How to Contain PR Fallout from a Cyber-attack

Fusion PR works extensively in the cyber security space.  We are often asked about how to handle the PR fallout from breaches. What are the similarities and differences with other kinds of crisis management?

I decided to answer these questions in this post, with input from our team.

Like other PR Crises?

A cyber-attack is a special kind of crisis.  It has some things in common with other types (e.g. product liability, malfeasance) in that the company’s reputation can also be at stake.

But by their nature problems related to cyber-security and data leakage can be more challenging to understand and contain.  It is not always easy to know the cause, the damage or even where and when the problem begins or ends.  They can be insidious, confounding and always seem to find new ways to bedevil.

As such, these incidents add wrinkles to the traditional crisis management playbook.

The Role of PR in Cybersecurity

PR can and should play a vital role. Unfortunately, most companies take an overly cautious and defensive approach when it comes to communications.  They are reluctant to go public in a positive and proactive way about the measures they are taking to protect their networks and data (see my post We’ve been Hacked! Call the Press).  And they may say the wrong thing or not enough after an attack.

When an organization is attacked, assuming it is significant (not the everyday attempt but real damage has happened or is underway), the PR team should advise the client (or employer, if in-house PR) to respond according to the tenets of crisis management.

That means moving quickly to gather the facts and implement a crisis management plan.

The Crisis Plan

One of the best ways to limit the fallout is to be proactive and vocal, sooner, rather than later.

If it is a major breach, word will get out and the potential damage to brand and reputation will be compounded (and possibly open the door to legal penalties).  You need to be transparent and address concerns of all stakeholders (customers, shareholders, employees) early on.

There can be a life cycle to these things that requires different statements at different times.  E.g. if it is a major attack, do you say anything if it still is happening and/or before damage has been contained?

An example that comes to mind is the recent wave of ransomware attacks – if a company or government is being extorted, should there be public statements before it has been resolved? Again, the rules of crisis management and even hostage negotiations can come into play.

In general, you need to act quickly and transparently (guided by the crisis plan and with input from the CISO, PR team, legal advisors and C-level execs).

Piecemealing information is a way to prolong the PR pain – it can be like death by 1000 paper cuts. Boilerplate responses should be avoided.

How to Prepare

Organizations should have a crisis plan in place that includes specific measures for breaches and other cyber-attacks.

Plans should spell out things like crisis team, process, stakeholders, communications channels and include specifics (e.g. contact details, links) – so that you don’t have to hunt the details down when an actual crisis such as a cyber-attack occurs.

The plan should be deployed at the first sign that trouble is brewing – even if it is a false alarm, it is better to be ready.  On that note, good crisis plans include steps to pre-empt real crises.  That means anticipating vulnerabilities, taking steps to limit exposure and practicing via simulated scenarios to ensure readiness for when one occurs.

A good plan will help mitigate backlash, but it may be impossible to completely avoid this if there were egregious errors and extensive damage.

Other Thoughts

Several members of our team chimed in with additional thoughts, see below.  And what do you think?  Please chime in!

As is true for any other crisis – tell the truth, tell it fast, tell it all.
Also, some things must be done simultaneously – monitor all social media channels to address customer concerns, identify rumors and counter them, offer updates in regular intervals…


I think there’s an argument on saying too much too soon vs. saying too little too late. And as far as putting a plan in place so it doesn’t happen again, don’t make promises you can’t keep, that’ll make things even worse.


The main concern of cyber crisis management is ensuring that the customers know what to do and feel safe. Tell them to change their passwords or give them a place to go to see if their data was affected. Let them know what you’re doing to make changes and how the breach happened in the first place. It’s important to show compassion and customer care for the victims rather than blaming the breach on somebody else.

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Getting Political in Branding and Messaging

It used to be a much simpler world for brand development. The tough questions related to name, design, and color.  If you were launching a new tech company circa the early 2000s, you might wonder whether to include a swoosh with your logo.

The messages – i.e. the copy surrounding the graphical components – might have been hypey but seldom were too controversial.

Today it’s more complicated, as I wrote in my post: United we Brand. We live in turbulent, divided times. It’s tempting to play it safe, but companies and their leaders are either being dragged into politics or proactively taking stands and speaking out.

What does this mean for the arts of messaging and brand development? I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday which made me wonder where all this is going. It reported that major advertisers are taking brand safety to a new level – by blacklisting news stories based on political keywords mentioned in the content.

Rethinking the Brand Question Framework

When companies are defining their brand attributes, one of the first steps involves sitting down with an expert, who asks innocent but sometimes irritating questions.  For example, if your brand was an animal, what kind would it be? These articles explain more: 7 Tips to Find your Brand’s Personality and The 8 Question Framework for Successful Rebrands.

PR messages are workshopped too, although it’s typically a less abstract exercise.

It seems certain that the questions will change based on today’s realities. Maybe companies will start hiring political messaging gurus like Frank Luntz (whom I blogged about) on the right and George Lakoff on the left (see this post) to better tell their brand stories.

You can envision a session involving a startup with no obvious political leanings, e.g. not a gun company.  Say a soft drink company.

Branding and messaging guru:

OK, gang today we are going to explore your brand. Let’s start with one word, “Trump!”

Ah, OK, that’s a non-starter, never mind let’s switch gears!

We’re going to play a game called F—-, Marry, Kill: AOC anyone? Kelly Conway?

Guys (and gals) the competition is polling strongly in the swing states! We need to get bold!!!

If your brand was a gun, what kind would it be?

You’re stuck on a desert island – who do you bring along? A) Bernie Sanders. B) Sean Hannity

OK, I can see where this is going.  Never mind… If your brand was a tree…

Messaging Guru

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The Do’s and Don’ts Of Handling A PR Crisis

This post is by David H. Lasker, Founder and CEO of News Exposure


Your company’s hard-won reputation is an immeasurable asset. Start with the fact that your bottom line is built on customer trust. Add the likelihood that employees who steered your brand toward its good standing feel more invested. They may be increasingly productive as a result, further perpetuating the cycle of success.

Intangibles such as these matter. That makes it all the more disturbing to realize how tenuous all of this can be. A PR crisis could ravage your reputation, and any number of potential developments can trigger one. Thanks to technology, news will spread fast and far about a criminal act, a faulty product, a data breach, an offensive remark, an incident involving insensitive treatment of a customer … the list continues.

Between news reports and social media — and do not underestimate the latter — people around the globe can learn about your company’s unfortunate situation almost instantaneously. How will your company respond? Disaster may seem inevitable, but there’s no reason to panic. There are ways to reduce the impact of a PR crisis, the best of which is to prepare for one. This can be achieved even though the specific circumstances that touch off a crisis cannot always be foreseen.

Don’t leave your company in a position where it must resort to scrambling amid the chaos of a PR crisis. Learn these key do’s and don’ts in advance, so the response is polished and smooth if and when a crisis hits.

What to Do During a PR Crisis

  • Act quickly and transparently. If delivering an informative response immediately is not possible, at least communicate that your company is looking into the issue and explain why there will be a delay. Transparency is critical, as the media may have more information than you suspect and attempts to be deceitful might backfire.
  • Understand the scope of coverage. The depth and content of your company’s response to a PR crisis may depend on who is saying what, as well as where it’s being said. A company experienced in media monitoring services can be a great help at keeping you informed.
  • Make sure your response team is engaged. Individuals designated ahead of time to respond to a PR crisis should be briefed and given assignments related to the specific crisis. If you have not already formed a response team and a protocol for internal crisis communications, now is the time. Don’t be afraid to add outside media experts to this team. When a crisis erupts, they can present perspectives your internal team may not consider.
  • Coach your spokespersons. Those who will directly address the media or the public must understand the specific response strategy and be presented with enough information to answer questions. If time allows, set up a practice session. Emphasize that the message must be consistent across multiple channels, regardless of how many individuals are responsible for delivering it.
  • Seek feedback. If you work with a professional PR company, heed its advice. Also gauge reaction to your response. If it’s repeatedly being deemed inadequate from multiple channels, switch gears or risk making the situation worse.

What Not to Do During a PR Crisis

  • Fall silent. Shutting down communication can lead to speculation by others — and what they say may be worse than the truth. Make it known that you are at least working on a response and why you cannot immediately provide more information.
  • Express anger. Lashing out in public or aggressively challenging the media creates a negative impression and will not solve any problem.
  • Blame others. If your company is innocent of whatever it is accused of, let the facts sort themselves over time. Immediately implicating another party as responsible will be perceived as dismissive — even if it’s a customer who misused a product, for example.

How you manage a PR crisis can determine the depth of the impact on your brand’s reputation and/or the length of time it takes to recover. A strategic, well-conceived response may even increase the trust level of your customers/clients. For more insight that’s easy to share with your team, see the accompanying guide.

Author bio: David H Lasker is founder and CEO of News Exposure, a digital content solutions company specializing in media research and monitoring. Lasker has over 25 years of experience in the industry and focuses on TV and radio broadcast monitoring, media intelligence, and PR analysis.

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United we Brand? Top Reads on Corporate Activism

Should CEOs speak out on social, civil and political issues?  Should brands take a stand?


Back in the day (meaning just a few years ago) the answers were easier.  It was a more innocent time and easier for businesses to step up to the plate when government was not doing its job.  The Edelman Trust Barometer (an annual gauge of trust in institutions) has long ranked CEOs higher than others

Today it’s more complicated.  There’s a hot mess of issues that divide and we all seem ready to have chips knocked off our shoulders. Political correctness dominates, and it is easy to get in trouble by saying the wrong thing.

So, what’s a brand (and their top execs) to do?  Should they play it safe or take a stand? Fence-sitters might alienate those who want to know the brand’s political and social colors.  But taking sides can also fail spectacularly, as I pointed out in my post Just Don’t It.

There are many sides to these questions.  Below, I dig deeper and shed light by excerpting from the many excellent articles on the topic.

Lead with Values

In a PR Daily story about Starbucks, Ted Kitterman recommended leading with values; he cites some great examples:

The biggest takeaway for anyone following the news cycle these days must be that you can’t please everybody. So, what should you speak out on? Brand managers and PR pros should be actively searching for ways to express their brand values to consumers…

Think about Patagonia’s campaign to save protected national park land. More controversial efforts have included Dick’s Sporting Goods stand on guns, Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad and Gillette’s campaigns regarding inclusion.

What all these companies have in common is a cadre of leaders ready to stick to their principles and take the heat. They are also ready to lose some customers for what they believe in.

From Hero to Zero

Can businesses do well by doing good?  What happens when bottom line realities collide with CSR goals?

This NY Times article shows the blowback that can result.  It reported how agricultural giant Cargill fell out of favor with environmentalists:

For years, the American agricultural giant Cargill has been on relatively good terms with environmental advocates, praised for agreeing to a landmark moratorium on buying soybeans grown on deforested land in the Amazon rain forest.

In recent weeks, though, that relationship has soured over the company’s refusal to agree to a similar moratorium in another environmentally sensitive region of Brazil and… its failure to meet its anti-deforestation targets. This month, the environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth released a report titled “Cargill: The Worst Company in the World.”

50 Shades of Woke

Sword & Script blogger Frank Strong wrote about the nuances of taking a stand, covering another Edelman study, and his own survey:

A study by Edelman found… “64 percent of consumers around the world now buy on belief, a remarkable increase of 13 points since 2017.” The ensuing narrative has been that “taking a stand is no longer an option for brands.”

Yet asking people if they buy on belief is not the same thing as … if they’d buy from a company with a public position on a political issue with which they disagree. There’s a level of granularity that needs to be explored…

If the quality, convenience or price of a product or service is better than the competition, respondents said they would still buy from a brand even if they took a political position with which they disagree… employees matter too. If the workplace is divided over an issue, any stand could be disruptive.

PR tech firm Meltwater posted an article that explores the different sides of brands taking stands, and also shares some great examples.  The story, by NewsCred, says:

The prevailing advice seems to be that if a brand chooses to go down this path, it should proceed with caution. It should select an issue that’s a fit and be prepared to back up its promotional efforts with REAL actions to support the message it puts forward.

In Employers we Trust

Frank Strong mentioned the importance of employee concerns.  Indeed, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer reveals “My Employer” is the most trusted institution:

“The last decade has seen a loss of faith in traditional authority figures and institutions,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “More recently, people have lost confidence in the social platforms that fostered peer-to-peer trust. These forces have led people to shift their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.”

Workers also like to take their employers to task, according to the many stories I’ve seen about employee activism.  This Medium article is a first-person account of #GoogleWalkout, a trend so prevalent that it apparently deserves its own hash tag.  The author, a 13-year Google veteran, railed against the company’s unchecked power on the way out the door. 

This NY Times story reports that an employee revolt led a PR agency to drop a contract they’d just won for a private company that runs border detention centers.

Regarding activist workplaces, right leaning, anti-PC Mises Institute wrote about the dangers of The Rise of Woke Capitalism for Education News. The post likens these companies to totalitarian governments or even religions pushing their beliefs.

Boardroom Sociopaths

I’m a cynic and question the motives behind most corporate activism. Do companies push CSR and philanthropic agendas without regard for the PR dividends? In the Jewish religion, true charity should be given anonymously. Who really believes that Nike chose Colin Kaepernick without some consideration for their bottom-line business interests?  And if they didn’t, shouldn’t they have?

In a NY Times DealBook piece, Andrew Ross Sorkin writes about Jame Gamble, a former corporate lawyer for the largest companies:

[He’s] concluded that corporate executives — the people who hired him and that his firm sought to protect — “are legally obligated to act like sociopaths.”

It’s because they have a fiduciary responsibility to guard the bottom line and protect shareholder interests.

“The corporate entity is obligated to care only about itself and to define what is good as what makes it more money,” he writes in the essay. “Pretty close to a textbook case of antisocial personality disorder. And corporate persons are the most powerful people in our world.”

Sorkin describes Gamble’s modest proposal:

Companies, he suggests, should “adopt a binding set of ethical rules, approved by stockholders and addressing the key ethical dimensions of corporate life” including relationships with employees, communities, customers, and [companies’] effects on the environment and on future generations.

This movement, if successful would compel them to balance profits and ethics.  Sounds great, but Andrew Ross Sorkin points out the obstacles and unintended consequences of such a move.

A Few Final Thoughts

Can companies do well by doing good?  I think they can by taking a long-term view, insofar as stronger local economies, clean environments and happy employees can all be good for the company.  Yes, they should be strong businesses; but not the kind built on the backs of exploited workers and plundered ecosystems.

I love the proposal above, that boardrooms and C-suites should also be guided by ethical rules.  I agree with PR Daily’s advice: that top execs should lead with principles and damn the torpedoes.

E.g. we can just look at the latest news cycle, which included two mass shootings.  Matthew Prince, CEO of cloud tech firm Cloudflare showed guts in taking extremist messaging board 8chan offline, as reported in NY Times.  Legally, he did not have to – and other big tech companies have dragged their feet when it comes to policing extremist content.  The paper also ran an open letter to Walmart’s CEO, urging Doug McMillon to take a stand against guns.  Will he?

Above and beyond that, getting involved in culture wars, and picking gratuitous political fights seems to be a perilous idea for these tense and divided times.

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Just DON’T It: Brands Fight Culture Wars at their Peril

Should brands get involved in culture wars?

E.g. some thought that Nike was very shrewd in hiring Colin Kaepernick as a brand ambassador.  He’s polarizing, but the bold move seemed to sync with their brand.  For the uninitiated, Kaepernick is the football player who got lots of kudos and crap for sitting during the national anthem at games and inspiring others to do the same.  By picking Kaepernick, Nike was standing up for rights and championing athletic prowess – or cynically playing to their base.  Either way, they placed their bet.

Some say that brands should express human, relatable qualities.  But people are often careful about sharing provocative views in public or at family gatherings or at work.

This was lost on Nike.  Sure enough, their Kaepernick gambit exploded like July 4th fireworks when Nike pulled new sneakers that had the Betsy Ross flag from production.  They did this at Colin’s urging, according to this NY Times piece, because the flag can be a symbol of oppression and racism.  Now, everyone is mad at Nike, and clearly, they are taking a business hit and PR lumps (it remains to be seen, what if any long term impact there will be on the brand and sales).

I know, it is easy to play armchair quarterback.  Hindsight is 2020. Etc. And there were lots of moving parts to the mess.  Should Nike have hired Kaepernick in the first place? Having done that, should they have heeded his advice on marketing strategy (if that actually happened)?

The alternative is for brands to get bland – so neutral and inoffensive that they don’t appeal to anyone.

We live in polarized times.  We have become numb to provocation.  But in a sick way, we love to have our buttons pushed. So it is tempting for a Nike or any company to take their culture war shots.

But the latest episode shows the risks.  Nike and other companies should think twice before doing this – that is my opinion.

What do you think? I asked some friends and co-workers – see their answers below, and feel free to chime in with your comments.  And happy July 4th, Flack’s Revenge readers!

Emily said: “I think it is fair for brands to take sides in culture wars, especially if a brand ambassador is being called out by the public as a bad role model. If a brand isn’t being properly represented or the brand ambassador does not uphold the company’s values, I think it is the company’s right to pull lines and end sponsorships as needed.”

George said: “They missed the elephant in the room – the controversy over the past few years about the Confederate flag and statues should have put Nike on the alert about flag symbolism.”

Mark said: “It depends on the company’s preferred image and appetite for controversy. It can always be interpreted as ‘jumping on a bandwagon’ and can definitely backfire in terms of sales, but it’s always an attention-getter!  I’m all for companies getting involved in culture wars.  It helps me know which brands to avoid!  I think pulling the shoes was a mistake though.  Their stock has taken a hit, and that’s a case where they should have let the marketplace decide whether or not they wanted flags on their feet.”

Jordan said: “Brands are being forced to participate in cultural wars usually erring on the conservative side. If anything becomes offensive to anyone these days, brands are so wary of negative repercussions that they almost don’t have a choice but to pull a product, or an ad, or an individual.  Is that taking a side? In a sense it is. Making a choice is taking a side.  Even doing nothing could be, although that would passive.  However, nowadays doing nothing can be ground for an attack.   A deeper question could be whether brands are acting out of what they believe to be a correct choice ethically. Clearly most brands these days believe that it’s in their business interests to take what is generally reverse-action (pulling back on something or someone) but at some point, there will be a backlash against that as well.  The flag and Nike might be a good example, we’ll see. “

Brian said: ” I think it’s the most socially unaware/tone deaf branding decision ever – you can go with Kaepernick, but then you need to stay from the flag – especially one from an era that obviously had slavery. Don’t hedge your bets.”

Adam said: “Who the fxxk wants sneakers with a Betsy Ross flag anyway.”

Posted in Branding, In the News, PR, Public Relations | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fostering Insurtech Success at GILS 2019

I enjoyed attending the Global Insurtech Leaders Summit – Insurtech Insights in NYC last week. The event featured two days of great sessions and panels led by startup and carrier execs, and journalists and investors.

Insurtechs demonstrated their wares, and it was a great forum for networking. The Brella app made it easy to arrange 15-minute “speed dating” meetings at tables set up for this purpose. The crowd took full advantage, the meeting area hummed with activity, and a great upbeat vibe pervaded the busy and well-attended event.

If you’re an insurtech (as are Fusion PR’s clients) it was a great place for meeting potential customers, comparing notes on tech and best practices and picking up tips for boosting business success. I list a few notes below from some of the sessions I attended.

Beyond Buzzwords

Timor Kalimov, SVP of Business for Hyperscience, discussed sexy buzzwords (like AI, machine learning) and non-sexy ones (e.g. document processing).

Despite the march to digital transformation, old school documents of all kinds still dominate insurance. “Human ingenuity knows no bounds in messing things up,” he said.

You need AI and machine learning to turn this hot mess, including poorly scanned documents, faxes, PDFs and handwriting, into actionable info in a cost-effective way.

Collaborating with Insurers

The next panel was especially interesting as it focused on how insurtechs and insurers can collaborate for the best results.  There were two executives from each camp.  Mee-Jung Jang, Managing Director at the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars, moderated.

The panel covered a wide range of topics, like how Chubb and MetLife work with insurtechs, expectations, successes and failures.

Partnership models can vary, e.g. Terry Luciani, MetLife VP of Innovation, said that they draw from the Techstars accelerator.  Chubb collaborates with startups organically, according to Sean Ringsted, their Chief Digital Officer. Chad Nitschke, Co-Founder and CEO of Bunker (an insurer and technology platform that serves SMBs) contacted and now works with Chubb.

Tim Attia, CEO of Slice Labs, a cloud-native platform for innovative insurance providers, said that that large carriers have experience and can help a smaller company like Slice to scale.

When asked about failures, each had a different take: Terry said that the last mile of business implementation is hard. Chad pointed out that failure is important, and everyone needs to be honest with themselves. Tim agreed with these thoughts and suggested that distribution is key, not just a product-driven focus.

Terry pointed out a sobering number: just 5 proofs of concept result from 1000 startups. He added that it is important to set criteria and have clear metrics.

When asked about advice for insurtechs, Sean Ringsted of Chubb said: “Have a business proposition, don’t just lead with technology. Have clear markers, be prepared for a long journey; you’re going to iterate.” Terry Luciani of MetLife said: “You need to know my business. Leave me with next steps.”

Building Excitement for Life Insurance

I found the next session interesting because it focused on some of the unique issues in life insurance.

Moderator Grace Vandecruze, MD of M&A firm Grace Global Capital, pointed out that there are 46 insurance companies in the Fortune 500, each with an average age of 98 years. Consumers trust the industry only slightly more than cable TV providers.

Mike Logsdon, Co-Founder & COO of loyalty platform, pointed out a “dismal” number: one in six can’t name their life insurance carrier. The industry wants to innovate but suffers from a legacy culture.

Adam Erlebacher, CEO of Fabric agreed, and pointed out the irony of companies so thoughtful about using data to price risk being late to the Internet; the industry has focused on building product rather than on delivering great customer experiences.

Making Lemonade

In another session, it was great to hear from Ty Sagalow, who was one of the founders of homeowner and rental insurance innovator Lemonade.

Ty said that insurance has a branding issue; it’s the only industry where there’s an inherent conflict between the customer and provider. When one wins, the other loses. He also cited the Urban Dictionary definition of insurance: “A business that involves selling people promises to pay later that are never fulfilled.”

There’s no simple answer to the industry’s reputational dilemma; but perhaps companies like Lemonade will help. They donate money left over from claims to charity, as pointed out in this article in Financial Times.

Afterwards, I met Ty and bought an autographed copy of his book: The Making of Lemonade.

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How to Become a Media Darling

This post originally appeared on Business2community

Every startup wants to be the belle of the media ball. But what do you do if the press just aren’t biting? It’s all the worse if they’re lavishing attention on the competition.

From Pixabay

So why do media latch onto certain topics, personalities, companies and brands? Given that reporters, with varying degrees of editorial oversight, have discretion about what they cover, the $1M PR question is how to become the object of a media love fest.

There’s no simple answer or formula, else we’d all be famous for 15 minutes. You can start to get a sense by tracking their stories: reading between the lines, unpacking sentiment and bias and tuning in to their social media conversations.

Or you can read this. I share some rules below, based on my many years of experience helping startups launch and grow with PR. The tips reference examples from technology and politics.

The Power of Brand

Build a strong and admired brand, and the media will beat a path to your door — or at least spend less time dodging your pitches.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of brand. Witness the media fascination with Trump, or any of the big tech players (of course, the coverage is not necessarily fawning, with either of the above examples).

The brands become a muse that pay dividends in terms of earned media coverage – often with no discernible hard news in sight.

The obvious question for a B2B startup is, exactly how can you achieve this?

Read more at Business2community.

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The Internet Killed these 4 Words for Me

Let’s face it, things have gotten weird with the Internet lately (and all things related – like the Web, apps, and social media). We used to have a great thing going! Now, Internet, you’ve become clingy, stalkerish, irrational, and carelessly share my personal info.

The rant could turn into a much longer post, but I’ll focus here on a subset of the complaints, namely four words that no longer mean the same things, largely due to Internet tech and culture.

Read on below, and I’d love it if you can share your thoughts and any other words that no longer have the same meaning.


When I was coming up in the world of PR I became fascinated with the field of memetics.  Here was a science, or at least theory (famously postulated by Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene) that claimed to explain how ideas propagate.

Understand memetics, I thought, and I will be the PR whisperer; able to make buzz and even press releases catch on and spread far and wide (as I further detailed in this post). Flash forward twenty or so years and it is not well-intentioned if sometimes annoying US marketers who’ve mastered memetics.  It is the Russians, as they so ably proved in the last election – when they infected social media to try to influence the outcome.

But my complaint is not about the science – if memetics was ever a real one. It is the word meme, which is the atomic unit of memetics.  Like it’s biological counterpart, the gene, or a virus, memes are designed to catch on and spread. This snippet of culture could be something as a small as a catchphrase or as large as the Bible, and entire religions.

Anyway, that was the idea. Now they have come to signify the junk food of the Internet, silly distractions, or propaganda shared by political zealots.


Now I’m afraid I’m starting to sound like cranky old dude… “Sonny, when I was young…”

Seriously, the kids think they invented things like content and influencer marketing – but these staples existed long before the online world (one of the early examples of the former was the Michelin Guide, which promoted travel and sold tires in 1900, as explained in the Wikipedia definition).

The influencer used to be someone who was, well, influential in a field – an industry analyst, educator, executive, reporter, etc. Now I think most people equate the term with social media influencer – anyone with a big Instagram following who shills for a brand. Real influence is about more than just a number, I wrote a while back.

News and Truth

The last two are related, so I am grouping them here.

Just a few years ago, there was little debate about the meaning of news and truth. The Internet killed these things, with the help of cynical politicians and scheming Russians. Some would also argue that social media platforms ate news media for lunch (who are punching back with some scathing articles recently – e.g. see this USA Today story, this one from BuzzFeed, and this CBS News piece).

Today we have fake news and alternative facts. A couple of years ago I wrote: it’s the end of the truth as we know it, about the failed promise of the internet, as a public commons to crowdsource knowledge and wisdom.

Just witness the struggles of the social media platforms as they attempt to mediate the flood of content and separate lies from theory from actually legitimate info.

I also wrote: Facebook redefines news, and PR will never be the same, and about the challenges of agreeing on a definition of “news” in My Take on the Fake News debate.

Would we be wondering about these things just a few short years ago? In the words of the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

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Cover Your Assets to win in PR

We are often asked what it takes to succeed in PR, and about the client effort required. They’re great questions; the second part acknowledges shared responsibility.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve found that most just want great results, they’re not trying to milk an agency.  But PR newbies may think that it will be easy – their groundbreaking news will almost sell itself; or that a proactive PR firm can do it all with minimal client input.

So, for anyone who’s asking, here’s a newsflash (actually, two, no extra charge):

  • The media generally don’t care about your news.
  • We are PR pros, not magicians.  You need to throw us a bone!

Which brings us right back to the original questions.

A Challenging Media Environment

Even those who think they know PR may be surprised to learn that the job has gotten more difficult. PR pro and blogger Frank Strong recently wrote about challenges confronting journalism and the PR profession.  He cited data from recent studies:

“Is the process of media relations getting harder? Yes, it is according to 68% of PR professionals polled for the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey.  That’s up 17% from the same survey last year.”

An article in Bloomberg reported that PR workers now outnumber reporters by six to one, mostly due to vanishing newsroom jobs. Little wonder that it is harder to get media attention and results.

Show me the Assets

Most great programs spring from an effective agency and client collaboration; they combine agency savvy, ideas, and relationships with client ammo. This is particularly true for landing top tier, which is often the litmus test of success. What is needed to get to this vaunted media segment? How can the client help?

The two-word answer is “PR assets.” These are the things reporters love that drive or support a story. I list them below, for each kind of opportunity, and shed light on agency and client roles.

 Hard News

In a busy media landscape, breaking news is a top driver of reporter interest.  When it is your news, you own the story.  But the hurdle is high, to be considered news by major media, typically requiring scale or name recognition and mainstream appeal: the largest deals, best-known brands, or truly breakthrough new products.

Since top-tier worthy announcements happen rarely, if at all, for most startups, success means tapping other opportunities and PR assets.

Creating News

Many equate news with announcements, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to create news that may or may not fit neatly in a press release. These can include commissioning research, surveys, even PR stunts.

Does your business spawn data that can be mined for newsworthy info about trends, or consumer or business behavior?  If so, this could drive a pitch that lands.

The agency can suggest these kinds of ideas, but the client needs to be on board to make them work.


Even if you can’t own a story, there are ways to get mentioned, e.g. through newsjacking.  This means riding related breaking news, typically by offering execs as a source of color commentary or analysis.

When opportunistic news hits, it can be a feeding frenzy, with many trying to jack the same story.  So, it is important to be fast and offer a unique and compelling POV.  Boilerplate statements, along the lines of “We have a cybersecurity expert who can comment,” won’t cut it.

The client can help with a quick and incisive response that the agency can shop around, based on the client’s savvy and front row view of the technology and industry.


It seems that there are fewer opportunities to drive or otherwise participate in features: the longer non-news stories that focus on trends and topics.  Still, they’re worth pursuing if you have a great angle and the all-important PR assets:

  • Hard data that support the story
  • Company spokespeople who are prepped and media-genic
  • Third-party spokespeople (customers, industry analysts)
  • B-roll footage (for broadcast top-tier)

Company Culture, Startup Stories, Exec Profiles

Ultimately, great stories drive PR and journalism.  But it is too easy for founders and their teams to drink the Kool-Aid about their own. There’s no shortage of things to write about and most media don’t care about your news or your stories, as noted above. 

It takes a solid understanding of the publication, the type of feature, and the reporter – as well as the source material – to craft a topic that has a fighting chance.

Here, the PR team can guide you.  Great ones have the instincts of a journalist and the nose for a story.  E.g., there are opportunities in many publications to highlight startups and profile executives. 

PR should interview the execs to dig for story gold. The client can help by sharing the very best stuff with an understanding of the high hurdle and what might sell.

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Building a Fintech Startup: Top Tips, via Betaworks Panel

Last week I wrote about growth tactics for B2Bs. This week I am following up with a post on how to build a fintech, based on a panel discussion I attended at Betaworks Studios in New York.

Amanda Moskowitz of Stacklist, a directory of business tools for startups, moderated the session, which featured these panelists:

It was a super-interesting group of ventures, plus, it was great to hear from Nekesha Woods, who works for one of the giants and also did a fintech stint.  Qapital is a money app that encourages savings,  Bloom Credit provides companies with credit expertise, STASH makes it easy to invest, and Republic brings startup investing to the masses via crowdfunding (you no longer have to be an accredited investor ).

The brief descriptions are inadequate, as each fintech on the panel seemed to offer a unique take on their space; e.g. STASH automates investing in fractional shares of the stores where you shop. I encourage you to visit the links to learn more about each one.

Over the course of an hour, the panel discussed some of the unique challenges of launching and growing a fintech. VC funding is generally required due to the heavy lifting needed to develop a product that is robust enough to survive in the market and meet regulatory requirements. Forget moving fast and breaking things. You really need to lawyer up, do your homework and invest in dev; lightweight MVPs won’t cut it.

Here are some of the observations and takeaways, regarding marketing, and other aspects of building a fintech:

  • Qapital got great results with Product Hunt. They also tapped word of mouth and press coverage. App store and Google reviews helped.
  • Caroline Hoffman said that building a marketplace is not easy. Republic had to get creative, tap FOMO, and encouraged featured startups to bring in investors. Republic leveraged their partnership with AngelList, and made it easy for new members to invite their networks via LinkedIn. They used Facebook to test their messaging.
  • STASH used Facebook to get feedback, organic referrals, and employed street teams and growth hacks. There was a need for education, as people are more used to traditional banks.
  • Bloom is a B2B, but it helped to frame their messaging from an end-user POV.
  • Most eschewed paid advertising

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