End of Media Relations – or a new Beginning?

By now, content marketing has become an important part of almost every PR’s arsenal.  We’ve become an army of bloggers and article writers.

And why not? Content is the motive force for today’s noisy internet.  It offers more runway to tell stories, share messages and drive thought leadership than the typical press mention.

Plus, content seems like the path of least resistance.  There are plenty of places to publish and syndicate.  With fewer reporters  covering more beats, our pitches are increasingly easy to ignore amidst a sea of social chatter and other competing noise.  This makes it harder to earn coverage, as Frank Strong pointed out in his post This is How the Sorry State of Media Relations Ends.

It’s a situation that seems to frustrate all sides.  Journalists dislike getting end-run by tweeting execs who communicate directly with their audiences.  But many shun the kind of trend and feature pieces that used to be great homes for client and brand stories.   They’re covering big news and top names that can move the needle on readership and social sharing.  Frank wrote:

“Unless your story today is about Google, Facebook, money or scandal, the traditional, bona fide reporters are not interested.”

So, many in our profession have blithely gulped the content Kool Aid, been swept up in the flood. But after fielding the 10,000th byline request, hearing one too many prospects put off a PR program because they’re going to go it on their own with content and cheap writers, and surveying results from a field of content heavy programs, I thought it might be a good time to sound an alarm.

You Own it, You Break it

Not to dismiss the power of owned and social media channels; but these can be too much like the sound of one hand clapping without the credibility and validation of earned media.

Public relations’ stock in trade has been the ability to persuade and get ink for our news.  How can you convince others that your brand rocks, your product is a breakthrough, or to take a fresh look at the world if you are not in fact getting others on board?

This had been done since the birth of PR by getting the media to understand the need for your company, product or service and cover your stories.

Conversely, most of the types of content that PR generates (barring press releases) are by design not overtly promotional.   The soft sell of a vendor byline can be too subtle and go unnoticed in today’s media maelstrom.  It is all too easy to generate a sea of bland content that goes ignored.

A great product review; a nice company profile; articles that argue for the type of change that your company provides – that is great PR that is admittedly harder to get but is still vitally important.

A new Era of Media Relations

If some doors seem more tightly closed, other avenues are opening. Earned media is no longer just relegated to traditional media.  Bloggers and social influencers can count too.  It all gets back to social proof – with the major media brands at the top of the heap.

And if you are finding it difficult to scale that summit, perhaps now would be a good time to reset expectations and reevaluate your approach.  Mass blasts, the PR rep as a glorified pitching machine – these archetypes have never served our field well.  Yet it is a mode that too many still work in (I know this – as a blogger I get a ton of irrelevant pitches).

The true pros are looking beyond the transaction, building relationships with reporters beyond a single story or pitch.  They are keeping their ears to the ground and staying close to reporters by reading their stories and social musings.

They are finding ways to be helpful and serve the media’s needs – and getting out of the way when there is not a clear fit.

Those who stick to the old mode will not succeed in this business; or perhaps they will continue to double down on owned and earned media channels (as I said above, these things are all great but not enough).

Instead of the end of media relations, perhaps we will see the start of a new and more productive era.

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Prepare for a Reshuffling of the Internet Deck

In my last post I wrote about the house of cards called today’s Internet, and new rules that could shake things up. The European Directive threatens to force social media platforms and others to pay a link tax to copyright holders and guard against uploading of such content.

There was an outcry from many quarters when the idea was proposed, and the first attempt did not pass. In July it was sent back to the rulemakers for further discussion and fine tuning. Many viewed the effort as government overreaching and a threat to big tech; others saw it as a win for media. Curiously, consumers seemed chiefly concerned about losing out on their precious memes.

As I said in my last post, it might not be a bad thing, if the European Directive were adopted. The free Internet has left journalism reeling and savaged creative fields like writing, music and photography.

Yesterday, TheVerge reported that the EU Copyright Directive has passed, with most controversial provisions intact. It still needs to survive a final vote in January 2019, but the article said that this will likely happen.

I am quite honestly surprised there hasn’t been more noise and reporting about this.

It seems to be a big deal. OK, the rules won’t take effect immediately – and they are in Europe – but a similar clamping down on tech called GDPR (which holds businesses’ feet to the fire regarding personal info) – took years to unfold and is now coming to the US.

Prepare for a slow walk to a new Internet, and score one for the media. And now would be a good time to invest in companies that database and scan content for copyrights.

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Is it time to Rethink our Faustian Bargain with “Free”?

There is legislation brewing in Europe that could upend digital media.  They’re considering making the major platforms like Google, Facebook et al, pay copyright fees for all the content that they now freely distribute and monetize.

It may seem nuts and I never thought I’d agree with such a scheme. But perhaps the time really has come to think the unthinkable and reconsider our Faustian bargain with free.

According to legend, Faust traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.  And it is just such a bargain we have made with tech – the applications we use and the industry that spawns them.

The problems start with Free; the assumption that information wants to be free, as tech luminaries famously proclaimed, that we want it to be free, and that society benefits from all of this.

It is the reality that Internet culture has given us today; where content is there for the taking, to be riffed on, often ripped off, repackaged, bookmarked, collated, aggregated, discovered, linked, shared and curated; in which content is commoditized and journalism has been torn asunder.

Free has created a world in which we blithely volunteer our info and ditch privacy to access addictive apps and social platforms; it’s grown in synch with big tech, companies that call the shots and don’t play by the same rules, e.g. if you are an online service vs. a media company, you are not bound by the CDA (Communications Decency Act).  That means you risk less but reap the rewards of distributing content.  (But it is not fair just to blame tech, or the ad tech ecosystem, as who doesn’t like Free?  We have met the enemy and they are each and every one of us).

It is the reality that pollutes our discourse, ironically isolates and has wrought havoc on creative fields like photography, music, and writing.  Free and unfettered access is behind the ads that help pay for all this; which feeds our dopamine-fueled, basest instincts, playing off instant gratification, fear, emotion, and hype.

It has created the Frankenstein mess we are in now.

You may think there is no way to walk this back. But soon, there may not be a choice.

The EU recently defeated the Copyright Directive. The proposed legislation included provisions that would force online platforms to pay publishers before linking to their stories and to screen uploaded content for copyright infringement, according to this story in TheVerge.  But the vote was reasonably close; they’ll go back to the drawing board and vote again in September.

So, it is very possible that some form of regulation compelling tech to pay the piper will be signed into law.  For those who think “that’s just Europe, it can’t happen here,” consider GDPR.  The European rules governing personal info ownership and access – which many considered Draconian and hurtful to big tech – are happening here, as California has adopted similar legislation.  It is indeed a very small world online and hard to compartmentalize.

Perhaps it is time to put the ketchup back in the bottle and rethink our Faustian bargain with free.

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Content Curation’s Last stand?

Quora recently sent me an email asking about my favorite content curation examples.

Image from Pixabay

In years past, answering this would have been a layup (I suppose that’s why I was on their list).  Now I was strangely stumped, even disinterested.

 

It’s not that I’m out of touch. These are different times.  Content curation had been championed as a way to up the pace of content marketing by riding OPC (other people’s content), and to boost thought leadership, by commenting on others’ thoughts when you didn’t have an original idea.

But now we’re all exhausted from content overload.   Much of the digital noise stems from endlessly recycled info, arising from link sharing, curation and aggregation. Newsfeeds have gone wild.  It is hard to know what is fake or real.

No Free Lunch

The problems start with Free; the assumption that it is our God-given right to access content and apps at low or no cost.  Yea, some have said information wants to be free, but where has that left us?

It is the reality that Internet culture has given us today; where content is there for the taking, to be riffed on, often ripped off, repackaged, bookmarked, collated, aggregated, discovered, shared and curated; in which content is commoditized and journalism has been torn asunder.

Free has created a world in which we blithely volunteer our info and ditch privacy to access addictive apps and social platforms; it’s grown in synch with big tech, companies that don’t play by the same rules as the media. But it is not really fair just to blame tech, as who doesn’t like Free?

It is the reality that pollutes our discourse, ironically isolates and has wrought havoc on creative fields like photography, music and writing.  Free and unfettered access are behind the ads that help pay for all this; which tap our dopamine fueled, basest instincts, playing off fear, emotion, instant gratification and hype. It has created the Frankenstein mess we are in now.

Curation Today (Back to the Question at Hand)

That said, I still think there’s a place for curation, from the demand and supply sides.   For users, it can solve the very problem it feeds into. When it advances a topic or steers great content your way, curation can be a boon and help cut through all the noise.

The supply side (marketers, publishers, apps, platforms) should heed what works for users. Anyone can quickly curate a quick post of 400 words, with links and light commentary.  But who really cares or reads the stuff?  We’ve seen the same news five other times on our social channels.

Regarding my choices, I find that curated email newsletters from the following providers are very helpful:

  • DrumUp:  It’s an app, like Buffer, that helps identify and post great content across social channels.  I customized it with my topics of interest; and now get emails several times a day with the title: Your Daily Digest of Fresh Content Suggestions.
  • Nuzzel: It alerts me via an email News Digest about being shared by my social channel connections.
  • Medium: A great source for great writing; the site sends me emails with links to articles that match my interests, based on what I read there and topics I’ve selected.

Each of the above does a great job of sifting content and sending stuff that appeals.  One could argue that these are more about algorithmic aggregation than curation.  In terms of truly hand-crafted curation that adds value via informed commentary, I love:

  • Gary’s Guide: Tracks the happenings in the NYC tech community; also shares related news, e.g. about local startup funding, and offers reading recommendations and other helpful info.
  • Sound Opinions: One of my favorite podcasts; they curate and help me discover great music spanning all popular genres; interview bands, and riff on the music news of the week.

Curation’s Last Stand?

Free content on social media, and by extension content curation, could be facing an existential challenge.  The EU recently defeated the Copyright Directive, rules intended to make online patforms pay publishers for story links, and screen uploaded content for copyright infringement, according to The Verge.

It’s gone back to the drawling board and they will vote again in September. So it is very possible that some form of legislation compelling tech to pay the piper will be signed into law.

For those who think “that’s just Europe, it can’t happen here,” consider GDPR.  The European rules governing personal info ownership and access – which many considered Draconian and hurtful to big tech – are happening here, as California has adopted similar legislation.

This would be a massive change with vast implications for tech, marketers, publishers and users.  But it might actually not be a bad idea, to shake the foundations of a linked Inter Web built on Free. Even if it doesn’t happen as advertised, such a move will drive discussion about content rights, and perhaps compel everyone involved to take these things more seriously.

In the meanwhile, you might want to hedge your content curation bets, which the savvier content marketers are doing anyway.  Launch content that adds value and advances knowledge, that meets the needs of your targeted audience.

Sorry for the long-winded answer, Quora, you asked! And I only included a few curated links in this story 🙂

Posted in Apps, In the News, Marketing, NY Tech, PR, PR Tech, Public Relations, Tech | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I‘m in PR: What’s the Big Idea?

They huddle around a conference room table. The lights go dark. The 35 mm slide projector floods the screen. Its backlight shines an eerie glow on the presenter’s lower face. This is not just some ad man (or woman). It’s the sermon from the mount. Or maybe Dracula.

The pitch is delivered, building to a crescendo – the “a ha” moment in which the idea comes into focus.  More than just selling laundry detergent, the presentation is about emotion, story arc, and transformative life experience. Grown men and women well up and cry.

Most who are familiar with the concept of a Big Idea know it from the world of advertising. The TV show Mad Men won it an indelible place in popular culture. Usually delivered via the pitch, the big idea captivated agency clients and brought each episode to a climax.

PR is not as well-known as advertising or associated with glitzy pitches or Mad Men style theatrics. But as any good PR person knows, big ideas are incredibly important to the field and can be a game changer for your communications program. This article takes a closer look and describes several examples that can transform your PR.

WTF is a Big Idea?

So, what, really, is a Big Idea? And how is it different than, say, just a clever idea?

The phrase has specific meaning in advertising – and PR too, as we’ll learn. It’s about marketing that transcends products and features to tell a more meaningful story. The best ones connect brand values to the needs and desires of the target audience.

As ad whiz David Ogilvy said in his book On Advertising (related in this Fast Company story):

“You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas.  It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product…”

Examples are all around us.  Just think about ads that break through and make an impression: e.g. a gecko that sells car insurance; or the AFLAC duck. In the world of business, IBM’s use of Watson to compete in Jeopardy and show AI leadership.  GE’s mantra: “We Bring Good things to Life.”  Apple’s “Think Different.” A Big Idea delivered in some agency conference room likely spawned these campaigns.

Big Ideas in PR

We talk about big ideas in PR too, although not in the same hallowed tones as in advertising.  But they are now more important than ever.  In a noisy media landscape, evasive journalists, and markets crowded with competition, big ideas are just the thing needed to help you break through. Like in advertising, they transcend routine product and company promotion.

Some may find this confusing, and wonder how this is different than just smart PR, or a well-written pitch, or a flawless campaign? I agree that it’s not always clear cut, or an exact science.  In fact, big ideas are more art than science (a good thing, since it means that great PR is high touch, and won’t be replaced by an AI bot anytime soon).

They can be as small as a fresh approach to a pitch, and as large as reinventing a product category, or pioneering a new one.

Here are a few examples to illustrate:

A Whack on The Side of the Pitch

I first got excited about the potential of big ideas in PR when I dreamed up one that reinvigorated a campaign.  This came soon after I started here at Fusion PR close to twenty years ago.

It was my first PR job and I had gotten off to a rough start.  The boss was a hard charging guy with impossible expectations. The clients all needed attention, and it wasn’t always clear how to get them results.

One day I was pulled into a hot project – a large voice recognition company was launching tech that helped users navigate websites via a phone call, with voice commands (pretty advanced for late 90s tech).  Unfortunately the team’s pitches went unheeded. The media just didn’t care.

In my previous role in enterprise software sales and consulting, we dealt with similar tech, and pitched it to prospects as software that turned your phone into a web browser.

I suggested this angle.  The team took the advice of the new guy, since nothing else was working, and rejiggered pitches accordingly. Soon results started pouring in – the media were biting!

The boss gave me kudos – actually picked me up and hugged me in front of the team! I was off to the races, hooked on PR and eager to find that next big idea.  In this case the breakthrough was nothing more than a different take that used a metaphor to simplify and entice.

Helping Tech Companies Play Bigger

Sometimes the idea involves novel product positioning.

Many tech solutions don’t fit neatly into a category – they either disrupt the existing landscape or are a totally different beast. Here, the opportunity is to craft the label and description that packages the innovation in just the right way and takes the market by storm.

Admittedly, this is not just about PR – it involves product engineering and other aspects of marketing.  But the PR team’s knowledge of the buzz in a space and playing field can help in coming up with the right words.  And PR campaigns do the heavy lifting of telling the market about the innovation.

The book Play Bigger (authored by the consulting firm of the same name) popularized the approach, which they call “category engineering”, and explained how companies like Salesforce, AirBnB and Uber became kings in each of their categories.

E.g, Salesforce did not invent CRM – but they pioneered enterprise software in the cloud. Their motto “No more software” neatly captured the value prop, and creative PR campaigns grabbed attention and explained why people should care.

At Fusion PR we have helped numerous startups break from the pack and achieve their potential through opportunistic positioning.

Building Bigger Stories

The media don’t want to write puff pieces about products and companies. Sure, they may cover truly breakthrough innovations, but these are few and far between.  A way to earn ongoing media attention and coverage is to tie your offering to a broader topic or trend.  It’s about building a bigger story.

Here are a few examples:

  • This NY Times story was about the cultural differences between workers in the U.S. vs. India. It put offshore outsourcing company Sierra Atlantic on the front page of the Times business section.
  • How do you get major media recognition for a provider of deep tech for insurance companies? Tie them in with a consumer-friendly story, like the Pokémon Go craze.  The angle got Valen Analytics into Money magazine and other top outlets. The connection was the increased risk and insurance implications of people walking the streets, heads-down, immersed in the game.
  • This B2B tech vendor got coverage in HelpNetSecurity by drawing an analogy between cybersecurity and the wildly popular Game of Thrones TV show.

In each situation, the PR team put themselves into the mindset of a journalist and crafted a pitch that rode an idea bigger than any single company or product.

The Art of the Stunt

In an era when our digital worlds are so noisy, a good old PR stunt can be just the thing to shake people out of their heads-down device stupors and grab attention.

Behind every PR stunt was a team that went beyond the usual press release or pitch to make something exciting happen.  They’re not all successful or sparked by a big idea, but it’s easy to find the ones that did work – as they tend to jump out when you read or watch the news.

Publicity stunts can be particularly effective because they surprise and engage.  Not just limited to the physical world, they can work online too. Here are a couple of recent examples:

  • The power of computer generated imagery was dramatically interested in this CNN story about Lil Miquela, an influencer who is really just a bot. It also got some good PR exposure for Brud, a Los Angeles startup that specializes in AI and robotics, and also the company behind the campaign.
  • Pancake chain IHOP recently got attention via a social media campaign (described in Forbes) that kept people guessing about the meaning behind their rebranding to IHOb.
  • The TV show Westworld created a real robot to promote its news season, reported in The Loop.

How can you come up with a big idea-style stunt to promote your news? First, study what others have done. The best ones send a clear message that sync with the attributes, values and benefits you’d like to promote.  They can align with other big ideas, such as the ones referenced above.

They can fail too, sadly, in disastrous ways that also make the news. Some believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity – I disagree. Check out this story. Suffice it to say that your stunt should be safe, legal, and inoffensive.

The Big Idea is not just for Mad Men style brand advertisers. They can and should be used in PR to help you break out of the box and get attention and results.

Click here to find out more.

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Sparks Fly at Publishers and Platforms Meetup


I love to check out reports from Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. They cover the intersection of news and digital media and can be a great resource for PR pros and digital marketers. So I eagerly attended the Platforms and Publishers meetup at Columbia Tow Center last week, which showcased the latest findings, and featured a panel of execs from Facebook, Google, NY Times and HuffPost.

Back in 2016, when I last covered the reports, the main storyline was social media’s growing role in news distribution.  A lot has happened since then: the presidential election, fake news epidemic, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and apparent stalled growth of social (as reported by BuzzSumo). I wanted to learn what the research revealed about our news consumption habits and tech’s impact on journalism.

Tow Center Director Emily Bell shared their report, which you can get here. Some of the highlights she presented include:

  • 86% say platforms reduce trust in journalism
  • Facebook is doing less than Google and Twitter to rectify the situation; they’re considered to be insincere in wanting to help journalism
  • There’s been no decrease in the volume of publisher social media posts
  • Publishers are increasing their platform savvy
  • She was surprised at how much contact there is between the platforms and media
  • One publisher said “We’re on slack with Apple News editors every day.”
  • Facebook wants to support local news
  • Local publishers are at a disadvantage with platforms
  • There’s been a sharp decline in Facebook Instant articles

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at Reuters Institute, shared their report findings.  Here are the main takeaways that he cited:

  • For the first time there’s been a decline in number of users getting news from social media
  • Fewer get their news from Facebook
  • News discovered in social media is trusted least
  • Local TV news is the most trusted, followed by WSJ, then major TV networks
  • News discussion is moving to messaging, with WhatsApp now eclipsing Twitter
  • They’re seeing innovation around voice tech

The panel included:

  • Erica Anderson (Google)
  • Campbell Brown (Facebook)
  • Lydia Polgreen (HuffPost)
  • Mark Thompson (New York Times)
  • Moderator: Emily Bell (Tow Center)

I’ll be writing more about the takeaways  for marketers. But first, a flame from our sponsors…

While the platform and publisher meetups are normally pretty civil, the panel at this one devolved into a heated discussion. There were sharp exchanges between Facebook’s Head of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown and Mark Thompson, CEO of NY Times.  Others piled on, and you had to feel bad for Facebook and Campbell (especially as moderator Emily bell pointed out that it was her birthday).

One bone of contention was Facebook’s decision to put political ads in a separate archive. Since the NY Times pays to boost news articles, they go there too.

It seems it was unfortunate timing, as this just happened, and feelings were apparently raw. Campbell blogged about this the week before – and Mark threw this back in her face, as you can read below.  The NY Times got their two cents in with this story (which actually seems pretty balanced): Facebook’s New Political Algorithms Increase Tensions with Publishers.

The episode is an object lesson in the challenges of categorizing content and discerning news from promotion; and of unintended consequences when algorithms are the arbiters.  Should publishers get slapped when they  promote news? Are they getting penalized? Publisher reach is already declining due to Facebook’s recent algorithm changes.

I include a partial transcript below, and you can view the video above to see the entire exchange (it’s cued up for the start of the fireworks).

Thompson: Campbell wrote a blog yesterday saying that publishers are happy [on Facebook] – I’d love to meet one

(He then showed an article from NY Times Cooking that had been rejected by the Facebook algorithm. They were placed in a public archive of ads with political content).

The dangerous thing you are looking at is a pistachio and rosewater semolina cake recipe… perhaps because the cake may contain nuts. Frankly, Facebook may contain nuts. It does not to my understanding contain political content.

The extent to which the machine can mistake that for politics shows you the subtlety of what’s going on here. Another rejected ad features a NY Times news story.

(He showed a slide with Trump photo and headline: “President Donald J. Trump has canceled the June 12 summit meeting with Kim Jong-un”)

This has been rejected and is now in the ads for political content.

The enemies of high quality journalism want to blur the lines between arms-length reporting of politics and politics itself, they say there’s no difference.

Unintentionally, I’m afraid Facebook is supporting the enemies of high quality journalism.

Brown: There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what we’re doing on the platform, I think I should start by explaining.

We, given what happened in the last election, made the decision that we would move towards more transparency of all advertising on Facebook; that we would share an archive of who’s paying for the ads, they’d be labeled “paid for by”…  so that that info would be publically searchable.

It’s our start at addressing transparency. We focused on all ads that contain political content or issues. Now obviously we recognize that there’s a distinction between news content about politics and advocacy advertising.  I was a journalist for 25 years.

So what we did was create a differentiation within the archive; where there’s an archive that says “news content” and an archive that says “political advocacy advertising”.  I don’t think there’s any blurring there.

The information is very clear and transparent… for anyone who wants to see who is advertising on our platform.

This is the first time I have heard journalists argue against transparency.

Thompson: (tried to interject)

Brown: No! No! Mark, I’m not finished!

Thompson: I’m not going to argue with you

Brown: You are arguing with me about transparency.

We are going to do this with all our advertisers… it’s really important… and the idea that we are somehow conflating the two sides is completely false. People are smarter than that.

What conflates advocacy and journalism… is when journalists do advocacy. And that’s happening a lot.

Emily Bell: That’s not what you saw there, advocacy by the NY Times.

Brown: I’m not suggesting it was. It was a piece of news content about president Trump… that was a boosted piece of news content about politics. We think that should be transparent.

Emily Bell: Most wouldn’t see that as an ad… it blurs the distinction between editorial and advertising.

Thompson: That’s a different distinction – you can debate or not debate that. This is not about a boundary… it’s the underlying thing. That is a NY Times news article. It’s completely blurred in Facebook’s head.

And honestly, Campbell – you now have 20K publishers around the world, and they’re fired up. You think this is going to help Facebook?

It’s a catalog of horrendous mistakes that Facebook has made. To be fair, Mark Zuckerberg admitted the scale of what went wrong. Trying to put it right in this way is just going to dig you deeper in the hole

Brown: What I hear is you’re all for transparency on Facebook except when it applies to us.

Thompson: (Tries to interrupt).

Brown: No Mark! You just got to talk.

Mark: Why not just label every single advertisement from the NY Times  as an “ad from the NY Times?”

Brown: That’s what it is labeled as: a piece of content paid for by the NY Times in an archive that says “news content”.

And I just wonder whether this is not about the NY Times not wanting to be transparent about how much money they spend on marketing.

Thompson: We’re open about all aspects of our marketing – we don’t want Facebook to set itself up as a judge around political content… you don’t understand.

It got heated, Emily Bell needed to step in.

Lydia Polgreen: Trust should not be a popularity contest

Brown: This shows misunderstanding – our broadly trusted survey is just one of thousands of signals that go into determining what shows up in someone’s newsfeed.

We survey people about what they find informative – that’s another signal. We look at how much time they spend reading a news article – that’s another signal

Listening to the misunderstanding that exists here makes me think that, honestly we are not doing a very good job of explaining ourselves on these issues

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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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