Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Don't break a date

Harking back to earlier musings about treating the media as if they were your biggest sales prospect, I wanted to relay a quick client anecdote. A case study in how to NOT do PR.

First let it be said: getting a reporter to meet with you, the client, is not easy. The reporters wear nose-plugs to prevent them from breathing in the hypnotic perfume of all the brilliant, revolutionary stories tossed their way. At the PR firm, crazy amounts of our time and energy are spent recalibrating the hypnotic mix of story essentials, in a valiant quest to set up a meeting with a crusty reporter.

So when we get a meeting with the WSJ, please - DON'T CANCEL.

I am ordinarily the first to say that "PR should not drive your business." But if it's a business reporter on-the-line, then yeah, PR can drive your business. One great hit in the WSJ or BusinessWeek could open up a world of new prospects and adventure.

If you cancel the appointment, you lose credibility with that reporter. So does your firm. But you knew that. So here's a secret: you also lose a bit of credibility with your Agency team. By discounting their efforts, you make it clear that even their biggest coups mean little to you, so, you take some of the motivation out of their campaigns.

Your PR team is carrying the banner of your reputation into the media battleground. To inspire PR victory, you might want to inspire your standard-bearers.

Someone create a pedestal for this guy!

Al Ries is up to his old tricks again, God bless him.

He was recently featured in a BusinessWire seminar in which he reiterated the case for PR's dominance over Advertising.

I'll post more on this in future days, but here's a paraphrased taste:

"Advertising is the afterburner that goes into effect only after the field’s been prepped by PR. The Volkswagen brand was launched in 1950. By 1959, VW was the #1 import with 20% of the market. In 1960, the very first VW ad ran (created by DDB).

"What built the Volkswagen brand? Was it the award-winning DDB campaign? Or was it the ten years of favorable PR? Advertising is the afterburner.

"Botox is another brand built by PR. After nine years of PR only, the chief distributors of Botox were able to afford a $50 million advertising campaign.

"Other recent PR-based brand successes: Red Bull, jetBlue, Linux, Google, Starbucks and Amazon.com"

Think about it - how many ads for Starbucks can you remember seeing on tv or in a magazine? I can't think of many, if any. Yet who would argue with the fact that Starbucks is one of the world's dominant brands?

How DARE the ad guys suggest that "Ads Create Brands." Takes moxy, eh?


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

About that damned Magic Quadrant

Gartner Group's fabled, reviled, infamous, ever-popular Magic Quadrant reports have sucked up more time and created more angst in technology marketing circles than any single item I can recall.

When companies vault into the sweet-spot Leadership Quadrant ("The Upper Right"), alluvasudden the birds sing, the sun shines, all is right with the world; millions of dollars' worth of VC dollars and/or marketshare are expected. The CEO is now brilliant: assured a place in the history books. The VP Marketing takes on an incandescent glow. And you PR folks? - fer dang sure ya better get the press release out, pronto!

But what about "The Lower Left" - what happens if you are relegated to the slums of Quadrantville? All hell breaks loose. Forget about the wrath of a woman scorned - this placement is a plague of horror and dismay.

What do you do?

Typical advice from typical PR firm: chin up and brave the devils. You can't fight City Hall. This too shall pass.

My advice? Beg, borrow or steal your way OFF the grid.

It's not always possible to remove your company from the MQ. It's only done at the discretion of the analysts who authored the report...and of course you'll need to be in touch with them in advance of publication, so you have a head's-up on your placement.

The bright spot in the gloom may be that your spot in The Lower Left is the result of a misunderstanding, and by fighting to remove your company, in the process you just may convince the Gartner folks to revise their opinion and place you in the Visionary quadrant. But if not, ask again, nicely, to be removed all together.

Be ready to make a cogent case for WHY your company does not belong in the MQ. For example, you might try to persuade the analysts that your technology approach (e.g., hosted software vs. on-premise) or business model are so different than your so-called competitors that it doesn't make sense to be placed in their company (even though they are your fiercest enemies on the sales front).

Here's my core belief: being a Leader in the Magic Quadrant is swell, but is not likely to move the needle all that much in terms of PR or Sales. Likewise, being a "loser" on the MQ is not a big tragedy: once you are in the door, chatting up the CIO, your company is likely to assuage any concerns raised by the MQ report (assuming the CIO even read it)! But what IS bad is being the MQ loser, and having your competitors point it out again and again and again, in Sales situations. Better to be OFF the MQ than be its goat.

This perception is backed up by a recent survey conducted by SHIFT and our partner, Launch Pad. In the survey, Salespeople said it was much worse to get negative PR vis-a-vis a competitor than it was to simply not be mentioned at all.

So you may be "significant by your absence" on the MQ, but at least the only 'splaining you'll need to do will be about "why it didn't make sense to be included" vs. "why we lost."

Monday, June 28, 2004

Bias - No. Focus? Yes.

No COMDEX this year. Wow. In over 12 years of tech PR, I'd never have imagined such an implausible (non) event.

I railed against bias, below, but the strangulation of COMDEX speaks to necessity of focus.

COMDEX organizers can't blame the economy anymore. The economy is getting better (knock on wood). This was a failure of focus. In the Good Ol' Days, as technology was roaring its dominance, COMDEX was a convenient catch-all venue for everything from consumer electronics to Internet infrastructure to middleware. Everybody went, so everybody exhibited. Or was it the other way around?

The economic downturn made everyone re-evaluate IT roles and needs. Budgets for tech, for travel, for research, etc. needed to be prioritized and defended. As a result, focused events were easier to make a case for, whether you were a prospective attendee or exhibitor.

The Consumer Electronics Show is a beneficiary of this trend - it's all about gadgets. LinuxWorld caters to the Open Source penguin lovers. Ad:Tech is a blow-out event for marketing technologists. And perhaps the best example is the RSA Conference, which by all accounts grows more ostentatious each year.

Focused shows like these are thriving. They can do a better job of catering to the specific interests, quirks and personalities of their audience.

It's akin to the ever-popular debate in enterprise technology between BEST-OF-BREED applications vs. ALL-IN-ONE SUITES. The pendulum swings back and forth on this issue. For my money, in an increasingly fractious world, the BEST OF BREED argument will win out, and COMDEX will never be the same again. "Like attracts like," in the tradeshow world. Geeks of a feather schmooze together.

Fair & Balanced Bias

In a great article out this week in Newsweek, Robert J. Samuelson lays out a sad and compelling story about the evolution of the news media.

In a nutshell: people increasingly gravitate towards news that is presented with their own personal bias. A liberal tends to enjoy NPR. A conservative tends to watch FOX News. It makes sense: after all, why spend one's time yelling at the newscasters, when one can nod in smug agreement as our viewpoints are being echoed nationally (even if skewed demographically)? This becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of cynical spin. The news nets are rewarded for catering to viewer bias.

This is bad and it is wrong. In the Cronkite Days, as they are remembered, there was more of a "Just The Facts" mentality in journalism. The national dialogue was based on a one-size-fits-all vocabulary. Now we are spoon-fed "interpreted journalism" and let's face it, once we've been "given" our point-of-view, few among us have the luxury of time or excess brainpower to further analyze the news of the day. Thus we are charged up and good-to-go to the water cooler with each partisan side's talking-points for the day. We parrot the newscasters and radio jocks' viewpoints with precious little original thought or texture.

Not good.

For the record, according to research cited by Samuelson, CNN tacks most closely to a "national average" sentiment.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Boilerplate, Schmoilerplate

"Boilerplate" is that descriptive paragraph at the end of a press release that tells the reader "About the Company."

I've seen - and yes, I've been the criminally culpable writer of - boilerplates that were up to THREE PARAGRAPHS long. That's alotta jargon. From "J2EE" to "ASP", from "mission-critical, enterprise-grade" to that ol' stand-by of the mid-1990's, "paradigm shift". Yecch.

Look how some of the big boys do it:

About Oracle: Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) is the world's largest enterprise software company. For more information about Oracle, visit our Web site at http://www.oracle.com.

About Sun Microsystems: Since its inception in 1982, a singular vision -- "The Network Is The Computer" -- has propelled Sun Microsystems, Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to its position as a leading provider of industrial-strength hardware, software and services that make the Net work. Sun can be found in more than 100 countries and on the World Wide Web at http://sun.com

About Cisco Systems: Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO), the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet, this year celebrates 20 years of commitment to technology innovation, industry leadership, and corporate social responsibility.

Lookee, lookee! - No more than a sentence or two, written in Plain English.

Granted, these are huge, brand name companies familiar to John Q. Public. Smaller companies like to argue that because they lack this level of recognition, a highly descriptive boilerplate ensures that the reader of the press release "gets it." Bah! I've worked in journalism, as have many SHIFT staffers. No one reads the boilerplate. The longer it is, the less likely it will be read. Short-n-sweet and Plain English, now THAT catches the eye.

By the way, it ain't easy to do. Distilling a company's products, market focus, benefits, etc. into a crisp sentence or two feels damn near impossible, actually. But it's mandatory in the long run, as the company grows bigger.

Why not start sooner? After all, if your company intends to dominate its space, shouldn't it start thinking and acting like the leader, today?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Theories re: Working With Industry Analysts (Work For It!)

Too many companies, particularly start-ups, often err on the side of "bribing" several analyst groups – spending too much money for too little return.

It is the analysts' job to keep abreast of the market. Ostensibly companies are paying for access to this knowledge; they are not supposed to feel as if they need to bribe an analyst group in order to "ensure coverage." Corporate executives are in the trenches, so arguably they should know more than the analysts do about the state of the market.

Broadly speaking, it is best to align with analysts that meet at least one of two key metrics: 1) They can introduce your company to sales opportunities, and/or, 2) They can act as media advocates. (To be controversial, I am going to dare suggest that a start-up company prioritize its funds toward "frequently quoted" analysts before considering work with "smart" analysts.)

If you have a budget for Analyst Relations, pay the analysts for WORK done on YOUR behalf. Good examples of such work must extend beyond "strategic consulting" (presumably you know what you're doing or would not have received VC funding), toward projects that help your company gain share.

One idea: get your "pet" analyst to be a keynote speaker at your events & webinars. This forces them to get educated about your company AND just as importantly, this maneuver associates their brand with your own in the minds of prospects, customers and the media.

The Doorman's Wisdom

I haven't gotten political on this fledgling blog, and in fact I've been advised not to get political for fear of putting off some clients or prospects. But this is just one man's blog, right? Plus, in a country that's more polarized than at any time since the Civil War, you'd kinda expect me to fall on one side of the political fence or the other, eh? (Lastly, this new blog has a teensy-tiny readership, so what's the harm?)

Anyway, for future reference, I am a social liberal, fiscal conservative. I've been registered as a Republican, an Independent, and (currently) a Democrat. A "blue-dog Democrat."

The doorman in our San Francisco building, Frank, is a cheery guy. He's tall, rugged, got 6 kids and freely admits in his thick Hispanic accent that the quiet of the lobby is a nice break from his crazy household. Everyone likes starting off their work day by getting that cordial, genuine smile from Frank.

But today he looked kind of sad as he greeted me from behind the pages of a newspaper.

"Why so glum, chum?" I asked.

Frank (shaking his head): "This president, these politicians. They use that 9-11 as an excuse for everything."

"I agree, but what are ya gonna do?"

"I am going to vote for the first time. And when my kids turn 18, I am going to make sure that each of them registers to vote, too."

Well, that's one good thing about a closely-split electorate, I think to myself: everyone wants to make sure their side wins, so the disenfranchised population that could be counted on to ignore politics is now empowering itself.

As a communications guy, my professional worries stray toward First Amendment issues.

The clamping down of dissenters by the Right - using a combination of intimidation (see: Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill...and the author of the newly-published Imperial Hubris, who sadly but wisely chose to remain "Anonymous" and is already being painted as a bitter crank on some cable news outlets) and, legislation (see: Howard Stern and the FCC, Michael Moore and the FEC) makes me fearful for the future.

The ability of the Administration and its cronies to silence or discredit or scathingly de-position its critics is hauntingly efficient: as a PR pro I can appreciate its cold efficiency but as a patriotic American I am chilled to the bone.

Combine this with the Administration's skilled use of secrecy (witness today's Supreme Court ruling regarding Cheney's Energy Commission) and ye can get a little daunted, woolly-headed.

A cool blog to check out, if like me you find yourself leaning more Left than usual, is Talking Points Memo; if you like it, from that blog you can also access other high-caliber sites.

How To Be A Good Client

I hear this a lot from prospective clients. "We want to be a good client." I like hearing that. But this phrase can mean different things depending on which side of the table you're on. For example I've learned that to some clients, being "good" simply means that they'll have a lot of news to promote. Or maybe it means they'll actually be able to provide some reference customers (hark! angels sing!)

But when someone tells us that they want to be a "good client" what we want is "Access" & "Action." What we want is a true partner.

Access: don't be a bottleneck; trust us with access to anyone and everyone in your company. The CEO. The CTO. The founders. The sales team. Yes, even the customers. We won't make you look bad. We do this for a living. And of course, make sure we have access to you, the CMO. More than anything we need YOUR time. Don't blow off your weekly update calls. We need a coupla hours per week. We'll do the rest.

Action: pick a message, a direction, a timetable, a pitch - and then let us run with it. Don't succumb to Analysis Paralysis. PR by its nature must be FAST. If we hem-n-haw we lose. We need fast edit cycles. Most of all we need your willingness to trust your gut. And for you to trust our gut.

Don't be a good client. Be a good partner.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Buy This Book!

Amazon.com: Books: The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR

My favorite part (paraphrased and brought to you via my faulty memory) is when the authors ask, "What do you see on the walls of an advertising firm?" Answer: their best creative work. All the fancy pictures, the beautiful models, the clever taglines.

Yet if the purpose of advertising is to SELL STUFF, shouldn't the cock-of-the-walk Ad Agency plaster its office walls with charts depicting its clients' revenue growth?

Hmm. Makes ya think.

Just one of many gems in this fine tome. A must-read for PR, Advertising and Marcomm professionals.

Gimme Something! Help Me Out!

If you want to be a sophist you can archly suggest that specific searches (as described below) could just as easily have come from 3rd party referrals, an advertisement, etc. Fair enough. But if you're going to play the Devil's Advocate role, then I am going to ask you if you're taking the time to ask THEM?

Your website analytics can already tell you HOW the visitor got to your site. It is incumbent on you, the marketer, to parlay that knowledge into MORE knowledge.

"How did you hear about us?" is the most under-used phrase in marketing. But even when it is used, rarely do marketers INCENT the visitor to take the time to (accurately!) fill out a brief online form.

You gotta give something to get something.

How many times have you seen a Dell ad on television that suggested you visit www.dell.com/tv? They want you to visit the "/tv" site so they can measure the effectiveness of their tv ads.

But, who the heck does this? As a typical consumer, I'd just go to dell.com to configure my new PC. I may indeed "arrive" at the site thanks to the ad, but Dell's ad firm gets no credit.

Here's a variant of the magic phrase to add to these ads: "for special promotion pricing, tv viewers should log on to www.dell.com/tv."

OK, I did that. Looks like I get a special deal on the A920 All-In-One Printer: $9 off the MSRP of $89. But wait. Let's blow out the ol' cookie file and return to dell.com. Search for A920 printer. Lookie, lookie: any schmoe who visits dell.com gets the exact same nine bucks off as the schlep who followed directions and visited dell.com/tv.

You know what else bugs me? A too-clever-by-half websurfer might tap in "dell.com/tv" hoping to bypass the main Dell site for info on those slick new Dell TVs that have hit the market. The websurfer would be misguided if they truly thought that this surfing strategy would work, of course...but on the other hand, would it be too much trouble for Dell to add a hyperlink on the dell.com/tv page that said, "if you're looking for information on Dell televisions, click here"???

Didja Think O' This?

We're not the only ones trying to assign statistics to lead sourcing. But this thought popped into my head, and was validated by the aforementioned client CEO: if your company tracks incoming hits to the website (using WebTrends or a similar service), you'll likely see plenty of hits coming in from search engines like Google. You'll also see the search terms used.

For example, if you work at Widgets-R-Us, some of the search terms will be of the "what is a widget?" and "widget makers" variety. But could you, should you count inbound website visits that come from SPECIFIC searches for "Widgets-R-Us" as PR generated? Doesn't this speak to "brand awareness"?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Inbound vs. Outbound: The Confounding Conundrum

First, clarity on terminology:

Inbound = inquiries that come to a company when someone requests more info via the website or a phone call. Outbound = a salesperson's efforts to create leads via cold-calls, "working their network", etc.

As part of SHIFT's "Quest for PR Measurement" I spoke to a very bright guy, the CEO at one of SHIFT's client companies. I won a bet with him and the poor bastard's now enlisted to our virtual team of PR:Sales experts.

The gist of our debate yesterday was on whether we should attempt to measure JUST inbound sales leads, since outbound lead generation is a) more squishy and b) more dependent on a salesperson's contacts and competence than on marketing effectiveness. The CEO's opinion is that we should focus on Inbound Lead Measurement (specifically, helping our clients tie qualified leads back to their source, including PR but also other marketing programs such as direct mail). I tend to agree.

But then there's that Confusing Conundrum to pay off: fair enough that it's easier and more relevant to measure Inbound Marketing Effectiveness, but, is it not ALSO true that good marketing programs create deliverables used by Sales?

I am thinking about everything from White Papers to Article Reprints to Press Releases; these materials are integral to Outbound Sales, e.g., when a sales guy uses a reprint of the latest press hit as an excuse to get in front of the prospect again, and maybe even leads off his communication with talking points gleaned from the article (which in itself has lended more credibility to his sales message). Problem: yeah, this is true and happens every day but it is so subjective and variable and near-impossible to capture as a datapoint in measuring Marketing Effectiveness.

I guess I just selfishly want some credit! ;)

As we solidify our methodology for PR:Sales Measurement (Inbound), the good news is that we've also hit on a technology-based service to impact Outbound processes. Not as measurable, but value-add nonetheless.

More later.

Why PR Sucks

OK, first off, PR doesn't suck, and shame on you for your mental note of agreement.

However, PR MEASUREMENT does kinda' suck. We're a young industry (thank you, Edward Bernays), so it's reasonable to suggest we're still figuring stuff out.

But for too long now, PR mavens have relied on witch craft ranging from the plain-vanilla "Column Inches" to the esoteric "Share of Voice" and "Brand Equity" in order to prove their worth. Buzz is great, but anything hot eventually turns cold. Cold comfort to the CEO trying to run a long-term business.

At my firm, we think PR needs to be linked to Sales. Many firms have also begun to advocate this, to varying degrees. Stupid me, I've been talking about this for 10 years, and relished the head-nodding that ensued when I talked about how "PR needs to shorten sales cycles...motivate larger first-time orders...motivate purchases by more qualified buyers...defer competitive entry, etc."

...But I did nothing to PROVE it! And now, every Tom, Dick & Jane in the PR industry who used to babble senselessly on about "Share Of Voice" has started talking about "Business Impacts".

Makes me feel like Philo Farnsworth. In 1927, Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image. The image transmitted was a dollar sign. Talk about telegraphing your motivations! How ironic that this pioneer barely earned a dime from his great idea.

No worries. Everyone else is still all talk, no action. I'm off my duff and taking action.



Might as well start off semi-controversial

Most people probably don't have "deep thoughts" while picking up dog poop. But then again, most people do not own English Mastiffs - these 200lb. dogs manufacture enough dung in a day to keep a man on Poop Patrol occupied long enough to zone out ... into "deep thought" territory. (Or maybe it's the extended lack of oxygen? - holding your breath during Poop Patrol is mandatory.)

The semi-controversial thought is not original, even if it is under-reported. And really, it's "semi-controversial" as much because it sounds like heresy from a PR guy as it is controversial because it may just be true.

CNN wrecked democracy. Maybe the world.

The 24-hour news cycle spawned a voracious appetite for news-for-news'-sake. Frankly there is not enough news to fill a 24x7 time slot, so the standards for what constitutes news have coarsened. Combine this cheap-news paradigm with the (wholly appropriate) need for profits and lo! - we find ourselves grumbling about the tawdriness of America's celebrity-obsessed culture. (Insert gratuitous celebrity pic here.)

While you'd think that the 24-hour news cycle has done good things for democracy, really it is the opposite: Karl Rove's cynical supposition that pictures matter to distracted Americans more than words (or truth) is what led to every Bush speech being juxtaposed by thematic wallpaper in the background. I bring this up just to point out that the politicians have figured out that the barrage of images we are subjected to calls for clever ways of being more impactful (even while they dedicate themselves to being as non-controversial as possible).

Most troubling about the so-called CNN effect has been its impact on policymaking. Not only must Washington make decisions more quickly and with less nuance - in order to stay ahead of the 24-hour news channels' chatterati - but, they also rely on the insta-polling that follows every hot new topic and controversial video footage to figure out their position. This is well-documented and admitted by elder statesmen and their consigliores.

Lastly I need to address this as "PR-Guy."

Forget everything I just said. CNN rules! We in the PR world are certainly happy to help the hungry news nets fill up their schedules with our clients' news. Lord knows there's nothing like a camera crew rolling up on the HQ's front lawn to puff up a client CEO's ego.

"Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good" - Emerson.