Building Bridges to Media and the World in Jerusalem

Addressing the JVP meetup with Pnina Ben Ami

I traveled throughout Israel over the past 10 days and visited many parts of the beautiful country.

Each place was more awe-inspiring than the last.  But Jerusalem really stood out, for its history, mix of cultures and religions, and sheer beauty.  The Old City must be seen to be believed.  Walking through the bustling underground markets and sites that are thousands of years old seemed to take me back in time.

There was the chance to do some business while there too. Our friends at Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), an internationally renowned venture capital fund based in Israel, hosted a meetup, where I led a session about the art of PR for the Jerusalem tech community and its startups.

Of course, I know JVP, as Fusion PR has worked with the largest and best-known Israeli VC for years.  We’ve helped a number of their portfolio companies launch and grow. But this was my first visit. I got to meet the team in-person and learn more about its history and initiatives.

To understand JVP, it helps to appreciate Jerusalem. The city might not be the most obvious home for a VC that focuses on the tech sector – Tel Aviv and Herzliya have far more tech companies. Perhaps that is the point – a feature, not a bug.

I spoke with Doron Ish Shalom, Director of Program Development, and Pnina Ben Ami, VP Marketing. They helped me better understand JVP.

It is a VC firm, so of course the focus is investment and building global companies. More than that, JVP is about making connections, creating value and building bridges, with a broad network of partners and expertise to help companies become global market leaders.

The most obvious bridge connects ancient Jerusalem to the modern tech world. JVP’s innovative approach starts with its unique location at the JVP Media Quarter.  They’re located in the British Mandate’s historical MINT Building built in 1937, adjacent to the Old City. With over 200 dynamic entrepreneurs in the business, social and cultural enterprises, the JVP Media Quarter houses startups, VC Fund JVP, an early stage incubator, the Siftech Accelerator and many more.

JVP also bridges business, government and society (e.g. in areas such as transportation and infrastructure). It even has an initiative to bring Palestinians and Israelis together via entrepreneurship.

The firm builds bridges between Israel and the world – the VC is expanding to NY, Europe and Asia.   Recently, Alibaba founder and chairman, Jack Ma and his entourage of 35 senior executives from Alibaba Group visited JVP’s campus in Jerusalem. JVP became a strategic partner of Alibaba two years ago and since then the Chinese firm has invested tens of millions of dollars in JVP.

At Fusion PR, one of our specialties is helping early stage companies launch and grow, so I was particularly interested in a new effort there called JVP Play, an innovative platform in partnership with Tesco, PepsiCo, Barclays, Microsoft, and Deloitte to build disruptive companies based on collaboration with global customers, partners, and investors.

“It’s win-win-win,” Doron explained.  Big business gets first crack at the newest tech – and the chance to influence development. Startups can POC with major brands – and get valuable feedback and the prospect of converting the trials to customers.

Of course JVP wins by being a catalyst. They go beyond the usual VC roll of the dice to fuel the success of companies that may join their portfolio.

The New Rules of PR

The background provided by the JVP team made me even more excited to participate in the meetup. It was well attended – there were over 40 people, including JVP Play portfolio companies, early stage startups from east of Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox entrepreneurs who have already succeeded in developing successful technological solutions, Siftech portfolio companies and SecBI, a Fusion PR client.

I explained the realities of PR today, and tactics that can help startups launch and reap the benefits of great PR.  You can get a copy of the presentation here.

Thanks Pnina Ben Ami for organizing the session and helping to drive the discussion – and Ruti Szankowski and Doron for all your help,

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Cyber Tech brings Intrigue, Ethical Challenges to PR

Tech PR is usually not about life or death issues. Yes, we do start revolutions – but with a small “r”. Governments aren’t toppled, or blood spilled from our work.

The field of cybersecurity technology is a different animal, however. It can bring the cloaks, daggers and pose ethical challenges for PR teams, vendors and journalists alike.
I thought about this while reading a NY Times story: When Spies Hack Journalism.

It’s about the growing phenomena of state-sponsored actors bringing stolen info to the media (think North Korea’s hack of Sony; or Russia’s sharing of Democrats’ emails).
Should such info be published? What are the journalistic and ethical considerations?

Of course there’s always an agenda behind the hacker’s motives, and bad things can happen when sensitive data gets out; editorial teams need to consider this vs. the public’s right to know.

Scott Shane writes: “The old rules say that if news organizations obtain material they deem both authentic and newsworthy, they should run it. But those conventions may set reporters up for spy agencies to manipulate… the hacked Democratic emails revealed true and important things… The problem was that Russian hackers chose not to deliver to American voters the same inside material from the Trump campaign. The tilt of the coverage was decided in Moscow. By counting on American reporters to follow their usual rules, the Kremlin hacked American journalism.”

The article further quotes Columbia Law professor David Pozen, who is an expert on news leaks: “Publishing leaks provided by foreign spies ‘legitimizes and incentivizes hacking,’ he said. ‘I think this makes the ethical calculus for journalists much more complex.’ Asked if he had any guidelines in mind, Mr. Pozen demurred. ‘I don’t think I have great answers,’ he said.

“If You Pitch this, Bad Shit will Happen”

In the above story, the journalists are portrayed as hapless pawns, caught in the crossfire of good vs. evil. But they have agendas too. Nothing grabs attention like a big scoop.

Sometimes media eagerness for info can place the ethical challenge on the doorstep of PR.
After all, we want to be a friendly resource. Cyber security PR often means swooping in when there’s a story about a hack and contacting reporters. We bring them spokespeople and inside info.

The murky world of hacking adds to the challenge. Tech providers can get uncomfortably close. They see what’s happening on the dark web. Many have research teams, monitor groups with nefarious motives, and recruit from the pool of former hackers. It’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad.

I can recall two situations where we (i.e. the agency PR team) got into uncomfortable places and had to make tough decisions with potentially dire implications (I’ll leave names out for obvious reasons).

In one case, we were working with a client’s head of research, who uncovered — and encouraged us to share with the media — the identity of a key suspect in a major international hacking incident.  No sooner was the reporter briefed than the proverbial shit hit the fan.  The client’s head of PR called an urgent meeting to ask how this could happen.  He was concerned that revealing his company as the source of this info would put employees’ lives at risk, not to mention the person they identified! (P.S., it turns out the reporter knew the name already, and in the final analysis, we learned the info was incorrect).

Another time, our client’s spokesperson was briefing a top-tier reporter about a much-publicized hack involving a major bank. The journalist was pushing for details about the mechanics of the attack. Our client said he was reluctant to share the info, because it could help hackers recreate the crime with other banks. The journalist seemed unconcerned, and in fact was even excited about getting and publishing such hot info. The client held firm. But you would think that publications have rules about sharing info that can be harmful.

Much has been written about PR and journalistic ethics. Cybersecurity is one area that could benefit from a closer look and clearer lines.

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Startup PR Myths Busted, via NY Tech Meetup

The NY Tech Meetup mail list is a great way to keep up with the local tech community and make connections. Every day founders, developers, service providers, journalists and VCs hold forth on a range of tech and entrepreneurship topics.

It’s a noisy list, and the debate can get heated. So, I was eager when I saw a post about PR but also anxious about the crowd reaction, as I find that there can be a lot of confusion about the topic.

Indeed, several repeated myths that I’ve refuted (e.g. see this post).  In particular one nut job named Andrew W (who seems to be a troll chiefly interested in tearing down PR and promoting search engine marketing) led the charge with cynical statements, and I did my best to try to turn him around, to no avail.

It felt lonely until some others chimed in with eloquent thoughts about the value of PR and how to best put it to work. I thought the thread would make a good post, and got permission to share commentary (except from anonymous ones including aforementioned nut job), which you can find below.

Please Don’t Let me be Misunderstood

It is a good question, why PR is misunderstood in the first place.  The answer could be the subject of another post; but heck, while we’re at it, here are three (From Madmen to PR’s Holy Grail; PR 2009 – The Color of Brand; and Fighting PR’s Public Relations Problem).  Since 2007 this blog has been dedicated to educating about PR.

It does not help that many PR agencies do a poor job (that said, several journalists on the thread commented that the most amateurish efforts come from startup teams themselves).  I’d argue that every profession has its share of hacks.  But a bad experience with PR should not cause people to condemn an entire field.

Top Startup PR Myths Debunked

MYTH 1: Hiring a PR is a colossal waste of money for most startups. 

Courtney: PR and marketing is a must for any new business or service and I am always surprised how many businesses and start-ups forget this vital component… There are literally thousands – sometimes millions – of products and services vying for each consumer’s dollars… The ONLY way to stand out is through PR and Marketing.

Good PR gets you noticed.

Tony Zeoli, Digital Strategy Works: As someone who has worked on startups since 1995, I can unequivocally tell you that public relations is an important component of your overall marketing strategy…With traditional media viewership down and media ingestion fractured, it’s actually more important now than it was before.

Maybe if you’re launching rockets like Tesla does it’s not as critical, but if you have a small app that targets a niche, you’re not reaching many. So, your PR strategy is going to target that niche and get media exposure for your product. But investing in PR is a long term strategy, because publishing schedules vary among all of your outlets…

As an early stage startup, do you need PR? Well, each use case is different. Some may not need PR early on, as they focus on developing the product and ironing out the bugs. Others will want PR pre-launch to announce funding rounds and building their team and board. It all depends on your goals.

But to say that PR can be ignored is a quaint misnomer. It cannot and should not be ignored, it should just be put in place when there is a clear need to tell a story and get exposure. On the other side of PR, you need to make sure that you can onboard whoever finds your product or service and that you can convert those interested users who you want to serve. The issue with PR is when your product is not ready or you don’t have your onboarding straight, then you’re going to lose users who decide that you’re not ready for their investment in the tools you are building. It’s hard to win back users who have a negative first impression. And, it’s hard to win back media producers who will decide your product is not ready for prime time if they give you ink or exposure and your product falls flat.

MYTH 2: If you really want PR just use Cision for press releases. They have packages that will help get the press you want for a fraction of the cost of a PR agency.

Courtney: NOT having a proper PR and Marketing strategy is a recipe for certain failure. NO, you can’t do it with just a Cision subscription – PR is about RELATIONSHIPS with the press.

I know. I am both a Publicist and run a magazine. Blind pitches from companies and DIY services… where I know that the company was either too cheap or green to hire a PR person are immediately disregarded. And this is particularly true of bigger outlets.

MYTH 3: PR is not rocket science. You can spend a week or two learning it and get 70-80% of the results of a PR agency for 10-20% of the cost.

Miles Rose of SiliconAlley.com: PR clients don’t fully understand the PR process. Press, both writers and editors, see everything and sometimes, more often than not, what’s all about the PR pitch doesn’t resonate with those gatekeepers.

Start small, get some placements, get bigger.

Bob Geller: If the founder and team want to take precious time and resources learning PR instead of executing, their choice.  Most companies that launched and went big did so with the help of professional PR.

Courtney: Agreed Bob Geller. It’s the equivalent of saying you are going to perform your own heart surgery.

Alex Yong, journalist: The PR veteran Gini Dietrich (author of Spin Sucks) admits it’s very very hard. But she also says it’s not rocket science, and it literally isn’t, if we’re gonna be literal here… She also (unsurprisingly) advises against DIY PR because there are half a million pitfalls.

Marcus Logan, Cool World Media: The big question is are YOU and your team equipped to identify the culture of your cool and conversation of your brand? Many are not. The culture of cool is a language that we do not all have and that is ok. Cool is a bit overrated to me but it is still a real thing. Many tech CEO’s and analytic thinkers tend to creatively engage culture in a manner opposite of the public who engage their tech. This is why agencies and/or consultants can be helpful.

Miles Rose: Why hire any professional services firm, just go on line and learn it.

PR works when there is a respectful relationship with the media and the PR person or agency. Prior history of success together. Getting your stuff in the NY Times will not happen unless you have the right PR firm.

PR is changing and given the playing field you need it more than ever. And for your knowledge, less press read PR Newswire than ever before.

Bob Geller: I defy anyone who thinks it is easy and “not rocket science” in this noisy ADD world to get attention for startup companies and news – and to do so consistently, in a way that yes, does, in fact, contribute to positive perceptions and brand, as the better PR shops can help with. Until you’ve done it yourself, easy to talk about and less easy to make it actually happen.

DIY PR can work, especially if the founder or team has the network and some familiarity with PR.  Sometimes, it is the only choice if you are bootstrapping or not yet funded.

Mark: Unless you’re in the industry, you have no idea what it’s like doing this day in and day out. I don’t think PR is that difficult to pick up but mastery takes time, dedication, passion, ongoing learning, etc., just like in any other role.

MYTH 4: Very rarely will a PR agency develop your brand

Bob Geller: It is more than releases, events and media relations.  These days a comprehensive and effective strategy spans channels, influencers, content, digital, traditional, analysts, etc.  it’s strategy and branding too.

MYTH 5: There is not a need for a $10K a month agency, which will not do much more for you than a freelancer or small firm.

Bob Geller: Fees can range from $2-3K per month for a freelancer, to higher for a boutique agency (6-10K) to even higher for a large agency.

These are rough numbers, you need to look at scope, experience, and other factors.  Most work on a retainer basis (meaning monthly fee) vs. projects or performance.

Miles Rose: I’ve seen PR from $3,000 a month to in excess of $10,000 and literally millions for crisis management.

Additional Thoughts and Info

What have been your experiences with PR, good or bad?  Are there other myths that should be debunked?

I welcome your comments.  For more information on startup and tech PR, please go to this link.

 

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Tell Human Stories when pitching ICOs: John Biggs of TechCrunch

I attended the ICORating Investment Summit in New York last week.  It was a day of great sessions and panels featuring journalists, investors and those behind successful ICOs.

One session I was especially interested in was John Biggs’ talk on marketing. He is a veteran tech reporter who spent years at the New York Times and now contributes to TechCrunch.

John was in rare form and gave a nice jaded journalist spiel. He was an early crypto observer and writer (see his 2015 story on crypto mining with Raspberry PI), and seemed as equally wowed by the tech’s possibilities as he was appalled by ICO marketing. “You’re doing it wrong!” John lectured.

The take no prisoners, seen it all attitude was kind of amusing until John lit into PR:  “PR people are awful, don’t hire them!”

It would be easy to get pissed off if he wasn’t so damned funny, the guy should be a standup comic. Plus, John made great points and, let’s face it, the PR field does have some bad actors who make life harder for the rest of us; and thick skin is a job requirement.

(I will say, however, that it gets a bit exhausting hearing people who don’t work in a field lecture about it as I pointed out in Tech Startups, get PR Help for the Love of God. Heck, since I read a lot and work with journalists, maybe I can get a gig schooling on reporting).

John had a lot to say about the do’s and don’t’s of pitching him (and by extension other top tier reporters) your ICO.  Except where noted, I’ve paraphrased, they’re not direct quotes.

Don’t offer an embargo

John opined that a press embargo is a relic dating back to the days when press releases were sent by snail mail.

Tell a human story

“No one tells a proper story,” John complained.

This is largely because PR people and even founders don’t understand ICOs, he said.  The fact that it is an ICO is apparently the least interesting part.  What is interesting?

It’s the fundamentals, stupid!

John likes to look at the product, team and marketplace traction when evaluating story-worthiness.  Don’t bother sending the ICO white paper.

Good luck with email

John pointed to a disheartening number in a red bubble – 1,300 plus some odd.  It equals the unread emails in his inbox – in just two hours! After which John cleans email house and starts fresh.

(Note: So, if sending John an email is a long shot, what else can you do to get his attention?  Attend conferences like this one, for starters, and find a chance to speak with him.  There are other tactics for getting through to busy reporters that we’d be happy to discuss further – see the end of this post for more info.)

An ICO is not

A get rich quick story.  A way to raise crazy C-round cash when you should be at the A, B or seed rounds.

“You get what you get… and don’t get upset.” 

It’s a great quote from John.  He and other journos don’t owe you a story.  That is why it’s called earned media!

John’s talk may seem disheartening – but it was sobering and much needed advice for a space prone to excess. Plus, it really does seem like he has a heart for the true innovators and disruptors – and wants them to succeed. (John closed by saying that he wants your token offering to be more like a cool DeLorean than a plane crash).

So, emails, white papers, crazy fund raises don’t get John’s attention – what does work?

While Fusion PR can’t promise John Biggs, or any others (you get what you get, remember?), we do have ideas and tactics that can be effective in promoting ICOs and other startup stories.

Check out these links for more info:

TokenBoost turnkey ICO marketing service

ICOs: the New Press Release for a Blockchain World

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NewsWhip’s Benedict Nicholson on Social Data to Boost PR

In my last post, I explained that social media data can be used to bolster PR efforts. E.g., knowing that KDnuggets scores higher than the NY Times for social media engagements about machine learning can be a big deal if you work in that space (and that is not just a hypothetical – it is the exact scenario their system uncovered, as I shared).

I thought my readers would want to know more, and NewsWhip Editorial Director Benedict Nicholson kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

The graph below shows total engagements for machine learning topics. What forms of engagement does it cover? What is total vs. average engagement?

NewsWhip Data

This chart is a ranking of publishers based on the total engagements their web content about machine learning drove. Content can vary significantly in the online attention it gets; two stories from the same publication have no guarantee of achieving the same reach or level of success, so social engagement is a good way to benchmark how content is doing on a more granular level.

This engagement comes across the social spectrum, and can be anything from a reaction/share/comment on Facebook, to a Twitter influencer share, to a pin on Pinterest. Total engagement is the sum of engagements across all the articles for whatever topic you’re looking at, while average engagement is the total engagement divided by the number of articles published, which gives an idea of the rough level of engagement you can expect on social.

This fact that this graph is based on total engagement is part of the reason why Forbes is ranked at the top. Their average engagement is reasonably high, and they published a high number of articles on the topic. If we looked at average engagements per article, that might change the ranking a little.

How does an article get in the ML “bucket”?

Our data sources from headlines, subheads, keywords, and the metadata. We also have the capability to do a full text analysis, but we didn’t do that for this particular search.

Isn’t average engagement a better metric? KDnuggets presumably has more articles about machine learning, that could be why their totals for this topic are higher than the NY Times

It depends what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the impact of the average piece of content, then yes, average might be better. If you’re looking to discover niche websites you might not have been aware of to see who has an audience that is consistently engaging with the type of content you want to place in publications, then total engagements is a good way to do that. The Times is always going to have a high average because of the nature of the publication, but they may also only publish one article on it per quarter. If you can be that article that’s great, but it’s also about finding the best alternatives!

Will you be looking at other content consumption metrics?

We always have more things in the pipeline! We already track comments made on the Facebook post itself, and for native content we can even break down by reaction. As we said in the webinar, a simple view count doesn’t really count for much anymore, especially on social. What you want is an active audience, not a passive one that may be viewing and not taking anything in, which is why we principally have this focus on engagement data.

Please tell us about NewsWhip’s prediction capabilities

Prediction is one of the key capabilities of our Spike product. We use an algorithm to measure all the articles we’re tracking and make predictions about what level of engagement they’re going to achieve in the next x number of hours. So within a matter of minutes of publication, we’ll have an idea of what’s pre-viral, as it were, what everyone’s going to be sharing in the next few hours.

As a publisher, or even a brand that has any kind of newsroom, you can use this to get ahead of the game, and make sure that it’s incorporated into your content schedule.
Our Chrome extension has this same predictive capability and it’ll show you who’s been sharing it so far, but you’d have to already have a hunch about what’s going to be successful. It’s great for checking a hunch, but it won’t show you all the successful content on a topic like Spike does.

Can this feature spot rising news stories to support PR newsjacking?

Spike Predictions Example

It’s applicable in the same way. When I say “content,” I was counting news within that, so as you can see with that Flynn story shown, we were predicting it was going to be a huge story very early on, and it turned out to be just that. We can search by keyword, website, or Facebook page to see what’s predicted to be successful. So what Spike can help you do is make sure you’re the first to know about the next hot story, and by definition you’ll have a head start to get in touch with the relevant people because you’ll know about it before others. It can also do the opposite and tell you when a story isn’t going to be big and when it’s not worth making the effort!

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Pan for Media Gold with Newswhip Social Data

I have long held a fascination for Newswhip. Their Spike and Analytics solutions provide a wealth of data that can shed light on social media buzz and content performance.

But after seeing demos, and even playing around with the software, it was unclear exactly how to put Newswhip to work to support media relations. Sure, if you are a content marketing or social media jock, or work for a publication, it makes perfect sense. You can use Newswhip to explore the performance of content on social networks, spot rising topics, see how your brand and competitors are doing, etc.

Despite the imperative to get more data-driven, I was just not getting it.

That all changed last week, when I checked out a webinar hosted by their head of blogging and communications, Gabriele Boland, and Benedict Nicholson, editorial director (by the way, the Newswhip blog is a great resource, Gabriele and her team do a fantastic job – it regularly shares interesting trends and data about media, content and social).

In about 30 minutes I quickly grasped the raw power of Newswhip – and how it can turbo charge earned media efforts (as well as paid and contributed content – but I’ll get to that).

Their approach involves the use of social engagement data as a PR metric.

This idea makes sense. Other methods like advertising equivalency value and reach (or circulation or audience) seem outdated and only take you so far. Sure, it feels great to get that top tier media hit that reaches millions, and flaunt the cost to buy the same media.

But what actually happens to the article when it goes live? Who sees it, shares, likes, comments? Newswhip helps answer thesè questions.

The cool thing is, you can explore by topic. So, say that you are a software vendor that focuses on machine learning. You can see which publications rank highest for engagement in your niche.

Newswhip Data

 

They ran through just such a scenario (see the image) and voila! It showed that some niche tech publications like KDnuggets and Data Science Central rank higher than top tier outlets like NY Times and Business Insider for engagement on machine learning topics.

It is heady stuff for a tech PR – as niche media should be easier to crack. (Now we just need to convince the client of the coverage value – it would be easier if they had a license too; and no, Newswhip is not paying me to say this).

Granted, social media engagement is just one metric, but it seems to be an important one. After all, many get our news through the networks these days. And Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm counts engagement as an increasingly important signal.

You can also play your cards right and win on both counts: media prestige (which, let’s face it, can burnish a brand) and engagement. E.g. getting earned or paid placement in Forbes would be a great win for machine learning vendors, as the publication comes out on top.

The session covered other topics, such as how to use Newswhip to craft a meaningful narrative and become more audience-driven. They also mentioned a recently released Chrome extension that they say predicts content virality.

In summary, I came away from the webinar even more excited about Newswhip. But I wanted to learn more, and had some questions.

So I asked Gabriele if they’d entertain a follow-up interview. She said yes. Stay tuned for more.  And please leave a comment with any feedback or suggestions for follow-up questions.

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Pitch about Nothing – Good PR or Con Job?

I came to PR in a roundabout way, via engineering, marketing, sales and IT consulting. When I finally landed in PR (at the agency where I still work today), I learned I was good at this.

But key experiences along the way led me to wonder what it means to do a good job in PR. Does getting results from what some might call B.S. amount to a good day’s work?

The first experience involved a startup in networking software. It was really dense tech – to do the job well, you needed to sweat the details about core router algorithms, for example. At some point, I got it and started pulling in impressive results.

One time I was at a dinner with the client team following a day a trade show. The CEO was raising a glass, saying nice words about each of us in turn. When it came to me, he thanked me profusely and praised my ability to craft great stories from nothing.

The compliment threw me for a loop. I had believed in them; drank the Kool-Ade. I did not think of my work as spinning B.S. The praise seemed backhanded, took the air out of all the hard work I had done. Should I feel proud, ashamed?

There were other clients back then. This was the dotcom era, also around the end of Seinfeld; a TV show that was famously about nothing. We used to joke that many of our PR campaigns were about nothing.

More recently, I worked on a pitch for a client. It relied on stealth and a humorous come-on to build curiosity. The pitch had remarkably little substance; some might say it was about nothing.

But it worked! The campaign drew interest from the biggest names in tech and business press.

Was this a good job? We’re still converting the early interest into briefings and stories – so it is early to tell, on a pure PR performance basis.

Looking at the bigger picture, sure, we all want to think we are doing meaningful work, our small part to make the world a better place. If that is all that you care about, perhaps a PR agency is not the right place. Go work for a non-profit or some mission-driven organization that you believe in.

If you do work at an agency, I am sure you’ll get to work with many types of clients, some interesting, others real winners, and still others, meh. Hopefully, your agency management has the guts to walk away from anything unethical or dodgy.

Beyond that, all is fair in love, war, and PR. Most companies and products have their plusses and minuses. It is your job to help them succeed.

And that pitch about nothing? If it interested a journalist, who wrote a story their readers enjoyed; if the coverage furthered the client’s business goals – I’d argue that yes, it was PR job well done.

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Facebook Unfriends News, and it’s a Shame

I had to smile when I read that Facebook’s reducing news content in the newsfeed. Mark Zuckerberg wrote on their blog “our time is better spent bringing people closer together… public content… is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

In other words, pardon the interruption as we’ve tried to crack this news nut.  NVM, JK. You can now go back to your selfies and vacation pics.

I don’t think it is the final word.  If anything is constant with the feed it is constant change; and the flood of buzz, news and speculation that follow every tick (indeed, there were two more news-related announcements since).

But it is a good time to take stock; as Facebook has come full circle in less than two years; from when they were accused of liberal newsfeed bias in May 2016 to their machinations to make news safe, to Facebook’s “no mas” moment a couple of weeks ago.

Frankly, I’m exhausted as they took us on a wild ride.  Just recall the headlines:

Look, I get it, Facebook is a business.  They can do what they want. And I know that this news stuff is hard. How can you possibly select stories that are proven to be true and free of bias? It gets to thorny questions about news – how to even define what it is, vs. opinion, hype, trivial info and outright B.S.  Many others are struggling with the challenge, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight.

But I think it is sad as their move implies that news is not so important or worth pursuing.

When you are a destination where 2B people around the world spend time and get info, it’s an awesome responsibility.  My advice to Facebook is that moving fast and breaking things just may not be the best way. Slow down. Take a few breaths. Don’t take away news or stop trying to tame it because it is hard.

And to brands and publishers who get freaked out by every newsfeed tweak:  you need to spread your bets and develop other sources of traffic (see Josh Constine’s piece in TechCrunch).  Build your own audience.  Craft content and write news that appeal to people, not algorithms.

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ICOs, the new Press Release for a Blockchain World

Crowdfunding burst onto the scene years ago giving startups a way to not only raise money but also build buzz. I wrote that platforms like Kickstarter were the new tech PR press release.

Now another form of crowdfunding is rising to prominence. ICOs (initial coin offering) tap into the excitement surrounding bitcoin and blockchain technology.  They make it possible to raise funds by minting a new digital currency while bringing your launch story to a wide audience.

it is hard to understand the significance of ICOs without a little context.  Buzz about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has gone mainstream.  Most of the focus has been on gyrating, mostly climbing valuations.  Many are also excited about the potential of bitcoin to rock the world of money – and blockchain technology to revolutionize how we store and share information.

There are plenty of great articles that tell you why – I won’t take up too much space here.  Suffice it to say that blockchain evokes the excitement of early days of the Internet.  It combines a so-called trust protocol and distributed ledger that can solve privacy, security, and inclusion issues.  Some think that it can deliver on the failed promises of the Internet, put people back in control of their own information, and give them a way to directlty connect and conduct business.

So blockchain is disruptive tech. And ICOs are a disruptive form of fundraising – you don’t need VCs or Wall Street to raise money. If you have any doubt about the importance of ICOs, the numbers tell a dramatic story – Bitcoin News reported that money raised through ICOs eclipsed $1B in a single month in December 2017.

Maxiziming ICO Results

One of the cornerstones of an ICO is the white paper, a document that describes in detail the token offering – and explains why investors (or “participants,” in crypto parlance) should care. What will the business actually do, and why would someone want to hold a new digital currency tied to it?

It’s important to make sure all this is sound. You may not need investment bankers or an army of attorneys – but you do need to comply with regulations, which can seem to be a moving target. Participants need to be careful to avoid scams, in their rush to get in on the action.

The Right Communications and Technology Stuff

The ICO is fertile ground for buzz creation, and a great platform to launch a blockchain or crypto-currency related startup – and we’ve seen many variants, spanning film making, casino junkets, philanthropy, finance and general enterprise tech.

But just like a traditional press release or even a Kickstarter campaign, it needs to be done right. A boring press release blasted out to the masses (”sending and praying”), an ill-conceived Kickstarter campaign, and an ICO without the right communications or tech foundation won’t accomplish much.

How do you build early interest among participants in a presale?  Or bring the story to a wider audience, and build brand over the long term? How can you get some attention for your ICO and navigate tough interview questions about scams and bubbles?

It’s a noisy world and a never-ending battle for the consumer’s attention. ICOs and blockchain are new and can be tricky things to explain.  People are trying their best to understand what it all means – and where to put their time and money.

We are launching TokenBoost today to help ICOs launch and succeed.  Here is the official announcement. Check out this link to learn more about how we can help.

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Tech has an image problem. How do we fix it?

I am a PR guy. I build brands and polish images. My industry is technology. It is not my client (well, companies within tech are).  But if it were, I’d say there’s a problem. Namely I am getting tired of all the articles slamming the tech industry, and painting it with the same brush.

Here are some recent headlines, and excerpts: 

  • NY Times: How Evil Is Tech? “Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted. Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.”
  • The Guardian: Silicon Valley has been humbled. But its schemes are as dangerous as ever: “An industry once hailed for fuelling the Arab spring is today repeatedly accused of abetting Islamic State. An industry that prides itself on diversity and tolerance is now regularly in the news for cases of sexual harassment as well as the controversial views … An industry that built its reputation on offering us free things and services is now regularly assailed for making things .. more expensive. The Silicon Valley backlash is on.”
  • Wired: The other Tech Bubble: “Will anyone ever write another positive story about a tech startup? We’ve been burned…. The many hype-building stories about deceptive companies haven’t aged well… The issue is bigger than any single scandal.”
  • NY Times: Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats: “Now tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them. Tech companies have accrued a tremendous amount of power and influence. Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings, and is sparking a backlash that is still gathering force.”

I am not objecting to the reporting of facts, as presented.  And yes; the media are there to keep other institutions in check; I would never challenge their right to do so.  Further, I don’t want to minimize some of the very real problems emanating from the tech world.

All that said, I find the info in many of these stories to be caricatures and generalizations of the industry that I know, having worked with 100s of tech companies, many of the them startups.

Who is to Blame?

There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the role of tech in our lives; and the state of the tech industry.  But my issue is with some of the coverage – and the resulting image issues.  So, let’s go down the list – a long one – because our relationship with tech is complex and did not happen overnight.

  • Do we blame the tech companies? They should be called out for bad behavior; and when their solutions cause problems.  But let’s keep things in perspective.  Don’t assume they’re all evil, or have ill intent – e.g. Facebook did not set out to create a Russian disinformation machine.  Yes, they want to move fast and break things.  This can sound arrogant and lead to unintended consequences.  They have no choice but to address the issues, so people keep coming back.
  • Do we blame journalists who focus on the outsize stories and egos (stoking unicorn valuations), and who conflate Silicon Valley and Big Tech with the rest of the industry?(I guess that is the point of this article. If they’re so sour on tech, perhaps the writers of these stories should unplug and live off the grid).
  • Do we blame the PRs and marketers that promote tech? Sure, if we are peddling hype and misinformation that adds to media cynisism.
  • Do we blame businesses that eat up technology to improve operations and for competitive advantage?
  • Do we blame society at large – and our love for shiny new toys, tech gadgets, and fascination with entrepreneurialism? (Bingo! We have met the enemy, and he is us).

In summary, I just ask for balance in reporting, and that you not kick tech or the industry to the curb.   Tech continues to be an important engine for our economy, and our innovation is key to U.S. global competitiveness  It enriches our lives in so many ways.  We need to improve it, and reign it in when needed.  But not walk away or shame.

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