Find and Fill Open Spaces to Connect with Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate Clearly when others are Confusing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Secret to Creativity? Ditch the Phone! Get Bored!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fusion’s Favorite Mobile Apps of 2014

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

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

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

Here are a few takeaways:

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

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

Annie

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

Sara

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

Mark

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

Fehmida

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

Nicole

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

Laura

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

Bob

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

Chris

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

Ross

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

Nirav

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

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

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

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

What is tech reporting like in China?

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

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

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

Is it appropriate to communicate with most reporters in Mandarin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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PR In China: the Latest Hits (and Misses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Uber Flap Shines Harsh Light on Tech Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Strong Media Brands: the answer to Native Advertising Concerns

So is native advertising (sometimes called brand journalism or, more generally, content and-now-a-word-from-our-sponsorsmarketing) a curse or cure all?  Is it good for what ails online advertising? Or does it confuse consumers and prevent them from getting unbiased news ?

Farhad Manjoo wrote an article in the NY Times about the state and decline of banner ads. It is a good read about unintended consequences, and how the banner came to not only dominate online ads but also set the stage for other unfortunate web things.

He writes that the new trend favors native advertising, citing the experience of Jonah Peretti  – someone who has pioneered money making news sites:

After leaving The Huffington Post, Mr. Peretti started BuzzFeed, which eschews banners and has become a model for the possibilities of so-called native ads to finance journalism. These ads… look like ordinary posts on apps and social networks.

David Carr, also of the Times, does not seem to think kindly of the practice, or, of poorly executed examples.  In his story Journalism, Independent and Not, he wrote about his disappointment in finding info that at first seemed newsworthy – but was actually underwritten by a vendor, according to some very fine print.  He writes:

Of the many attempts at new approaches to publishing — native advertising, custom content, sponsored content — SugarString sets a new low… The fact that the name of the corporation bringing you the information is at the bottom of every story, not the top, is an attempt to hide the fundamental intent.

I don’t mean to single Carr out.  I generally love his column, and many others share similar concerns.  But I really think that these concerns are overblown.

I mean, c’mon, have the native ad alarmists heard of evil soap boxes that companies have called blogs?  And that strictly profit-driven entities actually have something called “owned media”.  That’s right, companies that aren’t real news outlets  try to own media and publish biased thoughts on websites and via social media channels.

I’ll take a break from my sarcasm to point out the myriad sources of news and info that people have these days.  I will eat my (nonexistent, so there you have it, I am bluffing) hat if someone points out an example in which native ads stood between a person and the news and “truth” that they were seeking.

The upside of this content-rich era is that most of us are sophisticated and discerning news consumers.  We understand that “caveat emptor” should prevail – let the buyer beware, and to not trust any single source – or at least consider the source. Most of us understand that there is likely some agenda or bias shaping the information we find on an unfamiliar website.

That does not mean that there isn’t the potential for abuse in native advertising.  E.g., I agree that sponsored content should be clearly identified.

Well, how, you may ask.  Recall the fine print that Carr mentioned in his piece.  The devil is in the details.  But the answer is not to legislate or trash native ads to death.

The answer is strong media brands.  The ones that represent integrity will hopefully not dilute their equity with thinly veiled sponsored content.  Those that abuse the practice will squander brand value and likely not profit from their efforts.

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Confessions of A Foreign PR Student

CocaCola_PotBy Carmen Ren

We all know that in order to communicate effectively, PR practitioners need to understand the public well. In the multi-cultural context, this can be several times more challenging. (To me, it is also fascinating!) The efforts to understand our stakeholders from a foreign culture go way beyond overcoming language issues.

As a PR student who came to the United States for the first time 14 months ago, I was daunted by the challenge of using English to listen, express, learn, think, and “try to be a New Yorker”. I was overwhelmed by obstacles on various levels –

  • Both verbal and written communications are basic and indispensable parts of PR practices. It was challenging for me to write in English and ensure its quality;
  • Public Relations practices (or simply communication) will not work without context. It was VERY challenging for me to catch up with the social and cultural context so that I could at least join the conversation without looking clueless. (e.g. I didn’t know what the terms Stop-and-Frisk, and Cyber Monday, among others, were.)
  • Public Relations governance (and again, communication as well) will not succeed without understanding and aligning different values of various constituents. As a foreigner, it is absolutely challenging for me to grasp the essence of American thinking and therefore make sense of their judgments and behaviors.

Understanding and aligning different values is the biggest obstacle, for me and, I believe, for most PR professionals who have the ambition to operate in a different culture.

Here is an anecdote: a friend from Philly once asked me when comparing Philly to New York City, “How do your Chinese friends conceive Philadelphia? Say, more left and more right?” I didn’t know how to answer, since I don’t usually use “left or right” to describe a city. In fact, the whole dimension of “left and right” does not exist in the way we view our cities. “The Philadelphia question” reminds me of how political culture is deeply rooted in an American mindset.

In contrast to the American politically-rooted mindset, in modern China, we are raised in a culture where civic engagement is not encouraged and political discussion is alien to the mass. The reasons for it are plenty and complex. To me, the most obvious ones are lack of incentives and empowerment — When you know what you say will not matter and will not change anything [1], why bother to devote your efforts? When schools don’t educate students to challenge the authority, and to think critically, how can they be equipped to participate in civic engagements?

In this specific case, what does this “weak muscle” of critical thinking in China mean to communicators or PR pros? To name some, will the public be more vulnerable to rumors and smear campaigns because they are not used to making efforts to find the truth? Will this further influence their information gathering habits and problem solving approaches regarding rumors, or even information at large?

These issues are critical for PR pros because they are a part of the “listening process (public audit)”. This “listening process” is labor-intensive and complex indeed, especially when the context of our stakeholders never stops changing. For a leader who has ambition to set foot in another country, this task cannot be accomplished by simply reading a few books about another country, at least not enough for PR pros. A good multicultural PR pro should be a lifelong “anthropologist”, who diligently listens, observes, and therefore is able to impersonate and communicate [2]. (Silver lining: we have big data to support the continuous listening process.)

I’d like to wrap it up with an analogy– Practicing PR in a foreign land is no less challenging than being in a relationship with a foreigner. First you should be able to communicate in his/her language. And then you make better sense by understanding his/her background and personal history in factual details. But not until you understand “the significant other” on a psychological and even metaphysical level, will you win his/her heart and soul– in PR, this translates to trust, intimacy and a sustainable relationship.

———

[1] Professor James E. Grunig developed a Situational Theory of Publics to explain and predict why some publics are active and others are passive. To explore this subject further, see http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/public-relations/s08-02-the-situational-theory-of-publ.html
[2] For more discussion about “generic principles and specific applications in public relations” (Falconi), see http://www.prconversations.com/index.php/2013/04/generic-principles-and-specific-applications-in-public-relations/

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