Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is This About PR's future? - Or Journalism's??

Tom Foremski over at SiliconValleyWatcher has a lot of fun tweaking the PR industry every few weeks. Today he rails, as I have, against the ancient, dowdy, over-stuffed press release. Thankfully, Tom provided a how-to template for the press release he'd like to see, as a journalist.

I sent his post to my staff of 60-odd PR pros with the challenge: "Who has the guts to do this?" It caused a li'l tempest in a teapot, but I think the two posts below best exemplify the tone and reaction.

(Although in a typical e-mail string you'd read from the bottom, up - I took the liberty of reversing the order for you, gentle reader):

From: XYZ
Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 2:50 PM
To: Account Staff
Subject: RE: Who has the guts to do this?

The releases are often given to sales folks and also to channel partners, current customers, posted on the Website etc. Not sure if creating a separate doc for editors is really the issue. The issue, I would see, is the pitch. Shouldn't the pitch that accompanies the press release list out all those resources that are available (and most palatable) to each specific editor? I say it should.

Also - I'm stepping onto my soapbox here - but this spoon-feeding-the-editorial-community technique is not making me particularly optimistic about the future of journalism. Writing a good article, and getting all the info you need should take work, right? Isn't this how the best reporters will rise to the top? If we embrace a technique such as Tom F. suggests, are we creating a world where journalists really are just "edit"ors - take the corporate content, slap an opinion or two on it, and call it a day?

*******************************************

Response:

Good points. My take: you don't know how certain things work out unless you try them. Let's see what happens if we try things Tom F's way. I believe that for a long time to come we'll have to work with people who want it the "old way" and people (customers and journalists) who want to experiment with a "new way." We need to be flexible enough to serve both.


PR-Guy's take: I hate press releases; I generally agree with Tom on this one. But I also agree with my staff (and with the folks at bitemarks) that Tom lives on the bleeding edge of PR 2.0. My guess (as noted by our staffer above) is that we will evolve to a hybrid approach in which the "Press Release" becomes "sales collateral" and the press outreach takes a form closer to what Tom is suggesting.

"Bad Advice" About Customer References, 2 of 3

Here’s my 2nd bit of so-called “bad advice” about customer reference programs: Don’t Put Reference Mandates In The Contract.

A lot of clients think that they’ve been very clever by convincing a newly-inked customer to sign-off on a contractual clause that runs something like, “Thou shalt be a media reference.”

So, when the agency is informed of the new deal, we get excited and ask about whether the Big Customer will be a reference, and the client contact replies, “Absolutely, it’s in the contract; they had better be a reference!”

Sometimes it works, but sometimes, it just don’t.

There are very rarely any “teeth” in these clauses. What is the client going to do if their customer reneges on the deal? It’s not as if the client will fire the customer!

Even if there are teeth in the clause (e.g., the customer loses sweetheart pricing), the fact is that a “public reference” is not as important as a “private reference” to the agency’s clients; if the customer reneges on the PR stuff but is happy to talk privately to analysts, VCs and prospects, then PR will lose out every time.

So my “bad advice” is, “Don’t put it in the contract.” Instead, wait until the relationship is running strong and the customer contact is happy with the client’s solution. Then, call ‘em up informally to inquire whether, say, they’d be willing to attach their name to a bylined article that appears in their industry’s top journal. The ego-gambit just might spur them to push a deal like this through their in-house PR naysayers, and ideally will open the floodgates to follow-on reference calls.

Putting ANYTHING in a contract begs for close scrutiny - by legal eagles, short-sighted execs, and skittish in-house PR folk. That’s a great way to find yourself staring down a clause that reads, “Thou shalt not never, ever, never ever ever ask us to be a reference!”

It's better to start slowly & informally, with a happy customer, and appeal to their own best interests.

Tomorrow: the conclusion of our series on "Bad Advice About Customer References"

Monday, February 27, 2006

"Bad Advice" About Customer References, 1 of 3

First things first: if you are a corporate marketer, listen closely and heed the counsel of your expensive PR consultants. When they tell you that they are going to need customer references, believe it and make it your #1 priority. Seriously. #1.

As much as we clever, creative PR types like to think that we can be successful in media relations without customer references, sooner or later it will be “mission critical.”

This post marks the first of a 3-part sequence of advice about Customer Reference programs that, frankly, most PR folks might think represents BAD ADVICE. But having made every mistake in the book by now, I am going to play the contrarian and suggest that these are GOOD IDEAS re: Customer References.

“Bad Advice” – Let Your PR Agency Manage The Reference Program…All Of It.

Most corporate marketers insist on maintaining a substantial measure of control over customer contacts. They think that these relationships are so sensitive-to-the-touch that the gentle prodding of a mere PR pro could put the kibosh on a multi-million dollar deal. The corporation feels it needs to “own” the relationship.

Yet in my experience, internal PR managers are either too timid or too ham-handed to move the ball downfield when it comes to the customer reference program.

In my experience, the most successful PR programs are forged when the client trusted their agency partner to be discreet, judicious and strategic about making direct contact with their customers, and simply handed over the contact list (after a head’s-up to the customer and to in-house sales contacts).

The good agency will never screw this up. It’s too important. We have special kid-skin gloves for just for dealing with our client’s customer list. And here’s the deal: we are good at coaxing references out of the client’s customers.

The agency can make the customer feel at ease about the process. Rather than simply ask for the reference, we can best explain the various levels of referenceablity. (“How about if we only call you for business press opportunities, say, a maximum of 3 times this year? How would you feel about attaching your name to a bylined article that we’d write for you?” etc.)

We can also soothe the customer contact’s trepidations about their lack of media savvy; we can ease away the angst of the customer’s internal PR group.

In this process, the agency often learns things that the client’s PR manager would not, because we are viewed, accurately, as an unbiased 3rd party. We hear about deployment snafus, product bugs, support problems, etc. (Better the agency hears it than the WSJ reporter, eh?) We also hear honest tales about the customer’s original and on-going pain points.

It’s an invaluable dialogue. We can use these frank dispatches from street-level users to formulate fresh pitch ideas that will carry the entire program forward.

Tomorrow: watch for part 2, more "bad advice" about customer references.

Friday, February 24, 2006

10 Flickr Hacks

Courtesy of Kevin Dugan at the Strategic Public Relations blog, 10 Flikr hacks that are fun and worth exploring. Now you all have a weekend project to keep you busy.

Thanks for the tips, Kevin. Between this excellent blog and the Bad Pitch Blog, when do ya find time to do any PR? ;)

Amazon vs. iTunes - Battling On The Frontlines Of The Long Tail

Erick Schonfeld at Business 2.0 posted last week re: Amazon's plans to tackle iTunes.

He likes Amazon's suggested strategy of offering users discounted, Amazon-branded MP3 players in return for year-long subscriptions (a la the cellphone companies' subsidization of handsets), but in the end Erick doubts this will be enough to poach Apple's 55M-strong leadership position.

I agree that iTunes will be tough to beat. But my own doubts stem from Amazon's DRM approach. It sounds similar to the re-launched Napster, which, last time I checked, is willing to cut off access to your songlist if & when your subscription lapses.

I admit it might be nice to own a sweet new MP3 player bundled with virtually unlimited access to a vast music library, all for a low-cost yearly subscription. And I also admit that Amazon is the world's best examplar of Long Tail Marketing ("if you like this, give this a go"). It also seems clear that Long Tail Marketing, Amazon-style, is superbly suited to a subscription model, i.e., there is little risk to try something new, since there's no additional cost to download an untried song track.

The thing is: music is personal. Songs become the soundtracks to our lives. If you build up a library of hundreds (or thousands!) of songs, it is a distinctly uncomfortable feeling to know that you're just "borrowing" these songs from Amazon. Lose your job? You might lose your music!

One of the rarely heralded beauties of the Long Tail is the passion of the audiences at the narrow end. Everyone likes to discover a hidden gem. I remember being one of the first to appreciate James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" ballad. I must have listened to it 50 times during my commute. And last week, several months after I'd "discovered" the song (and tired of it - it is kind of sappy), I was alternately pleased - and bizarrely saddened - to see that Blunt's ditty had become the #1 iTunes download.

When Blunt was a beloved bit of undiscovered country along the Long Tail, I was a devotee. And devotees want to OWN their music.

It's an interesting conundrum: Amazon's unprecedented ability to expose consumers to new music all along the Long Tail is perfect for a subscription model, but at the same time a subscription model yanks away the "pride of ownership" that a fan needs to feel as part of that Long Tail discovery.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Triple-A" Approach to Client/Agency Success

I received quite a bit of positive feedback to the recent post about "Why Agencies REALLY fire clients," including a note from a corporate marketer who asked, specifically, "How can I be a good client?"

Great question, and the good news is that if the chemistry and trust are there from the get-go, the "formula" for a successful client/agency partnership is relatively straightforward.

I used to tell prospective clients that the key to a successful program required:

Access - to their executives, customers, developers, etc.

and

Action - in the form of rapid edit cycles, decision-making, etc.

Lately I've added a 3rd "A" - which, handily, provides a "Triple-A" approach to talking about the ideal client/agency relationship model. The third "A" is...

Appreciation - for the team's hard work & acknowledgement of their successes.

At the end of the day, we're all human. No matter what it might say on their meticulously transcribed to-do lists, when 5pm (or 6, or 7pm for that matter) rolls around, and the team's Account Eexec can make one... last... call... they are going to make it for the client who says "thank you" a lot.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

MediaSurvey Reaction: It's About Sell-Through

After posting on MediaSurvey's interesting "Tech Media Continuum" graphic last week, I received a thoughtful response from managing editor, Christy Andrade:
Checking in, just saw your blog post from (last) Wednesday on Sam’s continuum piece and wanted to chime in with regard to the point about infotainment. We’ve been presenting on this theme quite a bit in the last few weeks so I think I have it down…

The notion is this – Sell through. That’s what magazine editors are thinking about when they choose cover stories. What story is going to get those highly profitable paper copies off the newsstand? That’s where entertainment comes in. Tension and drama spur the public’s interest – the dark and stormy night...The “what happened to or what’s going to happen to them?” Or better yet, “how do I keep that from happening to me?” angles.

So when counseling clients, the advice is – bear that in mind and don’t expect your PR pro’s to be able to get a book report written about your company.

The magazine buying public would rather read about how you almost didn’t make it, or a juicy personal profile, or how they can avoid speed-bumps themselves based on your experience. Pitches that include those elements get noticed. The “we’re good guys, making lotsa-dough, invest in us” pitches are a dime a dozen. This is the consistent story from the folks Sam interviews weekly.


And – we know the PR pros we talk to would love nothing more than to have smarter clients willing to give a little more skin to get a cover, because you’re right, it’s about juice. No argument there. Getting there is very important and a huge win (although there is a lot to be said about the positive and negative tones of cover stories, but that’s another conversation).

That’s one of our next projects, finding techniques and data points you can use to pull the clients into the cover story reality tent with confidence, and make your jobs easier.
Thanks for the clarification, Christy. I agree on all fronts.

I'll also selfishly use this opportunity to remind folks that, just as publishers need to tell stories that sell magazines, "sell through" is what all of PR should be about. The awareness we help to generate should be focused, primarily, on outlets that will help positively impact the client's bottom line.

(More on the bottom-line measurements front - MUCH more, actually, in the weeks ahead.)

The Good Pitch Blog Launches

After posting yesterday's tidbit I got inspired to do more. I've been carping in this space for a greater focus on training the PR industry's junior staffers, and meanwhile have been dismayed by "death of PR" predictions and general feelings of negativity about PR "flacks" in the blogosphere.

Meanwhile I have been intrigued and pleased by the work being done over at the Bad Pitch Blog.

So, it dawned on me to rip 'em off. But in a good way.

Where the Bad Pitch Blog will focus on showcasing examples of bad pitches and practices (with exceptions made for some exceptional work), in the Good Pitch Blog we'll focus solely on the good. Hopefully it gets enough momentum behind it such that we'll have scores of examples of excellent pitches, and agencies can point their newbies to this spot for some helpful tips.

Part of me was loathe to start off with a SHIFT pitch - it felt like navel-gazing... but then, that's all the fodder I have for now. And anyway another part of me said, "You've got to put skin in the game right away."

I hope you'll join the effort and send along some of your own best pitches. Also, please ask your journalist friends to pass along some good pitches, too!

Lastly, my heartfelt thanks to Richard and Kevin at the Bad Pitch Blog, for their Day One Blessings. If the Good Pitch Blog winds up 1/2 as popular and helpful to our industry as their site, it will have been worth the effort.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Oh! The Humanity!" - Simple Formula For Avoiding The Bad Pitch Blog

No one in the PR game wants to find their name posted at the Bad Pitch Blog. This blog has ginned up a lot of interest in PR circles, and rightfully so. Better that we self-police ourselves than have reporters call us out, eh?

Much of the commentary at the Bad Pitch Blog is related to written pitches. But there is plenty of flaming garbage spewed over the phone to reporters, too. I cringe when I hear a newbie ask me if it's okay to read their pitch over the phone!

My best advice for avoiding the Bad Pitch Blues (written or verbal)? Remember this simple formula: H2H

It's a silly acronym that I came up with during that silly era when every technology story came attached to a new three-letter-acronym. It was my way of telling our PR teams to NOT buy into the hype; a reminder to slow down; a call to remember that:

"You are a human. Talking. To a human."

Human 2 Human. H2H.

"Remember this one thing and you'll be successful: the world has gone haywire and the journalist you're contacting has to deal with 1,000 other PR automatons; they would rather do ANYTHING ELSE but talk to you," I say.

"They'd rather smoke a cigarette, walk their dog, hit the beach, kiss their lover, eat a burrito. They are human beings. Talk to them like human beings. Crack a joke. Take 'no' for an answer sometimes. Make a mistake. Ask for a 2nd chance."

Seth Godin made a great point about this very subject recently. Every PR pro ought to read this post, as a frame of reference for the very next pitch they write.

(And for every pitch they ever write, ever again, for that matter.)

UPDATE: Check out the Good Pitch Blog for more tips, and to add your own best pitches to this new resource.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Breememe: Resistance Is Futile!

Thou must bend to the will of the A-listers! ;)
This one's for you, Steve.

In all seriousness, it's an interesting exercise to track the progress of a meme. At this early stage in the evolution of the blogosphere, we have a unique opportunity to scrutinize the machinations of our own growth. Forward-thinkers like Scoble, Rubel, et al., are using their "followers" as elements in a grand online chemistry experiment:

"What makes a meme? How fast can it grow? What's the average lifespan of the zeitgeist? How does an early jump on a 'memeowagon' impact site traffic for an A-Lister, a B-Lister, a Z-lister? Which 'memetrackers' are best at identifying and adding momentum to a meme? How do memes impact 'real' news cycles?" etc.

Surely it won't be long before some Web 2.0 brainiac creates an aggregated, global "mememap" akin to this (way-cool) one for Google News.

Memo to self: breememe.

Friday, February 17, 2006

brrreeeport - Scoble Flexes Blog Muscles


Microsoft's uber-blogger Robert Scoble tells the world to join him in creating & blogging about a new term: brrreeeport. And lo'! - the blogging masses comply, bleating sheepishly.

"Maybe THIS will drive some traffic," we think feverishly. "Now, how did he want me to spell that stoopid word?"

Ummmmmm...

Baaaa-aa-aaa-ah!

Friday Fun: Fear of Girls

I am traveling on business so posting this week and into next may be lighter than usual. The good news is that I'm in our SF office and the "cold" weather here is sooo much better than the best cold-weather day in Boston, so I am feelin' good.

In that spirit, I present this laugh riot for a Friday. Surely at some point in our lives each of us has either felt like one of the poor dolts in this video ... or dated someone like them!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Best Evidence That Gen X Is Changing The Rules

If you're 30 - 40-ish years old, i.e., a member of Generation X like me, you do realize, don't you, that the Internet Bubble was our Woodstock?

We spent our days in garages, spinning in Aeron chairs, playing foosball, and workin' to all hours, instead of getting muddy and doped up. (Remember when they called us slackers?)

As my career progressed, on several occasions everyone from my grandfather on down kept telling me that my prospects would improve if I would only learn to play golf. The Businessman's Game.

Part of me wondered whether they were right. I wouldn't wear the plaid pants, no way, but, I was intrigued by the idea of swinging a club, out in the open air, and finishing up a business deal at the 19th Hole. It seemed so "grown up."

What did I do instead? I played video games. That's what MOST of us did, eh?

And now that we're running the show in many areas, I have found myself delighted to talk to clients who share my care-free, pale-faced hobby. Check out this article at 1up.com. Top tech execs brokering deals via World of Warcraft gaming sessions!

After all these years of assuming "golf is for men, video games are for kids," it turns out we can make deals over the carcass of a blue dragon instead of over an empty martini glass. We can change the world!

At this rate, maybe some 50-something execs will feel pressured to give up their golf clubs for a +3 magic battle-axe!

The Business Press: Information or Infotainment?

Sam Whitmore continues to prove his worth to the PR community with this li'l nugget:

You can find a larger version of it here. Sam makes a very interesting point about the business press, which is worthy of debate. Since you might not be able to read the text above, let me quote Sam directly:
"Did you notice where business magazines fall? In theory they appeal to results-minded senior execs, but journalistically they border on entertainment vehicles. Agencies, be sure to educate your clients about this."
Sam makes an interesting point, and I give him credit for the contrarian stance - but, I think he may be too quick to discount the credibility boom that can come with a client's emergence in the business media.

Face it: when you visit a company's website and see a great BusinessWeek article, you instantly give the company credit for being more reputable, viable, worthy of consideration, etc. Being viewed as more credible and viable provides a greater likelihood of business success.

I do think that the landscape is changing, and that alternative forms of media will gain prominence in the purchase decision (all hail the blogosphere!), but it remains to be seen how and when this sea change ripples through the CIO's office.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Secrets Revealed! The REAL Reason Why Agencies Fire Clients

I fired a handful of clients these past few weeks.

It was a bizarre experience.

Each client was genuinely surprised. In fact, uncommon words like "astonished" and "flabbergasted" were not so uncommon.

Why did we fire these clients? Why were they so surprised?

Every situation is a snowflake, of course, but generally speaking, in each case we were significantly over-working the account, by up to 3X in some rare cases - with no end in sight. And, we felt that our team members were not getting the respect that they richly deserved from these clients.

In no case did we make the tough call because we had a bigger/competitive opportunity. (Although, happily, bigger/competitive opportunities did arise as a result of the freed-up bandwidth, after-the-fact.)

Agencies do not fire clients very often. Especially since the Internet Bubble burst, it has been very rare. That is certainly one reason for the clients' surprised reactions.

Here's the thing...

Business is getting better, yes. Yes, there are more opportunities to replace "bad" business with "good" business. Thus, most of these newly-fired clients assumed that they are getting axed because the agency had a better opportunity queued up.

But here is where the agency/client disconnect lies: clients think that agencies fire them in a good business environment because the agency can afford to do so; but, that's not it at all (we are trying to grow, after all, and any newbiz opportunity sucks up precious resources). No, the fact is, that agencies fire clients in a good business environment because we CAN'T afford to lose our people.

A good business environment creates new opportunities for the talented members of a service industry to pick-and-choose their workplace. So, if the agency does not occasionally support its teams by letting go of accounts that routinely abuse them, we might (deservedly) lose the people. If we lose good people, we lose our ability to offer excellent service to the good clients.

Very often, clients engaged in an agency review discount the importance of "chemistry." The fact is, all things being equal (as far as credentials go), people enjoy working with people that they like and respect. No one minds working extra-hard for respectful, gracious clients.

Similarly, no one enjoys busting their hump for someone who can only offer up a curt thank-you and asks, not 5 minutes later, "What have you done for me lately?"

Think about your own client/agency relationships.
  • If you are a client, keep in mind that your competitors would love to work with your PR team: it is as much in your best interest as the agency's to keep these PR stars motivated.
  • If you are an agency principal, do yourself the favor of having some very tough conversations with the top 5 "most difficult" accounts, and be ready to cut the cord: your PR stars will appreciate the gesture and work that much harder for you and your good clients.
  • If you are a PR star: we're hiring. ;)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Schmoozefests 'R' Us

It’s been an “eventful” year for our squad, between our work for The Churchill Club, the RSA Conference (starts tomorrow!), and, now, helping our clients at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the prestigious prize.

You are invited, Dear Reader, to attend E&Y’s upcoming kick-off mixer on Tuesday, February 21 at The St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco.

Come and network with other Bay Area communications professionals, enjoy complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and most importantly, get the inside track on submitting winning nominations to the program. Register as soon as possible – space is limited and the event is filling up fast.

The Details…
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
6:00pm – 8:00pm
St. Regis Hotel, 125 Third Street, San Francisco
Register here by February 15:
More on the program can be found here.

Can You Blush In A Blog?

Shel Israel, A-lister of the blogosphere, has been writing up his impressions of the DEMO conference over at the Conferenza blog.

As noted earlier, our 2 clients at DEMO, Ugobe & Panoratio, were both fortunate enough to net DEMOgod awards. That was amazing, in and of itself.

But as a PR blogger, I gotta say Shel's post from Saturday (find it here) made me happiest. He suggested that Ugobe and Panoratio were 2 of the top 3 most promising companies at this year's show.

Thank you, Shel!!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

4 things

Hmm. Methinks this whole "meme" thing is set to get out of hand, and quick. Will "memes" blow out of town as fast as "smartmobs?" Until they do, we must submit to the trend.

Morgan McLintic from LEWIS and PR young'un Ryan Lack tagged me to submit my 4 things. OK, here goes.

4 jobs I've had:

Kennel boy - you haven't lived until you've bathed 5 frenzied cats in a single day. I lost half a finger at this gig.

Ice cream scooper - worst part was getting caught giving free scoops to pretty girls.

"Emergency" house cleaner - you know, like when the furnace explodes and coats all your knick-knacks in a fine black powder, or the basement floods?

Telemarketer - "I am not trying to sell you anything; I just want you to invite our salesman into your home so he can explain about frozen meat products."

4 movies I can watch over & over:

Napoleon Dynamite / Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (tie)
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Blade Runner

4 TV shows I love to watch:

Daily Show
The Office (American version, even though everyone claims the BBC version is superior)
ROME (HBO)
Deadwood (HBO)

4 places I've visited on vacation:

Rome, Italy
Aberystwyth, Wales (2x)
Eluethera, Bahamas
Euro Disney, France

4 favorite dishes:

Beef brisket
Spaghetti w/ red clam sauce
Irish oatmeal with brown sugar glaze
"Peasant plate" - bread, cheese, apple slices, kalamata olives & some hummus

4 websites (or feeds) I visit daily:

Micropersuasion
Seth Godin
Guy Kawasaki
Silicon Valley Watcher

4 places I'd rather be:

Mongolia, on horseback
Patagonia, on foot
Kauai, in the water
Santorini, Greece, with my wife
(Just hangin' on my deck is okay, too.)

4 bloggers I'm tagging:

Mike Spinney
Marcel Goldstein
Burghardt Tenderich
Tom Murphy

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ugobe's Pleo Hatches @ DEMO

We were all totally stoked to learn that BOTH of our "DEMO babies" won DEMOGod awards at the DEMO conference this week:


  • Panoratio, which Shel Israel of the famed Naked Conversations blog handily described as, "the company that promises to bring supercomputer powers to laptop computers by allowing complex data to run in memory" (how cool is that?!), and, of course, the adorable ...
  • Pleo, by Ugobe - the runaway hit of the conference! It's clear already that a star has been born in the media & blogosphere. You know you want one for Xmas! - and it's only February!
Congratulations to the SHIFT team and to our clients, who made this such a fun & successful event! "Two for Two" on the DEMOGod front! Way to go!

What Would David Do?

I can't believe how often clients back off from the prospect of a public battle with their industry's 800-lb. gorillas.

Across hundreds of newbiz input sessions, I've heard C-level execs at start-ups and mid-sized companies pound their breasts and proclaim,

"Bring It On!"

But as soon as the contract is signed, we hear a lot of hemming and hawing...

"They might crush us."


"There's a possibility we might want to do a deal with them at some point."


"We don't want to kill a chance that they might buy us out."

"Our customers/prospects/VCs don't think it would be a good use of resources."

"They are bastards but they validate the space and educate the market, so maybe we ought to lay low."

What happened to cajones?!

Only one client really allowed us to truly embrace a competitive program: Speedera Networks.

When we started outwith Speedera, the #1 PR goal was, "to be mentioned in passing as a competitor to Akamai." No kidding: a passing reference of Speedera in an Akamai feature story was considered a home-run!

Not good enough for our team. We suggested that li'l Speedera had little to lose by takin' the gloves off and pounding the Akamai crew in the nose. "Do you want mentions or do you want to kick some ass?"

To their credit, Speedera execs warmed to the competitive concept. SHIFT engaged in an all-out war. Every Akamai article and press release created a lickety-split response from our Speedera team. Any customer that defected from Akamai to Speedera became a PR campaign. We even went so far as to publish a list of hard-hitting "Questions Akamai Doesn't Want You To Ask (sponsored by a top competitor)" to the list of financial analysts who covered AKAM.

Lo, not SIX MONTHS later, we saw headlines in pubs like InformationWeek heralding Speedera as "Akamai's Emerging Rival."

Lawsuits flew back and forth. Akamai sicced the FBI on Speedera. Through it all we never lost heart. And, importantly, neither did Speedera's execs or stakeholders. In fact, in 2002, at the height of this brouhaha, Speedera trounced Akamai in terms of annual press coverage.

What happened in the end? Akamai bought Speedera for $130 million.

“It’s almost like the Capulets and Montagues have kissed and made up,” says Counse Broders, principal analyst for Internet and managed services at Current Analysis. “They have been such major rivals.” (Network World)
Let's review...

"They might crush us."
Though miniscule compared to Akamai, Speedera was not crushed.
Speedera thrived.

"There's a possibility we might want to do a deal with them at some point."

One of the tech industry's most vicious rivalries did not preclude a lucrative deal.

"We don't want to kill a chance that they might buy us out."

Umm... yea, okay.

"Our customers/prospects/VCs don't think it would be a good use of resources."
Never heard that one from Speedera. When the FBI shut-down Speedera for the day, we called the local TV crews to make hay about how Speedera was such a big threat to Akamai!

"They are bastards but they validate the space and educate the market, so maybe we ought to lay low."
Laying low is for losers! Why not leverage the Big Dog's own market proselytizing by short-circuiting your media introductions?

"We're a lot like GoliathCorp., but we're better/different because of X, Y, Z..."
You've just cut 20 precious seconds from your pitch; you've made the journalist's life easier by helping them to assign you to a "bucket" they already dabble in.

There's a reason that so many of the stories from the Bible still resonate with us today. Think about David. A peasant kid, facing down the biggest, baddest barbarian in the land. With a rock and a leather string. The expectation was that he would be crushed. Appeasers in his own ragtag army fretted for peace. He could have run away. Melted into the crowd. Instead he marched into history.

You want great PR? Think like David. Give the press an archetypal narrative. Good vs. Evil. Big vs. Small. Fast vs. Slow. Don't shrink from the hot lights of competitive controversy. Rise up to it. Be bold.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Security - It's BIG

Our firm is the agency-of record for the prestigious RSA Conference. Today we held a worldwide media teleconference in which 3 key IT Security analysts (Ray Wagner of Gartner, Michael Rasmussen of Forrester and Charles Kolodgy of IDC) were tasked with providing the press community with insights on the "hottest market trends" and a preview of the upcoming Conference (Feb. 13 - 17, 2006, in San Jose, California).

I was honored to serve as the moderator. Throughout the session, I could not help but be impressed by just how BIG an issue IT Security has become. Remember when firewalls were the Big Thing? Now, it takes 3 analysts just to scratch the surface of this market.

Our agency has handled A LOT of security clients, and we still do. In fact, a hefty percentage of our business comes from this arena. Part of me has worried about the need for diversification...and while, yes, this is sound thinking, I was also put at ease today by the analysts' comments. Based on the fact that Security is getting bigger and bigger, with a) plenty of room for more innovation and, b) plenty of bad guys out there, I found myself less concerned with our percentage of Security clients.

I also made sure to update my anti-virus software!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sony Steps On Robot Dog's "Long Tail"

I've written before about the Long Tail theory espoused by Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson.

I wonder if this story ("Sony Puts Robot Dog To Sleep") is an example of Sony "stepping on" the Long Tail.

What if Sony could have found a contract manufacturer to make these robo-dogs more cost-effective?

What if they unleashed the underlying software code and hardware specs to the developer community? Might we have seen a market spring up for aftermarket Aibo hardware doohickies and software-based behaviors?

Might those 150,000 customers (and a few niche hobbyists and vendors) have found new ways to give their Aibos a "new leash on life"?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Calling “Bullsh**” On The “PR Is Dead” Meme

If you’re a PR pro who believes in PR’s merits, do a Google search on the phrase, “PR is dead.” Does it make ya mad?

A fair number of reputable bloggers have pounced on this meme. People ranging from journalist Tom Foremski to bizblogger Dave Taylor to Sun Microsystems exec Tim Bray have deduced that blogging (and related "new media") will surely de-value or even kill off the PR industry.

The problem is that the blogging bandwagon – which admittedly looks more like a Lamborghini than a horse-drawn carriage – is speeding along a twisty mountain road. Fun, fast, exciting. But, “visibility is limited.”

I can’t be the only one who doubts that an overwhelming number of corporate employees are panting to tell us all of their behind-the-scenes truths, regardless of whether they are helping or hurting their employers' cause. (Aren’t they working hard enough as it is?)

I can’t be the only one who scratches their head at the prospect of journalists spending their time scouring these insiders’ official & unofficial blogs, and/or taking user comments on their own journo-blogs as gospel story leads. (Reporters get frustrated as it is, when approached by PR people with legitimate stories; at least we are professionals!)

I know I am not the only one to think that PR skills are not strictly confined to, or impacted by, the “state of traditional media.”

More sagacious folk like “info provocateur” Amy Gahran do make good points about the media being ever-more search and aggregation-centric, which begs the question why we still bother using the wire services when a del.icio.us-tagged fact-sheet might well do the trick. This trend could imply a disintermediation of PR agencies … But then again, we ain’t just about press releases, and, it’s not as if corporations haven’t been able to hire in-house comms crews all this time. (If anyone ought to be scared, surely it’s the newswires. Are you listening, Mr. Buffet?)

Dave Taylor argues that "the message" can't be controlled; that "command and control"-style PR is going to fade away. This is not scary; this is our opportunity.

As I’ve noted again and again (and again!): our field is wide open. Our skill sets will always be in demand.

Even if the press release becomes a mere mote in the news media tag cloud, someone's going to have to craft the message (or help the client to coax an advantage out of an out-of-control ideavirus); someone's going to need to think about & plan for how the message will be received by various publics; and someone must ensure that the message is re-crafted and leveraged as it evolves online. We can do that. We do do that, now.

And meanwhile our “traditional” role with the “traditional” media will take years to truly and completely fade-out - even as forward-thinkers in our field are already embracing RSS, Technorati, del.icio.us, et al., with uncommon vigor.

Here’s an analogy I dreamt up while cleaning my garage this weekend…

Remember when the “For Sale By Owner” (FSBO) trend hit its peak in the real estate market, circa 1997? At the time, 'Net pundits breathlessly predicted that the Internet would completely disenfranchise the Realtor community.

In fact, by year-end 1997, fully 18 percent of homes were sold without the assistance of a Realtor – an all-time high! The hand-writing was on the wall for those greedy, clueless Realtors!

Fast forward to 2006: a real estate industry survey recently found the FSBO trend to have reached an all-time low.

What happened? Wasn’t the Internet supposed to change everything?

The Internet did change everything. It made it easy to find and to efficiently compare most all relevant realty data points. The Internet added transparency to the entire process. Public records, photos, virtual walk-throughs, etc., all went online. The home buying community was empowered.

The home sellers were the ones who were disenfranchised. They were the greedy, clueless ones. More than ever before, they needed to MARKET their homes (warts and all). Services like ForSaleByOwner.com sprang up to help, but never gained enough traction to tip the scales forevermore in favor of the FSBO movement.

With the interests of the buyers and sellers so at-odds, each party decided for their own reasons to return to the knowledgeable Realtors, who could act as an unbiased 3rd party MEDIATOR (for the buyers) and tech-savvy MARKETER (for the sellers).

Am I suggesting that PR people are the Realtors of the blogging era?

No. The press is the mediator. The corporation is the marketer. Audiences and stakeholders represent "buyers." PR people – to extend the real estate analogy – are the STAGERS.

If you’ve ever shopped for a home, you’ve seen the difference between a house that’s been “tidied-up” and one that’s been “staged” with crisp linens, potted flowers, rustic furniture pieces and exotic knick-knacks. Here’s an official-sounding description of home staging that (conveniently) suits my analogy to PR:

Staging is the art of styling a property to increase its market value and give it a competitive edge in today's real estate market. Staging combines business know-how with a designer's eye to style homes so that they show well, and subsequently sell well … Professional property staging is an effective real estate marketing tool that will help a home put its best face forward and stand out amongst the crowd. Staging is not an emotional process; it is a business decision for homeowners and real estate agents who want to present their properties in the best possible light, to facilitate faster sales at higher prices.


(Here are some before & after photos of property staging. See the difference?)

Now, re-write this paragraph to suit the analogy:

PR is the art of styling a company’s message to increase its market value and give it a competitive edge in today's market. PR combines business know-how with an expert's eye to craft messages so that they show well across multiple audience segments, and subsequently sell well … Professional PR is an effective marketing tool that will help a company put its best face forward and stand out amongst the crowd. PR is not an emotional process; it is a business decision for companies who want to present their products in the best possible light, to facilitate faster sales at higher prices.

PR is not dead. What deserves to die is the “PR Is Dead” meme so popular these days.

Ask any skilled property stager if they can turn a cesspit into a palace, they’ll say “yes!” Ask any skilled PR pro if they can spin a compelling narrative across any number of inter-connected channels and audiences, and they’ll say, “HELL, YES!”

PR is dead? Bull.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Our DEMO Babies

"Over 1,500 applied. Only 70 were accepted. " And our agency is proud to say that two of our clients will be presenting at the prestigious DEMO show this week. We are very excited about both of these companies, and you should be, too. Each represents genuine breakthroughs... If you are an enterprise infrastructure type, be sure to check out Panoratio's presentation. This solution utilizes such advanced math, it makes my hair sweat to think about it. If data runs your business, you will be blown away. Everyone else who's seen it has been. Come see the future of the database. And if you've got kids, are a gadget geek, or are just an overgrown kid yourself, you definitely don't want to miss UGOBE's demo. Here's a descriptor from their website (caution: goosebumps ahead):
UGOBE is developing a line of revolutionary robotic creatures and companions that exhibit stunning lifelike personalities, sound and responses that will inspire and entertain the child in all of us. These products will so effectively blur the distinction between toy, robot and pet that a new term will be required to describe this unique life form: realbot.
Remember those animated chess pieces from the first Star Wars movie? Yeah, we're getting there. See for yourself.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Ye Shall Reap What Ye Post

I don't always agree with Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher, but I think he's on to something this time. Here's an excerpt from his post, "A Job Advertisement From The Future."

"Your ability to secure your next job--and this will also apply to professions other than corporate communications, public relations, software engineers, or journalism--will increasingly be dependent on your online visibility."

Anything you say or do online exists in cyberspace, forever. And more and more of the world-of-work is migrating online. Let the Great Karmic Wheel turn: have you done good, have you done bad, have you (worst of all) done nothing?

Fast forward a coupla years. Checking your credentials won't just be about what you've written on the Web: your image could well be splattered all over the place... Your future employer might use services like Riya to see how your corporate headshot matches up to those pics from the bachelor party or sorority house. "You seem qualified, Mr. Schmedley, but can you explain this photo we found of you on MySpace, circa 2005? Why are you upside-down? Why were you dressed in red leather?"

Ye shall reap what ye post.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Is Risk On The Wane?

I am starting to sense a trend. I see people ranging from Kathy Sierra to Seth Godin exhorting the online community to take risks, to be bold, to step forward, to be unafraid.

I think it is likely true that the innovators within large companies are either afraid to fail or, more likely, hindered by a bureacratic heirarchy that quashes new thinking. That just seems obvious. Precious few people in Corporate America are judged in a performance review on their ability to generate and execute on Big, Risky Ideas.

("Hmm, let's see, Mr. Schmedley: I see that your annual review is lacking a check-mark in the 'Audacity' field... Why is that? Perhaps you should be sent to a Cajones 101 training seminar? Would that help you grow a set of brass ones?")

I also think it may be true that even the best thinkers at start-up companies are so overwhelmed with work that they don't have the time or energy to be bold. They might leave it to the CEO, CTO or other official spokesperson to do the bold-stroke thinking.

My bet is that there is a lot of untapped creativity out there. It's just not being cultivated.

Certainly, while they talk it up, Congress is not actually encouraging entrepreneurialism: they just recently set harsh new barriers to claiming personal bankruptcy, which means we won't read many more success stories where the founder borrowed $30K on his AmEx to start a company. Too risky!

The other big barrier, and what in my opinion is truly on the wane, is T-I-M-E.

Time to think. Time to explore. Time to breathe.

How often have you come back from vacation, full of ideas about how to do your job better? Maybe the respite gave you the insights you needed to accomplish a big project. Maybe those few days off gave you the courage you needed to quit an unsatisfying position. Maybe you sat on the beach and scratched out a fantastic new innovation on the cocktail napkin that was served with your mai-tai!

But how often upon your return from this rejuvenating experience did you subsequently find yourself so completely beaten-down by the flood of unread emails, RSS feeds, et cetera, that you almost immediately felt all the wind puff out of the sails?

Risk itself is not on the wane. The amount of TIME we need to imagine and take on new risks - that's what is on the wane!

How-To Make $20,000 In An Elevator


I recently watched a "branding agency" take a mutual client through the simple “elevator pitch” development process below…and was horrified to learn that they had charged our client $20,000 for the “half-day workshop.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love this Marketing 101 exercise. And yea, it can take a half-day (or more) to get all the decision makers on the clients’ side of the table to reach agreement on all of the fill-in-the-blank stuff. In fact, I used to be shocked by the disconnects that could arise through this simple process. I've seen execs storm out of the room because of disagreements that cropped up via this seemingly straightforward messaging exercise.

But, TWENTY THOUSAND BUCKS? Sheesh! That's a lot of green. As hard as it can be, we engage in this exercise as part of the standard retainer. It's our job to help craft the most compelling narrative, eh?



If you are a client that has never gone through this process, it is a valuable exercise.

If you're a PR agent that decides to use this template and charge the client $20,000 for it, please send me a check.


P.S. - to the wise-acres who will ask why SHIFT did not lead this particular client's "Elevator Pitch" exercise - it was because the client CEO was hell-bent on spending money on a "branding" initiative...with his former colleague's agency.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

TechDirt! Mudslinging In Silicon Valley

Gawker Media, the blog publishing house that brought us everything from Gizmodo to Wonkette, from Defamer to Fleshbot, has launched a new blog dedicated to insider gossip in Silicon Valley. Called ValleyWag, the site is currently still finding its voice.

So far it features sundry items ranging from Googler Larry Page's lovelife to low-level insider messes at PayPal. It may be a little disjointed now, but Gawker's a professional outfit, and the tongues do tend to wag in the Bay Area, so ValleyWag will assuredly find its mark - and will no doubt break open a juicy scandal soon. Stay tuned.

And watch your back.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Seeking Out "Blue Star" Brands

The hottest stars in the universe are blue stars.

When thinking about the Web 2.0 trend, and the boatload of new companies spawning in the Internet ether, I constantly find myself wondering, "Which of these newbie companies will be the next leaders? Who will burn the hottest? What is the 'blue star' brand of tomorrow? Will they come from Silicon Valley (again), or will the Web's 'worldwide' powers finally allow innovation to happen all over the place?"

It's an important question, especially for PR agencies. The phone keeps ringing in the Sales Department, and it behooves us to NOT make the same mistakes we all made back in '98-'99.

Maybe we should take more time to vet the management team, to do a credit check, to check-up on the funding, to test-out the product, to ask for a little more proof? Maybe. Maybe this time around we'll trust our guts a little more, when they tell us, "Do you really think that this is for real?"

Perfect example: I had the dubious distinction of handling PR for a company called Surfbuzz. It was founded by two young guys (like, 18 and 21), and the initial funding came from the younger brother's daytrader winnings. There was no revenue model. I can't even remember the details; maybe I blocked it all out. Surfbuzz had some kick-ass PR for a while, I remember that. But the company ultimately became known as among the most egregious examples of Bubble Era excess and foolishness (or, as Wired put it: Surfbuzz was, "The auction site that embodied dot-com avarice.")

The thing is, I knew it even as I was pitching it: this company had no reason for being. It was all about greed. The brothers were greedy for fame and fortune (and made no bones of it), and the agency I worked at at the time was greedy for every damn dollar it could squeeze out of the excesses of the day. And so were you, and your firm, right? Let's not kid ourselves.

Let's not kid ourselves, but, let's not make the same mistakes this time around.

'Cuz the thing about blue stars is, if they start to burn their fuel too rapidly: they go nova. That might sound like a good thing, but not when you're among the folks who get burned by the explosion.