Better Call Saul the PR Hound

I really loved the AMC show Breaking Bad.  It seems like only yesterday that my girlfriend sauland I binged on it, getting through all the seasons in a couple of months.

This time I wanted to get an early start with the new spin off Better Call Saul and try something new – like watching it in real time, instead of having to go back and binge.

So far it is great.  The program has the same writing team as Breaking Bad, and some of the same actors.

Yesterday, in Episode 4, PR played a starring role.  But it was not the most flattering context.

In one scene, two lawyers were discussing their client, a couple who’d embezzled and were about to play a starring role in the news. the junior partner asked “should we get them a PR firm?”

The last act of yesterday’s episode (spoiler alert) included a publicity stunt that Jim McGill (who eventually became Saul Goodman – as in s’all good, man!) engineered to drum up business while defending his budding practice from a much larger law firm.

The stunt involved a large billboard and dangling worker.  It is explained further in the latest NY Times wrap:

His goal, we soon learn, is to create a highway billboard ad for his law practice… And here comes the payoff: Jimmy has arranged for the man taking down the ad to feign a near-death experience, by “accidentally” falling off a landing and dangling from a rope 65 feet in the air. With a hired film crew capturing every moment, Jimmy rushes to the rescue, ensuring TV and newspaper coverage for a great story: Solo practitioner bullied by big law firm saves workingman’s life.

Law and PR, not such strange bedfellows. You often see lawyers acting as spokespeople – yet, looking at it from the PR side, we instruct clients not to be too legalistic in how they approach the media and public.Glue

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Sushi for PR Champions

You’ve heard about Sushi for Beginners. This post is about Sushi for PR Champions. It was inspired by the movie Jiro Dreams ofsushi-296521_1280 Sushi, a documentary about the man behind a modest Sushi bar in Japan. Jiro Ono’s uncompromising approach earned his shop an unprecedented 3 Michelin star rating (which means it is worth a special trip to the country just to eat at the place).

I think the movie offers valuable lessons about how to reach for perfection and provide a quality product or service.

So I decided to write this post, which connects the ideas with the world of PR. Read on only if you really are interested in being the best. Jiro’s approach may seem severe. You may flinch as you read it and think they are impossible standards. But you don’t get to be the best by slacking.

To really appreciate these lessons watch the movie; here are my quick observations, interspersed with quotes from the movie in italics:

Love your work, and take it seriously

The words below could apply to PR, or any field, really.

Once you decide
on your occupation…
you must immerse yourself
in your work.
You have to fall in love
with your work.
Never complain about your job.
You must dedicate your life
to mastering your skill.
That’s the secret of success…

Be a perfectionist, sweat every detail

It’s essential to check every detail.
I make the sushi different sizes
depending on the customer’s gender.
If I made everybody’s the same size.
It would disrupt the pace of the meal.
So, I make the sushi a little smaller
for the ladies.
The first thing we do is memorize
the seating arrangement.
If Jiro notices a guest
using his left hand…
the next piece of sushi
will be placed on the left side.
So, you adjust accordingly
to that guest.

Whether you are writing a press release, approaching the media or executing a campaign, sweat every detail. E.g., here at Fusion, I tell the team “there’s no such thing as a draft – get it right, really nail it, the first time.”

This passage also speaks to the importance of tailoring your offering, or pitch.

Work hard, practice, repeat

We’re not trying
to be exclusive or elite.
It’s just about making an effort
and repeating the same thing every day.

[Jiro] sets the standard
for self-discipline.
He is always looking ahead.
He’s never satisfied with his work.
He’s always trying to find ways
to make the sushi better,
or to improve his skills.
Even now, that’s what he thinks
about all day, every day.

It is not about flash; Jiro has the discipline and focus of a Tibetan monk. Similarly, in PR it is important to hone and apply best practices through repetition (another good source on the topic is the book The Power of Habit).

Repetition, practice, and applying proven formulas does not need to be dull or formulaic… see the last point below.

Of course, you need talent

In this line of business…
if you take it seriously,
you’ll become skilled.
But if you want to make a mark
in the world, you have to have talent.

There are some
who are born with a natural gift.

The rest is how hard you work.

These things are no great revelation, but Jiro also talks about the importance of intrinsic motivation – something I addressed in my post on the PR Conversations blog.

It also takes years of training

When you work for Jiro
… you have to endure
ten years of training.
If you persevere for ten years…
You will acquire the skills
to be recognized as a first rate chef.

Ten years! To prepare raw fish! How long should it take to to learn all these things that the typical PR person is expected to handle?

Don’t be too quick to rush freshly minted PR strivers to the front lines; if you are just joining the profession, take the time to learn the craft before even thinking of the next rung.

Keep things simple

All of the sushi is simple.
It’s completely minimal.
Master chefs from around the world
eat at Jiro’s and say…
How can something so simple
have so much depth in flavor?”
If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi
in a nutshell…
Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.

Jiro takes a Zen-like approach to simplicity. Similarly, the best PR ideas and stories are compelling, powerful and simple – they are easy to tell and understand.

Have great taste

In order to make delicious food,
you must eat delicious food….
you need to develop a palate capable
of discerning good and bad.
Without good taste,
you can’t make good food.
If your sense of taste is lower than
that of the customers,
how will you impress them?

How can you be good at PR if you don’t read or pay close attention to news? The best PR people have great taste – they develop a reporter’s instinct for a great story.

Know when to strike

Each ingredient has an ideal moment
of deliciousness.
Mastering the timing
of sushi is difficult.
It takes years of experience
to develop you intuition.
The sushi must be eaten immediately
after it is served.

Effective campaigns are not just about great stories but timing, too. Here again, it helps to have a reporters’ nose for a hot topic.

Dream big, innovate

The masters said that the history
of sushi is so long…
that nothing new could be invented.
They may have mastered their craft…
but there’s always room for improvement.
I created sushi dishes
that never existed back then.
I would make sushi in my dreams.
I would jump out of bed at night
My mind was bursting with ideas

The PR advice here is clear. Break out of the formula and find ways to innovate – on each campaign, and in the ways that you practice and apply PR. Care so much about these things that you dream about them.

 

 

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Find and Fill Open Spaces to Connect with Customers

While watching my kids play soccer years ago, I often heard the coach yell “Open Spaces! Pass to space!”openspaces

The instructions might not make sense, but on the playing field they were obvious: the coach was imploring the team to pass the ball to an area that was unoccupied by defenders.

Marketers of today can learn a thing or two from this philosophy. For as long as I can remember, companies have been told that they need to find ways to “break through the clutter” and “rise above the noise.” This generally involved brute force – “talking” louder, or more persistently – ideally in combination with clever campaigns.

But today’s hyper-noisy world demands new metaphors and strategies. In a crowded field, it is much better to find an area where there are no defenders. Said another way, instead of trying to compete with the din, and punch your way through, why not find and fill an open space?

There are many practical ways to market to open spaces. The beauty is that you can use these tactics individually, or combine them for even better results.

Please see below for the first tip, and I will share others in my next post.

Communicate Clearly when others are Confusing

Most industries have their own language. Using the acronyms, buzzwords and slang identifies you as a member of the club, an insider who is smart about the business.  It can serve as shorthand and streamline communications. However, jargon run amuck – when used by marketers, who have no actual experience with the product or industry – can be confusing.

For example, the tech world is famous for geek-speak. Just try reading press releases in B2B and IT tech and you will see what I mean – it can be tough to understand what the products actually do, and who benefits, even if you are a techie. This dense landscape of impenetrable prose leaves an open space for those who can relate more clearly and powerfully.

How can you fill the space? Replace all those “purpose builts”, “scale outs”, “seamlesses” and “end-to-ends” with words that actually mean something – and sentences and phrases that connect with the intended audiences.

It may sound easy but it isn’t – doing this right means knowing what you’re talking about, either from first-hand experience, or by tapping the knowledge of someone who is close to a space and ideally has been a user or implementer of similar solutions.

Do it well and you will not only hit the bulls eye when it comes to getting on the radars of prospects – you will also likely reach a wider audience via approachable language.  My Words that Work in Tech PR series goes into more detail about this tactic.

To learn more about how you can market to open spaces, please visit this page.

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Secret to Creativity? Ditch the Phone! Get Bored!

Cell phones have been blamed for everything from frying our brains, to shortening attention spans and making us stupid. But brain-on-mobilenew research shows that the biggest threat may be to our creativity.  It should especially be of interest to people in creative and info-driven fields like marketing, journalism and PR.

The NY Times Op Ed Smartphones Don’t Make us Dumb challenges conventional wisdom:

“…there’s little evidence that attention spans are shrinking…  a significant deterioration would require a retrofitting of other cognitive functions. Mental reorganization at that scale happens over evolutionary time, not because you got a smartphone.”

However, that doesn’t mean the devices can’t pose other challenges – here’s another excerpt:

“Over the last decade, neuroscientists distinguished two systems of attention and associated thought. One is directed outward, as when you scroll through your email or play Candy Crush. The other is directed inward, as when you daydream, plan what you’ll do tomorrow, or reflect on the past. Clearly, most digital activities call for outwardly directed attention. These two modes of attention work like a toggle switch; when one is on, the other is off.”

The article notes the important role of daydreaming in creativity (although there can be downsides, like negative thoughts and distraction).

Similar ground is now being covered in WNYC’s Bored and Brilliant project.  The station’s New Tech City podcaster Manoush Zomorodi began her January 12th show, The Case for Boredom, by pondering:

“Since 2008, when I first got a smartphone – I have never had to be bored. The phone has invaded every moment of my life.  Am I missing out on something by not being bored anymore?”

Over fifteen minutes, she interviews researchers in fields of mind wandering and boredom (who knew there were such specialties?!!). One said “creativity and daydreaming are peas in a pod,” and another complained that the phone is “like an annoying detachable limb.”

The WNYC project challenges us to rethink the relationship with our phones and get more creative.  You can participate by signing up here, and downloading an app that helps you track the time you spend on your phone.

 

 

 

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Google Glass Flop a Buzz Kill for IoT and “Fail Fast” Ethos

We’d barely put down our Champagne glasses and CES party hats away when the tech field’s New Year’s buzz was killed with the news that Google was taking Glass off the market.

It was probably the right thing to do, a real grownup decision for Google – a company that famously encourages employee innovation. And, sure, maybe Google Glass did seem like the sad punchline to a cruel geek joke (see the clip above, in which the Daily Show skewers “eye douches” wearing “$1,500 face computers.”).

But if you are in tech and love tech, it kind of hurts.

The fact that Google is taking its ball and going home may cause some to scale back all the hype and enthusiasm about wearable tech (a cornerstone of the vaunted Internet of Things, or IoT) as the Glasses were its poster child. And IoT is one of the great hopes of tech.

While you won’t catch me admitting to liking hype (or creating it) a certain amount of bullishness is good for business. It sells media and gear, a boon to those who market tech (and their PR agencies, let’s face it).

The retraction is also a little depressing because it calls in to question all the feel good, liberating talk of failing fast – just get product out there, the tech wonks tell the starry-eyed entrepreneurs. You will figure it out, with feedback and guidance from the market.

Innovate. Launch. Iterate. And quickly, for Chrissakes don’t make a career out of it.

Well, you can’t fail fast without a little failure, some might retort.

Perhaps – but maybe, just maybe, there’s some good advice about market research and planning in all those dry MBA textbooks.

Doing some of those basics might have helped Google avoid another cliché – offering a technology in search of a problem to solve.

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Fusion’s Favorite Mobile Apps of 2014

We surveyed our team about their mobile app use, asking everyone to pick their top three (intentionally excludingphone_apps400 client apps from consideration).

It was a fun exercise, as there was much variety in the answers (no one picked the same ones, in fact there was very little overlap) and I learned about a few new apps in the process.

I also learned about new uses for existing apps, and more about the interests of some of our team members. Some were surprising – I did not know that Nicole is a sports nut, Annie loves podcasts, and Mark wakes up with a different ring tone every day!

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Several listed WhatsApp
  • Unsurprisingly, some of the L.A. team’s choices relate to auto navigation (Waze, Google Maps)
  • Other apps were for navigating issues in daily life, e.g. a restaurant/bar tab splitter, food delivery app and Bible verses
  • Quite a few related to media: e.g. Flipboard, Spotify (who knew that you can use it to learn a new language?), Zedge, SoundHound, and Shazam.
  • Many of the apps were for communications, social media and food/entertainment/travel

Please see below for the responses from some of the team members:

Annie

  • Waze is my lifeline for getting through tricky L.A. traffic during rush hour
  • Stitcher has all of my favorite podcasts to keep me entertained (and sane) while maneuvering through LA traffic
  • Postmates, a great food delivery app

Sara

  • Flipboard is my go-to news source
  • Tab is a great to help with splitting the bill between friends
  • Spotify stores my favorite albums, artists and songs plus you can learn a new language or choose a playlist depending on your mood.

Mark

  • Zedge lets me download a ton of ringtones so I can wake up to a different song every day
  • Timehop shows me what I posted on Facebook on this date for the past five years. It’s fun to revisit my recent past
  • Soundhound and Shazam – when I hear a song that interests me, I open one of these apps and hold my phone up in the air… ten seconds later, I know what song it is, who it’s by – and sometimes even how bad the lyrics are.

Fehmida

  • Google Maps: Probably the one and only app I would be completely lost without
  • Snapchat: a fun and easy way for me to stay in touch with friends and family… it also helps perfect my caption and finger drawing skills.
  • WhatsApp: I use this app exclusively for group conversations; it is a great platform when making plans.

Nicole

  • The Bible app provides a daily verse, it is a great, positive way to start my day and gets some motivation going
  • Bleacher Report notifies me whenever there’s news about all the sports teams I follow and my favorite players… it incorporates social media buzz about topics related to these teams and players as well.
  • Echofon is a lot better than the Twitter app for Droid… It syncs with the Echofon app for Mac

Laura

  • Waze: I’m not sure I could handle Los Angeles driving without this app that I use at least twice a day every single day.
  • Yelp: Since I moved to a new city, I haven’t had a bad meal or service experience, and it’s all because of this app!
  • Mobile Banking Apps: I can deposit checks, transfer money, and pay my bills from wherever I am

Bob

  • Facebook, Twitter and then a tie between LinkedIn and Evernote (the latter for note taking).
  • Buffer App for scheduling Tweets

Chris

  • Google Wallet
  • White Noise – Perfect for travelers
  • Google Voice

Ross

  • Spotify
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Fantasy Football (5 months out of the year)

Nirav

  • Instagram
  • Newsstand – WSJ App
  • WhatsApp
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Tips for Getting your Tech News Covered in China

As I said in PR in Asia: Myths and Misconceptions, Fusion PR often hears from companies that want to get china-featmedia coverage in China. To better understand how to do this, I asked Carmen Ren – a talented PR person (she is Chinese, and is finishing work towards her Master’s degree in PR at NYU) – for her thoughts on the matter.  We compared notes, and the result was reflected in the above post.

For the next in the series, Carmen graciously offered to ask a tech journalist friend the following questions (the reporter requested that we protect her identity; I can say she is the real deal – writes for a Chinese tech publication that has a circulation of well over 1M, and she has a similar number of Weibo followers).

The questions are designed to explore the differences between how tech PR works in the U.S. vs. China, and shed light on effective tactics. The following is a summary of the interview; you can request a full copy by visiting this link.

What is tech reporting like in China?

Hierarchy culture dominates most press organizations in China. While U.S. reporters choose the beats as they wish, typically Chinese journalists are assigned topics and fields they will cover. Technology is a desirable field among reporters because it is safe, less stressful, ever-changing, and better paid.

Do you need to meet reporters in-person to get coverage?

The process is more casual; especially for websites, meeting-in-person is normally not necessary.

Is it appropriate to communicate with most reporters in Mandarin?

Mandarin is the official and standard language in mainland China and Taiwan, although in written form, Mainland China use simplified Chinese, while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional Chinese. And In Hong Kong, the official languages are Cantonese and English.

Traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and most overseas Chinese communities, while the simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore.  Even among traditional Chinese speakers, there are still many vocabulary differences in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau — Just like “mobile phone” in British English and “cell phone” in American English.

Do they cover press U.S. releases in China?

Assuming that the PR reps have maintained favorable relations with reporters, most online media outlets are willing to cover corporate news; most likely they will publish whatever is provided, with little or no editing (although some say that editorial standards are evolving)..

Journalists from print media tend to be more conservative regarding news quality. They actually care about the newsworthiness of a story. It will be more difficult to get a story published in a print publication. However, most of the major papers have online news platforms, and it is much easier to get the story out there.

Do journalists expect to get paid by PR-seekers? What about for press events?

Normally, you don’t need to pay them to get coverage; but they may expect compensation for attending a press event / conference via a “travel fee” that covers his/her meals and transportation. Typically, the amount ranges from 200-500 RMB (or $33-$82) per person. If it involves train / flights, the company will need to arrange accommodations and tickets.

A press conference is considered a good way to get connected with local media outlets, especially for new companies. Perhaps 90% of the online media who attend will cover the event, and most likely, they will publish whatever you give them. You can always follow up and remind them if they forget.

 

Want to get the full interview, which includes tips on the best ways to contact Chinese tech media?  Please register here to find out more.

 

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PR In China: the Latest Hits (and Misses)

Next week I will be posting the second part of the series Tech PR in Asia: Myths and Misconceptions.

The first post was about the distorted view many have about Asian (and Chinese, in particular) media.  As I said, those who are not savvy in this area might think that China is a very buttoned down place, and that the government pulls all the strings.

This week I share a few articles that support and refute this perception.

Last night the Daily Show reported that the Chinese government is clamping down on a journalism scourge that confuses citizens and can poison their minds – namely wordplay, that’s right, puns. Needless to say, Jon Stewart had great fun with this, see the clip above.

Despite the heavy (and humorless) hand, if you think the state of media there leaves no room for PR stunts, viral marketing, and click bait, guess again.

Carmen Ren a PR rock star who just completed her internship here, shared this article.  It covered dirty tricks of marketers and PR seekers, including the excerpt:

But the rapid spread of such soft advertising indicates a bigger problem: news websites are putting their traffic before the authenticity of their content…

Hmmm, traffic before authenticity? That slippery slope does not sound so foreign, does it?

Finally, in the “hits” category, is a nice piece that Glenn Leibowitz (who leads McKinsey’s external communications in Greater China) wrote on LinkedIn: 10 Things you should Know about Chinese Media.

It covers some of the same ground as my “Myths” post and adds other important facts, such as:

There are three “flavors” of written Chinese. In Mainland China, media use the “simplified” Chinese character set, which contains many characters that differ substantially in how they’re written in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which use the “traditional”, or “complex”, character set… Besides being incomprehensible, content that is presented in the “wrong” character set betrays a lack of cultural sensitivity and basic knowledge of what works in what market. 

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Uber Flap Shines Harsh Light on Tech Journalism

Uber executive Emil Michaels got in hot water this week amidst news that he had oliveoyl01threatened to hire researchers to dig up dirt on hostile journalists, or more specifically, Sara Lacy – and spread dirt about her personal life.

The episode brought more negative attention to Uber. Some took it as an opportunity to explore the reporting practices of those who cover the tech sector.  The NY Times joined in, with the piece In Silicon Valley, Journalists Balance Booster and Critic. According to the story:

In a podcast, Ms. Lacy, the founder and editor in chief of the Silicon Valley news website PandoDaily, and Paul Carr, her co-host, called Uber…“evil” [and nasty, etc.] They also reserved a portion of their scathing rant for their fellow tech writers, who, they said, had gone too soft on Uber.

The [episode] opened a window into the competitive… group of publications that… cover Silicon Valley… many make a significant portion of their revenue from live events and conferences that feature the big-name tech executives they cover.  Some… also rely on investments from venture capital firms that have stakes in the start-ups.

This aspect of the story, about the competitive nature of tech reporting and their infighting, had a “here we go again” feel. Indeed, I covered similar ground in my posts from a couple of years ago: Tech Media Thrashes About, and Sniping Between Tech Blogs Reveals Intense Competition).

So, what did we learn and how should we react to these things: the Uber episode, how it was covered and the state of tech reporting at large?

I think they can collectively be like a Rorschach test – depending on where you sit, reactions may differ:

  • If you are a tech vendor, you thank God that you are not Uber and recall the PR person’s counsel that there really is no such thing as off-the-record – the Uber executive’s comments were made at a private dinner, but how private can it be when the media are there?
  • If you are Sara Lacy (pictured above) you bask in the exposure; she made some valid points, but seemed all too eager to play victim and milk the opportunity.
  • If you are in PR you scratch your head over the double standard (I mean, journalists compile dossiers on companies and people and sometimes spread dirt, right? Ugh, don’t get me started). You get confused because, despite Lacy’s tantrums, you know that the media can be very tough on tech companies and sometimes even your clients.  Most of all, unless you like to blog about flacks and revenge (guilty) you stay very quiet and let this blow over until next time.
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In the new “Curate or Perish” World, what’s a Flack to Do?

If you are interviewing PR agencies, a good question to ask is: “what business are you in?”off_target-1024x823

You may get a confused look; tell them that they have come to the right place and you really want to know.

If they say: “Getting you media coverage, building visibility,” or some such, you should politely show them the door.

The reason is that any agency worth its salt knows that press coverage will happen.  But in a sea of noise and info choices, it is the ability to break through and connect with audiences that makes the critical difference. In short, the correct answer is the “attention business”.  And getting attention – quality attention – is getting more challenging every day.

There used to be a straight line between PR effort and results. You announce your news, work the media, coverage happens, on to the next. A hit in a nice outlet meant something; was sure to make an impression with your audience.

These days it is not just about getting a good story in a targeted publication (sure, it is great to get these, much better than not) but who, really, is paying attention?
And what was once a straight line is now like pinball. You put your news out, the info gets sliced, diced, puréed, ricochets around the social networks (if you are lucky, and the buzz is good), and curated.

In fact, people may only notice your news when it appears on Twitter, in LinkedIn, or their Facebook news feed. Two recent articles really drove this point home.  The first was in Digiday, it highlighted LinkedIn’s growing clout as a curator of business news (see my post). The second ran in the NY Times: How Facebook is Changing the Way its Users Consume Journalism.

What do these trends mean for PR? After all, it is challenging enough to get coverage. Do we also need to make sure that the news finds its way to mobile news apps, social networks and sites that aggregate news? Isn’t that the concern of the outlet that carries your news?

If you think your job is just to get coverage there’s no need to read any further. However if you think that it is to find ways to get in front of the intended audience – to get their attention, inspire action, change opinions, make a difference – then please watch this site for the next in my series.

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