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

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

There is a numbing sameness to the reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can only hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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One Thing you CAN’T Measure in PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t measure this kind of impression.

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

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Cracking the Quadrant – Confessions of a former Gartner Analyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why care about analysts – and Gartner?

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

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

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

Why care about the Magic Quadrant?

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

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

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

Engage, Don’t Brief Analysts

How can you influence these über-influencers?

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

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

Here are some other points:

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

Is it Pay for play? Just Follow the Money

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

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

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

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

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

Steal This Category

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

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

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

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

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


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Social Tools Summit Wrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am very much looking forward to attending the Social Tools Summit (#SocialTools15) in Boston next STSummitTuesday, where I will be moderating a session on content marketing.

Neal Schaffer invited me to participate awhile back, and I jumped at the opportunity as I new that he and his team would put together a great event.  There are some really informative sessions, an awesome list of sponsors, and excellent speakers on the agenda; it is a can’t miss conference, if you work with social media, and are trying to get your arms around the state-of-the-technology.

The panel I will be moderating has experts that come from an interesting mix of tech vendors and the user side:

If you haven’t registered, it isn’t too late.  I can offer readers of this blog a discount code; just send me a note or put in a request via comments below.

Thanks! Hope to see you in Boston.



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Trick or Tweet? The Damage of TMI

So, does information really want to be free?ifItellYou

Yes, it does, according to technology activists (and Steward Brand, who coined the phrase; see Wikipedia).

It does if you are an insider trading apologist or fair disclosure objector.  As I wrote on this blog, research has shown that Regulation FD can be harmful.

But others may not agree.

It is an interesting area to study, the tensions that exist at the borders of information: what forces want to keep it bottled up, what is our right to know, how do you reconcile the two?

Journalists may be of two minds. On the one hand, they want to report news, whenever they want, period. But what has our sense of entitlement to free, immediate and ubiquitous information done to their business models?

PR people (I am one) and corporations like to manage and control the release of information. Of course, this is getting harder to do.

Twitter is perhaps the poster child for leaky information. You’d guess that their executives just love how the platform has become famous for scooping the media. Yet, the company ironically fell victim earlier this week when poor financial results got out early, via Twitter; their stock tanked.

And what about the Average Joe consumer? You’d think they love free access to information, right? Not necessarily. The NY Times reported that football fans don’t like spoilers when it comes to the NFL draft.

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Getting in with the New In Crowd: Developers

Many PR and marketing teams target the usual suspects. They launch campaigns to get InCrowdcustomers, recruit employees and channel partners, and cozy up to investors and local communities.

But if you are in tech, there is an increasingly important audience that may be getting short shrift.

The software developer is becoming the linchpin in more and more business plans. Once a minor influencer and cog in IT procurement, they have emerged as a major force that can hold the keys to your market, further adoption of new tech and products and even make or break companies.

Why is the developer suddenly so important? And how can you court this coveted group?

In this series I will try to answer these questions. This first post will discuss the developer imperative, describe some of the challenges, and set the stage for a discussion of the tactics that can help you achieve success.

The Rise of the Software Developer

Perhaps you want to foster adoption of your software and drive grassroots growth in the enterprise. Maybe you want ISVs to add compatible solutions and functionality; this makes yours more useful and the vaunted network effect can be the key to becoming a standard. Or, it could simply be that your product is geared to programmers, and you want to sell to them.

Of course, let’s not forget a primary motivator: recruitment. Many want to promote their companies and technologies as cool for programmers.

In any of these scenarios you will want to find a way to get through and win them over.

Their rising importance can be tied directly to the growing role of software for consumers and businesses. Our lives and work are increasingly organized by apps. The rise of software-driven architectures has played a role.

Open source is growing, lowering costs and promoting standards. Apps, SaaS and the cloud bring code within reach of everyone. SDKs and APIs make it easier to extend functionality and integrate solutions.

In a world in which every business is becoming a software company, software is increasingly the Lingua Franca, and the developer, a hero (see my post: There’s Gold in them Apps – and App Developers).

So What, Really, is New Here?

Of course, marketing to developers is not new. If you’ve worked in tech, you have no doubt heard about the trend – just check out the following headlines:

It is a fair bet that the major vendors have big war chests and teams dedicated to winning over this coveted group. But smaller companies and startups might not know where to start.

With the growing importance of this group, you do need a plan if you don’t have one already.

What Does the Developer Want?

If the rationale is clear, the path to winning their hearts, minds and commitment can be anything but.

Developers are not some monolithic group that you can influence with top down marketing. They can be fiercely independent, or belong to tribes. Many value their affiliations and credentials, and wear their certifications like military stripes and skills like battle scars. They can be mired in legacy tech or early adopters.

Having said that, there are some common threads, and ways to communicate that can help you achieve your goals.

Before you begin, ask the following questions:

  • What types of developers are important?
    • Where do they meet in person and online?
    • Where do they get information?
    • Are there similar adjacent communities?
  • What are their hot buttons? Relevant trends?
  • How can you interest /incentivize them?
    • Why should they care about your company/technology?
  • How can you work with developers to further your goals?

My next post will explore PR campaigns designed to build visibility and reputation with software developers.

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Belle of the Ball or Lead Balloon? Read this Before Launching at a Show

You have big news coming up, like a major company or product launch.  Should you tryanniversary-157248_1280 to make a splash at the next major show?

The answer depends on a number of factors.

The press swarm around the big tech events, and it seems you can’t escape the related din during show time.  It was hard to get attention for clients in mobile and telecom who were not at Mobile World Congress a couple of weeks ago.

Last week, much attention turned to South by Southwest (SxSW). The NY Times recounted the history of companies that launched big there:

In 2007, Twitter had its “South by” moment, a tipping point for the company in which many people began to use the service more actively.

The same thing happened to Foursquare… In 2009, Dennis Crowley, a co-founder, flipped the switch on Foursquare days before the conference began; it became the breakout app of the conference and was valued at nearly $100 million a little more than a year later.

Whether it is SxSW or another show, it is tempting to think that your company can become the belle of the ball and reach a wider stage. But precious few do so – the same NY Times article mentioned several SxSW darling wannabes that either never got the big buzz, or did, but failed to live up to the hype.

So, why not ditch the Go Big or Go Home bravado, and ask the following questions before betting big on a trade show Hail Mary?

Can your news really stand out? A popular trade show is like a busy news day. It is usually difficult or impossible to know which news might compete with or eclipse yours.

Twitter and FourSquare’s SxSW lofty debuts were not just about clever PR – they were perfect storms, the result of timing, momentum that had already been building, and great synergies with the event vibe and crowd.

Is it the right kind of news for the show? If you do have truly important news and it is a hallmark event for your space, it may still make sense to launch there. Key media and analysts typically attend, and watch closely for just this type of thing.

New product announcements can get attention at a show. Organizers often run award contests for products announced there.

Even if you don’t announce at a show, there are ways to get some PR mileage from the opportunity. It is great to be able to meet with the journalists and analysts who are attending, and take the time to introduce your company or share updates.

You could also share news under embargo (meaning that the journalist agrees to not jump the gun) that will be announced at a later date.

Just remember that reporters usually prefer to cover-show related news.  It is a PR feeding frenzy to get on their dance cards, and hard to spend quality time amidst the noise and chaos of a show.

If you are not investing in a booth, or announcing at a show, set your expectations accordingly.

For more information about considerations in timing your tech news, see my post on the topic.  Visit this page if you’d like to sign up for more information about how to maximize your tech PR launch.

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