeptic in me says it's an easy position to take while running for office.

Of course, there are photos being taken of the site and posted on the Newton municipal Web site,
buried in a not-so-pretty way and offered up with no context or captions. One such image is shown here.

When asked about this, Mayor David Cohen's spokesperson, Jeremy Solomon, noted that the city “compelled” Dimeo to offer up the photographs and they’re being taken by someone who has other construction duties. In other words, just a guy with a camera. Solomon believes this is enough to satiate the curiosity of the general public.

“I don’t think there’s a huge public outcry about being informed of the progress of the school. Right now Dimeo has its hands full trying to meet a very aggressive construction schedule. It doesn’t make sense to have a construction worker spend even more time to caption photos after he’s downloaded them,” he said.

“There are a least a dozen photos published each and every week on the city website. When the construction manager advises that they do not wish to have outside photographers on the site, defying that sentiment we believe does not serve the public interest.”

When asked whether the city could request specific photos or ask for additional information about each image, since this has obviously become an “issue” around the city, Solomon shook off the idea that the photography flap is an issue at all. He said the city, and the mayor, are better served focusing on getting this job done on time and on budget, “not on quelling controversies that are being contrived by the media.”

Yes, you read that right, “contrived.”

“The issue that the TAB is raising here is the TAB’s issue. In terms of informing the general public of the progress, these photographs serve the purpose.”

Solomon said that he would only change his stance when he felt public sentiment shift. While the writers on various blogs have been rather outspoken on the topic, Solomon laughed on the idea that these opinions mounted to much. “I read blog traffic, and I take it for what it is,” he said. “I’m not certain advocating to alter public policy based on some blog traffic makes sense.”

As for what kind of outcry or feedback he’d deem enough, Solomon would only say: “There is not one singular channel of communication; there are multiple ways we keep in touch with the people of Newton. Mayor Cohen has been doing this a long time, I have been doing this more than 5 years. We have seen real issues that are decided by the people. We think that the people of Newton are best served by receiving the building that people that we expect on time and on budget.”

Take that for what it is, considering that Cohen has been famously derided for being out of touch with his electorate.

I tried reaching Dimeo to talk about this issue. In fact, I'd love to speak with the photographer(s) working on this project, but my calls and emails were not returned.

Come for the Company, Get a Discount on Coffee!

We're just under a week away from our first Boston Solo PR Practitioner Coffee at Taste Coffee House in Newtonville.

I've spoken with Nik, who owns Taste and is one of the top baristas in the country, and he's offering a 10 percent discount on any purchase by someone coming for the PR Coffee event.

So if seeing my shiny face in person isn't enough to entice you, about about saving a little on your morning caffeine? Nik is currently brewing some wonderful Intelligentsia espresso.

In any case, if you have no idea what I'm talking about take a look at my original post. If you do, then come on by. If you want to feel that this is formal, sign up over on Eventbrite!