HBR Covers the Death of a B2B Salesman – and Media Relations

My friend Neal Schaffer shared an interesting Harvard Business Review article, How salesman-232x300More Accessible information is Forcing B2B Sales to Adapt. The story questioned the role and relevancy of the B2B sales team in a digital world.

There were also some great takeaways for marketing (it’s a must read for those who don’t think social media is important). But the most interesting thing for me, a PR professional, was the one thing that was MIA.  HBR virtually ignored media as a channel of info that supports B2B sales. If true, does this mean that media coverage, and by extension media relations, no longer matter in this area?

DIY Buyers tap Self Serve Info

The HBR authors wrote: “Business buyers are more connected and informed than ever… digital channels provide access to information and enable self-sufficiency. When a buyer wants to learn about virtually any product or service, an internet search yields thousands of results, including online articles, videos, white papers, blogs, and social media posts. In addition to supplier websites, there are online sources (ranging from the self-serving to the unbiased) to help buyers learn and compare solution alternatives.”

I alluded to this trend in my recent Entrepreneur piece: “Who even sees or reads [tech news] stories? There are many other ways to vet the latest tech products and services (no one ever got fired for following Gartner’s guidance).”

Fighting Fire with Fire

How should B2Bers ensure that their sales teams don’t become outdated Willy Lomans? And is there still any significant role for PR when it comes to supporting sales?

Regarding the first question, the authors say, essentially, to fight fire with fire. Load up on data about buyers and use technology and digital channels to reach them. Your sales people need new competencies – they can’t just be “talking brochures”.

PR needs a new approach too, as I said in Entrepreneur. We’ve never been just about media relations – or sales. Yet media relations are still the bread and butter for many PR agencies. And most who employ PR hope that it will do its fair share to meet short (read: sales) and long term business goals.

Forward thinking PR teams are expanding their tools and approach. Good PR has always been about validation and building credibility – but there are ways to accomplish this beyond earned media. You can court others – e.g., analysts, and social media influencers – to get buy-in and mentions. You can work to ensure that your news appears where the buyer is most likely to see it (e.g. user forums, mobile news apps, social media news feeds).  You can craft and promote content that hits the hot buttons of buyers and addresses their informational needs.

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Here’s a Pitch: Get Tech Savvy, take a PR Briefing

NY Times reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote a nice story that highlighted the growing technology-is-a-givenproblem of tech illiteracy and its implications.  He wrote:

“People in the tech industry… act as if the products they build sit at the center of everything. But this year, the techies were right… not only did tech dominate the news, it often moved too quickly for politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials and the media to understand its implications.”

He goes on to list some of the big stories in which tech played a starring role, and our collective failure to connect the dots. Examples include cyber security, the VW scandal, Hillary’s emails, and the central role of social media in political campaigns and grassroots movements (e.g., Trump’s, the Black Lives Matter movement).

The article made an impression on me, as I read it right after seeing the movie the Big Short, from the Michael Lewis book, which illustrated the consequences of financial illiteracy. If more institutions took the time to understand the house of cards being built on the mortgage industry at the time, disaster may have been averted.

I think most would not argue about the central role technology plays in our lives. We can reasonably expect that it will continue to be featured in headlines. It also seems clear that there’s a collective ignorance, just challenge anyone (outside of the real techies) to explain nitty gritty details of Bitcoins, mobile payments, encryption, IoT etc.

I submit that PR, through our work with the media, can play a role in improving tech literacy.

First, I believe that the media should be held to a higher standard when it comes to uncovering and acting on information that can lead to change. The Fourth Estate is unrestrained by the bureaucracy of politics. It is a free press here in the U.S. and many other parts of the world.

The good news is the PR industry, and the tech vendors that we represent, are willing and able to spend the time needed to bring the media up-to-speed. There is a veritable army of PR reps and vendor spokespeople who love nothing more than sitting down and getting geeky with a journalist.

Sure, we have an ulterior motive. But we (most of us, anyway) also are happy to deliver background or informational briefings and understand that they come with no coverage guarantees. The rules of the game say that, in return, the journalist can get a crash course. OK, it is from a vendor’s perspective, but reporters are free to challenge and dig deep. We are happy to provide additional information and point out useful resources.

I don’t mean to imply that all (or even most) of the media are clueless about tech. And I fully understand that the problem is not just literacy. Reporters are under pressures that might discourage good old shoe leather journalism, as news cycles diminish and many are incentivized by quantity and clicks (a trend driven by – you guessed it – tech).

I am just saying that, for those who want to take the time to get smarter, there are many vendors fronted by PR pros to help out and get you the information you need.

Photo credit: Scott McLeod via Foter.com / CC BY

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Meetup Explores the Art of the PR Pitch

The NYC PR Innovators meetup hosted a session on The Art (and Science) of the PR Pitch CV57Q6OWsAAZ6Gxat District CoWork last week, where I participated as a panelist. Over 50 people attended, and organizer Erin Commarato ran a very lively and interactive session.

I am new to this meetup but will definitely be coming back, as I am extremely interested in PR innovation. Also, any forum dedicated to improving pitching is a great one, in my book.

There was lots of give and take, and just about everyone got a chance to ask questions and share thoughts. Co-panelist Roger Wu of Cooperatize spoke about new opportunities in branded content, and Stacey Miller of Cision’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) offered data and insight gleaned from her HARO role and media feedback. Not everyone agreed, but the forum gave all a chance to chime in.  With Erin’s guidance and the panel’s input, we  were able to build consensus on most of the topics.

Our own Mike Bush did a great job live tweeting (thanks, Mike!). I share these and other tweets about the event below below (check out the expressions on our faces when the panel is stumped with a tough question).

Thanks Erin, Roger, Stacey and NYC PR Innovators for a great meetup.

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CUNY Meetup Showcases Journalism Startups

If you work in PR, it is good to keep an eye on the world of media innovation.  You don’t FergFH-iconwant to be the last to hear about the up and comers – e.g. the next BuzzFeed or Vice.   Some journalism startups aim to breathe fresh life into storytelling, and we might learn a thing or two that has applications for PR and content marketing.

That is why I enjoyed the demo night at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism early this week. There was a good mix of concepts, spanning apps, local news, data-driven journalism and virtual reality.

I saw five demos, and they were all interesting. Most had experienced teams and investors and/or corporate backers. It is hard to know which ones will succeed – but I think they are all worth checking out.

Please see below for my quick thoughts on each.

Lenses 

Lenses, a collaborative effort involving News Corp., NYU, Columbia University and  the NYC Media Lab, is a web-based toolkit for the visualization of public data.

Anyone can point it to a data source (e.g. think NYC BigApps) and generate cool graphs that help users spot trends and glean insight.  Be sure to check out their upcoming hackathon.

Slant News

This ambitious undertaking aims to democratize reporting, through a site that lets anyone submit a story and earn from ad revenue.  Founder Amanda Gutterman set the stage by discussing her experiences as an unpaid intern at Condé Nast, and work at the Huffington Post. Of course, the latter taps an army of unpaid contributors.

Sadly, the content explosion has led to a cheapening of writing and reporting.  With Slant, she wants to give those who are not professionals a way to have their voices heard and make money.

Their editors work their magic on the content, selecting the best stories for inclusion on the front page of the site – and optimizing for SEO and social media.

I loved this one, and any site that pays writers.  They have been open since September and have a couple of thousands of writers.  It is no get rich quick scheme – the best ones get paid $1-2K month.  But hey, it is a start.

I think they have their work cut out.  There is the scalability issue – Slant will need an army of editors to do the job right, i.e. truly give more people a voice, and more content a fair shot.  There is also the old chicken vs. egg problem – how do you interest advertisers until the site has reached critical mass?  Why should writers jump on board for crumbs (if anything) at first, until you have lots of users and good ad revenue?

I hope they figure these things out and succeed.

Walc

This is a new mobile app that gives directions and helps you find your way based on landmarks in the area, i.e. what you see. It’s an idea that makes so much sense, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.

Founder Allison McGuire started by asking the audience to raise their hand if they have ever left a subway station, directions in hand, and still felt lost.  Most of the crowd responded affirmatively.

That is the need they address – very cool indeed.

Blockfeed

This app offers a breakthrough in local news delivery.  It uses fancy things like machine learning to develop a custom news stream based on the user’s location.

Blockfeed now works in the greater New York metro area, and will soon cover other parts of the country.  Local news outlets win too, as the app does not poach their content – it just shows a snippet, and directs traffic back to the publisher.

This is another one of those ideas that just makes so much sense – and it seems like they have the tech and team to deliver on the promise.

Empathetic Media

This won the prize for me in terms of the cool factor.

In dry terms, the company is a VR / AR (virtual and augmented) production studio.  The website says “We are a collective of journalists and technologists creating media experiences made to be explored across virtual and augmented reality. We design first-person immersive experiences to put you in the shoes of eyewitnesses  – and allow you to explore a story from multiple perspectives.”

Founder Dan Archer positioned their approach against 360 degree video, which offers a more passive experience. He said ‘With Empathetic, the story is the container…  you can move through it” by using their app and donning an Oculus Rift VR headset.

Dan shared examples.  One showed the scene from the Michael Brown shooting episode, which many of us got to know this well through all the news coverage.  With Empathetic’s simulation, you can virtually visit the scene and get multiple perspectives.

There is no question that this kind of technology will continue to grow in importance and be used more in journalism and other kinds of content development and marketing.  I am reminded of NY Times recent virtual reality push (they used Google Cardboard, and I don’t believe worked with Empathetic).

But it does seem time, labor and cost intensive right now – clearly a lot of work goes into each scene and story.  Hopefully some of the barriers will fall, and Empathetic and others in the space will grow and succeed – and will get more VR-enhanced stories.

 

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What do Trump and ISIS have in Common?

Journalists who join the PR field are often said to be crossing to the dark side. That’s because fashion-414352_1280some think PR is just about spinning and deception. As I pointed out in my post News Corp. Goons Provide PR “Protection”, some journalists and forms of journalism can also be ethically suspect; which side, really, is the dark one?

PR can serve noble purposes, but it can also advance evil causes and politicians and policies that you might find to be disagreeable, or even scary.

E.g. ISIS has proven to be adept at media and communications, and using these things to get attention, build their brand and recruit.

The NY Times pointed out that Boko Haram has taken more lives, yet ISIS gets more press coverage and notoriety. Why? The paper wrote that ISIS crafted a media strategy early on, and said that the group is Displaying a Deft Command of Varied Media:

ISIS… is using every contemporary mode of messaging to recruit fighters, intimidate enemies and promote its claim to have established a caliphate… If its bigotry and beheadings seem to come from a distant century, its use of media is up to the moment.”

Donald Trump also has shown a keen instinct for grabbing attention and headlines. (He wouldn’t be thrilled to be lumped in with ISIS, and I am not pointing out similarities other than their communications savvy).

Author and media pundit Doug Rushkoff, who has been interviewed here twice, wrote a great piece yesterday for Digital Trends: Donald Trump Works the Internet Better than You Do.

“Donald Trump is the ultimate Internet candidate— not in the sense that he is utilizing the organizing capability of the net …. Yet Trump is an Internet spectacle nonetheless — a political Charlie Sheen who seems to know exactly how to ride the crest of trending topics, or even create them. On television, his speeches are incoherent mashups, without a clear story or theme. As clickbait, though, they are perfect: short, angry slogans, each more explosive than the last.  With Sheen it was tiger blood and winning; with Trump, it’s Jersey City Jihadists and also, possibly, winning.”

A free press and open Internet can be used to support all kinds of causes, including politics and politicians that you may not like.

What can be done when these things are co-opted to spread evil and support terrorism or criminal activities? The laws of each land can intervene, and social network owners (and in some cases, posses like hacker group Anonymous) can try to disrupt or shut down their accounts.

There are plenty of lessons that the PR world can learn about effective tactics– but I find the idea distasteful. How about you – what do you think?

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Singles’ Day on Chinese Social Media

This latest in our PR in Asia series was contributed by guest blogger Eiffy Luo, a EiffyLuomultimedia story teller who discovered her passion for business and journalism through work at TheStreet.com, Reuters and the New York Times.

The post is about Singles Day (11/11), which started out as a Chinese holiday but has grown into an international phenomena.

Thanks Eiffy! And thank you for reading, we hope you find the information to be helpful and interesting.

Competition Heats Up

E-commerce giants are competing for “Singles’ Day,” an online shopping festival similar to “Black Friday” in the U.S. In the first 90 minutes, Alibaba Group said it pulled $5 billion in total sales. Last year, the firm recorded $9.3 billion at the end of November 11.

The Singles’ Day has intensified the rivalry between the two e-commerce retailers in China, Alibaba Group and JD.com. It was launched by Alibaba in 2009 to promote their Tmall online shopping mall and encourage single people to shop for themselves and celebrate their lives.

In August, Alibaba Group partnered with consumer electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group in an effort to match or exceed JD’s capabilities. The partnership gives Alibaba access to Suning’s logistics network, which reaches across most of China, to boost same-day delivery of consumer electronics and appliances.

However, JD.com has been gaining in areas like clothing, and has called apparel the “most important growth engine” for JD Mall. Last year, JD.com developed a partnership with Tencent Group, China’s largest social media company, to attract consumers through Tencent’s popular social media platforms WeChat and QQ.

Social Media in China:

E-commerce operators are working on providing deep interactive experiences for customers via social media.

The major social media platforms in China include:

  • Weibo, or “microblog” in Chinese, a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and
  • WeChat, a messenger tool similar to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Line. WeChat is even more popular than text messenger and email in business settings in China.

How do e-commerce sellers use social media for “Singles’ Day”?

Sellers are using social media to win over the consumer. The first step is to create deep interactive experiences between consumers and products. For example, an UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) company designed a WeChat animation: as users touched the screen, they could follow the UAV and open an invitation letter. The letter invited users to attend offline events featuring the real UAV.

Next, marketers should deliver a “key message” of their products, catch consumers’ interests, and propose appropriate marketing strategies on social media platforms.

Common Strategies on Weibo:

  • Repost and Rewards: one way to reach out to consumers and “touch” them on social platforms is by offering incentives and encouraging them to post. Weibo users are encouraged to repost a promotion by tagging (“@” in Weibo) their friends (usually the post requires 3), and will get the chance to win the rewards (including sample products, discount, or other gifts) from sellers.
  • KOLs: another important way is to use KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders, to promote products. KOLs are celebrities on Weibo, which called “Big V” in Chinese, as they have a “Verified” symbol on Weibo ID. Since all of them have over 1 million fans, their post and repost will greatly affect market performance.
  • #Hashtag: Sellers use hashtags to post hot topics, usually related to trending events or celebrities. Sometimes marketers will reach out to Weibo PR and promote their story to “hot topic rankings.” As more people see the topic, they will comment and repost about it with hash tags.

How about WeChat?

WeChat users have profile pages similar to Facebook’s timeline. They post “Moments” like text, photo, and video. Users can also subscribe to official accounts to read and repost news, articles and content they are interested in. Online sellers use HTML5 to add text, pictures, and animations with one link. It could be an interactive game, an article with funny screen shots from a hot TV series, or simply a creative video with an eye-catching title.

At the Tmall Global Shopping Festival party, Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group, even played a short video of President Frank J. Underwood (played by actor Kevin Spacey at House of Cards). In WeChat moments, this is said to be “probably the most expensive ads.”

Singles’ Day is no longer just a special day for singles, but a global shopping festival with everyone in it. One of the keys to winning the game is to get most out of Chinese social media.

 

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Of Immoderate Moderators and Paranoid Pols

Is the press really the enemy? That was Nixon’s line – and I was in a Nixon frame of mind, having just finished the excellent book Crooked by Austin Grossman. It is a faux memoir, written in the former president’s voice, that presents an alternative history and captures his paranoia.

We share this quote and others in our media training sessions. The point is not to scare new spokespeople, but instill a healthy amount of caution when dealing with the media.

However, the Republican presidential candidates say that the press are the enemy, especially NBC/CNBC/Telemundo in the wake of last week’s debate, when a number of them bristled at the questions.

Now, it is kind of funny to watch them fall over each other, trying to get a better debating deal, and turn the episode into an advantage.

It was even funnier to hear Obama’s rejoinder at an event the other night:

“Have you noticed every one of these candidates say…when I talk to Putin, he’s gonna straighten out! Just lookin at him it’s gonna be…and then, it turns out, they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators!”

So what gives, is this all just posturing? Should the Republicans expect fair moderators and substantive questions? Shouldn’t they be able to handle all types of interviews? Was Obama just taking a cheap shot? Were they going for the easy applause line (and dodging answers) when they ranted about the media?

To even ask these questions, one needs to ignore certain realities, and believe:

  • The debates are more about substance than entertainment
  • CNBC just wants to do their civic duty and doesn’t care about getting a big audience
  • It’s possible to find moderators without any bias
  • Politicians say things because they really believe them, and not for effect

Once, just once it would be nice if they surprised us and didn’t fall into their usual predictable roles.

So will the Republicans take their football and go home – i.e. Fox News – for the next debate?

Now that wouldn’t be as entertaining, would it?

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The Martians Have Landed, Your Pitch Stinks, We’re All Going to Die!!!

I was glued to third Republican presidential debate last night, watching for signs of intelligent life bal-runaway-blimp-under-investigation-20151029, when the show cut to an important announcement. It said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.”

Soon afterwards, there were news reports that a mysterious blimp-like vehicle had crash landed in rural Pennsylvania. They said it was a U.S. military surveillance vehicle, from NORAD (Yea, right, we’ve heard that story like 1000 times!).

Astute readers will recognize the above quote from the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, the monumental “JK” that stoked fear in the hearts of listeners back in 1938 (see the transcript). Narrated by Orson Welles, the show was based on the science fiction novel of the same name. But it led to outrage and panic, as many listeners thought the events described were actually happening.

Now, as we approach Halloween, it is natural to ask: what things do PR people fear?
Some fears are valid, and should be respected. Others should be confronted and vanquished. Here is my list:

Fear of rejection: PR people seem increasingly reluctant to actually call reporters, as I pointed out in my post Don’t Slam the Phone on Proven Media Relations Tactics. They say that the media don’t like to get calls; some admit to being afraid of getting a cranky response, or having their pitches rejected.

Tips: While you need to respect the wishes of the media, it is also true that squeaky wheel gets the grease. The best remedy is to be sure that the information you are presenting is truly of value to the journalist. Of course, it helps to have the kind of media relationships where there is mutual trust – and they welcome your calls.

Fear of measurement: PR has traditionally been hard to measure. Also, we may have a natural fear of having our work evaluated and quantified. What if we don’t hit the mark – or if the ROI is just not there?

Tips: Yes, it is true that not everything can be boiled down to a number (see my post One thing You Can’t Measure in PR). But I think this fear needs to be met head on and conquered. The excuses for not measuring are getting harder to defend. Let’s face it, in an online world, there is readier access to data of all kinds. The tools are growing in number and power, and data driven marketing is the new mantra. PR should not get left behind – when we measure, we can prove ROI.

Fear of being uninteresting/irrelevant: This is one fear that should be taken very seriously. If more in our profession held this concern, pitch spam would not persist to the extent that it does.

Tips: It’s generally safe to assume that your pitch sucks. The remedy? Make it not suck! Know your space, know the reporters, and make sure the pitch is on target. There are no short cuts. Hone that pitch, test market it among colleagues, and polish it some more. I am not saying you should take forever and make a career out of it. Just don’t drink your own Kool Aid.

What do you think? Which fears hold you back?

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Wonky Articles Trump other forms of Content

owl-47526_1280I saw an article in Hinge Marketing’s newsletter that reaffirmed my faith in PR, media and humanity. It cited research that shows substantive articles outperform other content types, when it comes to drawing links and shares (don’t get too excited, listicles are up there too).

It sounded interesting, and I had to learn more, so I clicked on the link to read the full article, which summarized research from the Moz blog and Buzz Sumo. They studied 1M pieces of content (spanning types and sources) to learn which kinds get the most links and shares. Another goal was to better understand user motivations behind these activities.

You might think that the most popular content get linked and shared, but the researchers found little correlation between the two forms of user endorsement. This implies that people do these things for different reasons. E.g. users more often share quizzes than link to them. Another interesting conclusion was that most content gets neither.

So what are the secrets to top performing content?

  • There is a “sweet spot” that draws links and shares, which “includes content from popular domains such as major publishers.”
  • The most linked and shared content also included “authoritative, research backed content, opinion forming journalism and major news sites.”
  • “Long form content consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content.”
  • Videos and listicles do well too
  • You can combine these factors to boost results, e.g. combine deep content with lists

They say that linking is more work than sharing, and as such, is done less.  But I have rewarded the authors with a (another) link, as the post is definitely research-backed and “opinion forming”; will share it too.

And guess what, this post is data-driven and has a list – so maybe you will reward me in kind?

 

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Tech Blogger Lament: “It’s now all about the page-clicks”

It seems hard to believe, but I wrote my PR Death Watch series, which chronicled the blog-560631_1280changing nature of the profession, seven years ago.   One of the tactics that I questioned back then was the media tour:

“With news cycles dwindling to zero, and media becoming more fractured and democratized, old school strategies like making the time to meet with journalists seem ever more quaint and slow.  Journalists have their hands full just keeping up with an increasingly competitive marketplace for information.”

Indeed, tours seem to be falling by the way side.  I was reminded of this when we were booking one recently.  It was for a client with technology so compelling, well you just had to be there to see it.

The team did a great job of scheduling reporters to come to demo rooms in several major cities.  However, we did run into resistance, especially from the major tech blogs. One replied via email:

“Tech journalism has become so difficult that it is now all about the page-clicks.  We can no longer afford the time it takes to meet with companies because that is time that could be devoted to writing more stories.  Sure, our story could be more in-depth, but [our competitor] would post five in the same amount of time.”

So what does this mean for PR and media relations?  Should we go with the flow?  We know that meeting in person is great for building relationships.  We also know that you have a better chance of connecting and getting key points across when sitting across from someone, with their attention undivided.

You would think it would be good for journalists too.  Ultimately, we need to work within their realities and accommodate their wishes – the media do not owe us coverage.   But some things are worth pushing for.

What do you think?

 

 

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