Info CAN Leave Black Holes: What this means for PR

You may have heard read about the new theory that explains how information can escape black-hole-92358_1280black holes. None other than Stephen Hawking now says this can be done, as reported in WSJ.  Previously, it was thought that nothing could escape the clutches of a black hole.

There is some very complex quantum physics ideas here, and I won’t even try to get into the details.  The Journal article explains it well.  But I thought that readers of this blog might be wondering, like I am, about the more down-to-earth implications, e.g.

  • Does this mean that the very last place you could go to keep your launch news under wraps no longer works?
  • Is there a way to get info into the black hole that we don’t want, and keep it there, like:
    • Anything Trump says?
    • Those annoying CNN commercials about medications
    • Other TMI examples
  • Does this prove that info really does want to be free?

Any other thoughts?

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Trump, Tinder, Press Offender – New Rules of Taking on Media

Media battles are nothing new. Back in the ’70s Nixon famously said “the press is the enemy,” and kept apair-707499_1280 list. But up until relatively recently, most have opted not to pick fights with those who buy ink by the barrel.

This seems to be changing. In the past week alone, Donald Trump said nasty things about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly to anyone who would listen, following her tough questioning in the first Republican debate. And just yesterday, news broke about Tinder’s very public Twitter tirade over less than flattering coverage in Vanity Fair (see this Digiday piece; I love Jordan Valinsky’s line “Tinder made it clear on Twitter that it doesn’t handle rejection very well.”)

Have the rules of media engagement changed? Or were these dumb moves?

Yes and maybe.

First, the rules clearly are changing. Executives and politicians traditionally relied on communications teams to run interference with the media. When there were concerns over coverage, the reporter was politely taken to task or asked for a correction – again, behind the scenes. If all else failed, a letter to the editor or opinion piece could set the record straight.

These things seem quaint today. Now, celebrities, politicians, company leaders, and yes PRs can and do vent on Twitter, Facebook etc. Sure, media still usually have the biggest megaphones, and you need to be really, really careful about picking fights with them. But using public channels to engage and sometimes disagree is an option which should be considered, and sometimes used.

Donald Trump’s lead seems to be growing with every outburst, and many Republicans have little love for the media. Yet, some say that this latest episode was a mistake, given Megyn Kelly’s standing with conservatives. The departure of his trusted advisor Roger Stone is one sign that Trump may have gone too far this time.

Like Trump, Tinder seems to relish an irreverent image. I doubt that their business or brand will be hurt much by this episode. Even so their reaction (which they admit was an overreaction) make them look thin skinned and amateurish.

Two years ago I wrote that Elon Musk of Tesla used his blog to angrily rebut a negative New York Times review. I asked back then: “Did he break some basic rules of PR – or are he and Tesla fans tapping some of the new rules? Was Musk’s rebuttal a shrewd defense of the Tesla brand?”

The rules clearly are changing. But the stakes are higher and margin for error is less. The communications team has the responsibility to heed this and act accordingly. We can make a situation better or worse. I’d like to think we are the ones standing between the drunk and text messaging – and not the ones sending angry, ill advised messages.

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The Best Way to Reach Chinese Media

This post first appeared on Fusion Forum.

We have dispelled myths about how PR works in Asia, and offered tips for getting tech news covered in China. This post focuses on WeChat, a messenger app that is one of the best ways to reach Chinese CarmenJiaminRenmedia.

Former Fusion PR intern Carmen Ren is from Shenzhen, China, and recently completed her Masters Degree in PR at NYU. She consulted with Chinese journalist friends to answer our questions in the following guest post / interview (Thanks, Carmen!). The goal was to provide practical advice for U.S.-based PR pros, who are more accustomed to using reporter databases and email.

We hope you find the post helpful. It is an abridged version of the information that she collected. For additional details, please register to download the full interview.

WeChat: Your Gateway to Chinese Media

Carmen Ren

Email is still the go-to way to get business done in most parts of the world. That’s why some may find it strange that people at networking events in China exchange WeChat IDs instead of business cards. While practically no one in the West uses WhatsApp to send info, WeChat is commonly used to communicate with colleagues and other professionals, including reporters and PR pros, in China.

Please read on to better understand how this works.

Are Chinese tech journalists receptive to pitches via WeChat? Do you need to know them and get their permission to contact them in this way?

  • Chinese reporters see acquiring corporate information as part of their jobs, and like to do this in the easiest way. So getting press releases via WeChat is not remotely strange. Some even prefer WeChat because it’s convenient, direct, and instant.
  • It is important to note that WeChat is a messenger tool similar to WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. You can only send messages when your friendship request is accepted. Fortunately, this is not as hard as getting someone’s phone number. If you introduce yourself as a PR representative, a reporter will most likely accept.

How do you actually connect with journalists via WeChat? Is there an address or handle that you use?

  • Users can add new contacts in several simple ways, including a WeChat ID and QR code scanning.
  • The most common ways to get a reporter’s WeChat info include:
    • Attending events ranging from press conference to social gatherings (this works better if you are actually in China, of course). WeChat in many ways has replaced email addresses or business cards in professional settings.
    • Getting introduced by colleagues and friends. It makes sense that media databases are unpopular there, when simply asking around is a quicker much more effective way to get their info.
  • Signing up for groups. WeChat has a group feature similar to Facebook’s, which brings together people from the media and corporate sides. A PR pro can also create a group and invite all the relevant journalists. This is very handy when you need to send out a press release.
  • Searching contact information online and reaching out first via email.

How can you build relationships and stories with WeChat?

  • The most common ways are to ‘like’ and respond to posts on the reporter’s timeline (WeChat users have a profile page that is like a simplified version of Facebook timeline, where users post “moments” in text, pictures or short videos), and send greeting messages on holidays and other special occasions.
  • When a PR rep doesn’t know the reporter, he/she may connect via email and/or WeChat. They can discuss a story to see whether the reporter is interested or needs more information.
  • For online publications, it is much easier to get articles posted. The process most typically involves WeChat and phone calls, and sometimes email and QQ (an older IM, which is also part of Tencent).

But, c’mon! You really need to be in China to make this work, right? Or you need to speak the language / use Chinese character sets / have someone who actually is Chinese and has the contacts and language skills to do all this, right?

  • Anyone here can use WeChat, you don’t need to be in China. All of the above can help but are not an absolute requirement.

For the complete interview, including more information about how to build media relationships in China, and an example of a WeChat press room, please visit the following link and register.

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Naughty or Nice? State of Tech Brand and PR Implications

Is the tech industry a land of opportunity, a growth engine of our economy; a place where GoodEvilcoders garner huge salaries and entrepreneurs achieve the American Dream?

Or is it is a hyper-aggressive frat party, where arrogant Masters of the Universe throw mad money around and Kool Aid drinkers build stupid things?

Perhaps it is a little of both. Sadly, the second narrative is the one that seems to have taken hold in media coverage these days, especially regarding Silicon Valley.

Those who actually work in the field know that it isn’t so simple. Sure, you have the offenders – we have all heard the stories about bad behavior. But some say that businesses, including tech companies, are doing their best to step up and make a real difference when politicians can’t or won’t (see Frank Bruni’s excellent NY Times op ed The Sunny Side of Greed).

Reputation and brand can be funny things, and very resilient. E.g. Amazon is often portrayed as the enemy of publishers, but this has not seemed to hurt it too badly. Similarly, institutions ranging from the NFL to the American auto industry have had their reputation issues, but still hold a special place in our hearts.

For all the dings to tech, it continues to have an allure; and it is hard to argue against its importance to our economy and the careers of many. Moreover it is growing, as how we define the industry changes.

The Times wrote that As Tech Booms, Workers Turn to Coding for Career Change. I said on this blog that there is Gold in them Thar Apps, and App Developers. David Kirkpatrick of Forbes famously wrote Now, Every Company is a Software Company.

More and more companies are rushing to adopt the tech label, according to another recent NY Times piece. Apparently, businesses and investors see an upside to the being associated with the field.

One thing is for certain. When it comes to image problems, the PR industry is here to help. And if every company is a software and tech company – well, the future looks pretty good for tech PR, I’d say.

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Open letter to Media: Please get this Blowhard to Shut up Go Away

I am getting a little tired of all the media hyperventilating about a certain Republican Witchpresidential candidate; you know the one with the dead rodent looking thingie on the top of his head.

There is a numbing sameness to the reports:

  •  “Listen to what he just said!”
    • Subtext: “Isn’t that outrageous? But we can’t say that ourselves, or express an opinion, so…”
  •  “Here’s what others are saying!”
  •  “Here is what fellow candidates are saying!”
  •  “And look, he is not even apologizing!”
    •  Subtext: “Clearly it is a travesty, and that is why…
  •  “We bring you this exclusive interview with [said candidate]…”

Look, I know the media thrives on controversy, and covering this buffoon is an easy way to get attention for your stories and newscasts.

But wouldn’t you be doing us all a tremendous favor by focusing on something else? At some point it is a little like chasing ambulances and watching train wrecks.

There is a way to make him shut up and go away, and that involves depriving him of the air and sunlight he so desperately seeks. Yes, I am talking about your coverage, which translates to his PR.  Then, the orange-haired bridge troll would suffer the same fate as the green-faced Wicked Witch.

(One could argue that I am feeding into this too, but at least I am not mentioning his name. I am writing with the hope that others will also stop mentioning his name and covering him).

Ah, well, I know it will never happen. But the New York Times wrote today about how the candidate’s momentum is the result of a “media driven bump”, which they predict will subside.

We can only hope.

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When to Get Tough in PR, via the de Blasio vs. Cuomo Feud

Last week NY Mayor Bill de Blasio very publicly kicked Governor Andrew Cuomo to the argument-238529_1280curb. The NY Times reported:

… in candid and searing words… De Blasio… accused… Cuomo… of … personal pettiness, “game-playing” and a desire for “revenge.”

It was a highly unusual display of frustration and anger, rare for its tone and targeting of a fellow Democrat. The paper wrote three articles about the episode, including this piece, in which de Blasio’s press secretary Karen Hinton explained: “We felt we had nothing left to lose.”

According to the news story, the broadside was calculated, carefully timed and planned with his advisers months in advance.  But was it a smart move?  And what can we learn from it in the tech PR field?

The issues are complex, covering policy differences, and struggles over power and control. Clearly, the Mayor and his team felt backed into a corner, and believed that taking the battle public was worth the risk.

It’s too early to say whether it will work (the immediate response from the Governor’s team was a terse statement: “It takes coalition-building and compromise to get things done in government.” And, just today, AM New York  ran with the cover story Guv Hits Back – Cuomo to de Blasio: ‘You don’t always get everything you want; that’s called life’).

The episode begs the questions: should you talk tough to achieve your goals? When should you take your battles public?

The tech world can be rough and tumble too. It is famous for its marketing wars and FUD mongering.  A few years ago I wrote a post that explained how PR teams can stay clean when the fighting gets dirty. But that advice was about resisting the temptation (or client or employee orders) to act unethically.

It most certainly leaves room for some hardball – and I think PR can hold it’s head high while recommending or supporting an aggressive approach. Being in PR does not always mean playing nicely.

The media like to write about contests, and thrive on controversy and conflict. Throwing stones can be a sure way to get their attention and coverage.

If the press are not already covering the battle lines of a market segment, you can encourage them to do this – especially if it is in an exciting and rapidly evolving space that should be on their radars anyway.

You can trash talk the competition in interviews, and challenge them to a head-to-head bakeoff between the respective solutions.  You can mix it up on Twitter – like  the CEOs of T-Mobile and Sprint just did, see this story.

These tactics can work for companies seeking to upset the status quo and take market share and attention from the leaders.

There are risks, too, in poking the bear. You might be labeled an obnoxious hothead or worse. The leaders are usually much larger companies, with market power and deep war chests. They can fight back in a number of ways.

But there can be rewards. Startups need to take risks when trying to knock larger competitors off their comfortable perches. Like de Blasio, they might believe that the potential rewards outweigh the risks.

Tough talk and tactics have their place in the tech PR arsenal, and should not be ignored.


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One Thing you CAN’T Measure in PR

PR measurement has evolved, with the addition of solutions such as SeeDepth and AirPR.tape-measure-145397_640

The migration of people and content online makes it easier to connect the dots between PR effort and results. And international initiatives such as the Barcelona Principles aim to take a fresh look and improve the craft (see this Cision blog post).

Yet there is one thing that is impossible to measure – and is ignored at our own peril.

There is no technology that can look into the brains of people and know what they are thinking. That might be obvious, but why is it important? Don’t we just care about coverage, website traffic/conversions, i.e. things that can be measured? Should we consider every announcement or pitch that does not produce immediate results a flop?

Direct marketers understand the importance of repetition. They know that you often need to present your message with prospects several times before anything happens.

The recipient may see your ad or email pitch, or direct mailer, once, twice, three times – and not respond. But there is a cumulative effect of these impressions – each one may barely register, but eventually they bubble up from the subconscious into recognition, a sense of familiarity and perhaps even a response or order.

Similarly you may get no reaction to that pitch, that piece of minor news, that big idea.

But then, they bite on the next pitch… or call you… or, you get them on the phone for the first time after all these pitches and they are warm and friendly, like they were expecting the call.

So I tell clients, “Sure we’ll pitch or send that minor news. Don’t expect coverage, but do hope we are gaining mind share that will pay off in the long term.”

This is also the reason why one shot PR programs and pay for performance seem short sighted.

You can’t measure this kind of impression.

(Please note, and this is VERY IMPORTANT – I am not recommending that you carpet bomb reporters, AKA spam them, with the hope that brute force persistence and repetition will pay off.  You will create negative impressions and do the program more harm than good. Always respect their pitch preferences and make sure the info is relevant to their coverage areas.  Moderation and balance are important).

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Cracking the Quadrant – Confessions of a former Gartner Analyst

I attended a meetup recently that featured a speaker who had once been a Gartner analyst. 1118-CubeimageHe shared his insights about the inner workings of the firm, and how to get the most out of analyst relations programs. It was great info, and relevant for companies seeking to improve their standing and results with analysts and enterprise IT decision-makers.

Our clients often ask about how to get listed and/or favorably positioned in the vaunted Gartner Magic Quadrant. Of course, there are other analysts, and recipes for organizing and ranking the tech field (Forrester Wave reports come to mind). But Gartner warrants special attention, as they are the largest, and seem to be at the top of the heap.

So, I decided to write this post and share what I learned. I am not naming the speaker, or including everything that he covered. It summarizes key takeaways, in my own words (except for the quotes – those were indeed said at the session).

(Note: if you are interested in the back story, the former analyst replied very enthusiastically when I pitched him the idea for this post right after the talk. So I drafted and sent it to him… and was met with radio silence, despite several phone call and email follow-ups. Perhaps he was afraid of the reaction from his former employer and got cold feet. I am not sure why – nothing here is that earth shattering or outrageous.

While I would have much preferred to write this with his name and full cooperation, better to share the information as an anonymous confessional than not at all; it is just too important to hold onto, and was presented in a public forum, so it is fair game, in my opinion).

Read on for the tips from the session, and I hope that you find them useful.

Why care about analysts – and Gartner?

They are extremely influential. The speaker cited Hill and Knowlton annual surveys, which consistently show that analysts have the most impact when it comes to enterprise IT purchasing decisions, compared with other sources of influence/info.

Gartner is at the top of the analyst heap, with billings of about $1.6B / year. Forrester is a distant second.

Interestingly, Gartner also holds sway over SMBs – even though the firm chiefly covers tech used by large enterprises. They reap the benefits of buzz and PR, gained from all those who proudly shout their Gartner validation from the rooftops.

Why care about the Magic Quadrant?

It is one of Gartner’s flagship offerings, and the lens through which they view and rank the tech world. The quadrants map to technology segments and have grown in number, from 15 when the former analyst was there in the late 80s-90s to about 800 today (“their analysts know more and more about less and less”).

Getting favorably positioned (“lower left is for losers”) can mean good things.

If you somehow don’t qualify to be listed in a quadrant – e.g. due to insufficient revenue (“you need at least $10-15M/year”) you still can make a Cool Vendor report. These were developed specifically to help Gartner stay close to the startup space.

Engage, Don’t Brief Analysts

How can you influence these über-influencers?

First, don’t lump them in with the media – they hate being relegated to “press and analyst relations”. Analysts are not neutral, like the media are supposed to be – they have strong opinions (“and hence can make terrible dinner guests.”) They don’t like working with marketers.

According to the speaker, an “engaged analyst is an influenceable analyst.” They like to be consulted about product decisions. Analysts love talking to CEOs about their vision, and generally don’t like getting deep into the tech weeds.

Here are some other points:

  • They want to feel they have input on product design, and might point out the holes if you don’t seek their counsel
  • Make sure they honor an embargo or sign an NDA before you share confidential info
  • “You can’t say ‘you’re wrong’ to an analyst. If you bring proof and hard data, fine, otherwise they’ll go with their opinions.”

Is it Pay for play? Just Follow the Money

Analyst firms will typically grant vendors one free formal briefing (i.e., booked through their account team) per year. Take the briefing, but you will get pressure from their sales staff to sign up.

Also, you can meet with them at other times informally – e.g. at trade shows, based on personal relationships and direct contact.

The entry level cost for a major analyst like Gartner is about $15-20K. Add the cost of the A/R firm, which can rival the above fee. Someone once studied and estimated total costs associated with getting into the desired Magic Quadrant; it could be $500K, when you include executives’ time and resources.

Lest you think it sounds like one big protection racket, the speaker dismissed this and said, essentially, follow the money: the firms get most of their revenue – like 80% – from advising enterprises.

They have to shoot straight or they will jeopardize the cash cow. Also, it is a fact – I know this from our clients – that you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with Gartner or others and not get listed the way you want. Conversely, many who don’t pay get ranked very favorably.

Steal This Category

Finally, I had to know, and asked during the Q & A: how do new quadrants get minted?

We often have clients that don’t fit neatly into a segment. They might be disrupting an existing area, or inventing a new one. Is it wildly unrealistic to get Gartner or others to conform to your worldview? Perhaps even get behind your definition of the new area, and help you promote it?

The speaker said that new quadrants are generally spawned bottom up. Analysts toiling in the trenches may see the opportunity to launch one if they identify something like eight vendors that don’t fit neatly elsewhere.

They are the ones who invented the TLA, and are partial to their own inventions and definitions.

Vendors almost never successfully invent categories on their own; it would be a great outcome if the analyst stole their idea for a category, the ultimate tribute.


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Social Tools Summit Wrap

I attended and really enjoyed the Social Tools Summit in Boston earlier this week. Neal STSummitSchaffer and Brian Mahony produced a great event; kudos to both, and thanks again for inviting me to speak there.

The day was chock full of discussions and helpful information about the many aspects of social media marketing – it covered challenges, best practices, and yes – tools.  If you like social media and tech, as I do, it was like being a kid in a candy store.

An added bonus was that I got the chance to hang out with (and in some cases, meet for the first time) people I knew from my days writing for Maximize Social Business – like Joe Ruiz, Debbie Miller, and of course Neal.

I also met many very nice new people, including Frog’s Leap Winery social wiz Natalie Barnard, who was kind enough to share this photo of the session I moderated.

Although some complain that there are too many tools, and it is hard to understand and navigate all the options, that is exactly why I found the day to be so useful. I learned about new ones, and was able to kick the tires of some that I was curious about during the speed demo portion of the event.

I also jotted down notes of tools that were recommended by speakers.  I list below a few that struck my interest (a more complete list can be found in Alan Belniak’s post).

  • AhaBooks, AhaAmplifier – Mitchell Levy of THINKAha (and fellow MSB alum) was on my panel; they offer social-media enabled ebooks, and tools to amplify thought leadership.
  • TraackrKatie Paterson was on my panel too, their service is the go-to option when it comes to social influencer relationship management.
  • Oktopost – I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the founder and CEO, Daniel Kushner – Oktopost is a great option for comprehensive B2B social media marketing and management – many of our clients could benefit.
  • SimplyMeasured – Great system for cross-channel analytics; they took one of the top awards there.
  • Here’s a cool hack / feature someone mentioned; you can use with Buffer (which I use and love) to curate content and tweet to multiple Twitter accounts.
  • Other tools mentioned in the session:
    • Trendspottr Signal, platform for social listening and curation; I use and love Trendspottr
    • Cyfe – I use this social dashboard, one of the panelists mentioned that it can be used to create content calendars.
    • Meddle.IT enables each employee be a content creator
    • In a similar vein, EveryoneSocial gives your team social media advocacy tools
    • Ditto – Deep learning, discovery of image content
    • Visual content and design tools including Canva, PicMonkey and PostCreator
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