Some emails hit my inbox this week that lifted my mood, with news about the value of PR in a recession.
One was from an old friend and Fusion PR partner, Drew Neiser, CEO and founder of Renegade Marketing. He hosts CMO Huddles, a forum for B2B CMOs. The title of their recent newsletter –The Need to be Newsworthy -caught my attention. It began:
The newsletter shared anecdotes in six areas: making news when you don’t have any, the importance of the finding the right agency partner, building media relationships, how to leverage customer advisory boards (CABs), and the key role of awareness in the B2B buyer journey. The examples powerfully showcase the value of PR, when done right.
“We have a sponsorship of a Formula One team and periodically donate that sponsorship to a nonprofit, putting their logo on the car instead of ours. That has been very successful in generating a lot of coverage.”
“With our CAB, we’re building deep relationships and eventually building expectations around doing press.”
“Google is looking at various signals of brand popularity in their ranking algorithm for SEO and even small improvements can make an exponential difference”
CMO Huddle Participants
Another email pitched an article in Forbes Advisor with the subject line: PR Agencies named No. 2 recession-proof business by Forbes.
The pitch said:
A key finding was that PR agencies, among other businesses like bookstores and interior design services, are most likely to succeed during a recession in 2023.
As my mom used to say: “From your mouth to God’s ears.” The PR business has treated Fusion PR pretty well for a long time, and hopefully will continue to do so through any economic downturn. Perhaps a receding tide will lift the boats of the PR business in general, as the article indicates; although, of course, better not to have a recession.
In my last post I blogged that OpenAI found the perfect PR and buzz creation vehicle with ChatGPT.
It’s engaging, and early users have loved sharing their experiences with the AI (variously, delightful, amazing and mystifying).
The buzz has been deafening and sparked a race to incorporate LLMs and generative AI in commercial solutions. This is all very exciting, because it’s been a mostly (and sorely needed) good news story in the tech industry. And, let’s face it, ChatGPT is cool and opens our eyes to the possibilities of AI.
But recent events illustrate some fundamental laws of hype – such as what goes up must come down. Enthusiasm for the shiny new toy can quickly turn to skepticism and users’ remorse.
Here, I am thinking of news about highly publicized demo glitches, and Bing’s trial AI solution that employs ChatGPT-like tech. NY Times journalist and podcaster Kevin Roose coaxed some really weird responses from Sydney, the name Microsoft developers gave to the chat bot, revealing it to be a clingy, creepy chat companion.
You can check out the full transcript here – and I include a few excerpts below (Kevin’s prompts are in boldface).
We are learning that the new tech may not play well with others. Users are sharing screen shots of weird interactions and erroneous info. The bots are proving themselves to be a little too human, neurotic even.
Guardrails, or better quality control, are clearly needed to tame LLMs. The major vendors say that unleashing them in the wild, and subjecting them to lots of user pounding, is the only way to better understand and improve the AI.
All well and good, but who wants an army of AI bots that might act like Gremlins on an all night, post-midnight feeding frenzy and rampage?
Getting back to Roose, the sordid saga didn’t end well, he wound up killing Sydney, his AI -turned news source and stalker.
If you think these details have dampened my enthusiasm for the potential of ChatGPT, you are wrong. Who said tech evolution is pretty?
Stay tuned, as our next PR Done & Doner podcasts focuse on ChatGPT use cases for PR – and how PR tech vendors are incorporating AI in their wares. The first one will run this week
“Have your people call my people, we’ll do lunch.” So goes the old Hollywood schmooze about dealmaking. But can we be far off from a day when it is AI that brokers the deals?
ChatGPT got me thinking about this. It has been a massive buzz creator since OpenAI unveiled it late last year.
ChatGPT is a perfect PR vehicle, a nice tech pick-me-up in an age when many are feeling burned by tech. It is fun to kick the tires, and people like sharing their experiences.
But many are losing sleep over its implications for the AI field, and the potential impact on our lives and careers. Sure, it’s fun to mess around with ChatGPT but what next? Will it turn on us?
Those in the creative fields are the most freaked out. This includes PR, my wheelhouse. If tools like ChatGPT can write pitches, articles and press releases, where does that leave us?
The PR and media worlds may be facing more imminent threats than being replaced by AI bots. Ezra Klein said on his podcast recently that ChatGPT can “drive the cost of bullshit to zero.” In other words, it can generate inaccurate information at scale. The tech could be a boon for fake news and disinformation. More fake news will further erode trust in media, and make the PR job harder.
Even when used by legitimate news outlets to write articles, errors can creep in. This is already happening. The Futurism blog recently outed the tech news site CNET for using AI to write erroneous articles.
Hmmm… ChatGPT, writing PR content …. publications using AI to pen articles …. one can envision a world in which we don’t need actual people for any of this.
It is an interesting thought experiment, although I don’t think we face that kind of threat anytime soon. Maybe the smartest AI will replace the crappiest writers, and generate content mill-caliber pieces. But AI like ChatGPT may actually heighten the need for the kinds of human-generated insightful and creative content that can break through to audiences and journalists.
Meanwhile, content generation is not the only app, and I do think generative AI and large language models have their place in the modern agency tech stack. Forward thinking PR teams should explore AI’s potential.
Please stay tuned if this topic is of interest – I’ll be writing more on ChatGPT and PR.
As we look ahead to 2023, there is no better time for PR pros to resolve to do a better job delivering and proving value. I was in that frame of mind when I spoke with Renée Warren,who launched and runs We Wild Women, an agency that helps female entrepreneurs turn vision into impact.
Renée is a dynamo, a noted speaker, author, entrepreneur and a fellow podcaster (check out Into the Wild). It was great chatting with her. She shared tips for combining creativity with data-driven approaches that tap low and no cost tools to demonstrate PR value.
The podcast covered these topics:
The importance of measuring and connecting PR to business outcomes
Tech tools ranging from spreadsheets to commercial solutions
It has only been a year since Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s rebranding to Meta, and his vision for how the company will lead us into an immersive, virtual world. Yet there have been much excitement and press coverage in this time, for something that research firm Gartner Group claims is 10 years from mainstream adoption.
This article explores the stunning rise of the Metaverse buzz and offers tips to PR professionals working in this area and in other early, frothy markets. How do you promote something so intangible, so nascent, and avoid getting burnt by backlash?
How Soon is Now?
The Metaverse is not a new concept; it is about 30 years old. The term originated in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash. But I am not sure how seriously people took the Metaverse before Facebook’s grand pivot, which was announced on October 28, 2021, when Mark Zuckerberg laid out the vision in a keynote at the Oculus Connect show.
Some say the move was about Facebook’s effort to recapture leadership on the heels of lots of bad press, stagnant numbers, and the flocking of a newer generation to other platforms, like TikTok. The more cynical might smell a “wag the dog” motive (the phrase comes from politics and means to distract attention from a scandal, often through military action).
Regardless, it is striking how the words of an aging tech giant can light a fire under a concept that was little-known and seemingly not going anywhere at the time.
You can get an idea of just how important this event was in the rise of the Metaverse by looking at press mentions of the term over the past year compared with the previous year. The solid line below in this chart from Cision shows the number of mentions over the past year; the dotted line reflects the previous year’s numbers.
There’s also been a huge spike in startups entering and growing in the space, as evidenced by VC investment. A post on McKinsey & Co.’s blog reported an aggregate $120B funding for related technology and infrastructure in the first five months of 2022, more than double the $57B invested in all of 2021.
It would be wrong to blame all the hype and the exuberance on the media and VCs. There are many players in the hype-industrial complex. Look in your mirrors, and at your employers and clients. Consider the countless PowerPoints, business plans, companies and new divisions launched in just one year to chase the Metaverse dream, involving all kinds of hardware, software, and use cases (think real estate, avatars, ecommerce, advertising, entertainment – the list is endless).
But you have a job to do. You have been handed an assignment, to go out there and make it rain media for some Metaverse-related offering. Or perhaps you are working in other early-stage areas that hold much promise, like quantum computing, Web3 or the blockchain.
How is PR for such far-off possibilities different?
A Look at Technology Evolution
To better understand this, it can help to consider categories. Each has a narrative, a story arc that starts with invention and ends with obsolescence. It has its innovators, leaders, and followers and is about promise, expectations, triumph and sometimes flameouts.
How long it takes for a category to emerge and go big relates to many factors. Geoffrey Moore wrote about the dynamics of technology adoption in his classic text, Crossing the Chasm (the “chasm” refers to the gap separating innovation and mass adoption).
E.g., consider desktop PCs, big a million years ago; yeah, still important – but does anyone really think about them or care much today? Especially media, they don’t necessarily want to cover legacy tech. On the other hand, most would agree that quantum computing (a segment that Fusion PR works in) is at an early stage, perhaps 5-10 years away from mainstream adoption. There is much reporting and vendor jockeying in this sector, nonetheless.
Research firm Gartner Group handily charts the stages of enterprise tech segments and associated hype in their (you guessed it) Hype Cycle reports. See below for the template, and this link to a post about Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Tech, 2022.
Media appetite and coverage of vendor news and stories vary significantly depending on the stage of the space. It is great to be on the leading edge of a trend as it is getting some steam (i.e., somewhere between the Technology Trigger and Peak of Inflated Expectations, as I noted in my post: Trend Surfing for Fun and Profit).
But sometimes the hype gets well ahead of marketplace adoption. E.g., I have worked in tech for my entire 35 years. Yet I have never seen the exuberance go from 0-60 mph so quickly as the din around the metaverse (and related areas, like Web3).
The Ghost Howls blog wrote about the Metaverse’s Technology Trigger perch on Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2022: ‘saying that ‘Metaverse’ is just rising now on the hype sounds a bit weird, considering that… the web has been filled with posts about the metaverse and all the trillions it may give us.”
Tips for Promoting Early-Stage Tech
So, what are the right tech PR and marketing tactics for early-stage tech, when case studies and practical solutions are years away? The specifics will vary, and I could fill another article on this, but here are some quick tips:
Companies at the top – the inventors or largest proponents (like Meta) – should solidify and retain their position. This means seeking to become synonymous with the category, waving its banner through education, shaping standards, and influencing industry analysts’ reports on the space.
If you are coming in after, take heart; leadership can change (recall the saying, the pioneers are the one who have arrows in their backs). Follow in the leader’s draft. They are doing the heavy lifting of educating the masses and establishing the space. The jobs of PR and marketing are to emphasize differentiators and explain how your technology advances the space.
There can be a lot of noise. It is a “hurry up and wait” game, and the press are eager to jump on every advancement. You need to choose your shots wisely and decide whether to play the hype game or be more conservative (but there are no awards for playing it low key).
There is little in the way of validation, and the kinds of stories the media will cover are different than for later stage tech. In lieu of customers and case studies, news about breakthroughs in the lab, key partnerships, and trials can fly.
New shows, awards, publications, and influencers emerge – the savvy PR team finds the right opportunities and aligns with the right forums and influencers.
The press can get skeptical and even negative. If you’re a company that competes in the space, be ready for this. Have answers for the most likely concerns.
It can be exciting, working in PR for early-stage tech. There are also some unique challenges. Meta provides an interesting example of the hype in a space exploding in record time, so it is a bit unusual. I hope these tips are helpful, if you are working in the Metaverse-related areas or other nascent spaces.
It has been way too long since I have posted a PR Golden Turkey Awards. But circumnstances scream for a reboot, in this special “Tech Billionaires Gone Wild” episode. No two people are more deserving of this award than the following characters.
How do you make a multibillion-dollar company disappear in a week? For Sam Bankman-Fried and his crypto exchange FTX, the simple answer is that a leaked balance sheet leads your biggest rival… to instigate a sort of “bank run”… exposing billions of dollars in shortfalls you apparently created by riskily investing money that wasn’t yours. And revealing yourself, in the process, to be a very new kind of financial villain — one who pitches not just the prospect of profit but also deliverance from the corrupt speculative system in which you “made” your “billions.”
I’d say that sums it up pretty well. SBF has cast a pall over an already struggling industry and caused untold damage.
Kelsey Piper, writing for Vox, got a nice scoop shortly after the story broke. She conducted a Twitter interview with him (after he DMed her) and asked about his seemingly open view to more regulation:
He characterized his past conciliatory statements — as little more than “PR.” In doing so, he all but confirmed the view of critics who have argued that his overtures to Washington were much more about image than substance.
Kelsey: You said a lot of stuff about how you wanted to make regulations, just good ones. Was that pretty much just PR too?
SBF: yeah just PR
In an instant, Sam Bankman-Fried went from quirky bazillionaire iconoclast to health club reject. Dude, get a haircut, put on some pants and ditch the video game. You are an embarassment to the industry. Go away for a while, stop talking to the press, find a way to redeem yourself.
Elon “I’ll Take my $44B Football and Go Home” Musk
Elon Musk has always played the bad boy in the media. But here he is hitting them where it hurts, in their favorite social network. Tech journalist and podcaster Kara Swisher put it well in her recent tweet: Hellscape accomplished!
Elon Musk has come on like a bull in a China shop, causing a mass exodus of employees and a #leavingTwitter movement. For me, the final straw came when he just let another bad boy back onto the platform. This seemed at odds with the previous approach of moving more slowly and thoughtfully regarding content moderation.
Yeah, I am not so sure. I think he is managing it into the ground and seems to not care much about employees, advertisers and users jumping ship. It makes me sick, as I really have enjoyed and gotten a lot of nice use out of Twitter, have made some great connections.
We invited a round table of experts on the latest PR, Done & Doner podcast to explore the state of buzz, funding and innovation in insurtech:
David Gritz, co-founder of InsurTech NY, the largest such community in North America that connects carriers, investors and startups.
Mark Hollmer, a veteran journalist who has covered the property/casualty insurance industry for more than a decade.
Layla Atya, serial insurtech entrepreneur; serves as CEO of Quantumerge, the first and only transactional liability MGA for small transactions; and founder and CEO of Zala Technology, an insurance developer for tech companies and tech developer for insurance companies.
It was an informative and wide ranging conversation around these questions and others.
The state of Insurtech – what it is, why it matters, where is it today?
How have insurtechs been coping in light of reduced funding, and other economic stresses?
What are VCs looking for?
How is the playing field different today vs. a few years ago?
Which technologies are hot, what’s next?
What are the best PR tactics for insurtech startups?
Mark Hollmer shared best practices for pitching insurance journalists. The panelists agreed on the number one secret for startup success. Call it the “Ty Sagalow” effect. Why not listen to the podcast or check out the video to learn more?
Thanks, panelists, for joining and sharing your insight!
Posted inPodcast, Tech, Tech PR|Comments Off on Insurtech Round Table Explores Startup PR, Success Factors
Tapping emotions is a time-honored tactic in PR and marketing. This can involve fear-mongering. Scaring folks can be a great attention-getter, particularly if you are promoting solutions in areas like cyebrsecurity, public safety and infrastructure protection.
The reasons relate to psychology and business. We are wired to respond to emotions vs. logic, blame our reptilian brains. Further, people are more concerned about avoiding losses than gaining benefits. The news business understands these factors and their role in attracting audiences.
However, over the years we’ve had quite a few clients who did not want us to lead with negativity or fear in our PR pitches. We’ve sometines had to push back, as we know these are the angles that can draw attention.
It can be a controversial area, and opinions vary in the PR industry as to how and when to use fear or newsjack tragedy, or even if to do so at all.
Since it is Halloween, I thought it would be good to ask our teams:
Why does fear work in PR?
When (and when not) to use it?
Here are some answers that I got:
Watch the TV news any night of the week. Is it full of happy news? Of course not. It’s all shootings, riots and political arguments (and sports and weather). The cliché “If it bleeds, it leads” is even more relevant now as media outlets struggle to retain their readerships in a never-ending news cycle with dozens or hundreds of online competitors.
WHY ‘if it bleeds, it leads?’ It’s all of our fault. At some point, news stations realized that “action” “eyewitness” news with lots of tragedy and mayhem attracts more eyeballs than other kinds of news reports.
Clients may want to ‘go positive,’ but no reporter is going to care. You need to present a problem for them to care about your solution. But keep in mind that there are different levels of FUD (fear, unceretainty, doubt); you don’t need to go all-out all the time. Also, do NOT use fear immediately after a tragedy. That is extremely bad form.
When the Russia/Ukraine conflict began, we got one of our cybersecurity clients on several podcasts to discuss the threat of Russia attacking the critical infrastructure of Ukraine’s allies. The threat was just emerging, but we got ahead of the competition in discussing it and secured plenty of coverage.
We used the fear and uncertainty of extended theme park closures due to COVID (and what this unprecedented scenario meant for other businesses) to get our client into most top tier broadcast multiple times (CNBC Squawk Box, Fox business, NPR, etc.)
When something terrible happens (usually a tragedy) and your client does have a solution, it is SO important to capitalize on the opportunity but do so very carefully. For example, in the wake of a mass shooting, you can gently explain to media/ relevant personnel that the fear is valid, but there must be an actionable response or it will never go away. Specifically with our client — we never say we are the answer to the problem, only one small part of a potential solution, which I feel somewhat mitigates the promotional aspect of the pitch.
At Fusion PR, we are big believers in the power of industry analyst relations. Most of our programs include an A/R track. In the world of enterprise tech, they are extremely important influencers.
But how can you reap the potential benefits of engaging and working with analysts? If the world of PR is poorly understood, getting the most from A/R programs can be even more cryptic.
Most startups recognize the key role of industry analysts, and the value of getting into their reports. But they may not understand exactly how (and when) to engage analysts for best results. Now, the Universtiy of Edinburgh, with analyst relations experts Robin Schaffer and Chris Holscher, have released the results of a groundbreaking study that sheds light on the topic.
We had Robin and Chris on the show to discuss the research, which is based on a survey of 500 startups, VCs, accelerators and industry analysts.
They explained how the study refuted common myths, and shared actionable insights to help startups understand how and when to engage analysts, what to expect and how to improve collaboration and results, including:
How to get on analysts’ radars
Working with analysts to ensure the best product-market fit
The disconnect in perceptions that prevents many from deriving the most value
Why analysts value startup relationships, and the right time to get started with A/R
Thank you, Robin and Chris, for coming on the podcast and discussing the research.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Brette Goldstein when my old friend Jeffrey Koeppel introduced us a while back. He’s a Maryland-based corporate, securities, and M&A lawyer who knows Brette from his work in the film business.
Brette is a dynamo, someone who uniquely focuses on helping actors and corporate executives deliver their best performances. Since I work in PR, and also help execs hone their performances (well, media interview skills) we had a lot to talk about when we met.
Flash forward a year-and-a-half and I thought it would be great to have Brette on the podcast, to discuss her special brand of performance coaching.
It’s based on the premise that you can fundamentally improve interview and presentation skills. While the media training we provide at Fusion PR often focuses on story telling, the art of bridging to key messages, and navigating tricky questions, Brette teases out the more personality and stylistic-driven factors that can demonstrate confidence and authority.
She helps execs learn how to channel role models and archetypes, sometimes using famous actors as muses. As Brette says, she can identify anyone’s start qualities, that “comfort food” that get people out of their own way so their charisma emerges.
The importance of identifying your “special sauce”
The importance of archetypes and role models
Six questions that can prepare you and help you bring your own voice:
What is your objective? (about key takeaways, the call to action)
What is your relationship (with your interviewer, and their audience – the “scene partners”)?
Setting (where are you in space and time)?
How do you want the audience to feel? (It is not just about facts, figures, and informing them)
What is the genre (the medium)?
Why you (gets to your special sauce)?
Brette Goldstein has cast over 50 films, five TV series, over 300 commercials, countless plays, seven pilot presentations, and various new media projects. Brette also works with executives at large, well known enterprises, non profits, and tech startups, bringing their authentic voice to the “role” for presentations, interiews, etc.
You can read her full bio and find Brette’s contact details at https://www.brettegoldstein.com/