PR Golden Turkey Awards

turkey-296601_1280I thought I’d bring back a feature this year that I haven’t done in awhile – my PR Golden Turkey Awards.

Sound Opinions, one of my favorite podcasts inspired this year’s theme.   Their November 18 episode focused on Turkey Pardons.  Hosts Greg Kot and Jim DeRagotis  absolved popular bands that were low on critics’ lists.  They mentioned isolated songs and albums they do like from the acts.

Here, I thought I’d take the opposite approach – cite atypical PR missteps by brands that generally enjoy good reputations. I am also thinking of John Grant’s great song Disappointing.

Please note that I am not writing just about customer service, product quality, security breaches or other kinds of fails; this blog is careful not to confuse these things with PR and crisis management thereof.

Wells Fargo

It’s been painful to watch the faked user accounts debacle unfold.  The company botched one of the first rules of crisis response: avoid the drip, drip, drip of piecemeal information.  Much better to rip the Band-Aid off, explain what happened, and steps the company is taking to correct the situation and avoid future problems.

There’s been a steady stream of new updates and Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf did the company no favors during Senate hearings.  At one point he tried to blame underlings, and the company PR department downplayed the terminations that followed.


Samsung did the opposite and reacted too quickly upon the first reports of their Galaxy phones catching on fire in August. They tried to contain the problem by quickly announcing a recall.

This New York Time story digs deep into the episode.  There were a number of missteps.  For starters, the problem was not corrected with the recall (which was partial, and applied only to phones equipped with batteries from a certain supplier). The Times piece said that the company did not fully cooperate with the U.S. Product Safety Commission in taking corrective action.

Eventually Samsung completely killed the phone, but not before suffering significant damage in terms of reputation and sales.


Who said “It is good to be king?” Wikipedia attributes the phrase to a 1981 Mel Brooks movie, History of the World. And it is good to be on top of the heap in social networking.  Facebook has the most users, and is becoming the go-to-place for news too.

With this status comes responsibility.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg did the company no favors by clinging to the “we are a tech company, not a media company” story amidst concerns that the company does little to reduce fake news on the site.





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In Defense of “Fake News”

More people are wondering about the weird crap that mysteriously appears in their news

Is News Today too Much Like the Magic 8 Ball?

Is News Today too Much Like the Magic 8 Ball?

feeds. How much is fake news? Did disinformation tilt an election? What are Google and Facebook going to do to clean up the mess?

You could almost hear the entire PR industry shifting uncomfortably amidst the backlash. I mean, crafting news (that some might call fake, or at least a stretch) is our stock in trade.  We package propaganda as newsworthy information and sell it to the media; and, increasingly publish directly to the Web and social networks.

I understand that the fuss is more about blatant lies, not the average press release.  But it highlights the challenges of determining what is newsworthy and true; a role that is increasingly being taken on by algorithms.

The Web and social media gave us all ways to easily share and spread information. This can include rumor, conjecture, commercial information, news, and yes, slander and outright lies.

I would never defend the last two; but will fight for our right to issue press releases, and traffic in other kinds of info.  Any good system needs to be able to deal with all of this, i.e. anticipate some BS and surface the most credible and significant information, whether via the wisdom of the crowds, programs or a combination.

It is naïve to think that a publication, editors, or algorithms (which of course are written by humans) can present news without bias.  The journalistic piece you just wrote might be pristine, free of opinion; but the very act of deciding which stories to feature shows partiality.

That said, the social networking platforms where more of us are getting news can do a much better job of separating the wheat from the chaff.  I thought I’d share some of the great stories I’ve seen about the controversy and takeaways from each.

TechCrunch – How Facebook can Escape the Echo Chamber

Anna Escher  says “Facebook is hiding behind its [position that] ‘we’re a tech company, not a media company’ … For such an influential platform that preaches social responsibility and prioritizes user experience, it’s irresponsible …”

She recommends that they bring journalists into the process, remove the influence of engagement on news selection during elections, and expand Trending Topics to show a greater diversity of political stories – not just the ones that are the most popular.

Tim O’Reilly – Media in the Age of Algorithms

Tim’s exhaustive Medium piece looks at all sides. He rails against “operating from an out-of-date map of the world [in which] algorithms are overseen by humans who intervene in specific cases to compensate for their mistakes,“ and says:

“Google has long demonstrated that you can help guide people to better results without preventing anyone’s free speech… They do this without actually making judgments about the actual content of the page. The ‘truth signal’ is in the metadata, not the data.”

Tim makes an analogy between news algorithms and airplanes “Designing an effective algorithm for search or the newsfeed has more in common with designing an airplane so it flies… than with deciding where that airplane flies.”

He cited an example from the history of aircraft design.  While it’s impossible to build a plane that doesn’t suffer from cracks and fatigue… “the right approach … kept them from propagating so far that they led to catastrophic failure. That is also Facebook’s challenge.”

Nieman Lab – It’s Time to Reimagine the Role of a Public Editor

Mike Ananny writes about the public editor’s role, and the challenges they face in the increasingly tech-driven environment.  He writes:

“Today, it is harder to say where newsrooms stop and audiences begin. Public editors still need to look after the public interest, hold powerful forces accountable, and explain to audiences how and why journalism works as it does — but to do so they need to speak and shape a new language of news platform ethics.”

He asks “Will the public editor have access to Facebook’s software engineers and News Feed algorithms, as she does to Times journalists and editorial decisions?” and says:

“…  public editors must speak a new language of platform ethics that is part professional journalism, part technology design, all public values. This means a public editor who can hold accountable a new mix of online journalists, social media companies, algorithm engineers, and fragmented audiences — who can explain to readers what this mix is and why it matters.”

Posted in Current Affairs, Politics, PR Tech, Public Relations, Social Media, Weird News | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Latest PR Tactic: Publishing on Platforms

Cross-posted on Hack the Feed

Back in the day (“the day” being about 10 years ago), we had a simple message for PR shoe-737084_1920clients who wanted to get in on the social media and blogging action.

It was: “Go forth and blog too. Master the channels that are accessible to all.” Those who took the time to produce quality content, nurture social communities and post consistently saw their online influence grow.

Now, the open web is being challenged by the growth of social networking platforms. They’re places we go to connect, and get entertained and informed. Their news clout is growing, as the networks are increasingly publishers and aggregators of content. The social networks reach vast audiences with precise targeting – compelling attributes for marketers.

In short, if you are in the news business or want to promote your own, you are missing out if you are not on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

But there are a number of challenges along the way. It takes PR out of our media-centric comfort zones. It’s not obvious how to use social networking channels to accomplish your goals, which generally include coverage KPIs.

Sure, many in PR have jumped on the social media and content marketing bandwagons. We can handle Tweeting and blogging quite well. But getting your news seen and covered or appreciated by the right audiences, especially if your profile does not already have umpteen million friends/followers, is another matter.

Success generally requires a combination of paid and organic promotion as well as an understanding of the algorithms, those wonky programs that determine what appears in our news feeds. But they are black boxes and constantly changing. Plus, ad options may be unfamiliar, and they’re also moving targets.

How does one figure this all out? Listen, read, and experiment. Dip your toes in. Test, validate, then repeat.

Reading Hack the Feed is a good start, as it offers commentary, articles about best practices and links to the right resources. The networks can be opaque, when it comes to specifics about their algorithms – but they do inform about changes and make recommendations.

In short, there are no pat answers, although one could invoke advice similar to the words at the beginning of the article: go forth and publish on Facebook (for example). Learn about the secrets of shareable content and how to get into the news feed.

I’ll close with an example from the world of politics, which seems fitting since the election has been front and center. It’s an article that ran awhile back in the NY Times Sunday magazine.

What do you think?  Could a similar approach work beyond the field of politics?  What ideas does this give you for PR? See the link and excerpts below, and please share your comments.

Inside Facebook’s… Political Media Machine
[Facebook’s] algorithms have their pick of text, photos and video produced and posted by established media organizations… But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed…

These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook… cumulatively, their audience is gigantic: tens of millions of people. On Facebook, they rival the reach of their better-funded counterparts in the political media…

But they are, perhaps, the purest expression of Facebook’s design and of the incentives coded into its algorithm — a system that has already reshaped the web…
Truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news…. The point is to get [users] to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.

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AdTech NY 2016 Wrap

adtechI attended AdTech last week, which featured a great lineup of keynotes and panels and over 100 vendors.

It seems like there’s never enough time at big shows to check out everything (Fusion PR is one stop away on the 7 subway line, too close to keep me from work’s orbit).  Some of the most interesting things are not in the program – they occur “interstitially”, during networking and conversations in-between sessions.

E.g. at the happy hour on Wednesday I chatted with a number of very compelling startups and established players. I list a few below, and also include some of the top tweets related to the event.

  • Ads on Top – An innovative solution for out-of-home ads that target consumers “in the wild” via digital signs.
  • Adaptive Campaigns – It’s a programmatic real-time engine that delivers the most relevant ad content for every impression; there’s some pretty interesting predictive tech behind Adaptive.
  • Algomizer – Interesting Israeli tech that helps improve online marketing results.
  • MediaStinct – A global, digital ad network providing search, video, mobile and display advertising solutions.
  • Sigmoid – Big data analytics, applied to advertising (and other markets).
  • Wynzyn – Incentivizes consumers to watch ads – they have some pretty incredible attention and conversion numbers.


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Trump Gets Schooled in PR

The PR field should love Donald Trump as he teaches lessons about the power of earned trumpiswrongmedia. I’ve been at many social gatherings when the conversation shifts to the campaign, and all eyes turn to me, seeming to challenge/blame: “C’mon PR boy, spin this!”

Trump is a frustrated flack, he loves to mix it up with reporters, bluster and promote. This story covers how he micromanages PR – and this one (by NY Times Run-up columnist and  podcaster Michael Barbaro) documents how Donald fell in love with the press hit at an early age: “He can still recall the thrill of a newspaper mentioning his name for the first time, as a high school baseball player.  Trump said: ‘I loved it. It was the first time I was ever in a newspaper.'”

The campaign also teaches lessons about the value of press coverage vs. advertising. It instructs about the power of the brand – the mysterious allure of some people, companies and products. He is the muse, the media gift that keeps giving – fodder for countless stories (as well as comedians and talk show hosts). Les Moonves said Trump may not be making America great but is “damn good for CBS.”

But what about that old saying: there is no such thing as bad press?

Lynn Vavreck studied campaign ad effectiveness and reported the results in this NY Times Upshot story: Do Campaign Ads Matter? Her work is also a nice treatise on PR vs. advertising, as Trump has bet almost all on free media. She learned that ads seem to work, as Clinton’s lead is growing.

“All this suggests that Mr. Trump’s strategy, while efficient in terms of costs, may not be effective in terms of persuasion. He has let Mrs. Clinton dominate the ad war in competitive battleground states and it seems to be costing him votes.”

But one very important variable Vavreck did not explore was the sentiment of coverage. I think we can all agree, without doing tons of analysis, that recent press has not been good, and this has hurt Trump’s standing.

The situation reminds me of another truism: be careful what you wish for.  You live by PR, you die by PR. Yes there is such a thing as bad press, and we just might be better off.

Posted in Campaign Analysis, In the News, Politics, PR, Public Relations | Leave a comment

New Group Aims to Study Impact of AI and Algorithms on Society

banner-1571986_1920I’ve had many great conversations with my friend and PR authority Toni Muzi Falcone about the impact of technology on the field and society at large.  Recently he told me about a new effort that he helped conceive – DigiDig – a website and citizen-led group dedicated to studying this area.

Flack’s Revenge has covered tech in PR extensively, and my companion blog Hack the Feed covers algorithms in communications.  But there are implications well beyond PR – technology increasingly determines not only the news we read, but has a role in everything from banking to education, transportation, healthcare and beyond.

Following the launch of the Internet, the old saying was “the network is the computer.”  Increasingly the technology platforms (the social networks and search engines) are the computers.  Big Tech holds the cards, and has an ever-greater role in our discourse and decisions. It is important to understand where this is going, to ensure laws and safeguards are in place, and that the net effect on society is positive.

That is my quick take, and I believe Toni would agree, but this post is about DigiDig.  They started in Italy (the website for now is almost entirely in Italian) and have an international focus.  I asked Toni to tell me more, and he shared the following:

“DigiDig  questions the algorithmic society.  It is a start-up community, launched on October 9, 2016, of some 150 Italian digitally active and prominent citizens wishing to better understand, discuss and raise awareness of peers on  issues related to ‘user power’ vis-à-vis XXI century global robber barons.

The intention is to connect with the many similar or analog groups that populate the global digital space. Our immediate focus includes Brussels and New York, but we also wish to dialog with New Zealand, Kazakhstan and Namibia.

Its promoters are academics, intellectuals,  journalists, managers, lobbyists, elected officials, communicators, writers, sociologists, and polemicists.

Following two open house sessions in Rome and Milano last June, a coordinating committee of six was formed and a web space just opened a few days ago containing a shared ‘manifesto’ plus opinions and comments in Italian and English.

The  manifesto, titled:  ‘the algorithm as a technology of freedom?’, defines its main issue as

(…..)  the active and critical observation of the true nature of the global process reorganizing social and economic life, focused on the development and exchange of cognitive products of artificial intelligence.

As algorithms simplify digital procedures as well as the automation of humanity’s most delicate and discretionary activities, we cannot accept that such process proceeds in disrespect of the elementary rules of transparency, information and access to participation to its decision-making processes and operational standards.

If it is true that –as often affirmed by creators, shareholders and executives of those global groups – we are in fact confronted with a new ‘public sphere and/or space’ (and we very much believe it is so) – we also insist that the mechanisms creating new alphabets, social structures and determining influences over individual choices, need to be understandable, shared, socially negotiable and integrated.(…).

No membership fees, but requests for contributions via PayPal at

Posted in PR Tech, Tech, Technology | Tagged | 1 Comment

Apple News-buster Seth Weintraub on the State-of-the-scoop


Seth in Paris

I had the pleasure of meeting blogging entrepreneur Seth Weintraub over coffee last week.  My friend Adam Rothberg arranged an intro after informing me that the head of the “9to5” empire (including 9to5Mac, Google and Toys) lives in our town, Croton-on-Hudson, NY.

I was very excited to meet and speak with Seth. Sites like 9to5Mac have drawn huge audiences for years and driven Apple (and other blogs) crazy by being the first to sniff out and report on the latest developments.  Also, I am impressed by anyone who can consistently make money blogging.  This great Business Insider story from 2014 reports on Seth’s history, approach and success.

That was two years ago, and things move quickly in this field. I wanted to get Seth’s thoughts on the state of the tech news scoop, his work with PR, and trends in content consumption and distribution.

We met at the Black Cow coffee shop, a Croton institution.  Seth told me how he got started in blogging back in 2007, when he noted a lack of good Apple blogs and saw an opportunity.  Seth also spoke about his other properties, including the latest – Electrek – which covers electric cars (hah! that’s whose Tesla I’ve seen parked all over Croton).

These days they compete for stories not just with other blogs, but with major media like the WSJ and Fortune.  Read on for the Q and A:

Did you ever meet Steve Jobs? He was famously prickly with media and PR

Yes, once.

(He met Jobs briefly before starting 9to5Mac, while working at a creative agency in Soho, on a campaign involving Apple. Jobs poked his head into the office, and his only comment was to note and disparage the lone PC amidst all the Macs).

Have you ever been sued by Apple?

No, but they’ve asked me to squash stories and made threats.  Apple PR subsequently

Weintraub and friend jailbreak an iPhone

Weintraub and friend jailbreak an iPhone

blacklisted me for doing what the bigger publications would love to do. I’m no longer invited to their events.

I wrote last week that the thrill is gone in Apple product news; do you agree?

Seth (nodding): 2/3 of Apple’s revenue comes from the iPhone, and the average guy on the street isn’t as excited about the possibilities of the iPhone any longer. More people want to know what’s next. Folks are still buying them, however perhaps not as often as they have in the past.

What about Google? They’re secretive too

They are less so, and they reveal projects before they are products. Here’s an example of

Seth meets Brin and gets scoop

Seth meets Brin and gets scoop

how the companies differ: We talked about how Apple blacklisted me for revealing their products. Contrast that with Google, where I broke the news of Google Glass. Instead of blacklisting, Sergey Brin invited me to a private showing of the Glass before launch.

Has Apple stayed secretive post-Jobs?

They are trying

Is traffic diminishing as a result of more people getting news and content from social media?

We are getting more and more traffic, but from a wider disparity of sources.  People are finding us everywhere. E.g, more are coming to us via apps like FlipBoard.

What do you think about publishing on social platforms, as many media brands are doing now?

I think it is stupid to do so exclusively.  E.g. Vox gets $.25M to publish content  to Facebook exclusively.  You lose control if you do this. Facebook owns every part of the connection between you and your audience, and the revenue is their discretion

You have an entirely ad-supported business model, correct?

Yes, we use a variety of ad formats including affiliate revenue.

What about native ads?

Native ads have been a boon; they get picked up on other sites too.

(He showed an example of a recent sponsored post, and all of the 50+ places where it ran).

We sell ads as is, without guarantees. All of our partners have done really well with them and are coming back for more.

Can you describe your readership?

We cater to the technology enthusiast sector – what marketers call influencers. I think this is what attracts partnerships with product companies. Our readers are the people who fix the computers at family gatherings, recommend technology purchases for friends and family, and make buying  decisions at work.

How do you work with PR?

We honor embargoes and take briefings but we rarely do negative reviews. We’re not out to hurt the reputation, and frankly we are wasting our readers’ time if we are reviewing something we don’t like.

The biggest question is how does a blog ramp up to 1M readers? Are there that many people hanging onto every scoop? 

Our ramp-up has taken almost a decade, and frankly there’s no secret. We just try to make every day a production of interesting and entertaining information for our audiences. All of the shortcuts (buying traffic, taking venture capital, syndicating content elsewhere) might give a short term bump but won’t help in the long run.

What is the state of the tech news scoop blog? Can the market continue to support so many?

There really aren’t that many out there. Most of the blogs out there only regurgitate content from top level sites. I don’t know what the future holds to be honest, but my focus is on keeping our readers informed and entertained. As long as I can do that, I’m not worried.

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Is this the End of the Big Tech Reveal?

There are a few proven ways to make a splash with tech product news. One does not hand-998957_1280involve any PR sleight-of-hand – the news gets attention on its own merits.  It so disruptive and interesting that the media just have to cover it. Pretty rare but it happens.

The more traditional PR launch is like a six gun salute. You cue up your news, share it in advance with selected journalists (or offer an exclusive), pre-brief them under embargo, if you’ll forgive a little PR jargon, and voilà! Launch day comes, nicely choreographed with a press release over the wire and ready-made stories.

Another, more clever approach relies on secrecy to build buzz.  You throw out some crumbs of info to build anticipation and keep people guessing.  On launch day the tension is released like a punctured balloon. People swarm around the news.

Apple has been a master of the last approach. The guessing game is satisfied by the big reveal – Apple’s legendary ritual for showing off the latest device (recall Steve Jobs’ famous rejoinder: “There’s one more thing!”). It’s captivated us, driven people to wait in long lines, and gave another reason to be excited about working in tech.

But I’m getting the feeling that the thrill may be gone.  Many were underwhelmed by the latest news (somehow debates about ear phones seem inconsequential with everything else going on in politics and the world).  The routine by now has become predictable.

Plus, it gets harder to keep news under wraps. The NY Times wrote about Apple iPhone 7 news – a day before the company made its formal splash. The main focus, though, was not about the anticipated features, it was about the news leaks.  Traditionally secretive Apple still keeps their cards close to the vest. But, according to the article, there’s a cottage industry of news busters that spoil the surprise party.

We know about [latest features] thanks to a global information chain, one that shadows the supply and manufacturing chain that produces Apple’s products. The shadow chain is intended to ferret out Apple rumors: promoting them, discussing them and then discussing them some more, long before they become facts.

Does this mean that the big reveal is done in tech? I don’t think so. Few companies are watched as closely as Apple.

Sure, there are many chances for details to leak early.  This is especially true of funding and M&A news, which typically involves many parties trying to stay ahead of ever vigilant sleuths.

In a world of TMI and crowd-sourced news tips, those who can tease their announcement, and use stealth and secrecy and keep people guessing can still make a splash.

It just might not be Apple

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Top IT News Picks of the New York Tech Crowd

Someone posted the question “HELP! What are the top sites where you get IT grid-1511497_1920news?” on the NY Tech Meetup mailing list last week. This prompted a frenzied exchange of emails.  I chimed in, and followed the conversation with great interest.

Why is it at all interesting what a few NYTM members think about IT news? First, I find it challenging to get any useful feedback along these lines – and this can be frustrating for someone whose job is to get clients PR results. When I ask what people read, and how they get their tech news, I often get shrugs and blank looks (probably because they are getting news from social media, where the original source can be obscured).  So it is a step forward when people loudly and passionately name their choices.

Also, the NYTM crowd is a nice microcosm of the tech startup world as it includes programmers, project managers, CTOs, entrepreneurs and investors in NYC, a hot bed of innovation second only to Silicon Valley.  They’re great folks to ask about this.

The Thread

The fun started when, Gartner Webinars Host Nancy Northrop emailed:

So, my boss just asked me to come up with a top 10 list of websites where IT people get their news and info.  Can you help me out? Where do YOU get your news?

I was one of the first to reply:

Happy to help but need more info – by “IT news” do you mean B2B, enterprise IT?

There are tons of blogs and sites for IT tech and many good ones – some like TechCrunch cover startup and Silicon Valley news – others cover specific segments like big data, ad tech, fin tech, IT strategy (like CIO), etc.

Others cover developer topics and others, still, the data center, cloud, OSS, etc.

As the responses started coming in, she explained further:

I would say large and enterprise IT. CIOs, CTOs, CDOs and other leaders (or future leaders).  Can be B2B or B2C. What these people add to their Flipboard/check daily, etc. Thanks everyone! Getting really good ideas.

TechCrunch, or not TechCrunch?

Back in the day we used to joke that every startup just wanted to be in the Wall Street Journal. These days, TechCrunch stands out as the top pick. So I was curious to read the thoughts here.  Of course, I called TC out in my initial response.

There were mixed opinions. One person wrote: the one and only.

To this, another replied: First off, I wouldn’t have a single source of tech news as “my one and only”, and especially not TechCrunch.  

Popular Picks

There were only a small number of names consistently cited:

  • TechCrunch
  • CIO Magazine
  • The Verge
  • Stack Overflow
  • Hacker News
  • Network World

The top picks were otherwise all over the place.  The next section has examples.

The Lists

I checked with each person for permission to report their top choices; the unnamed ones below could not be reached or requested anonymity.

Anonymous (Instructional Technology Specialist)

  • Wired News
  • Mashable
  • CIO Magazine
  • CNET News
  • CNET Reviews
  • Computerworld
  • E-Commerce Times
  • Information Week
  • InfoWorld
  • Network Computing
  • NetworkWorld
  • RCR Wireless News
  • Sys-Con Italia
  • Tech Republic
  • Techzone360
  • TMC Net

Miles Rose (of fame)

  • Stackoverflow
  • Ars technica
  • Quora
  • Check Apple News and see what comes up under IT

Guillermo Garcia (founder of

  • The Verge (nicest to read, the one I start with)
  • Crunchbase (acquisitions, investment rounds…)
  • Techcrunch
  • Hacker News
  • Some Reddit channels
  • Stack Overflow (coding wouldn’t be what it is without this)
  • Venture Beat

Anonymous (developer)

  • Reddit
  • Hacker News (but not nearly as much as Reddit)
  • Network World
  • The Register aka “El Reg”
  • BBC
  • xda-developers
  • and Planet Drupal
  • Boy Genius Report
  • To a lesser extent newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal
  • A whole bunch of people on YouTube including

Niche News

A couple of emailers cited Apple and Android-related blogs, like MacSurfer, and a digital media workflow engineer highlighted the importance of security tech: A lot of what enterprise IT needs is SECURITY.  I didn’t see anything specifically addressing how enterprises can keep up with appropriate countermeasures. My goto is the Content Security and Security Association (CSDA) and their Cyber Security News…


Influencers can guide you to the important news items, and sometimes also produce editorial content.

Edward Potter shared the names and Twitter tags of the following, and wrote

..Can branch off to their followers. Not where you’ll find a review of new routers, more like what life will be like in 2750, tech focused. 🙂 The 1000 mile high view people:

 Non-news News

Many mistakenly throw other types of sites into the “IT news ” mix.  For example, one emailer mentioned a vendor site (Cyware). Another cited Twitter as his primary online news source.  Yet another called out this type of misunderstanding:

…although they’re definitely useful in other ways, I personally wouldn’t consider StackOverflow or Quora as a “source for tech news”.  They’re sources for tech answers


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Lessons in Tech Branding from Rock Icons

Inspiration can come from funny places – if you are in tech marketing, perhaps you’ll like rock-2099_640the following story about branding, which offers lessons from the world of rock music.

The Music and Branding Connection

I am a big fan of podcasts, and like listening to them while jogging.  I’m also a music lover. A few years ago, I discovered Sound Opinions, a superb forum in which rock critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRagotis discuss music news, interview bands, host impromptu performances and dissect new album releases. They cover pretty much all genres of popular music, and it’s a great way to discover up-and-coming artists, niche players and forgotten classics.

After I heard their latest and ran through much of Sound Opinions’ back catalog, I was in search of another music-related podcast and stumbled upon My Favorite Album, hosted by Aussie Jeremy Dylan. He’s a music industry filmmaker and journalist who invites noted musicians into his studio to discuss records that greatly influenced them.

Recently, talented sideman Mike Bloom (who plays guitar for Julian Casablancis of The Strokes fame) was on to discuss Jimi Hendrix’s Axis Bold as Love, the classic that included the song Little Wing. This inevitably got to how Hendrix was perceived and classified.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dylan: He’s not just a raucous, incredible guitar player … It’s so far beyond that, and probably gets a little bit lost…. There is a tendency to put a reductive label or classification on any significant artist just because it’s easier…

Bloom: To brand…

Dylan: Yea… I remember reading a Taylor Swift interview when someone asked “Aren’t you pissed off all these people think you’re just some girl who just writes revenge songs about her ex-boyfriends all the time?”

She said “People are busy… Most aren’t playing that close attention.  They can only hold maybe one idea or a couple of adjectives about some celebrity they’ve never met in their head at one time.”

So with Jimi Hendrix, the version of that is… Jimi Hendrix, wild man who set his guitar on fire and played it with his teeth and behind his head, and was the loudest, most raucous electric blues rock guitar player of all time… and that’s his theme, so that’s what most people think Jimi Hendrix is.

In the same way, Paul McCartney is upbeat, silly love songs

Bob Dylan is lots of words and vaguely political stuff

Bloom: Of course everything needs to be distilled down to a way it can be consumed I guess…

Dylan: Yes, even though there’s massive contrasts, contradictions and nuances and other dynamics to their art, and them as people, but there’s the one thing, idea that most people have about then.

Similarly, tech companies have “many contrasts and nuances”. Yet the famous names conjure quick associations (e.g. Apple is the stylish design-driven leader in consumer tech. IBM, the Big Blue diversified IT tech nerd, etc).

What words do people associate with your brand?  Do you agree with them? Would you prefer other words?

Bucket, Bucket, Who’s Got the Bucket?

Of course tech is big, growing,  generally very competitive, and this makes it harder for new entrants to get recognized and build brands.  Even established companies sometimes need to rebrand. The NY Times covered this in the article When Every Company is a Tech Company does the Label Matter?  The story said that GE, an old line diversified industrial and financial services company (until recently), now wants to be known for advanced research and technology.

Doubtless, a lot of this gets to opportunism and money. Categories and labels have their own brand associations and perceived value.  The markets reward companies in hot areas like tech (and trending segments like Big Data) with higher valuations.

Within tech there are many categories and sub-categories, as mapped out by the Gartner Magic Quadrant reports.  There are many genres and sub-genres of music, too – about 1,400, according to this NY Times article The Psychology of Genre. It says:

“We listeners are endless and instinctual categorizers, allotting everything its spot like bins in a record store… Categories help us manage the torrent of information we receive and sort the world into easier-to-read patterns.”

It goes on to further describe perception vs. reality and what happens when there is a disconnect:

“This ‘categorical perception,’as it’s called, is not an innocent process: What we think we’re looking at can alter what we actually see… When we struggle to categorize something, we like it less,” due to something researchers call “cognitive disfluency.”

Does your company fit neatly into an established category? Are you disrupting an existing space or is the technology a totally new “species?”

It’s important to carefully think through these things, as there are pros and cons to just fitting in vs, trying to blaze a new trail.


In a noisy world, the brand is an immutable concept, shorthand that can help you be understood and recognized. But first, it needs to be known.

The branding can just happen (like your name, everyone has one) but given its importance why not decide what you want it to represent, and proactively build it?

It’s easy to get distracted, and taken in by the latest shiny new marketing toy. Writing for TechCrunch, Samuel Scott urged marketers to look past trendy concepts and embrace the cornerstones.  For example instead of focusing on content marketing, they should “practice real marketing and brand building.” Absolutely.

But what do you do when your company doesn’t fit neatly into an established category? After all, isn’t technology constantly changing, rendering segments obsolete and spawning new ones (Facebook’s motto is “move fast and break things”)?

I include a couple of my earlier posts, on this topic below, and welcome a conversation with you about this – please comment or click here to learn more.

Assume the Positioning: Words that work in Tech PR

Cracking the Quadrant: Confessions of a Former Gartner Analyst

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