Will Ad Tech Stumbles Drive More Budget to PR?

PR has always been the red-headed step child in the marketing mix, getting less attention, glamour and budget than advertising. But recent challenges may drive more brands to shift some ad spending to PR.

Perhaps it’s already happening. A number of major ad agencies predicted slowdowns a few weeks ago.  That’s because large CPG companies like Procter and Gamble have been firing agencies and/or pulling back on spending.  The clients are concerned about “digital ad quality, effectiveness, digital ad fraud… [and want] assurances that ads won’t run alongside inappropriate content,” according to Wall Street Journal.

The publication wrote again today about lower global ad spending.  Sadly, Gould & Partners reported that PR agency growth is stalling too, so the declines in ads are likely not going directly to PR.

Troubles in Ad land

Ad blocking has emerged as a threat to publisher and agency revenue and can compromise ad campaign results. Another hurdle relates to the growing use of programmatic advertising.  The tech improves efficiency with automation – but has also resulted in unintended consequences.

According to Angie Geffen on ad tech provider Perion’s blog, “With the advent and growth of… programmatic tools to automate media buying and placement, it’s not always possible to know with 100% certainty where your ad will appear…  The topic was thrust into the limelight in March, when major companies pulled YouTube ads from the Google Display Ad network. Since then, there’s been a growing chorus of concern.  Some have even urged brands to fire adtech.”

The trend has increased demand for native advertising, which seamlessly appear in the user’s stream amidst publisher content. They are less likely to be blocked, and in general, are not served programmatically.  Indeed, the numbers in this report covered in Martech show growth in native and a decline in programmatic.

Why not consider the ultimate native format, AKA PR or earned media? Article coverage will not get blocked.  And there’s seldom concern over band safety when your brand is featured in editorial content.

Some have said that PR delivers more value than advertising.  There’s even a book about this.  In truth, they’re both important; but again, PR has traditionally been undervalued (and from the point of view of this PR guy) under capitalized.  You can achieve some of the same goals with PR, like building brand, visibility and even driving sales.  Plus, media coverage can validate and build credibility.

Perhaps these ad tech stumbles will send more marketing dollars our way.

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The Hardest (and easiest) P.R. to Write

I am sad to report that my father died suddenly on Sunday, after 86 years. He lived a great life and was very active right up until the end.

My family was huddling at the funeral home, the day after, discussing the arrangements. All eyes turned to me when the topic of an obituary came up, as I write and work with the press (sure, it’s great to have doctors, lawyers, accountants in your family, but PR is needed too).

My dad’s obit was the toughest thing to write because it was through tears – but also the easiest. He was a great man, and the words flowed freely when it came to recounting the details of his life – in the obituary, and also the eulogy.

I am not going to go all mushy here, this is primarily a business blog (find me on Facebook to read about some of the memories and see pics).  But I did want to share this as he really was an incredible man who touched so many lives. He was a doctor, but studied English in college – that was the part rubbed off on me; and of course influenced me and my four siblings in so many wonderful ways.

Dr. Herbert Z. Geller, 1931-2017

Dr. Herbert Z. Geller passed away on August 20, 2017. He was 86 years old. Dr. Geller was born January 17, 1931 in Bronx, NY, the only child of Morris and Rose Geller. He graduated with a B.A. Degree from NYU, received his MD degree from University of Chicago, and completed a Residency in Diagnostic Radiology at SUNY Downstate. He married Udell Fishman and they raised a family of five children in Rockland County, NY. Dr. Geller was a distinguished physician and a pillar of the community. He was a founder of the Monsey Jewish Center, the founding partner of Hudson Valley Radiology Associates, and served in numerous leadership positions at Nyack Hospital including Chairman of Department of Radiology. Dr. Geller is survived by his wife Udell, his sons Mark (and daughter-in law Trish), Bob, Paul and David (and daughter-in-law Lori) , daughter Amy, and grandchildren Michael, Jacob, Carli, Jordyn, Maya, Sam, Oliver, Dylan, and Olivia.

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PR for Dummies, via Trump and the Mooch

The Trump presidency is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to educating the masses about PR (I know this might seem myopic but hey, I’m trying to look on the bright side),

Those in the field can appreciate that most people don’t understand what we actually do. But since Trump’s unconventional campaign took off, and through the first six months on the job, it’s been hard to deny this man’s knack for getting press attention. He has invaded many of my conversations with friends and family.  At some point eyes turn to me, seeming to accuse or inquire: “Hmmm.  This seems like something you should know something about.  What is it you do again?”

Each news cycle brings a teachable moment for the newswriters and cable talking heads to explain the meaning of things like optics, press briefings, messaging, earned media, etc.  The past couple of weeks – in the wake of the shuffling of Trump’s comms team – have taught the masses about the various roles, e.g. what a communications director vs. a press secretary’s job entails.

We’ve also learned about the enduring importance of the media. Clearly, Trump and his advisors would rather get glowing coverage about accomplishments, despite his attacks on the press and supposed ability to end run them via Twitter.

Yes there’s such a thing as bad PR and it hurts. For all the abilitÿ to seize the news cycle, Trump and team can’t control the headlines. Their attempts to do so resemble the clumsy fumbling of an overheated adolescent male in the back seat of the car.

Finally, the hot mess roller coaster called Scaramucci teaches one thing that us PR pros knew all along.  Kids, don’t try this at home. This media relations thing ain’t so easy, experience counts (he was brought on as comms director with no actual training in the field).

Even a junior PR account executive knows that you don’t call a reporter and vent on the record, handing a nice scoop over and getting walking papers in return (and his chagrined tweet to the effect that now he’s learned to never trust a reporter. That is rich).

What do you think?  If you’re interested in the topic, please see my other posts on Trump and PR.

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Your Greatest Foe on Social Media – How to Fight Back

Who’s your biggest foe on social media?  Does company A have a bigger social footprint? Is competitor B getting more engagement and sharing?

Actually, if you are in B2B tech marketing, your biggest competitor is not any single company.  To truly understand who’s beating you out, you should recall the famous words: there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. That’s right, fear, or more generally, emotions, can steal your thunder and customer’s attention.

It’s been documented that emotion-rich posts and content are the ones that are most shared.  And consumer marketers have a decided advantage over B2B when it comes to emotion.

The Growth of Social News Sharing

These days more of us are spending more time heads down, looking at our phones and surfing social channels. News and other info come to us, through newsfeeds and social sharing.

Viral cat videos, real news, fake news, vacation pictures and political rants all get mixed into the same soupy mess.  And what rises to the top?  It’s often the stuff that pushes our emotional buttons. We push a button, we share, like, inundate friends and family and signal Facebook that we favor this kind of content.  This leads to more of the same.

The last presidential campaign was a great illustration of this. Much of the fake and real news stories pushed our emotional buttons, e.g. made us angry, surprised or afraid, and drove social sharing.

Fighting Emotions with Emotions

What’s a B2B marketer to do? Should you just accept that you’ll never get people to swoon over your widget launch news – and settle for a smaller audience?

Steve Rubel of Edelman asked publishers about “emotion baiting” at the recent Newswhip Whipsmart conference, which I attended.  It was a great session, you can read more here. The post starts with this excerpt:

“Clickbait could be going “the way of the dodo”, according to Edelman’s Steve Rubel. We explore how expert newsrooms are supercharging their content with emotion instead.”

These days, many brands are publishers too.  They can try injecting emotion into their content and news.  E.g. tech vendors have long used Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to undermine the competition.  FUD battles used to be fought in the media.   The tactic could be applied to content and digital channels.

There’s no reason that you couldn’t tap other emotions, e.g. create videos that make people smile, tell startup stories that inspire and impress.

Bloomberg Gets all Emo

When asked by Rubel if emotion-baiting has a place in business content, Meena Thiruvengadam from Bloomberg said:

“I think it’s about being fair and accurate… and not taking things a step too far to drive virality or shares… There are some things where there are natural emotional elements, like ‘this CEO went from getting fired to creating this amazing business empire’… That speaks to aspiration, inspiration, encouragement, and motivation…  but for something like ‘here are the monthly job numbers’  … that’s going to be much harder… you can only trick your audience so long before they get wise to it. You want to present your content honestly, and what’s good content will speak for itself.”

Tech vendors don’t need to follow the same newsroom standards as Bloomberg, still they should be careful.  You don’t want to be seen as the inauthentic drama king or queen or be tone deaf to your target audience.  E.g., humor might not fly when it comes to things like compliance and legal tech.

Tap other Social Sharing Levers

Another approach is to look at other sharing levers on social media.  It is not all just about emotions.

Content marketing guru Jay Baer wrote a Medium piece on this recently.  He cited research about the types of content that are most effective for vertical markets.  It’s worth a read.  For tech, the data show that long form and listicle articles work well.

What do you think?  Does emotion have a place in your marketing? Did my headline make you fearful – and compel you to read and share (I hope so!)

Thanks for reading and any feedback.

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Hot Startups Join Axis Innovation at NYSE

I enjoyed last year’s Axis Innovation NYSE event, which showcased hot Israeli startups and also included a visit to the floor at the opening bell (you can read more about it here). So when Axis CEO Ed Frank invited me back, I quickly said yes, and attended yesterday.

Axis connects investors and corporations with tech startups. The NYSE session was part of a two day event that includes “leading Israeli series A tech startups and US VCs, angels, and corporate investors… to develop business opportunities and ultimately make deals,” according to their site

The keynote was delivered by Uri Tamir of Mobileeye, a paragon of Israeli entrepreneurship, as they are being acquired by Intel for $15B. Below I share highlights of each presenting company.

WeavingThings: An IoT connectivity framework that enables the creation of IoT services from devices and sensors. According to Co-founder Asaf Ezra, WeavingThings simplifies IoT and dramatically reduces time to develop and deploy solutions.

SimpleOrder: A restaurant inventory management platform that optimizes and streamlines back office restaurant operations. It features online purchasing, automatic inventory, real-time food and menu costing, POS sales integration and more. CEO Guy Even Ezra framed the problem by describing an experience we can all relate to.  You are at your favorite restaurant, and the waiter says they ran out of a menu item. “We solve a huge problem for food distribution by reversing the supply chain,” Guy said.

Rentigo: A property management solution that meets the needs of small and large property managers and landlords while addressing the growing demands of modern tenants with a simple and user-friendly solution.  CEO Sivan Blasenheim said that Rentigo is bringing payment tech expertise and a free mobile CRM to real estate, where many still pay by paper check and manage businesses with spreadsheets.

Prifender: Uses artificial intelligence to discover and map personal information across networks and systems so organizations can better manage sensitive data and comply with laws and regulations.

Intervyo: The first and most advanced interview simulation engine.  It leverages predictive analytics to screen candidates, and accurately assess their suitability for the job.  Veronica (I did not get her last name) said that Intervyo replaces resume and first-round interview screening.

Focuus: Their vision is to automate the entire marketing analysis process, helping advertisers and agencies to scale easily and become market leaders. CEO Yotam Benattia said that most digital marketing systems are passive. Focuus shows campaign KPIs in real time.  This helps you adjust course and boost results.

FirstPoint:  They offer comprehensive and unique cellular cyber security solutions, protecting enterprise mobile and IoT devices.

Cinch: CEO Maya Komerov said that the app turns your phone into a money-saving wallet. It connects users with local businesses, supporting them while boosting the neighborhood economy.

Beam Semiconductor: Develops active phased array wireless transceivers to support multi-gigabit per second data rates. CEO Stacy Joseph showed off the tiny chip, which replaces large parabolic dishes and is also an alternative to fiber optic buildouts.

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Jennifer Johnson Schools on PR and Positioning at NYETM

I attended and really enjoyed last week’s NY Enterprise Tech Meetup, which focused on marketing. Jennifer Johnson, the keynote speaker, was a real dynamo. Her bio on the NYETM agenda said: Jennifer is CMO of Tenable,  was formerly CMO of Tanium, a Partner at a16z, and CMO of Coverity, so she’s got very legit enterprise marketing chops! Chops, indeed, Jennifer brought Silicon Valley cred and her talk delivered on the promise.

She spoke about topics I love (and have covered here): tech industry categories and positioning. Jennifer started out with a visual sure to strike fear in the hearts of anyone seeking to compete and differentiate in tech (and confuse all, in general): the vaunted technology landscape (see image).

How to stand apart? It gets down to creating and owning a category. According to Jennifer, “category kings” take 76% of the markets they compete in. The strategy is covered in Play Bigger, the book and consulting firm of the same name – who Jennifer worked with in a previous life.

To do this, you need to frame a problem from the customer’s POV. Do it well and you box out the competition and win. She shared examples; Salesforce, No software. Airbnb: Live anywhere.

Jennifer also gave out a shout out to the power of PR: “Some say PR is dead; I disagree completely.” (Here here, not dead yet!) Winning in marketing is about conducting “air wars and ground wars,” she said. “Great press casts that big shadow; in the ground war you try to reach every persona.”

Also, there were two great vendor demos at the meetup: Kustomer and Vendorful.

Kustomer was demo’d by their COO Rob Bailey.  It’s a CRM for customer support teams that looks like a great way to reduce churn.

Vendorful brings much needed improvement to the RFP process. Their CEO David Wadler, and co-founder and head of product Peter Bonney presented.

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Facebook Redefines News. PR will Never be the Same

Most PR people are familiar with journalistic conventions. Things like AP style, for example. We know a story starts with the lede, not lead, and about the reverse triangle approach to news writing. We know what a byline is, and are constantly on the hunt for the people behind them, to pitch stories to.

We also know that it is a noisy world, and there’s much competition for the headline. PR folks often don’t know the reasoning behind what makes the cut. The choices can seem arbitrary and unfair.

But would we be better off if it was some machine, and not a person, deciding what news is important?

The fact is, what we call news is changing – driven by tech and not journalistic principles. More of us are getting our news from Facebook, other networks and news apps these days. And it is the tech companies – and their programmers and algorithms – that determine what appears in our news feeds.

They shape news not only by filtering but also deciding what is share-worthy, what’s crap, and through their deals with news organizations, all while trying to make money and keep advertisers happy.

Big tech and their solutions are increasingly the lenses through which we see the news. They insist, generally, that they’re not the media – but make no mistake. Their influence is real and significant, at almost every step of the editorial supply chain.

I thought it might be interesting to look at traditional news value (see this helpful Taylor and Francis guide) vs. how a social network prioritizes the same.

As you can see from the lists below, there’s quite a difference (OK the “News Now” list is meant to be light-hearted and not 100% accurate – but you get the idea).   Another challenge is that the algorithms are constantly changing, hence all the strikethroughs.

This is a big deal, in my opinion.  What do you think?  What does it mean for your communications strategies and news promotion?

Stay tuned to this blog for further updates on the topic.

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Buzzfeed’s Gilad Lotan Chimes in on Network Science and Influencer Marketing

My post 3 ways to Blow out Influencer Marketing Results explained how network science can identify strategically placed influencers, the ones who can spread your message far and wide. The post was inspired by Kelsey Liebert’s Moz article about creating the Majority Illusion, and Gilad Lotan’s post The Network is Everything.

It’s a fascinating topic.  First, the graphs are so darned stunning and interesting.  Plus it makes perfect sense that a view on network connections can say a lot about influence, and answer questions such as:

  • Who is the person connected with, directly and through others?
  • For which topics does the influencer hold sway?
  • In which online communities (e.g. social channels and topics) is the influencer active?
  • Which influencers are best positioned to bridge communities?

Still, there are some obvious questions about how to best apply the approach to marketing.  “Network science” does not roll off the tongue of the average marketer or social media manager.

So when I saw Buzzfeed VP of Data Science Gilad Lotan speak at a NY Internet Society event, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more.  I approached him after and asked if I could follow up with some questions for this blog.  He agreed – please see below for the Q & A (my questions are in bold).

I’ve seen Little Bird, are there other commercial solutions for applying network science to influencer marketing?

Yes,  Affinio and Graphika.

Little Bird uses Twitter data.  Is it possible to create network graphs for other platforms, or across networks?

If you have a mapping of users across networks it’s possible. Otherwise, it’s obviously difficult. Wherever relationship data is available, it is possible. Instagram used to be more accessible.

Is it tough to model these and overlay topical/vertical affiliations (or do the above vendors do this)?

I suspect Graphika does this.

Can marketers use open source or low-cost or free Web tools?

It is possible to leverage some freely available Twitter data. Otherwise, it is generally hard to get access to the follower graph of a service.

The Moz story said that you don’t need to build a social network graph – yet it is not clear to me how you would otherwise identify the right influencers.  Any thoughts or ideas?

What they’re suggesting is effectively a proxy for betweenness. People followed by others across verticals is an attempt to find these “bridges” – the accounts that sit in strategic positions in the graph. That said, it is hard to assess whether two “verticals” are actually disparate / consist of different clusters of users, without looking at the underlying network.

Do you need to hire an army of consultants or buy an expensive solution?

I don’t know if you need an army of consultants. A good first step is to use some of the available tools. Another is to hire a data analyst or data scientist who can start to collect relevant graph data. There are lots of freely available open source tools for graph analysis. You just need coding abilities to get access to the data, and to manipulate it into a graph structure.

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ENGAGE: NYC Reveals the King of Storytelling

I enjoyed last week’s ENGAGE: NYC Digital Storytelling Conference. Talk NYC founder Derek Smith and his team put on a great event, featuring thought leaders from agencies, startups, and major brands. They covered the state of storytelling and where it’s going.

Below I share some of the highlights:

Aki Spicer, Chief Digital Officer of TBWA/ChiatDay covered the evolutîon of the agency and a day in the life of their teams. The operation seemed more like a busy newsroom with a mix of roles and talents. They have trend spotters, mixed-media specialists, and former journalists on staff.  It’s a much more diverse mix than the traditional creative and account director-led teams.

Rodney Williams, CMO of Moët Hennessy talked about old brands employing new storytelling tricks. They are in a regulated industry which prevents MH from selling direct to consumers (like the car business). The company employs experiential storytelling and won an award at the TriBeCa Film Festival for Moët Moments short films.

One of the most interesting things Rodney covered was about the cult of Cognac and the master distiller. It’s something I never knew about (kind of reminded me of the rigors of the master sommelier in the wine world). E.g. new recruits don’t even speak up in tasting meetings for the first 10 years – that’s how long it takes to get your Cognac “nose.” And Cognac master distillers come from long lines often stretching back eight generations.

An audience member suggested using VR to capture the experience of a tasting session – but Rodney demurred. Doing so would pierce the veil, transparency has its limits and it is important to pròtect the mystique – no watching the Cognac sausage getting made here.

It was great hearing from former Boxee CEO Avner Ronen.  He is heading up a new company called Public that has an app of the same name.  It uses text messaging to help teens collaborate and tell stories.  The app is aimed at members of communities such as middle and high schools.

Navid Khonsari of INK Stories talked about storytelling through gaming.  I am not really a gamer – and one might not instantly connect the medium with brand marketing.  But Navid made a compelling case and spoke about cool titles they’ve produced like 1979, which brings you into the Iranian revolution.

Then it was time for the session “The Rise of the Storytelling Bots” and I thought: great, here comes the Trump communications team (ba dum).  Seriously, Hakari Bee of Rapp NYC spoke about the topic.  It’s fascinating.  Who knew you could go to a site called ChatFuel.com and build a Facebook bot in 5-7 minutes, without coding?  Hakari covered best practices and case studies, including Mr. Miles (a bot and fictional character who flies KLM and Air France), covered by DM News.

Joe Hyrkin, CEO of Issuu (pronounced “issue”) made a compelling case that basically says creators are inheriting the Earth – they are the real kings of storytelling.  Joe cited examples ranging from the singer Solange to Sweet Paul.  He said that storytellers are building new media companies, and going where they want to share; it’s a creator’s world.

There were other great sessions. Unfortunately, I missed the later ones, as I could not stay the entire afternoon.  I look forward to attending the next ENGAGE DSC.

Posted in Branding, Events, In the News, Networking, NY Tech, PR Tech, Public Relations, Tech PR, Technology, TV, Web 2.0, Web 2.0 Hacks, Mashups and Utilities for PR | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s the End of the Truth as we Know it – is PR fine?

It’s like we went to sleep in late 2016 and woke up with a post-election, New Years, fake news, post-truth hangover.

Before, we generally believed in the sanctity of truth and reason. Now nothing seems real, and it is hard to know what to hold onto.

Much of this tracks back to the growing role of tech in our lives.  Josh Quittner of Flipboard wrote about our loss of innocence, in the story The Truth about Fake News:

When Wikipedia started to take off… I believed that finally, the world was racing toward one, glorious kumbaya moment. With the Internet being driven to every corner of the globe — and one Wikipedia for all — at last we would have a universally agreed upon baseline for Truth.

But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way. In fact, for months now it’s felt like we’re living in a hellish, ranting, Tower of Babel, with no one speaking the same ideological language and each of us in near-violent disagreement. One can find “evidence” of any theory one wants online. The Truth is more elusive than ever.

The NY Times wrote that we can’t even agree on the basic definitions of words.

It was inevitable, I guess, that PR got caught in the fray. Some have said that the profession contributes to the fake news problem.  Marketers are accusing competitors of post-truth PR claims.

The sad state of affairs presents a number of challenges for PR. How do we build trust, validation, and visibility through the press when media trust is at a record low? What do PR pros do when the client or manager wants to spew some of their own fake news or accuses others of the same?

The mess is bigger than PR.  We can’t fix it, but we can and should do our part. I thought I’d offer the following tips:

  • We’re all news consumers too. Be responsible ones – don’t spread fake news.  If you see something, say something: friends don’t let friends spread misinformation (to use two clichés).
  • Adhere to highest ethical standards. There will always be bad actors in marketing, the Trumpian brawlers who want to win at any cost.  It’s unfortunate if they are your boss or client.  You alone can decide if you want to work in that kind of environment. See my post: Above the FUD: Keeping PR Clean when the PR Gets Dirty.
  • Ratchet back the hype – It was never a good idea to inflate claims. Make sure the news you promote is accurate and pristine.
  • We can help with fact-checking reporters and clients.  Look up sources. Validate data.  The better PR pros are already doing this – it is not too late to start.
  • Do yourself and the field a favor.  Educate about PR.  Let people know that it does not equal propaganda or fake news (in this post I propose a definition of the latter).



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